Thinking about my game world and what should happen in it in the not so close future, I came to a simple decision: WAR.
See: there exist a few heirs of an older kingdom, baronies of its own. They have a long common past, basically the same language, same currency, still very similar laws and customs, and more. The split a few centuries ago was not quite voluntary, and most sins of that turbulent past are forgotten and properly buried. Indeed, there is substantial goodwill between the common folk of all baronies.
There was also a quite long period of (relatively) undisturbed peace and growth. A peaceful re-joining of the baronies would be a perfectly timed thing. The only question that remains is: who will rule that kingdom? The royal blood-line is lost, and a simple agreement won’t do…
And therefore, there shall be war. *cue maniacal Game Master laughter*
This article attempts to cover the events and possibilities BEFORE war itself, the preparations for war, and the effects on and moods of common population. Because I invent most of this right on the spot, your opinions (as always) are highly welcomed.
Phase I.: Foreshadowing
The war needs not to be “special” (except for the PCs being in it). Most wars are not about saving the world; saving the country or only a few people is enough of a heroic deed. There might have been ten such wars before, and may happen again! So if it is not so “special” or world-shattering, you may cut down on those thousand years old prophecies, strange birthmarks indicating royal lineage, and overmighty artifacts of legend. A few shall be enough. ;) Even a “common” war is fascinating (and above all, terrifying).
But let’s get from millennia or centuries to actual years before the war.
The first phase is when only very few people (beings) know. If gods are active in the world, they might have created it for fun or other purposes. Others may be the cause, knowing it or not. The lone genius may see how events inevitably converge to a single destination, how little enmities and differences start to get larger. Wise men may seek to prevent it, and fail. Others in turn embrace the situation, and invest their money or talents into a fitting business or career, to gain wealth and/or power. Some may seek to protect their beloved ones, or in other ways manipulate the events for some cause.
The common folk, so it would seem, ignores this and lives its life as before. But let me quote de Tocqueville’s book The old regime and the Revolution I have read recently.
Around thirty or forty years before the unleashing of the Revolution the scene begins to change. In all parts of the social body can be a kind of inner tingling observed, that no one has observed before. At first only a very careful examination would notice it, but gradually it becomes more characteristic and obvious. The whole nation finally begins to move and revive. Take heed! This is not its old life waking again, the spirit that moves this great body is entirely new. Reviving it for a mere moment, only to disintegrate it.
...an interesting option, I think, especially for a civil war.
Phase II.: Preparations
And now, more people know. Most importantly, people in positions of authority start to know. Maybe they only respond to the growing power of some neighbors, are alarmed by spies, or know from the wise people mentioned above. Or they are the actual starters of the war (or think to be the starters…), those that want to strike first. Occasionally, wars may be started without the other side noticing. While many attackers dream of such a chance, and it can be devastating, it does not guarantee a victory. A complete surprise is hard to achieve, though.
It is time to prepare for the war, and secretly if possible! Time to gather all tools of the bloody trade, remove the rust of the old ones, and get some new ones. Time to send the spies and saboteurs, while the borders are still somewhat passable. Time to seriously re-evaluate your old allies, and attract new allies. Diplomacy runs amuck.
THIS is the prime moment for adventurers: their services will be high in demand, their loyalty asked for and questioned.
Economically, a boom may result, as the ruling body starts the spend the long-saved money for necessities like armour, weaponry and food supplies, repairing city walls, etc. But a bust is also possible, as taxes are raised, and able men drawn into military service. Most probably both things result for various industries.
This is also the prime time for inventors of every kind, whether it be tinkerers, alchemists, spell researchers, or historians that find ancient forgotten technologies (so dungeon-delvers may count, too). War is a time when many principles are forgotten, so immoral inventions may also be employed. And what does the enemy have? What are his strong and weak points? How to weaken the first, and hit harder on the latter? A few new inventions, spells, tactics or what are likely to be employed during the war. And don’t forget to sabotage the enemies development and steal their plans!
Speaking of strategy, do not forget Generals. While it is possible to train fine soldiers in times of peace, even a well-educated general may be lacking. The true art of war is shown in the chaos of battle, not in abstract games. The battle-hardened adventurers may look interesting again…
However you choose the generals, once you do so, the fate of the country lies in their hands. Thus any ruling body with a bit of common sense _will_ choose the generals carefully (watch out for customs or laws dictating this privilege to someone; even a high ranking noble may be the wrong choice). Knowing the enemy’s generals is not bad either. Consider any chance to kill/bribe/kidnap them.
