I was getting too long in my last post Traitors - Who are they? so I broke this part out.
OK, so now that we know we have all these traitors running around, what do we do with them? What are they doing? I like my traitors to be the slimy, silent type. The kind of guys that you know they don’t like you (assuming you are the king), but you would never think would go so far as to rebel. These are the long planners, the guys who bide their time, waiting for the right opportunity. These guys are the real threat because they will know things that will help them, especially things that may indicate to them when the time is ripe and the king is weakened.
I know there are the “in your face” kind of traitors too. Guys who run around doing things that ought to get them killed or at least arrested, but they seem to get away with them. These guys must have some manner of trump card in order to pull this off. Sometimes it’s an easy one - They are bandits, and the king cannot find them (the Robin Hood style). Sometimes it’s more like what we see in the world today - China actively hacks USA secrets, mining governmental and corporate targets for industrial secrets and yet the USA cannot move against them because they hold all our debt and the economic impacts would be devastating. The USA is not the first country foolish enough to owe enormous debts to another country - This stuff happened in the Middle Ages too! My last thought on how they get to flaunt the rule of law is that either the king is too weak or there are hostages involved. Both of these lead nicely into missions for adventurers, don’t they!
But what do traitors do? They try to weaken the current government. How? Typically it is one of the two extremes: they either try to take away the government’s biggest strength or they try to exploit its biggest weakness. Often the military is its biggest strength. How do you weaken that? Get them involved in a war with a powerful enemy. Poison the food - even if it is dysentery or something likely to not be lethal, a sick army cannot fight. Weaken their weapons in some fashion. Burning all the catapults could be enough to put an army at an extreme disadvantage and would be the perfect mission for a traitorous spy (or and adventuring party).
The truth is, there are so many things that traitors can do to weaken a government, that I cannot pretend to get into them all. But one thing that I think is too often overlooked is propaganda. Even in our modern world where information is plentiful, too often people ignore the facts and believe whatever they heard said multiple times. At its worst, they start to believe that what they’ve heard repeatedly is the truth and the factual evidence is lies made up by “the other side”. So what happens when this occurs in a fantasy setting where few people have any access to the truth? Rumors are wildfire.
What works? Sensational works! The baroness is a whore and her son isn’t the baron’s, thus weakening the heir’s claim on the throne. The king is stockpiling grain because he plans to starve the commoners in the city into paying higher taxes, thus causing the citizens to do everything they can to avoid paying their taxes and weaken the king’s treasury. (OK, we always avoid paying taxes, but these guys will get desperate.) The count is planning on starting a war with those berserkers next door just so he can have more land, discouraging men from join the army for fear of dying in a useless war. The prince is worshiping at foreign temples, weakening the people’s support of this heir if he isn’t “one of them”. These things actually have power and if believed can alter people’s thinking and more importantly alter their actions. That’s when the propaganda has worked. One traitor with a harp and a good voice can do more damage to a powerful king then a foreign army might be able to. Think about your traitors and what actions they are taking.