The Murder Hobo Investment Bubble

The Murder Hobos sit across the table from the Old Man in the darkened, road side Inn. The Old Man proposes a mission to the group: goblins infest the hills outside town. And goblins, as we know, are horrific fiends who steal babies and chew on children’s heads. Real nasty characters. They also gum up the place with goblin smell.

The Murder Hobos must travel to a nearby mountain, breach the Goblin Stronghold, kill all the goblins they see, and defeat the Goblin King. Roet Mudtwister. That King is a nasty bit of work with a bad reputation for foul language and a snaggle tooth. Then, the party must return to the Inn with proof of the deed. No time cap on this but make it quick, please. The goblins destroyed our fields. Think of the children. There is a reward.

In victory, the Murder Hobos will receive:

  • all the magic loot they find;
  • all the money they roll from goblin bodies
  • and a payday of 4000 gold pieces, cash.

The Murder Hobos weigh the risks of this mission against the worth of the payday. On one side of the risk equation, they face possible death at the hands of furiously angry goblins (less risk with a Cleric who can cast Raise Dead although if the Cleric dies, risk rises). Goblins are noxious characters and Goblin Kings doubly so. On the other side of the equation they bag:

  • Cash payout;
  • Possible magic upgrades;
  • Experience;
  • Heroism! Save the village and win the day!

This is a pretty sweet deal for the Murder Hobo party of the exact right level. Too low-level and the goblins will obliterate the Murder Hobos. Too high level and the side quest provides neither enough payout nor reward enticement for the Murder Hobos. The Old Man prices the Side Quest to a party of a precise level band.

For this particular group, the rewards vastly outweigh the risk. They have a deal.

The Old Man puts up no money up front. The Murder Hobos buy their supplies with their own cash, suit up, and follow the road to the mountain. A week later, they return with the head of King Roet Mudtwister, snaggle tooth and all. They’ve paid themselves back on their pre-adventure loan to themselves and made a bit more. High risk paid off with high reward. Murder Hoboing is lucrative business.

The Old Man hands over the coin purse with 4000 gold pieces. The village is, theoretically, saved.

But what’s in it for the Old Man?

Let’s assume for a moment the Old Man is not an altruistic lover of villagers and hater of all goblinkind. Nor is he sitting in the same Inn with the same offer of 4000 gold pieces waiting for the level-correct Murder Hobos to wander in for his health. What’s in the side quest business for the Old Man?

This particular Old Man has a story.

The goblins moved in under the mountain a century ago. Then, they established their village and Goblin King. The goblins quietly toiled away in their underground community while human and demi-human farming villages popped up around them. Separate but at peace.

A few years ago, while mining, the goblins discovered their mountain sat on a highly valuable hot salt vein and spring. Applying a little goblin ingenuity and goblin Rube Goldberg-like mechanical engineering, they extracted the salt slurry into a high-grade and highly valuable salt production line. Even goblins need salt to preserve food. They had a handful of magic spells and items keeping food preserved but, much like people, goblins pack fish and game into giant barrels of salt. No longer did goblins venture out to deal with humans to purchase salt or scoop up salty sand from far-flung beaches. Salt was here, under their mountain.

The salt production was so efficient, salt overflowed goblin storerooms. So, the goblins started selling salt in the nearby village markets for low prices. They undercut local human-based salt production and into the local Salt Merchant Guild’s profits. Goblin salt was clearer. Goblin salt was better. And Goblin salt was cheaper.

Sensing a possible business deal in the International Side Quest Industry, the Old Man traveled to the Goblin’s Mountain with a party of his favorite and most trusted Dwarven surveyors to perform a property assessment. “10,000 gold pieces,” the Dwarf told the Old Man. “That’s how much this mountain is worth considering the roads and the layout of the tunnels — and not including the salt business. Just the land. 10,000 gold pieces. Need to get rid of those goblins, though. Nasty business, goblins.”

The Old Man met with the Transmuter Bankers who turn anything, including Goblin Mountains currently full of Goblins, into gold. And they gave the Old Man a loan on this security — an investment on a future, essentially. They fronted the Old Man cash on his possible land investment. The Old Man found a buyer for his contract on the mountain at the assessed price: the local Salt Merchant’s Guild. They exchanged their margins on the futures contract on the land through the bankers.

