Thursday, October 22, 2020

Patrons in King of Kings

 In King of Kings, the characters are outcasts, criminals, paupers, foreigners, and travellers, people that are fundamentally outside of the local social order. There is plenty to explore in the social structures of the Sasanian Empire (which is the main inspiration for King of Kings), but in creating this setting I didn't necessarily want to build in a Skerples-style feudal hierarchy into character creation (though I definitely intend on writing more posts about social hierarchy in late antique Iran in future honestly). Even though I didn't want to establish a structured system for social hierarchy for characters, I did want social hierarchy to matter for the game... so, I concluded that the best way to do both of those things is to have players outside of the social hierarchy, but still make that hierarchy matter, through the player characters having someone that patronizes their activities!

Patronage and patron-client relationships have been a major part of just about all societies throughout history, though the most well understood (and perhaps one of the most well established, not to mention being where we even get the words "patron" and "client") is the Roman system of patronage, which was so prominent in Roman society that it was codified into law in many ways. Patronage did exist in ancient and medieval Iran (Shahanshah Kavadh patronizing the religious revolutionary Mazdak and Emir Abu Salih Mansur patronizing the epic poet Ferdowsi being two notable examples from Iranian history), but it never really attained the level of state codification that it did in Rome.

Those dynamics really interest me though! I don't really want characters that are expected to hold land or some temple office and not really have the time, ability, or independence to go on adventures; after all, this is a game of dungeons and dragons, its an adventure game. Something like Pendragon, where characters only go on adventures for a certain period of time and then come back to do administration and such, is interesting, but not what I'm going for. Trying to balance an Old School style adventuresome sword and sorcery with emulating the time period is a bit of a conundrum to be sure.

And so, enter the patron. The party as a whole has a patron in the area, most likely centered on a major city. They are rich and powerful enough to keep the party out of trouble most of the time, but not so rich, powerful, and most importantly not charitable enough to make the party's financial woes or social struggles just go away. Individual characters may have individual patrons, and may even gain such benefactors in game, but this does not concern us here.

Hey how about lets get some patrons hm? Roll 1d20 on each of the following tables.

Our patron is...
1: A jovial man with a long beard and large belly
2: A concubine of a city headman, conniving but kind
3: An elderly mobad that sees the party as misguided youths
4: A haughty merchant woman who simply doesn't have the time for you
5: A bandit gang leader, easy to anger
6: A wise and mysterious religious reformer
7: A world traveler that has only just settled down
8: An officer in the city's guard, paying the party beneath their superior's noses
9: A sorcerer-philosopher attempting to taxonomize the world
10: A village wise woman who has more social capital than coin
11: A member of the satrap's council who has become disillusioned with their station
12: A merchant house leader that eagerly sees opportunity for profit behind every corner
13: A wizard with nothing better to do
14: An upstart young magus in the religious hierarchy
15: A popular thief who has settled down but still wants to change things
16: A scholar hungry for secrets on the antediluvian past
17: A gourmand hungry to taste everything they can
18: A mystical teacher unwilling to initiate the players into deeper mysteries until they prove themselves
19: A rich foreigner with unknown motives
20: A distant and shadowy figure that the party never sees in person

They acquired their wealth and power through...
1: Lizard breeding (giant lizards, decorative lizards, assassination lizards)
2: A salt mine carved into the mountainside
3: Thievery. They just stole it all
4: Illegal currency sorcery
5: Horse and camel racing
6: An inheritance from a connection to some distant royal line
7: Their spouse, who really does all the work
8: Temple sacrifices and donations that they have skimmed off the top of
9: A deal with a demon that will bite them in the ass some day
10: Adventuring in their youth
11: A stipend from the satrap or from the shahanshah
12: Operating a business for assassinations
13: Fishing and caviar harvesting
14: A secret that they know about the satrap that they use as blackmail
15: The trade in rich furs (tiger, sable, lion, fox)
16: Swindling clients with faulty products (but you should trust them! promise!)
17: The spice and herb trade
18: Owning and operating a bar
19: The silk trade (oh what they wouldn't give for a few of the worms themselves...)
20: Owning and operating one or more textile workshops

The party as a whole has a value that represents their Rapport with the patron, and which allows them to ask the patron for favors. These can range from providing hirelings/retainers either at a cheaper rate or for free to intervening to assist the group in a jam and/or pickle. This begins at 10, and if it ever reaches 0 the patron will abandon the party altogether. When the characters maintain a good positive relationship with the patron, it goes up rather slowly (though the exact rate is up to the referee), while it increases by significant amounts (again, up to the referee) for missions or jobs that the patron requests the party do. Additionally, the patron will typically expect a portion of any and all treasure that the group brings back with them (roughly 10%). Oftentimes, there will be factions or leaders who despise the party's patron, and if they know of the group's connection to said patron, they will act in hostility (most like a -1 to -3 penalty on reaction rolls is in order if such a thing is immediately identifiable).

Also, just for fun, here's an example of a short list of free/cheaper hirelings and equipment available from a patron (derived from a random patron prompt from the two tables above!)

Patron: An upstart young magus in the religious hierarchy who acquired their wealth and power through an inheritance from a distant royal line
Temple cupbearer*              1 Rapport
Street thug**                      3 Rapport and 20 gold
Sacrifice bureaucrat***        3 Rapport and 10 gold
Herbad****                         30 Rapport and 250 gold
Pony                                 10 Rapport and 50 gold (+50 gold for ceremonial armor)
Bird of paradise                  10 Rapport and 100 gold
Lantern                              2 Rapport and 5 gold
Scroll of fireball*****            100 Rapport and 10,000 gold

*A young boy who carries golden and silver cups in temple ceremonies. Can easily carry torches, etc.
**A rambunctious youth bribed and cowed into service by the magus's connections. Potentially a friend of a friend of the priest.
***An older priest trained with the ability to identify the living or dead body of any animal simply through familiarity
****A priest in training, functions as a henchman that expects a cut of the treasure. Level one cleric or magic-user.
*****An incredible gift, not to be used unwisely. They had to pull a lot of strings to get this to you.


  1. This is a great set of tables. I've also thought about how to get the players out adventuring in a way that's not just "You meet in a tavern". Because taverns don't necessarily exist in my setting. It's reminiscent of Tekumel, that game also advised that having the players working for benefactors is a good way to give them direction in an unfamiliar setting.

  2. Some cool ideas, I especially like the Rapport. I have a game where something like this might be useful, and something to definitely bear in mind for future prep!