Thursday, October 22, 2020

Domains at War: Men, Brigands, Part 2: Implications


  • Can a 4th-level PC fighter afford as many mercenaries as a 4th-level brigand leader?  Can a 9th level PC afford as many mercenaries as a 9th level brigand captain?
  • Given the supply cost for brigands, how much pillaging do they have to do to sustain themselves?
  • How many bandit warbands does bad domain morale spawn?
  • How does a 9th-level brigand captain's army stack up against various borderlands domains?

1. Brigand bands vs mercenaries a PC fighter of same level could afford.

A brigand band has treasure type H, average value 2500 gp.  30ish loose foot brigands command a wage of 720 gp.  The two 2nd-level fighters command a combined wage of 100 gp.  So a 4th-level brigand "subchieftain" has no more than three months' pay for his men in his coffers (neglecting supply and specialist costs, presumably they're pillaging for supply, and assuming that the loot is his to command).

As a 4th-level fighter, he has between 8k and 16kXP, of which 80% came from treasure, so his total lifetime-to-date earnings are between 6.4kgp and 12.8kgp.  This lifetime earning is not enough to afford the platoon of bandits with Mercenary Money Up Front (but would be enough to afford them for eight months if you assume the 2500gp of treasure is the captain's, 11 months if you don't).

Maybe one-year mercenary contracts are a good middle-ground between infinite-term hires and monthly.  Or nine months, if winter is Non-Adventuring Season.  Or you consider a year "basically infinite, in mercenary years".  Maybe bandits just have really short time-preference.  Maybe if you're in the Border Princes, ACKS' economics and assumptions about return on capital and time preference start to fit less well than they do in Late Antiquity.  In any case, it would be nice to bridge this gap so that a 4th level PC fighter can have a platoon of veteran bowmen and achieve parity with his NPC counterparts, while also preserving the no-cash-flows and long-term incentive properties of Money Up Front.  Dropping the cash up front to a year also solves some of the problems with money up front for henchmen (namely, it puts a L0 henchmen within the realm of the possible for 1st level characters fresh out of chargen.  Expensive, but possible).

The 9th level captain has a lifetime earnings of between 200kgp and 300kgp.  He has 7 platoons with wages totaling 5310 gp/mo.  If paid up front, that would be around 76k, which is within his reach.  He also has 14 2nd-level fighters (50 gp/mo), 7 4th-level fighters (200gp/mo), and 3 5th-level fighters (400gp/mo), totaling 3300 gp/mo.  If paid up front, that would be 99kgp in leveled guys.  If he has an MU or cleric, that will absolutely break the bank.  But he could plausibly afford his units and his fighters if he were a PC operating under Money Up Front.

2. How often do bandits need to pillage in order to remain fed?  How bad is it for small borderlands domains to get pillaged?

A platoon of brigand infantry needs 60 gp of supplies per month (assuming they have a quartermaster, which...  maybe isn't a great assumption.  Maybe that's part of why their morale is mediocre compared to eg veteran cavalry!  But I don't really want to go rework their TCOs for companies).  A borderlands barony has 200 rural families and 20 "urban" families.  Per Campaigns page 64, pillaging it would take 1 day and require 600 troops to do properly.  The brigands have 30, so they pillage 1/20 as much as they would if they had 600.  In an average day of pillaging, a brigand band loots 115 gp in gold and 280 gp in supplies and takes 6 prisoners (worth 240gp), resulting in the loss of 6 families to the domain and about 635gp of stronghold value.  So the bandits only need a successful raid once every four months to stay fed by value (ration spoilage, on the other hand, would probably drive them to raid once every couple of weeks; but if they return to a friendly settlement, sell the captured supplies, and then buy fresh supplies over time with that money, that might work).  6 families and 600 gp of stronghold is not insignificant when you're this small.  I probably wouldn't make the domain morale roll at -4 for this tiny amount of pillaging - just using the % decrease in families penalty at the end of the season is probably fine (if they raid twice in a season, that's 12 families lost, which crosses the 5% threshold).  Using the "salt the earth" rule and multiplying for the band being small, it would take them about 80 raids to reduce a barony to wilderness.

