Historically, when large groups of people gather revolution and chaos are always hovering nearby. My European readers need no reminder of the dangerous football hooligans that regularly turn a match into gladiatorial combat. Now imagine this on a larger scale, where the angry fans can literally bring down a government or destroy an empire.
Before you start laughing, let me tell you a story.
The year is 532 and Constantinople is burning. Opposing factions of chariot fans, enraged at the Emperor and each other for a variety of reasons, start fighting. They burn the city and threaten to replace Justinian as emperor. Only some creative political bribery and the imperial soldiers lead by the legendary Belisarius saved the empire.
To put this in perspective, Belisarius was one of the greatest Roman generals in history. Justinian so feared the rioting fans that he released one of the truly gifted military leaders in history to fight within his own capital. Intelligent and ruthless, Belisarius promptly slaughtered around 30,000 people is a single day of butchery.
Still think that angry fans are harmless?
Every role-playing game has its share of cults, secret societies, political movements and scheming espionage, cliches all. Fans represent a more plebian threat. They are not motivated by a specific goal, but the reason of the mob. Mercurial, demanding and ferocious, a mob of fans can go from cheering their hero to baying for his blood in moments. Even worse, they have the thing that most leaders fear: numbers.
There is a persistent rumor that during the current Olympics in China, the Chinese leadership did not want full attendance at the events, fearing riots or civil unrest. True or not, putting 25,000 angry people in one location has terrifying potential to explode. Great fun for gaming!
In game terms, integrating a mob of angry fans is much easier than you might think. Of course, you can just have the fans riot and have the PCs put them down, hopefully without killing 30,000 people…unless that is the kind of campaign they enjoy. I think this is a bit dull.
I suggest instead that the PCs be tasked with either infiltrating a fan-mob in the hopes of containing them or, my favorite idea, starting their own group to counter-balance an existing fan-mob.
Just think of the entertainment value of the PCs rooting about with the plebian classes, recruiting their membership and organizing them for some goal. I think it would be a kick to have control over my own angry mob. As with any mob, there is always someone who thinks they are a better leader. Let the PCs be under constant challenge to their position of leadership. Different factions will form in the mob and they may spawn competing mobs.
Perhaps the PCs mob spins out of control and becomes worse than the original problem. Now the PCs have the original mob, plus their new “rogue” mob.
Remember the mobs had some kind of leadership, so they could throw their numbers behind whatever cause/politician/political movement they liked. They could be real “king-makers,” especially at the “street” level of politics. Mobs are also handy for political dirty tricks like rigging an election or “rioting on target” to harm a political opponent’s holdings.
I hope that now when your PCs go to a spectacle in an arena, you give the fans a bit more personality….and respect.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer