Domain Game: a first attempt using domains-as-actors

I’m trying to write a domain game for RPGs because what’s around does not tickle my fancy. I also recently learnt that domain and demesne are pronounced the same in English. Since then, this never failed to make me giggle at each game using demesne instead of domain.

So I decided to come up with a system where every domain is an actor: that is, each domain can do stuff each turn. While it’s not the only way to do it, it’s a way to abstract the whole “what changes in the world”, and it seems to be an approach that is not really common. Different types of domains will have different actions, in addition to different stats.

Another decision I had to take is the granularity and the size of the game: this can vary from neighbourhood fighting against each other in a city (for example Necromunda, and my final design aim for the Into the Odd domain game) to planets being conquered for the control of the galaxy (Twilight Imperium). I went for a somewhat typical OSR scale, where each domain is either a County (or other non-small fief) or a City.

Why cities? Because I wanted two different kinds of domains, and I’m really interested in the growth of cities. Also cities have tradesmen and crafts and trade, and that’s more interesting than simply raising armies and levies and killing a lot of peasants. This way you can starve citizens until they kill their city council too.

Before I continue with the rules, I want to spend a word on tactical infinity: anything that the rules say, feel free to override, either by the authority brought by consensus or by referee. I am of the opinion that the greatness of role-playing games is not that you play a character, but that rules are routinely adapted to improve play. Cherish that you are empowered gamers, free to make your own rules. What I suggest for domain game is: before each action in the game, players can suggest to have a small or long adventure to affect it. It can be something as simple as having a chat with a fellow ruler, or clamping down on brigands with an expedition of your dudes momentarily in the guise of murderhoboes, or leading the assault on a fortress. Degrees of success in the endeavour can grant a modifier to the action in the domain game, or give an automatic success, or present a variation in the result. Similarly, these adventures can happen after the action to prevent an horrible failure, or converting a near success to a success, or to temporarily increase effectiveness. For example, domain infrastructure limits trade; clamping down on bandits going all murder against them can temporarily increase the amount of traded goods. If the players manage to make a great impression on the bandits and get rid of their bosses and charm a few key bandits they might even gain a unit of light infantry on the side. I suggest that each player character can participate in only one adventure per season. And that’s why you have henchmen and companions. Also this whole domain-caused-adventures helps bridge the abstraction gap between domain play, based on seasonal turns and very chunky entities, and traditional RPGs, where you play in turns or rounds with entities that are a single person.

At any rate, the example I sketched out works as such:

The Game Elements

In addition to the domains (counties and cities), there are other game elements. They might be tokens or be written down on stats sheets. They are:

  • Trade Good: they are created by cities. It’s more or less 5000 to 20000 coins worth of stuff, depending on your economy. They can be spent in many ways.
  • Food Reserve: they are like trade goods, but are only consumed by besieged cities.
  • Arms: they are like trade goods, but they are used only to equip armies and levies and gives them combat advantage. If you are being fancy, or you have places that make excellent weapons like Dwarven, Flemish or North Italian Cities, they also have a rating depending on the metalworking level of the manufacturing city; a higher rating means mo’better advantage.
  • Armies, raised by counties. They fight well. How well depends on the system you use. A county can raise only a single army at time. They can also use a single Arms token each, to get combat advantage. To raise a second army, the first one must be disbanded or destroyed. If disbanded in the same region, the army can be raised again next season. If destroyed, the leader must save or die or be captured, and the county must wait 2d6 seasons or sacrifice both a trade good and an arms token to be able to raise an army again. You can represent the recovery putting white dices on the domain and spin them down as time goes by.
  • Levies, raised by counties and cities. They are not as good as Armies. Free City levies or rioting city levies fight as well as real Armies. If a levy is raised, the raising domain can’t do any actions until the levy is disbanded in the same region or is destroyed. If destroyed the domain must wait 1d6 seasons before taking any action. You can use a black die to represent the recovery.

Each domain has also a prestige score and a fortification score.

Prestige is like Charisma, but for domains. It amounts to “how awesome other rulers think you are and how much they want to be at your parties”. No game mechanics for it yet, but consider this: if you had to pick, you’d rather be making happy a place like Bruges than a place like, dunno, Dunbar? And df you’re asking dude, what’s Dunbar? well, that’s the point I’m trying to make.

Fortification gives advantage to the defender (depending on your resolution system). Furthermore, each 8 points transform a hit by attackers into a miss.

What Happens In The Game

Domains can do one action per season. Four seasons per year. It’s also possible to play with two seasons per year (summer and winter) without much change. Each domain can also import and export 1 unit of trade goods, food reserve or arms per turn.

