I was doing some work on the training packages we use the other day. Depending on the package, the player gets a starting kit, money, maybe a bonus item etc. Then it occurred to me that even a starting character has a good chance of being “landed” ie they own property. Thinking back over decades, I can’t ever recall giving a starting player land/building/business and can’t seem to think of a reason why not. Whenever a realization like this occurs I suspect the subtle hand of a fantasy trope guiding my thinking process. What reasons, good or bad, might have formed this mental model?
- The Hero’s Journey/Taran, Pig Farmer. Putting Frodo and Bag’s End aside, it’s pretty common for characters to be unknown, impoverished or “wet behind the ears” at the start of their adventures. Owning property and its implied wealth and value discards that trope and disrupts the Hero’s Journey.
- “Game Balance”. Starting players that own property wealth, leasable land/building or income producing business have too many resources which could allow them to buy better equipment, magic items that unbalances the game or removes the risk/reward proposition of adventuring.
- Ingrained “western medieval caste system” trope. The common allusions of a fantasy setting to western medieval feudalism re-enforces the idea that only the powerful (high level or royalty) are landowners and the rest are crofters/lease-holders.
- D&D. Obviously the founding game system has set the standard for many Rolemaster mechanisms that we take for granted now: invisibility until struck; turning undead by “levels”; Mages have Sleep, Charm, Fly, Fireball; permanent effect magic items etc. D&D also established the progression between character level and having henchman, followers and strongholds. Land and property are directly equated to character level and power.
So why not allow for starting players to own land? There is a lot of options between a thatched hut on a farm plot and a multi-story tenancy in a large city—it doesn’t have to be a hovel nor a large castle or stronghold. A GM can choose easily choose a property that fits the setting and not give a 1st lvl player an unfair “advantage” (a better benchmark than “game balance”). A few thoughts:
- If you aren’t running a gritty “low fantasy” game, having a small income mechanism for a player or the group eliminates the need for constant calculations of room & board cost.
- Similarly, having a reliable, safe place to dwell, organize or hide out gives the group a base of operations and a foundation for future adventuring.
- Having a “base” can help with group cohesion. They can fortify, improve, trap or modify it for their own needs. Secret doors, hidey holes, safes etc give them a common purpose and a convenient staging area between adventures.
- The property itself could be a great adventure hook. I’m not suggesting “Real Estate RPG”—but being robbed, having the property seized or even starting a business or legitimate “Adventure Group for Hire” could add to the game. Have one of the players inherit a small tavern—what better way is there to immerse the group in local events, intrigue and drama!
In the bigger scheme of things a small building in a city worth a few hundred GP’s will quickly seem like a small value to a group that adventures for magic, gems and gold worth thousands. A starting character with leasable land or property that generates a few silver a month will quickly outgrow that need for such income. However, at the start of the game or campaign that property could provide the hook for the initial adventure, be a safe haven for a low powered group and a common foundation for the group’s identity.