"Arguing about nothing" vs unnecessary mechanics

So, I’ve moved on from “Prelude to a murder” (because people can get dysfunctional families at home) and on to something else: a small short retro-SF larp set in a baroque space empire, inspired (of course) by Dune with design elements stolen from Warren Tusk’s Inheritance. Four or five leaders of Great Houses trying to convince an imperial representative that they should be the next people to run Not-Arrakis (its a waterworld, and it grows magic seaweed rather than sandworm shit. See? Totally not Arrakis. The weed must flow!)

For Reasons I’d like to make the question of how hard to squeeze an issue. Do the characters want to offer more weed to the Emperor in the hope of making their claim attractive, or do they offer to go easy on the local plebs in the hope of winning them over? But this in turn creates problems: in order to be meaningful, the decision requires mechanics (so characters can assess the costs and benefits of their choices). Worse, it needs more than just a repression-production scale; in order for decisions about how much to offer to be meaningful, there need to be opportunity-costs there too. In other words, I end up having to design an entire economy, which is more than I want to do for a two hour game. OTOH, without it, discussions about production, repression, and squeezing just become Arguments About Nothing, which Are To Be Avoided.

The easiest choice, of course, is to ditch the whole squeezing angle. But that takes away a bunch of potential plotlines. Any suggestions?

Why not just make it purely a matter for talking? Presumably the Imperial representative will have some idea of how much they’re willing to trade off the lives of the locals vs how much of the resource they want. If that is given some randomisation prior to the start of the game, then none of the players know what approach will gain the most favour. Which would be realistic.

Or is it going to be that each Great House rep comes in pre-disposed to go for a certain level of squeeze, meaning that the decision is essentially made at the start of the game?

You could even have a separation of the rep’s concerns vs the Emperor’s. Perhaps the Emperor wants to go really easy on the locals, but the rep strongly dislikes them, so wants the final deal to be as brutal as possible without finding displeasure with the Emperor. Or vice versa - maybe the rep is secretly one of those people, so he’s pretty keenly interested in seeing them well treated, while the Emperor just wants more resources no matter the cost to the locals. Players might know the Emperor’s attitude prior to the game, but there would still be the unknown of the what the rep is looking for.

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I want to leave it up to the Great House reps how much they want to squeeze (other than knowing that the Emperor likes money, of course). And for simplicity ATM I’m just going with resolving it by talking - its a small game, so it will be easy to add in mechanics if it doesn’t work in playtest.

I’m definitely going to have conflicting motives, since that’s what will make the game interesting.