I have been playing D&D of one sort or another for nearly 40 years. And in all that time there is a type of campaign that I have always wanted to play, but was never able to.
In 1e, the classes had different names for each level of character. So a first level fighter was a “veteran”, and a second level fighter was a “warrior”, for example. At higher levels, usually around 9th or 10th, the level name would be something that indicated a measure of power or nobility, and names would stop changing so fast. So a high level cleric was an “archpriest”, a high level fighter was a “lord”, high level paladin was a “paladin”, a high level High level ranger was a “ranger lord”, a high level thief was a “master thief”, etc. We usually referred to this as “lord level” or “name level”.
Around that time, most of the classes gained the ability to construct strongholds (and possibly obtain income from the surrounding lands) and/or attract a body of followers. So for instance, an 8th level cleric (“matriarch”) could construct a place of worship, in which case she attracted a body of 20-200 fanatically loyal followers, plus some men-at-arms. And at 9th level (“high priest”) she could build a fortified religious stronghold, and if she cleared the surrounding lands of monsters, she would gain an income from the population that would settle in the area.
Similarly, a 9th level fighter (“lord”) could construct a stronghold and clear the surrounding area, and thereby attract a body of followers and collect an income from the settlers. A 10th level ranger (“ranger lord”) attracted a body of various sorts of demihuman or monstrous followers (including the possibility of a copper dragon!) without having to construct anything. A 12th level magic-user (“wizard”) could construct a tower and clear the area, and obtain an income but no followers. And a 10th level thief (“master thief”) could set up a thieves’ guild in or near an urban centre and attract thief followers.
In addition, there were lengthy rules on the hiring of henchmen and mercenaries, as well as other hirelings necessary to run a stronghold. High level contemplated players commanding armies and defending or expanding their territory.
And I really want to play and run that sort of campaign. Or at least have the option of doing so. High level D&D is a bit wonky in every edition, and needs a workable alternative. And the older I get, the more I feel like powerful adventurers who have paid their dues aren’t likely to be interested in spending their middle age slogging through dungeons for treasure; they are now in a position to have people for that. They are rich as lords, maybe they should live like them.
But other than rules for obtaining followers and hiring armies, in 1e there were no procedures for how to run that sort of campaign. So I am trying to make them.
I’m not all the way there yet. I’m trying to design something using existing 4e mechanics, preferably that is similar enough to the other d20 editions that it can be easily translated. Because I’m going to need some input to figure out all the bugs, and the 4e community is pretty small, and the part of the 4e community that cares about anything other than linear dungeons with forced combats is even smaller.
In order to make something like this work, it will need certain features:
- There needs to be a mechanical benefit for engaging in this sort of play. If the player gets nothing out of it, there is no reason to leave the dungeon and all its treasure and XPs. I’m assuming if D&D players wanted to play a story game, they would be playing a story game.
- Time differences in the modes of play must be taken into account. A game involving castle construction and building armies necessarily moves on a difference timeline than dungeon exploration. If a PC can gain a level from two days in the dungeon, there has to be an incentive for him to spend two years getting the same experience from owning a freehold instead.
- There needs to be a system for mass combat. This is relatively easy to solve for 4e, and possibly 5e. I’m not so sure about 3e.
- It needs to be low on bookkeeping. No-one wants to consult 300 random tables to simulate the economy AI of a resource-building computer game.
- It needs to be D&D economy neutral. Adding cash for castle and army upkeep to any version of the game that has average wealth-by-level expectations and a magic item economy is just going to break things.
I have features 1, 3, 4 & 5 worked out in my head, at least for 4e. To summarize:
- I treat game elements such as castle, lands, titles of nobility and troops like magic items, which convey to their owners mechanical in-game benefits. Titles of nobility, for example, give bonuses to social skill checks in situations where social standing is relevant – which is most social situations. Spy networks give bonuses to insight in certain situations; counterintelligence assets give bonuses to bluff.
- I use the swarm rules to build military units for mass combat. Note that in 4e, a squad of 10 level 1 men-at-arms, expressed as a level 14 swarm, is a moderate challenge for a 14th level character; and fighting a level 18 swarm of 20 level 1 men-at-arms is not outside of the realm of possibility. That means mass combat scenarios can be constructed where both the PC and the troops she is commanding can play significant roles in the battle. (And if you think those numbers sound like crazy 4e superhero stuff, consider that in 1e, when fighting “0 level” men-at arms, a fighter could attack once per round for each level of experience of the fighter – PH p. 25.)
- I use game elements that would produce income to support game elements that would cost income. So a certain amount of land can support a castle and a certain number of troops. This should be kept rough, so rather than using elaborate systems to calculate the features of a manor and the resources it generates, and then deducting from that the money required to maintain a castle and support troops, I just assume that lands of a particular level/value can support a particular number of troops and retainers.
- But land does not create cash per se, and magical components are limited, so the player can’t just take resources from the lands and use it to generate unlimited magic items. Cash from adventuring can be spent on social-economic-military resources, but income from social-economic-military resources can’t be used to support adventuring.
But dealing with the transitions between dungeon and manor modes of play has been a lot harder to work out.
So that is an introduction to my thoughts on the matter. I will put flesh on those bones in later posts.