So I've been reading the Broken Empire trilogy (via audiobook), and it got me thinking about an interesting campaign idea... but I'm not sure how it would actually work. The premise is that each of the PCs is a "power behind the throne" - an advisor who attempts to guide the actions of their chosen pawns. The setting would be an amalgam of Cairhien from Wheel of Time, Tolnedra from the Belgariad/Mallorean series, Rennaissance Italy, and other similar situations - cosmopolitan fantasy, aging emperor with no heir, great houses vying for influence and power, etc.
I see a couple difficulties:
1) The underlying PvP nature of the game. Alliances and double-dealings make it complex and interesting, but in terms of logistics, the players would need lots of back-channel communication with the DM to make this happen.
2) The players' actions would be very indirect. This would be asking a lot of the DM, who would have a very complex tapestry of influences and interactions to weave together. However, this actually helps mitigate difficulty #1, since the players wouldn't come into direct conflict.
So here are some brainstorming ideas for how to set up such a campaign. (This is mostly stream of consciousness, so bear with me.)
- D&D is almost certainly the wrong system for this. Fate maybe? I can't think of a system off the top of my head which is designed for this kind of intrigue, but Fate could possibly work, in terms of influence by way of Aspects, and having built-in social & mental combat. Online people seem to recommend Burning Wheel, but I don't know it at all so I can't comment.
- Magic should be rare, and lean more towards thaumaturgy than evocation (in Dresden Files terminology). Basically, the idea is that if you have to resort to blasting people, you've already lost the game. The PCs would be magical advisors to each family, probably with other NPC families (with or without similar advisors) thrown in.
- Probably the best way to structure the game is to have it revolve around a series of public events (tournaments, feasts & holidays, royal audiences, etc), with each player working on their own preparations in between via individual RP with the DM, and then communal RP sessions for each event. There could also be ad hoc sessions with smaller groups for private functions (dinner parties, social calls, etc) involving two or three players.
- I don't know whether the communal sessions would involve the PCs directly, or whether the players would be their various pawns & scions. Would have to have some kind of mechanic for rebellious pawns that don't do what they're told...
- Honestly, some kind of direct influence & control mechanic would be a good idea, to make adjudicating this kind of thing easier, and maybe also as a resource. For example, if you extensively mind-control the members of your chosen family, they'll follow your instructions extremely well, but have very little initiative for dealing with unexpected events. However, if your influence is lighter, they're better at adapting, but more likely to act on their own and cause problems with your plans. In a tourney setting, you can expend your energies making your champion unstoppable, but if your enhancements are too obvious, they could be disqualified. And so forth.
That's what I've got for now, I'd love some input.