All the Old Man needed to maturate were some Murder Hobos. The Old Man took a gamble. His risks were:

  • in the land deal between him, the Bankers who hold his loan, and the Salt Merchant’s Guild who will buy the Goblin Mountain;
  • that the right Murder Hobos would come along and take him up on the deal.

This worked out. The Salt Merchant Guild paid the Old Man 10,000 gold for the contract to get the salt mines plus the goblins exited their business. The Old Man paid off the Bankers the 4000 gold plus interest. The Old Man walked off with nearly a 60% profit which he shared a percentage with the Dwarves. Everyone (except the goblins) won.

Isn’t Murder Hoboing profitable?

Once this deal wound up, the Old Man moved on to the next land speculation deal.

Speculative Investment in Murder Hobos

The Murder Hobos are the agent of change in Side Quests land swap deals. The giant in the cave? He’s blocking further silver mining. That evil temple over there? Send some Murder Hobos to clean it out and renovate it as an excellent open air mall and dining experience. And that castle owned by one of the Lich Kings? Kill the Lich King, take the castle, and invest in a valuable hotel and resort destination!

But getting Murder Hobos off the ground is expensive. That starting equipment isn’t free. They economy requires Murder Hobo patrons.

Murder Hobos are highly speculative investments; if one of the Patron’s teams happens to cash out on taking out a high value and annoying monster while the Patron is holding the contract for that land, the bet pays out big. The monster is gone, the land is his, the Patron pays out to the Old Man on his contract, uses whatever he will with the land deal (hint: nothing good), and makes more money to invest in more Murder Hobos. The Patron only needs a handful to pay out to finance his entire enterprise.

The chain starts with speculative investment in Murder Hobos in a hodge podge corporation known as “Adventuring Guilds.” Patrons pay up front to clothe, lodge, train, and arm potential Murder Hobos. Trainers group the potential adventurers together into teams who work reasonably well together. This is a non-trivial investment in energy, money and time.

Then, the Patron sends the 1st level characters out into the world while promptly investing in the next set of Murder Hobos. He hopes his teams see the advertisements of the various Old Men with side quests — the typical rumors, roadside signs, and the people bribed to point Murder Hobos to the local Inn.

And of course, in the example above, the Salt Merchant’s Guild has monetary investment and receives dividends on success from the local Adventuring Guild. Not only do they cut a competitor in the goblins, they pick up land, they acquire the already pre-built goblin facilities for harvesting salt, and they receive a payout on guild dues from the Side Questing Murder Hobos. Not bad for their money.

The Murder Hobo Bubble

Once people get hold of this highly unregulated, largely under ground, and puppeted by Bankers financial system, it’s a matter of time before anyone with a bit of money invests in the local Adventuring Guilds hoping to cash out on land deals from Side Quests. More Murder Hobos means more shots at completing the quest means reaping more land back from Evil while receiving a payout. And the Old Man doesn’t pay out to Murder Hobos unless they succeed in their Quest. It’s win-win.

Like all highly speculative markets with no regulation and no sanity, this is bubbly market. Bubbly markets leads to investment mania. And in investment mania, everyone eventually has a good time then loses their pants.

And this example goes something like this…

More people invest in creating more Murder Hobos teams through Adventuring Guilds hoping for more Side Quest payouts from possible futures land contracts while they simultaneously buy into Goblin Land Contract Market. Investors realize they can make money at both sides of the Murder Hobo economic system. And it’s not hard to get gullible people to sign up to an Adventuring Guild to feed the investment maw. Being a Murder Hobo is more lucrative than, say, farming or tanning. More deadly, but certainly more lucrative.

Because suddenly it’s an Old Man sellers market from the spike in Murder Hobo buyers, payout prices for successful Side Quest completion crash. Hey, it’s an elastic price! Instead of 4000 gold pieces, maybe the Old Man can offer 400 gold pieces to passing Murder Hobos and get takers. High Level Murder Hobos pass on these Side Quests (risk to reward is too low; see above on Murder Hobo Risk) but low-level Murder Hobos try for it. Most 1st level Murder Hobos die in their great short-lived 1st level glory but some do level up in time and survive. Land deals cash out at an increasingly frantic pace. The investment cycle lives on.

