Remember those old school Dungeons and Dragon games where every old king on a throne and every grey beard bartender just happened to be retired adventures who could just literally stand there while the entire party whaled on him to no avail?
Even as late as 2004, D&D’s newest world, Eberron, was controversial for having combat-weak NPCs ruling nations. What if my players just decide on regicide and take over? How will I keep my game on track? For the world of Into the Badlands, the answer for your RPG is clear cut.
That’s what you’re supposed to do.
Except for the lack of a magic system,* and monsters, the setting development reeks of old style gaming and would fit in fine with many mid-range power level/rules crunch gaming.
In this case, my experience in old school settings was one of constant discovery in the old Basic/Expert days where there were few, if any, tomes that droned on about the impact of Dwarven refugees on the local economy while elven gentrification displaced more Hobbits than it helped.
Before those books and box sets of Medieval Fantasy Demographics 101, you barely saw the world that was right before your nose. Beyond your home town, Threshold, everything was unknown and undiscovered to you.
Sure you were barely aware that there was more than one king, but when the closest one offered you a whole castle if you could clean it out, there was no need to find out if you could replace him.
And after that, you so busy running things that you understood that coups are complex and messy things. Easier to enjoy your riches than upset the apple cart. You see that’s a smart king.
And almost all RPGs love to establish different factions with distinct iconography, which ItB offers up in spades.
In that vein, Into the Badlands is pitch perfect for a beer and pretzels old school game of RPG combat with occasional back stabbing. The most awkward bit, though would be that the PCs would be guarding slave caravans, not liberating them. Eye-opening history lesson maybe?
Toward the end of the campaign I’d say that the smartest GMs/Barons would “call forth” their most promising clippers, i.e. the PC party and offer them one more task for the ultimate reward.
“As you know, I have only the best men in my clipper force. While we are still devastated by the recent loss of Regent Samuel, I need a new leader. And any one of you could make a fine Regent, but I’m sure the ambition of the others would sour that decision.
“So to make this simple, you all have ten minutes, last one standing is my new Regent. The rest of you will be buried with full honors.”
*(That works fine as a game mechanic, but the designer named after a favorite author more for the homage and the 1970s geek cred than as a faithful reproduction of said fictional magic if you have actually read the books. Please research the Amber Diceless Roleplaying game before we’ll chat.)