Active Domain Maintenance

My campaign is focused on establishing a colony in unexplored hostile wilderness and the players have decided that they want the actual tasks of taking, holding, and fortifying territory to be a bigger part of the game. Simply saying “We have a fort worth X,000gp and it holds everything within a certain area!” doesn’t cut it. So I’m looking for ideas and suggestions on how to manage this.

Thus far, I’m working on a more detailed map of the immediate area. We’ve noticed that a 30kgp stronghold, according to ACKS rules, can secure a hex of just over 30 square miles and are placing the upper limit on territory at 1 square mile per 1kgp of fortifications, but there’s still the question of what is involved on an ongoing basis to maintain control of that territory. The simple existence of the stronghold is clearly not adequate - your castle can be worth a million gp, but, if it’s completely deserted, it’s not going to secure anything once someone notices that nobody is home.

My reasoning at this point is that the stronghold should actually serve as the base of operations for a military force which actually secures and patrols the area around it, but I’m unsure at this point of what the force requirement should be. The only case of a garrison requirement in the rules is a per-family requirement, but that doesn’t map directly to an amount of land controlled, given that you’re not always going to be at maximum population density - a half-hex wilderness domain with 50 families and a sixteen-hex wilderness domain with 50 families both have the same requirement of a 200gp/month garrison, yet those troops would obviously be spread much more thinly (and be correspondingly less effective) in the larger domain than the smaller.

At this point, I’m kind of defaulting to basing the required garrison to secure land on the maximum population of that land (e.g., wilderness has a max population of 125 families/hex, or about 4 families/square mile, and requires a garrison of 4gp/family, so it would require 16gp/square mile to secure), but that makes more-civilized areas harder to secure (max population per square mile increases faster than required garrison per family decreases) and also removes the stronghold value from the equation entirely.

Intuitively, I would say that, to get the stronghold back into it, the stronghold value would provide a cap on the garrison that can be stationed there. In this example, 16gp garrison per 1kgp stronghold would give you the same maximum controlled territory, but then that would mean you can’t support a garrison larger than what the population requires and can’t get a morale bonus that way. Using the figures from D@W for the number of units that can be garrisoned in a structure isn’t really acceptable, because it’s too easily gameable. (Build lots of palisades. They’re dirt cheap and can garrison a unit (120 infantry/60 cavalry) each.)

Aside from the garrison/patrol-based method making sense to me, my players also like the idea of heavy troop losses meaning that you have to withdraw your patrols and cede outlying territory even if the stronghold has remained completely secure. So we seem pretty set at this point on having that play some role instead of making it purely a matter of the stronghold, although I’d still be interested in hearing any other ideas for how to determine both how much territory and exactly which territory is controlled at a smaller-than-hex level.

If you want to have the garrison correlate to the size of the area defended, rather than the population (due to the interesting settlement patterns in your campaign setting), I would advise the following:

  1. Rulers can maintain territory at "wilderness" level of security at a cost of 16gp in troops per square mile. 
  2. Rulers can maintain territory at a "borderlands" level of security at a cost of 24gp in troops per square mile.
  3. Rulers can maintain territory at a "civilized" level of security at a cost of 48gp in troops per square mile. 

For each 6-mile hex, the Judge should make an encounter throw daily if the territory is a wilderness domain, weekly if a borderlands domain, and monthly for a civilized domain. 


What I’m trying to achieve isn’t so much “garrison correlates to size of area controlled” as to make territory control something active rather than something passive. (“Active” in the game world, not necessarily in terms of continuous player involvement, although frequent player involvement in this does seem to be something my players want.)

In ACKS RAW, you can build a 480kgp stronghold and it will effectively control 500ish square miles of territory, even if it has no garrison whatsoever. Which really doesn’t seem right - someone has to be going out there and enforcing that control or else monsters would logically move right back in regardless of the huge-but-toothless castle sitting on a hill somewhere over that way. (For the sake of discussion, I’m ignoring the morale penalties for insufficient garrison. There’s no guarantee that the domain will have a significant population in any case, and there are plenty of ways to negate the garrison penalty with bonuses from other sources anyhow.)

From a practical standpoint, we’re looking for reasons to support building a string of small outposts to guard trade routes or other key locations rather than one massive castle. The massive castle still has its place, of course, for warding off serious attacks capable of overwhelming any individual outpost, but there should be some benefit to offset the greater vulnerability of a dozen 5kgp outposts vs. a single 60kgp castle. The logical answer seems to be that many small outposts are better at securing territory in the absence of serious opposition, while one big castle is better at withstanding serious assaults.

Finally, from a gameplay perspective, there should be something which can happen that leads to losing territory without requiring your stronghold to be reduced. Going back to the first point about someone going out and enforcing control, involving the garrison in this is an obvious solution, but there could be others.

Putting that all together, an example that’s been brought up a couple times on our campaign forum of the kind of gameplay that should result: They’ve discovered a village of shady cultists about 20 miles away. Now they want to build a safe road and establish a trade route, so the PCs go out, scout a route, and clear the immediate area, then bring in workers and protect them while they build a road and a small outpost to hold that section of road, then finally assign a garrison to the outpost to patrol it while the PCs move on to set up the next stretch of road.

