One of the many ways that Basic D&D was more complex than Advanced D&D is that it allowed the players to become lords and have dominions and armies and found their own religions etc. Anything from a small estate with a handful of bonded servants to ruling multiple planets in a multi-planar campaign was possible. Because almost everyone in the MAGI campaign is an aristocrat (or pretending to be) some form of rules for handling dominions and servants are necessary.
Because this is the age of computer mapping, and because I am lazy, I have decided that the word “hex” exists in-game as a unit of area. One Standard Hex is 24 miles across, one Small Hex is 8 miles across, and one Large Hex is 72 miles across. Hectares, acres, square kilometers and square miles area bitch to try and calculate. These can be overlaid onto any digital map. So characters in game will use the words because we as players will and that’s just easier.
Any piece of land that is owned and ruled is called a dominion. It can be settled or unsettled, of any size or shape, and the ruler can be either a PC or an NPC. The ruler of any dominion is a lord. Most dominions are nested inside larger dominions, for example the lord of a small estate is inside a barony that is inside a duchy that is inside a kingdom that is inside an empire. Other words for dominion that mean the same thing are domain, demesne, lands, and holding. In the Eastern Kingdoms of Home or any setting that draws from ancient Wales you will encounter the words Cantref and Commote (cymydau), but these are more appropriately considered analogous to county and barony. A tref is a home, and a Cantref is literally “a hundred homes” but they are almost always higher population than that.
There are also ways that dominions can overlap. For example a church dominion exists independently of a political dominion and both might have one or more criminal dominions (thieves guild, assassins, street gang, etc) within their borders as well.
Dominions operate monthly, not daily or yearly. Every month a number of stats are checked for the dominion: the population may grow or decline or stay stable, the books are checked (salaries, taxes, other expenses), confidence of the population could change, and a random event might happen (visit from another aristocrat, disaster, larger than normal harvest, etc), and there could always be planned events like holidays and tournaments.
There are many types of people who work for aristocrats, collectively they can be called retainers and include minions, mercenaries, servants, and hirelings. The most important are the peasants who form the basis of the economy. Others are skilled artisans, warriors, champions, lesser aristocrats, etc.
Home is a “perfect” feudal monarchy in every kingdom except Oceanus and parts of Faseloo and Suemonom. A perfect feudal system means that on death inheritance returns to the lord not to the dead guy’s descendants. A king might choose to give a baron’s child the right to rule her father’s lands, or he might move her somewhere else, or he might do nothing at all and she has to fend for herself. Subordinate aristocrats traditionally are expected to petition the new lord to retain their titles, and the new lord traditionally allows them to unless there is a good reason to remove one. Peasants and servants who belong to the land stay on the land, those who belong to a family go with the surviving family. Those who belong to a specific aristocrat revert to the lord as does the title and property. And as that implies retainers can belong to a lord, to a family, to a dominion, to a title, or something else.
Hirelings are all retainers that get paid and they always get paid monthly. There is no generic term for retainers that do not get paid, but sometimes servant, ally, bondsman, or slave best describes the different possible relationships. Serfs or peasants pay their lord monthly.
The military in Home are a special class of retainer. By far the most important part of the military are the champions. Most dominions have a champion and most settlements do as well. Important families may have champions. In war, champions are more important than most armies because champions can defeat dozens if not hundreds of warriors. The best of the best can defeat whole armies alone. While it is possible to overwhelm a champion with numbers, usually the strategy is to have champions fight each other and the armies fight the armies because sending warriors against a champion is essentially ordering them to their deaths.
Second to the champions are the elite warriors like knightly orders and warrior guilds. These organizations typically have their own champions who protect the honor of the order, even against lords who abuse them. They are not mercenaries but nearly always need to be paid to serve a lord. Knights and Guildmasters are usually minor lords themselves so typically they are paid by giving them a small holding as their own dominion within the lords lands. Squires, trainees, hopefuls, and guilded warriors owe fealty to their knight or guildmaster and the knight or guildmaster owes fealty to the local lord. That said, typically they are so driven by honor and desire to uphold the good name of their order that they would die for the lord without question or hesitation.
Lesser warriors include men-at-arms who are permanent soldiers, scouts who spend times of peace acting as huntsmen, mariners who may be permanently armed or may spend times of peace as pirates or fishermen, militia (typically drafted from the peasants), and mercenaries who typically pack up and leave in times of peace.
Maintaining a standing army in times of peace is difficult and expensive and few dominions can afford to do this. Border lands with hostile neighbors are typically given a fort with permanent soldiers whose pay is subsidized by the lord’s lord or even higher up.
