Dragon Heresy Rules Excerpt: Social Standing

Access is one of the more jealously guarded privileges in hierarchical systems, and social standing reinforced status, but also kept the big dogs ideally focused on the issues they need to be concerned with. Details of policy and realm health, maurauding fae raids, and magical curses. The important stuff.

The rules below are a revision of a new insertion to the Dragon Heresy set, and seemed like a good idea when in my recent streaming play the 1st-level characters seemed bound and determined to head off to see the hajarl or a merchant prince personally. I deflected it in play by having a lower-rank NPC, who happened to be related to the merchant prince, take the call instead. Why pick up dice if you don’t have to?

But some sort of guideline for whether or not an influential person will take the PCs request seemed wise.

Plus: if you’re wondering, this is basically an equivalent of “you get XP for gold.” The wealthier and more successful you are, the more ships, fortresses, and troops you commend, the nicer your armor, weapons, and clothing, the more you look the part of the mighty hero. It’s also a good way to look at how a sheltered offspring of a powerful noble might be a 1st-level or lower character, but still be worthy of dealing with seriously: good Persuasion due to charisma and practice, plus tremendous status and resources. Suddenly not all lords have to be 15th level fighters or mages (though many will be)!

The rules here aren’t final. I may flip it around a bit and instead make the Social Standing a passive check, and recast this as a 2d10 or 3d6 roll for a “reaction” with relative standing as a modifier (so it’s a single, player-facing roll instead of a contest). A passive score will also allow a quick comparison: “no, you’re more than 20 lower than Lord Robert; the best way to get the hajarl’s ear is to approach Lady Alina, the newly-appointed jarl of one of his vassal towns; she’s a jarl, but of lower standing and might treat more equally with you, and SHE can bring your petition before Robert.”

None of the concepts below should replace good roleplay, but they will help guide things. I may yet flatten things out a bit; pretty much anyone could step in front of the Thing/Althing to speak, and the kind of disparity in social standing was a continental thing more than a viking thing. But the core is there, and this basic concept is easily portable into other games: apparently this works out fairly well using ACKS’ native level tables as well.

So there we go. Here’s the Dragon Heresy version of “XP for gold.”

As the Kickstarter winds down, today I’m going to write rules for “flyting,” a ritual poetic contest of insults. That will complete the “alternate rules work” that I want to do to provide options for conflict and conflict resolution that don’t involve pointed sticks. Between flyting and grappling and access restrictions found below, there are plenty of ways to challenge the party without relying n always breaking out weapons.

From here, I will get busy with writing “Identify Fiend or Foe” advice for my monsters, and ensuring that some of the “I’ll do this later” parts of the ms are finally complete. 

Social Standing and Influence

Torengur society is structurally flat, but gradations in social worth and influence are both real and important. Torengur wear their wealth if they have it, as a visible display of their prowess and social standing.

Torengur seek to acquire the finest weapons and armor, and bedeck themselves with golden torcs, bracelets, and other tangible and visible signs of prosperity. A lord will reward a faithful or successful liege-man with weapons, armor, and other signs of approval that go beyond “functional.” A noble’s children will benefit from this as well, as their clothing and accoutrements will show their wealthy background.

When looking to have dealings with, or influence, a member of Torengur high society, roll a Contest of Standing.

Standing Check = 1d20 + Charisma (Persuasion) + Social Standing Bonus

Your Social Standing Bonus is found by first adding the following quantities together:

  • The total amount you have spent in lifestyle expenses that the parties involved have knowledge or intelligence of in the prior This includes wages and gear for your own vassals or huscarls. If your background is of direct descent from a member of the nobility, add +1 to the Standing roll.
  • The value of durable items of status and power you have personally commissioned (fortresses, longships, and the like)
  • The total value of the weapons, armor, and other class-appropriate gear (such as holy symbols for a cleric, quality musical instruments for a skald, etc.) currently being worn
  • The value of any ostentation on your person: jewelry, gems, torcs, bracelets and bracers, expensive clothing, etc.

Add up the value of these four classes of items, and look up that value on the Experience Points column of the Character Advancement table. Your effective Social Standing Bonus is your equivalent Level. Note this on your character sheet for convenience.

Other Skills. Persuasion is the default for trying to sway another to your will. Other skills may be used if appropriate: Intimidation could play into convincing another to accept you as a huscarl, and Deception might apply if trying to pass yourself off as something you aren’t.

