I see the central issue thus: The Council of Wyrms exists to preserve the peace of the Io's Blood Isles between dragon clans; to prevent the shedding of dragon's blood by dragon; and to prevent another dragon's war. The Council (or more specifically the Custodians) have taken on the task of safeguarding the isles more generally, but this is not quite the core purpose of the Council. In order for this role to have meaning (and thus the role of PCs working for the Council to have any meaning), there must be a risk of failure. So how do we model that risk?
My immediate thoughts turned to a video game series I enjoy playing called Hearts of Iron (set in the WWII era) and one of its core mechanics, called 'World Tension.'
World Tension is a global number that has an effect on all nations in the game, but does not affect them all equally. Its a percentage, starting a 0% and climbing to 100% (obviously), that represents the overall global tension between nations as the eve of World War II approaches. As tension increases, it unlocks options for all the nations as it passes certain thresholds, and different actions by ANY nation in the game can increase or decrease the current level of tension. One of the things I personally like about the mechanic is that these gates are not equal, but instead vary between nations, most often based on their government type (democratic, fascist, communist, or 'literally anything else').
The percentage bit doesn't really work so well for CoW, in my opinion, but the basic functionality of the World Tension system seemed like a great fit to me, so I started working on a new system for the Council of Wyrms and how it would work. Later, Big Mac's thread about the Society Collapse Points (SCPs) system from the Night Below adventure (which is my favorite thing about that campaign) on the 2nd Edition board made me realize I had unconsciously drawn a lot from that system as well (I mean, I have been running the opening parts of that campaign).
Please note that the following numbers are all technically placeholders and have not really been evaluated except in the most general 'how much more should X be compared to Y?' way. But without further ado, I present my idea for the WyrmScale (TM jk):
The WyrmScale (please note, this is not its actual name, I just don't have a name right now and this pun amuses me too much) is a global, open-ended, Behind the Screen point scale that begins at 0 at campaign open as described in the boxed set. Events and actions throughout the campaign by players and NPCs alike add or subtract points from the scale as they occur, but they are all applied to the same pool. As the scale climbs, it represents the slow and gradual breakdown of confidence in the Council itself to function and resolve issues, the rise of inter-clan tensions, and (eventually) the beginning of a new dragon war as the Council becomes so marginalized that it has no power or influence. As the scale decreases, we see the opposite: clan tensions decrease, confidence and participation in the council increase, etc.
The goal of players (unknown to them) is to keep this scale as close to zero as possible (the scale never goes below zero, as that represents the Council's mediation power at its most absolute) through their own actions throughout the campaign.
Effects on the WyrmScale:
Positive points (aka, BAD effects)
- A clan refuses to comply with a council edict or decision (50 points)
- A clan declares or makes open war on another clan (100 points)
- A dragon kills a dragon of another race outside of a formal challenge (20 points)
- A dragon is killed by another dragon, but the killer is unknown (30 points)
- A dragon dies under suspicious circumstances (10 points)
- A (competent) dragon disappears under mysterious circumstances (5 points)
- A clan openly raids the territory or holdings of another clan (20 points)
- A clan withdraws from the Council of Wyrms (100 points)
- A council directed mission with clearly established goals fails (20 to 100 points)
- A dragon serving on a council mission dies during the course of a failed mission (10 points)
- A clan leader, Council member, or Custodian dies under mysterious circumstances (30 points)
- A rogue dragon avoids, escapes, or defeats a Council team sent to deal with the rogue (15 points)
- Any dragon of at least adult age becomes a rogue (5 points)
- The Council meets to resolve an issue but dissolves without agreeing on a course of action (5 points)
- Members of a clan(s) split off to form a new clan without the original clan’s approval and blessing (20 points)
- Members of one clan accuse members of another of breaking the Council rules and edicts without evidence (2 points)
- A clan suffers a major attack from an outside threat (giants, dragonslayers, etc) and received no support from other clans or the Council during the attack (50 points + 10 points per dragon killed or captured)
