Friday, March 16, 2012

All the King's Men

Let's have a discussion about the level of national leaders, shall we?

To begin, let's take name level for clerics and fighters, both 9th level.  For the cleric, that's 220,000 experience; for the fighter, 250,000.  According to the book, this is the level at which the character is entitled to clear out a hex, build a castle, or otherwise be considered a baron or a bishop (or equivalent title).  We can assume, therefore, that any NPC in charge of one hex of civilized land (20 miles in diameter), is of name level - or at least, employs someone of name level to run the place.  After all, the heir might only be 8 years old.

Baron is obviously not a very high rank for a person of landed nobility.  But it is a logical starting point.  The question is, if the NPC controls TWICE this much land, what level ought they to be?

Well, I'm a fan of the Fibonacci Series for such things, as I've mentioned before.  Loosely, we can peg two hexes at 10th level, three hexes at 11th level, five hexes at 12th level and so on.

Thus, if you have a nation the size of Belgium, which would be about 34 hexes, your king ought to be something like 16th level.

Of course, you could also mark the difference that there's a major difference between an empty hex and a hex with an Ginormous city in it, like Brussels or Antwerp.  Perhaps you could define a spatial hex as equivalent to a population of, say, 10,000 - so that a country the size of Belgium with Belgium's current population would count as 154 "hexes" ... and thus your king would have to be at least 19th level.

But then, there's always a question of the number of titles your king happens to have.  After all, if he is the King of Belgium AND Grand Marshal of the French Army, that does somewhat change things.  Let's suppose that for every extraordinary title, we presuppose some huge event that loaded our king with massive amounts of treasure - i.e., a new level.  So let's say our King & Marshall is 20th level.

Fine.  Let's take an example.  Let us suppose that we have a Prince-Bishop (which was a common title once upon a time), who holds mastery over five different prince-bishoprics.  He is the Prince-Bishop of Munster, the Prince-Bishop of Liege, the Prince-Bishop of Oldenburg, the Prince-Bishop of Paderborn and finally the Archbishop of Cologne.  At the bare minimum, he will have a considerable population subject to his will (all those cities!); he controls five completely different fiefdoms, so we may assume at least 5 hexes under his exclusive power.  Without getting too deep into the matter, we may conservatively estimate that he's at LEAST 16th level (12 for fiefdoms, +4 more for titles).

Is this the sort of thing you need to share with your players?  No.  This is the sort of thing that you, as Dungeon Master, use as a guideline to let you know what level your NPCs are.  It is slightly better than throwing dice, the results of which you wouldn't tell the party, either.

Ages ago, I struggled with another question that came out of this - how exactly does one determine the total support that someone like our example above would have?  How much would a party member have, if they eventually worked their way up to this position?  How many fighters or thieves or mages could they really depend on?  How do you determine who is loyal to the King, and who isn't?

Some gentle readers might remember that last year about this time I posted a description of the henchmen my offline party were carrying around with them.  And as part of that post, I mentioned that the henchmen the party gained from this system of mine were FANATIC.  While it is true that my parties do tend to gain a certain collection of followers and contacts and hirelings and friends, there's a difference between all those people and the henchmen I give to my parties:  the henchman system is specifically designed so that the player can have another character to run, who will never, EVER, stab that character in the back.  Because, basically, the DM does not run that henchman; the player does.

If the player has some task that needs doing, that isn't that important, the player can send a hireling to do it.  But if the player has something that MUST be done, and done right, the player will DIY-that puppy by sending the player's own henchman to do it.  The player, as it is, can be in multiple places at once - and as my graphic on the linked post above shows, the player starts to pile up quite a number of henchmen by 8th level.

An important part of the system is that the henchman gets something like half the experience of the main character.  This is befuddled a bit by my experience system, in which the henchman can get more than the main character if they do a lot of fighting, but treasure is halved and so are other X.P. bonuses.  So let's use half experience to determine the level of henchmen - remembering, of course, that henchmen in turn can have henchmen.

So let's start with our 16th level Archbishop and see what we get.

First and foremost, our Archbishop has 1,760,001 x.p. minimum.  We can roll a random number between 1 and 220,000 to get an exact number, and we find our Archbishop has 1,791,721 x.p.

Next, our Archbishop got a new henchman at 5th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, and 15th level - 6 direct henchmen in all.  Some of these henchmen died, and were replaced, but since we're already adjusting downwards for experience, let's keep this as simple as possible and just leave the henchmen at half level.  Our Archbishop received these henchmen when the Archbishop had (dropping all the 1s) 13000, 55000, 220000, 660000, 1100000 and 1540000 experience, respectively.