And propaganda. The people have to know, that they are on the right side. The allies need to know, that we are reliable. And enemies have to know they are on the wrong side. Differences have to be shown clearer; in what way is our group better than the enemy, and why should we defend our homelands? If they have strong warriors, call them dumb and primitive. If they have mighty wizards, consider adding religion to your side (and moral superiority never hurts either).
To sum it up, whatever is done secretly now, is doubly worth later.
Phase III.: War is coming!
Now, everyone realizes the fact. May be before or after the first troops are sent into battle, but sooner or later the whole country knows. As Iain mentions rightly below, no need to tell the PCs prematurely, but at this point, they would be told by someone, or clearly see it themselves.
War has to be justified, whether through an insult, ancient rights, simple superiority, or whatever. A ruler simply can’t go wrong.
I know that in the Middle Ages an army was most often noticed when it was a bit too late; but the presence of magic may change a lot, one article on RPG Tips demonstrates the effects of unchecked flying spells. But spies could be simply equipped magically to deliver their messages (though a good pigeon will do…); a functional crystal ball is fine too.
While secrecy has still great importance, many things can and will happen openly now. If there is some sense of honour between the enemies, war can be declared, openly or less so. Diplomatic personnel can be expelled or executed, insults could be exchanged, disputed lands may be claimed as own property. As I remember from some movie, a painting of a flagship sinking the enemies’ one was quite a clear statement in the civilised Europe. Allies may also be supported publicly.
This can be the short moment before the true war begins, before all the fighting starts. Time for PANIC! Time for all unaware people to realise what happens, and time for some to realise they were (mis)used. Did they say the army is a quiet honorable place to earn some money? (“So only drinking beer, and occassionaly guarding something, eh?”) Did the government put itself into debt, and “forgets” to pay, once the war starts (or even imprisons the creditors)? What investments fail now, relationships break, what people start to fear the future? Who wants to help his country, and who not? And who are the enemies, or are treated so? Harassing others is always good fun for the restless population.
Movement of the nation will change, and become more obvious. Some will move into the city, some into the country, or wherever it seems to be more safe. Many will have the tendency to stay around home, which will impact the economy. Some will return to their perceived home they have left long ago, or may be “helped” (especially if the conflict is a racial or ethnical), and may not be welcomed there.
Note to spies: While captured spies are usually dealt harshly with, there are two categories of this crime. Espionage is done by foreign, well-paid people, often profesionals of the trade. Treason was committed by someone that is supposed to be on the ruler’s side. No matter if the system is feudal or democratic, the latter is a better candidate for an exemplary punishment, as a warning for locals. But spies of the enemy can be useful, if they cooperate…
Note to the causes and motives of war: there is never a single cause, and they may never get revealed. History is notoriously impotent in this regard, for it all might have started with a bar fight nobody remembers now. And don’t forget, that only winners get to write that history!
Taken from MoonHunter’s wisdom:
(See http://www.openroleplaying.org/tools/tips/search.cgi?t=dogs and http://www.openroleplaying.org/tools/tips/search.cgi?t=march)
Think of every country involved as its own character. Determine its’ motives for “fighting” with the other character/ nation. As with a character, the motivation will determine what the character/nation will do, how far will they go, how they will respond.
- a very good advice. Not only the motives, but also the means have to be determined. So Nation 1 has a very strong army, and certainly the will to rule, so it will probably start the war. Nation 2 likes to see itself as culturally superior to others, and will try to win with its good army, and diplomacy. Nation 3 is perceived as weak, and indeed has a small army; but with its tolerant image may attract important minorities (Orcs, werecreatures) as allies; with the supported magical research it may have a lot of wildcards at hand, it will behave carefully. Nations 4 and 5 are better in defense than offense, so they better side with others, in exchange for a degree of independence later. And so on…
Each war is a period of innovation and invention, where better arms, armors, or tactics, can mean the difference between victory and defeat. The GM should determine the new weapons/ spells/ armors/ martial arts/ tactics/ sciences that might be developed over the course of the war before the war begins to be played out. As the war progresses, the GM can sprinkle these developments into the world.
Before going to war, a country will stock up on goods (food, weapons, uniforms, wagons, horse) to make sure they will have enough for the upcoming conflict. This may mean the items will become very expensive or be in very short supply or both. Note: these are the same sorts of items that adventurers need.
- starting in Phase II, more intense and obvious in Phase III. Confiscations may upset the general population, so beware.
Before going to war, troops must be levied and trained (to some degree). This means manpower shortages through out the nation. The cost of food and services will go up, as fewer people will be around who can grow food or make certain items. Note: Players may be conscripted into the army.
