Thursday, August 18, 2016

Building a Mid-Level “Domain Game”

If there is one lesson I have learned from years of oodling around with domain-level play is that bounded, “lower-level” domain game activity is often way more gratifying and fun in a well-aged D&D-like campaign than playing a game of high-rolling rulers. 

The nature of D&D with its emphasis on micro-site exploration and granular personal advancement just plain makes it better suited and more enjoyable to play a petty wanna-be lordling clearing a fragile hold in a vast and hostile wilderness or the mayfly life of a warband chief than it is to be even a lowly baron stuck with the static play (and bean-counting) of rulership.

And I've found the more you can ratchet down the frame, the easier and more natural a fit it seems. A natural extension of this is creating more avenues for players to carve out power positions inside society well-below name level.

What follows is my first stab at instituting it in the Hill Cantons campaign. As always feedback and yakking about your own best practices appreciated.

Hill Cantons Social Advancement
At fourth level a player is eligible to worm/buy their way into local office broadly speaking: an entry-level position within the Canton government/legal system, a contrada society junior officer, guild journeyman (and this extends to a business such as owning an inn), magical college good standing member, mercenary officer, criminal society officer, etc. See below for a list of current open positions in Revoca Canton (a much larger list coming down the pike for Marlinko).

Co-creation and Creative Down-time. Players are encouraged to co-create details about both their position and the local branch of the institution. Players also have the option of creating elaborate downtime plans though mechanical adjudication/impact is completely at the GM's time/energy level for the week.

Obligations. PCs holding office are assumed to have to rote duty Obligations happening in downtime, see position listing for exact number of days. These obligations are often localized (as in the PC has to be around town). Failure to meet Obligations due to being away for adventuring/travel or incapacitated produce a small cumulative chance of 5% per day (rolled at the moment the PC resumes duty) for a demotion or loss of position. Before the roll is made the player can opt out of the roll by “Throwing Money at the Problem” (a “tax” of 1d6 x 100 gold suns).

Career Opportunity. Once a real world month or upon attainment of a new level, a player holding office may invoke a Career Opportunity (none of them involving opening mailing bombs for you) at the beginning of a session that they the player are in attendance. Opportunities provide the following:
1. The PC must sit out the session (again this must be a session the player is in).

2. The player must play a henchperson or hireling that session. Players lacking a decent henchperson can roll up a backup character at 60% their current exp. Henchmen and hirelings tied to the position (ie your underlings) can be played and gain a 20% bonus on exp in the session with 0-level hirelings earning 1st level at the end of a session.

3. Player invoking a CO rolls on either the Fabulous Prizes or Advancement chart. The die used is dependent on the Position listing. Players can add  +1 on their die by throwing in inducement money at 200 gold suns a pop (up to a +3/600 gold maximum).

Fabulous Prizes Chart
1-2 This Shit was Just Laying Around. Pick up 1d6+1 pieces of mundane equipment for free (value no more than 20 gold suns each).
3-5 Little Bites. Bribe money of 1d4 x 100 gold suns straight into your hot pocket.
6-8 The Clothes Make the Man. You have acquired an extra-ordinary piece of fashion worth 1d8 x 100 gold sun (and half the exp).
9-10 The Corner Office is Open? Player gains personal control of rooms or structure commiserate with position. A position inside a castle thus gaining a suite or a shrine priest is given a small hut. 1D4 x 100 exp for the new digs.
11-12 Rank Does Hath its Privileges. Major graft/bonus chance this time PC level x 300 gold suns.
13-15 My Precious. Magic item “falls off the cart”. Randomly determined or by GM discretion.
16+ Fuck Yeah. Roll Again Twice (ignoring this result).

Advancement Chart
1-2 That Bastard Pavol Out Maneuvered Me. Again. NPC rival (if none, gain one) gets the roll instead, no effect. +1 to you next Advancement roll due to the resentment inducement.
3-5 An Embarrassing Yet Hilarious Faux Pas. Your character is the in the news next week, strangely you still get +2 to your next Advancement roll. Otherwise no effect.
6-9 Missed My Window But Patient I Am. No effect, though add +3 to the next Advancement roll.
10-11 Oh I Suppose I Can Make Do. You are not promoted but you have made your current position much comfier, take a roll on the Fabulous Prizes chart at +2.
12-15 That is Clearly Under My Job Duties. Minor Expansion of an aspect of your character's current position and a +2 on your next Advancement roll. GM and player negotiation, typically this would be something like an extra hireling (or two) or bumping up to the next die for Advancement or Fabulous Prize rolls etc.
16-17 My Obvious Talent is Appropriately Awarded. You are either promoted to higher office (if open) or can take a Major Expansion of your current position.
18-19 How the Mighty Have Fallen. A rival is disgraced/demoted or the office above you is vacated through a death/demotion/promotion.
20+ The Right Place at the Right Time. You can choose any two results from the Advancement chart.

Current Entry-Level Offices in Revoca Canton
A number of mostly ceremonial and not-particularly lucrative--though relatively prestigious and open to quick advancement—positions with the Revoca Cantonal Rada (council) or Lady Draga's household retinue (the line being blurry since by right the Lady holds five of the Rada's nine seats) are currently open. 

Rada Prestidigitatior
Entry: Fourth level magic user or white wizard. Purchase of new tea set and party clothes, 400 gold suns.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Rada Thaumaturgist, Princess Zuzu
Hirelings: Buc, a talking honey-badger and scribe.
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (tea-party and discussion of agenda)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: A musty sigiled night-blue robe and pointy hat. Learning new spells from Zuzu at half rate. Access to the cantonal library (such as it is)

Brevet Lord-Consort
Entry: Fifth level and at least gentry pedigree (1,500 gold suns forgery). And the Lady must take at least a minimal shine to you. Gender strangely unspecific.
Income: 40 gold suns per week, spending money for baubles.
Superior: the Lady Draga (duh)
Hirelings: Himek your personal valet who might be stealing from you.
Obligation Days (per week): 2 (date night and ceremonial duties)
Fabulous Prizes Die: 1d6
Advancement Die: 1d12 (promotion to official engagement and Lord-Consort if male)
Perks: fancy velvet doublet with the Lady's monogram, signet ring with small container of snuff. Sugar (though of a platonic and proper sort).

Haruspex of the Leshy Contra-Movements
Entry: Fourth level and a spell caster. 500 gold suns worth of slop bucket contents to your immediate supervisor.
Income: 5 gold suns per week stipend
Superior: Cantonal Patriarch, Father Hog/Sister Sow
Hirelings: Mu'u [whistle-whistle noise] the Xom (old, inscrutable yet unpleasant like much of his race).
Obligation Days (per week): 1 (entrails reading at Rada meeting)
Fabulous Prizes Die: d8
Advancement Die: d8
Perks: pile of salt, sacrificial animals, the Vertz blade (a wicked, flanged copper-hilted dagger, +2 vs. Old Pahr spirits of the forest)

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