Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Pinching Pennies? Monthly Expenses in Flashing Blades

Monthly expenses (food, shelter, etc.) 3 £ x Social Rank (see 3.8) - 3.72 Outfitting, Flashing Blades core rules (p. 12)
Mark Pettigrew cited Traveller as an influence on Flashing Blades, and it may be most evident in the treatment of careers and character finances. Like Traveller, Flashing Blades likes its player characters struggling to make ends meet and hustling to pay the bills, i.e., seeking out and accepting patronage opportunities. Salaries alone are rarely enough: a Social Rank 5 Minor Official (5.21 The Social Scale, p. 23) in the bureaucracy makes 70 £ annually (MINOR OFFICIAL, 5.53 Ranks and Positions in the Bureaucracy, p. 32) but has monthly expenses totalling 180 £ for the year. Given that most player character bureaucrats start at SR 7 (3.8 SOCIAL RANK, p. 13), the disparity is even greater and the need for additional funds more pressing.

Player characters don't simply rely on their salaries, of course, receiving an annual allowance (3.71 Yearly Allowance, p. 11) in addition to whatever salary - if any - they receive from their careers. The source of the annual allowance isn't defined; historically, people received income from rentes and other annuities, but inheritance, rich uncle, or a remittance to stay far away are all plausible explanations for a character's yearly allowance as well. Between a salary and a yearly allowance, an adventurer may make enough to meet annual expenses: an SR 7 Gentleman Minor Official bringing home that same 70 £ but with a yearly allowance of 300 £ will still have 188 £ left over, at least until the fermier général and the parish priest extend their hands for taxes and tithes.

Advantages such as Wealth, Title, and Land may add to an adventurer's yearly allowance, but the latter two also increase expenses in the forms of higher Social Rank and property upkeep, and with greater income comes higher taxes and tithes as well.

So, can a player character reduce their monthly expenses to better live within their means?

Before I can answer that we need to understand what exactly is covered by those monthly expenses. First, shelter for most characters will be a rooming house or a hostel, or more rarely an auberge (inn), which generally caters to travellers, not tenants. At Social Rank 3 and below, lodgings are likely shared, with 1-4 beds with straw ticking and cheap blankets in a rented room, pegs on a wall for hanging clothing, a tin basin and a pitcher of water in the hall for ablutions, and the possibility of a cut-down wine barrel for use as a tub with water drawn from a well in the garden. From Social Rank 4 to 7, rooms are usually private, with two thin mattresses, one of straw and one of feathers, covered by a thick wool blankets, a basin and pitcher on a table or chest of drawers, a small wardrobe, a stool or small wooden chair, and bathing water warmed in the kitchen. At Social Rank 8 and above, lodgings are a small suite with a sitting room or salon and a bedroom or bedrooms as well as separate shared quarters for servants. A mattress and thick comforter stuffed with goose down cover the bed, a decorated and gilt ceramic basin and pitcher sit on a carved chest of drawers, and an expansive wardrobe stands against a wall, with a covered, cushioned chair and footstool on a carpeted floor nearby. A glazed iron bathtub is concealed by a screen or secluded in its own small room for privacy.

Students and soldiers may also find lodging in a rented room in a private residence; d'Artagnan finds a room in the home of the cloth merchant M. Bonacieux after his appointment to the guards company of M. des Essarts on his arrival in Paris in The Three Musketeers, for example. Students of Theology, during their months of study and service, are expected to live in a community with other students not dissimilar to monks; the accomodations are comparable to that of merchants, but the cleaning and cooking are handled by the students themselves. Titled nobles of Social Rank 10 and above may find accomodation in the hôtel or townhome of another noble family, comparable to that of a rooming house but with better quality service - more on that in a moment; for such nobles, monthly expenses are halved as the accomodation is considered a display of hospitality expected of the nobility which is repaid by pourboires (tips or bribes) to the staff and service rendered to the family.

A single morning meal is provided for lodgers of SR 3 and below, consisting of a thick vegetable soup or stew and brown bread with thin beer or table wine to wash it down; monthly expenses also cover a midday and evening meal, usually purchased from a street vendor. Meat is rare and usually consists of mutton or goat meat added to the stew or baked in a crust, or a fish ragout if near the ocean or a substantial river. If a SR 3 or below rooming house serves meat in its meal more than two or three times a week, the absence of dogs in the neighborhood may be noticeable. Meals are served in wooden or clay bowl or on platters with drinks in clay mugs. At SR 4-7, lodgers may expect to receive a morning and evening meal as part of their expenses; the stew will usually have meat, typically the aforementioned mutton and goat, and roast chicken is common table fare as well. The fish ragout is supplemented with whole fish roasted on a spit. Boiled vegetables are served as sides. Beer and wine remain the most common beverages, with rum or brandy available for an extra fee beyond what's covered as part of a character's monthly expenses. Service is on pewter bowls and platters, while drinks are served in clay or pewter mugs. At SR 8 and above, meals come in courses of four or more, with a variety of meats: roasted mutton and fish are common, with beef and especially wild game appearing with some frequency. Along with platters of boiled vegetables, raw celery is considered a delicacy and exotic New World vegetables such as tomatoes and potatoes may be present as well. Good wine and spirits are served in crystal decanters and goblets while meals are served on china imported from the East Indies or silver bowls and platters.

