The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Washington Crossing the Delaware. 1851. Painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

Washington Crossing the Delaware. 1851. Painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

Today, I want to talk about one of the most important political events you can use in a game: revolution.

Revolution is the successful end of a rebellion. One mode of government has been replaced by another. We hear things every day on the news about yet another country being swept up by insurgencies, rebellions, and resistance movements. The most basic narrative of rebellion is that a people, oppressed, demand personal freedoms, change, assistance, and will not stop till they have won it. I was raised in the United States, which was formed after a successful revolution against the British in 17. When I went into journalism as an adult, I’ve watched peers—some of them my friends—report from the front lines of uprisings. If you want to add an uprising to your chronicle, there’s a few things to figure out in advance.



Is this a science-fiction setting? Far-flung colony away from Earth, a space station, or a fleet of ships? Is the rebellion starting on a planet, or off-planet?

Is it a fantasy setting? Real world, or a separate realm? Both? Is it confined to a portion of a country, like a Duchy? The kingdom? The continent?

Though the genre of your game might change your geography (an uprising on Earth doesn’t necessarily have to deal with the vacuum of space), location of a rebellion can determine its resources when it starts, ability to receive outside aid, and how confined the movement of the rebels have to be based on the environment. For an example of a game that deals extensively with a historic rebellion (Warsaw Uprising) and the conditions thereof, you could check out Jason Morningstar’s Grey Ranks.


Denied Escape

In dictatorships and Dystopian nightmares, characters may rebel against their governments because they’re unable to leave their country’s borders. Denied the papers to leave, confiscated visas, and armed borders meant to keep its people in are just a few features GMs can use to highlight the situation faced by players. Some may embark on the journey to leave, while others decide to stay and fight, joining resistance movements or founding networks to smuggle citizens out. Characters who belonged to previous government regimes, dissolved military groups, academia, entertainment, or various religious and political groups are all figures who may be denied escape.

For an example of a historic, global movement that touches on the denial of escape, you may want to look up When They Come For Us, We’ll Be Gone:The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. Gal Beckerman’s book chronicles the post WWII years of the Jews in the Soviet Union. To practice their religion, and to eventually escape Soviet territory, they used many Resistance tactics to translate documents, smuggle information, as well as people and resources throughout the Union and the globe. Those who were caught, or went public with their wishes for religious and personal freedom, were often jailed, or worse. The Jews denied exit visas from the Soviet Union were refuseniks; their struggle to get out was entwined with that of non-Jewish Soviets desperate to escape as well. The memoirs and coverage of Berlin escapees may be useful as well, in addition to those of Iranians who fled Iran during the 70′s around the revolution.


In the 1700s, the American Revolution had what we’d consider immense technological challenges. The guns of the Revolution’s battles were a vastly different weapon compared to modern guns. But the Revolution may be more advanced than modern people know: the first submarine attack occurred during the American Revolution. Munitions aren’t the only technology to think about, though. Warnings about British movements were accomplished on horseback, not only by Paul Revere but the teenage rider Sybil Ludington, the daughter of a Colonel who had joined the rebellion in 1773. Her ride was done at night, and covered forty miles. The historical veracity of the Ludington Midnight Ride is still debated, but the concept of a midnight ride in crap weather is still something to consider having players face.

Medical care and telecommunications, even in a modern or futuristic setting can still be set back substantially if supply lines are intercepted and telecom access is disrupted. All it takes is one  long black out to set back a rebellion. Massive protests have been an element of many revolutionary movements, and you only have to look to Twitter for intense coverage of threats to free press, information restriction, privacy, and other phenomena that threaten democratic functions of a country. The ability for swift communication with the outside being crippled can destroy a nascent rebellion before it ever has the chance to become a revolution.


History Versus the Now

If you want to add magic to the French Revolution, there’s a dearth of historic literature, analysis and archival documents to assist you in your understanding of the event. Regardless of era, all revolutions will have their mythic qualities; debated details, events and even people who may or may not have occurred or even existed. Since you’re running a game, it’s okay to run with such mythic content. Absolute historical veracity is not required in a chronicle. As you slide forward in time, you’re going to start drowning in information. The printing press has continually evolved since its invention, newspapers have created a vast multilingual array of archival information, the internet has caused explosive growth in information, all these tings will help and harm your forays into historic data. I endorse studying history the same way I do breathing, because I think it’s vital to human functioning. But when it comes to your chronicle, only dig as deep as you need to for your players. Don’t unleash a deluge of facts and details on them.

Any digging beyond that, you do for yourself.

Watched a rebellion succeed or fail in your chronicle, or someone else’s? Have books, websites or other information that contain great historic information? Leave your stories and recommendations in the comments.


About l

L is a freelancer currently working as a writer, editor, journalist and game designer. She hauls a suitcase decorated in stickers as she blogs, travels, and tours. She makes her home in Washington, California, and wherever the tour stopped last night. You can follow L on twitter (@lilyorit )

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