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What's your favorite system for Name-level play? (domain management/hirelings)


E, not O.
Validated User
In old-school D&D, Name-level is the level (generally 9ish) where characters start getting followers and thinking about what they're going to DO with all that loot they've been scraping out of dungeons. Domain management, in other words; getting followers, building strongholds. In years of role-playing I've never really been in or run a campaign centered around building out organizations/structures, and I'm wondering what games have really good rules for this. It doesn't need to be D&D/OSR, and doesn't even have to be fantasy; I always thought the base building rules in FASERIP were cool, f'rex, but never played the game.

What systems does everyone like?

(Elephant in the room: I know there's an OSR banned topic game that handles this stuff well; hoping to find less objectionable alternatives.)


Registered User
Validated User
Ars Magica would be my go-to, here.

The players BEGIN with some sort of "headquarters" (keep, monastery, building in a city, ship in an ocean, etc etc etc) where then mostly live, and from which they go adventuring.


Registered User
Validated User
It's in playtest right now, out later this year, but Swords of the Serpentine (swords & sorcery GUMSHOE) has this built in. A big part of the game is your political allegiances and enemies (groups like the City Watch, or the thieves guilds, or Mercenary armies, that sort of thing, which means you can play people off against each other and manipulate politics. You change things every time you adventure, in part because you're pissing your enemies off.

Name level always made me happy: you're powerful and important enough to have a reputation, and that just makes things more dangerous.

I should do a blog post about this aspect of play.


Go Play Ars Magica
Validated User
I also immediately thought of Ars Magica. It's my favorite game for down time, and It has always been great for my groups in getting them to make plans rather than just react.


Registered User
Validated User
The "base" in Ars Magica is called a "covenant," but the term is overloaded: it means both the specific oaths/agreements/promises that your disparate group of magi agree to share and operate under, AND it means the physical premises where they all live. Ars Magica is a heavily-medieval game, with lots of in-character "color" embedded in the rules. In this case, it defines 4 types of Covenant based on seasons...
  • A "Spring" covenant is brand-new, all hopes-and-promises but usually rather resource-poor and "fragile" like many young things.
  • A "Summer" covenant is vital and active, having outgrown the poiverties and fragilities of Spring & now pursuing all manner of opportunities, and investing in yet further growth & opportunities.
  • An "Autumn" covenant is rich and powerful, harvesting the wealth that was sewn in Summer, carefully planning for the long term... and maybe fending off the ambitions of some upstart Summer covenants & other rivals!
  • A "Winter" covenant has grown rigid, dangerous, and baroque; it is usually commanded by very-senior magi verging on senility, who have been warped by a century or more of magic, and "careful planning" has become "fearful hoarding," while "fending off ambitious rivals" often seems like paranoia, and usually applies equally to rivals within and without.
It becomes a question, then, whether a "Winter" covenant can survive their own decline and find fresh hope, promising young magi, and a renewal into a new Spring. Campaigns can be set anywhere in the cycle you want.

Players agree on the details of the Covenant based on the kind of stories and the kind of campaign they want to run; we might want a "Spring Covenant" that is little more than a land-lease from a local baron and a collection of huts, and role-play the entirety of its growth; or a "Spring Covenant" that is a fully-built shell keep, but not enough food and water to survive month-by-month; or a "Spring Covenant" that is a WINTER covenant we're trying to turn around in spite of the old fools who occasionally emerge from their labs to demand a pound of quicksilver or a phoenix-feather or a marriage-contract with a Faerie Prince or the still-beating heart of some enemy they defeated 50 years ago and DON'T THEY REALIZE HOW MANY VULTURES ARE CIRCLING IN CONFIDENT EXPECTATION THIS PLACE WILL BE A TOMB WITHIN THE YEAR, DAMMITALL??!? Or play with a Summer or Autumn, or full-on-dive-into-Winter Weird covenant...

You build your covenant by defining it in terms of resources, strengths and weaknesses. Do you have worked land from which you gather tithes? Do you in turn tithe to an overlord? Do you possess a Royal Charter? Do you have all the specialist personnel you could want, blacksmiths and armorers and coopers and glassblowers and masons and etc etc etc... Some of them? ANY of them? Is your site militarily defensible? How big is your military force? How loyal? How are your magical resources? Ample? OK... ish? Scant? None at all? Do you have allies out in the world? Does anyone owe you favors, or do you owe favors, or both? Do you have rivals? Outright enemies? Etc etc etc...

A Spring covenant will have few resources, little strength, and many weaknesses. A Summer covenant will have many more resources, much more strength; many initial weaknesses will have been remedied, or at least compensated-for. And so forth...

The process of defining -- and then growing -- your Covenant is very much akin to the process of defining (and then growing) your character.


Social Justice Dragon
Validated User
Honestly, the game that comes first to mind is Exalted. All Exalts are "name level" characters who not only have a great deal of raw power, they also either possess or once possessed and can regain a central position in their world.


Registered Yojimbo
Validated User
Oddly enough, Apocalypse World can have a definite "name level" feel. All PCs are powerful movers-and-shakers within the setting by default--there are plenty of medics, but there's only one Angel, for example--and plenty of character types (Hardholder, Hocus, Maestro'D, Chopper) start off with a home base, a gang of underlings, or both.


Registered User
Validated User
Similar to Exalted, above, cultivating Domains (of various stripes) was supported by most of the World/Chronicles of Darkness lines. Mages have Chantries, Vampires have Domains (and even Tiers of Play developed later in Damnation City), Changelings have Fey-themes bases, Werewolves have thematic holdings... Groups could purchase Merit dots collectively to grow aspects of their spaces, and it could either be used to generate stories, or simply be a cool place to store all your murderhobo gear. To be more clear, there was not a bunch of rules and tables for threatening the holdings that I can remember, but rather there was support for including such resources and giving them stats which the GM could threaten with "soft/hard moves".

Are you looking for games that merely include a certain type of gameplay as an option, or a game that expects it to be the main focus?

FFG Star Wars likewise offers holdings of different types, with the ability to own space stations, businesses of any type, each with personnel, security, etc etc. I suggested WoD and FFGSW because you can start play with a focus on your holdings, and make that the center of play as much as you like immediately, or leave it out until the equivalent of "level 9". But, that might not be what you're really asking for, so apologies if not!


Registered User
Validated User
The "base" in Ars Magica is called a "covenant," but... [SNIP]
...The process of defining -- and then growing -- your Covenant is very much akin to the process of defining (and then growing) your character.
I just wanted to say thank you. This is a fantastic summary of the game's structure and setting, and reminds me I need to pick it back up.
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