Two ways to destabilize an evil empire
Many times, our plucky heroes and heroines are going up against the mighty, evil empire. The empire will have been a “boot stamping on the face of humanity” for quite a while with no real opposition. For whatever reason, your heroes are the ones who dare to stand up for truth, decency and all of that. They may not even be doing it for just reasons. They may in fact be hoping to usurp the evil empire with their own version like, “the new boss, same as the old boss.” Either way, the player characters have made destroying the evil empire their goal.
So, how do they go about it?
Often it boils down to a bunch of battles against a bunch of enemies that culminated with the final set-piece battle against the emperor. Does that hold up though? Is it enough? With the evil emperor gone, what happens to the generals and other confidantes? The power vacuum would likely find itself filled with a new emperor either just as evil or worse. Most of the time, we choose to end our stories at the point of the heroes victory over the evil emperor. The ending is satisfying enough, why mess with it?
I propose that by taking the time to really tear apart the empire bit by bit, the heroes can really rise through and cut their own place in the history of the world. The emperor being dead doesn’t matter if the empire is still just as strong. So, how does one go about destabilizing an empire? I will attempt to outline 2 different approaches that can each deal a major blow against the empire. Doing multiple ones of these at the same time will certainly bring things crashing down. Now, the battle with the emperor is the last wail of a dying monster.
Cut off their finances
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “an army marches on it’s stomach.” This applies to more than just armies alone. In fact, I would say that a government’s blood is capital. Cutting the empire from its capital is like causing a massive hemorrhage in a giant. The loss will grow and grow until it can no longer sustain itself.
In order to accomplish this, the players must first be able to assess what fuels the empire and what the weaknesses are in that fuel. Say the evil empire trades in gold from it’s many prosperous gold mines. Those mines themselves can be attacked and collapsed. If enough of them are hit, the inability to bring in new gold will be felt swiftly throughout the empire.
The benefit to this approach is that the heroes are able to hit low profile targets and still create great upheaval in the empire. In time, the empire will grow wary and defend these targets more intensely but until then, collapsing mines would be quite a lucrative business. The heroes would loot what they could and destroy the rest. As the money drains out of the empire’s coffers, they would become more and more desperate. Eventually, they would be unable to properly train, outfit or even employ soldiers which would leave them open to attack.
At the same time, the people who would feel the harm first and most dramatically would be the poorest of the empire’s populace. They would find food prices skyrocket out of their reach. They would see the price of heating their homes rise. The poor would be dying in the streets without some sort of external intervention.
A way to mitigate this would be to develop some sort of underground food distribution network. That way, they are able to take care of whatever poor that they can while still hurting the empire. The catch 22 there is that feeding and clothing the poor requires money, finesse and special care must be taken to not get caught.
Alternative approaches would be to free slaves in massive numbers, spread huge numbers of counterfeit currency or cause some other economic damage. Freeing slaves provides a good approach as one could in theory build an army while hurting the empire at the same time. Counterfeit currency allows for a bloodless way to cause massive damage. Magic allows for duplicates of either expensive objects or currency itself. Any armchair economist knows that a flood of currency has a similar effect to cutting off the currency itself; inflation and economic harm would abound.
Destroy the empire from within
Fantasy and many other settings allow for intriguing new methods of destabilizing governments that would be impossible in the current time. Infiltrating the evil empire and slowly destroying it from within would be an incredibly powerful method of hurting the evil empire.
Why target the emperor directly when one could simply assassinate important officials and take their place? Proper application of disguise spells could make it so that the great and powerful emperor could eventually find himself in a room full of people who have been working on killing him and destroying his empire for years.
Assassinate low ranking officials and replace them and slowly rise through the food chain of the evil government until you get to stand right beside the emperor. Seems like it may be a boring campaign? Think about the work and intrigue required to maintain such a ruse. Then, think about the position that the players would find themselves in. They are now in a place where they can pay lip service to the empire while purposefully working toward its dissolution. The carefully planned assassinations, the tactical thinking and the running of corners of the empire could all be pretty exciting.
The good thing about this method is that aside from the assassinations, this method is rather bloodless. The bad thing is that it will take some time and will require the kind of role player that finds all of that fun.
Some other methods could involve cutting supply lines, creating a counter movement and creating internal conflict within the government. These different methods all have their own pros and cons. Lets discuss it below.