- a little note, and big consequences for the heroes. If they serve their country well, they shall be rewarded, to feel the bond. Perhaps a minor title is in place? A house with a piece of lands? Exempt from taxes on all those magical items they carry? Adventurers (those that survive) are another wildcard, a wise ruler will keep some at hand.
Additional Ideas (6)
1) Stand alone adventures.
The build up to war (and war itself) is always an excellent place to fit in a stand alone adventure. There are all sorts of plots you can use that don't require epic campaigns or too many hours of play time. Assassination of a key figure is always a favourite, as is a diplomatic mission: plenty of role-playing on the surface with opportunities for the more stealthy members of the party to creep around after dark locating and/or stealing state secrets.
Other possibilities could be to place the adventurers in charge of a minor keep to defend it, or alternatively to be hired by the enemy to scout a path through the dangerous hills and come up behind. Adventurers make good commandos or spies. How about saying they are cut off from their unit and must retreat through hostile territory?
However, this is really a side issue: the main possibilities highlighted by an article of the scope of the one Manfred wrote are setting a large campaign through the build up to war and the war itself.
2) A campaign
There are several possibilities here.
1) What level are the characters in phase 1? You have two choices: Beginning or mid-level. I'm just going to assume they start at beginning level I'm sure you can adapt it for starting at mid-level. The main difference is that if they start at mid-level then by the end they'll be the generals (or equivalently powerful) who'll be concluding it.
2) How long do you want it to last? A small campaign (i.e. an episode in the players'lives) or a long campaign (i.e. the backdrop of war and its build up will probably be all you'll do with these characters).
A small campaign works well for a minor skirmish: maybe a small fight between two minor kingdoms/nobles. For this you essentially get everything that Manfred said in miniature, compressed in both scale and in time. This is perhaps best for mid-level characters (in my opinion) as they're the right kind of level to take part in it. It's an excellent way to, as Manfred said, maybe get them to put down some roots and get some kind of status.
Now let's finally get on to talking about a large war (though not a special one), potentially involving several countries, and that, when you consider all three phases, is going to probably include all of the PCs' careers. A quick side note here: what is a war? Minor skirmishing and border raids might take place all the time and thus not be the start of a war.
The characters won't even be aware of it, at least at first. This is a good time for them to find out about your world and what is going on. Bear in mind what Manfred said though about the mood of a country altering, put in tiny things like this: maybe the jokes are all about people from a certain neighbouring country, maybe they just hear that the army is a good place to find work. Ideally I'd say that what you're looking for here is nothing that the players will notice at the time, but enough that when they're in stage 2 they will look back and think, â€œOh yes, you were giving us clues but I never noticed them." The adventures they're having will be typical low level adventures.
Here there are lots of possibilities and not just the ones directly related to the war. The players should gradually realise that war is coming, never tell them. Perhaps the first inkling they have is when they accept a contract from a merchant to guard his wagons. When they cross the border they are searched and in the neighbouring country they are treated with suspicion by the town guard. The shortage of military goods is a good thing to make real here, just keep raising the price by 3-4% per month and don't say why.
At this level they are experienced enough to be travelling a bit. Try to get them to visit most of the countries that are going to be involved in the war without making it obvious (my group like to travel around a lot so it's easy: you might have to work harder with some). The king could hire them for a diplomatic mission that at first doesn't seem to have anything to do with war, maybe it is, maybe it is not: it could be to a friendly country that he wants to bolster ties with. Again, this is something the players might not realise till later.
You can give players a mix of war-related and non-war-related missions, the point is that all of them should be against the backdrop of the war. One unusual one I gave recently was that they had to design and build their own 25 man fort (not to keep: it was a contract): they had a budget, material prices and labour costs and had to deal with problems such as suppliers being annoying, keeping the local lord happy, fighting off the occasional bandit who was trying to attack the workforce, the workforce playing up, etc. Later you can either make them attack it or defend it, depending on your whim and on which side they find themselves.
The war itself. There are several things to deal with here and the first of them also applies to stage 2. This is a key question: How much will be scripted and how much do you want the players to be able to alter? If you hire the PCs to assassinate a key enemy general and they bungle it (but come out alive), is this acceptable to your plot? If not, then that's fine, but don't set them the mission: what you don't do is say, "It was OK that you failed because fortunately the day afterwards the General got thrown from his horse and broke his neck." That just doesn't wash. Players tend to have a mind of their own and want to go off to do random things, make sure you give them enough incentive not to do the things that you don't them to do and always make sure you don't give them to much opportunity to totally mess up the plot (e.g. two princes are fighting for the kingdom. The PCs are working for one prince. Quite early on he sends the PCs on a diplomacy mission to the other: the prince receives them alone. They kill him. Whoops, there goes your campaign. I did this quite a few years ago and ended up using GMs fiat (â€œYou're not allowed to kill him") but that is being a bad GM (a very bad one in fact!). Especially for something like this where all you need to do is add a few guards (which he would realistically have). My point is though that there are less obvious blunders of this nature which you always have to watch out for.
