Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Building a Clientele

Recently I introduced a discussion of the endgame in cape-and-sword roleplaying games, the point in a campaign at which the player characters become authority figures in the game-world, where conflicts transition from the physical to the political and power comes from one's position at least as often as from one's sword arm.

First up was social standing and influence, followed by the pursuit of wealth and then networks of relationships. Up to this point, the discussion of relationships between player and non-player characters focused on adventurers in the service of, or otherwise aided by, non-player characters, but one of the first significant transitions to the cape-and-sword endgame occurs when the player characters assume the role of patrons and build their own networks of clients, the clientele.

The clientele in cape-and-sword roleplaying games bears a passing resemblance to the adventurer-henchman relationship in classic D&D. As described in the 1e AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, a henchmen are "useful as a safety measure against the machinations of rival player characters, provide strength to the character and his or her stronghold, and lastly serve as a means of adventuring when the player character is unable to do so." Henchmen are recruited and agree to serve in exchange for compensation including a 'signing bonus,' upkeep, and a share of adventuring rewards, usually treasure. In a cape-and-sword campaign, this relationship between adventurer and henchman is closest to that of a pirate or privateer captain and his crew.

Sharon Kettering is one of my favorite historians of the 17th century, and her book Patrons, Brokers, and Clients in Seventeenth-Centuy France is a frequently referenced source for my Flashing Blades campaign. Dr. Kettering describes patron-client relationships as, "a reciprocal exchange relationship in which patrons provide material benefits and protection, and clients in return provide loyalty and service." This relationship may feature, "a wide range of possible interactions, or services and benefits exchanged," and, "The relationship is continuous, more than a single isolated exchange." With respect to the analogy of the AD&D adventurer and henchman, the swashbuckling patron and client relationship offers rewards of status and social mobility and protection from rivals as well as wealth.

Flashing Blades characters with Advantages and Secrets like Contact, Favor, and Secret Loyalty are effectively part of a non-player character's clientele at the start of the campaign, or may become so during actual play. A couple of patronage opportunities, such as, "The Patron wishes the character to protect him, or someone who is dear to him, in times of danger," and, "The Patron offers the character a permanent position in his service, with some sort of special deal or pay for services rendered," create a npc patron-pc client relationship as well.

As player characters rise through their career hierarchies, they may also find themselves in a position to distribute patronage, in the form of positions. Aside from the obvious benefit of admitting or promoting other player characters, an adventurer may also distribute positions as patronage opportunities to non-player character allies as well.

In the military, top echelon (general) officers may select aides to serve them.
Each [top echelon officer] is also assigned one or two Aides, from the ranks of the Regimental Officers (these may be chosen from Player Characters, if desired).
Aides have the highest bonus to rolls for promotion, so naming a character as an aide is a significant benefit. Regimental commanders may also promote sergeants and subalterns at will.

Bishops exert vast control over their bishoprics and may distribute many positions as patronage.
A Bishop governs his Bishopric almost like a province. He has the right to choose or dismiss members of his Curia (advisory council) and he may appoint or dismiss Curates and Pastors within his Bishopric.
Again, Church careers are both among the most lucrative and the most temporally powerful in the France of Flashing Blades.

The royal bureaucracy also offers opportunities for offering positions as patronage, but perhaps not as many as one might expect.
The Minister of War appoints and controls the Field Maréchal.
The Minister of State is, with the exception of the King, the most powerful man in France. He may appoint or dismiss all Court Ministers, except for the Ministers of Justice and War. He controls the entire Royal Bureaucracy, and his petitons are virtually assured of being granted by the King. In addition, he may, at any time, raise of lower a character's Social Rank by one (no lower than one, or higher than 15) simply be mentioning him, favorably or unfavorably, to the King (only once per character). Once per year, he may have a character of Social Rank 4 or above Knighted and/or admitted to a Royal Order (again by mention to the King). He may deny any character in the Military, Clergy, Bureaucracy, or in an Order their promotion (although he may not prevent them from buying Rank).
The Minister of State is unquestionably the most powerful person in France whose last name isn't Bourbon, but only the Minister of War can also name a character to a position, and then only one. This reflects the pervasive infuence of venality, the sale of offices by the crown, in the bureacracy of the Ancien Régime, but it also suggests another opportunity for distributing patronage, which I'll get to shortly.

