Welcome back to the Front. Have you ever notice that when open up a history book or browse a multitude of news media sources odds are that it tends to be filled with wars and conflicts? The reasons for war (or “conflicts”) are very diverse. A few that come to mind are 1) that they happen in the name of religion, 2) in hopes of acquiring better resources/land, 3) national pride, or 4) due to one race wanting to eradicate another race. They may also happen in the form of revolutions against the reigning government and civil wars. (In some cases there are multiple reasons that these sorts of things come up.)
RPG settings have made use of wars and conflicts as a backdrop to settings for a long time. Back in 2nd edition D&D, Greyhawk underwent the “Greyhawk Wars” and Planescape introduced the “Blood Wars” — the never-ending battle between devils and demons for corrupting the souls of the innocent and not-so-innocent. [Caveat: I don’t recall that latter being mentioned in 1st, though it may have been. It has been a REALLY long time since I’ve looked at that book.] At any rate, D&D is definitely not alone in exploring war-themes within a RPG setting.
As a GM, conflicts in general give the potential to get the players involved (or at least impacted) in many ways. That’s right, I said impacted – players don’t have to be interested in the war to be impacted by it. Say the nation they are in lost a critical battle and fears about losing the war start to hit home… well, the first natural consequence of that is that prices start rising as people start trying to prepare for the worst. Or the government could shift entertainment to high gear to keep the masses ignorant of the possible trouble on the horizon. Does the latter remind anyone of the Roman Empire? The PCs may also get impacted if they have to travel into other regions impacted by the conflict.
Then again, they could get dragged into the conflict itself more directly. Do the heroes stand up against racial genocide? Do they stand up against an aggressive national enemy that threatens to end the very way of life they have known all their lives?
Obviously with a war going on the players could gravitate toward being involved in the front lines – either leading the troops or performing special missions that have strategic value but can only be pulled off by a small number of people as opposed to committing a vast number of troops to the effort. And the reverse can happen as well… What happens when a hostile group shows up quietly to take out a town so that troop movement won’t be noticed and the players just happen to be in the way because they are using it as staging point for their own personal business in the area?
In the last two homebrew campaigns I ran, there were regional conflicts going on, but the players weren’t directly impacted. With that said, the first campaign was shaping up for a massive coup d’état that would have dramatically impacted the players. The second one had a church that was in the process of forming a religious schism that would have had major impact to the players because it was the state religion. Unfortunately, the campaigns fell apart before we really got to that point in the narratives.
So let me ask a question to all you readers out there: In what ways have wars shown up in your own RPG games?
Until the next time, may you keep your wits sharp and your weapons handy as you try to traverse the battlegrounds that fill our stories.