(I'm having a feeling of deja vu, that I've done this calculation on my blog before, but since I want it expressed with precisely this example, because it is relevant to the online campaign, I'll go ahead and do it again)

Some of these might be mages or fighters or monks or thieves, but let's keep this simple and just assume they are all fighters.  We can put together a table, then, of the amount of experience the henchmen would have (ballpark), by subtracting the x.p. the Archbishop had when he got the henchmen from the present x.p., and dividing by 2:

This is convenient.  Our Archbishop has a name level fighter for every one of his five territories, along with one extra fellow to perhaps lead an army on some front of war.

But we are not done.  As with the link above about henchmen, these henchmen have other henchmen; the three 11th level fighters each received a henchman at 5th, 7th, 9th and 11th levels (at 18000, 70000, 250000 and 750000 x.p.); the 10th and 9th level fighters have 3 henchmen each, and the 8th level fighter has 2.  Let's work out their experience by the same method we worked out the Archbishop's (again, assuming every henchman is a fighter):

So are we done?  Hell no.  Every hench who has reached at least 5th has a hench, and every hench who has reached at least 7th has a hench, and so on.

In fact, the entire list is freaking scary.  I had to start coloring it and giving them names to keep it straight, and as I was in the middle of it, Google died on me.  Here's what I got so far:

Mind you, this is only those people that the Archbishop can absolutely count on - it doesn't include ALL the people in the five different Bishoprics.  And when you consider the population for those number in the hundreds of thousands, then this doesn't seem like such a big number.  There's lots of other people around who would be happy to kill the list of people above any time.

But I know, I know, I'm crazy.  No one - NO ONE ANYWHERE - thinks like this, or thinks anyone should think like this.

Because everyone except for the party is zero level, right?

Speaking of zero level - I have to write a post sometime soon about how I eliminated it.


  1. Didn't you cover 0th level previously when talking about generating the level of all the people in a city?

  2. I did. But life - and logic - has moved on.

  3. True, while sorting through your content a couple years back, I got to wondering about how your opinions on some of the topics have changed. I guess that's a possible font of topics should you ever run short eh?

  4. Alexis,

    As usual, brilliant.
    Of all the interesting mods you have done to the AD&D system, this fanatic henchmen your xp system, and you creature mass system should be incorporated into 5th edition.

    It boggles my mind how much work actually goes into your world to keep it interesting, especially when you start throwing high level NPC's at you PC's.

  5. It would never make it in. They're more worried about your one character and it's super epic abilities, and staying 'in the action'. There isn't a strong emphasis on character legacy really.

  6. Which seems to be the wrong direction.

    I guess no one really plays out the world their DM has set before them anymore, it's all narrow campaign this, module that.(this is what I gather in my ignorance, not in any actual experience)

  7. While the discussion of royalty and nobility as a function of character level is interesting, I'm wondering how it holds up on the personal scale. Especially since many nobles did not acquire their position by adventuring and staking out a hex, but were instead born into noble families that already had ancestral titles and holdings and such. So if a character had a kingly sum simply handed to them in such a manner, what impact would it have on the character's level, hit points, saving throws, etc.?

  8. I've discussed that before, Doug.

    Even nobles who inherited were raised from birth to hunt wild animals, stags and boars, worth 90+ experience per kill, and many of these could be killed - and were - through the 20 years leading up to a king's reign. Many nobles also led armies, and gained plunder by that leading, even if it wasn't done in the field. Wouldn't the ordered execution of an enemy be experience too? It was so ordered, it was so done - without the noble's writ, no blood would be spilled, so we're talking here of the king using a human being as a weapon.

    There are lots and lots of other ways you might consider; rape in the king's bedroom, for example, or watching the proceeds of a prisoner being tortured; or various other vices and pursuits. Not every point of damage is managed in ordinary D&D adventuring.

  9. So... you're saying King Charles II would be able to fight as a 12th level fighter? He, personally, would be able to take on six or eight common foot soldiers and singlehandedly slay them all?


  10. Are you saying that in a world where people teleport, where young future kings could go "hunting" on other planes of existence, where an assassin is about a hundred times more deadly due to magical aid and the like, that a father wouldn't teach his prince to fight like a 20th level fighter?

    Read Girl Genius. Read ALL of it. You can find the link in the sidebar. Then come talk to me.

  11. I'm just not sure why you want to tie a political leader's stature -- especially an inherited leader -- into a PC concept like levels. So the King isn't the best fighter. So what? He's the King. It doesn't matter if he's 1st level or 20th. He's still the King.

    Why tie yourself into such a rigid system, instead of just declaring the King is whatever level you want him to be, should the need arise?

  12. I don't see the idea as 'rigid' at all - no more than any other rule in the game. I see it as moving the decision-making process from "out of my ass" to one of predictable logic - thus providing the players with a reasonable expectation when speaking face to face with ANY authority figure.