A successful day of pillaging a barony earns each bandit about 12 XP (or if they only get 50% and their leaders get 50%, then each bandit gets 6 XP, the 2nd-level fighters get 30 XP each, and the 4th-level fighter gets 120 XP).

Bandit cavalry needs 240 gp/mo of supplies per platoon, so a band of two platoons would need to raid about twice a month.

Amusingly, a march takes 1d3 days for them to pillage the same amount from, because it has a higher population.  That seems a bit silly at this scale.

A bandit camp has about 200 troops for pillaging.  Assuming three bands of cavalry and four of infantry, they need 1680 gp/mo of supplies.  They pillage 7 times as fast as one band, taking 805 gp in gold, 1960 gp in supplies and 42 prisoners worth 1680gp in the first day of raiding a borderlands barony.  This reduces the domain by 42 families (of 220) and the stronghold by 4445 gp (out of 22500).  They can reduce a barony to wilderness in about 12 days.  They need to pillage at this scale about once a month to remain fed.

So it seems like a pretty easy gig if you can catch a domain ruler with his pants down - you only have to have one or two days of successful work per month.

3. Bandits from domain morale.

Domain morale of Rebellious, Defiant, or Turbulent causes a fraction of the domain's able-bodied men to become bandits.  In a Turbulent domain, one in five does; in Defiant, one in two; and in Rebellious, all of them.  Presumably not all able-bodied men immediately become veterans with d8 HD.  1 in 20 NPCs is a 1st-level character.  5 families is 50 characters, so we might reasonably expect that the bandits in a Turbulent domain are mostly veterans who turn to banditry because they already know how.  One per five families in a borderlands barony means 44 bandits - a platoon and a half (maybe one platoon of infantry and one platoon of cavalry).  This is about the size of a baron's garrison.

At Defiant, half of able-bodied men become bandits.  These are mostly L0, but it's another platoon and a half.  As all domain income is reduced by half, presumably they are earning XP for misappropriating it.  This reduction in income is about 6 gp/family/month, or 12 gp/bandit/month (half of which is gold, half supplies), or about one pillaging per month per band (which is also fairly close on the population loss from low morale).  At this rate the new bandits will become veterans in a year or so (not taking into account the declining population of the domain and consequently their declining revenue and XP).

At Rebellious, 220 able-bodied men become bandits, which is just about the size of a brigand camp, and they have a 12% chance to get a leveled leader.

When you scale up the domain, these scale up too.  A turbulent march gets six bands of veteran bandits.  A turbulent county gets 23 bands.  Even if they're fighting as Irregular because they lack leadership, that's right around the BR of the domain's garrison.  And that's only at turbulent!  If you go up to defiant, the number of bandits doubles, and then it doubles again at rebellious.

In conclusion, bandits from low domain morale are Serious Business and the only thing keeping them from toppling their domain rulers is probably lack of leadership and unity, which might allow them to be defeated in detail.

4. Bandit camp vs borderlands domain lord

This was something that I always wondered back during the first ACKS campaign.  My players had taken a domain in bandit country and weren't very high level.  But Domains at War hadn't been released yet and I didn't have any way to resolve potential bandit aggression.

A 9th level brigand captain has on average 7 bands at his disposal.  About half of those will be cavalry and half infantry (call it 3 cav and 4 infantry), giving him 10 total platoons (6 cavalry, 4 infantry).  In the worst possible discipline situation, all his units are irregular, with a combined platoon-scale BR of 20.  In the best case, where his infantry is loose and his cavalry is formed, they have a combined BR of 41.  If he has a maxed-out force of 12 bands, 12 platoons cavalry and 6 platoons infantry, and they're well-disciplined, he has a platoon-scale army BR of 78.  A maxed camp of pure formed cavalry would have a BR of 108.