The list of possible specialists is huge. Alchemist, animal trainer, armorer, engineer, sage, artisan craftsman, professional (eg seaman might be a rower, sailor, captain, navigator, etc), spy, artillerist, bailiff, castellan, chamberlain,, chaplain, guard captain, herald, magist, magistrate, marshal, provost, reeve, sage, seneschal, steward, warden, etc. These people are expensive and only the largest dominions have all of them.
Confidence checks are made yearly, but the level can change monthly. Confidence is an 11-point scale from ideal through turbulent. At the high end the people work harder and give many benefits to the lord, at the low end they become rebellious and eventually it is possible that they distrust the lord so much they can never be happy until the lord is replaced.
Policies are the baseline for confidence, for example high taxes or being overworked reduces confidence steadily. Dominion events can have one-time changes, for example holidays make people happy but an earthquake makes people unhappy.
Events can be planned, like the holiday, or unplanned like the earthquake. A partial list of the sorts of things that can happen include assassinations, bandits, birth, border skirmish, new cult, magical monster, usurper/pretender to the lordship, rebellion, new specialist/artisan, spy ring, traitor, accidental death, important visitor, tornado, change to trade route (new one, or existing one lost), sinkhole, meteor, fire, flood, market change (glut or shortage), plague, etc.
Income and Resources
Each family generates “standard income” monthly. This is not money it is the value of the services provided. It can be used to pay tax to a higher lord as a simplification for game purposes. Tax income is usually a tenth or less of the standard income, but is set by the lord. Resource income can be animal, vegetable, mineral, or social.
- Animal includes dairy, animal oil, fish, fur, fowl, herds, bees, horses, ivory, etc.
- Vegetable includes farm produce, other foodstuffs, plant oil, fodder, wood and timber, paper, wine, etc.
- Mineral includes valuable metals (copper, silver, gold, etc), industrial metals (iron, lead, tin, nickel, etc), gemstones, tar and oil, clay, stone quarry, coal, etc.
- Social includes trade routes, manufactured goods (textiles, jewelry, pottery, furniture, etc), military goods (weapons, armor, etc), engineered goods (ships, wagons, construction, etc), masterwork goods made by one-of-a-kind genius artisans, etc.
Resources need to have working families assigned to them to produce income. The lord can assign workloads above normal to squeeze extra revenue at the cost of lowering confidence. On the flip side, reducing work can increase confidence at the cost of money, but not as effectively as increasing work harms confidence because people need the work to have their own money and feel useful. Social revenue is special and it may not come in monthly. Resource income is usually split between cash and non-cash. Lords most want cash because it is so flexible and thus value resources that provide cash (for example a trade route) even if it is less total value than a non-cash resource (like lumber).
Administering a Dominion
Lords don’t actually need to be onsite all the time, but everything runs more smoothly the more often the lord is present, even if the lord is unpopular (because his henchmen will work more effectively to enforce his unpopular rules while he is present). A lord will typically ask the champion to handle most of the dangerous events or situations that come up, and many lords trust simple diplomacy to their champions as well. Beyond this, every monthly event will require the lord to make at least one decision that impacts the dominion.
The lord can appoint or hire a seneschal or marshal or majordomo to run the dominion, or even multiple that each are in charge of portions. They will do their best but typically they aren’t as effective as the lord. This penalty to effectiveness gets larger every month that the lord is away, and recovers quickly once the lord returns, but does take a while. The major exception is that estates and forts are assumed to need to operate independently for extended periods of time and they have no penalty for operating without a lord for up to 6 months at a time, and then a small penalty starts to creep in but still less than any other form of dominion and it recovers faster.
Application to MAGI and Mystara
Almost all of the characters in the MAGI campaign are lords. Some have political dominions (the werepanther has an estate), some have secret dominions (the Yakuza has his bar and servants and network of connections both in and outside of town), and some leave the nature of their aristocracy up to player decision (the Banshee, Unicorn, Golem, and Red-headed Stepchild most notably). But in the end every player will need to think about how this impacts their character and how they will play it out.
In Mystara the characters have a chance to become lords if they wish. It is not required (see below), but at least the royal turned pirate might wish to reclaim her family lands in Glantry, or her noble title in Darokin, or both.
There is one other important way it will matter several years down the road. If this game goes long enough that immortality matters anyone who follows the path of the dynast (typically related to the Sphere of Time) will need to found a dominion that survives for 5 generations. This could be a religion, a guild, or a political territory. But if it is the latter, then the founder’s dynasty has to retain power for all five generations which is likely to require a lot of intervention by the PC.