[RPG] Structure for a political sandbox game


I am looking for a fairly structured approach to creating, preparing for, and running a political game.

To be more precise, I am looking for the following:

  1. A structured approach or even a game structure, by which I mean that there should be explicit procedures for starting the game, preparing for it on a session-by-session scale, and actually running it.
  2. By a political game I mean one in which large part of the action consists of communication, and in particular deciding what to tell, to whom, and when, and how to communicate it so as to control who knows of the communication, and so on. In particular, I am not looking for social conflict systems or systems to run a country with. The scope of the game could be anything from intergalactic to tribal/office/familial politics.
  3. Player choices and skill in making them should matter, in that different player actions lead to different consequences, and the actions of players determine, in part, the direction the game should go to. In particular, the GM should not have to make arbitrary or story-based (dramatist) decisions on what given non-player characters do, but should rather use procedure and established personalities, goals, etc. of the characters to make such decisions. (This is why I call this a sandbox game.)
  4. The player characters might or might not co-operate, and the decision should be up to the players, and could change as play happens.
  5. Ideally the game should be scalable, so that it could be started with a smallish number of characters and the cast should be expandable as play happens, if that is desired.

I expect I will have to design the game by myself, so all of the following would be useful:

  • A game that does this or something similar.
  • Procedures that would fit within such a game.
  • Descriptions or theories of political processes that could inspire the game structures I will presumably have to design. This is somewhat out-of-scope for this SE, so please focus on other matters and if resources like this spring to mind, then a mere link is enough, with possible commentary on how easy it would be to use the resource as a game design aid.

A related question: How do you run a political campaign?


For a similar kind of structure elsewhere, consider the OSR-style sandbox with dungeons.

Preparation for the campaign means building part of the sandbox map and a dungeon or two, and stocking them, building leads to them, etc. There are various procedures for these things.

Preparation for a session means re-stocking the dungeons, considering how factions and major characters react (they are usually limited in number), and updating dungeon keys and random encounter charts.

In play there is rolling for random encounters, navigation, and keeping track of resources.

Or, in my Amber game, preparation consists mostly of deciding what every NPC is doing and maybe figuring out a scene or two that could spring from their actions. In play I give players scenes they drive their characters into, as well as the prepared scenes which I tick off as the game progresses. (Other parts I improvise, pretty much, since I don't have or don't need more structure.)

I don't know of any such structures that would support running a political game (as defined above, in 2. and 3.).

Best Answer

First, set up a Conflict Web. Start by setting up your factions that are involved, and why they are competing/conflicting. This is more to give you a set of motivations for any given group, leaders, etc. and allow you to simply improvise based on the group's needs/ambitions.

The Conflict Web is not static, it's a starting point. So you may easily see characters shift alliances or make temporary truces to accomplish goals.

Second, once you situate the PCs into the scenario, look at their goals, and likely problems they will face in terms of Logistics and Politics. This is effectively similar to how Apocalypse World produces "Fronts".

After each session, look at what the PCs attempted, who was affected, whether any NPC groups made major moves and figure out who is going to react and how. You can choose to update either the Conflict Web or the Logistics & Politics list, though I usually find myself only having to do serious updates after 3-6 sessions because it's relatively easy to track what happened with simple notes.

Both of these tools can scale up or down, so you can do intergalactic empire politics or the 28 guys stuck in a prison together, based on whatever fits your campaign.