This Friday my L5R game is taking a very rokugani turn into an area where I'm not super comfortable in my ability as a GM. Where is that you ask? Well, the PCs are taking a bit more of a court focus, which means that politics is coming into play. What does that mean for me, as the GM, and the game in general? Well, let's take a look.
So Much Harder To Wing It
This is something I already know, but does sometimes come as a surprise to folks. You can fairly easily wing any action session, even a mass battle with large armies. The books for game systems are so full of combat rules that you just kind of have to follow a script. This isn't the case with political type sessions. Here, everyone's personal motivations - both stated and hidden - are so important. Names are vital. Allegiances are vital. You need to know a lot more, and know it in advance, or you're going to be hemming and hawing while the players are waiting on reactions to things.
Preparation is Key
If it is that much harder to wing it, then that means preparation is key. Personally, for me, I'm focusing on the usual "3 things" rule for the NPCs. Essentially, for the NPCs I'm planning on having front and center I am giving them a name, a goal, and then defining 3 characteristics about them. For example, one of them is:
Bayushi Reiko - Scorpion Duelist
Goal: Keep an eye on new arrivals
fact 1: Likes larger men
fact 2: Lies very well
fact 3: Immaculate hair
Reiko is designed to interact with one of the PCs in specific, but there is also enough there for me to keep track of her. my full plan is to start setting up flash cards with these for the NPCs, but we'll see if I do that.
Divide and Conquer
The last bit in my preparation is that I am specifically keying some of the NPCs to some of my PCs. This doesn't mean that - for example - Reiko will only interact with one specific PC, but she is meant to be a main encounter for one and more side dressing for the other PCs. In this way, my hope, is I can define a large crowd and the general scene while giving the PCs individualized attention with a few specific NPCs.
This also lets me better tier the goings on. The high Status PCs are going to be in a different world than the low status ones, and both need to be shown. After all, the actions of the low status characters are the foundations for the plots of the high status folks, and that needs to be addressed carefully.
This is more a personal goal for me. At least for the first few sessions you need to establish the court/political scene with how it normally works. If you bring folks into politics just to turn it into another gunfight, then the contrast is lost. As such, at least for the next few sessions, I can't do any freaky ninja through the window with a blow gun routines. We'll see how long I can last.
What about you? Any advice on running politics you'd like to share? Some GMs are absolutely amazing at this sort of thing. Others are less so. Would love to see some views from both sides.