It's funny in a way how your tastes change as you grow older. When I was younger and first saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon I didn't like it. It seemed too floofy and silly to be taken seriously. On a more recent watching I could see a lot of the points people made about the movie and it was a much more enjoyable situation. At the same time, while the idea of a political/court game intrigued me, but I figured they'd be impossible to really run and I knew for a fact I'd never be able to do that. Now I'm not so sure.
Oh, don't get me wrong, the nuances needed for a good political game are going to make it harder to GM than a "normal" game, but I think I've picked up on a lot of things lately that would help with the running of a game based around politics and the courts, especially in Rokugan. So, what is needed? After the break we'll dig in to just that.
Back Scratches And Compromise
If you watch any of the great shows out there about politics and how "the game" is played, some of the common themes are compromise and "you scratch my back, I scratch yours." This is the heart of politics. In a sense it is about everyone going for what they want - or what their land wants - then compromising on that, and whomever ends up compromising the least is effectively the winner.
It all comes down to give and take. Which means that...
Group Politics Means More Politics
Where these things can get really fun is when the politics involved are for a large group, or for getting things for a group. Consider if the player was a courtier for the Crane Clan, and the Crane Clan wants to secure the marriage of an Imperial Princess into their clan. Now there are two pressing questions that need to be answered: 1) who do you marry the Imperial Princess to and 2) what do you have to give to secure the match.
Now the answer to #1 is the fun one. After all, whatever family/daimyo/castle/sub-section of the clan receives the marriage is obviously getting a boon here. Beyond the dowry they also get the connections and all the other fun stuff that comes with the imperial wedding, especially the prestige. But the answer to #2 is the rub. Someone in the clan has to give something, and the more you take from the person who benefits the less ideal a candidate they are for the match. That means that someone else has to pay. Perhaps the Lion will aid, but only if you cede a castle or offer to train some of their bushi. Maybe the Scorpion aid can be secured, but only if the daughter of a crane lord is made available to them. The point is that someone is going to have to pay, and whomever that is isn't going to pay unless they're also getting something.
In this way you have a major political structure bringing about myriad minor structures, and thus letting the game be played. This also means that..
Simple At The Top, Complex As You Go Down Is The Way To Go
This seems to be the default way to set up a political agenda with some teeth to it. At the top you start with something simple (secure the hand of Hantei Ieka for a Crane marriage.) And from there you make it complex. Look into several approaches and add complexity to them.
For example, a quick approach could be to have Ieka herself want the match, but to do that you need to arrange for her to be courted by someone she would choose. To do that you need to find out what Ieka really likes in a suitor as opposed to what she says she wants, you also need to arrange for such a suitor to successfully court her and all the joys that come with that.
At the same time, you could cut out Ieka and go straight to her father. But what do you give to the Emperor in this situation? What does that cost? How about gaining support from the other clans? What about the inner politics within the Crane clan from all the people - each with their own reasons to want in on this - who want to be the ones to provide the suitor.
Each step you add brings more of the game into play, and that is where court really happens. Which reminds me...
Court games are one of the most prone games to PvP you'll ever have, especially when players are from different factions. Be ready for this. Be ready to make rulings that need to stand up to times. Be ready for all the stress this can add. And the best way to be ready for this? Make sure you have players who are mature enough to handle the PvP and the kind of back and forth, win-some/lose-some structure of a court game. If you don't have that, then make everyone part of the same faction and go from there.
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