Monday, January 14, 2013

A Modest Proposal Regarding Hijinks and Income Therefrom

In our current ACKS game, we've had something of a recurring problem with hijink income.  When Garwyn the Bard took control of the town of Opportunity, he also inherited a thieves' guild from his successor, and he ran this guild with great success, generating many XP and filling his coffers.  When he died, his guild was inherited by Tualla the Assassin, as was his town.  She has continued to make a killing, generating very large sums of money via spying on her own populace.  Noticing their success, the wizard Leo set out to emulate their example, hiring spies and henchthieves to spy in the nearby town of Ironbridge and making ridiculous amounts of money blackmailing wealthy merchants.  These characters, propelled by hijink income XP, are in the level 8-9 range, while the rest of the party, including two PCs with traditional domains, are more-or-less stuck around 6th or 7th.  There is something clearly wrong with how we are playing hijinks, in that anyone who is not using (abusing?) them is playing really, really non-optimally

There are some who will argue that the proper solution is to disallow access to criminal guilds to classes who do not gain them as a class ability.  I argue that this is insufficient, as it is possible to hire a thief henchman and have them establish a guild, and then reap half the profits therefrom.  Yes, you run into potential hench loyalty issues, but it's easy enough to keep a non-adventuring henchman in good morale by avoiding catastrophes and paying them well.  Further, half of an order of magnitude more than the rest of the party makes is still a ton of money.  The discussion of relegation of the thief class to NPC-only status does not help, for the same reason.

A motion was made to ban hijinks altogether, but I do not think this is a particularly good solution either.  Treasure-hunting, in particular, is a sufficiently neat use that to scrap the system wholesale would be a damn shame.  Banning spying came up as another potential fix, but this still leaves the possibility that one of the trade hijinks, which are harder to run expected value math on, might also be very, very lucrative, and the system will continue to be abused.  Restrictions on spying do make sense, especially in areas where there just aren't that many secrets that valuable, but to eliminate it wholesale again seems like overkill (as it was useful during last night's session for the purposes of spying on an enemy army).

Probably the most apparently-reasonable patch suggested was to ban the establishing and running of guilds before 9th level.  I am, in general, not in favor of this plan.  The note from page 134 about losing followers was brought up in support of this proposal, but I don't think that makes much sense - if your guild is comprised completely of hired goons and henchmen, then you don't have any 'followers' from name-level to lose.  Further, if it makes sense in the world, as when Garwyn acquired a guild by force and charm, then that's not something I want to stop.  Finally, establishing domains and towers under 9th is a recurring theme, and to have guilds be an exception to this would be incongruous and punitive.

No, the solution to this problem is a morale mechanic.

Whenever a hired ruffian in the service of a criminal guild levels from hijink XP, he must check morale using the following modifiers:
  • A bonus or penalty equal to the boss's charisma modifier
  • A -2 penalty if the boss is not a thief, venturer, assassin, or other class which receives a guild upon reaching 9th level.  Bosses may be able to reduce this penalty to -1 by using their talents to provide benefits to their thieves, which a master thief provides for free via wise advice and connections.  Example offsetting benefits might be potions of invisibility, undue influence in courts of law, and so forth.
  • A -2 penalty if the boss is below 9th level or otherwise perceived as being weak or distant; possible causes might include extended bed rest due to grievous injury, extended absence from guild operations, or death.
  • A +1 bonus if the thief was caught performing crimes for the guild and the guild made it known that it "had his back", so to speak, via paying lawyer fees, bribes, and fines since last he leveled.  If the thief was convicted and maimed, but received a Restore Life and Limb or better magical healing at the guild's expense, then this becomes a +2 bonus instead.
  • If the thief has succeeded on half or more of his hijink attempts since last levelling, he receives a -2 to morale, as he is convinced that he does not need the guild's aid.  Some other "unreasonably successful" condition might work here; needs further consideration.
The result of 2d6 plus the above modifiers should be indexed into the following table:

2- : Attempt at guild takeover, possibly as conspiracy with other disgruntled ruffians when boss is weakest.  If attempt at guild takeover is clearly impossible, may defect instead; see below
3-5: Defection or betrayal; reports boss or hideout to authorities, joins a rival guild, or steals 1000 gp per level from the guild and flees town
6-8: Skimming the take - hijink income reduced by 10%, may be open to conspiracy
9-11: Remain honestly in service
12+ : Remain honestly in service, and report any brewing conspiracies to boss

This plays well with the notes in the Ruffians entry in the specialists listings that "Ruffians may or may not be reliable, and could stab the hiring character in the back (maybe literally!)."  This has been a non-deterrent so far, as with the current hijink system there is basically no threat to the boss from his ruffians within the system.  Note that followers acquired by guild classes upon reaching 9th level are not subject to this rule; they are personally loyal to the master thief whom they serve.  Likewise, direct thief henchmen may undertake hijinks without using this table, and are subject to normal henchman morale checks when leveling.  It is important that thief henchmen left in town for extended periods of time remain somehow useful to their employer, just as cleric henchmen left in town can gather congregants, or wizard henchmen can brew potions and perform item identification.  Permitting thief henches to perform hijinks without penalty is a reasonable way of achieving this aim, and the 4+cha henchman limit restricts the ability of would-be guildmasters to abuse hijinks via henchmen.


  1. This seems like it might be a good fix, but I'd want to see a test/simulation of it. It seems to me that with enough seed money, these barriers could be overcome relatively easily.

    Do the Social+ proficiencies apply here?

    1. I agree that it does need testing, and that hiring a sufficient number of thieves is may ameliorate the impact of these rules somewhat (though since expectation for a non-thief below 9th without +cha is betrayal, I'm not sure hiring more thieves will do more than generate more betrayals). Drew has proposed a single morale roll per month for the guild's ruffians as a collective, which might scale better and achieve the same end with less paperwork.

      And not sure about the +soc profs. I think a bonus from intimidate is likely the most reasonable; diplomacy is nice and all, but this is modeling the discussions of your assembled thieves in smoky back rooms of seedy taverns when you're not around to smooth things over.

  2. Upon further consideration, this proposal also fails to address henchthieves with guilds. It does make having a henchman run a guild more difficult in that a henchman will be lower-level than his leader, and so more likely to be subject to perceived as weak penalty, but I don't really think it's enough.