Meanwhile, the payout price crash means plots for land acquisition under the humanoids balloon – the Old Man will see 90% profit if he can get some 1st leveled Murder Hobos to take his quest and survive. That’s too much reward for the risk. More Old Men (where do they come from?) get in on the contracting and selling of currently-owned land business to get a piece of the action.

More Old Men handing out Side Quests means a space crunch in the Inns. They cannot sit next to each other like Side-Quest-giver kiosks. That would be weird. And a space crunch means more Inns which needs more land. No doubt that land is being held by some nice family of Kobolds. It will look fine as an Inn. More quests! More Murder Hobos!

Dwarves running land assessment and appraisal businesses see business boom.

Everyone is in on the game trying to either become a Murder Hobo (easy but quick way to die), get in on shares on Adventuring Guilds (less easy and expensive), taking up space in an Inn as an Official Old Man (few by now actually old or, in fact, men), or speculating on all the ancestral land of the various humanoid and otherwise so-called “evil” species. Inns turn into the Starbucks of the Adventuring world — Inns are across the street from Inns in towns made entirely of services catering to Murder Hobos and Inns. It is Inns all the way down.

Eventually this happens.

  1. People realize Murder Hoboing is a good way to die and quit trying for easy and quick loot, drying up the Murder Hobo supply;
  2. Side Quests disappear as the hordes of 1st level Murder Hobos destroy the “evil” races;
  3. Old Men run out of money paying interest on loans on land they do not own as real Murder Hobos become scarce;
  4. Inns take up all the land in villages;
  5. Investors no longer seeing big and fast payouts for land contracts exit the market.

Not enough land or murder hobos or speculators are left in the market to support it. People bail out of the market in a panic. Overbuilt Inns go out of business. Old Men go back to retirement. Farmers stop trying to learn how to use a Bec de Corbin. Adventuring Guilds close. Salt Merchant Guilds must contend themselves with selling regular salt. The Goblin Land Contract Market slinks back into obscurity. Professional Murder Hobos are enormously annoyed.

And the Murder Hobo/Side Questing economy crashes. Decades pass before anyone receives any new Side Quests. Murder Hobos are stuck doing the main quest only. Many die on final bosses from being under-leveled in this sad and trying time.

Transmuter Bankers make one hell of a pile of money.

But what of the Old Man?

He’s still in his corner of the dark gloomy Inn, shilling out Side Quests for which he can no longer pay.

Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company and Reality’s End

“We have been seeing a big uptick in these lately,” the Diviner at his kiosk says as he pushes the scroll over the tiny desk to the Paladin.

The Paladin feels confused. The little Wizard is alone. There are no other Wizards in sight.  Perhaps the Diviner refers to himself in the Royal We.  He is a Wizard and Wizards are weird.

“This scroll casts Leomund’s Tiny Hut.  If you cast it, you get about eight hours of protection.  Useful, because it’s portable, but it doesn’t manifest any particular creature comforts.  See this mark here?”  The Diviner points to a small scrawl and a happy little printed cartoon mage on the base of the scroll.  “Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company produced this scroll.  We’ve been tracking these scrolls with great interest.”

The Paladin thanks the Diviner, pays for the identify spell and leaves.  The Paladin doesn’t share that he has eight more identical Tiny Hut scrolls in his pack.

The Party found Leomund’s Tiny Hut scrolls everywhere: in dungeons, on suddenly dead orks, in raider’s backpacks, and one inside a particularly nasty gelatinous cube.  No one thought much about this except, perhaps, they simply had reached the level in which Tiny Hut scrolls became pervasive. And those scrolls weren’t without their use. The party could stand up a small protected zone wherever they went.  It didn’t provide them the comforts of an Inn but it gave them the on-demand protection of one.  The magic huts were at least comfortable and dry. 

