Hordes of Orks mass on the border of a far-away kingdom. They rampage, causing horrors and havoc. The tales of the Bards are full of terrors.
Your King is a man who styles himself after King Arthur: Good and Proud and Right and Just. In peacetime, he rules over his self-styled Camelot, a place of feasts and jousts and general hugging. The King’s Lawful and Neutral Good advisors council the right thing to do for a Good and Just King is to take the war to the Orks and save those distant people. The religious authorities, representing Lawful and Neutral Good Gods, explain the Orks worship Gods of war, blood and death. Righteousness dictates the King must defend peace and love from the horrors of the Other.
The King half-listens to his council drone on. Meanwhile, he envisions himself in future Bardic tales as an authentic Arthurian Upgrade. No longer a myth, future Kings – no doubt descended from his blood line – will take inspiration from his great victories, War in his name, style their Courts after his Courts, and rule as he ruled. They will tell tales of him, a better, more shining, and more awesome Monarch. He can march his great armies out to the fields, do war on the Orks, and return home, covered in Glory. As a bonus, he gets to murder some Orks.
The King tells his advisors he has decided to go to War. Make it so.
Rule #1: Wars Cost Money
Wars are expensive. They are really expensive. They are mindboggling expensive.
The Crown must shell out for the following, at minimum:
- Provisions for a large army;
- Equipment for whatever part of the army belongs to the Crown;
- Transportation for a large army, including ships;
- Siege weaponry of various sizes;
- Bribes to Noblemen to convince them going to War in some far off land is a good idea and they should pack up their armies;
- Bribes to Highly Prized Murder Hobos (re: PCs) to convince them to fight with the Army instead of randomly attacking it;
- Bribes to other Kingdoms to allow the King’s Army to pass through;
- Bribes to Pirates just because;
- General paying off anyone who happens to demand money for services, like re-provisioning armies in the field.
Medieval-based fantasy armies are not run solely by the King. Instead, he forms the the army from a loose confederation of private armies consisting of Lords, mercenaries, pirates, high level Murder Hobos, wizards, and the occasional group of hyper-powerful Good-aligned clerics. The King must convince/cajole/bribe all these people – especially his feudal Lords – this War is a good idea, in their best interest, they should come along and bring 3000 of their closest, most heavily armed friends.
“About five hundred thousand gold coins at the minimum,” the beleaguered Treasury Secretary says to the King right before the guards arrest him for uttering that number out loud.
Nevermind the real cost of running the Kingdom left in the hands of someone arguably competent – perhaps the Queen if the Kingdom is lucky, or the King’s highly ambitious second son if not – as the King and his first son go off to War. Kingdoms even in peacetime are expensive. Kingdoms built roads, ran government and judicial systems, maintained castles, kept military readiness, bribed churches and paid interest on the loans from the last war.
That last one is the fiddly bit. If the Kingdom is flush, this War with the Orks is doable. But the hard reality is Kingdoms, unless large and with a stable economic base, are rarely flush because Kings keep looting their economic base for cash to run their Wars.
Rule #2: The King must Fund His War
The money has to come from somewhere because it’s certainly not in the Treasury. Luckily, the King and the Crown follows a convenient Kingdom Looting Script faithfully.
1. Squeeze the Peasants. Always start with squeezing those who are the least equipped to fight back. However, these are also the least equipped to have any money. Also, the local Lord of the land gets ticked off when his peasants are over-squeezed because then they cannot buy food, they starve to death and they die. Dead peasants cannot harvest the local fields so the Lord cannot sell his produce and cannot make any money. That money goes to paying for the Lord’s private army which he needs to go out into the field and follow the King for glory.
“No can do,” says the Lord. “You already looted my peasants so I cannot afford my man-at-arms or pay for more Murder Hobos. Good luck fighting those orks!”
Worse, if the King insists on squeezing the peasants and insists on forcing Lords to follow him to War without something in it for them, the Lords will find a bored King’s Brother they suddenly like more who taxes their peasants less. The Kingdom falls into Civil War. Everyone gets distracted.
Besides, the Churches of Goodness tend to object – something about their Gods not being so keen on kicking peasants in the name of Good. So that strategy has limited effectiveness.
2. Squeeze the Local Minorities. Squeezing the local conclaves for Elves or Gnomes for cash can result in some decent returns. (1) They rarely don’t have Lords protecting them and they worship weird Gods. Sure their Gods might also be Lawful and Neutral Good but they have no God Representation in Court so they totally don’t count. The King can squeeze them as much as he wants and no one will jump to their defense.
Problem here is there are so few of them. Funny thing, every time the King wants to go to War, the Crown squeezes their communities for cash and, after a few cycles of this, they pack up and find somewhere a little less squeezy. Maybe those Orks out on the frontier… they heard about them. Let’s try those guys.
