The Supporters of War

For RPG Blog Carnival on War, but also for my writer audience.

Yesterday, I talked about the inevitability of wars in role-playing games. I focused on the out of character reasons, since no amount of in-character problem-solving is going to do a jot of good if the game master is on a war kick, and since that way I could get all the RPG-only stuff out of the way early. But I’m not going to call preventing large-scale conflict easy by any means, particularly not by a rather small group of improbably stubborn people like most player character groups tend to be. (As many people have pointed out, it would be awfully player-centric to give them a guarantee. Still, I’ve seen plenty of in-game wars that could have been stopped by the right people in the right place, or at least could’ve been fun to try to stop, so I like to keep the option open. If nothing else, how the attempt goes can influence how the conflict itself goes.)

Either way, what we need to know is what’s between these places and peace.

Most wars are supported by one or both of two things: leader enthusiasm and popular support. It’s easy to oversimplify leader enthusiasm—the usual logic goes “Evil King Maniac is pushing his country into a war with The Home Country. If we get rid of the evil king, no more war. Let’s go!” There are two problems with this line of thought. One is that the evil king’s probably not the only one interested in a war—there almost have to be others of rank supporting him, or he likely would’ve been assassinated long ago. (I’m ignoring the ones who just scare everyone into backing them up—yes, they exist, but you’re less likely to be broadsided if your contingencies include the leader not being the sole supporter of the war. And not being broadsided is definitely a good thing.)

The other is that, no matter how good your intentions are, killing the leader to stop the war will almost invariably result in people jumping to the wrong conclusion about why you did it. It doesn’t matter if the person backing the war had sold his soul to the forces of darkness long ago and you can prove it, if he was at least as bad for his people as he was for his foes, and if the country’s lack of resources was because he was bleeding it dry—if you come in and kill him, particularly if you’re very clearly representing The Home Country, someone’s bound to come to the conclusion that this is a first move in a Home Country expansion bid, or if you’re in line for Maniac’s throne it’s assumed that you’re doing it for your own political advantage, and…. either way, by stopping the war you’re just as likely to accidentally set one off. These things take finesse.

With some wars, it’s more a matter of popular support. Everyone agrees this is a lot harder to work around; after all, the more people you have to convince of a fact, the harder it is overall. Particularly when someone else is counter-convincing them at the same time, and they have the advantage of the opinion being overall in their favor. And popular support can come from an absurd number of potential causes, everything ranging from necessity to national pride to simple grudges against the other side (I’ll be getting into that tomorrow), meaning that trying to turn it around in a hurry is a risky business; what happens if you’re addressing the wrong potential problem? Don’t forget, though: no population is a monolith. There will always be people who think differently. (We recruit them!)

And sometimes, it’s a little of each. You might have the army in support of a war, and everyone else against it. Or merchants clamoring for a war and the army disinterested. Maybe nobody really wants it, but someone’s pulling the strings in such a way that starting a war seems like the lesser evil.

So there are the overall trends. Tomorrow, I’m going to get into what sorts of factors spur on support for a war, further complicating any efforts to avoid it.


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