Looking for advice on political scenario


Some of you, @dr_mitch certainly, probably others, are quite good at coming up with and running the 'political' scenario, so I thought I'd poll the club to get some advice for an upcoming session in our Mythic Babylon game.


Our three characters live in an outlying city in the kingdom of Eshnunna. A year ago, Eshnunna was captured by the King of nighbouring Elam. During the invasion, the first cities to be invaded were destroyed to set an example, and so later cities in the kingdom fell mostly by capitulation. Our characters from from a city that capitulated, called Kakkulatum.

They are currently heading to Eshnunna, the capital city. They bring with them a semi-comatose governor of Kakkulatum, an appointee of the invaders, who has been poisoned. The Elamites sent a second governor to replace this sick one, but that governor never arrived. So the PCs plan to return the sick governor with the argument that these are signs the god Ninazu (who is both the city god of Kakkulatum and of Eshnunna) has rejected, and will continue to reject, the placement of a governor in Kakkulatum. I don't think the PCs care too much about the outcome of thi - it's mostly a screen for their real mission, which is to gather information for the resistance.

Over the past year since the invasion, things in the heartland of the kingdom of Eshnunna have settled down and somewhat gone back to normal. However, the Elamites are still fighting in the north. and things have been heating up between the Elamites and Hammurabi of Babylon, who rules just to the west. Elam and Babylon were previously allies in the invasion of Eshnunna, but now it seems they are about to head into open conflict. So there are armies mobilizing in the region, and they are gathering supplies (grain, boats, donkeys) for the war effort - all of which the PCs have.

They have managed to sneak through the country by barge up to now, taking canals through farmland. Recently, they were able to free a respected Eshnunnan general named Silli-Sin from captivity, and they hope to set him up as the person who will lead the Eshnunnas loyalists in rebellion. Silli-Sin has gone into hiding, and the PCs are now heading to Eshnunna to gather information. They need to find out which other generals are still loyal, and where they might be. They need to find our what happened to the old royal family (presumed all dead at this point). And they need to speak to a priest in the Temple of Ninazu about a prophecy.

To complicate matters, one of the characters is a native of Eshnunna, but hasn't been home since the invasion. He'll be wanting to find out about his family.

Situation Report: Eshnunna

In Eshnunna, they'll find that the male members of the royal family were killed (or mostly killed - is someone still alive?). They'll find that the city is under the direct rule of one of the Kings of Elam, and the Elamite army is the local authority. But the city is largely unharmed, except for the city wall. The local infra-structure is intact, and the local administration and judges/legal system as well. Most people appear to support the Elamites, or at least accept them. Within the city at all levels there will be people who are loyal to Elam (preferring them to the previous king) and people who are secretly against Elam. It will be hard to tell the two apart. So, there's plenty of scope for intrigue in the palace.

Important people will be:
The Elamite king and his personal Elamite flunkies
Elamite generals (who may rival one another)
The old Eshnunnan bureaucrats, who probably include the old Vizier and other high level functionaries, still needed to keep the kingdom running.
One or more diplomats from neighbouring kingdoms - Babylon and Mari as the big ones, and maybe also some petty kingdoms.
Messengers of all kinds running around.
The Elamite has probably married the wives of the old king, but not necessarily.
Priests of the Temple of Ninazu, the main city cult. Another cult to the Storm God, Teshshub, is also important.
Some regiments of the army of Eshnunna are still intact and are now fighting for the Elamites - mostly on the front lines in the north. But there may be some Eshnunna officers or attaches here in the city.

The PCs

I'd like to see the PCs drawn into this mix, somehow. The PCs are:
1. A healer from the temple of Ninazu in Kakkulatum (who will have connections at the temple, but doesn't know the local high priestess, perhaps because she's new.)
2. A soldier (scout) from the army of Eshnunna who has been convalescing in Kakkulatum for the past year and may be presumed dead here in Eshnunna.
3. Another soldier (a mercenary infantryman) who had been working for Eshnunna at the time of his invasion but has since been cut off from his mercenary band (who have probably returned to their distant home).

When the PCs enter Eshnunna, they will either:
1. Go straight to the palace to deal with their sick governor situation, or
2. Be intercepted before they get to the palace by someone who will be on their side, perhaps by someone who runs into them in the street, or because the decide to go to the scout's home or to the temple first.
3. Be intercepted before they get to the palace by someone opposed to them - like someone arresting the scout for desertion? I'm leaning away from this one, but maybe someone has a strong case for it.

That's quite a lot to work with, and I'm in analysis paralysis mode. I'd like to present the PCs with a conundrum of sorts, some hard decision for them to make. Does anything jump to your mind?



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    I'd be tempted to go with the "3x3" scheme to bring this setup to life. (I think I got the idea from Chris Chinn, but I can't find it now.) The idea is to identify three factions, and three people in each one. You've got three factions already: the Elamites, the budding resistance, and the Eshnunnan establishment (who want a quiet life). For each faction, you need three people: the faction leader, someone who's on the extreme/uncompromising side of the faction, and someone who's either more pragmatic or conciliatory. Then add some blood and sex links between them all, and give everyone a goal, ideally one that they can't achieve without the PCs.

    That's all generic, but here's some specifics.

    What does the Ninazu priestess want? Does she want the governor healed, dead, or ill and under her control? Who's pressuring her to do take the other options? What can she offer the PCs so they'll remove that pressure from her?

    The scout's brother has enrolled in the Elamite army, to put food on the table. The father is refusing to co-operate, but isn't going as far as joining the resistance. But the father is eating the brother's food. The father's "working man's club" has quite a few resistance agitators. The brother wants the PCs to get names from the father, for money. The father wants everything to go away. The agitators want to feed false information through the brother, to get the Elamites to kill resistance splitters.

