Posts Tagged ‘economy


Campaign Economics as Player Empowerment

Who is served by the classic D&D rules for economic activities like building strongholds, hiring armorers, and (if your definition of classic includes the B/E/C/M/I gazetters) running mercantile enterprises? An email from Eppy, the designer of Dread and Swords without Master, that followed up on a mention in my last post has me thinking about this in a new way. He wrote:

I had a moment, last year, while working on Swords, where I found myself compelled to hack D&D. It was like I was exorcising a demon. With both Sw/oM and the hack, I was striking at the very roots of my gaming in an attempt to capture the essence of what lured me into this hobby. And what I was finding was two completely different games. Swords answered all the promises in one way; and something in that Basic-Expert-Companion set combo felt like the other way to answer them. ACKS looks like it’s hitting right on that second way. I’m excited about that.

I think that one of these different games empowers GMs, and the other empowers players.

As a GM I don’t feel compelled to work out economies in a rigorous way. I want to be able to make stuff up like “gold pieces are huge things that weigh 1/10th of a pound because the gods designed them for their own hands” and “coins are inherently Lawful because of this divine origin, and because they symbolize the sun” and “dragons hoard gold because, as Chaotic creatures, they seek to weaken civilized economies by depriving them of their life-blood.” I just want to throw these ideas out there half-baked; I don’t feel like I need rules for how a dragon in the region would cause a depression, because if it seems to make sense that this would happen I’ll just use my narrative authority to make it so.

This is the style of play that “why let us do any more of your imagining for you” systems like OD&D facilitate for GMs, and modern indie improv and shared narrative authority games like Swords without Master facilitate for all players.

But when they sit down to scratch their itch to “play D&D” with whatever system best acts as a backscratcher for them at the moment, I think most players neither have nor want the kind of narrative authority that would let them say “My robot cleric attracts more followers because it’s sitting on a giant pile of gold that demonstrates how well it has pleased the Lawful deities.” Even though that totally follows from the premises, I can see why as a player I’d want rules to show how I could make that follower-attracting goal happen in incremental steps, and guarantee that I can make it so without the GM taking the improv in some other direction.

The great promise of old-school sandbox games is that your character’s goals and beliefs can organically become part of the game by just taking concrete actions in the world that will make them manifest. Yes, there is a strong belief in rules-lightness in the OSR. And yes, as a GM it no longer appeals to me to calculate the construction costs of every castle I plop down on the landscape. But I think there is a real utility for players in having detailed rules for building their own castles, running their own thieves’ guild, and every other kind of concrete, large-scale way they might act on their beliefs and pursue their goals.

For GMs, I think the virtue in having a ruleset like Adventurer Conqueror King that thoroughly encodes those detailed economic rules is that when you randomly generate a band of knights, the size of the castle it is implied they come from makes sense given the size of the domain it supports and all that other world-building stuff I want baked in rather than having to pay attention to myself. This kind of “making sense” is important because it enables appropriate player action. The party won’t be frustrated that they can never afford an army big enough to reduce to rubble these castles that pop up as a result of dice-based-improv, because the tables that generate the castles follow the same internal consistency as the rules the players use to build them.

Now, the idea that more rules = player empowerment is frequently advanced in the context of D&D’s change over time, but I generally feel that this isn’t the case. For example, having a skills or feats or combat maneuvers tends to disempower players who didn’t have the system mastery to choose those rules options in pre-play. I feel differently about rules for economics because:

  • they lead in lots of different directions and leave open what the game is about in a way that combat, which is where most detailed rules development tends to happen, does not. Players who really want to build strongholds may feel gypped if they don’t get to use those rules, but I think that providing lots of rules for combat produces a much stronger feeling that a session without using crunchy fighting rules is a waste of time, and tends to disempower players who want to make non-combat characters.
  • they model concrete and high-granularity stuff, which affords lots of leeway for doing it in ways outside the rules. Like if you have the Trip feat and I say someone else can trip just by sticking a polearm between the giant’s leg, it feels unfair not to use the rules in that situation. But if you follow the guidelines for building a castle, and I say someone else gets one for free as a reward for helping the Faerie Queen, it’s a different kind of unfair because you can deal with it within the game – “how can I suck up to this gauzy-winged royal tart,” not “how can I get a DM who doesn’t cheat.”

