Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Social Levels"

Vagr Blackstone, the frontman for the Temple of the Shadow Triad, is dead. He was murdered by the Hounds the other night in one of those plans that broke down the instant an enemy touched it. With him, now dead, was Braggi Biletooth, the Valelan (secretly a skinchanger) who organized and deployed most of the cities' muscle in its lower circles. This is both a good thing and a bad thing for Tyrma—on the one hand, the Temple of the Triad has been at least temporarily weakened now that its spokesman to the smuggling community is dead. The same goes for anyone who employed Braggi to give them thugs and elvish enforcers: he's gone, and it will be a while before anyone steps in to take his place.

Of course, it could mean bad things too. All those poor elves with no other means of income who have been maimed on long sea voyages or were called in up for the militia to fight goblins and now have no homes, those guys? They're the thugs Braggi usually hires now. They're all free agents now. Confusion will rule the Tyrman underworld for a while as things get sorted out. Keir has already made some plans to take advantage of this; after all, what better time to strike at the diseased underbelly of the elvish capital than while it is mired in internal strife? This is what Cain (and the US Army) would refer to as Violence of Action, though Keir describes it as "striking the iron while it is hot."

But I want to talk about something else that resulted from this combat. A comment made by Frank afterwards is the heart of this discussion. He said to me, "I feel like I've gained a level." Not a physical level wherein you get a discreet allotment of hp and THAC0 adjustment, but a social level wherein the party itself has become a much more powerful entity in local politics. This is one of the great things about D&D after level 3.

Other games codify this social standing. It can be easier to have a handy number. L5R does it with Honor, Feudal Anarchy has a social rank number, and I believe H├órn does it too. D&D does not, leaving the power of your social advantage to remain unquantified before your eyes. This is, of course, more like life; can you trust your new allies? Just how strong is your new position? But it nevertheless serves an immensely important role in the game.

Going up in "social levels" means that you are more integrated into your surroundings. It means you have a network of allies, enemies, contacts, and those potential-contacts that are now closed to you because of your choices. The social bonds begin to wrap around your characters and it is deathly hard to shake those off without just abandoning the whole location. You are known. On the most basic level, this means adventures can start coming to you rather than you going to them. People will seek you out to hire—and to kill.

This is the beginning of the big boy stage where you aren't quite a landowner or lawmaker, but you certainly aren't walking uphill both ways to the dungeon with no shoes or hose and a 500 lb. backpack. You're a wizard now, Harry, and people are going to start treating you like one. Buckle on your sword but remember that you may be used by forces you don't understand or know yet. Keep a weather eye out and start cultivating a mythos about yourself—when people think you're unkillable, it makes them less likely to try.

Get ready for the ride of your life, you poor sorry fool, for now you are enmeshed in the world of the nobleman and they have no mercy or scruples when it comes to what they want. This is the middle game.

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