Politics in games can be kind of hard to pull off. Now, by politics I don't mean pushing your personal political agenda onto your players - that is easy to do. I mean running politicians, and having political (or "court" for those in fantasy variants) matter play front and center. Part of this stems from the fact that we often game to make the world simpler, but part of it also stems from the fact that it takes a certain mindset to do politics justice. Let's talk about that today.
One of my favorite settings for role play is Rokugan. Rokugan is a fantasy hodge podge of Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and a few other places mythology but falls primarily on Japan. In Rokugan there is a clan - the cloak and dagger guys - called the Scorpion, and when explaining the Scorpion to new players I often say "as a scorpion, if you only get 1 win out of a situation you are doing it wrong."
This is the same mindset that you often need to have to do politics. If you are only getting one victory out of an action, you are doing something wrong. It isn't enough to take down the evil lord, you also need to make someone owe you a favor and get your plans for a mini-mall pushed through in the same action. These extra opportunities can be hard to see at first, but you can practice it. often while practicing...
You Spin Me Right Round...
Spin is something else you need to have a handle on when doing politics. Did the PCs just take care of a personal affair on the Emperor's dime? Or did they use their own initiative to hunt down and exterminate a human slave ring that was besmirching the Emperor's honor? Did I fail to protect the lord's son, or did I let the lord's son bravely lead the battle and raise the morale of the troops? Perspective depends on presentation, and presentation is where you control spin. You want to master this - without it seeming facetious to everyone - because with it you can remove the ability for you to lose. The right spin and even your loss's look like your victories. Meaning that even when you lose, you may be getting 2 or 3 wins out of it.
Politicians Are Slimy
Enough on how to do it, why don't people like it? Well, tell me when was the last time you saw a good, clean, and wholesome politician? In the real world or fiction. Right, these people are often manipulators and as such carry the connotation of not being good people. We are trained - through story after story - to dislike these people because they're greedy, manipulative, and put themselves before others. So why should it surprise us that some people don't want them playing a major - or god forbid, a good - role in their fantasy story?
I don't have an answer to this by the way, but it needs to be said. Maybe one of you knows how to do politics in your game without making someone feel dirty?
The other reason is because politics isn't really a game where someone wins. Oh sure, you occasionally get the successful coup - sometimes literally - but usually your opponents are still there and biding their time to strike back. Often you have to compromise and give things up to get what you want, and all of this is directly counter to what I said above about winning multiple times all the time. Still, some people just don't like it when they're not supposed to stab the antagonist in the face.
How About You?
Have you done politics well in your game? How'd you do it? Any fun stories? This is, admittedly, something I'm still working on really nailing down. Hopefully I can get better at it as time goes by.