One recurring theme in almost every D&D 3.5 campaign I played online as a teenager was a crappy government in the setting. Governments in D&D tend to suck. They seemed to either be impotent to ridiculous extremes in order to not “step on the PCs toes” as they do literally everything to save the world; or they are an active hindrance and the final great enemy to defeat. I always find the first the really frustrating one. When you’ve got an army of 10,000 tin can people who are WORTHLESS in the face of such great threats as goblins and ooze it gets just a little too ridiculous for me. I like to have my characters act within existing structures that a character from that Setting might be expected to work with. I report stuff to the guards and see if they’ll help; I ask if there’s a postal system and use it; I once even wrote a letter to a regional governor in-game. It almost never panned out because everyone seems really averse to having government as an aspect you can actually engage with.
There was, however, the odd campaign where I ran for President.
Usual disclaimer – this is meant to represent a campaign that I deem to have gone sort of wrong, in that one player (me) pretty much took off while everyone else watched, and nobody really agreed on anything. War Stories articles aren’t supposed to be campaigns that are exemplary. They’re campaigns I messed with for one reason or another because I was young and didn’t really get that Roleplaying Games are about cooperative storytelling and team play.
One of my old PBP groups had a lot of people who weren’t “into” politics but who thought that a game set in a republic would be very interesting departure from all the games set in do-nothing kingdoms. The GM agreed and set up a game. I joined the game and essentially won my place in the roster by filibustering the character sheet with a backstory of titanic proportions. On a lot of PBP forums, this looks extremely impressive compared to the average applicant, especially if you use big words like “metastasizes” and “laffer curve” in your dissertation. I made it into the game along with two people who, as usual, I will only refer to by the characters they created. The basic premise of the game was fairly simple – we were all characters who had arrived from neighboring lands to a burgeoning constitutional democracy, and we had to find opportunity and glory within this new land and its new laws. Essentially it was a sandbox game except in Not-Revolutionary Not-America.
“Have they had elections?” I asked, having read all 25 pages of the Setting pdf and finding nothing about it.
“Oh, I didn’t think about that. I’ll just say they’re about to have some.”
“Good! Throw my name in the ballot. Frederick’s running for President.”
There was silence in the chat room, but my smile in the meatspace said it all. I was going to run for President and I was going to win, because if I didn’t win then there wouldn’t have been much of a point to joining this game otherwise. At this point in my life I didn’t play D&D 3.5 because I enjoyed going through pointlessly obtuse mechanics for pushing goblins down cliffs. I played D&D 3.5 because I knew it so intimately that I both hated it and loved [breaking] it.
Like a lot of D&D 3.5 games this one was 4d6 drop 1 for ability scores, and it started at level 10 – right the cusp of where D&D 3.5 starts to warp into an abomination, but at least it’s not the horrible doldrums of the lower levels. I generated Frederick Alois, 10th level Lawful Neutral Cleric of a knockoff Wee Jas deity. Everyone dresses in red; death, law and magic; etcetera. His ability scores were 12 Strength, 15 Constitution, 12 Dexterity, 13 Intelligence, 20 Wisdom and 16 Charisma. He was accompanied by Stella Luxis, level 8 Rogue, and Jacob J[acob]. Jacobson, the most Mormon Monk to have ever received a D&D character sheet.
The crew began their tale in the capital city of Kishingston, after a great victory in the revolutionary war, and ready to begin the process of self-governance in this new republic. I ran up to a fountain and stood on it and started talking about the need for strong leadership, electoral process, and other things. Jacob and Stella went to a tavern to “pick up quests.” The GM seemed like he wanted to paint me an outcast loony but could not do so because of my consistently over-25 Diplomacy rolls. Instead the crowd began to warm up to me, and eventually threw me a bunch of gold coins I didn’t care about. I handed them all back and said that I wanted not their money – I want their liberty and prosperity. Crowd goes wild, seeds are sewn.
Because this was a sandbox campaign, the GM didn’t really care about what I was doing, fundamentally. It was a sandbox and I was doing what I wanted and generating story out of it. So whatever. The other characters went to the tavern and found out about this guy whose wife had run out on him with another man. Because this is Not-Revolutionary America these people were sinners and heathens and adulterers and so on, and the man would give me 10,000 frickin’ gold to cast Divination, find the couple, cast Slay Living on the rival man, cast Mark of Justice on the lady and bring her back, and tell her that running away with random men into woods filled with Ettins is really bad. I did just that, in that order, with hardly anyone else’s help (Jacob and Stella helped punch and stab some Ettins, but overall this didn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things).
Returning to town, I discovered that the man whose wife I had just returned was an influential man in local politics and he thought I was a stand-up cleric of a Goddess of Law and Death whose followers were known for infiltrating governments. They didn’t have Knowledge: The Planes or Religion so they wouldn’t really know a lot of that though. The man encouraged me to begin a local campaign and I would use my reward money to begin doing just that. Stella and Jacob were quickly educated on political assassinations in early American history and became excited about the prospect as well.