The easiest way to distribute patronage is by becoming an officer of a club or a noble or royal order.
A Club Secretary looks after Club records, membership lists, payments of dues, etc. He may admit his friends to his Club as he wishes.
The Club Treasurer looks after Club finances. He may also admit his friends to the Club.
The Club Chief is the head of his Club. He runs the Club, and may manage it in any way he likes. He may admit his friends, and/or promote them in the Club.
The Secretary of an Order manages the bureaucratics of the Order, makes up rosters of members, organizes Order companies and Battalions, etc. He may admit one friend per year to the Order (provided the friend meets the minimum Social Rank requirement).
In addition, a Master of an Order may admit his friends into the Order, provided they meet the minimum Social Rank requirement of the Order.
[The Grandmaster of the Order] may admit his friends into the Order, and promote them automatically when openings appear.
Club membership is an abundant, easily accessible perq to offer; membership in an order, which includes the opportunity to command a company of knights as well as the potential for entry into the peerage, carries with it more significant benefits, however.

Many of the positions, particularly in the military or the bureaucracy, may be purchased; indeed, venality is what the distribution of positions in the bureaucracy to the highest level of royal ministers. In my campaign, I permit open positions to be purchased on behalf of another, if a prospective patron wishes; in this way bureaucratic offices in particular are available as patronage rewards as well.

Player characters may, in lieu of providing a position as patronage, offer their influence to a prospective client instead. The relationship, from the perspective of the non-player character client, becomes similar to that of Contact or Secret Loyalty from Advantages and Secrets. This clientage relationship can be useful when a client lacks the necessary skills or Social Rank to accept a position as patronage, as a prelude to an offer of a position at a later date, or simply to cultivate a mutually benefician relationship without extensive overhead. Though direct compensation, such as wages, isn't required, the pc patron is expected to pick up expenses when the client is called upon to provide a service; failure to do so may lead to the loss of the client and invite betrayal or retribution. A patron is expected to use his influence to protect a client as well, with similar consequences should the patron fail to do so.

The patron-client relationship which is the building block of the clientele shouldn't be confused with obligations owed by dint of duty. For example, a soldier may command anything from a company to all of the field armies of France, but the officers and men who serve under the character are not clients by virtue of this relationship. The same is true of the knights in a knight-captain's company, or of the fusiliers in the service of a provincial governor or city mayor, or of an ambassador's entourage. It also differs from the mercenary contract noted earlier between a pirate captain and his crew; the conditions under which a pirate crew serves are spelled out in Flashing Blades' piracy supplement, High Seas, and with a few tweaks these rules work very well for other forms of enterprise, such as raising a band of highwaymen, a gang of bravos or cutpurses, or even a company of mercenaries.

Unlike AD&D henchmen, clients are not recruited by posting broadsheets or hiring criers. Prospective clients will usually be found among the non-player characters known to the adventurers; a player character bishop may offer to make a friendly npc priest a member of his curia, or a pc major-general may extend an offer to a npc colonel with whom he's served to be his aide. Players should attempt to identify prospective clients - non-player characters who are helpful and trustworthy - as they move up through the ranks of their career hierarchies in preparation for building their own clienteles, which means the referee should be prepared to run a variety of underlings and peers for the adventurers.

Prospective non-player character clients should also seek out patronage from player characters, particularly when the adventurers move into positions where they can fill positions as noted earlier. My house rule is that if domestic commerce is good for the year, then I roll 3D6 and subtract the result from the player character patron's Social Rank and the difference is the number of potential npc clients who come calling; if domestic commerce is average or poor, then I roll 1D20 and subtract the result from the patron pc's Social Rank to determine how many would-be clients tender their loyalty in exchange for patronage.

While Dr. Kettering notes in her book that patrons and clients often engaged in florid correspondence, highlighted by lengthy affirmations of their mutual affection, loyalty, and interests, approaching a prospective client is pretty straightforward; the player character patron asks for the npc client's loyalty and service in exchange for the patron's influence or a position. In my campaign, this also necessitates a Charm versus Wit opposed check, with the half the difference between the patron and client's Social Rank applied as a modifier; if a position is being offered as well, then the difference between the npc client's Social Rank and the Social Rank associated with the position is added as a modifier, too. Success on the check means the offer is accepted and loyalty is determined as per my campaign house rules.

As quoted above, the henchman in AD&D may help to protect a player character not only from the dangers associated with adventuring but also from other adventurers - a positive affirmation of the expectation of player-versus-player conflict in classic D&D. A henchman also acts as a player character's surrogate when the player character is occupied or otherwise unavailable to go adventuring, as does a client in a cape-and-sword game. This allows a patron to act indirectly, and perhaps at a distace, through the client - frex, the provincial governor may dispatch a trusted client to deal with highwaymen threatening the king's roads through the province while the governor remains in Paris to be near the King's court - and a player may run the npc client in lieu of his player character while dealing with the highwaymen's depredations.

I'll get into more about how players may take advantage of their characters' clienteles, including gaining control of a rival's clients, later, but next I want to touch on that icon of the roleplaying endgame, the stronghold.


  1. I'm looking forward to the entry on taking control of rivals' clients.

    1. We'll start getting into the, 'what do we do with all this?' posts starting next week.