Sunday, October 6, 2013

Stipends or the benefits of being nobility

Let’s assume for a moment that there is a king who controls a kingdom 50 miles by 50 miles. In true feudal fashion, he has four counts who each control 25 mile x 25 mile tracts. Each count has five barons who control 125 sq miles of land. Each baron has five knights who control 5 mile by 5 mile portions of land. What if a count simply wants to build a town and a mill along a certain stretch of river? That piece of land is controlled by a knight who really isn’t cut out to manage land and peasants. So the count cuts him a deal: The count gives the knight a house in the capital and a stipend of 500 per year - forever! Why? Well, the count is sure he can break up the knight’s lands and charge far more taxes than he was getting from the knight, especially now that there will be a mill there. Probably makes 500 a year just on the mill and the rest is gravy. Meanwhile, the knight is now happily living in the more glamorous capital with income and no responsibilities. OK, fast forward a couple hundred years. There are three counts; the queen controls the fourth county. Many of the knights have had their lands taken away (in exchange for stipends) by all levels of nobility above them. The queen looks around her and her capital is filled with these supposed noblemen who are receiving these stipends and have been for generations. Now in the olden days, if a soldier did the kingdom a huge service, they would be knighted and given a shire, but there’s not land left to give. (There is, but she’s not giving any of her land away.) So she decided to knight someone and just give them a stipend, as though they had been given land and then she bought them off. There, now the new knight is on equal footing with the other lay-abouts. This isn’t uncommon - but what does it do for game masters? It creates a level of nobility who have nothing to do all day but pester the king/queen and attend court. While some nobles might have managers back at their lands administering to everything, these guys just get their money on the royal welfare system. Now in theory, they are collecting their fair share of income on their ancestral lands, but it gets harder and harder to tie the nobility to the reason for their titles. This actually gets complicated. Six generations later, you have someone who holds four titles, three of which are receiving stipends. Well, that might be interesting, but what does it really do for game masters? For those of us devoted to classic literature, the adventurers are always these well to do nobles who have nothing but time on their hands. They are already rich, or at least well off, and looking for something to do. They are bored at court and will happily take on missions for the queen (or king). They might start off as seemingly minor issues - diplomatic missions, etc. - but quickly turn into action packed spy adventurers dealing with foreign courts and exotic criminals. Meanwhile, you never have to worry about how they live, because the crown is making sure the stipend is delivered to their chief butler who is maintaining the home. This type of campaign isn’t for everyone! First - It demands that the players and their characters actually show some class. Barbaric behavior is not going to be tolerated at court. Just because someone is your enemy, you do not get to whip out your sword and behead him, especially not on the queen’s new carpet. Second - The action is downplayed and the role-playing is brought forward. It’s often more of a murder mystery type adventure - a whodunnit. While fighting can still be integral, it is not the end-all/be-all. This can be a lot tougher on the game master too. Now you have to actually develop personalities for all the bad guys, not just how many points to kill. But when it works ... it is a ton of fun and will keep your players interested for years! Board Enterprises is working on Lifestyles - a book that will allow game masters and player characters to declare how they live by picking their level of home, meals, etc. A couple of quick choices and you know what it costs to live between adventures. Stipends are a short cut when you want to look at things like this. The heir of an ancestral manor lord would easily have enough cash every month to live on without having to worry about finding a job or spending their loot.

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