Whoever left these scrolls all over did the Party a real solid.  And free, too. These were third level spell scrolls, not some mere cantrip or Light spell.   These were worth something. And that one weird dungeon had a barrel full of Tiny Hut scrolls graced with a hastily written sign sporting the scrawled letters: “Free!  Take one!”

While Inns provided food and, more importantly, booze, the Party no longer spent much gold on Inns.  Sure, Inns were the purveyors of suspicious old men with quests and bar fights, but the adventure was on the road.  As long as the Party had a *Cleric who could whip off the Create Food and Drink spell, and someone was smart enough to pack a bag of salt**, the party rarely returned to town.  The Fighter could pack his own flasks of whiskey – he had the carrying capacity for it, and he could resupply his precious booze supply from rolling bands of evil humans (those guys are always loaded). 

Happily and not thinking too deeply about it (although the Wizard did make mention that this was all very weird), the Party took free hospitality from the mysterious Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company.  Thank you, Ozmo, you crazy magical nut, wherever you are.  We raise a toast of magically summoned but cosmically bland bacon to you from within our toasty Tiny Huts.

Until finally, months later, the Party returns to town.  Downtown, in the main square, stood the magical equivalent of a food truck – right next to the Inn.  The big, colorfully decked wagon sold all sorts of useful scrolls courtesy of Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company at a marked down discount: the not appearing in this edition Leomund’s Secure Shelter, the also not appearing in this edition Leomund’s Hidden Shelter, and the grand daddy of them all, the rarest and best, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Mansion. Buy five and get 10% off!  Buy 10 and get 25% off!  It’s a fantastic deal! 

“For gold you, the rich adventurer with a party loaded with spell casters, can sleep every night in an enormous mansion with enough food (and booze) to feed 100! Perfectly secure from roaming monsters and hordes of orks!”  comes the sales pitch.  “No longer must you sleep in uncomfortable Inns with variable heating, bad beer, mysterious old men and smelly common rooms!  Instead, use this scroll and sleep like the grand Lords you are!  Also Ozmo’s Hospitality Magic Company is available for lucrative franchises.  Inquire inside!”

And really, who wouldn’t turn down 10 Magnificent Mansion scrolls for 25% off?  It’s just gold and they can find more on adventure.  While the party’s Wizard protested that this much trans-planar magic is potentially bad and he should start a study, the party’s Sorceress forked over the cash for the scrolls. If unseen servants could serve her and she could sleep on a feather bed while on Adventure instead of sleeping on the hard ground and eating whatever the Cleric summoned, she’s all for this.

She’s not the only one.

Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company, purveyors of the World’s Finest Hospitality-based Spells, Scrolls and Items, provided a great service to the world’s adventurers, travelers, and murder hobos.  It’s the Wizards, sick of being poked and prodded on adventures led by over zealous Fighters and vengeance-driven Paladins while sleeping on the cold ground, who take up the call of the franchise. Why have space-filling and noisy Inns taking up valuable downtown real estate when a Wizard could read off a cheap scroll (which he sells) and pop up a full service, safe, and hyper comfortable Inn (a service he provides with the scroll) down the nearest blind alley?  Hell, it’s not merely Wizards – anyone with some Arcane got into the act. And rogues might have a 17 check to open up their own instant pop-up Inns, but that doesn’t stop them from selling Ozmo’s Hospitality Magic Company scrolls out the back of shady run down lean-tos on the seedier side of town (or at least knock-offs which may or may not work roll d20 to find out.)

Welcome to chaos in the heretofore stable hospitality economy.  Inns, forced with sudden competition from without by Ozmo’s Magic Hospitality Company, raise their offerings, too: bar fight free Inns, Inns with better beds, meals by celebrity chefs.  The Inns must advertise the stability of their location over convenience.  They adjust their prices to a new competitive low. 

And when a certain percentage of Inns go out of business – Inns run on profit margins and a little mass-market competition puts them in a bind – what happens to the old men hovering in dark corners giving out Quests?  Has anyone thought about them?  The Inns helped subsidize the living costs of the Old Man Quest Givers Guild.  Systemic Inn closures forced old men to set up kiosks in the street with signs saying “QUEST GIVEN HERE 10 gp” next to the Diviner Kiosk and the guys selling the Ozmo scrolls.

