Path of the Black Flag- Politics in your Game

Every Pathfinder campaign, unless it takes place in an infinite dungeon stocked solely with animals and automatons (and even then, who put them there?) is going to involve politics. An Anarchist campaign, with such an inherently political focus, is going to involve even more politics. But while the results of politics (death, war, guards violently enforcing weird laws, young people resisting arranged marriages) are often exciting, the means of politics (interminable council meetings, endless parliamentary debates, bureaucracy, filling out forms in triplicate) are often not. This presents a problem for people who want to deal with politics, either in a real-life or a fictional context. So how does a gamemaster make the means of politics exciting for their players?

Making Politics Exciting

The Personal is Political

Every political decision has, at its root, a personal basis. No matter how abstract the regulation, no matter how inhumane the law, there are all borne from human emotion and human desire (or dwarven emotion and desire, or goblin emotion and desire, etc., etc.). Every law, every decree, every declaration of war happens because someone wants something, and they are willing to kill (or at least threaten to kill) to get it or enforce it. And where there is someone willing to kill to make something happen, there is the opportunity for adventure.

Politics is War by other Means

Laws and edicts are almost never sober decisions designed to improve the lot of the populace. They are most often part of a hidden war being fought by secret factions, both within and without a particular kingdom or country. designed either to strike down a rival, or prevent an upstart from becoming a rival. If every political decision as someone and their desires behind it, then those desire are often for their side/tribe/cabal to achieve or maintain dominance. Guildmasters scheme against the barons. Senators that favor the red team in the chariot races scheme against the priests who favor the blue team. The wool producers of kingdom A work tirelessly to stop a small group of alchemists in country B from developing a breed of giant sheep. Dragons, liches, and those who study politics all have an ancient saying they use to help make sense of why some laws were enacted, and why some wars were waged: Cui bono? “Who benefits?”

Governments are at War with their Citizens

Many people call Anarchy chaos. And while some Anarchists are fine with that, others retort that Anarchy is in fact Order; Government, however, is civil war.

It is undeniable that governments spend quite a lot of time and energy controlling, spying on, extorting (what is politely called ‘taxing’), detaining, and occasionally killing their own citizens- essentially, they are at war with their own citizens. Of course, they don’t say that. In fact, they spend only slightly less time and energy convincing people they aren’t doing those things, as the spend doing those things. They convince people that those they control, spy on, detain, and kill are really part of the citizenry- they’re criminals, traitors, foreigners, subversives, etc. Not real people. They convince people that the controlling and taxing that actually affects them is necessary, righteous, perhaps even holy- so much so, that opposing it is an act of treason, disloyalty, and sometimes blasphemy.

Anarchists argue that governments do this because they are predators and parasites, pure and simple- they feed  off of their citizens. Governments argue that they control their citizens because an uncontrolled citizenry is worse off and more vulnerable than a controlled one. Whoever is right, governments still commit violence against their subjects.

Politics is a Seductive Trap

If adventurers have any ambitions outside of cleaning out every dungeon ever, they usually want to advance in society. Maybe a knighthood or some other honor, maybe a title, maybe even a kingdom of their own to rule. This applies even to Anarchist adventurers. So many think they if only they were the ones in charge, they could run thing right and just. They are told continuously that fighting tyranny from the outside is foolish and unproductive- if they want to effect real change, they need work from within. And many do so, seduced by the promise of power, and start to lessen their Anarchist activities, with the goal of doing something even bigger later on. Eventually, they start to sympathize and identify with those in power, and even start to oppose the vert actions they used to do- to people doing them now don’t understand the way the world really works, not like the newly minted official of the kingdom. And finally, years in the future, when their dreams are forgotten and their souls worn down through their work, they tell the next generation of Anarchists that their agitation is foolish and unproductive. If they want to effect real change, they should work from within….

Anarchist adventurers should be in constant danger of being seduced to abandon their principles in the names of power and expediency. They act of selling-out should always be presented as an option. Some of their strongest opponents should be former Anarchists.

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