I swear that this blog will never digress into any sort of political stuff that doesn’t directly involve gaming. That’s not what it’s for.
But politics and rulers and kings and kingdoms are a staple of gaming, and one of the things one hears a bit is how certain plot devices, like the evil mad king that spends a lot of time chewing the scenery is a hackneyed, tired, overly-used trick.
Way better to have “evil rulers” that don’t think of themselves as evil. Not “misunderstood,” but they really do think they have the right plan, that only they can shepherd the people/their clan/the country/the world into a better time.
Every now and then, it’s interesting to even make them right.
But for all of that, sometimes the world – our own world – actually serves up someone who really is the scenery-chewing type. The current third-generation ruler of the unfortunate and starving country of North Korea seems to fit the bill. And he’s clearly dangerous, along with his military ruling cohort, possessing a rather large army and nuclear weapons.
Without too much effort, this real-world country that is nearly totally dark at night would make a fine stand-in for a fantasy kingdom. A large, militarized country where the strong rulers do what they like. A ruling council of the powerful, rich warlords. And a mad sorcerer-king with a terrible magical weapon that is enough to plunge a world into chaos or devastate an area, but not enough to win any significant victory.
But perhaps that destruction would be the displaced twig that triggers the flood. A more powerful neighbor or three? Longstanding tensions? By taking some of the local tensions in this region and imbue them into your fantasy world, with a twist as you like, you impart some very real political pressure and motivation, with some pretty big potential consequences if the wrong stone is removed.
Such an evil king might only be dealt with by a party of adventurers, which are really a good analog for special ops troops in most cases (though they are plundering murderous spec-ops for hire, as often as not).
But hey, that’d never be a fun RPG romp, right?