Sunday, September 16, 2012

Of Bounties and PC Rulers

It came to pass in the lands of Baron Garwyn the First that the peasants were greatly troubled by a plague of ankhegs and scorpions the size of cows, which did eat at their livestock and their kin.  And they came to him, and spake, and did say, "Verily, we should not hesitate to pay our taxes, had we goats with which to pay them, but we haeve them not, for they are all devoured by insectes moste large."  And the good Baron was troubled by this, and summoned the lady-knight Corinth to his court, whereupon they spoke at length of this matter.  With the loss of the Baron to the duties of rulership, the mage Carcophan to injuries most grievous, and the mad Albanian to poison, the Company was much diminished from its former power, and Corinth was all that remained of the Olde Company.  She had recruited many new members, but they were yet unblooded, and thirsty for plunder and glory, neither of which was to be had in the extermination of mere bugs, no matter their size.  And these facts she laid before the Baron, and suggested that should he desire the infestation of his lands to come to an end, he should offer a handsome bounty upon those beasts which troubled him, in land or gold or titles, that she might convince her Company to pursue those ends.

And so we came upon a rules dilemma.  In ACKS, you normally get 1 XP for each GP which you extract from the dungeon.  The forums seem to indicate that this includes bounties, which have been suggested as a means for merciful judges (hah!) to provide extra XP / GP for hunting monsters with little treasure.  This would suggest that Garwyn should be able to offer a bounty on monsters, and then his fellow PCs should receive XP up to any amount.  Unfortunately, this could conceivably lead to situations like "Hey, you're 3kXP short of a level?  Bring me the head of the Inconvenient Rat Which Haunts My Kitchen, and I shall give to ye 3000 pieces of gold!"  So there's a problem there.  You also get into issues with infinite chaining, where two PC regents each fulfill each other's bounties, and repeat ad nauseum for unlimited XP.  Also not good.

My first proposed solution to this problem, which I still think is likely the best, follows from the principle that, in general, 1 XP can be earned from 1 GP by one person (or, 1 GP = 1 person*XP, for those of you who like physics).  There are exceptions to this rule, as in building castles, but they're endpoints to the gold cycle, as it passed out of PC hands.  So, says I, where can I find a source of gold for which the regent did not earn XP?  Fortunately, ACKS has such a source readily available in the form of the campaign GP threshold, which is a confusing concept but useful here.  The deal with the campaign GP threshold is that domain size and profit will, in general, scale with PC level, and so PCs should be able to achieve some sort of lower bound on earnings with basically no risk.  This is the threshold; there's a table at the end of the campaign chapter which shows how it varies with level.  When you earn campaign income, you subtract your threshold and then earn only the remainder as XP.  For example, Garwyn's threshold is 5000 GP, so if he earns 7000 GP in a month from taxes, he only receives 2000 XP.  The other 5000 GP have yielded no PC any XP, and so the rule follows - a regent can offer up to his campaign income threshold in GP per month as bounties which yield XP to his fellow PCs.

This system may work; I expect we'll see it in action soon.  However, we reach another, alternate solution if we base our policy on another of ACKS' recurring principles - on average, 80% of XP comes from treasure.  If we look at it this way, then we might suppose that a bounty of up to four times a monster's XP value would count towards XP for fellow PCs.  This does nip the "Inconvenient Rat Problem" in the bud, but doesn't solve the possibility of powerful, high-level regents swapping bounties on mighty monsters and racking up thousands of extra XP on a daily basis.  This too might be remedied by the policy that one only earns XP from a bounty issued by a regent higher-level than oneself.

In any case, this is still something of an open problem, but so far the monthly campaign threshold solution seems to be acceptable to all involved.  Tomorrow, we see if it is inducement enough to fight the Insects of Unusual Size.

9 comments:

Brendan said...

I don't think you need to resort to mathematical rules. The key here is the definition of "extraction from the dungeon" and what constitutes adventure. I think it's totally reasonable to just define "rat extermination" as not an adventure. Further, I think it is reasonable to not award PCs XP for braving "hazards" that were put together by other PCs. I mean, you can't put a bag of gold and a house cat in a closet and call it a dungeon.