Contest of Standing

Roll the contest of standing, and apply the following guidelines. This is usually a player-facing roll, as characters ask for help, or seek to meet with nobles or other powerful folks (such as quest-givers).

  • Lose by 10 or more. The other party is unimpressed or even hostile. Requests for aid will simply be denied, and requests for an audience or a favor dismissed or even punished for impudence.
  • Lose by 0-9. The victor will not deal with the request personally, but may allow a subordinate (with Standing Bonus 8-12 less than the lord) to take up the matter. Repeated Contests of Standing with the subordinate are made at disadvantage.
  • Win by 1-9. The victor has favorably impressed the other party, and will at least be granted an audience or hearing. Requests for aid will be taken seriously, though likely delegated.
  • Win by 10+. The winner has made a tremendous impression on the other party. Requests are almost certain to be granted, or handled personally by the other party.

Note that “loss by 0-9” still has the opportunity to get a hearing or have an issue dealt with, but

Example: A 2nd-level fighter (+2 proficiency) is wearing chain mail (75gp), carrying a sword and spear of average quality (11gp), with a shield (10gp), and is wearing nothing special in terms of clothing and living a comfortable lifestyle (60gp/month). Her Charisma is 14 (+2). She will roll 1d20+4 (Charisma and prowess)+1 for Social Standing Bonus. Her combined gear and lifestyle (96gp in gear, 60gp in lifestyle) is not enough to get out of 1st-level.

She seeks to treat with a hajarl about a matter of importance. The high lord pays over 120,000gp per month in royal duties, maintains several fortresses and a small fleet of ships, and is bedecked in jewels and high-quality goods. The GM decides that the hajarl gets a +17 bonus due to Social Standing, another +4 for Charisma, and is of moderate level (+3). Total bonuses are +24.

Our fighter will roll 1d20+4 against the hajarl’s 1d20+24. She will roll between 5-24; the hajarl will roll 25-44. At best, the hajarl will have a moment of weakness and delegate the matter to a subordinate, while at worst, the reaction will be dismissal, scorn, or even physical violence.

Extenuating Circumstances

Subordinates are jealous of their leige’s time and access, and actively dissuade or divert requests. If this is the case, the petitioner has disadvantage on the Contest.

If the petitioner has some knowledge, pass-phrase, or token that will guarantee access (“I have your mother’s sword, lost all these years!” or “I have found your son’s kidnappers!”) that will either grant instant access, or at least provide advantage.

Standing, Roleplaying, and Culture

The Contest of Standing is not meant to replace roleplaying, but acts as a guide when looking to gain access to powerful and busy folks. It will encourage parties to seek out interactions with those of relatively equal social standing, and to improve their status and bearing by spending money on ostentation and lifestyle. This is in keeping with the Viking culture that Torengar is meant to emulate.

Example Status

Example Status Bonus Notes
King Krail of Torengar +28 Krail is a noted warrior with no small magical talent, and a gifted and charismatic leader. The royal family is also the recipient of millions in feudal duties each year.
Heroic Hajarl +22-25 Wealthy and a warrior, mage, or other “adventurer type” of repute, this person is not only at the top of the social pyramid, with fortresses, ships for raiding, and the income of many towns and villages, they are personally known for their valor and deeds
Merchant Prince/Political Hajarl +15-19 A wealthy landowner or immensely successful trader, with political savvy and connections, this person has only the most rudimentary of skills associated with personal combat or adventuring prowess. That’s OK, they have an army of folks to fight for them.
Fightin’ Jarl +13-16 A jarl that is capable of leading and fighting and raiding and doing so in style. Such a person may have a smallish income (for a jarl—it’s still 20,000 gp per month), but their weapons, armor, and followers are well equipped and very capable. This is the highest level of noble that a party of 1st level adventurers has a chance of seeing personally without “stacking the deck” in their favor in advance.
Herra +8-12 A mid-level adventurer in control of a fistfull of villages or perhaps a small town, the herra is going to have fine but mundane equipment, likely as prizes from adventuring or boons from a higher-ranking noble.
Riddar +6-10 In charge of a few small villages or one smallish town, this equivalent to a landed knight will have just enough power and influence to have a few retainers and huscarls, and perhaps be called upon to lead in battle. A riddar may very well treat personally with any adventurers that come calling, and may not even have left their adventuring days behind themselves.
Trusted Lieutenant +4 -8 The seneschal or guard captain for a low-level noble such as a herra or riddar. Effectively a starting adventurer (1st-4th level) with stats typical for such, and no great luck in finding exceptional equipment.


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