Sunday, 14 July 2013

Making (and breaking) the rules of the Long Game

Dominic Matte
As has finally been revealed to the party in my ongoing D&D campaign, there's more going on in the world than meets the eye - every country is secretly run by dragons, and the dragons are playing a long game for control of the planet. Like all games, the Long Game has rules to keep its players in line and to establish a fair field of battle.

Right from the outset, the rules were influenced by Isaac Asimov's robot stories. Asimov's stories clearly lay out the three laws of robotics, and then explore all the ways in which robots interpret, misinterpret, or break those rules. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do something similar. It's way more interesting to look at the exceptions to the rules than to have everything run perfectly according to plan.

In case you missed Dallas' session recap, here are the rules of the Long Game: 
1. A dragon's true identity must not be known by more than five living non-dragons. If additional non-dragons learn of the dragon's identity, creatures must be eliminated until five remain.
2. A dragon may not physically act unless its life is directly threatened.
3. A dragon may have no more than one living heir.
4. A dragon's heir may not produce offspring unless its parent is deceased.
5. A dragon must eliminate direct threats to the game when they arise. The game must not be unduly influenced by outside factors.
6. A dragon found to be in violation of any of these rules forfeits its position in the game and may be executed at the convenience of the other players. Evidence of the violation must be provided.
So now that the rules are laid out, let's talk about the exceptions.

The copper dragons are isolated in a territory bordered by magical statues that block the passage of any dragons in or out of the country. The many young copper dragons are fighting over who gets to inherit the role of the copper player in the game - since no one dragon currently holds the role, there's no limit to how many copper dragons there are. As soon as one wins the honour of representing the copper species in the game, the others will all have to be eliminated in accordance with the rules.

The brass dragon is the head of the Brass Company, an international mercenary organization known for always getting the job done and its strict adherance to the letter of a contract. Each dragon can only have one heir - but Brass has figured out that non-heir half-dragon offspring don't count. All major positions of power or trust in the Brass Company are occupied by half-dragons who believe themselves to stem from a proud and ancient lineage of dragonborn who have retained their wings and greater strength.

Red, also known as Lord Baelfire, has been pretending to be a balor for nearly a thousand years. Since no one knows he's a dragon, he's free to interact with as many people as he chooses and be as widely known as he wants. Or at least he was, until the party killed him.

The cobalt dragon, Rime, has established a persona as a long-dormant survivor of the dragon purge that occurred a thousand years ago. With his former identity forgotten, and his role in the game unknown, he's got a way around rule 1 - since no one knows his true identity, he's free to fly around and amass hordes of followers. 

Rime's method of taking territory is to fly low over the countryside, followed by his hordes. When the defenders of a fortress or territory see a dragon flying overhead, they naturally want to defend themselves, so they attack the dragon. What they don't know is now that Rime's life is directly threatened, he's free to attack with full force and annihilate whatever stands in his way.

With his ruthlessness, overwhelming physical strength, and his two loopholes that allow him to engage enemy armies directly, Rime is viewed by the other players as the most dangerous and unpredictable player in the game. 

There's one more interesting exception, but I don't want to spoil that one for my players just yet. It's a pretty crazy one so I'll definitely post it when it's revealed in-game.

So what's the takeaway from all this? Whether you're playing a character or building a world, and you're coming up with a set of rules or laws or guidelines that appear somewhere in-universe, put some thought into the different ways they might be interpreted or broken, or if the wording allows for any flexibility or exceptions. If you're playing a rigidly lawful good paladin with a very strict code of honour, how might he react to someone who's technically following the rules of his god, but in a way that goes against the spirit of those rules? How could the evil vizier exploit the laws of the city in order to gain more power? What if a country's laws are worded in such a way that they don't apply on a specific, very rare holiday?

Always keep in mind that rules are made to be broken. Unless you're playing in my game, in which case you'd better follow my rules.

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