Sunday, January 22, 2012

Reading Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Part 31


For all of Gygax's talk in the previous section about all of the different types of ruling bodies that are possible in a fantasy milieu, he kind of falls apart in this section with a fairly rigid description of what the social structure of a city looks like. The structure listed consists, as one might expect, of three strata: Upper, Middle, and Lower Class.  The Upper Class consists of nobles, gentlemen, wealthy murchant and important guildmasters.  These are the lawmakers and executives, such as the mayor, burgomaster, or magistrate.  The Middle Class is drawn from merchants and guildmasters, as well as master artisans. This class provides lesser officials, such as aldermen and burghers.  The lower class is the peasants, tradesmen, journeyman, and laborers, the common council and administrators, petty officials such as councilors who may advise and handle basic administrative duties, but not wield any real temporal power.

The section goes on to discuss the idea that a military of a town or city is drawn partially from conscripts, the militia and police with the balance made up of mercenaries.

Now, this breakdown makes sense for a city or town in a traditional European medieval society--and even, to some degree, for a middle eastern or far eastern medieval society.  But where it falls apart is the idea that Gygax established just one page earlier; that not all fantasy milieus need to follow that mold.  What about a city in a democratic society, where power is wielded equally across the population and all decisions made by popular vote?  What about a communist or socialist society, where ownership is disdained and all assets of the society distributed equally?  There would be no classes in a socialist society, and arguably a true democracy that functioned as intended would go a long way towards the bulk of the power being distributed amongst an exceptionally large Middle Class, with the Upper and Lower Classes formed of a small minority of the populace?

Yes, folks, I'm aware that in modern society class warfare is alive and well, but we're talking about a fantasy game, so it's not outside the realm of possibility to discuss the idea of a well-functioning democratic society which eliminates the bulk of such a situation.

This section could be helped by examples drawn from other types of societies, and while the prior section on social class and rank provides a strong basis and argument for including non-traditional and non-historical types of societies in your game, this section serves only to reinforce the pseudo-historical European standard.

This section, as well as the one that follows, are (though brief) some of the most useful reminders to a DM in the entire book.

Almost as long as I've been playing D&D, various people have pointed out that the prices in the Player's Handbook don't mesh with the actual costs of items in medieval times.  The old "it's a fantasy game, not reality" response aside, this section deals with that issue directly, pointing out that the prices are inflated as a result of the game dealing with situations which see a constant influx of treasure and valuables into an economy as the result of a strong and populous freeman adventuring class. When adventurers are constantly traveling between civilizations with pockets full of gold, silver, gems, and even platinum coin, inflation is naturally going to kick in. "Heroic fantasy," Gygax writes, "is made of fortunes and king's ransoms in loot gained most cleverly and bravely and lost in a twinkling by various means - thievery, gambling debauchery, gift-giving, bribes,a nd so-forth...when treasure is spoken of, it is more stirring when participants know it to be TREASURE!" (p. 90)

This section follows up the economics section with some advice on how to keep your adventurers wanting for gold, when the entire game revolves around the acquisition of "TREASURE!"  If adventurers are able to swagger around, slinging fistfuls of gems at a whim, the allure of adventure could die out quickly. Why bother to continually put yourself into mortal danger when one could easily retire comfortably?  The answer, Gygax points out, lies in taxing your PCs.  Cities will likely require a fee for non-citizens just to enter, as well as duties charged on any goods (read: TREASURE!) the players bring in for the purpose of sale.  Beyond the duties, actual sales tax could be charged, as well as exchange fees on foreign currencies.  Don't forget toll roads!  The types of societies one encounters in a D&D game could well run entirely on tax levies.  Such heavy taxing, when combined with the earlier-discussed training fees and maintenance of hirelings and henchmen will allow the DM to throw hoards at the players while still keeping them in need of cash.

I have no doubt whatsoever that players will gripe and whine about these sorts of things, but really when you lay it all out and stop to think about it, it makes perfect sense. Of course, for the DM who doesn't want to worry about these sorts of detailed economics, a flat "upkeep" fee can be imposed periodically on your players.  This isn't in the DMG, but is a common-sense solution that was adopted in later organized play versions of D&D, and was suggested in Mongoose's Conan roleplaying game, and set at a full 50% of the players' assets, justified by the "cost of high living" to which adventurers are prone. I don't think a periodic reduction of valuables by 50% is remotely out of line for a DM to charge, and indeed I use this number in my own games.  My players at first were unhappy with it, but have since learned to roll with it and accept it--indeed, they rather enjoy not having to worry about subtracting x silver pieces for every night they spend at an inn, plus y coppers for each meal they eat, etc.

That's all for tonight.  Next up: MONSTER POPULATIONS AND PLACEMENT

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