PEOPLE + COMPARISONS = POLITICS
That’s a good thing
If you believe that its not worth a lot of time to build macro-politics into your adventure, you’d be right.
In fact, having a few essential details in your mind shouldn’t take you long, and it will be enough to give your adventure a little context.
An understanding of politics is necessary to play or run any milieu, but fortunately, the process is also fairly instinctive, just like having an imagination. As we draw a map or design an encounter, we automatically think about questions like, is the place of adventure isolated, at peace with the other races, at its zenith or waning into squalor. These question automatically presume there’s someplace to compare it too. That is what politics is about, and DMs make these comparisons automatically, on-the-fly. Don’t believe it?
Let’s make one up now. Let’s say…
The Kingdom of Boltic, a matriarchy ruled by a dynasty in its seventh generation, are a competitive people who love spectator sports, like spelling bees. They’re fascinated with alchemy and chemistry and are the top potion exporter in the region. They crave contact with as many different cultures, peoples, and places as possible to obtain new formulae. If you are a young adult, expect to be in the Royal Math Club.
Next door is the Pqunti Ciross. A long narrow realm that blocks Boltic from direct access to the coast— a coast vital for robust trade in ideas and goods. The Pquntii’s distant ancestors were at constant tribal war, so they are a rigid, martial, society. If you’re a young adult, expect to serve in the military in some capacity.
Fortunately, the two neighbors are at peace, and citizens of one are often invited to compete in the major events of the other. In living memory the two have never fought. In fact, the very idea of neighbors fighting is… well, let’s say its against the law in both realms.
That’s not to say they like each other. Often the opposite. But there is also (on average, according to surveys) a mutual, grudging, respect for each other. Besides, “neighbors don’t fight!” It’s the rules.
Unfortunately, political peace doesn’t mean competition doesn’t exist. They’re both competitive cultures, and under the placid political surface are small bands of artisans—The Guilds—who strive to conquer their counterparts across the boarder. Here is where war lies. Here is where hate thrives, underground, clandestine, deadly.
Oh, everyone knows that this soft war, cold-war, goes on. The police, the guard, the general public, even the Queen and the Ciross are at least minimally aware of it. And everyone turns a blind eye to it, always, because “neighbors don’t fight.”
When it becomes too obvious to ignore (which happens sometimes) then the authorities come down like a bag of lead ingots. The joint enforcement agency called The Royal and The Cirossii (TRTC) is the bag, and the separate-but-cooperating, enforcement agencies on both side of the boarder are the lead ingots. Two dozen policing agencies of various sizes, jurisdiction, authority and chain-of-command work together seamlessly to CRUSH the scourge of illegal violence.
Of course these two countries and their political contradictions are seen by the other nations with a raised eyebrow. How strange their relationship is. Yet, none choose to challenge opposites in a contest of arms— since neither has anything worth taking. Not even their lands.*
Already you can see how story arcs and adventures nearly march off the page at you.
Trust me, you can’t help making comparisons in your campaigns because in your D&D world people + comparisons = politics. It’s as simple as the have’s and have-not’s.
So, if you’re world-building, spend more time fleshing out the geopolitical situation. Detailed world maps are two coppers a dozen. A silver piece will buy you one with description of peoples and cities, too. But what’s rare is a fleshed out geopolitical element. It doesn’t add color to your world, it is the color. To me, this is gold. It’s where the fun begins, and it’s so easy. Just let your imagination adventure.
Header photo credit. Art piece by Caroline Woolard, Lika Volkova, Helen Lee, and Alexander Rosenberg. “Carried on Both Sides”, work in progress, 2016.
The Example. Took about twenty minutes to write. Try it, its really not hard.