Leveling up vassals

Currently I’m thinking through the set-up required for a high-level D@W campaign, probably starting at the Conqueror level. This means that all main player characters would have strongholds and domains and high-level henchmen. Henchmen, as potential vassals, are pretty valuable in a secondary capacity as commanders for armies.

It’s pretty apparent that the best by-the-book way to level up a low-level character is to install that character as a vassal. Even though the free followers/peasants don’t kick in until level 9, the early experience point gains from domain management are rapid. They easily outpace the gains from crafting or dungeon delving, making it logical to level up a full stable of commanders and lieutenants by just giving them little parcels of your land to manage. Even a few hundred acres suffices to get a character to lieutenant status, and running a well-populated 6-mile hex can yield a mage commander who can toss off fireballs. Each tower that your realm places on the border of your realm effectively functions as a henchman-buffing factory line.

Is this “playing the game right”? Should the GM be creating threats to low-level vassal lords – raiders, assassins, coup attempts – to prevent them from leveling this easily, or make it very difficult? I have no idea if this is a good approach to play that I should encourage, or a bad approach that I should punish! I don’t want to end up with a campaign that is effectively “Bastions & Bureaucrats”, where everyone levels up as paper-pushing administrators.

My instinct at the moment is to allow it, and rely on incentives other than experience points (like rare magical items, or just the spirit of adventure!) for convincing players to strike off on crusades and adventures. After all, there’s no way you could literally run dungeon-crawling adventures sufficient for all the heroes in a huge realm! But I’m interested in hearing other perspectives first.

A few thoughts.

First, the most important rule to remember is the Campaign GP Threshold. That will determine how far and fast a henchman will level up based on his domain income.

ACKS more-or-less assumes an “efficient feudal market” where the domain ruler of each domains is of a level of experience where he is no longer gaining XP from the domain. So, for instance, if a domain’s income (after expenses) is 2,000gp, its ruler will tend to be 7th level. If he were 6th level, he’d still be gaining 750xp per month, while he’d have no way to have gotten to 8th level.

It will take a reasonably well-grown domain to get a henchmen to a respectable level.

Second, if you appoint a henchman to rule a domain, at that point he no longer adventures with you. His job is to rule the domain. You now have to use the rules for Favors/Duties to Call Him to Arms or Call Him to Council if you want his active services.

Third, if you remove a henchman from a domain you’ve assigned him, the henchmen should make a loyalty check. This isn’t made explicit in the rules but in general, people don’t like having power taken from them.

Fourth, you can refer to the Vagaries of Recruitment in D@W for monthly events to spice up the domains. You could also roll for encounters once per month in civilized domains and once per week in borderlands domains. (This is implicit in the rules for Sanctums/Dungeons).

In short, there’s nothing wrong with leveling up henchmen by assigning them domains. It’s expected and assumed within the game. However, henchmen that are assigned a domain tend to want to actually rule it, and not be used for dungeon-crawling thereafter. And the domain itself will have its share of challenges that call for attention.

Hope that helps.

Thanks! It reassures me to see what the designers were intending. All of that sounds reasonable.

The concept of a “Call to Council” makes me think of the role of the Stewards of Gondor, or of Longchamps for Richard I, effectively a mechanism to create a viceroy who could cover for an absent king who’s gone off to war. I imagine that if you wanted to have both a vassal and the king off on a campaign together, that would be a “Call to War”, and you’d also need a second vassal to be called to council who could act on behalf of the throne. That is, “council” here means something more like “run my household affairs” than “follow me onto the battlefield and serve as a hero”.

Follow up questions:

  1. Are there any explicit penalties for not having anyone at all running an estate/domain when its ruler is away?

  2. If a vassal is called to council to run the realm, and the ruler is off on a military campaign, which (if any) of them would get experience points from running that realm?

  1. There’s no explicit penalty outside of not having the ruler present to deal with wandering monsters, vagaries, disloyal vassals, and so on. If a player truly abandoned his domain (no one running it at all), I’d probably impose a -4 penalty on domain morale rolls (if a CHA 3 ruler imposes a -3 penalty, having no ruler at all should be even worse).

  2. Interesting question. While the vassal is running the realm, I’d probably give 1/2 to the vassal and 1/2 to the ruler.