Problem Backgrounds

Certain points of background can and do create problems in campaigns, however. First and foremost of these is nobility, followed closely by great wealth.

Problems of Nobility: Some players like the idea of their character being Prince So-and-So or the son of Duke Dunderhead. All too often this leads to an abuse of power.

The player assumes, somewhat rightfully and somewhat not, that the title endows his character with special privileges--the right to instant income, the right to flaunt the law, the right to endless NPCs, information, and resources--or, worst of all, the right to use clout to push the other members of the party around. This kind of character quickly becomes tiresome to the other players and will constantly find ways to upset carefully planned adventures.

Titles can be allowed, but the DM will have to put some controls on noble characters. The easiest and most effective method is to strip the title of all benefits that, by rights, should go with it.

The noble character could be the son of a penurious duke. The son may be next in line to inherit the title when his father dies, but he's also in line to inherit his father's debts! Instead of seeking to impress others in public, the poor son might be quite happy to keep a low profile so as not to attract his father's creditors. After all, it's hard to amass a fortune through adventuring when the bill collectors are always on hand to take it away.

Likewise, a princely character could be the son of an unpopular and despotic or incompetent king--perhaps even one who was overthrown for his abuses. Such a son might not want his lineage well-known, since most of the peasants would have less than happy recollections of his father's rule.

Of course, these kinds of manipulations on your part soon become tiresome, both to yourself and the players. Not every duke can be impoverished, nor every throne usurped. Going too far with this strategy will only destroy the validity of nobility and titles in your game.

In the long run, it is better for your player characters to begin untitled, with one of their goals being the possibility of earning the right to place a "Sir'' or "Lady'' before their names. Imagine their pride as you confer this title on their character (and imagine the trials they must have gone through to earn this right).

Problems of Wealth: Another problem you might have to deal with is characters from wealthy, upper-class families. (This is often associated with the problem of titles since the nobility normally is the upper class.) Such characters, being wealthy, lack one of the basic reasons to adventure--the desire to make a fortune.

Indeed, they see their own money as a way to buy solutions to their problems. Often they will propose eminently reasonably (and, to the DM's carefully planned adventures, quite disastrous) schemes to make their adventuring life easier. It is, of course, possible to hire a wizard to construct magical items. And a wealthy 1st-level character could buy a vast army. But these sorts of things will have undesirable effects on your campaign.

There are ways to control these problems while still allowing players the character backgrounds they desire. Think of the real world and how difficult it is to convince family and friends to give you money, especially sizeable amounts of cash. You may have a loving family and generous friends, but there is a limit.

In your campaign, parents may grow tired of supporting their children. Brothers could become upset at how player character relatives are cheating them out of their share of an inheritance. Sisters may take exception to the squandering of their dowries.

Standard medieval custom called for inheritances--land and chattels--to be divided equally among all of a man's sons. (This is one reason Charlemagne's empire crumbled after his death.) You can use this custom to whittle a wealthy character's purse down to size.

Further, families are not immune to the effects of greed and covetousness--many a tale revolves around the treachery one brother has wrought upon another. A rich character could awaken to discover that his family has been swindled of all it owns.

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