Monday, November 3, 2014

Ruthless Bastards

I find that working on rules to make the players better researchers and readers, learning about heraldic signs, history and such, compels me to make attempts to codify elements of my world that I would never have previously considered.  Take, for example, the few words I wrote regarding the player's registering their own heraldic symbol and ultimately becoming a village leader.  These things are helpful to me in assigning logic to my world, but I wonder at the same time if players would ever become conscious of such things or their benefit.

It's easy to imagine the player that wants their own symbol - and players being what they are, chances are the symbol they'd accept wouldn't be one that was established.  Tradition is not a strong suit in this 21st century culture.  Still, I did make room for that.  My interest right now follows the character after they've obtained their symbol.  Perhaps, being able to find the rule about village leader, I can believe a player might pursue the possibility.

Jim's fighter Winton Highgate has reached 5th level and has accumulated some coin.  He and his party haven't decided to stop adventuring, but as the pile of treasure has grown cumbersome of late, he's looking for a place to invest into and where he can horde some of the wealth in a hidden hole or two.  He and his companions have lately slain a manticore in the streets of Albi, with the town's gratitude, and through the cleric Winton has gotten the moment recognized in a blazon to put on his shield.

"What's all this about a village leader," asks Jim, reading the page on line.  "It doesn't say what village."

"Pick one," I tell him.  "It's up to you to decide where you want to settle.  It just can't be a large place."

So Jim talks with the rest of the party and they decide where they might want to settle.  They'd like a village without any leader at all, but that's pretty doubtful.  Finally they settle upon a little burg that's in the foothills below mountains crested with ice and snow.  We settle on a name for it, calling the village Pontdeuf.

"What now?" asks Jim.

Well, first and foremost the player must travel there and either purchase an existing building or build one.  The party makes their way up from Albi into the place they've only just heard about, finding it picturesque and a little backwards.  Most of the people are engaged in driving sheep or cutting wood to haul it twice a year into Albi.

The characters decide to build several small, individual houses, none of which are large enough for the 1,000 square foot requirement.  However, Jim - who grew up in a small town in B.C. - realizes that Pontdeuf is an excellent place for a sawmill; he sends to Albi for a few workers, builds a waterwheel and several saw pits to be driven by the wheel's wooden camshaft and thus meets the requirement.

"What's next?" asks Jim.

"While you're building the mill, introduce yourself around to the people in the village.  They'll be interested in what you're building.  Make sure you put your heraldic symbol on display, that will assure the people believe that you're trustworthy and good hearted.  Speak with the two existing village leaders, Henri and Simon.  Explain that you're giving a party.  Head back to town, buy clothes, prepare the party, then speak with a notary at the town hall to register your status in Pontdeuf.  The claim must be written out by a clerk, then posted in the town hall and that will cost a few fees.  I have those included in the price lists."

"And then?"

"That's enough.  Tell me about the party you plan to throw and the clothes you'll buy.  Remember these are small town people, too much ostentation will frighten them and they'll become hateful."

So it goes.  Is it the sort of thing a player might do?  It's something I might do.  From the player perspective, I might start using the village as a base of operations, exploring the mountains, cleaning out any caves and wiping out the vermin in the valley surrounding Pontdeuf.  Then I'd set about consolidating my power in the village.  If I could not get rid of the existing leaders, I might push the rest of the party to join as leaders and thus dominate voting.  I might try bribery or blackmail to gain control over Henri, say, to ensure that he votes how I want.  Getting one or the other promoted out of the village, making them a member of the court, would get rid of them AND gain them as an influential friend at the same time.

After that, I might begin ruling Pontdeuf with an iron will, forcing the residents to expand their sheep herds, to work harder in shearing, carding and preparing the wool for market.  I would definitely begin buying up land, sending out expeditions to plunge into deeper dungeons for more coin.  I would also communicate with the thief in the party, suggesting he might gather together a band of brigands to begin raiding other villages in the foothills.  I would have the thief stage a raid on Pontdeuf, so that my own subjects were attacked (and a few enemies providentially killed), houses burned and plundered, to be sure that Pontdeuf was not viewed as suspiciously immune to bandit raids.  I'd demand troops from Albi to deal with the 'problem,' then mislead the troops to be sure they never found the party's thief.

Once Pontdeuf had been established as the premier village in the region, the bandits would coincidentally melt away; perhaps a false body would be used to show the death of the bandit 'leader.' The thief would adopt a disguise, slip into the town of Albi and begin disrupting affairs there.  Albi would certainly be our next target.

I can see lots of angles.  But I suppose that most players could only see the responsibility or the prosaic elements.  There'd be nothing to do in a little village, except sit around and count the time until the next dungeon could be found.  That's what I see most of the time.

Players do not see the bigger picture that being a ruthless bastard offers.


Doug said...

Gee, that borders dangerously on the "player-driven plot" instead of the corporate-approved pre-packaged adventure that we'll gladly sell you for $17.95.

Alexis, have you had any advice on either training players or ourselves (GMs) to look at such angles?

I'm not all that great at seeing the big picture, although I'm working on that skill. Certainly as a player, there's a lot more reward in that sort of campaign, but learning to look at the situation with new eyes . . . that's a challenge.

Of course, if that's covered in your books, then point me there!

One other thought occurs to me. Understanding the minutae of the world seems to me is one thing that holds players back from understanding how they can integrate their characters into the bigger picture. For example, compared to the relative wealth of an adventurer, the profit from a sawmill seem like small potatoes. And yet, having a relatively secure place to call home and a business with enough profit to pay for a trustworthy manager to keep an eye on the place are things that "normal" people keep striving to achieve.

And as I write that, I am reminded of lottery winners who blow through their millions of dollars and wind up bankrupt because they didn't understand the minutae.

Alexis Smolensk said...


I did try to address the training yourself to be a player angle theoretically in How to Play a Character. Follow my finger to the right. I'm fleshing out on another book of Adventuring that would be along these lines.

The 'profit' from a dungeon adventure is dependent upon the game's philosophy, right? You make me think I need to write a post proposing the 'overhead' of dungeon adventuring, a subject I don't think I've ever properly considered.

Given the right world, a sawmill could be very profitable - of course, it helps if that world has something to spend money on.

Turns out, lottery winners mostly blow through their money not through a lack of understanding, but from an unwillingness to say 'no' to friends and even strangers. The fellow in Texas who went broke after winning $300 million was involved in a number of charity building projects, including roofing a church and building a firehall (I think) because the municipality where he lived could not raise that money from the Texas government. It's hard to say no to a good cause.

Doug said...

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Alexis, I regret that I've lost your address. However, apropos this topic, here's an open invite to (perhaps painfully slow) play by post appropriate for players who aspire to be ruthless:

Alexis Smolensk said...

Thanks for the invite, Eulalios, but I confess that I just don't have the time. My email is on the front page of my wiki.