I have this little problem:

I'm writing a book in heroic fantasy setting and I've driven myself into a corner by overcomplicating international relations between governments. Now that I'm halfway through, the protagonist is supposed to make peace between allies, who completely embargoed each other, severely reducing their overall ability to fight against the common enemy (the Bad Guys).

The reason why both sides must cooperate is that each has something the other one needs:

  • Side A needs infantry to besiege fortresses captured by the Bad Guys, and Side B has 20k seasoned veterans, who would do that quickly and with minimal effort

  • Side B is unable to produce enough of resources essential to their existence: food, textiles and wood. Before the incident they were imported from Side A.

Unfortunately it turns out, that the reasons for this situation I came up at first are stupid: anyone with a half-brain should figure this out without protagonist's help. A story arc that was supposed to take two chapters would takes no more than two pages.

What I'm asking for?

What I need are some general ideas for a good reason why an alliance would break despite enemy's presence and why would someone refuse to cooperate even if it means losing the war.

You may or may not refer to further details I've posted in the following part of this post. I would love some references to similar historical events, if possible.

What have I tried so far and why it didn't work?

My first idea was that the Bad Guys used assassins to murder emissaries and ambassadors from Side A and made it look like it was done by the forces of Side B. Side B was supposed to be so offended by such accusations, that they severed all ties to Side A.

It doesn't work for several reasons:

  • Side B had nothing to gain by such action, but the Bad Guys had both resources and motivations to do such a thing in such manner, and it's something that Side A should realize immediately
  • In the real world, even when the kings pretend to ignore each other, low-level clerks and intelligence still talk to each other, so clarifying the issue should take days at most, not months (in my setting telepathy allows communication similar to cellular phones: it's easy to use, cheap, you often lose signal, and government officials can wiretap you, so time needed to exchange messages is not factor)
  • King's honour and dignity is only important until his subjects begin to starve

Further details:

Here are some details about my setting, in case you need them to provide an answer. I use generic names like Human_Kingdom_North to make it easier to keep track on who is who:

Side A:

  • Human_Kingdom_North: almost entirely (in 90%) conquered by the Bad Guys, ruled by old and wise king, who gathered his remaining forces and hid under protection of his southern allies
  • Human_Kingdom_South: they've just joined the war, knowing full well, that once the Human_Kingdom_North falls, they will be the next target. They are ruled by paranoid, psychopathic king, which is (and have been for generations) a norm in that part of the world. Currently they have both the most powerful economy and the most powerful military among the Side A. It was their ambassadors and emissaries who were supposed to be killed.
  • Dwarven_State_West: Vassal state to Human_Kingdom_North, ruled by aristocracy. Since dwarves value honour and dignity above anything else, they fight alongside the humans, event though they are beyond the Bad Guys reach
  • Elven_Republic: Elves joined the war after their capital city was captured after a surprise attack. They are ancient enemies of the Dwarves, but in the face of a common enemy their conflict with the soldiers from Dwarven_State_West is expressed only in insults.

Side B:

  • Dwarven_Kingdom_East: Independent dwarven country ruled by a young and ambitious king. He possesses secret knowledge about protagonist's unique powers, but refuses to share it to someone working for Side A.


  • Wizard_State: Small country full of wizards, not involved in the war, ruled by an elected committee. Committee's head was a traitor, who was supposed to orchestrate the assassination plot. It was the fact that he was revealed and killed prompted to protagonist to investigate the incident.

I think it is all the important information. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

  • $\begingroup$ The Elf v. Dwarf conflict sounds right out of The Lord of the Rings. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 28 '14 at 23:29
  • $\begingroup$ I suppose most heroic fantasy settings borrow more or less stuff from LotR. My little modification to usual routine is pretty much only this quote: "Dwarves and Elves used to have a major war every couple of years, with humans waiting on the sidelines to ally themselves with the highest bidder". That, and more adult-themed insults. However please let me point out that in this case we are talking about "humans vs. dwarves". $\endgroup$ – Darth Hunterix Nov 28 '14 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Hey, I'm not accusing you of staling ideas from Tolkien. My childhood was inadvertently ruined when I found out all the parallels between Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings. By the way, just how large is this small country of wizards? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Nov 28 '14 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I misread but who are the bad guys ? $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 28 '14 at 23:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Vincent i assume side b $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Nov 29 '14 at 1:09

Alliance can break even during a war. The assumption that a country will declare war to another country invading a neighbour because he fear that he will be invaded is often false. The country is more likely to wait for a direct aggression unless he has an alliance with the other country. For example, a lot of European countries stayed neutral in WW2 even with Nazi Germany invading everything around. (Switzerland)

That said, one country might decide to quit the war. Maybe the situation changed and it's not in his interest to continue fighting. Maybe there is a lot of unrest in the country or a civil war (Russia 1917). Maybe the invaders have made an interesting proposition. (Poland 50/50 ?)

Side B King is ambitious after all, so he might try to conquer state A for his own sake. He has the soldiers, he'll use them to take the resources. He won't need to trade in the future.

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    $\begingroup$ I like the idea of internal unrest: the king might realize, that the whole assassination thing is hoax, but a common man might not and then my problem becomes easier. Thanks a lot :) $\endgroup$ – Darth Hunterix Nov 29 '14 at 15:02
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    $\begingroup$ @DarthHunterix Or simply because people are tired of fighting in the war and they start a revolution. $\endgroup$ – Vincent Nov 29 '14 at 18:12

You could do a Merkel-Obama manoeuvre. Country G believed and trusted in Country A but then found out that Country A had spies in every facet of G's government, including the bedchamber of the Queen. Country G is outraged -- not about spying, everyone spies -- but that the spies were so close to the Queen and invaded her privacy.