3. Squeeze the Rich People. Arguably, squeezing the towns has the best possible returns. They don’t contribute to the overall war effort. They are loaded. Guilds are nothing but little money fountains and, besides, how did these non-noble and non-royal jumped up peasants get so much money in the first place?
Except many of these guys are both smarter than the average government tax collector and wizards. Funny, they get Bards to perform for them, too, (2) and they heard the tales. By time the government tax collectors show up on their doorstep demanding extravagant tax hikes and payments to the Crown, the money has long been off-shored.
“Sorry, man,” they say. “Our money is allll tied up in banks in off-shore accounts and in the businesses. Wizard bankers, you know. Maybe if we didn’t have to pay for our own personal Murder Hobos to protect our stuff when we transport it to market we’d have more money to give you. Good luck with the Orks!”
The King also has a bit of it-goes-around-comes-around with taxing the rich people. He squeezes them for cash and then turns around and pays them all the taxes back – with a markup to make a profit – when he then needs to purchase dried provisions in massive bulk to feed his armies in the field.
4. Squeeze Religious Institutions. The King cannot send the Crown after the Good and Neutral Good religions supporting his cause. It wouldn’t be right and besides, he needs them to contribute clerics to his cause.
But surely, his Kingdom is full of Neutral and even Evil Temples to Gods. Aren’t there some out of work Murder Hobos around here? How would they like to make some cash and magic items on the side while extracting some “taxation” from the local Temple of Complete Evil and its followers? It’s Evil! It says right on the side of the building! Sure it’s not hurting anyone and it was named in a sense of great and hilarious irony but it has a treasury room and the King needs to pay his Lords and start buying provisions.
That works to help flush out the war budget but the Kingdom only has so many Temples of Complete Evil. There’s a serious Evil per square mile crunch which keeps this tactic from being a major contributor to the financial war footing. Once the War is over, the Crown will need to work with religious leaders to lure more Evil to his land, surreptitiously of course, so the Crown can send Murder Hobos to loot it for future wars.
5. A Loan from Wizard Bankers. Oh God. Wizards.
The Transmuter Bankers have the entire half million gold pieces up front and ready to loan to His Majesty with a nice 20% interest rate. Wizards have no time for talk from preachy Clerics about the evil of usury and the horrors placed upon Kingdoms by those who would charge interest rates. Besides the terms state the loan is payable over an incredible time span. HIgh-level wizards have nothing but time. Take your time. We will get our money.
And if the Kingdom misses a payment? Why, the Wizards have Teleport and Disintegration. And hell, maybe in some future upcoming Civil War they will happily give loans to the other side who will, of course, promise to pay.
In the end, the King has to go with the wizards. He signs on the bottom line.
Now the King has money. He has pissed off Lords, angry peasants ready to revolt, uncooperative religious institutions, fleeing minority groups, rich merchants making a fast buck, and wizards. But he has money! He can go off to Glory!
Rule #3: The Local Glory is Faster and Cheaper than Heroic Glory Far Away
It takes nine months to muster the entire military, arrange any Naval support, secure passage with bribes, and procure enough rations to march in Glory in the Far Off Land of the Orks. But march they do with the King at the head of the line, his shining son the White Prince next to him, banners fluttering in the air, Cleric tunics all nice and white, and accompanied by singers and drummers.
First, the food runs out. It goes bad. It gets wet. The baggage train washes away in a river. But this isn’t a problem. Surely those villages along the route will throw the entire army a grand feast fit for a King! And if they do not, they are evil and we must destroy and loot and add their grain stores to the baggage train.
If looting peasant villages along the way doesn’t keep the army fed, then looting peasant fields certainly will. Those cows over there are now the King’s cows. Those peasant fields are now the King’s fields. Nevermind that perhaps these are the lands of a different King. We are saving the world from Orks! The Orks are Evil! Loot those cows! Bring the King a steak! On the rare-side, please, with a nice merlot.
Second, the murder hobo and mercenaries wander off. Murder Hobo and mercenary companies will stick around a long time as long as the King keeps them fed and housed and there’s something to fight. Looting, pillaging and burning the occasional peaceful peasant village is tons of fun and they make all kinds of money. And they can justify it to their Lawful and Neutral Good employers – that village was housing a portal to the Underdark. And that village over there secretly worshipped a Dark God. The third had a dragon if you can believe that! It was a tiny dragon with only a teeny horde but it was a dragon they swear. It had killing coming to it.
Eventually, the army begins to unravel and the mercenary companies find something better and more profitable to do with their time. They leave in the night with not even a forwarding address.
Third, the local Kingdom is easier to invade than the far off Kingdom of Orks. After all the King is passing through some foreign Kingdom with a large and well-manned army. He needs money to pay off those damn Wizard Bankers. And if he adds some territory to his Crown, he grows his Kingdom’s dominions and tax base. Then he can pay for more Wars which brings him more glory and adds to his Arthurian mystique. Then he can really take the war to those Orks.
