Friday, March 22, 2013

It's Yours If You Can Keep It - But I get my fee first

So Jason Packer had a nice sandbox summary. Doug Cole has taken the ball and run with it.

Let me throw in a little sand here, too.

One idea I like a lot in this sandbox is the idea of conquest and ownership. You take it, you hold it for a year, it's yours. (The implication that other adventurers can basically be treated as bandits is, well, pure bonus.) The King probably wants something back for this, though, and a money-wise King might want to see steady returns sooner rather than later. This is an idea you can put to work in other sandboxes, too, or just as a background explanation for all those dungeon bashes.

But in my experience players hate paying taxes. So what to do about that?

Here's one option.

Flat Fee - any levy or tithe is a flat fee, not a percentage. Think mobsters or tax farmers. The providing authority (in this case, King Krail) gives you the right to conquer the land and keep it . . . but you owe X amount of money per month, per year, per whatever (year is probably good) in return for this. Don't make the payment and your claim is legally forfeit. You might still be the de facto holder of the claim, but no longer de jure holder of the claim. So cough up $100,000 in gold at the end of the year and it's yours. Don't have it? Better get out and plunder a dungeon, take a loan, or chase a long-last stash of pirate gold. Or suck up hard to the king.

This works even better if the party is your usual band of murder-hobos. They don't want to settle down, but if a license to steal is $10K a year, and everything above that is profit, they're going to be extremely aggressive monster-tithing tax famers ("King says you owe everything, including your mana organs. Sorry, Mr. Dragon.") If doesn't even need to be a king - it could be financial backers for an expedition. They put up the cash, you keep any overage past their costs and fixed profit.

This one is a bit easier to swallow than taxes. If you don't want to pay the levy, fine - what you seize isn't yours. (This explains hirelings and henchmen pretty well - they want some money, but it's too big of a risk to bite off) It's a good "discuss it ahead of time" kind of thing, too - if everyone jumps in with the "we're a group of guys splitting the claim's annual levy" it even explains the remarkably commune-like approach many gaming groups take towards treasure and expendables.

This is also a good way to let one group fund a future group, if you keep the same world but different generations of gamers. Your old retired guys might loan out their magic weapons and such to new delvers, in return for a fee to be paid after they get some loot.

Just throwing this out there.


  1. The inspiration that hit me as we were iterating on this is straight out of Braveheart.

    Here's the quote:

    "Cheltham: Mornay, Lochlan, Craig. Here are the king's terms. Lead this army off field and he will give you each estates in Yorkshire, including hereditary title, from which you will pay- from which you will pay him an annual duty . . ."

    So, you get the estates, and as long as you pay the King his due (from which duty comes?) the lands are yours.

    So, the process might be something like

    (a) Travel north and seize lands
    (b) Hold them for a year
    (c) Send a messenger (or likely send yourselves) to the King, making formal claim on the land
    (d) King sends an imperial inspector. Maybe he comes himself. They look and see what kinds of wealth the new lands produce, and levy a suitable duty. Along with that Duty comes the formal title. The larger the Duty the more awesome the title. So if you say you can pay the duty of $100,000 per year, that might only be a Barony. If you can fork out $1,000,000 per year, that's a Duchy.
    (e) If you don't pay the duty, you lose title. You may still be able to hold the land, but you'll be a bandit noble, and the King can bestow that title on someone else, and if THEY can hold it, well, sucks to be you, since 'hold it' means 'kill or dispossess the PCs.'

    It's historically grounded, and has the right 'hands-off' feel that the PCs will like. Plus, incentive for more dungeon delving.

    1. I haven't seen Braveheart (I know, I know - sorry, tried and got bored). But that's the idea.

      I like two things it can do:

      - it helps explain why the local bosses (besides just the PCs) are so ruthless with the peasants. Hey, they'd love to be nice (some of them), but they can't afford it. Why are they rich but grubbing for more? They're only rich if they can successfully grub for more . . .

      - it can focus a game on the big picture immediately. You won't waste a lot of time hauling scrap out of the dungeon and arguing over a few copper pieces when selling a used dagger you found. That's small change. You've only got a year to clear an area, set up shop, and hand in some money - you need to aim big, and do it fast. No raiding orcs for silver if you can hire them to help you loot the dragon that has gold. Right away, it says, "This game is high stakes."

  2. Yes, this is definitely where I was going with the trailing end of the proclamation's legalese "...all rights and responsibilities attached thereto."

    King Krail gets more tax revenues, more bragging rights, more militia and other troops to levy in the wars he'll no doubt be fighting on other fronts. It definitely works out as a win for him, if the PCs stay loyal...

    1. Nice. Yeah. I can easily see running the game without this. It's pretty heavy-handed as a campaign starter. But that doesn't make it wrong if the players like it too.

      And even if you don't do it this way, surely King Krail's royal appraisers will levy a lump sum against you, not a percentage. "This land is worth 20,000 sacks of grain and 200 cattle a year. We'll be back for it in the fall." Not "We get 33% and we'll send out accounts to check your books."

    2. Completely. The quote from Braveheart, which I take to be at least mildly historical, is that each set of lands comes with an obligation, and while the obligation is sized to the productivity of the land, it's not quite as variable as a modern state with modern accounting methods.

      Plus, it's a good reason to adventure and stuff. Your personal wealth is only what you can come up with after you pay your feudal duties . . . and a neat way to meet them is to have vassals of your own, each of whom manages a portion of the duty. So there's a built-in play for lieutenants.

  3. There's another hook for adventures in here, too. "You don't have the money? You're in arrears, then. His Majesty is within his rights to seize your lands at any time. But, if you will go and take care of this little matter, the Crown will allow you to defer payment for now."

