Thursday, January 27, 2011

Death to Kings

In Which A New Poll Makes an Appearance

Honor and fear were heaped upon his name and, in time, he became a king by his own hand...
The sandbox mantra X is for killing got me thinking about one of my favorite D&Disms to question - can the PCs in your game sack the town, kill the town guard, and ride off with the plunder like Wild West outlaws?  Can they kill the king and put themselves on the throne?  (See the poll on the right!)

Are the guards, knights, rulers and kings in your game mostly 0-level men, or are they higher level characters? 

The Argument for Tough Rulers
The boss comes out on the side of high level rulers - all the rulers of Greyhawk are high-powered.  A patrol of knights in Greyhawk could be led by a 9th level fighter.  Even Gygaxian setting modules like Keep on the Borderlands or The Village of Hommlet have NPCs with levels appropriate to their rank.

Gygax points out (p 91 DMG) that adventurers will be viewed as dangerous characters in the settled lands, like gunslingers in the Wild West.  The rulers and NPCs have better things to do than adventure, and will be too glad to encourage the adventurers to stay out on the frontier, risking themselves against monsters.  He clearly envisioned the  settings of your campaign being one where adventurers were capable of threatening the stability of the natural order.

Arguments Against High Level NPCs
Help me with the argument why you wouldn't make the rulers or their retinues tough enough to withstand the first band of adventurers that comes to town.

Maybe the DM lays some ground rules, like 'That's not the kind of story I tell, I don't allow evil parties'.  Fine - but what about evil (NPC) adventurers?  Wouldn't the first group of NPC adventurers that returns to town with experience and a bunch of magic items roll over the town?

And what DM is going to tell Conan he can't make himself king of Aquilonia?

Perhaps NPCs don't have levels because you can only gain levels through adventuring .  Wouldn't a lifetime of warfare and sword practice toughen the king's retinue of veteran knights?

One argument I can get behind is to get rid of Mary Sue NPCs that steal the center of attention.  (EGG's position is that those types of folks should have better things to do.)

Disclaimer:  we persevered with almost two years of 4th Edition, so I know all about running games where the players are expected to be "special chosen heroes" with amazing powers and everyone else in the world is "a normal Joe".

I'd rather not put those kinds of restrictions on players any longer.  The sandbox is able to maintain its own order through natural consequences.  If it's in the game, it's meant to be killed… if you're tough enough to do it, and deal with the consequences.

Principles of Sandbox Rulership:
  • Adventurers are common in the world
  • Adventurers are dangerous, and not all of them are 'good'
  • Adventurers are capable of taking over settlements
  • A world with adventurers has elements in common with the Wild West
  • The end game for adventurers is becoming rulers themselves
  • Law and order must be tough enough to handle adventurers
  • Rulers (or their retinue) must be tough enough to hang on to power
 Anything you'd like to add?