On Monday we talked about planning for Politics and Trade. Today I want to talk about running. For the most part this is a natural progression from the planning we did, but I'm including some tips that don't really come out until play.
Keep Your Cards Hidden
In a lot of ways political games are puzzles, and the puzzle in question is figuring out just what it is everyone wants and why. You need to know this in order to plan out your own moves. Figuring out who has wants that line up with yours is important. Figuring out who has wants that are contrary to yours can be even more important. After all, how do you know who to act against if you don't know whose plans are going against your own?
Because of this - and because people often have personal agendas on top of 'group' agendas - actors in a political scenario tend to keep their cards close to their chest. To quote Aaron Burr from the musical Hamilton "Smile more, talk less. Don't let them know where you stand or what you think."
Private Meetings. Public Statements
Meetings where actual work happens should be in private. Only in private can you tell someone the full truth - or full lie - of what you want them to hear without worry of someone overhearing and it being counter to the version they heard, or it filling in a piece of the puzzle they didn't already have. Private meetings also let you cut deals with people and work out the minutiae in a way that a public conversation just isn't going to do. I mean, you don't tell someone your bank number in a public space, do you?
On the other hand, public venues are great places for statements to be made. Two people thought to be rivals suddenly spending a day together in amicable conversation can be worrisome for others around them. It doesn't mean a deal has happened, but why else would rivals talk like that? Remember, everyone is trying to figure out what everyone else is up to. What happens in public is going to be analyzed for meaning, and held up with every other piece of knowledge to see how it makes the picture work.
The Direct Path
One advantage PCs often have is that they're agents of chaos and disruption. They're the main characters of the story, they have objectives, and why shouldn't they take the direct path to getting them? This can be incredibly effective in political games where everyone else is moving slow and in circles, and it's not uncommon for actors who do this to rack up quick wins very fast.
However, in doing this the game - and I don't mean your RPG, but the actual political action going on - can become destabilized, and the people who have dedicated time to mastering that aren't going to let it stand.
A character using the direct approach will likely make great gains, but they're also likely to make enemies. Those enemies will work to stop them - perhaps permanently.
Fear. Control. Ambition.
Fear, Control, and Ambition are the three most common themes and emotions - for lack of a better word - you will find in political scenarios. Everyone is afraid, even the people who seem to be in control. The fear is that others are working to undermine them and they need to protect what they have. Or that people are looking to surpass where they are. They fear losing their standing.
Control is obvious. Everyone wants to be in control. It is a world of mental games with cloaks, shadows, and daggers. Controlling the situation, the players, and the outcomes is basically mastery of the game.
Finally you have ambition. Most major players in political scenarios are either at the top, or they want to be at the top. You can see this in pretty much every character not a Stark in Game of Thrones. They're all playing the game in hopes of getting to the top. They're all scared of being beaten to the top. They're all making moves to assert their control, and not lose their grip on things.
Ambition is why enemies or rivals will work together. It's why someone will support another with seemingly no game, only to try and take advantage of the resulting chaos to climb higher (littlefinger's famous "Chaos is a Ladder.")
Keep these three things in mind when choosing how an NPC acts. They're afraid to lose what they have (whatever they tell themselves, or how they act.) They want to be at the very top (or wherever their goal is.) They need to be the one in control.
All the clashes happen from the natural conflict of these three states being present in the various players in the scenario. Have fun with that. Combined with your prep it should make for a great political scenario.