    1. Truly win-win for the King!

      You try and die, well, now he's got this land to hand to someone else.

      You try and succeed, you're still in arrears, they just told your to skip the interest payments this month. :)

    2. As a wise man once said, it's good to be the King.

  4. This campaign plan is interesting, sure, but it is kind of asking for a TPK during attempted regicide. (Or successful regicide by the PCs, which can be awesome, admittedly.)

    If the king makes the offer and costs clear up front AND the PCs take the deal AND the cost, after the fact, does not strike them as unreasonable, this sort of thing can work. However, IME most players absolutely detest greedy or overbearing authority figures, so the kings described in many of the above posts is likely to be binned in "Enemy" and suffer the traditional murder-hobo approach to the same.

    I'm not saying it's inevitable. But authority figures in RPGs need to be handled delicately. They are the RL problem many players want escape from the most, and rubbing their noses in one often creates surprisingly violent reactions.

    1. I would definitely agree that it's going to be different for different players, different PCs and different GMs.

      Is the king a good one, seen as fair and protective of his people? Or are you dealing with cold-hearted functionaries and the king doesn't even know the PCs are being fleeced?

      Are the PCs loyal to the crown, or are they iconoclasts who're just as likely to break away as soon as they feel capable?

      Is the return on investment appropriate? Do your PCs feel like they're getting their money's worth in protection and legitimacy of their claim in exchange for the annual levy?

    2. It's absolutely something you need to set up in the beginning, not spring on people who don't like this style of play.

  5. What was traditional with titles such as these was that you owed military service to the king for so many days a year, which you could pay at the going rate (which varied year to year) in cash if you wanted.

    So, when there's peace, the rate is low and you just pay. But during actual wartime, the rate is too high to pay, so you go to war for the dude.

    1. Which is probably why you're in Dungeon County sacking dungeons in the first place. "I've declared war on those monsters. Go take care of that, or give me the money to hire mercenaries."

  6. Would some way of reintroducing Status into Dungeon Fantasy work to solve this, and handle taxes and fees in Cost of Living?

    1. It should be easy enough to just bolt it back on. This is GURPS, after all. DF ignores status; just stop ignoring it.

    2. I don't think you gain anything by reintroducing Status. It's a complex can of worms with all the various modifiers for Rank, Wealth, imputed Status, and Independent Income.

      Make it clear to the players that the duty is going to be payable from the estate's income, at least after it gets going (1-2 years after it gets cleared), and that there's going to be plenty of surplus after paying the fees. So there's some upfront investment until the farmers have productive fields, but after that it's a net profit center. That is, assuming they can clear and hold the land well enough for the civilians to start farming.

    3. Just to play Devil's Advocate, if it weren't more or less scrubbed out by the rules, Cadmus, who's supposed to be a younger son of some major nobility, would have purchased some Status were it offered, especially at some sort of latency discount. Having the patent of nobility AND being a kickass conqueror would make you pretty easy to accept at a King's court.

  7. Hello! I'm a non-GURPS-player. To be honest, I'm alternately intrigued and repelled by your descriptions of the system mechanics, but I like your play summaries and thoughts on campaign design.

    My thought is a combination of the ideas above and another that I ran across on some blog or other in the last couple of weeks (don't remember which, I'm afraid... if it was this very blog, please accept my apologies!): the idea of a base town (for a sandbox) that levels up as players spend money in it. Well, how about this?

    You start with a tiny, sleepy village that happens to be the last relatively safe place to use as a staging area before the players venture into the wilderness. It only has one inn, a low-level smithy, a handful of merchants, a tiny shrine or church, etc.

    As the PCs bring back loot and spend money, though, word starts to spread. Traveling merchants are contacted and summoned to take away the treasure, and to provide goods the PCs demand. The village starts to grow as service industries spring up, artisans move in, farmers or woodcutters or miners open new land in the newly-safe areas around town, churches and other organizations set up shop -- and as the village grows, increasingly large and distant seats of government take notice and try to get their fingers in the pie. I'm also seeing a progression here that dovetails with the PCs' needs: more skilled metalworkers moving in provide better weapons and armor; sages attracted to the frontier buy up interesting finds and sell useful lore; increasingly powerful clerics heading local churches can provide higher-level healing and restoration (and quests), etc. And of course the promise of treasure attracts other would-be adventurers, to play the part of bandits, NPC adventuring teams for the PCs to become allies or rivals of, or just supply hirelings.

    I'm picturing a sliding scale of expenditures to reach each new "level" for the community, with each level bringing both new services and new kinds of outside interference. At some point, you have actual nobility or military commanders moving in and staking out territory in what was once wilderness (at the very least, rolling into town and starting to tax and "protect" the farmers and merchants and artisans).

    A couple levels above that, and the king (or perhaps, multiple kings, in several realms that all border the wilderness?) start making offers of recognition and various kinds of support in return for fealty and taxes. Ideally, this would start happening around the point when characters start reaching "name level," in old D&D terms.

    1. Yeah, the town "leveling up" is probably me:

      I really like the idea of combining the two. I hadn't thought of it that way. Yeah, the more you invest in the town the more it grows and the more you've got to draw on.

      Very cool!

      Now we need a systematic way to do that. Doug Cole, get on this right away! ;)

    2. I do a bit of a drive-by on this in a system I'm working on for crafting (Peter's seen some of it offline), but this idea is really neat. It's a plausible way of introducing gradually incrementing threats and benefits to a sandbox that just works.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Yarr, I thought it was here but a brief archive trawl didn't turn it up. Sorry. I want to work on a system like this for my own sandbox, so thanks for all the inspiration!


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