- Dragon eggs are kidnapped from any clan or the Council (10 points per egg)
- Any dragon is killed by a dragonslayer (20 points)
- Vassals of a clan are killed without justification by dragons of another clan (5 points)
- Custodians or dragons on Council business openly take sides in a conflict they are supposed to mediate (15 points)
- An attempt at mediating a dispute between clans without involving the entire Council fails (10 points)
- An entire clan is wiped out (100 points)
- The Council makes a decision on an inter-clan conflict, which all sides respect (-20 points)
- A clan dispute is settled via the ritual Battle of Wing and Claw, with no deaths (-5 points)
- A clan willingly (and without council orders) recompenses another clan for damages or actions of its clan members (-10 points)
- The Council or a clan helps successfully defend another clan from an outside attack (-50 points)
- A rogue dragon is successfully hunted down by a Council approved mission (-10 points)
- Two fighting clans agree to a peace of any kind (-50 points)
- Any dragonslayer in the Isles is killed (-10 points)
- Any mysterious or suspicious deaths or disappearances of a dragon are determined by a Council team to have mundane causes (-10 points)
- A Council mission succeeds in destroying a grave threat to peace and dragon life in the Isles, such as a dracolich or giant invasion (-20 to -100 points)
- Any stolen dragon eggs are returned (-5 points per egg)
- Any kidnapped or captured dragons are rescued from non-dragons (-10 points per dragon)
- Any Council votes passed by overwhelming votes in favor (ie, super-majorities, near-unanimity) (-5 points)
So, the idea is that the WyrmScale is a number that the DM keeps track of behind the screen, adding and subtracting points after gaming sessions as needed and updating the situation within the Council world. In my view, doing this between sessions works to keep the DM’s workload low (you don’t have to track this on the fly during play), and makes sense in-universe (because dragon clans aren’t going to act on a generic feeling of tension and mistrust INSTANTLY). But as the points climb upward, the Council begins to lose its moral authority and certain dragon types, clans, and individuals will begin to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior (which serves to increase the overall tension even more, and can become a vicious circle escalating out of control if the Council and PCs don’t take counter actions).
The way I see this working is two-part: grouping the dragon races into categories based on how fast they would take advantage on the decaying political situation and a series of point-value thresholds that open up new possible actions for these categories to take with limited repercussions. Please note that, like everything else here, this is still very preliminary and based entirely on how I view the situation in the Isles.
Personally, I feel 3 categories makes the most sense, representing (generally) those who are most likely to abuse the situation for their own gain, those who are most committed to the Council and what it represents, and those races that fall in between. Note that this is based in large part on my perception from the descriptions in the boxed set.
Category A - Invested in the Council
Gold Dragons - As lawful good creatures who prefer reason and diplomacy, gold dragons wish to preserve the authority of the council
Silver Dragons - Similar to golds, silver dragons are lawful good beings that prefer non-violent solutions to resolving their problems
Brass Dragons - Being peaceful and friendly neighbors, brass dragons don’t see the need to jump quickly to action unless attacked.
Amethyst Dragons - As the ‘leaders’ of the gem dragons and among the most prominent races of the Council (thanks to the Custodians), amethyst dragons consider the Council’s success to be their own success in a way.
Blue Dragons - Despite a love and willingness to fight, blue dragons are also great thinkers by nature. In some ways, the stability of the Isles has ensured the prosperity of most blue dragons and so they aren’t as openly hostile to others like most of their chromatic kin. Combined with a preference for ambush and defensive tactics, striking out (openly) against their enemies is the least preferred option of blues.
Category B - In the Middle
Bronze Dragons - Though lawful good, bronze dragons of the Isles actively seek fights against evil in which to hone their skills. Thus, unlike their gold and silver cousins, bronze dragons will, given the opportunity, strike at evil dragons more openly.
Copper Dragons - These chaotic good dragons love to hunt, taunt and tease others, and don’t care for those who can’t take a joke. Combined with the ability to hold a grudge, and copper dragons may be primed to take out their feelings if they feel safe in doing so.
