The DMG II for D&D 3.5 defines Prestige Classes as representing organisations; Taking a prestige class is synonymous with joining the organisation that the Prestige Class represents. At least, that was the original theory. The fact is that it was only ever partially true in D&D 3.5, and D&D 4 has a completely different paradigm in place.
Be that as it may, it’s also a rather extreme perspective. Not every assemblage of like-thinking folk is worthy of a Prestige Class – the Garbageman’s Union, for example. In any game, there is an entire spectrum of organisations that runs from the Chess Club (show up and play) to the Professional Organisation With An Agenda (Prestige Class or equivalent). But there’s no real way of simulating these in game mechanics, leaving the poor DM to cobble something together for each different group each time the situation arises – a solution that yields little-to-no consistency, and leaves the DM with lots of work and little-to-no ongoing control. Whereas a proper solution would do both these things and offer the opportunity for scenarios and subplots to boot!
My collaborator on this blog was asking about this very subject earlier today. He had only vague ideas of what he wanted, just that it be a simple game mechanic that addressed interaction between character and organisation. I’m pretty good at working up house rules on the fly, so I thought I’d rush in where sensible GMs fear to tread, and see what I could come up with. Hence this blog post, even though another isn’t due for a few days.
Organisations need to be characterised in some fashion. The most obvious characteristic lies in the type and level of obligation of a member to the organisation, so let’s give that a try and see how we go:
- Just show up if and when you want to
- Periodic or one-off membership fee or other obligation
- Ongoing Tithes or Dues, Restricted Membership
- Substantial Ongoing Tithes or Dues, + other obligations, Restricted Membership
Type 1 represents the “chess clubs”. Type 2 represents most political parties, more organised and expensive social clubs, and so on. It can also cover most types of professional employment! Type 3 covers most Trade Guilds and Professional Societies. Type 4 covers the most exclusive bodies, including Church Affiliations, Feudal Nobility, Thieves and Assassins Guilds, Secret Societies, and the like. It could also include Orders of Paladins and Knights. For the record, “Substantial” is usually 25% of what you get, or more.
Every month, game time, a d6 roll can check for an obligation deriving from membership in the Organisation. If you roll the Organisation Type or less, you have an obligation. What they are is up to the DM, based on the type and description of the organisation. If the character carries out the obligation, he is rewarded with a Privilege Point (I’ll get to them in a minute).
If the DM feels that the character has contributed something noteworthy to achieving the goals of the organisation, he should also reward the member with a Privilege Point.
If the character has in some way displayed loyalty to the organisation throughout the month, or has been an iconic representation of the archetypical club member for the month, the character may roll a die. This may be a d6, d8, d10, or d12, depending on the degree of political affiliation or definition of an ideal archetype for members. The larger the die size, the less well-connected the organisation is and the more rigid the membership requirements. The size of die will be the same every month for any given organisation. If the player rolls less than or equal to the organisation type, he earns a Privilege Point. Otherwise, his behaviour has simply gone unnoticed that month; bad luck.
GMs may wish to define some key personality attribute that is considered fundamental to the organisation – Honour, Loyalty, Reputation, Wealth, Social Standing, whatever – to use as the determining factor as to whether or not the character gets a die roll each month, or he can leave it loose; that’s up to him.
These are the foundation of this game mechanic. Each represents doing something for the organisation that it considers exemplary AND having it noticed by the organisation. The lower the organisation type, the easier it is to claim membership – and the fewer the privilege points you get for it, each month. These can be redeemed for various benefits of membership, as described below – again, in general, the lower the organisation type, the less you will get for a privilege point. Privilege Points don’t last forever. They expire a year after you earn them, if they have not been redeemed.
Expending Privilege Points
Each organisation will have various rewards that can be bestowed in exchange for privilege points. What these are is up to the DM, and should be described as part of the writeup of any organisation, but the following are suggestions that should be considered:
- +1 on all interpersonal skill rolls with fellow members for a month
- 5% discount on goods or services offered by the organisation or a brother group
- 1 favour
- 1 service on the member’s behalf by the organisation
- +1 on an appropriate interpersonal skill roll with a non-member, once only
- +1 on another type of skill roll related to organisation activities, once only
- a month’s wages
Example#1: Weekly Chess Club: Category 1. A member gets a privilege point for hosting the club one week, or perhaps by winning a game against a famous opponent. He may use this for a 5% discount on a new chess set, or a +1 in all chess games (the members go easy on the host), or +1 in a chess game with a non-member (the benefits of recent practice), or a favour from a fellow member, or first choice of opponent.
Example#2: Duelling Club: Category 2. Members earn privilege points for paying their monthly dues, Winning outside duels, Enforcing moral behaviour, etc. Points may be redeemed for social or political favours, discounts on equipment, healing services, personal reputation (+1 to an appropriate roll), etc.
Example#3: Church Sect: Category 3. Members earn privilege points for tithing 50% of their income, for making the Church more socially acceptable, for public acknowledgement by a leading political or social figure, for defending the faith from attack, for sustained personal piety, etc. Points may be redeemed to get an appointment/audience with an otherwise inaccessible person, for a spell cast on his behalf by another member (1 point per spell level), for a 5% discount on goods purchased from a parishioner, for +1 on a knowledge (religion) check, for +1 on an interpersonal skill roll with a non-member of the parish (church’s reputation), etc.
Particularly anal players may hoard their points in case they need them until the last possible minute before they expire before redeeming them. If this starts happening, the DM should first warn the players and then become more ‘flexible’ regarding the expiry date of privilige points.
Privilege Points give players an additional incentive to do things appropriate to the organisations of which they are a member, and may even be reason enough to perform certain actions. Members of an organisation may redeem their privilege points to get a ‘favour’ from the character. The organisation may require the character to do something on its behalf, whether he wants to or not. Opposed and rival organisations may target the character. The character may fall victim to “Tall Poppy Syndrome’ if he accrues too many privilege points. The DM can set a price in privilege points from specific organisation(s) for achieving something (getting a corrupt official replaced, earning a Title Of Nobility, Persuading the Exchequer to lower taxes or repair the roads) etc etc; this tells the players what they have to do in broad terms, but leaves the specifics up to them.
Players will be less cautious about taking on big jobs if they have privilege points to help them over the rough patches. Games will become a little more swashbuckling in style as a result, but the characters will be harder to reign in with difficult skill rolls.
One final suggestion
Making chits out of heavy cardboard for privilige points lets you write the expiry date on them.