Earning votes in a normal, immersive way is hard. I was just gonna roll Diplomacy until I won.
Which is to say I was going to rig Diplomacy checks so I couldn’t really lose.
Now, Frederick is a Cleric, which means he has great Wisdom, might have decent Charisma (in my case he did, in Point Buy it’d be another story) and a ton of spells, and access to the Diplomacy skill. But not enough access to the Diplomacy skill. Because Frederick has to fight monsters and save people sometime – he can’t just blow all his feats and character resources into sweet-talking people. If John Wilkes Booth came out of the woodwork I had to be able to Blind and Deafen him then stomp him in the nuts. This is where Frederick needs a running mate. His VP choice will greatly impact the election.
Enter the Leadership feat and Lelinda Busy, 8th level Bard.
Leadership is one of those feats that would be fun if anyone allowed it, and if when allowed nobody used it to destroy the game. It is essentially a swiss army knife feat because when you take it you essentially gain a bunch of other feats. Leadership has a really long text block but essentially reads like so: you make up another character 2 levels lower than your own character, and you gain a ton of completely inconsequential NPC hangers-on that don’t matter until you want to exploit them somehow. Lelinda would be built from the ground-up to exploit the Diplomacy skill and get us much-needed votes for my election.
For starters, Lelinda had 20 Charisma due to being a Star Elf and managing to roll a 16 which would be boosted by her ability score bonuses from leveling up. That’s +5 Diplomacy. She had 11 ranks in Diplomacy for +16 Diplomacy. She had a synergy bonus from Sense Motive for +18 Diplomacy. A Circlet of Persuasion gave her +3 Diplomacy for +21 Diplomacy. She had Skill Focus Diplomacy and Persuasive for +5 Diplomacy giving her +26 Diplomacy. She had a booklet with Ronald Reagan’s face on it authored by Ayn Bland (a generic Diplomacy tool for +2) giving her +28 Diplomacy. Finally she could cast Friendly Face to gain +5 Diplomacy for an hour, giving her +33 Diplomacy. And this is REALLY PEDESTRIAN compared to what you can do if you really want to go completely insane. As long as she rolled decently she could make anyone like her (me).
Now for Followers! Character Level + Charisma modifier gave a cozy score of 13 to begin with. I argued with the GM that my many speeches gave me Great Renown and that Kishingston was my campaign HQ because we hadn’t even done any quests outside of it yet anyway, so I hadn’t moved around at all. This boosted my score to 17. I had a special power in my divine casting ability, and fairness and generosity too for my charitable donations, for 19. This added up to 40 1st level followers, 4 2nd level followers, 2 3rd level Followers and 1 4th and 1 5th level followers, for a total of 48 Followers. They would be my campaign staff.
They didn’t really matter.
Lelinda started making public appearances with me and she was the best spoken person in the entire campaign setting by a long mile. I asked the GM what the other candidate was doing, and he staged a debate, that I did pretty decently in because I had a modest +16 diplomacy. Lelinda had her own Vice Presidential debate that she completely destroyed without mercy with her +33 Diplomacy, boosted to +35 when I bought a Cloak of Charisma +4 with campaign contributions for her.
In order to boost my popularity as a do-something candidate, self-made cleric who pulls himself up by his bootstraps and doesn’t rely on government charity, Frederick, Stella and Jacob introduced an Ettin Re-Education Campaign that involved me casting Order’s Wrath and Flame Strike a lot (and when I gained a level, Hold Monster and Blade Barrier). Eventually the Dark Woods were just “The Woods” and we had the election in the bag. Especially because Election Night was another Diplomacy check, because the GM just really had no idea what else to do at that point.
Thus, President Frederick Alois took his first term in office, and began enacting sweeping socialistic reforms, a fair tax code by income brackets, passing health care bills, giving women suffrage, freeing slaves, and all that good stuff. When the Congress didn’t really want to agree with me, Lelinda and I change their minds. I also went back to the guy from before and I cast a Quest on him to divorce his wife, give her all his money, and live as a frugal monk. There were a few adventures that were so milquetoast I just honestly can’t remember them, but the game went on for a bit after my election. Jacob was Minister of Defense and Stella was Minister of Finance. I do know that I put down a right-wing fascist revolt with due prejudice.
John Wilkes Booth did eventually show up. His nuts were thoroughly stomped.
The campaign slowed down and eventually petered out, mostly because the GM really just wanted us to go around killing things and taking their stuff on a big hex map, not talking to NPCs and much less ruling over NPCs with a socialist democratic iron fist. That’s one thing about D&D, there’s a huge subset of people who just don’t seem to find any value in interacting with NPCs and when you do it they just waffle around not really conscious of where to take it.
In retrospect, though, this is pretty much one of the least terrible things I’ve done as a player.
The moral of the story is – you can’t trust the system.