Giving Characters Status in the RPG World
Salutations, nerds! Today we’re going to talk about fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons characters in positions of leadership and I’m going to do my best to make a case for letting them have status in your gaming world. And yes, I am talking about allowing for a rogue to become the leader of the thieves guild, or have a mage take a place in a circle of high sorcery. I know a lot of Dungeon Masters who won’t allow for these sorts of circumstances so first I’m going to address some of the reasons why not and then we’re going to move right along to the reasons why I think it’s at least worth trying in one of your campaigns. Ready? Okay.
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Leadership positions in an RPG
Debunking reasons for limiting leadership
There are two main reasons I hear DMs offer for restricting leadership positions for characters in their gaming world and they goeth thusly. First it gives the characters an inflated ego and it’s hard enough to keep the adventure challenging for them when they can’t throw clout and use an army of goons. How is the dungeon supposed to be a threat if adventurers can just walk in with half the city guard backing them up to deal with the bandits, huh? Second they’re playing in a setting not their own and it feels profane to let the characters alter it to this degree.
Now that I’ve taken a moment to address the common arguments let me tell you why this is bunk.
If the characters are going to have an inflated ego then they already do. Once they get to about 14th level they’re basically gods and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. Some of them know this. The thing is if a character has status it also means they have responsibility and if they come rolling up to these bandits with half the city guard this means half the city guard isn’t in the city and bad things can happen at their back. Villains are gonna use this when they catch wind this is the kind of person who’s Captain of the Guard now.
Also, bandits? Put a pin in there — we’re going to come back to it.
When you’re playing in an established setting you are playing in your version of the setting. This is not the same Faerun as Joe from Michigan plays in. You’re allowed to change things. You’re allowed to let characters run organizations and change the face of the landscape. You have permission. Go profane the Realms.
Now let’s touch base on why characters in leadership positions is a good idea.
Giving characters a sense of identity
Ragtag groups of adventurers are cool but give a person a rank and a status and suddenly they have more to fight for. Riccamonte, Gentleman Thief is pretty awesome, sure. He’s in it for himself. He wants things and he’ll toss out a few dashing one liners before leaping out a window into the night. But Riccamonte, Master of the Thieves Guild has people to look out for and might suddenly realize he actually cares about their wellbeing.
Sure he took control by poisoning the last master of the thieves guild but do you think he wants to reign over a crater? No way. If the guild prospers then he prospers and everyone is going to prosper under his more than capable hands. When he goes places he represents the interests of a faction within the city and suddenly the stakes are a lot higher.
Creating plot hooks
Take the pin out of the bandit problem. I’m not saying characters shouldn’t be fighting bandits at the point when they’re running their own factions but consider maybe it’s personal. Consider the possibility these bandits killed one of the city watch when they were on duty as a road guard. Consider they’ve been challenging the character who is the captain of the guard.
Oh yeah, it’s charged. And if they want to come rolling up with an entire group of guards suddenly this doesn’t seem so ridiculous because they’re doing it under the sovereign’s banner after all. Suddenly the battle is a little more large scale, the stakes are a little bit higher and the outcome of this fight has a ripple effect for more than just the captain of the guard.
Players like feeling like their characters’ actions matter and facilitating their gaining status with certain groups means what happens to them happens to their people too. A DM can absolutely use this to hook characters into adventures. It gives antagonists more of a reason to take a personal interest in them, doesn’t it?
Making players more invested
Something I’ve noticed in the games where characters run their own businesses and factions compared with those in which they don’t is when characters have status they tend to make their own plans. They don’t make the same sort of plans when they do not hold any important status. Ragtag adventurers are on for the ride. Riccamonte, Gentleman Thief, is happy to wait around for me to give him a heist to carry out.
Riccamonte, Master of the Thieves Guild however has plans to disrupt the guard patrols and make his own opportunities. He has his hands in every pie from here to the docks and he’s got big plans to turn this city on its head. In a case like this everybody wins. The player is more excited and the DM’s job just got a lot easier.
Whew. This one went on a bit longer than I expected but I think you’ve got the picture. Have any of the characters in your games ever achieved leader status? How did that go for you? Wanna tell me why it was bunk? Pleas, have at it in the comments below and of course, stay nerdy!