The Diviner had some opinions about this development but for now he quietly feds his data back home

Someone, the Party’s Wizard pointed out every time he saw one of these new trendy Ozmo-based businesses pop up, figured out the core production problem with shelter spell scrolls. 7th level spell scrolls are not trivial to produce.  Look at the economic chaos.   What about the silver that went into that dozen Magnificent Mansion scrolls we just bought?  What about the ivory?  All those hunted and dead elephants to feed the unquenchable maw of the market?  What about them?

“Don’t worry about it,” says the Rogue (who now sells Tiny Hut and Magnificent Mansion scrolls on the side at a reasonable mark up). “You worry too much.  It’s all good.”

It’s not good.  The Party’s Wizard discovered, through careful observations and experimentation, that abuse of Planer spells lead to a weakening in the walls of Reality.  “Continued use of Ozmo’s spell scrolls,” the Wizard says, “will cause a slow but certain degradation of reality until it all collapses into a single, final, Big Bloop.”

“But when?” asks the Sorceress.

The Wizard does not know. Letters passed back and forth with his Guild back home confirmed his worries. His home Wizard Guild (those left not making a killing selling insta-Inns) issued a warning.  Continued use of products from Ozmo’s Magic Hospital Company will cause reality to degrade.  While the tears  in reality are tiny at first, the rips will expand until the entire world unravels.   It may be next month, next year, in the next ten years, a hundred years, a thousand years from now… the Wizards cannot tell since measuring the effects of spell scrolls on reality is fraught with math.  They need more funding for further studies – which they can raise by selling Inns.

“How will this be any different from those of Evil who open portals to other world to bring forth fiends we must fight in battle?” asks the Paladin.  “How do we tell between an extra-Planar fiend summoned here by an evil Wizard and one who entered through a rift in a weakening of reality caused by millions of Tiny Huts?”

The Wizard conceded.  The fiends will be the same fiends.  The fights will be the same fights.  The evil wizards summoning hordes from beyond the same evil wizards summoning hordes from beyond.

The Rogue pointed out the Inns of old already disappeared.  It’s too late to think about the end of reality now.  Someone should have thought of that before everyone bought into the Ozmo franchise. Besides, if the rifts in reality will not consume the world for another thousand years in a “Big Bloop” does it matter if the Party uses the scrolls today?  Who much cares about a thousand years in the future other than a handful of Elven Wizards who always have their panties in a wad?

Isn’t a thousand years long enough to figure out a fix to this problem?  Why do we care today? 

The party doesn’t care today.  Or tomorrow.  Or once they reach level 20 and retire and their children become the next great adventurers.  Except for a few, Inns go out of business.  Ozmo’s becomes a Corporation of amazing wealth, reach and power.  Adventurers adventure.

Sometime later, a great expose published by a group of bards uncovered Ozmo as a deeply Chaotic Evil Wizard dedicated to destroying the realm’s hospitality industry. Far in Ozmo’s deep past, he visited an Inn and had bad shrimp.  After days of incredibly uncomfortable difficulties no Chaotic Evil Wizard should ever endure, he swore eternal vengeance on all Inns, Resorts, Lodges, and Hotelry.   Driven by hatred, enslaving planar demons by the hundreds to his bidding to craft spell scrolls, he concocted a plan. He decided to destroy all Inns everywhere.  His method of destruction? Freebies.

Buying from Ozmo’s put money into the pocket of Corporate Evil designed to destroy the hospitality industry!  These revelations divided the populace.  Some pointed to the body of growing Wizard research about the End of Reality and cried for corporate regulation from the King.  The government must reign in Ozmo to save the world. Others claimed they had a right to use and cast whatever spells they wanted. Who cares what a handful of Wizards say? Just because Ozmo is evil doesn’t mean his spell scrolls cannot be for the greater good. Look at the amazing lift to the adventuring economy since Ozmo’s began!  So many fewer orks!  Sure, there’s been this eruption in extra-planar creatures lately, but we have all these adventurers to keep it under control!