Sounds an awful lot like ACKS RAW, but there are a few differences:

  • It calls for local construction instead of just making their original stronghold bigger. This is the big one.
  • They’re just securing the road and its immediate vicinity, not the entire hex.
  • The outpost scale is much smaller, on the order of just a couple kgp per outpost rather than 30kgp hex-securing strongholds. (Due to limited population, their maximum build rate is currently on the order of 500gp/month rather than 500gp/day - per D@W, the 500gp/day build rate assumes 3000 workers on the project and the colony doesn’t even have 3000 people total (currently 147 families), never mind that many skilled laborers and craftsmen - so building an additional 30kgp to secure a full hex isn’t really an option.)

Really, I think the key point is probably the second one: There should be some advantage to a domain having many small strongholds rather than one big one. One big stronghold already provides a clear advantage in the ability to withstand siege or assault, but there’s no disadvantage to it, so the rules make putting all your eggs in one basket the clearly superior option in all cases.

It’s been a while since I’ve given it a read, but I think D@W: Campaigns addresses this at least somewhat, though based on your needs, you’ll probably still need some tweaking.

In it, guard towers act as a scouting mechanism for detecting the movement of armies, and it’s important to detect armies because otherwise they’ll raid and pillage, which completely ignores how big your stronghold is. Thus, perhaps your scenario will work best if the enemies are behaving like roving raiding armies: moving around, trying to avoid detection, and pillaging the land when a weakness is detected. The only solution is for the PCs to go out with their own small regiment and fight them off, or possibly try to cut off their escape.

Just a thought though :slight_smile:

That’s the Reconnaissance rules starting on pg 58 in D@W:C - it’s stated that the garrison of the domain only patrols within the domain.

Those rules could be used for anything from detecting the intrusion of armies to warbands of beastmen.

The personal domain scale is going to be pretty small compared to what D@W:C is assuming (in unit counts); it’s likely those same rules could be scaled down (perhaps at the same divisor as Company to Platoon scale) and utilized as the monthly “garrison patrol” roll to churn up any roving warbands of beastmen or random brigandry.

So the more or less garrison you employ, the more bonuses or penalties you’re getting to that roll.

Another rule from Domains at War that’s relevant is that domains which are invaded suffer morale rolls if their garrison is not present. This is risky as you need to be able to deploy your garrison for campaigning. By having lots of small domains with distributed garrisons, you can minimize the risk of a major morale hit.

(This mechanic was inspired by the historical analysis of feudalism’s rise being partly due to the need for localized defense against local threats like viking raids.)

One suggestion to support the kind of many-small-outposts you’re describing would be to add up the value of all outposts in a hex when considering if the area is secured.

So six 5k gp outposts would, in terms of hex-securing, be identical to a single 30k gp fort.

A large castle would allow you to control a wide range of territory from a centralized point, while a range of outposts would allow areas to fend for themselves but still overlap enough to keep the area clear. I suspect the optimal solution would end up being to have both, with a string of outposts for early warning and such and the centralized castle for authority and responses to major attacks.

Off the wall thought - At some scale a “ring of outposts” is already taken into consideration - it’s your vassal realms, and the vassals of those vassals.

You want the mountain pass where the occasional horde of orcs leak through covered? River ford that lets in gnolls from the steppe? Cave of Swallows that occasionally emits Dire Swalloverns? Grant the land to a henchman, help him build a stronghold, done. It’s a better long term investment than an affordable fort that will get overrun (or avoided).

guard towers act as a scouting mechanism for detecting the movement of armies

Can you be more specific? Doing a text search of D@W:C, the only occurrence I find of “tower” in the recon & intel section is “For example, if there are 10 watchtowers with 1 unit of cavalry each spread across a 24-mile hex, the Judge may roll for and against them as a single army with 10 units of cavalry.” (p.59) and it seems clear in that case that it’s the cavalry that are important. Being stationed in watchtowers spread throughout the hex rather than operating out of a single stronghold is, as far as I can tell, purely an incidental detail with no actual game effect.

The personal domain scale is going to be pretty small compared to what D@W:C is assuming (in unit counts); it's likely those same rules could be scaled down (perhaps at the same divisor as Company to Platoon scale) and utilized as the monthly "garrison patrol" roll to churn up any roving warbands of beastmen or random brigandry.

Yep, already doing basically that, including the use of recon rolls to detect nearby lairs and monster activity, with units on a level of 8-man squads. But, as you guessed, the unit counts don’t even register on D@W’s assumed scale - due to a tiny market size and a few mishaps involving giants and trolls, they can only field 19 mercenaries and conscripts at the moment without calling up the militia… And morale is bad enough (thanks to those same incidents) that they really can’t afford to call up the militia.

By having lots of small domains with distributed garrisons, you can minimize the risk of a major morale hit.
At some scale a "ring of outposts" is already taken into consideration - it's your vassal realms, and the vassals of those vassals.

Yeah, that did occur to me as I was writing up my previous reply here, but I’m kind of hoping to keep it to a single domain in order to avoid the bookkeeping of tracking multiple sets of population/morale/etc.

