First let me get this out of the way: yes, I know the title is terrible and punny. If you’re here for the top 5 ideas for political campaigns to run for your local office or the presidency, you’re in the wrong place. This article is about political campaigns for your roleplaying games like fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons (and no, I’m not taking sides on Sam vs. Liam for president of D&D Beyond). There are a myriad of ways the politics in your RPG world are going to affect your player characters and nonplayer characters alike. Not sure where to begin? Never fear! I’ve got a video on my YouTube channel dealing with just that topic!
Political campaigns for an RPG like D&D
Politics are a great premise instigator in any tabletop RPG. Let’s talk about my top five RPG political campaigns!
5. Overthrow the system
What kind of article would this be without a tribute to the Nerdarchy namesake? Anarchy is a fantastic motivation for a campaign. Evil governments being challenged by good-aligned parties are a staple of fantasy on the whole. An interesting subversion here might be to have an evil party trying to overthrow a generally benevolent government, or possibly a neutral party overthrowing an ambiguous government for the sake of maintaining balance. The list of potential is vast with this one. [NERDITOR’S NOTE: “Nerdarchy” is in fact the concept of rule by nerds. And we’re all nerds here, hence we all rule. So boss.]
When it comes to overthrowing fictitious governments, it’s important to think about what will happen in the aftermath. The reason overthrowing the government works so often in fantasy media is because the protagonists are usually overthrowing a system that’s already severely dysfunctional. Usually in these cases, anarchy is preferable to what’s already in place. This makes the question of how to replace it with something new or the logistics of keeping the realm from total collapse and dystopia more manageable.
Regardless of how shallow or deep your players want to dive into this one, overthrowing the government is a wonderful — sometimes cathartic – experience.
4. Invaders on the horizon
Aliens, armies, and zombies! Oh, my! Whether hailing from the sky, the depths, or the next kingdom over, your players are sure to love defending the common folk from invaders. This party lends itself to a noble’s (as in background) lead, but that isn’t to say the party must have a noble. Perhaps your party is privy to the invaders’ machinations? Or maybe they hail from the invading force themselves, now outcast from their society?
Defense from an invading force can be especially poignant when the politics of the ruling class come into play. Nobles might utilize the outside threat to their advantage, while scheming their own machinations and furthering their own agendas from the inside.
These plots can coincide to even more intriguing (pun intended) effect when your adventuring party is not predisposed to one side versus another, and they must choose who to support and oppose.
3. Daggers & diplomacy
Eberron immediately comes to mind, here. Surprisingly, times of peace often spur political discord. Behind every twist lies a dagger, either literal or figurative. Every turn reveals a smiling face, a mask disguising ugly secrets. These sorts of campaigns thrive with roleplay-heavy groups.
Plots pepper the plot (see what I did there?). Schemes smirch the story, and amidst it all, a society of allies with their own agendas to unfurl.
“Daggers & diplomacy” campaigns — as I lovingly call them — are all about the game within the game.
2. Dystopian dreams
The late 2000s saw an influx of dystopian novels on the market. Even the Forgotten Realms itself (more specifically, the Sword Coast) is a sort of dystopia in its own right. What with a new cult threatening to rend the world, or a new wizard mad with power every other decade, it seems certain worlds are simply jinxed with destructive denizens that refuse social progress.
Whether enslaving their peoples or pacifying them with drugs and lies, dystopian-themed campaigns are some of the most satisfying for the cerebral and strategic. Zombie apocalypses giving way to heavy-handed cults offer little room for choice. Either be killed by the horde, or fall in line with the masses.
Dystopian campaigns are great for player groups that want heavy plot and strong worldbuilding on a grand scale. If you choose this campaign style, be ready for your players to shake things up in a big way!
In this style of game, the government is already overthrown. Now, your party must navigate the aftermath. Immediately coming to mind is the notion of your characters establishing a system from the ground up. This could have intriguing consequences if you choose to play another campaign with the same players having new characters, because they could live in the new society their previous characters created. Things could get especially sticky if the characters’ “perfect system” corrupts into a dystopia, as mentioned above, or else has other, more insidious problems.
Reboot offers a fantastic opportunity to explore morality, religion, and any number of more complex or heady philosophical issues. This sort of campaign lends itself heavily to the characters having a huge impact on the world at large. This can make them feel especially epic.
What are your favorite political campaigns?
Are there political campaigns or settings you’ve played that really hit the mark for you? Drop your thoughts in the comments!
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If nothing else, hopefully this was a politically-themed article that made you smile and inspired you, instead of whatever you’re used to. 🙂