A political rift opened.  The two sides yelled each other.  One side called their opponents government-abetting control freaks who would not let adventurers adventure without the burden of regulation.  The other side called their opponents “Bloop Deniers.” In marketplaces they came to actual blows. No one noticed when the entire Diviner Guild simply left the Realm entirely.

And it was a shame when all of Reality came to a sudden and unannounced end sometime during lunch two weeks later.  

Roll new characters!  Time to adventure on the Planes!

* Theoretically we could measure the economical worth of a Cleric by the number of Create Food and Drink spells she can whip off in a day against the amount of money spent on actual food.  Where does the food come from?  Is she lowering the price of food everywhere by being able to create food from thin air?  Is magically created food Vegan?

** Magically created bland food requires salt.

Murder Hobos and the Supply Curve of Evil

A party of more or less good-aligned murder hobos gets wind of some organized slavery going on in a far off land – something vague about fish people, industrialized farming and pearls.  The slavery operation aims are relatively immaterial to the party. Slavers are over there and smashing them in the face is a generally good-alignment thing to do.  The party hops on the first boat to guaranteed adventure and loot.  Zoom!

For this adventure, the GM (who is also an economist and is, therefore, unbelievably sadistic and evil) assumes the demand for the pearls remains a relative constant – it does not suddenly dip or climb.  Whoever is buying pearls will continue to buy pearls at the same pace. Those farming pearls will have a constant demand for slaves to farm and fill that constant supply of pearl buyers.  She also assumes the price for fish people slaves into the industrialized pearl farming operation is elastic.   Either a sudden change in supply or an increase in demand will see a rapid delta upward in slave prices.

She writes these facts on a convenient 3×5 note card.

Once landed in the far off land after an exciting encounter with pirates (required by law), the party debates how to deal with the massive slavery operation going on. They come up with three options: kill slavers, slave redemption, or kill master slave dealers. They try the first one since it is the most straight forward and level comparable.

Killing the slavers, who are largely hobgoblins to reflect parity with the party’s level, is, for a while, a satisfying experience with party-level XP and treasure.  The party jumps slavers with advantage, they have exciting fights, slavers die, and the murder hobos roll the bodies for loot. A couple of fish people slaves go running off into the waste – free-ish for now.  Total victory, right?

These slavers are only feeding slaves into the greater system of slave-run farm ownership a handful at a time. These guys are small fries. And, whenever the party kills one slaver it gives another entrepreneurial hobgoblin a new day job. The party back of the napkin calculates they need to exhaust the entire hobgoblin race before killing slavers one at a time is an economical slave-ending practice in this corner of the world.  This activity is too small and localized to have impact on supply or demand. It does, however, line the party’s pockets with some small magical trinkets and a magic pair of boots they will somehow unload.

Several levels later, the bard gets a better idea.   The party will find the slave dealers and exchange some of their hard earned loot from rolling slavers and set slaves free. What is better than directly freeing slaves from the penury of pearl farming slavery?  And with minimal combat?  Guys, the bard says, this plan is awesome

The party exercises their now established contacts and has some interesting adventures with the local underground and Thieves’ Guild (hope the party Thief isn’t operating without a local license or they’re going to have words…). They fight some interesting monsters in some sewers because why wouldn’t the exotic city in the far off land have sewers, and finally discovers a hidden slave market.  The party bids on as many slaves as they can afford, buys them, and then releases them into the fish people slave Underground Railroad. 

Look! A great heroic deed!  Slaves freed!  Slavery solved!  Someone buy the bard a drink!  They’ll just roll slavers, buy back any other slaves, and drain the supply from the farmers!

Except now the party has introduced a new strong thread of demand into a system with an otherwise constant and predictable slave demand.  Slave prices are inherently elastic (says the GM) and until the system reaches a new murder hobo induced equilibrium, slave prices shoot up and up and up.  Incentivized by the climbing worth of their kidnapped victims, more hobgoblins become slavers to fill demand at a nearly 2-to-1 rate.  Entire fish people villages are torched and their populations forced into captivity.  The problem becomes immeasurably worse.

Good news, though – it might be possible to kill the whole hobgoblin race! 

