Thursday, June 13, 2019

Retinue vs. Followers

I'm sure most of my readers will remember that old D&D included the concept of reaching "name level," where the players were supposed to settle down, build castles and such, and gain "retainers."  What some like to call the End Game ... though I don't see how this ends anything having to do with play.  The only thing that seems odd about it is that Gygax and others proposed it ~ since nothing they did or wrote as far as real game material seems to have taken that into account.

Perhaps I'm wrong.  Can anyone recall a module written for 10+ level characters that begins, "An emissary approaches the party while they're hanging out in their castle," or, "After you've assigned persons to look after your lands and fortifications, you set out for the adventure."  Anyone?

I couldn't find the comment where someone lately asked me about retainers.  I thought I'd begin with discussing what retainers are and how they differ from followers, hirelings and henchmen.  I another post, I'll talk about how one gets them.  Please don't expect me to follow the guidelines established in early D&D.

The word relates to "retinue," which is an old French word meaning a group of followers or a state of service.  The concept is that the followers are taken into feudal service, and thus "kept" or "retained" through the granting of lands on condition of services.  It isn't that the character suddenly gets a mess of instant obedient followers ~ it is, rather, a contract.  You provide the land, they provide the service ... not as serfs, but as men-at-arms or as knights.  The number of "hides" that they're given (see the previous post depends on their status and the landholder's generosity.  It's not really clear in wikipedia, but every five hides could be expected to provide a soldier in times of war.  Nothing about feudalism ever worked out that sure, but it's a guideline.

The retinue did not consist of only soldiers, as the old DMG suggests, but also of servants, artisans, professionals, estate officials, treasurers, stewards, lawyers and generally all that was needed by the normal operation of society.  And, as the lord grew in status, so did the retinue; so that a sort of "bastard feudalism" developed, in which middle ranking figures under a king or major noble would compete for money, offices or influence.  This is how the French court of the 17th century grows organically out of the more rural France of the 12th and 13th centuries.  The collective name for these retainers was "affinity," which also happens to be a word that began in c. 1300 as "relation by marriage."  In a sense, the retinue were "kin," or part of the "neighbourhood," words that have developed other meanings over time.  For this post, we'll go on using the word retinue and retainer, but try to keep affinity in mind.

Prestigious items such as the Dunstable Swan Jewel above
were given to highly important persons within the lord's
retinue.  Jewels such as the above are rare.  I find it likely
that many were melted down in times of crisis.
To identify the relationship between the lord and the retinue, often livery badges were bestowed upon the various retainers; these were heraldic badges or devices that granted status and some legal protection for the wearer, while advertising the power of the lord.  The appearance of hundreds of such badges, given out for a variety of reasons, would quickly establish the lord's importance in an area, while at the same time producing opportunities for rivalry with other retainers wearing another lord's badges.  We need only think of Liverpool and Manchester football to gain a clear idea.

Many of the symbols we recognize began this way; the Lancaster or York roses, the Prince of Whales's (er, Wales's) emblem, the boar, the lion, the Maltese cross, etc., all started as this sort of "advertising," or team making, among nobles and other like authoritarians.

Obviously, this would mean that many persons outside the retinue, would always be seeking to be a part of it, if they had no affinity of their own.  This meant that outside the retinue were an amorphous group of general supporters and contacts, most of them completely unknown to the lord, but known to the various members of the retinue.  Thus, even a minor lord could potentially affect hundreds, even thousands of persons, simply by their existence at the heart of his or her retinue.  This made political maneuverings and the raising of an huge army a realistic possibility, as the War of the Roses proved, as Henry the VII was able and again as Cromwell demonstrated.  In D&D, we tend to think that to raise an army, we need to scatter out agents and interview people.  In fact, the more likely truth is that there would be large numbers predisposed to our cause; we would need only to canvas our own connections, gain the support of other nobles and let them canvas their connections, and thus through specific persons already in our employ, we would dredge up the very people we needed from both our lands and from those wanting to be part of our lands.  Thus, every war begins with a promise of land ~ which we will naturally take from the losers, when we win.

All this makes the retainer far, far more valuable than the follower ~ though, it must be said the retainer has less reason to be directly loyal.  Ultimately, the retainer serves the office, not the individual.  A lord is sure to be surrounded by trusted, reliable followers and henchmen, the "inner circle," while sorting out the trusted members of the retinue from those not quite so trusted.  In general, the retinue is expected to fall in line because the lord has the retinue's general welfare at heart; if the lord fights to preserve the lord's lands, he or she also fights to preserve the retinue's lands.  So all join together in the common cause.

