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Thread: Help developing a theme

  1. #1
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    Help developing a theme

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    This is my first post, so I would first like to say hi to the community, and thanks in advance for any help you guys can give me.

    I am working on a Riddle of Steel campaign that will be played in a setting of my design. The setting is basically the Byzantine Empire, and will include elements of the Crusades. It's not an historical game, but those are the touchstones I use for my worldbuilding.

    OK, so the theme that I want to develop is "The Horror of War" - from a civilian perspective. This is going to be the backdrop of the action, not the driving force of it. (I hope that makes sense...).

    The city that the characters begin the game in is under siege for the first gaming session or so, and then will be sacked by the opposing army.

    My concern is that I want this to have an impact on the PCs, without getting them involved with the war itself. How do I portray the starvation and disease that goes hand in hand with a prolonged siege? What are some encounters that I can develop to drive this background into the fore-ground briefly.

    Like I said, I don't want to write a game where the PCs are fighting a war, but are present in, and concerned about, a war...

    Again, any help would be greatly appreciated!

    Cheers

    Tim

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    With a siege, as soon as food starts getting scarce, the hoodlums will start coming out to prey on the weaker folks. Lots of small riots for the PC's to help quell. Then, if you have a PC that can create food - what happens if they can create food/water for ten people, and 1000 people show up?

    Disease will start to take a toll. A great way to get the point driven DEEPLY home is if a character has an ability/spell to cure disease and is overwhelmed by parents trying to get their kids cured - way too many for them to actually cure - REALLY emphasize the horror and hope on the parents' faces.

    As people die, what happens with the bodies? As the PC's travel through the town, describe having to step OVER bodies in the streets.

    Another great idea is for the enemy to have a limited quantity of "special" ballista bolts that scream as they fly over the town. If one in 100 drop a tiny greek fire bomb, every time the population hears the scream, they'll panic. This is akin to the Buzz Bombs the Nazi's used on London in WWII - VERY effective for psychological warfare. They do very little damage, but destroy the population's mood.

    This is a WAY neat idea, and I may be stealing this for my own campaign for future use!! Welcome aboard!

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    The biggest impact is to describe the bodies piling up as often as possible, them being carted away and burned (that will leave a sickening smell that will likely be noticeable anywhere within the city). Have plenty of beggars asking for help as the PC's pass by. Have plenty of fights for food, and thugs beating people up to steal their food. Of course, describe some of the beggars as diseased, and have a few of them get near the PC's with a chance of infecting them with something.

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    "Fun" fact. Burning human flesh smells like barbecue.
    The thing about a seige is the dispair. Even those trained to fight will feel some sense of hopelessness as no help comes (or perhaps they know that no help is available). When you are surrounded on all sides by those who want to kill you, hatred goes out the window at first. Everybody is your brother and sister. Eventually, the spirit is worn thin and every little thing that has ever bothered you about your neighbor comes to the fore. People who were once impeccably clean now neglect bathing. Those who would never steal begin to take what does not belong to them. This extends even to those who may otherwise lean more towards law and order. In a chaotic situation such a city under seige, those that need law and order may sometimes carve it out for themselves by forming gangs that enforce their own laws. A military unit may develop an abiding hatred for another unit that slighted them (perhaps Unit B late in relief and Unit A lost men and materiel in the meantime, perhaps Unit B ate Unit A's chow, perhaps Unit A's commander never liked Unit B's commander and now they are at each other's throats).
    Most of the above applies to military and civilian population alike. Some unique things about the civilian population is that the economy is going to tank. When a man has 5 or 6 mouths to feed and he is no longer able to sell farm implements at the market (because the military commandeered his forge, or perhaps he is just the retailer, but either way because there are no farmers coming through the gates anymore) he gets desparate. He may sell his wiles to an enemy agent who is willing to help him feed his family. Black markets develop. The sewer system usually leads outside the gate. This is undoubtedly guarded heavily, for if and when the enemy finds the entrance into the city through the sewers, the seige could be over quickly if left un- or under-guarded. But these guards can often be encouraged to look the other way. The Theives' Guild will almost certainly rise in power as will the Masons' Guild and the Armomers' Guild (if such things exist in your city).
    Some encounters?
    They could be affected by the war but not part of it by being hired to smuggle something (or someone, or some information) in or out of the city. A powerful Councilor who wants to let his country estate know that they should pack his and their things and leave the area; an old sage who wants an archaic book; an overworked healer who needs more ingredients to heal the wounded. These are more adventure ideas. But they could just be side quests. Encounters...orphans...have there be so many orphans that they commit crimes and get in the way of everything. The PCs encounter this as an orphan very poorly tries to pick a party member's pocket in plain sight of a constable. But the contsable does nothing. When the PCs confront the constable, he says something like "We have no more room for them." PCs might answer "No room in the orphanages?" "What? Well, that, too. I meant no room in the prison. What am I supposed to do. Move along."
    There will be martial law, curfews...depending on the paranoia level of those in charge, there will be mass arrests of traitors and dissenters...towards the end, there will be forced conscriptions. This can affect the PCs if they avoid the gangs roaming the street for able bodied men (which will probably end up meaning anyone over the age of 13 or 14). If you do this, be prepared for the PCs to accept the conscription. Have a plan.
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