Looking at Simple Borderlands Domains and totaling BR (again, platoon-scale) for garrison and field armies of various domains:

DomainGarrison BRField army BR

So even a weak and badly-disciplined camp of brigands is very bad news for a borderlands barony - enough to storm the baron's tower despite his garrison, and certainly enough to shut him up in the tower while they pillage the domain.  Even a single band of well-disciplined brigands can probably defeat a baron's garrison (but not if fighting into a fortification).  The baron himself is 6th level and probably not a match for a captain in single combat.

A marquis has nothing to worry about from a single band of bandits, but must still be worried about camps.  His garrison is probably enough to hold his stronghold against assault by most bandit camps, and his field army is about an even match for the average camp if he has time to gather his forces (but not for strong, disciplined camps).  If taken by surprise by average camps he'll still get to watch them pillage his domain from his tower.  The marquis is 8th level vs the captain's 9th, and might have a decent chance mano-a-mano.

The garrison of a county is stronger than the majority of disciplined camps and almost all ill-disciplined camps, and if the count has time to gather troops, his field army will be stronger than the strongest possible camp.  The count is 10th level and slightly stronger than the captain in single combat.

Curiously, applying the same analysis to orcs, the story is somewhat different.  An average orcish village is slightly smaller than an average bandit camp in terms of number of troops (only 6 platoons instead of 7), and there isn't any provision for giving them cavalry in the monster listing.  Assuming 4 platoons of heavy infantry and 2 of crossbows, an orcish village has an army BR of 10.  Even if you add in six platoons of orcish women (taking it as a full migration), that only raises BR to 13.  So they can still ruin a baron's day, but a march is a much dicier target for them.  Against a single warband of orcs, the baron's garrison should usually be sufficient (although in that sort of single platoon vs single platoon fight, the orcs' disadvantages as irregular foot are not so great).

So I think it's fair to draw the conclusion that barons and marquis in the borderlands must have allies.  Maybe not liege lords, but a pact among independent barons and marquis to join forces if a bandit army threatens them (certainly I could see this behavior emerging organically from members of an adventuring party acquiring small individual domains).  Barons and marquis without something like that to fall back on will, on average, get a bandit camp knocking at their door once every... 10 years in woods, jungle, barrens, and mountains, once every 15 years in hills (one random encounter roll per week in borderlands, 4+ or 5+ depending on terrain, 1 in 8 of getting the Men table, 2 in 12 or 3 in 12 of brigands, 20% chance in lair.  These numbers remain roughly accurate for isolated borderlands domains in woods or hills if using the Wandering Into War Axioms article).

Alternatively, maybe most borderlands barons were 4th-level bandit leaders recently, and 10 years is just the mean time between change of management (only 2 years for a band rather than a camp, due to the 20% chance in lair; if 50% of bands are disciplined and so can defeat a baron's garrison, then the MTTF of a barony may only be 4 years rather than 10).

And that's only from bandits.  Not orcs.  Not 3 platoons of 2HD gnolls (total platoon-scale BR 10-20).  Not a platoon of hill giants (platoon-scale BR ~5).  Not 14 platoons of veteran nomad horsemen (BR 54 - enough to make a count take notice).  There are so many things on this wilderness encounter table that can end a barony.

Did I say nomad horsemen?  Getting ahead of myself there.  Next post: Domains at War: Men, Nomads (and merchants).


  1. Speaking of merchants, there's some guidance on the boards suggesting that any given market has 36? times more activity in it than the PCs can access, which implies a lot of merchants moving a lot of stuff even through/out of podunk little hamlets (under the view that the local overproduction of food travels 'upstream' to the larger urban markets to feed them)

    It's highly likely that the concept of 'pillaging' from an ongoing, non-war-campaign standpoint could be recast as picking off this trade, and what the brigands are really waiting for from you is an idea of the caravan sizes they can easily (size of guard) and regularly (occurrence of spawning near their patrol area) take to stay supplied without necessarily incurring the direct ire of a local baron or his liege lord.

    Relatedly, there's maybe something to be said for the low population growth rates of domains and the constant attrition of wandering monster encounters, and htey might be able to explain each other in this raiding/pillaging context.

  2. I don't have a substantive comment, but I always enjoy this sort of post about exploring the implications player-focused mechanics have on the structure of the general setting.