The complexity of this is doubtlessly beyond the tenacity of DMs and Players who are only interested in adventuring ... but I find the concept utterly fascinating, myself.  And I positively adore the idea of building a system of land ownership and management of such persons in a way that would empower me to influence the actions of a very large kingdom, such as Sweden or Poland, even if I am not the king and have no interest in deposing the king.

I am far more excited by this sort of thing than I am by disarming another trap.


JB said...

This is such good stuff...and yet another example why the “rules as written” simply don’t satisfy a more developed complexity, a deeper game.

Funny I’ve never before made the comparison between livery and modern sport team advertising. Makes perfect sense (though I guess it would also be analogous to all the dudes who insist on wearing flag emblems tattooed over every accessory and stitch of your allegiance, right?). On the other hand, I’ve always thought of livery as a mark of prestige and pride; not everyone gets the honor of wearing it, even if you LIKE the need to be accepted into the lord’s service first.

I really do like this kind of thing, though I’m not sure how much I can fit into my “New World” setting. Unless the PCs decide to go all “Dances With Wolves,” I suppose (I’m sure the Incans has some equivalent form of displayed fealty. The story of Gonzalo Guerrero is actually a good example, with regard to the Maya...he ended up with a lot of facial tattoos).

Alexis Smolensk said...


Because the Spaniards are such a small part of the general population (of South America, in your proposed game world), the flag and their direct allegiance to the king or their direct lords would probably be enough to define them.

And of course the natives wouldn't have anything like it, or even understand the concept of the heirarchy; I would think they'd see all that as a weird idiosyncracy, and even be able to benefit from a greater solidarity among their own people, who aren't subdivided in this fashion.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Oh, and I should say, many of the dudes with the flag emblems would like very much to make it so that not everyone was allowed to wear them ...

Guillaume said...

That's surely not relevant to this blog, but a few D&D Companion modules started with the player as rulers.

Of course, there were a lot of rules about realms and wars in the Companion set.But not like the system you'd like to build.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I did ask, Guillaume. Thank you. I was never a fan of modules, so I'm not surprised that I haven't heard of the ones you mention. It is reassuring to know they exist, at least. Someone was on the ball.

Guillaume said...

A quick browsing on wikipedia makes me think that at least 3 of 9 CM published module start with players as rulers. ( Test of Warlords, Legacy of Blood, and

Pathfinder had a campaign "start level 1, establish your first city by level 4, create a kingdom at 10" called Kingmaker, and it recently had a very successful crowdfunding for a tenth anniversary edition ( ), so I think it's an interesting idea for a lot of players.
(I know it has been for me since the companion box set :) )

Agravain said...

I would totally buy rules on managing a fief.

I did some research on nobility rights and duties, and it was really really interesting.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, you find me an artist to make about thirty charcoal-like drawings and I'll write the splatbook for you.

Ozymandias said...

Terms and conditions? I'll gladly ask around.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Most artists want $1000 per picture. A "reasonable" artist will want $75 an hour.

The expectation that art will be included makes most books like this impractical unless you're a publishing house. This post puts it best: "You charge $75 an hour ~ that's why you're broke. Telling people you charge some stupidly high hourly fee just to make yourself look good only makes you look stupid-er."

A good musician will come and perform for a cut of the front door, plus two or three free beers; so will a dancer; a writer will work for fractions of a cent a word. I can get actors to work for free if I promise them an audience or a cut of the gate, along with sound technicians, lighting technicians. A costume designer will work if you provide them material and let them keep the end product after the production. But ask an artist to throw in with a company of other creative groups and they all sniff the air and demand ludicrous fees up front. That's why sets always look like a stagehand painted them; because they sure weren't done by an artist.

I've made this complaint many times on the blog and it is ALWAYS the one gate that's a bitch to overcome. So good luck on finding an artist.

If there's any real chance of Agravain's book being made (and unquestionably, I already know most of the material, as I've twice created something like this as a guideline for myself), I'd have to create a kickstarter ~ and even though I could write the material for free, basically, it would cost me the better part of $3000 to hire a decent artist to do second-rate work.

Ozymandias said...

Is it reasonable for an artist to accept a portion of sales from a book? Asking more out of curiosity than anything else; now that you mention it, I've seen similar critiqued around the 'net.

Alexis Smolensk said...

If the artist were in the city with me, we could easily have a face-to-face and probably a handshake agreement. If the artist were a Canadian, we could exchange a contract and he or she would have a viable method of addressing remuneration, so we could have trust.

If the artist were not a Canadian, the problem of chasing me down, if I were crooked, would be very hard; I don't say that trust couldn't be had, but it would be a very tenuous trust in the beginning. And while my presence here online is well established, and numerous people know my real name and my address, that doesn't mean that an advance I gave to an artist in California or Spain could be counted on as a means of returning art. Therefore, ALL the art would have to be produced for me ahead of time, and proven in my possession, whereupon how could the other person be sure they were paid, without having to go after me in international courts?