You are trying to justify a described as 'wise' Kings very irrational actions. Best I can think of is to come up with a reason why he'd plunge into irrational. Change the direction of the assassination and put some personal feelings in there. King A's daughter was engaged to someone in King B's court. King A's daughter is the one assassinated and the now far less rational King A is the source of the embargo's of the alliance in a vagrant attempt of retaliation, taking resources that feed King B's population to put pressure on him for his actions (protagonist then makes peace by proving the death of King A's daughter was not by King B). If you throw in a loved one, the irrational actions can be far easier to justify.

The 2 sided (one vs rest) nature of this conflict really makes it difficult to justifying the severing of diplomatic relations between allies...emissaries deaths, although regrettable, rarely result in complete severing of ties unless the motivation was a very clearly sent message (in which case, are they really allies?). For a 'wise' king A to sever relations that he needs so badly during a time of desperate need, he needs to be irrational...can't come up much better than the death of a daughter to describe that, beyond a very close tie to the assassinated emissaries (even then, I'd question him as 'wise' if complete severing of relations along with a full embargo was his reaction).

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    $\begingroup$ Only one side of the conflict has a rational king: the Dwarves. The other side has two kings: a rational one with little power and "psychopathic paranoid" with an upper hand. But yeah, throwing in a personal angle would help. I wish I could accept two answers, because Vincent helped me with one side, and you with the other. Thank you very much :) $\endgroup$ – Darth Hunterix Nov 29 '14 at 15:05

People fight wars for two reasons

  • To destroy something they hate
  • To protect something they love

Generally speaking the "good guys" do not engage in the former. Hateful fighting has a long history of ending poorly in novels. So we know that our "good guys" are fighting for something they love.

All you need is for Side A and Side B to disagree violently about something more important than stopping "The Bad Guys." Anything will do. It just has to lift attention away from fighting the bad guys, and towards "the next fight."

A very common cause of such strong levels of disagreement part way through a war is when they start talking about how the next government will function. Consider both Side A and Side B wanting to free a particular capital city. Both sides feel that rule can be shared, but when it comes down to brass tacks, they simply cannot agree on how to rule. The indiviual sides may decide they stand a better chance of accomplishing their goal (freeing the city under their rule) on their own without help, rather than guaranteeing that the city is free, but losing control of it to their ally.

This could raise centuries of racial hatred, if you please.


The bad guys offered a sweet deal. Pick either side A or Side B whichever you think is likely to accept the offer from the bad guys.

this is of course based on the assumption that the bad guys is not (totally evil) and that there has been precedent of them offering deals (and abiding by those deals)


Let's look at a real-world situation. In this situation, Countries I and S might be most similar to your sides A and B; Country A might be the common enemy of your sides A and B when the story starts. The careful observer will notice that I have left out several neighbors, and left out lots of historical background. Anyway, the story starts like this:

Country S and Country I are each ruled by separate factions of a dictatorial, socialist, modernist political party. Country P has a revolution, shouting "Death to Country A!" Country P is now ruled by theocratic socialists.

Countries A and P are the sorts of places where it is safe for a ruler to retire; Countries S and I are not. It might be safe for a ruler of Country K to retire, but no-one ever has.

Country I gets into a disastrously expensive war against Country P. Country I borrows huge amounts of money from Country K. Country I and Country P make peace. Country I tries to settle its debt with Country K by conquering Country K. (This takes about 2 days, because Country K is tiny.)

Country K is liberated by Country A. Country A harasses Country I. The ruler of Country A retires, but Country I tries to kill him anyway.

The ruler of Country S is ruthless. (Country S is an ally of Country P, and opposes Country A.) Once upon a time, city H rebelled against the ruler of Country S. He crushed the rebellion, and myriads of people died in city H. He raises his eldest son to follow in his footsteps. His second son is afraid of blood, so he goes overseas to become an eye-surgeon. The second son marries a woman who likes expensive red shoes. The eldest son dies. Then the ruler of Country S dies. Country S changes its Salic law to make the second son the new ruler. Unfortunately, the second son is still afraid of blood.

A son of the retired ruler of Country A becomes ruler of Country A. Country A conquers Country I, and kills the ruler of Country I. Country I's ruling party flees to Country S.

The former ruling party of Country I is forced to live in refugee camps along the S/I border. Worse, they are forced to live on charity from the people of Country S. This is humiliating.

The ruler of Country A retires, and a man with very different opinions and temperament becomes ruler of Country A. Country A retreats from Country I, leaving allies of Country P in power in Country I. (Even though Countries A and P are still rivals.)

City H rebels again. But the new ruler of Country S is still afraid of blood, so he does not immediately crush the rebellion. The rebellion spreads, and the ruler is almost defeated. Everybody in Country S has to choose sides -- and there are lots of sides to choose from. The ruler of Country S learns to fight back. Country P helps the ruler of Country S. Country A helps some of the rebels. The former ruling party of Country I joins with theocratic enemies of Countries A and P, and tries to conquer both Country I and Country S. Country A tries to rescue Country P's allies in Country I, while opposing Country P's other goals.

What happens next? ... That remains to be seen.


They may be allies but perhaps they don't particularly like each other and the reasons for going to war with the bad guys are different for each ally. Then the reason for one of the allies goes away (e.g. it's discovered he has no weapons of mass desctruction). Maybe its up to the hero to convince the withdrawing ally to remain in the war for the other reason. (He still has plenty of oil)

Or maybe one of the allies has just had a regime change (e.g. an election) and the government has changed to an anti-war party. They then put on the embargo because they believe the war their former ally is waging is immoral...


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