Today is the feast of the martyr saints Dadas, Gabeddas and Kazdoa. Daddas was a noble in the Persian Empire assigned as governor of one of the Persian districts. When it was discovered that he was a Christian, he was stripped of all of his honors and condemned to be burned to death. When he was approaching the pyre, however, the fire was put out when the saint made the Sign of the Cross.
Gabeddas was the Persian king’s son, and seeing this miracle he was stunned and in that moment decided that he, too, would believe in Christ. He was arrested and tortured; however, an angel would appear and heal all of his wounds. Many prisoners witnessing his trials were convinced to become Christians.
Kazdoa, the sister of Gabeddas, would secretly visit her brother to give him water. Seeing the miraculous ways that he endured, she, too, was convinced to become Christian. Predictably, her father had her arrested and beaten.
All were eventually martyred during the reign of Shapur II (A.D. 310-379).
Before I go any further, check out the line of kings during the Sassanid dynasty here. Note how many are deposed or killed by their own aristocracy.
One of the most (negatively) formative campaigns I ever took part in had (at least for me) tremendous untapped potential. My character was a half-orc fighter/thief who was an escaped slave. The campaign took place on the frontier of what used to be territory held by the empire my character escaped from. One of the first adventures our party undertook was the recovery of a lost library. One of the books that our party eventually found (after getting into a tit-for-tat rivalry with a local thieves guild) was a history of the royal family of the empire my character escaped from.
I straightaway saw the incredible value of this book for both my character and the campaign. I immediately started lobbying our party to find a pretender to the throne, using our newly found treasure as proof of his or her legitimacy in order to throw the empire into civil war. My character wasn’t particularly interested in winning the war, rather he was interested in revenge; however, I was secretly hoping to find a pretender I could actually believe in.
Unfortunately, this was the 2e era, and our DM was under the influence of the modules of the time and we got railroaded into fighting demons in the frozen north (what he wanted his campaign to be about). Therefore, my desire to play kingmaker never bore fruit.
The story of Sts. Dadas, Gabeddas and Kazdoa reminds me of the untapped potential of that campaign. The Sassanid dynasty is one of assassination and aristocratic conspiracy and the fact that Gabeddas and Kazdoa are members of the royal family who convert to Christianity screams for a campaign based on the idea of finding, rescuing and then elevating a pretender to the throne.
Unfortunately, this is not necessarily something one could expect to do in a sandbox type of campaign. I am not arguing that it isn’t possible, it just isn’t something that can be planned, because it requires the desire and choice of the players. One can certainly put all the pieces in place for the characters to pick up and follow (like a book of succession), but, unlike my DM of old, I wouldn’t ever want to force my players in that kind of direction. Someday, maybe, I’ll get to play in a campaign where either my players or my character get to play political conspirators...