Elections in Burning Wheel

Or at least, your thoughts on how to run them.

I’ve got a 2nd Punic War game I’m running in Fate Core now and after three sessions and much frustration on my part, I’m carting the whole thing over the Burning Wheel. I already figured out lifepaths and the like, and also what I’ll use for mass battles and all that stuff. What I’m stuck on is elections.

In the Roman Republic, elections were a contested thing, full of speeches, bribery, and all sorts of weirdness. So I want to have that in the game. One of the things that prompted my switching was I ran an election is Fate with some rules I’d kludged together, but they felt as flat as everything else I was trying. So, I figured, there MUST be a better way to run it in BW.

One idea is to make it a linked test. That could work, though, I’d like some way to model “coming at the top of the poll” since, at this time, that has special meaning (i.e., if elected as Tribune of the Plebs, and you won the most votes throughout the tribes, you’d be President of the College of the Tribunes of the Plebs; do the same as a Praetor, and you’d be the Urban Praetor, with the second runner up being the Foreign Praetor).

Any way to model that? Or should I have players state things like “I’m going for Urban Praetor!” for the Intent of the Linked Test and let that be that? Either they make the obstacle I set and they get what they want or they don’t? Or what?

Thoughts? Advice? Ideas? I want something solid, since the “plan” for the campaign is to fight out this war, which means we’ll need to do it again and again (at least twice more).

I think it depends on how much time and detail you want to go into the elections. On one end you can do a single check off of Oratory, Bribery, etc. (however they intend to win the election). If they fail the check they can still win the election, but say they use Bribery - maybe they go caught and are being blackmailed, if they used Oratory maybe they made some promises that they don’t want to keep.

Slightly more complicated would be linked tests Plebian Wise+ Bribery+ Intimidation +Oratory? Again failing the check introduces a skill appropriate complication.

On the fairly complicated level you can make something like Duel of Wits, a scripted maneuver+disposition based system. I’d just spend some time brainstorming ways to electioneer map them to the DoW interaction grid.

Most complicated would be if the election is really a primary source of conflict and you want the election take place over several sessions and the characters break winning the election into much smaller sub-beliefs about murdering / hiring supporters winning the heart of each distract until they earn the right to actually put the election outcome on the line.

Well, I’d like the slower, multi-session method - this should be something we can do a few things for leading up to it, and then hit the dice, see the results, and move on. This is a game where folks will be doing things over some years of game time, so, want to be able to handle elections in an easy way. Maybe the one roll method? Have to think - which is why we have this thread!

I would focus play on the bribery, intimidation and political maneuvering to get the necessary votes. The actual election doesn’t even need a dice roll once the players have built the support and trounced their rivals efforts to undermine them.

Which makes the vote a foregone conclusion (if the other things are done). Well…maybe. I’ll think, but it’s an interesting take on it!

I’ve done similar things with a semi-kludged system. It’s a lot like linked tests, but they don’t happen in a row. Instead, I list a bunch of accomplishments that can give +1D or -1 Ob to the climactic test. Then each of those sub-tasks can be an entire session, or at least part of a session. My players seem to feel pretty good about whittling something down from an impossible Ob 15 to a scary but doable Ob 4 or 5.

There are a few knobs to tweak. Can they keep bringing down the Ob and eventually make it a certain thing, do they run out of time and have to roll eventually, or what? What’s +1D vs. -1 Ob? What happens when they fail at tasks? What’s the final roll?

I’ve run the final roll as something that exists in isolation. The only dice are the ones you’ve earned by those +1D tasks; no artha can be spent. It works, but it’s maybe less fun. I think Oratory for a final speech is not a bad fit for elections. Or an appropriate wise, like Politics-Wise or Elections-Wise. And running it now I think I’d avoid giving more than the usual +1D and mostly reduce Obs even though that’s not really how the rest of BW works. Elections happen at a time, which means a deadline, which means a fictional limit on how much can be done. In practice there’s an art to setting it right. I’m not experienced enough to really help. My inclination is that getting nothing for failing the task, as long as it’s timed, is punishment enough.