Finally, the rules specifically mention food and shelter, but what's about the ever-elusive "etc."? Some services may be covered by monthly expenses. At SR 3 and below, maids will change and launder the characters' bedlinens monthly and the character can get their clothing laundered and crudely patched on the same schedule as well; swashbucklers are a rough and tumble bunch as a rule, and stains and tears should accumulate readily in the course of their adventures. Between SR 4 and 7, linens are changed and quarters swept and dusted weekly, and a washer woman will launder clothing as needed while a seamstress will skillfully mend the garments on the adventurer's behalf. A young boy, perhaps a son of the owner or a servant, can be expected to bear messages for the adventurer, and to carry a torch at night, for the price of a small tip folded into monthly expenses; the boy's safety is the adventurer's responsibility and should be considered carefully in the assigned task. A groom will tend to an adventurer's horse as part of the cost of upkeep (3.72 Outfitting, p. 12 under Transportation); the groom will hotwalk, brush and feed the horse and summon a veterinarian if needed. At SR 8 and above, servants abound: chambermaids see to the linens every few days and sweep and dust daily while laundresses launder and seamstresses expertly repair and alter clothing on request. One or more ladies' maids or gentlemen's butlers will assist the adventurer with dressing and attend to the character's bath. A concierge will make sure that the accomodations are kept up and summon workers to perform necessary maintenance as needed. Messengers may be dispatched not just around town but to neighboring cities on the player character's behalf.

For all characters, monthly expenses include incidentals ranging from clay pipes and tobacco to woolen hose to shoe repairs by a cobbler, at the referee's discretion.

Okay, that's what your money gets you. What if you can't afford to live at the standard expected of your station?

Characters who cannot afford, or who choose not to pay, the monthly expenses associated with their Social Rank will find their effective rank decreases; a SR 7 Gentleman who pays 15 £ per month for expenses will find that others treat them as having SR 5 instead. This may affect opportunities such as membership in a club, admission to seminary to pursue a career as a Student of Theology, or to advantageously apply to a regiment. The most important consequence to the adventurer due to a lower effective Social Rank is the loss of influence.
Sometimes, however, influence may have direct effects on the game, in one of two ways. First, any character may expect informal, polite requests to be granted by those three Social Ranks or more below his own, if he can roll his own Social Rank or below on a D20. Thus a Marquis could ask a small favor of a Baron or a Bishop, and have his request(s) granted on a roll of 13 or less on a D20. Polite requests are defined as those which are easy to grant, and which are of minor significance to the person asked (such as a Magistrate waiving a small fine, a Captain looking after someone in his company, a Baron allowing hunting on his estate, etc.). The possibilities are endless. Polite requests, no matter how polite they may be, will also often be influenced by bribery or reciprocal favors.

In addition, influence of Social Rank may be used, on rare occasions, to force those of lower Social Ranks to perform services which may be difficult or dangerous. Such services may only be requested of one six or more Social Ranks below the character, and may only be asked once per year (unless the character increases his or her Social Rank that year, in which case, he may ask 2 services). Such services may not be outrageous (e.g. asking an NPC to lay down his life for the character, or to give the character large sums of money) and the request must be within the power of the person requested. The person requested has a choice: to grant the request, or to automatically lose one Social Rank himself. A small reward or bribe is almost always offered for such services, Examples of difficult requests might be a Treasurer of a Royal Order bullying a rich merchant to go into an investment with him (perhaps with the lure of possible profits), a Lt. General forcing a townsman to quarter troops in his house, a Grand Duke squeezing a Secretary of a Noble Order to admit him to the Order, etc. Of course, some such requests may be granted through threats or violence, rather than influence. - 5.22 Influence (p. 23)
A character with a lower effective Social Rank will find their influence is constrained to that of their temporary rank.

A character who does not pay the monthly expenses for at least four months will find their chances of promotion reduced by the difference between their Social Rank and their effective rank; frex, a character with SR 7 paying only 15 £ per month for four months will find their chances of promotion reduced by two. Finally, at the referee's discretion, a character who lives at a lower rank for six or more months may have their actual Social Rank reduced by one.

Can living at an effectively higher Social Rank improve influence and chances for promotion? That's a subject for another post.

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