Besides, those Orks aren’t going anywhere. They will still be there in a few extra months, right? This is only a small diversion.
The King comes up with some claim on the local Throne through his father’s sister’s husband’s cousin allowing him to press for legal Du Jure rights over the land. He claims Kingship of the local environs for himself.
The King declares War. The clerics get to some hard core proselytizing to the local devastated populace in the names of their Lawful and Neutral Good gods. Everyone believes the war will last four months. This war lasts the next 40 years. But that is a future problem for future people.
Naturally, the cities of the invaded Kingdom in question had plenty of warning and prepared for siege. They are well provisioned. The cities have Walls and the occasional Evoker Wizard with a single, well-placed fireball. But hey, the mercenaries have stopped wandering off, the King’s Lords are gaining glory, and as cities fall, it adds to the war chest to pay back the pernicious loans. Everything is coming up King.
It’s a super bummer when one of those well-placed fireballs kills the King. Too bad the army burned all their diamonds of resurrection paying for food to keep up the siege. Now the guy is toast. Literally.
The King is dead, long live the King, may his son, the White Prince, rule long and well!
Rule #4: The Orks are Done Rampaging
A large portion of the army stays behind to help hold the newly taken lands won in their war. A few mercenaries get lucky and declare themselves Lords of castle they take giving themselves promotions. Yet, some bedraggled portion of the King’s original army, lead by the White Price, with some mercenaries, murder hobos and clerics, after years of pillaging, adventures, sieges, war and mayhem, will stagger to the great Outer Kingdom where the Orks rampage just as the Bards told.
Or were rampaging. At the looks of the place, either the Orks are all rampaged out or the people of the local Kingdom put up one hell of a resistance. Either way, it’s kind of quiet here now and the Orks settled back down. Would have been nice if someone had, say, established an early outpost and sent messages back or something.
Although there’s certainly other interesting local wars to get involved in. You know, with the Orks. They now have this little Kingdom of their own that can contribute land and glory to the Kingdom. They have established treaties with some other local small kingdoms made of formerly oppressed minority groups. Other murder hobo-based trading companies are already here making some quick cash. And the wizards are offering the Orks war loans at great rates.
“But it’s sort of a shame to waste the last of this army and these loyal Lords,” the White Prince, now the White King, says to the last of his circle of advisors, now including a particular Murder Hobo group. “Besides, the Clerics still insist their Gods tell us Orks are evil.” With that, he follows out his original mission and declares War on the Orks. In they charge for one last great battle!
The White King’s ransom is enough to firmly financially establish the Ork Kingdom.
The Glorious Conclusion to the Great War Against the Orks
It’s a shame about the King and his son the White Prince nee’ King but everyone comes out pretty well in the end in this story.
History celebrates the King, who died in glorious battle, as a great and noble chivalric King who died a warrior’s death, just like Arthur. His legend grows every year helped along by opportunistic bards who swear they don’t get kickbacks from the Crown.
The White King finally staggers home after being ransomed and is also hailed as a great hero and King until he, too, gets killed in a particularly ironic way and opens civil war between his brother and the supporters of the White King’s son.
The Kingdom fights to keep its not-entirely-legally-taken-lands for 40 years which presents young Lords many opportunities for glory cheaper and closer to home. The people of these lands are not as thrilled. Eventually the Kingdom loses those lands in a series of bungled sieges lead by the King’s great-grand-nephew.
The Kingdom never pays off its loans. Instead it refinances the debt so many times it becomes the basis of their own major banking system.
Orks grow enough financially to expand their borders aggressively and spend hundreds of years in fun pitched battle with other Kingdoms willing to economically exhaust themselves. They figured out not all evil comes from butchering the local populace.
The expanding Ork Kingdom gives the Lawful and Neutral Good churches a tasty shibboleth to rail against which brings in the donations and the volunteers for their swelling ranks of clerics.
The Wizard Bankers make a mint off interest rates and all this economic activity.
The Merchants make enough to fill the banker’s coffers by war profiteering.
And our friends, the Murder Hobos, through all the years of adventures and wars and sieges and small dragons and Orks and pillaging, make 20th level.
Writer’s Note: This is all based on some very real fun the French had in the midst of the 100 Year War when they all got bored of losing to the English and went on Crusade against a burgeoning Ottoman Empire and completely collapsed at the Battle of Nicopolis. The Turks found the Crusade of Nicopolis “hilarious.” There’s some callbacks to the Peruzzi’s who lost their shorts financing Kings. If only they had disintegration spells…
(1) This is why Elven parents tell their children not to venture out into the human world. Somewhere out there somewhere there’s some Good and Just King who will come along and take their stuff for better Good and Justness. The Dark Elves don’t hide in the Underdark because they’re evil; they’re just tired of human taxation policy.
(2) Bards will perform for anyone, especially if they are spies. Perhaps spies in the employ of a Kingdom of Orks.