    I know, I know, there's the old trope about the weak king surrounded by his strong and powerful protectors - but I think that's a sucked-dry cliche and it isn't interesting to me. Moreover, I don't have just one or two kings to consider - I have literally hundreds. This isn't rigid - it is simplification.

  13. One could argue that Authority Equals Asskicking also is a cliche, but let's not digress...

    OK, so posit a world where a great deal of resources are used, and risk overcome, to level up your potential heirs. And isn't just the royal family -- this would be all nobles, soldiers (surely, if King Charles II is a 20th level Fighter, so is Cromwell?), clergymen (presumably the Pope is a 20th level Cleric?), and so on. So there are a LOT of very powerful NPCs in this world.

    I would also think it would be expected that nobles and generals would not only lead troops into battle, but participate (a la Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire, or even Starship Troopers). Not just watch from a distant hill while surrounded by a troop of bodyguards. Actually, watching from a distant hill probably isn't a safe in a world with magic -- you're probably safer in the thick of the battle, in your non-fancy armor and with your non-ornate weaponry, mowing down the 1st level grunts.

    I would imagine there would be a high death rate among heirs as they attempt to level up. (Getting to level 16 or 20 isn't easy!) You would want to have a lot of spares. Maybe polygamy would be allowed, or at the very least, bastards would be tolerated.

    Or maybe going at it from another direction, instead of having many heirs with the hope that one will have the requisite ability scores and luck to survive to 20th level, you would instead see a system where a powerful son-in-law, or even a man adopted as an adult (which happens in Japan), can be named the successor over a natural son who is not up to the challenge.

    What do you think?

  14. Getting closer to it all the time, Butch.

    Couple of questions, before I answer.

    If you had reached 20th level, and had to direct the battle as much as possible through mages standing at your elbow with spells, would you be in the fray, or would you be up on a hill? You make it sound like a general does nothing.

    In a D&D world, with magic, does the classic difficulty of making women pregnant, or ensuring a male heir, or seeing to it that the baby doesn't die at birth, really all the problem it was in our world? Think about it.

    Is the high death rate of heirs a given if laws are made that heirs under 30 are entitled to resurrection?

    Bastards WERE tolerated. What history have you read? There's a terrible tendency to think that 16 and 17th century politics/intrigue obeyed the rules set up during the 19th century monarchies.


    Yes, we're talking A LOT of very powerful NPCs - so be ready.

    In a world of magic, no place is safe. But no one "acts" in any given restrictive manner, just because they're high level. People are still individuals.

    I don't know why you presuppose that kings automatically die in battles. Ransom, you know, is still ransom; I think it likely your enemies would resurrect your bones if it meant getting your ransom. In any case, in actual history, real kings fought, real kings died, and the monarchy managed to struggle on.

    On a personal note, I'm not sure if this annoys you, or if it is just that the standardized D&D world seems preprogrammed so that anyone who's ninth level automatically gets a ticket to greatness.

    The fact is, IF you're going to have a meaningful "end game" after the player hits name level, then there have to be MORE powerful name levels than the party for things to stay interesting. All I've done is systematize a world where master high levels are more common.

    After all, my world's population IS above 200 million. How many DMs have worlds that big?

  15. Resurrection is an interesting idea. But then why have heirs at all? Perhaps St. Peter is still on the throne in Vatican City! The Lich Pope!

    I'm not annoyed -- exactly the opposite, actually. I like talking about ideas and exploring what happens next.

    For example, earlier you said that the Mongols never conquered Russia. What does this mean for Islam if Baghdad is never sacked, and the Abbasid Caliphate continues? And what about world trade -- without a Mongol Empire to keep the peace, would "Spice Road" trade be possible? And if there is less east-west trade, does that mean no Black Death? Especially when you consider the power of a Cure Disease spell.

    Or not. Maybe Baghdad was sacked by Orcs a hundred years earlier or a hundred years later. Maybe the Spice Road is rendered moot by sea captains navigating by magic. I dunno. I just like thinking about it.

  16. To keep my sanity, everything returns in some degree to the status quo.

    You misunderstood something I had said, but its understandable. When I said the "mongols" didn't conquer Russia, I was referring to the earth concept of the mongols - that is, humans. Orcs and haruchai and ogres conquered Russia ... but they did not stay, as they had to return to fight hobgoblins on their border. Baghdad was plundered - and there are orc and ogre kingdoms (along with goblins, hobgoblins, norkers and so on) that still control Siberia. Russia never expanded to the Pacific because of that.

    I apologize. I may have worded my original statement incorrectly, because most of the time I'm keeping two histories in my head, and I tend to get confused myself.

    There is a spice road: Samarkand and Kokand are human states, as well as the Moghuls and Safavids. The spice road passes through the Dzungarian Gate and is protected and defended by - well, I just don't tell people who don't go there, is all.

    There was a Black Death. It was anti-magical in nature. Many paladins died.


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