Cross-posted to nerdNYC this morning hoping for confirmation of these ideas, which mumblethrax provided in the form of a claim that his rogue once disarmed a liquidity trap 


What Is Adventurer Conqueror King?

I’ve been talking about my role in creating Adventurer Conqueror King, but as James pointed out in the comments to that post, I haven’t said what it is. Here is the text I wrote for the back cover of the mockup we made, along with Ryan’s illustration to the right:

In a world of fallen empires, some relics of the past are good only for a beastman’s bludgeon; others make ruin delvers rich. You may start out with no higher ambition than a sack full of ancient coins, but each gold piece you spend ties you into a dynamic realm of commerce and carousing, driven by the hidden engines of court intrigues and distant wars. As you grow in power, will you fight to hold back the darkness looming at the borderlands of an aging civilization, or will you pull down the last decadent barriers to the coming of a new dawn?

The Adventurer Conqueror King system fulfills the promise of the original fantasy role-playing game by providing comprehensive, integrated support for play across all levels of a campaign. Any referee who has ever checked for random encounters, and every player who’s has rolled a twenty-sided dice to hit a wandering monster, will find the rules of Adventurer Conqueror King as elegant, familiar, and comfortable to wield as a heirloom sword. The system’s cutting edge is the way every table, chart, and assumption in the game encodes Gygaxian naturalism, Arnesonian barony-building, and the designers’ own experience of hundreds of sessions playing and running old-school games. With Adventurer Conqueror King, you get both the versimilitude and consistency of thorough world-building with the power of improvisation and discovery through play. We look forward to seeing what you do with these tools!

In that description, I had an imaginary general audience in mind. Mule readers, however, will appreciate that what we’re talking about here is a second-wave retroclone. As Alex says at the Autarch blog, the first wavers were focused on using the Open Game License and the d20 SRD to reverse-engineer the experience of playing some particular older edition. In a first-wave retroclone, the assumption is that the differences between its system and the original it emulates are due to the desire to avoid legal infringements; the creator inevitably also makes changes and judgement calls based on the way they believe the original game should be played, but these are controversial and have often led to the creation of an alternate retroclone that seeks to be a more pure translation.

The second wave of retroclones build on the invaluable foundation laid by the first. What distinguishes a second-wave clone is that now the changes are intentionally designed to support a specific kind of play. As the Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing Game tells you in its title, its system is intended to support encounters with the Weird. The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is almost as up-front about its intent to emulate early-70s Appendix N inspirations – which we refer to as swords & sorcery, but to his credit Joseph recognizes also include a huge bong hit worth of fallout shelters and Civil War soldiers astrally projected to other planets after falling asleep in a cave. I’d be interested to hear other candidates for the “second-wave” tag, and also whether this terminology is new to me or if there’s already a term for this elsewhere.

Anyway, the goal of the system is to support campaign play across all levels; one of the major tools for doing this is an integrated economy, which Alex talks about here and here. One of the reasons to present ACKS as its own system is because the ways this economy gets worked into the rules are pretty far-reaching; the rules differences aren’t major compared to any classic edition, but the tweaks to things like item pricing, hireling costs, etc. we made throughout the text are extensive and subtle enough that there’s some virtue to having it all laid out as a single volume.

Note that this kind of detail is something that I am notoriously bad at – the White Sandbox runs on an economy based on lammasu using infinitesimal twists in the astral plane to collect gold pieces that, over the course of millions of years, are erupted from bags of holding that get placed inside portable holes. Which is awesome, but I like the idea of having a rulebook do the work for me so I can look up how many acres of peasant-tilled land support the king for whom this lammasu treasure is a king’s ransom, because that gives the fantasy traction. (James can attest that terrible things when my GMing style is combined with eleven-year-olds utterly uninterested in realistic traction.)

So having ACKS gives me the ability to translate one aspect of the imagined world, like character level, into versimilitudinous data about the demographics implied by a character of that level; this way I get the benefits of thorough world-building and the freedom of rolling up a sixth-level fighting man as a wandering encounter without having to have known ahead of time what keep he is the Castellan of.

If this sounds useful to you, contribute to our Kickstarter effort – and/or spread the word to those who might want to do so. We need your help to make it happen!

Past Adventures of the Mule

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