War. War never changes, but maybe it's possible to change who it is waged between.
Last week, I wrote about applying game rules to internal intrigue within a court, nation, or similar subtext. In this post, I'd like to talk about external intrigue - namely affecting who the populations of other nations want to go to war with and who they will ally with.
A post on the Swedish forum rollspel.nu suggested that groups would have a priority list of who they would ally with. As long as a group is at war with some civilization on the list, they will ally with anyone that's lower ranked than the enemy and focus on the highest ranking enemy. Anything not on the list is not a potential ally and effectively occupies the highest spot on the list. (This usually refers to undead fractions, or creatures from Beyond.)
For example, the Bloodsucker tribe of goblins have this list: Bloodsucker tribe - all goblins - all goblinoids (goblins, hobgoblins and bugbears) - evil humanoids - all humanoids. What this means is that:
- If an empire of good humanoids (counts among "all humanoids") declares a war on the Bloodsuckers, they are willing to ally with any evil humanoids until the war is over - concentrated efforts at extermination is met with concentrated efforts at defense.
- The good humans would do better by inciting violence between goblins and orcs, which would make them weaken each other without any casualties among good humanoids.
- If some crafty sorcerer were to summon something not on the list - an undead horde, or a psychic Lovecraftian horror - to attack the goblinoids, this would drive them to ally with the good humanoids, bringing everlasting peace as long as the outside threat remains in living memory. Consider the average goblinoid lifespan, though.
(Note that groups further up on the list includes everything below them.)
Now that we can stop wars, how do we incite them? And who do the Bloodsucker tribe bicker with when not in outright war with anyone? After all, without (real or imagined) reasons to start wars, the world would be a very nice and peaceful place.
The answer is to decide on a "natural" level on the list, which the group allies with in peacetime. For the Bloodsuckers, it's "all goblinoids" - they will ally with the hobgoblins and bugbears, and send raids to anything that does not count as "goblinoids". These raids are nothing like the war parties they will muster in an actual war, but worse than what they could muster after a successful campaign of extermination (which gives petty human leaders a reason to want them gone).
This level can be lowered by sowing Paranoia (capitalized because it's a game term). speaking to the goblins about how the Bugbears eat their old, and how the hobgoblins use them as cannon fodder, would make the goblins paranoid and lower the "natural" level to "all goblins". Further incitement could make the Bloodsuckers so paranoid that their natural level becomes "Bloodsucker tribe" - they trust no-one but themselves. Now they're raiding other goblinoids, which takes some heat off the elves, humans and dwarfs. (Or whatever counts as good humanoids in your setting.)
Just remember - an outside threat trumps internal bickering. The "natural state" is irrelevant in wartime.