I have a lot of varied interests, from alternate history to obscure history to what does it really means to be a self-made man. All three seem to show up in my gaming. I have campaign ideas set in alternative history. I have tried to run a campaign around the obscure pretenders to the various thrones, active and forgotten, of Europe. While not as direct, I even have campaign ideas that provide a wide latitude to explore what being truly self-made means.
The best is when such ideas intersect.
In reading the comments to “The Crowned Heads of Europe” earlier, one such intersection sprung to mind. The comment asked where my favorite madmen of history, and one of the five greatest people in the history of America, strode on the stage, Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. This is only a first pass, but here is my random campaign idea for characters on His Majesty’s Secret Service.
Good afternoon gentleman.
As you know, the usurpers of authority in these United States, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis, have continued to act as warlords in the east of our fair country. As a result, lawlessness reigns in Texas and Louisiana, and, most heinous of all, the conman who tried to ruin the Emperor himself, William T. Sherman, a Lieutenant of Lincoln, is remaking himself as a butcher in Georgia. The Emperor has determined the time is ripe to end the war not with arms, but with well-placed words and actions. As of today, you are all commissioned as the first agents of His Majesty’s Secret Service. Within the hour you will get your orders to various parts of the Realm, with instructions on whom to contact to re-establish Imperial Order in key locations from Boston to New Orleans. Once secure, you will join forces to arrest Lincoln, Davis, and their associations, most especially Sherman, and return them to San Francisco to receive the Emperor’s justice.Armand Barbier, Norton’s Spy Chief, upon creation of His Majesty’s Secret Service
In this game, you are agents of Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States, and Protector of Mexico. It is July 1984 and both Lincoln and Davis have ignored Norton’s call to end the war. Lincoln has retained the Presidency despite his firing and Congress, dissolved by the Emperor, has continued to meet in defiance of the law. The time for this is passed. For five years, Norton has been building connections, commercial, political, and (if you desire such in the campaign) magical, in the major cities of the United States. Now his agents, the first agents of his secret service, are heading east to assert their authority in the various cities. You will be making contacts, forging alliances, raising small bodies of troops to compel the laying down of arms by both Confederate and Union forces, and establishing Imperial Governors in the various states. Units of either army willing to swear loyalty to the Emperor are to be integrated into an Imperial army. The ultimate goal is reunification under Imperial authority and the arrest of those who have defied it for four bloody years.
For a game like this, something low-powered and fairly straightforward would suffice. I’d recommend GURPS or Unisystem. As I noted above, you could have a magical element or play it completely straight as a Victorian spy game. In either case, there should be a healthy dose of conspiracy and the American spirit that any man can be whoever he wants to be. One interesting idea from Westerns the Confederate soldier who headed west to build a new life after the war could be a good model for soldiers of either army ready to join the Emperor.