The last big problem is whether it’s hugely anticlimactic and not fun to lose an election after pouring many sessions into winning. Ultimately that’s a gaming group preference. I think my players prefer to be able to make it, if not certain, than so close that it makes no difference. 6 dice against Ob 1? Sure. My inclination is to make it possible but hard to drop the Ob to 0, so the players feel rewarded for great success and increasingly nervous as the risk of that last test goes up with failures to reduce the Ob.

What if you used the Duel of Wits to model two political campaigns squaring off against one another? If you want to make it multi-session, then each session might cover an exchange of blows. (A Point might be a flood of campaigns against a senator-to-be, while a Feint could be a false opportunity that turns into political scandal.) You spend the session mustering support, to get advantage dice for your action.

Why do I say this? Because in the Duel of Wits, Disposition has everything to do with public image. You’re not convincing the other person, per se; you’re convincing the audience, which pressures the other person to accept a compromise or agree to your terms. When one side gets run out of disposition, the other side recognizes that it’s finally over. That’s the very model of a political campaign, where you sway supporters to your side. Plus, it allows you to deepen the stakes of the election.

I like Wayfarer’s suggestions, though.

Oooh, now I’m envisioning a Burning Empire hack with each session having an election phase maneuver.

I only know of BE by hearsay, but what I’ve heard sounds exactly like what I’m thinking, yeah!

I had a thing written up at work and then closed my browser like a putz before posting. Though, through the magic of the forums auto-save feature I’ve got some of it!

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Is a major focus of the game electioneering or is it a minor side thing that might happen occasionally? If it’s a minor side thing I’d run a Duel of Wits between the challengers, with linked tests and bonuses added for campaigning, great deeds done, and so on. If you want it to be a major part of the game, both in terms of play time and in-game time, I’d adopt the Burning Empires Infection rules. They are very Duel of Wits-y but the maneuvers evoke longer term stuff and because there’s only a loose connection between the players actions in the main game and what happens in the bigger picture you get the feeling that the events going on are bigger than the players.
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So yeah, Infection might do it for you. See if you can borrow a copy from someone and read over Infection, it might do exactly what you want (with a bit of poking, I doubt Eugenics or Fusion Dynamics fit with your setting). If you do this, I’d use the skill list for Usurpation as a starting point.

Actually, I’m using the Infection mechanics to track the progress of the “war”; the PCs are the personification of Rome’s struggle against Carthage. They’ve already been doing things to help the Republic, big things, despite the fact that only in the last session did they get official offices (2 Aediles, 1 Tribune of the Plebs, 1 Military Tribune).

Why BE? Last session, they spent a lot of time to get the city-state of Massilia on Rome’s side - a lot like activating a faction in BE Infection. That’s what made me think of it, and start to think, maybe BW/BE is simply better than Fate for the game.

I’d maybe use a modified version of the Propaganda War rules in Burning Sands. Could be really fun.

For the elections or for the war?

For the elections! You could get up to all sorts of no good: trashing your opponent’s events, splashing graffiti all over the city, bribing charismatic allies, etc.

Ah, I see. Well, I’m trying to avoid a longer system; Roman elections were quite short anyway (like, days in many cases) so while there’s a bit of a fight, it wasn’t like some direct opposition thing. Multiple candidates would run for multiple positions. Like, 23 people might run for the 10 Tribune of the Plebs posts - so chances were good for one to get in, but, there WAS a chance of not, and that’s what I want to simulate, with this getting harder up to Consul, where there are two positions but still a field of people would run.

So that would be too long. It also shifts focus from the war and that whole thing to an election. Which is what I don’t want.

Infection is a direct descendent of the Propaganda War so probably wouldn’t work for your timing as well. That said, Infection would still be great for your war.

Which is my thought. I want the effects of the war to be there for all to see, so to speak, to give them a real gauge of how it’s going (and as I said, them going after an ally faction made me think it in the first place).