Hear ye, hear ye! The King is dead! Long live the King!
(This is my contribution to Mike & Liz’s November RPG Blog Carnival topic over at Nearly Enough Dice (great podcast btw!)… Gunpowder, Treason, and Plots! I have to say I’m not a huge fan of gunpowder in fantasy RPGs (though I think they’re handled pretty well in the Zeitgeist campaign), I wanted to take a look at the other two terms in the list… Treason and plots.)
The Gassy Gnoll thinks it’s a bit of a cliche’ really… Man desires a change of government. Man tries legal channels. Man fails. Man seeks extreme solution to the problem and hits upon the classic trope of assassination. Don’t like the guy in charge? Whack him! Very Sopranos approach, don’t you think?
It’s a tried and true method for regime change. And it works so well most of the time. (Ha!) Instant power vacuum, usually filled by something or someone even more sucky than the individual(s) you just knocked off.
However, even if it’s not always the most effective approach to effecting sweeping change, it’s definitely a heck of a plot device. It works from the smallest stage (don’t like Barb the PTO President? whack her!) to the biggest (sorry about the two bullets Archduke!) to immediately cause chaos, accusations, and consequences to flow freely. Whether you are playing a Game of Thrones-style game with prominent figures falling left and right in public executions or through magically created evil beings… or are running a CSI-style game trying to figure out who killed the Mayor… there’s plenty of ideas to be had as inspiration throughout history.
I never recommend Wikipedia as a primary source, but it’s a great place to start if you’re doing research. Check out this list of assassinations from multiple parts of the world. Personally I like starting with Greece and Rome. Both were hotbeds of political discord at various points. And President Lincoln’s assassination by Booth is another great story to take a few tips from if you’re planning a major coup for your campaign.
Let’s take a couple of examples…
The murder of Julius Caesar in ancient Rome is a great example. Take a great nation with a history of amazing cultural, technological, and philosophical gifts to the world (those they created as well as those they stole from their many conquests) and plot its downfall into chaos, civil war, and an eventual fall… That would be a great backdrop for a fantasy campaign. In fact, a good friend of mine created a whole campaign around a Rome-style empire on the verge of collapse. I’m not sure if a Caesar-style assassination was in the cards or not, but there were multiple plots in effect across multiple levels of the story and it was a heck of a good time.
Wouldn’t it be easy to start a new campaign right before such a traumatic national event or in the days immediately following? Put a group of PCs in a jail cell and accuse them of conspiring with the killers. Have them break out of prison and attempt to clear their names or flee the country to greener pastures, always looking over their shoulders…
Or let’s take the Lincoln assassination plot. A group dislikes the way the country’s politics are going and are willing to kill to bring about changes. That plot never gets old. Put it into a Fifth Element style science-fiction world in a concert with political dignitaries and entertainment icons… Have a major figure killed and have the PCs deal with the fallout.
Sometimes cliches are good things. Explore your options. Look into history. See what plots you can take from the past to spin for your own worlds and campaigns.
Just leave your daggers at home the next time I bump into you somewhere in person, ok?
Great topic for this month’s carnival!!