So ... any arrangement with an artist should be face-to-face; perhaps with my flying out to their location to meet with them and be present for six to ten days, long enough for them to do the work, provide it to me and then receive the money. BUT, that's still asking a lot from a stranger, for either one of us.

Agravain said...

Finding an artist has always been a huge issue, especially if you need illustrations for a whole book.

Fiverr is considered cheap, but if you need 30 illustrations you will probably spend 3k, as you were saying...

Alexis Smolensk said...

Yet there are thousands of artists right now perfectly capable of doing the work, who are earning their money at some garbage job right now, unable to participate in their preferred profession out of pride.

We call that a bad business model.

Baron Opal said...

Look up Kevin Crawford's business model. He does respectably well.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I was able to identify who you're talking about, and a bunch of reddit pages of people gushing over his incredible brilliance, but that's about it.

Baron Opal said...

In short, his plan is to plan and compose the text. When that is complete, he determines the cost of his finished work (art, layout, editing, &c.). After determining his minimum margin, he Kickstarts that amount. If successful, he mostly just has to keep the artists on task and manage the logistics with the printer. If something goes horribly awry, which it never has, the patrons will at least get the whole and complete text, It just won't be pretty.

It has served him well enough that he says he's doing this full time, for about 4-5 years I think. He is amazingly open to business questions; and has stated "my cost is this, I want to make Y per unit, so that is why the cost is what it is. I need to sell this many units for it to be worth my time...", and so on.

If you have a desire to produce RPG products for sale, he's the one to emulate, business wise.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I've implemented plenty of business plans, so wouldn't be my first rodeo, wouldn't even be my twentieth. But it IS interesting that he kickstarts the art AFTER the writing is done. That, I admit, is a plan I hadn't considered and seems obvious instantly.

Baron, you know I already have produced RPG products for sale, yes?

Baron Opal said...

Yes, three books... and an adventure?

Alexis Smolensk said...

Well, that's nice, Baron. Are you just asking or has busting my balls on my paltry output compared to the amazingly brilliant Kevin Crawford become part of this conversation?

I don't know if you understand this, but many of us poor souls frittering away in the darkness after a lifetime of effort and work and failure are somewhat touchy about spontaneous patronizing unsolicited advice about whose business models we should be following or what we should do with our future ventures, etcetera. I'll be patient and all, but I'm wondering just now how much longer this kicking in of my teeth is going to last?

I'll be honest. Have I made a lot of money? No. Have I been, let's see, you said it first, "doing this full time, for about 4-5 years"? No. No, I really haven't. I'm not successful, I'm not raking in the bucks, I don't have people online crowing about my business acumen.

I have, however, been part of putting together newspapers and magazines weekly, and writing journal articles, going back to the early 1990s, so forgive me if I'm a bit touchy where it comes to how to succeed at publishing something. My drawback, however, is not that I don't know HOW to get rich, it's that I'm rather fussy about the material I care to write and ~ in case you haven't noticed ~ that material isn't all that popular.

So, no, I'm not Kevin Crawford, whose name I do not recognize from anything, and who is obviously more popular and materially successful than I'm ever going to be. I'm not pewdiepie either.

What's your point?

Baron Opal said...

You seemed to be asking, pointing out a significant hurdle. And, looking at other gaming supplements in the marketplace, there is a demand for your work. You have said many times you're a writer, and posted links to it. I was referencing your gaming work.

But you don't want to talk about it, and that's fine.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I wasn't asking for any information on how to obtain or pay an artist. Done so, many times. We were talking about the stubbornness of artists to insist on prices they don't largely deserve, and therefore shouldn't be hired (as stated in the link I added about artists).

Therefore, your advice on a business model was unsolicited.

I very much appreciate learning about Kevin Crawford's strategy regarding setting up a Kickstarter to pay the artist after the book is written. It's a good idea and I appreciate it. Thank you.

Unfortunately, your words and statements seemed to suggest an ignorance on my part about business models and such, whereas your statement, "If you have a desire ..." was blatantly patronizing and unexpectedly rude, particularly as it was coming from YOU. My immediate verbal response was, "What the fuck do you mean, 'if'?"

If you want to talk about business strategies to getting something published, I'm all for it. But speak to me like an equal, not as someone who needs to ask an online guru for advice about getting published. I have more prestigious people in my circle of acquaintances to ask than a self-published RPG writer. I may appear to be an out-of-work scumbag at the moment, but that is indicative of my experience or motivations.

Alexis Smolensk said...

Not, damn it. Not indicative.

Baron Opal said...

I apologize. It was not my intention to be disrespectful.

Alexis Smolensk said...

I apologize also. Like any artist, I am far too tetchy.