A county (or other feudal rural domain, the scale is flexible) can:

  • Raise an army: the lord of the domain raises their lances and readies them for battle. The county’s army is deployed in the county and can immediately move. A domain can only raise a single army. If the army stands at the end of the winter without being disbanded, it consumes a trade good either from its home domain of from the domain where it is, if the host domain kindly provides or if it pillages (see pillage later). If it can’t consume food or pillage it get disbanded.
  • Raise a Levy: the county raises a levy. The levy is deployed in the county but can’t immediately move: must wait a turn. Remember: if a levy is raised, the domain can’t otherwise act.
  • Trade: the import and export limits for the county are both raised to three for this season.
  • Harvest: produces a unit of Food Reserve, which is kept in the county. This can be done only during Summer and Autumn. if playing with a 2-seasons year, the harvest provides 2 Food Reserve units. Food Reserves can be exported.
  • Fortify: the fortification score of the domain goes up by 1. Spending a trade good makes it go up by another point.
  • Gain Prestige: the domain can increase its prestige by 1 by spending a Trade Good.

A City can:

  • Fair: only in summer. The import and export limits of the city are lifted for this season.
  • Trade: the import and export limits for the city are both raised to three for this season.
  • Raise a Levy: the city raises a levy. The levy is deployed in the county and can immediately move, attack and be disbanded in the same turn. City levies are quite eager. Remember: if a levy is raised, the domain can’t otherwise act.
  • Manufacture: produces a unit of Trade Goods or Arms. The goods or arms are kept in the city. They can be exported too.
  • Fortify: the fortification score of the domain goes up by 1. Spending a trade good makes it go up by another point.
  • Gain Prestige: the domain can increase its prestige by 1 by spending a Trade Good.

Combat!

If two enemy units happen to be in the same domain, any of the two commanders can start a fight. Resolve it using the system of your choice. Bear in mind the advantages should be granted by:

  • City levy fighting in the City domain
  • better armor
  • fortification, if the defender has any

Any unit occupying a domain can do one or more of the following actions:

  • Sap: reduce the fortification of the occupied domain by 1
  • Siege: stop the domain from taking any action except Raise an Army, Raise a Levy, Fortify. Cities can raise levies as soon at any point ant the levy can attack immediately enemies in its domain and then, if desired, disband.
  • Pillage: add one pip to the black die of the domain, to a maximum of 6. If no black die is present, add a die on the 1 face. This can be countered by having the domain consume 1 Food Reserve. Doing so waives the unit’s winter maintenance cost.
  • Seize: the occupier takes control of the domain.

As a reaction to the action being announced, the defender can stop the action by attacking. The defender in this case won’t benefit from the fortification advantage unless the occupier was Sapping or Seizing. If the defender wins the fights, the occupying action is countered and all is well. If the attacker wins the fight, the action succeeds.

If a domain is seized, it can be razed instead. In this case it can’t carry out any action for the rest of the game.

DEFENESTRATE!

Each season a city has a black die and enemy troops Saps, Sieges or Pillages it, it must roll a d6 and score at least the amount on the black die. If successful, all is well. If failed with an odd number, the city raises immediately a levy and attacks the occupier. If failed with an even number, the city reenacts the First Defenestration of Prague and joins the side of the occupying forces.

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9 thoughts on “Domain Game: a first attempt using domains-as-actors

  1. tl;dr, sorry. Will read this tomorrow maybe when I’m less fried.
    But the best idea I’ve heard on domains is to develop a “character sheet” for the domain (or whatever a PC might control — a guild, temple, etc. too). The sheet would identify annual income generated, major npcs/factions, relations with other domains/institutions, and so on.
    A possibly derailing second idea: if you are talking about domain management as an endgame or add-on to a RPG, it probably makes the most sense for the party to collaboratively control just one domain. The fighter has the army, the cleric the temple, etc. Like officers on a ship (I played a fair amount of swashbuckler games where we always ended up as pirates…)

    • OK looks like my comment was superfluous. 🙂 Love the defenestration pic offered without comment.
      The Players will likely want their PCs to be able to influence this stuff. Can a more charismatic character raise more or more loyal levies? Can the dwarfs take charge of fortification and make the walls even tougher?
      Or do you see high-level PCs each ruling their own domains and possibly fighting it out?

  2. Very much yes. I’ve also been looking for a good domain game rules and this is looks promising. Have you play tested anything along these lines yet?what rules would you use for combat? It seems like you could use some very simple rules like each unit “hits” on a 6/6 (5/6 for better troops, maybe 4/6 for better with better arms), other side makes a morale save of similar probability (6/6 or something, modified in similar ways for quality). Also, what do you think about using such rules with multiple counties? It’d be great to be able to use a birthright-like map with 6-8 provinces plus 1 city (or castle) per overall Domain.

    • Not playtested yet. For combat, the example you give is good. Or into the odd, book of war, or BtA. Rulers with multiple counties control multiple counties, and there can be a delay due to communications or vassals.

  3. Hi – just wondering about trade – “Each domain can also import and export 1 unit of trade goods, food reserve or arms per turn.”

    Does this mean that each domain can swap one resource in an any-for-any manner each turn? Is the swap with ‘the world in general’ or it is limited to barter with neighbours (perhaps Prestige distance away)?

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