One suggestion to support the kind of many-small-outposts you're describing would be to add up the value of all outposts in a hex when considering if the area is secured.

My impression is that this is standard practice under RAW, rather than requiring each domain to have one and only one stronghold. But, even if you add up all the small stronghold values, it’s a poor decision under RAW mechanics, since they’re less able to withstand attacks, but provide no benefit to offset that weakness. Having one large stronghold is strictly superior to having several small ones. The only potential advantage I can see to multiple small strongholds (speaking strictly mechanically) is that they can be turned over to vassals if you want to subdivide your domain.

I’m now thinking about resolving that by ruling that the area secured by a stronghold needs to be centered on it and fall within a circle whose area corresponds to the maximum territory controllable. So, e.g., a 1kgp stronghold could control land up to half a mile away and a 30kgp stronghold would be limited to a 3-mile radius. The advantage of small strongholds then becomes clear: If you want to secure a six-mile stretch of road, then you can either build one big 30kgp stronghold at the center of that section of road (securing it for 3 miles on each side) or six small 1kgp outposts (each securing a 1-mile section of the road).

This ruling would also remove the possibility of things like a domain consisting of a straight line of 16 hexes with the stronghold at one end, which seems really cheesy to me, but is allowed by RAW. I consider this an additional benefit, but YMMV. I’m less sure of my feelings about how it would affect coastal strongholds, essentially reducing the amount of land they can secure by half since the other half of their potential territory would be water.

the 10 watchtowers segment was what I was thinking of, so I guess the significance is in having the units stationed there, but then you had to station SOMETHING there in order to detect.

As for the advantage of small vs. large fortresses, I think you need to be careful about creating too many incentives for small forts on the risk that you create the opposite problem where it becomes a bad idea to build a large fort.

I’m just trying to remember other things in RAW that might lend themselves to the feel you’re going for. I know if you can’t staff all the unit spots in a fort, it becomes easier for enemies to assault it (unstaffed locations add to the number of units the assaulters get to fight with). In this way, a series of small forts could be staffed to capacity at strategic locations while forts deeper in secured territory would be understaffed (should a need arise), relying on the border forts to disrupt the supply chain of any armies attempting to march past them into the undefended/under defended inner forts.

Agreed that the incentives need to be balanced, but I think the vulnerability of a small outpost is likely to be sufficient to balance its improved effectiveness at securing territory. If you decide to use standard wooden buildings (1500gp each) as outposts, then, sure, you could control the equivalent of a hex by building 20 of them (30kgp total), but your garrison would be scattered and a passing giant could kick them over one by one while you’re still trying to gather your forces to provide an effective defense.

The unit staffing limits in D@W are completely meaningless on the scale we’re operating at. The smallest structure there can hold 1 unit - 120 infantry or 60 cavalry - while we’re dealing with a domain that can currently field nineteen men (48 if they call up all available militia) and is facing individual orc warbands (around 40 orcs average, including leaders), troll gangs (8 trolls maximum), etc. A single D@W unit is more troops than have been seen total, if you add up every battle that has taken place over the seventeen sessions we’ve played in ACKS.

(And that’s even without taking into account the players’ decision to build the stronghold as mainly just a wall (100 sections of palisade which, per D@W can garrison a unit each) encircling the site of their urban settlement, rather than a “castle”. If there were a hostile army of 12,000 men nearby, then, yeah, the whole army could attack at once and they’d be utterly screwed. But, then, if there were a single hostile unit of 120 men nearby, it would be just as bad for them.)

I believe there are rules for shrinking the scale from 120/60/20 to 30/15/5, which is still too small for your case. Still, it would make small structures that hold 1 unit at the 120 scale relevant if they have 4 slots at the 30 scale.

You could even extrapolate from there, the next smallest being something like 12/6/2 or thereabouts. Assume that a building with half the GP value of a structure that can hold 120 would hold half a unit and so forth until you have a structure that can be garrisoned by 2-3 units at your scale, such that staffing it with only 1 unit would put it at risk of getting overwhelmed by a force that was only slightly larger.

Overall though it sounds like your goals are not going to be served by adapting the existing rules by “zooming in”, so you might consider breaking away from the ACKs domain framework.

For a while in my group, they had a pack of about 19 mercenaries, but ultimately they decided not to bother with them once it became possible to get higher level henchmen, and they never did anything approaching domain level play with them.

Given that we’re talking here about a domain which falls squarely within the “typical barony” figures from the D@W:C “Vassal Troops by Realm Size” table (p.18)[1], it seems like the ACKS domain framework should support a domain of that size.

The only assumption I can see in ACKS that we’re violating is that the domain is in a remote, isolated location (two weeks by ship to the nearest larger market) instead of being able to hire large quantities of manpower or purchase large quantities of equipment at will.

[1] We have 1 domain, 147 families (albeit with about 2/3 of those families in an urban settlement rather than the domain proper), 30kgp stronghold (just enough to secure one hex), and a 19-man garrison being paid ~250gp/month; the table lists 1 domain, 120-200 families, 320gp garrison, and a standing army of 12-20 men.