The other main decision is what do you abstract? If my players are conscripted in to the regular army then I abstract all that. I have various tables dealing with injuries, money, promotions, etc.: the players join, I roll the dice and tell them what they did (and unfold a couple of months of world events) and then they write essentially a small "character background" for this period. We then skip to the 15 mins before they get told about the dangerous scouting mission they're going to be sent on (or whatever). You might want to do the army life more fully; that's up to you; similarly, some people might want to abstract large battles and some might notâ€š the point is that you're playing a game, so do the bits that you and your players find fun and abstract the rest.
Anyway, here your players will (probably) be heavily involved in the war. What happens afterwards will probably greatly affect anything that happens later: they may be wanted in one nation and be minor nobles in another for example. In short, the happenings they have been involved in will certainly have formed the major basis for their medium/high level character.
Being courier! Simply delivering a letter is a valuable service, and can prove diffilcut with all those "random encounters". (but most players would probably expect them...)
How about doing the same thing twice in different stages, for atmosphere? While still relatively easy, the mood would change profoundly. If farmers were met before, it will be beggars now. Entire villages that were bustling with life before might be found abandoned, or worse. Grim men without distinction, probably deserters, could walk the road, but will anyone ask to make sure? More bandits, but even they may look poor and desperate. Guards walk now in larger groups, and question anyone, etc.
An interesting job for low-level mercenaries might be contacting more powerful mercenaries, and persuading them to work for a new employer. (The Cohrrons could be perfect for this!)
Note to propaganda: it is of course less used in primitive times, particularly when the ruler is a dictator, that commands, not asks. But if the opponent is smart, a few well-placed rumours can also fight for him.
Thus in the middle of the bloody combat the heroes may be called off to play detective: who started the talk that damaged the troops so much, whether through lowering their morale, or making them underestimate/misunderstand their enemy. Or worst, doing this to the generals/leaders. Misinforming the enemy can win the war too (read the Lord of the Rings for one big example).
Detective stories might work well, for the suspicion is high in these times. Is one of the generals/high officers a traitor? Or is it only the enemy that wants to break the trust and sow dissent? And who killed that important guy?
Some war related ideas
Empty the prison
The nation is not faring well and desperate measures are taken. The PC's are rotting away in a prison cell when they are freed on the premise they fight for the nation. The former inmates get all the suicide missions and it is not always pleasant to sleep while K'hil "The Strangler in the Alley" is on watch.
The war is over /a truce has been signed. But the mercenary armies hired won't stop the pillaging. The war has proved all to lucrative to them and now the kingdom pays the price for relying on hired help.
Guard the VIP
The PC's have been given an exceedingly boring task. They have to babysit an important noble with arrogant manners. When a nearby battle beckons they have to choose. Shall they sit idly by or enter the fray and rescue the poor villagers?
If they choose to join the battle, the noble is assassinated. If they don't they'll have to defend him from the assassins while the village is burnt. If the noble dies, they better run or their necks are forfeit!
Supply lines under attack
A group of elite enemy fighters have snuck past the front lines and are disrupting the lines of supply. Hunt down the culprits before the enemy gains the upper hand.
The war is over /a truce has been signed. But the mercenary armies hired won't stop the pillaging. The war has proved all to lucrative to them and now the kingdom pays the price for relying on hired help.
One random idea:
Moments before war, the PCs have to impersonate high-ranking officers of the enemies army, and hire a large group of merceneries (or possibly "take over" an already hired group). With these, they shall occupy a certain neutral farmstead/valley/town/country, and pillage it. Luckily, the noble army of allies comes in for rescue, and trashes the cruel mercenaries, while the cowardly officers flee for their life.
It will hopefully provoke the neutral side to take part in the war, on the _right_ side of course. It should certainly cut down on any local support for the enemy. If the war is prolonged, it should have its impact.
Of course, the PCs will have to keep their cover carefully (possibly after killing and disposing off of the true officers), and probably commit a few crimes of war, mistreat civilians, pillage, etc. If they can reason this (or have actually no qualms about it...), they shouldn't be surprised if other adventurers are hired to catch these heinous criminals.