Emerald Dragons - Like their only friends, the sapphires, the emerald dragons are suspicious of others, always fearing that others plot against them. With a decline in the Council’s Authority, emerald dragons just might act on those paranoid suspicions.
Topaz Dragons - Though they prefer not to fight, the erratic and unfriendly nature of most topaz dragons can make them a wild card.
White Dragons - One might expect white dragons to break out as soon as the opportunity presented itself, but white dragons aren’t dumb. Their impulsive nature makes it hard for them to truly take advantage of the stability of the Council, but the constant attacks from frost giants allows even the dumbest of whites to realize that the Council provides them an extra layer of safety.
Category C - Willing to Act
Sapphire Dragons - Militaristic, isolationist, and slightly xenophobic, sapphire dragons aren’t above taking the opportunity to settle a score when it seems appropriate.
Crystal Dragons - Though friendly and outgoing, the crystal dragons often find themselves caught between the white dragons and the frost giants. This constant danger combined with their flighty nature opens the doors to crystal dragons taking a well-deserved (in their view) retaliation on whites.
Red Dragons - The red dragons of the Isles are barely held in check by the Council at its greatest strength. Any sign of weakness would be interpreted as a license to act how they see fit.
Green Dragons - Always plotting to leverage the Council for their own gains against other dragons, green dragons would eagerly jump at the chance to act if the Council was too weak to punish them.
Black Dragons - Cruel and malevolent for the love of it, black dragons are used to using any means to advance themselves, often regardless of the risks (or at least the short-term risks).
As the tension points rise, relations between the clans begin to fray. While there will always be disputes and those dragons or clans who try and take advantage of others even at the best of times, their behaviors become more aggressive as the political situation deteriorates.
Again, these numbers are preliminary and very loose.
500 points - Based on the speed of a campaign in the CoW setting, it should take decades of in-game time (at a minimum) before this first threshold is reached, but it is where the snowball begins to roll downhill. At this level, clans in Category C feel emboldened to act more brazenly and openly. Though unwilling to engage in open warfare, ambushes and raids against neighbors and rivals increase, more substantial plots to undermine or circumvent the Council begin to take shape, etc.
700 points - Category C & B dragon clans increasingly turn to formal challenges to settle their disputes. Category C dragons are more likely to fight to the death if they think they can kill an opponent without interference.
800 points - Similar to the 500 point threshold, at this level, even the Category B dragons begin to engage in more open and direct conflicts.
1000 points - At this point, the situation begins to openly deteriorate. Category C dragons are willing to ignore and/or openly defy the Council if the possible advantages of doing so outweigh the risk of retaliation. They are more likely to engage in direct, open conflict with other dragons, or even open warfare on other clans.
1100 points - If the situation continues to deteriorate, at this point, Category A dragons begin to see the Council as failing to perform its duties. They either begin to agitate for more direct actions against clans breaking the Council’s edicts and laws or they begin to drawback from engagement in the Council entirely.
1150 - At this level, Category B dragons begin to withdraw from the Council and act more openly against their enemies and rivals.
1200 - Category A dragons are willing to use open force or threat-of-force against other clans for their own ends.
1250 - By this point, most dragon clans, except the most determined of Category A types, don’t even show up for Council meetings and openly ignore Council edicts if they do get passed. It would take a strong, concerted effort to round up a quorum in order to hold a Council meeting.
1350 - This represents near-total breakdown of the Council and its authority. All but those most intent on reestablishing peace in the Isles are willing to act with impunity, and organization between clans is all but forgotten.
1500 - This is the point at which the Dragon Wars have restarted. It is also the point at which I personally view Io precipitating the next great invasion by the Dragonslayers...and this time the dragons may not come together to survive. At this level and above, we would likely even begin to to see the breakdown of the clans themselves, as the dragons of the Isles slowly descend into the more individualistic attitude that their brethren on most other worlds are known for.