Thursday, June 24, 2010

Impoverished Patrician

"Poor Little Rich Hero (Meis Rule):" If the hero comes from a rich and powerful family, it will have fallen on hard times and be broke and destitute by the time the game actually starts.

This is really the opposite of the farm boy who has come to the big city to make good; this is the sophisticate who comes to the farm in order to learn the true value of family, friendship, loyalty, et al, so that when they win the crown and head back to their sophisticated world they can take with them the down-home goodness of honest folks.

Really more of a fan-fiction thing than D&D, as I would guess more than half the people who sit down to write a Terry Pratchett-style book begin with a character of pure, noble blood who's estranged from an evil/misunderstanding father and loving mother, who must 'succeed on his own' ... or crap to that degree.  I don't find players follow this one up very hard - I can think of a few who make a note about a misunderstanding father (its always the father, isn't it, since our fathers never seem to understand D&D), but it never seems to go anywhere.

Of course, in a long-term sandbox game, there's not much desire on the part of the DM to make everyone an ex-noble of some kind ... because it creates large problems where it comes to group roleplaying.  Do you A) make sure that everyone in the party is an equal noble person of the same rank, to end jealousy?; or B) do you encourage other members of the party to play roles that are respectful of the one party member who is of noble blood?; or C) do you downplay the whole noble thing when it comes up?

Well, the three questions above assume that there's some kind of generation system in place to determine the social status of your players.  Otherwise, the question becomes, is everyone noble or is everyone not?  How many DMs are going to point to player two from the right and say okay, you're Prince blah-blah of the Kingdom Yah?  I don't imagine that the DM that did would then follow it up with, "You're rich, you've got a personal bodyguard of forty men, from whom you have absolute loyalty."  Seriously, are you going to play a thief standing next to that crowd?

Well, I would have issues.

More likely the DM will pull out the old saw, yes, you're a prince, but you've got no money, the kingdom is being run by your uncle that married your mother, and your father's a ghost, etcetera.  What's more, the kingdom of your birth is a long way from here - but yes, you have noble blood.

On some level, it might be fun to be a second rank player in a party like that, struggling to keep the prince alive against all odds, restraining the prince from doing anything foolish, fighting ultimately towards the goal where the prince could be reimposed upon the throne and all could be happiness and spoils.

Except for one thing - the male player who is playing the prince is almost certain to become the biggest prick in the universe.  Such is D&D.

Nerds and geeks being what they are - ie., not gentlemen - there is bound to be a dearth of noblesse oblige, something that can be measured by how many special benefits/privileges that you as DM give to the little snot once the dice come up that say, yes, this fighter is of noble blood.  Give him anything and he's certain to become the Marquis St. Evremonde by the second session.  Give him nothing and he's apt to pout and whine that what's the point of being a noble if you can't lord it over your friends?

Now, I've been decidedly masculine in my adjectives for a reason - simply because I believe you have a much better chance of party solidarity if the girl player of the group happens to be the one of noble blood - even if she's playing a male character.  Women, by and large, tend to handle this stuff better, with a sense of the dignity and responsibility that comes from being a noble person, without all the strutting testosterone that inevitably becomes the crowning center of a heavily male D&D contingent.  It reminds me that I should write a post about pissing contests in D&D ... but we'll leave that off until later.

At any rate, I do have a system that allows for a very low chance of an individual being a noble; and I've always presumed that this RPG cliche would be carried forward; I've twice had a noble person rolled up.  The first was successfully put on the throne of a small, regional country, just before the campaign ended permanently.  The other had died, unfortunately, at fourth level before anything could be done with it.

But now I'm thinking how interesting it would be to introduce a new player into a long-time party, who happened to be a noble.  Think of it: I start everyone at 1st level, which is a huge trial for new players who find they must play side by side with 7th-9th level characters.  I don't have a party that pushes noobs around (my gaming group is 4/7ths female), so it works out that if the noob keeps their head down, does a small bit and lives, they go up to 4th or 5th very quickly.

But how would it be if the 1st level did start with 40 personal armed guards, led by a sixth-level-fighter and several middle level chiefs and sub-chiefs?  Not henchmen, mind you, as these would have their own agenda - keep the king's spawn alive while seeing to it that he/she got some experience in the wide world - but they would be something to reckon with where it came to power plays within the group dynamic.

I think I've just talked myself into drawing up some guidelines ... someday.

1 comment:

The Hex Master said...

I've played and ran several Birthright campaigns in the past in which 1st level character were handed the keys to the kingdom and they all worked out well for the most part. I certainly enjoyed them. I'll chime in on my experience with some of the issues you brought up:

On sandbox games:

Player regents are leaders of men (i.e. NPCs) and men (i.e. NPCs) have agendas. Nearly every foreign NPC regent is of greater level and about half are have greater resources as well. Powerful enemies can't be ignored or fled from at the scope and potential allies have demands of their own in return for their aid. Players with a strong sense of responsibility may feel their options are limited.

Sandbox style of play is very tricky to pull off at this level but not impossible. In a game I ran, one player assumed the campaign was inherently anti-sandbox and preceded buck the shackles of "fate" as hard as possible. His character was one of the more successful and memorable of the bunch. About a third of the players in the groups I played with really just wanted a traditional style dungeon crawl game and wound up a bit bored and disappointed.

On players' rank relative to other players:

I've played games where each player was a regent (either of a realm, a church, a guild or a collection of magic sources) and games where one player is the regent and the rest are the regent's lieutenants. The most successful but least practical game was where each player made a regent and also created enough lieutenant characters for each of the other players. Each session focused on one player and the other players picked from the lieutenant characters. This created an incredibly rich campaign which took a looong time to resolve.

On noblesse oblige:

Players abusing their rank over other players never really seemed to be an issue with any of the groups in which I played. I think that was largely due to wise group decisions on who the ranking players would be; everyone knew who the troublemakers were at the start. Many of the players were Pendragon vets as well and I think that helped set the spirit.

On behavior and the sexes:

The women players all seemed to enjoy this style of play. (But also, in more sandbox style campaigns, the women players seemed to be the most vicious hack 'n slashers of the bunch. Perhaps they adapt best to the mood of the group and setting?) The less mature male element seemed to be less engaged in play rather than abusive. (Which was an improvement from the sandbox style, where they were normally engaged bastards.)

On classes:

Many of the problems facing the realm couldn't have been solved with swords alone. Talk and dirty deeds went a long way. There were plenty of thieves standing among the royal bodyguard but few of the studded leather armor with sword sword variety. These sort of campaigns really bring thieves and bards into the limelight when run as guild leaders and heralds. Due to Birthright's added realm magic rules, church leaders and magic users were particularly important to temporal rulers. However, the sort of power they commanded would be hard to translate into the magic level of your campaign I believe.

BTW, I'm eagerly looking forward to the next installment of your mass combat after action report.