I’ve still to play ACKS (overwhelmed by all the rules and trying to create a world, lairs for all possible monsters and so on) but what happens when players try to, in the fiction, grab a title by killing, say a duke, and trying to put themselves on the throne without having high enough level? If they don’t die of course.
The book implies ever so slightly that anyone who grabs a station above their ability runs the risk of being preyed upon by more powerful NPCs who believe them to be an easy target. In terms of concrete rules there’s not much, so you as a DM would have to make up something that makes sense.
Some tools that you could use to sink your teeth into this would be:
1) More money, more problems. You can estimate the assets of the duke based on his level or holdings, and then think about what level of NPC or monster would be eager to have those assets as part of their hoard.
2) Not enough money, more problems. Just keeping up with the financial demands of the realm can be trouble enough before you introduce rival claimants to the throne. This is a good one to start with because there are lots of innovative ways that PCs can deal with the need for cash, or cause problems for themselves in the attempt.
3) Not enough power, more problems. What kind of threats to the realm would the duke's underlings expect him to deal with? This is also good because again, players have lots of latitude to decide how to deal with a monster outbreak or whatever; it preserves the standard adventuring setup but ratchets up the stake.
4) Domain events like being called on to provide military service to a liege. Some of the "emissaries from the duke's higher-ups" bringing these requests might be outright frauds, or legitimate authorities testing to see how much they can get away with.
I would say they can definitely try and grab it, the problem is the duke’s underlings, the duke’s court, the duke’s family, and the duke’s friends. When simply trying to seize control killing the duke might be the easiest part of the process. Once he has done that and claimed the title for himself he still has to worry about the heirs. Is the character going to kill the duke’s entire family or simply exile them? And at the same time, it is very likely the duke’s own henchmen who serve as captains of the army, castellan, and court mage.
If the PCs are successful in conquering the duke’s castle and the lands and towns/villages right around it, then there is the matter of lesser nobles, barons, counts, minor lords, and landed knights to deal with. They swore their oath to the last duke, not the PC. Why would they feel bound to honor that oath to an usurper. Normally, this would be because they fear reprise from the usurper, but if the character is only 6th or 7th level, well they may not have the rep to back up the title yet, and they very likely lack the cash needed to buy the armies to enforce their will over all the other lords.
Now, it is possible for crafty players and exceptional characters to rise to all these challenges. To claim the title for themselves, secure the lands nearby, and then eventually bring all the other nobles, mercenaries, and warlords in line accepting that the PC is the ruler of the region. However, it is very likely that by the time the character has completed that task he will have risen to the needed level to rule.
Thank you all so much, this is very good advice.
Yes, if a player can grab it in spite of all the trouble harmyn’s advice would have them go through, I guess they deserve it, and can then deal with the trouble in Tavis’ advice.
I guess my initial problem was that the sandbox as a game is reactive to what players want to find, while dealing with a situation like that would have to mean the GM making up some antagonistic things right then and there.
The GM is always free to have everybody be shocked & awed, and come up with the antagonistic things next week / next month. As a reaction to what the player’s done.
I’m not sure I understand how you’re differentiating this from the sandbox. Sure, they’re exploring, but they’re dealing with a web of feudal obligations and hench relationships now, instead of a hexgrid.
The best sandboxes are filled with lots of toys. The easiest ways to prep these is to grab a lot of one-page dungeons, advenure modules, etc. and other premade-by-others stuff. Some of this you can place on the map, others you can hold in reserve. Alex’s Auran Empire campaign and my White Sandbox both used this approach. Being better organized, he drew up a roster of notable antagonists by level from all these materials. Then when you need a duke’s liege, you might say “I’ll use the stats of one of the guys from that roster”, or you might decide that the lodge’s sensible response would be to hire that guy to make trouble for the PCs. Either way you are prepared for the unexpected.