Monday, February 18, 2013

Venturer Domains and the Domain Ecology

One subject of complaint about the Venturer class was the nature of its domain.  Our venturer player was keeping things very much on the level, legally speaking, and was frustrated that the only domain-level future for him seemed to lie in crime (or in taking his venturer followers and sticking them on trading ships and DDoSing the DM with mercantile ventures, which I was not going to let happen if at all possible).  What makes the venturer syndicate even more problematic is that despite being mostly-a-thief, the venturer class gets only one hijink-driving skill, Hear Noises, which is useful only for the weakest of the hijinks, Carousing.  This meant that it made little sense financially for a venturer of name level to employ his newfound followers at hijinks, because frankly they're not very good at them.  And so we're back to the trade DDoS...

An alternate proposal was floated at one point to give the venturer a fortified trading outpost or kasbah as a stronghold / fighter-style domain under the same restrictions that the explorer's domain suffers, but upon some reflection on the structure of domain-level play, I don't think this is a good solution.  Looking at the rules, our experiences, and the Grim Fist's logs, I'm starting to think that domain play is best understood cooperatively, and certain classes (and domain types) perform certain niche functions in the domain ecology.  Of the main class types, arcanists are unlikely to establish a domain first because they level slowly and have a tendency to spend lots of cash on research, libraries, and dungeons, which yield no monetary return.  Fighters and clerics operate similarly, with clerics reaching name level first and getting a discount on fortresses and followers, which gives them a leg up in the early domain game, though the fighter's +morale for mercenaries is useful too.  Basically I see a party with a fighter and a cleric ending up with either "the cleric rules the domain but the fighter is the commander of the armies and first in line for a fief" or "the fighter has the domain and the cleric is patriarch, using the populace's divine power to make magic items at low cost, and is liable to build the Vatican inside the fighter's domain given the chance."  Might swing on the charisma scores of the characters involved.  Thieves level fastest and don't need cash for much, but they can't build a proper domain, and so rely on the fighter or cleric's town as a source of revenue where the law is relatively friendly.

Once domains are gotten, and even during their construction, we can classify the types of domains as cash-sinks, cash-sources, or cash-neutral.  Building fortresses is expensive, so in the early domain game fighter and cleric domains are distinctly cash sinks (though they later stabilize), while the wizard seems to be a cash sink across all levels if he's doing a lot of research (but this converts cash into various fun forms of utility).  Where are these hundreds of thousands of gold pieces to come from?  Sure, it might be possible to extract them as treasure from extremely lucrative adventures...  but a thief domain makes it a lot easier, since (as we saw) it can definitely generate five figures of profit per month if managed well.  Thus, just as at low levels he opened traps and picked locks to reduce casualties and access more treasure, and at mid-levels he provided treasure maps to high-value locations, a domain-level thief plays something of a support role to the other classes by generating the cash necessary for them to perform more of their domain-level functions (he also has a surgical strike capability across levels, starting with backstab and then expanding to assassination at 9th, and an intelligence gathering capability starting with hide / move silently and expanding to carousing and spying, but the support role really takes off at domain level).  I think the fact that this support role is emphasized strongly in ACKS at mid-to-high levels plays very nicely with Roger's theories on the thief's role in the party dynamic as "advocates for the selfish and immediate interests of the party".  He can get you the cash you need to raise that army now...  but it might cost you later or make you a few enemies.

But, returning to the venturer.  The reason that a fortified outpost domain is somewhat unsatisfying for the venturer is because the venturer is all about making money, and thief domains make money hand-over-fist compared (in our experience) with traditional domains.  The venturer is already a financial support class, so a financial support domain makes a lot of sense.  Likewise, there's already a fair bit of competition in a standard party for a fighter/cleric-style landed domain, and adding the venturer to this competition will not help things much, especially in a party like ours with an abundance of fighters and a dearth of thieves.

The trick then, remains finding a cash-support domain structure which 1) is not necessarily illegal, 2) utilizes venturer followers to something regarding their fullest potential, and 3) isn't a huge headache for everyone involved.  I'm curious to take something like Alex's proposed Business Investment rules, add a little more detail, and provide venturer-managed businesses with a bonus for their monetary acumen as a potential solution.  Thoughts?


Alexander said...

The intent is that the venturer's followers are either (a) engaged in mercantile trade or (b) carousing, which would represent looking for "stock tips", so as to speak.

If you're finding that the time required to handle the venturer's mercantile activities is high, simply use the "Merchant Ships and Caravan" table in ACKS, or the Business Investment Rules from the forums. Each follower can run one caravan or business.

John said...

Hm. Those were pretty much the conclusions I reached; the question remains "What sort of bonus is appropriate for a business or caravan run by a Venturer as opposed to a L0 man with Bargaining?"

Tom Hudson said...

"Building fortresses is expensive"

Doesn't this suggest that the Venturers should be amassing cash in the mid-levels, and then buying a nice latifundia somewhere Civilized? If they have a high Charisma, they should have plenty of henchmen, and can spare one or two to oversee the estate while others continue to run caravans for them.

Or possibly introduce some mechanism for evaluating the trade goods that an area can supply, so that if they do go into the borderlands Venturers can locate domains with the most potential for trade? (This would boil down to letting a Venturer, or Venturer + Explorer working together, spend time in a hex to know what the demand modifiers would be for a settlement built in that hex. If they also have a good idea of the market in nearby settlements, ... PROFIT!)

Eric Meissner said...

Does the increase-market-size venturer ability give any bonus to mercantile trade? If it does, then there is a huge difference, but if not, then you just have a bunch of guys that can carouse okay (which, while least lucrative, is also one of the least dangerous and enemy-making hijink) and have bargaining.

If your contacts DO increase the effective market size for trade, then you have a significant advantage.

John said...

We ruled that it did, but the mercantile rules turned out to be something of a bear to use in practice back then. These days I have more scripts, and it would probably be significantly less bad.