Real old school gaming: Why finances are important

I admit it. I’m ashamed. Slightly, at least. Because… I’ve been an rpg referee for 37 years now, and NEVER, not once, I followed Gary’s advice about a) strict time-keeping and b) strict financial book-keeping. I always figured there were lots and lots and lots of more interesting things to do in a game, even for me as the ref.

I’m here today to tell you: I’m revoking that statement.

And here’s why:

…let me tackle point b) in this blog post. I’ll deal with point a) in the following days. So, why is it important for a game to have correct and strict financial book-keeping? Please bear in mind I’m talking old school fantasy/scifi gaming here.

In old school gaming, players have significant freedoms that at times rival those of modern story-games. For instance, it was common ‘back in the days’ of Dave and Gary and Phil to give significant chunks of power to players. Not necessarily to player characters, but to players. A lot of referees gave baronies or counties or other power structures (including their rulers) to players, and told them they could also play the rulers during downtime (between sessions). A modern word for that is “patron”. Patrons are NPCs that are played by the people in your gaming group, in downtime. When there is an active session going on, the referee takes over the NPCs, just as usual.

What those early referees did, basically, was to implement high-level domain play in low or mid-level campaigns.

As a result, players began to not only organize and plan things their characters would do in downtime, but also what their patrons would do. This in itself is revolutionary, but my guess is that 99 percent of today’s gamers (including the OSR bunch, and my tribe, the FKR bunch) are NOT following these tried-and-true wisdoms.

The other revolutionary aspect of this type of play (which brings us much closer to the way the old grognards really played) is: it creates a dynamic that is powered by itself.

And this is where the financial aspect comes into play (ha!): Let’s say you, as a player, have the Barony of Bones and its king, Skulltor (your patron, also called “Dawn Age Pervert”). Taking a big bite from Into the Odd’s detachment and enterprise rules, let’say that…

The Barony of Bones has a military force (detachment) consisting of 60 skeletal dinosaurs. And it sends out troops of undead warriors each night to rob people.

For one month, the upkeep for the dinosaurs is 1d6 Gold. The income-generating branch of Skulltor, the Bandits of Bone, as they’re known, makes 1d8 gold a month, but there’s always enemies to fight, and problems to solve, so they’re also losing 1d8 gold a month.

This is what CAN happen:

Wow. Within 8 months, Skulltor’s little empire is more than 2,400 shillings (24 gold) in the red, and he has lost two thirds of his troops… WHAT TO DO NOW?

Make plans. And hire Experts.

What an opportunity to weave your player characters’ lives into that of an npc! Imagine the possibilities.

Just as an aside: Now compare this to Classic Traveller. Have you ever wondered why those darn ships cost so much? Same reason for grognard fantasy games: Debt forces you into adventure.

And that’s why, THAT’s why, real old school game is so fascinating.

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