John said...

Unless they're first-level characters, in which case housecats and rats are existential threats :P. As for hazards assembled by other PCs, what about the case where a high-level PC wizard has constructed a dungeon, it has filled with monsters, and now he's willing to pay a set of lower-level PCs to exterminate them for research components? This seems pretty clearly to be an adventure and deserving of XP, despite the fact that part of it was put together by another PC...

Brendan said...

Players crafting their own hazards seems problematic to me, though I imagine it would depend on the group. If you are worried about people exploiting infinite chaining though, I would imagine this is probably not the system for you.

I believe the example in the ACKS book for PC created dungeons has the players and referee switch places temporarily for a change of pace. So the ref creates separate characters that don't have conflicts of interest.

John said...

Hmm... I think the example you cite on page 142 is referring to unwelcome adventurers invading the dungeon as part of a random encounter roll, rather than a planned 'harvest'. Thus, it doesn't really apply to the situation here, where we're explicitly trying to get particular monsters killed. It also doesn't serve well when we're trying to focus on just one party of PCs.

Bounties for a planned harvest are mentioned in the paragraph following, so it seems that this situation was not unforeseen, but that no solution was provided...

As for worries about infinite chaining... I game with a bunch of programmers. We get a bit leery around potential infinite loop situations, and our instinctive response is to change the code (er, rules :P) to preempt it so we don't have to worry about it at runtime. It's just kind of how we operate.

Brendan said...

I'm a programmer and have gamed with programmers too. My general approach is sure, you can try to exploit the rules and see what kind of ruling I come up with. The world is strange and mysterious, the rules text is really only suggestions anyways.

Maybe this falls under the umbrella of premature optimization being the root of all evil? No worries though, there's clearly not a right or wrong way to do this, and maybe the process of bulletproofing the rules is fun!

John said...

Yeah, the old standby of "Well, that doesn't work as intended" is a good backup (and could be pretty entertaining in this case), but I guess I like to provide them guidelines in cases like this where it's not really a fact of the game-world under discussion (since XP is kind of an abstraction). I guess the in-game solutions to this sort of problem would be 1) other adventurers hear about your ridiculous bounties and decide to try to get a cut, and if you solely contract with your fellow PCs 2) the peasants get up-in-arms about corruption and realm morale suffers.

micahblackburn said...

Those are some good ideas for resolving a problem I've not even considered yet (my players aren't up to the level where they can offer each other bounties yet... well, maybe one could offer it to a few of the lower level guys).

I did however think about the problem that arises from simple gold to xp in regards to high level characters dealing with low level dungeons. In OD&D, your xp was divided by your level vs the level of the dungeon you were on, meaning you wanted to get to the 'harder' dungeon as soon as you leveled up as fighting rats and kobolds was a greatly diminishing return. There is no rule similar to this in B/X meaning there is no reason for PCs to not simply get rich off 1st to 3rd level dungeons and keep leveling with reduced risk.

This is something I want to figure out and might go towards the whole 'defining an adventure'.

John said...

I think that the exponential scaling of XP vs the very small rewards of exploring low level dungeons, especially when you're dividing by shares, should provide sufficient disincentive for high-level PCs to 'slum' in low-level dungeons. Sure, they can wipe an entire goblin warband without much trouble, but when they only get 2000 GP out of it and it's being split even two ways, that's a tiny, tiny fraction of a level in exchange for lots of rolling dice in real life.

(Also, since I start my PCs off with 4kXP, I tend to design the 'first' level of all of my dungeons as dungeon level 3, and it just gets worse from there. This helps mitigate this problem to some degree)

Library Bob said...

The first thing that came to my mind while reading the problem as you described it, is that the DM should categorically disallow metagaming stunts, which is what it sounds to me the problem is. Baron X as a character is unaware of the existence of XP and certainly does not go adventuring to accumulate this existential treasure. There simply is no good in-character reason for the Baron to offer another lord huge amounts of cash for trivial things like rat extermination. The players should be reminded that what they know and what their characters know about the game world are not the same.