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.
6 thoughts on “Trump RPG: Low level characters and property ownership.”
Interestingly, in England in the late medieval period (13th-14th century), even villeins – who were generally considered not to be free, comparable to serfs and peasants – owned land. They could even be richer than supposedly free men. Land wealth was much more distributed across the social spectrum than we generally believe.
But interestingly in Cornwall, England, even to this day nearly all the land still belongs to the Duchy as do the mineral rights. If you buy a house or land you are only buying the leasehold not the land itself.
Land ownership was very patchy. There were two events that facilitiated the move from the feudal system of all land owned by the monarchy to private land ownership. These were the Black Death that killed 50% of the English population and the Peasant revolt that threatened the very continuation of aristocratic rule. The result was fixed rents for land which in turn allowed rural workers to retain surplus income and accummilate wealth. Eventually some would be in a position to buy the land they farmed either freehold or leasehold.
If you fantasy culture never had the long established aristocratic rule but was the product of an American style land grab then everyone would have the chance to own their own land.
If your starting characters own land on the periphery or border regions then having people living on that land such as tenant farmers looking to the character for aid against raiders or monsters is another reason for the character to take on the adventure.
I have a feeling (don’t have the book with me at the moment) a lot of the consolidation into large estates happened in later periods. Certainly, the duchy didn’t come into existence until the middle of the 14th century. It wasn’t uncommon for even villeins to own tiny pieces of land – literally, a row of crops – which they owned outright, and could see, rent or pass on to their families.
The point is that in a fantasy world anyone could own land if that was the cultural norm that the GM wanted.
And I’m curious how many GM’s or games include property ownership by starting/low level characters!
Starting off with property has both positives and negatives from the GM’s point of view. It largely depends how they play it. A starting income at low level might cause problems, but there are plenty of potential adventure hooks tied in with property ownership. I actually used family property as one of the character absence reasons in Whilst I Was Away.