A design goal of Taxes and Troglodytes, another role-playing game I am working on[1], is to highlight the tension between working together, and personal advancement. I am working on the character advancement system and the procedures for handling action turns with this goal in mind.

Character Advancement

   Characters advance in two ways, increasing Wealth, and improving other stats. Wealth is a stat also ranging from 0 to 10. At higher values, access to better equipment and services becomes available to the character. Improving the other stats improves the character's ability to succeed at their tasks, and to resist physical and mental punishment on an adventure.

Increasing Wealth

Characters acquire wealth by going to the Town Treasurer and handing over all the treasure listed as property on their sheet. Doing so triggers a Tax Audit. Each point of increase to wealth is attained by an equivalent value of treasure, and whatever is left over is taxed. If nothing is left over, the character will need to pay taxes with something else.

Example: a character with wealth 2 delivers treasure with a cumulative Value of 8. The step from 2 to wealth 3 costs 3 points of treasure, and the step from 3 to 4 costs 4 points for a total of 7. The remaining 1 point of treasure satisfies the Tax Collector.

   So the idea here is that players are motivated to work together on a treasure hunt because it improves their chances of success. In addition selfishly sneaking out extra treasure has diminishing returns both because the tax man takes the entire surplus, and 'cause carrying stuff slows the character down, putting them at risk during the adventure. Sharing the load is encouraged by the encumbrance rules. And these mechanics are of course on top of the social pressure between players toward fairness.

   Nevertheless I have run many sessions of D&D over the years where some players are always looking to keep more treasure for themselves. This intraparty competition has often been a source of additional fun at my table, so I also lay out the most obvious solution and its potential downsides.

Characters may choose to hide treasure somewhere outside of Town prior to heading in to the Treasurer in order to minimize their taxes. This carries risks. Unprotected treasure attracts monsters. Insufficiently hidden treasure may attract snoops. If Town authorities discover that the character has hidden treasure, the character will be tried by the Court for tax evasion.

Achieving Personal Goals

Each of these goals requires that the PC be the first in the party to achieve it. For example, each monster can only be defeated once, and the first PC to do so wins the reward if they have the Personal Goal "Defeat the monster". Otherwise no reward can ever be gained from defeating that monster again.

Rewards are distributed at end of session.

   The idea here is that characters with similar goals race against one another to be the first to achieve tasks, and characters with different goals may work at cross purposes to one another. Since there is often natural tension between different play styles, I think these personal goals work like subtle amplifiers. The player who wants to negotiate with the monsters typically has to contend with the players who just want to kill the monsters. The first two personal goals reflect this tension. Another common point of tension is between those who carefully plan their next move, and those who just want to poke things to find out what happens. Codifying a race to be first nudges everyone toward taking action, and taking risks, but the smart player will still plan because the fools rushing ahead are just going to get killed anyways. As a side benefit, I am hoping that encouraging action reduces analysis paralysis.

Action Turns and Initiative

   The parts of Action Turns relevant to the tension between competition and cooperation are as follows:

  • Before players take their turns, each character divides their violence stat between offense (bonus to hit) and defense (difficulty to be hit). Offense also establishes the character's initiative and ranges from 0 to 10 since violence has the same range. Players bid in the open in front of one another.
  • Then the GM counts from 0 to 10 pausing when a character's initiative is reached, and the character takes their action.
  • Player characters with the same initiative may coordinate their actions.
  • A character with a higher initiative may choose to interrupt the current action to either take action first or coordinate with the current action, acting simultaneously.

   The idea here is that higher initiative gives the player the choice between interupting and coordinating. Having higher initiative gives two advantages. The first is that the player hears what others plan to do before declaring their action, and yet retains the option to interupt and go first. Interupting gives an edge in player-player competition to be the first to achieve something. Coordinating actions however increases chances of success for everyone.

   I am currently debating whether personal goals can be shared if they are achieved simultaneously which would encourage coordination, but undermine the tension of competition. This is something I would have to play test, and will vary in value from group to group. It is probably best as an optional rule.

   I have yet to play test this procedure for handling the order of turns during action. So I do not know if this idea is good or bad. You are welcome to make use of it.

  1. Taxes and Troglodytes is a stripped down Violence Spells Gods and Politics with a traditional focus: D&D's exploration and treasure hunting. I have been playing the revised VSGP for the past year, love it, but recognize that it is much more complex than I originally intended, and needs lots of content. Taxes and Troglodytes is both simpler, and intended to be compatible with OSR stuff with minor translation which should make playtesting easier. Being able to just use OSR content rather than generate all of my own should speed things up. Lysithera grew out of this, but is drifitng in its own direction. ↩︎