It is a singular fact that this steadily increasing prosperity, far from tranquilizing the population, everywhere promoted a spirit of unrest. The general public became more and more hostile to every ancient institution, more and more discontented; indeed, it was increasingly obvious that the nation was heading for a revolution.
Thus it was precisely in those parts of France where there had been most improvement that popular discontent ran highest. This may seem illogical - but history is full of such paradoxes. For it is not always when things are going from bad to worse that revolutions break out. On the contrary, it oftener happens that when a people which has put up with an oppressive rule over a long period without protest suddenly finds the government relaxing its pressure, it takes up arms against it. Thus the social order overthrown by a revolution is almost always better than the one immediately preceding it, and experience teaches us that, generally speaking, the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways. Only consummate statecraft can enable a King to save his throne when after a long spell of oppressive rule he sets to improving the lot of his subjects. Patiently endured so long as it seemed beyond redress, a grievance comes to appear intolerable once the possibility of removing it crosses men's minds. For the mere fact that certain abuses have been remedied draws attention to the others and they now appear more galling; people may suffer less, but their sensibility is exacerbated.
In 1780 there could no longer be any talk of France's being on the downgrade; on the contrary, it seemed that no limit could be set to her advance. And it was now that theories of the perfectibility of man and continuous progress came into fashion. Twenty years earlier there had been no hope for the future; in 1780 no anxiety was felt about it. Dazzled by the prospect of a felicity undreamed of hitherto and now within their grasp, people were blind to the very improvement that had taken place and eager to precipitate events.
(Alexis de Tocqueville, The Old Regime and the French Revolution, Doubleday Anchor Books, 1955, pp. 175-177.)
Put shortly, revolutions don't have to happen when things are bad and getting worse, but when they are good and getting better. An explanation could be that people's expectations rush ahead of reality. When things are getting better, they expect far more than the reality can deliver.
So besides just living through The War, how do you get people involved?
PCs can be soldiers. Sure you can't be freebooting adventurers, but soldiers of note are the kind of people actually trusted with these kinds of missions. Freebooting adventurers can casually turn on you for more money OR if the going gets tough, just abandon the mission. Soldiers, if they are more than mere conscripts, will stick to the mission to the end. They have loyalty to the country.
Your players need to accept that they are "In the army". They need to accept the chain of command and people telling them what to do. If they can't do that, then this campaign is going to fail... big time.
So the PCs should not mud sloggers, but are elite soldiers of some kind. They get to do the fun things, most of the time, instead of slogging lieus and basic guard duty. Though there will be times they will be doing that too. If you are centering the campaign around The War, then soldiers are an obvious choice for campaign characters.
*PCs can be commanding officers, but only if your players like responsibility and have a wargaming bent. These should be your Captains, Marshalls, Colonels, people fairly close to the field.
The game system you are playing should support mass combat if you are going to allow them to be actual field officers. However, you have to make doubly sure that the Players can deal with being in a chain of command. Just because your character is properly set up to be an officer, does not mean the character being run by a specific player will be officer material.
This also allows them to run with military politics and poor funding from the government. They will get to make some tough choices, but that is the burden of command.
*Mercenaries are always a fun option. Makes for a good episodic campaign, as they are hired per "campaign season" or for specific battles. It is a variation on the soldier theme. You will need to bone up on your military structure some before attempting to run such a game. While being grunts in the merc forces is possible, I don't recomend it... unless your players are of the "just point me at what to kill" variety. Making them officers or elites in the mercenary company offers them more roleplaying and tactical options.
*Spies, Agents in the vocabulary of the day. They are agents of the crown, with specific loyalties and paycheck. These people will be doing most of the cool things in the war and not subject to as many direct orders.
They can be deep cover or simply silent tools in the dark. You will need to brush up on your spycraft some if you are going to run such a campaign, as well determine the web of handlers, contacts, and informants.
Your players do need to be immersed in the genre of spies before you try to run this one.
*Nobles. In the real world, until around 1450 in most places in Europe, Nobles were out in the field fighting it out. It was only until the purchasing of mercenaries and buying out of feudal duties became prevolent. You are a knight, well now you are an elite warrior. Prove it.
This kind of campaign uses a little bit of politics (jockying for position), some military rush, and leadership. Being somewhat independent, noble war campaigns could be to many players liking. However, they need to remember they are skirmishing on several fronts at once: the enemy, the nobility in the unit, the nobility at court, and any commanding officer. Thus they will need their wits about them.