    Person X approaches the PCs, says they're from the resistance, and don't trust person Y. Person Y approaches the PCs, says they're from the resistance, and don't trust person X.

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    Thanks so much, @NeilNjae, this is really helpful and useful stuff! I just may use all those specifics. :smile: Especially the situation with the scout's brother.

    Because of how history real history unfolds I think I'd like to introduce at least one representative of Babylon, so one of the characters will be a Babylonian ambassador. Maybe he's one of the X or Y characters. Or maybe not - maybe more like a snake in the garden of eden.

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    You're in a good situation...the player characters have a side, and they're heavily involved. On the Babylonian front...certainly a Babylonian agent will approach the characters, offering help for the resistance, but there's going to be a price later on for Eshnunna- probably in the form of a promise of vassalage to Babylon, or a promise of soldiers to help fight Elam (with might seem a fair deal under the circumstances).

    And that's a decision the PCs, with their connections to interpreting prophecy, not to mention the sick governor, can choose to help or hinder. They will be the ones first approached.

    For an immediate dilemma, the PCs should find it not a completely clear path to deal with the sick governor situation. The obstacle could be deceptive...someone opposing them and their aims, but who pretends to have their interests at heart to better deal with them. They might be able to get away fairly easily once they figure that the one who claims to be their friend wears a false face, but if not are in trouble- or at least the poor governor is.

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    Thanks, @dr_mitch . It might be very interesting if the sick governor turned out to be an ally afterall!

    I've resolved how the governorship question will work itself out. Early in their adventure the PCs travelled to the neighbouring city of Zaralulu, which has an Elamite military governor named Asina. The PCs met him, and he invited them for dinner. Afraid he would use the opportunity to commandeer their boat, they skipped out on him and left town in a hurry (and from there went to rescue Silli-Sin).

    When they arrive at the palace, they will be asked their opinion of Asina. After they give it, Asina will step into the room, and the PCs will be told that their city will now be governed from Zaralulu by Asina. They will probably figure they now have an important enemy - and they do.

    From the old administration, we have two people still in power in the palace. There's the Vizier, Gir-namme. He's old, and would at this point like to retire gracefully. He has a lot of power and is using it to keep the peace, curbing the worst of the Elamite excesses and cooling the rebel faction. He just might appear to be an enemy to everyone.

    The other person is a historical personage, Kuzzi, the senior palace scribe. Kuzzi is a font of information, and knows just about everything there is to know - because he knows everything that gets written by a palace scribe - but is very hard to get to. Perhaps secretly he is directing the resistance by sending secret letters claiming to be from other people. (such as the queen of the old king, now locked in her palace).

    Bellusa-rabi is the Entu (High Priestess) of Ninazu in the city. The PCs will see her as an ally partly because of that connection, and partly because Silli-Sin told the PCs to seek her out. But what if she's not the ally they first thought? She's a very real candidate for person X (one of the people the PCs are told not to trust!).

    Who might person Y be? The priest of one of the other temples (Adad, Ningishzida, Shala, or Tishpak)? Another priest of Ninazu? Maybe an important physician in the city (someone our physician character will feel a bond with)? Or the Babylonian ambassador?

    Perhaps an important ceremony is about to take place - one that requires a ceremonial coupling between the High Priestess of Ninazu and the King of Eshnunna? Does she plan to something during the ceremony? Something that will end her life? Something that will end her life before the PCs can speak to her?

    The scout's brother will need detailing, and one or two more from the family. The brother now runs the scout's estate as part of his service to Eshnunna, but will be required to return it now that the scout has returned, so the scout can retake his place. This will generate bad feelings, but the scout will likely not want his estate back. He'll ask his brother to hide his return. And if the brother is loyal to the new king, there will certainly be tension. So the brother is another candidate for person X - people from the scouts neighbourhood will tell him not to trust his brother!

    So, definitely much to think about over the coming days as I draw these strings together.

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    I'm guessing you know about the Bang-oriented, protagonist-play style of GMing? As in, the one mentioned in Sorcerer and Sorcerer's Soul. I tend to run this sort of situation from an R-map (with each NPC annotated with their goal) and a list of Bangs. Try to think of a Bang or three for each NPC, and a few aimed directly at each PC's internal struggle. And when PCs start acting against each other, that's when I can just sit back, smile, and let them get on with it.

    For instance, Bellusa-rabi is planning to kill the King during the ceremony.

    • Of course, she asks the soldier PC to ensure it happens, even going as delivering the killing blow should Bellusa-rabi fail in her first attempt.
    • Of course, Kuzzi gets wind of the plan and appeals to the healer PC to stop all this nonsense "because just think of how awful the reprisals would be."
    • Of course, the scout's brother is on the verge of bankruptcy and wants some juicy information to sell to the Elamites, does the scout know of any conspiracies among the resistance?
    • Of course, all of these Bangs happen while the PCs are separated and people need answers before the PCs can meet up and swap notes.

    Oh, there's lots of juicy story fun in that situation. Should be a fun game!

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    I'd say Bang Oriented is essentially what I've always done (created a network of NPC then created hooks for the players) but no, I didn't know someone had tried to coin the process. It's really helpful to get an outside perspective in the planning, though - fresh ideas, and all that. Thanks so much!

    BTW, 'bankruptcy' is called 'debt slavery' in this setting - another interesting idea. The scout's estate (given to him by the palace to work while he served in the army) has received some setbacks and his brother had so sell someone into slavery to pay the debt. Not sure I wan't to play the slavery card yet, though.

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    Bangs are something that has been around since at least when I started. We just called it something different.

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