Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Court Games and Distractions - Politics Part 2

As I mentioned yesterday, this Friday one of my games is moving more heavily into the realm of politics. I am simultaneously scared and excited by this. Why? Well, I've got an awesome group and I want to do this right for them. However, politics is an area where I'm nowhere near as well equipped as I am in a more action oriented session or tale of epic awesomeness. Yesterday we talked about the prep, with a focus on the NPCs - and you guys had some amazingly awesome advice. Today, I want to talk about the overt actions and games that will be going on.

A Bit About Rokugan
To understand the kind of political backdrop I'm using here, you need to know a bit about Rokugan. Rokugan is basically a romanticised version of feudal Japan. Samurai are the ruling caste, their way of life is predominant, and all that other fun stuff. While the layout of the land, mythology behind it, and monsters and such come from all of the "Oriental" way of life (Vietnam, Korea, China, Taiwan, Tibet, etc, etc) the society is based very heavily on Japan. To understand how this works in court settings, I often use a line from the movie "The Last Samurai.

The line goes like this: "I have the unfortunate quality of being a person who speaks the truth in a place where everyone lies."

In other words, sincerity is what is most important in Rokugan, not truthfulness. This is a place where it is rude to ask for a sign of friendship in public, as it is on the spot. Yet nothing can be more powerful than some small token being worn. A member of the crane clan wearing the fan of a Lion bushi is making a very bold statement, though what that statement is is up for grabs. This means that we need ways to show large allegiances - or bold statements - through otherwise innocuous methods. In other words, we need court games.

The Games
Luckily for me, the setting provides a number of games that are ready to use. Sadane, a game where a work of art is heavily criticized for its flaws, but with flowery language is perhaps one of the easiest to use in this regard. The owner of the work is obviously being put up to ridicule, but there are other subtleties that can be used here as well. The depicted scene, the guests and participants in the game, or even the insults chosen.

Other games are a bit less obvious. Kemari, which is essentially hacky sack in full court robes where one can not lose their hat or use their hands but must prevent the ball from hitting the ground can also be stocked with intrigue. Who helps whom? Is that girl helping out the young bushi? Or trying to eliminate him quickly?

Finally, there are the more mundane games. Games of Go and Shogi(chess); the letter game, where you deliver a hidden message in such a way that anyone can - and is invited to - open the letter and read the contents of it; and even simple contests such as poetry and painting. All are fair game, and all can be watched most closely for a sign of what is going on.

The Point
Essentially, the point seems to be to keep people distracted, but also leave people with time to both make public appearances and 'overt' signs of allegiance and friendship, as well as to make more covert meetings to discuss other matters. There are games, the games take attention, and while the distraction is in place work can be done, power can be brokered, and allegiances forged or dissolved.

Behind these events, the NPCs and PCs work their trade and find their way through the setting.

How To Use It?
This is the tricky part. How do you use it? Well, there are obvious ways, but remember one of the key goals with politics is to show the full breadth of the world the PCs have entered. There needs to be slights and insults that are otherwise meaningless and layers to the game being played. Everyone is spinning a web while trying to unravel the other webs, and how that happens will depend on the people being used.

For my own game, kemari, poetry, and sadane seem like the easiest ones to use. Perhaps with a bit of dueling mixed in (4 of the 5 PCs are currently playing duelists of some sort or another.) We'll see how it plays out.

We got some great responses yesterday, so today I'll put the question to you again. Any words of wisdom to share on using games and distractions to help with politics? Ways you've done it before? Ways you plan to do it in the future? Sound off in the comments.

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