Friday, September 26, 2014

Conquerors and Kings

Interwoven amongst the varied demands of work projects and family life I have been slowly digesting the wonderful work that Alex Macris did with Autarch's Domains@War. The opening chapters in the campaign book on raising armies and the expanded insight of the economics of domains has been fascinating for me.

The hardcopies of D@W arrived at a serendipitous time for me. I have been spending some effort in reconciling the information on domain management in Chapter 7 (Campaigns) of the core ACKS rulebook and the world building/realm information in Chapter 10 (Secrets). In particular, I was trying to relate the rules on stronghold costs and population limits from the player's perspective in chapter 7 to the tables of "typical" realms in chapter 10. Two things in particular kept throwing me. First, the Ruler's Stronghold Value for the various realm sizes in the Revenue by Realm Type chart on page 230 and the Minimum Stronghold Value table on page 127 don't seem to line up very well. Second, this paragraph from Strongholds and Domains on page 125:
To establish a stronghold, the adventurer must first secure
an area of land, known as a domain. The minimum size of a
domain is a 1-square mile area of land. An average domain size
is a 32-square mile area of land (1 6-mile hex on a standard
wilderness map) while the maximum size of a domain is
500 square miles (1 24-mile hex on a large scale map, or 16
contiguous 6-mile hexes on a standard map).
and the population and size values for a barony from the Realms by Type table on page 229 seem a bit at odds with each other. I feel like there are some missing assumptions about character levels and progressions and expected growth and expansion of player domains across levels that are not stated but must have affected the sections I've been struggling with.

The demographics tables on page 235 only make my confusion worse.  A barony is the smallest realm type; being a realm it should have vassal domains, possibly including one controlled by a fresh level 9 fighter. But, the Maximum NPC Population by Realm Type table on page 235 says a barony will have a maximum npc level of 5 and it takes a good size county or smallish duchy to find a level 9 character. Parenthetically, the Realms by Type table says it's quite likely to have 2 baronies in a single 6-mile hex which is hard to reconcile with the quote above that says an average domain size is 1 6-mile hex. After a lot of head scratching and attempts to reverse engineer the Realms by Type and Revenue by Realm Type tables so they fit the domain rules in chapter 7, I've come to the conclusion they were never meant to.

It could be that I should just shrug it off and chalk it up to the players characters being the special beings they are and they simply do not fit into the typical world building guidelines. It's a perfectly good game answer but I don't really buy it. Alex and his cohorts spent entirely too much effort making the rest of the character rules and campaign rules tie together in nice internally consistent structures. I think the real answer to my dilemma is contained in the aforementioned unstated assumptions around changes in the domain game as characters level.

There are a couple snippets in the rules that may point me to the correct assumptions. The rule about minimum domain size being 1 square mile and the XP from Domain and Mercantile Income table on page 146 strongly imply to me that domain rulership can and should be explored before reaching the class levels that allow for the building of strongholds and attraction of followers.
At 9th level (Warlord), a fighter can, assuming enough gold is at hand, build a castle and become a great leader of men, taking a 0th level mercenaries and 1d6 fighters of 1st-3rd level will come to apply for jobs and training.
This class power description seems to read that a fighter earns the right to build a castle at 9th level. I think it is really supposed to say that a 9th level fighter attracts a body of mercenaries but a castle is required first.  The difference might be hair-splitting (or self evident to you, gentle reader) but when combined with the XP from Domain and Mercantile Income it says to me that the domain game can start at whatever level the PC can acquire the resources to start clearing and building. By the time they reach 9th level a fighter should already have a domain spanning a full 6 mile hex or more and be thinking about how to use those attracted followers to claim a broader realm with vassal domains.

I have participated in discussions of the domain game that assume that it starts at level 9 or name level, an assumption supported by the usual interpretation of the class power (and ones like it for other classes) that I quoted above. What I could not find in the domain and strongholds rules in chapter 7 was any level requirement for owning a domain or stronghold only a level requirement for attracting the followers that automatically come with a domain and stronghold. What I did find is a class power at level 5 for the various fighter type classes that gives them a leadership bonus when leading mercenaries and henchmen. This rule from page 49 defines the difference between henchmen and mercenaries:
Henchmen are typically  very loyal and are willing to take reasonable risks; in particular, they are the only sort of hireling who will generally accompany an adventurer into a dungeon, lair, or ruin. Mercenaries are hired soldiers, and will guard, patrol, and otherwise serve in wilderness settings, but only as part of a larger force, not an adventuring party.
Since by definition mercenaries are not suitable for the typical adventuring use, the fighter receiving a morale boosting ability for leading mercenaries implies to me that fighters (and their PC cohorts) are expected to start participating in battles, clearing wilderness terrain of threats, and guarding property. All of which are standard components of the domain game. [edit: nDervish on the Autarch forums pointed out a rules section on page 134 that explicitly states that characters below 9th level can gain possession of stronghold and would start interacting with the domain rules, without the benefit of followers. That section is a bit smaller than the four paragraphs and two rules quotes I took to back into that rule.]

Between the leadership ability many classes get at 5th level, the very small minimum domain size, and the ability to gain XP for domain income at any level, I conclude that levels 5 - 8 are the true beginning of the Conqueror tier of play. By level 9 PCs should already by planning or possibly already have achieved some degree of realm rulership and have entered the King tier of play. But is it really feasible for  a 5th level fighter to clear a small domain, say one or two square miles, and build a suitable stronghold to start attracting peasant families?

The answer to that will be explored in a companion article as this one has already grown to an unwieldy size.