Friday, November 9, 2012

The Social Network

Author's note: By request, I am re-running my posts on the cape-and-sword endgame. Originally posted over several weeks, I'm re-posting them as a single series over the next several days.

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. While the discussion centers on Flashing Blades, I hope the concepts are portable to other cape-and-sword roleplaying games.

As part of character creation, FB player characters may select Advantages and Secrets, "designed to allow many typical swashbuckling adventure themes to come into play." I mentioned the Wealth and Title Advantages already; other Advantages and Secrets include Code of Honor, Renaissance Man, Don Juan, Sworn Vengeance, and so on.

Two Advantages - Contact and Favor - and a Secret - Secret Loyalty - create beneficial relationships for a starting character. These particular Advantages and Secret also appear as rewards in a number of the adventures, such as "The Man Behind the Mask" from Flashing Blades Introductory Adventures.
As a reward to the characters, he will offer each money, position, or a favor. A character who chooses money will be given 750 L as his reward. One who chooses position will automatically be promoted one rank within a Club, Regiment, the Clergy, or the Bureaucracy, or given entrance to the lowest rank of one of these hierarchies (for which he is qualified). Finally, a character who chooses a favor will be given one of the Archduke's coins, with his insignia on both sides. This counts as a Social Rank 16 favor, but may be used only once (it is really a better reward than either money or position and should be treated so by the Gamemaster). In addition, the Archduke may become a permanent contact for all of the characters, and any character who wishes to may be accepted into the service (and protection) of DeMainz.
Of note here is that a Favor is associated with a Social Rank. This also appears in another adventure, "The Great Markmanship Tourney," from Parisian Adventures.
Those who save the life of the Cardinal (or rather that of his double) will each receive a Social Rank 19 favor, in a private interview with the Cardinal, and are asked to never speak a word of what they know about the assassination attempt to anyone.
Finally, An Ambassador's Tales notes a distinction that Contact and Secret Loyalty are sufficiently different from one another that both may be vested in a single non-player character.
Finally, those characters who wish to, may remain in the service of the Cardinal. This is equivalent to both the Advantage 'Contact' and the Secret 'Secret Loyalty.' Later missions for the Cardinal may be suggested by, or continued from An Ambassador's' Tales (i.e. weeding out the Geheimebond spies in the French government).
With those examples in mind, let's take a look at how Contacts, Favors, and Secret Loyalties may work in actual play.

Contacts provide assistance to player characters.
Any character may choose to have a contact, a Non-Player Character (NPC) who will aid the character in times of need. Such characters may be of any rank, but will help less often the higher their rank. For example, a character might know King Louis XIV, but it is doubtful that he would be at the character's beck and call! More likely contacts might be: ministers, spies, high nobility, military officers, various officials, magistrates, etc. The Gamemaster and the player should decide on the exact nature of each contact.
In my campaign, a Contact may be a reliable source - subject to the limitation of the Contact's knowledge, of course - of game-world information, including rumors. Contacts may exert influence, as per the rules presented previously in the discussion of social standing, on behalf of the player character. I limit a Contact's use of influence on behalf of the player character to "informal, polite requests," "those which are easy to grant, and which are of minor significance to the person asked . . ." Contacts may also connect player characters to patrons, non-player characters who ask adventurers to perform a service on their behalf, such as carrying a message for the patron to a dangerous location, or protecting the patron from danger; however, in my campaign Contacts are rarely patrons themselves. The amount of risk a Contact will accept in order to aid a player character isn't unlimited, however; their aid is voluntary rather than compulsory, and they are not obligated to do whatever the adventurers may ask. A Contact is a conduit for information and a source of small but meaningful favors.

Favors, on the other hand, carry with them a sense of obligation on the part of the non-player character which Contacts don't possess.
Any character may choose to be owed a favor by an NPC. This advantage is similar to Contact in that the character knows a fairly powerful NPC. It differs in that the NPC has to grant, within his power, a request by the character. Once this request is granted, however, the NPC is free of all obligation - and may even retaliate in some small way if the request were too great. Favor is thus a one-time resource, whereas Contact rnay continue indefinitely.
In my campaign, a Favor may be used for "informal, polite requests" under the influence rules, but it can also be used "to force those of lower Social Ranks to perform services which may be difficult or dangerous." This is why the Social Rank of the non-player character granting the Favor is so important, in order to determine who can be compelled to perform a service. Favors may extend the player character's reach; a Favor may be called in to exert coercive influence beyond the once-per-year permitted by the rules.

But as the description of Favors notes, a using a Favor may invite retaliation. In my campaign, a Favor used for "polite requests" incurs no risk, but a Favor used to compel service may result in retribution; subtract the player character's Social Rank from the Social Rank of the non-player character granting the coercive Favor, and if that number or less is rolled on D20, then retaliation follows.

Finally, there is Secret Loyalty.
Any character may choose to have this secret. Secret Loyalty indicates that the character secretly serves some powerful NPC in some manner. This NPC may give the character orders, send him on adventures, etc. But he will also extend protection for the character in particular situations. Likely NPCs for a Secret Loyalty are: high nobility, court ministers, royal officials, Cardinal Richelieu or Mazarin, members of the royal family, etc.
Secret Loyalty is a powerful relationship. The non-player character to whom the adventurer is loyal acts as a dispenser of patronage and exerts influence, both trivial and coercive, for the protection of the player character in his service. Using influence carries with it some risk that the relationship may be exposed, however; as a general rule, roll D20 and if the result is less than the Social Rank of the secretly loyal character benefitting from the use of influence, then the relationshiip become public knowledge. Should this relationship be exposed, then - provided that the exposure did not occur as a result of disloyalty or negligence on the part of the player character - the relationship changes to that of a Contact who owes the adventurer a single Favor. If the relationship is exposed through perfidy on the part of the player character, on the other hand, the relationship with the non-player character is severed irrevocably and should lead to retaliation against the player character.

As noted earlier, Contacts, Favors, and Secret Loyalties are both character benefits available at creation as well as rewards currency in the campaign; as such it is the referee's responsibility to insure, like monetary and other material wealth, that this social currency flows. A patron may become a Contact, or grant a Favor, or ask the adventurers for their Secret Loyalty, and in this way the players begin to build a network of relationships upon which they can call to protect and advance their interests.

As Matthew Miller observed in comments, '"domain level" play' begins with character generation, when these relationships may be first established by the players for their characters. But where the endgame really begins is when the player characters become Contacts and dispense Favors on behalf of non-player characters, and when they attract secretly loyal followers of their own.

Next up, we'll talk about building a clientele.

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