Slave dealers send happy fliers for slave auctions direct to their murder hobo inn!  The more the murder hobos buy slaves to set them free, the more the lower echelon of the economy blows out trying to meet that demand.  And those original pearl farmers still need their replacement slaves at the same rates as before so they buy their replacements at the higher prices and then adjust their prices upward. The entire economy of this small country reacts to more money washing around by hiking prices on staples. Behold, the murder hobos are living agents of inflation!

(This causes a knock-on effect of passing this price down to the pearls which angers the traders who pass the price hikes to their customers but screw those guys. They’re just wizards. Right? Angry wizards don’t have any future bad political effects, right?)

Now slavery is more lucrative than ever before.  More evil humans and humanoids are participating in the wider economy.  Everyone is charging a bit more for everything.  Good going there, bard.  Why do we even listen to this guy?  All his plans are bad.

While waiting for the slavery economy to level out, the murder hobos go to work on their third, and best plan: killing the slave dealers and choke off supply.  If the pearl farmers cannot buy their slaves from slave markets then surely this whole land will come to its senses, right?

These slave dealer guys, the murder hobos discover in the course of the adventure, are like taking down Mafia bosses – they have enough scratch to hire themselves some serious protection and they’re not afraid to use it.  They’ve built themselves little empires on the backs of slaves and their clients, the farmers. As prices shoot up, the percentage of take the dealers extract from the sales is going up.  The slave dealers are making serious bank on the murder hobos.

The GM runs the party through a pretty thrilling adventure. Suddenly, the party has a mysterious benefactor who sends them directions to a slave dealer stronghold – a big, heavily armed manor house. The party makes plans.  They ready spells.  They break into the house in the dead of night and they take down a slave dealer in a serious boss fight with tons of cinematics.  And that guy, he has major loot in his basement.  Magic scrolls up to here

It’s when the murder hobos leave with their arms full of slave dealer loot they discover their mysterious benefactor was another slave dealer wanting to consolidate his position*.  The slave market is now making so much money the dealers are incentivized to gank each other through their favorite weapon of choice – the ANSI standard good aligned, heroic wandering murder hobo.   Now the mysterious benefactor picks up all the dead dealer’s clients and slave supply. Maybe he’ll hire all these new slaver Hobgoblins to fill out his ranks, too. 

Better yet, because supply will take a momentary hit while the slave dealers adjust to the new reality on the ground, slaves will now become even more expensive until the economy, once again, hits equilibrium.  

Murder hobos are agents of economic chaos. 

The supply curve and the base elasticity of the price of slave fish people screws everyone equally. Looking at the tally, the murder hobos have:

  • Killed some slavers and taken their stuff (good)
  • Killed a slave dealer who was totally evil (super good)
  • Set some slaves free (good)
  • Incentivized more slavers to re-capture all those slaves set free (bad)
  • Pushed up the value of slaves (pretty bad)
  • Helped to consolidate possibly warring slave dealers (really bad)
  • And walked off with armloads of loot (the best part!)

Remember the note about the GM being evil, above?  The GM is evil. Someone give her a cookie.

What’s actually the solution here?  Killing the low level slavers is fun but long-term ineffective.  Buying slaves and setting them free makes things worse. Killing slave dealers feels effective but makes the remaining slave dealers even stronger. 

Clearly, the rot is at the top.  The problem is the local government who allows all this evil to flourish with its tacit and ineffectual approval.  We need an armed military solution says the Paladin of Vengeance.   Only applied force at the top and a strong hand of wise guidance will free the fish people from their chains of slavery. 

And the murder hobos return to this blighted inflation-riddled land 10 levels later with their army and their enormous magic items. The local government never has a chance. Vengeance is meted out with a black armored fist. Those government officials not executed by the good murder hobo party are torn apart by the citizens in the streets.  The party declares themselves the Just and Wise Rulers of this Blighted Land.  Now, dammit, there will be freedom.

The murder hobos outlaw slavery.  They free the fish people.   The murder hobo’s army and police force round up the slave dealers, throws some into horrible dungeons and chase others out of the country.  The pearl farmers must now provide the fish people a wage of some sort or face the same fate.  They tax the pearls to pay for their righteousness.  Freedom is imposed.  You, people, will be free.

The price for pearls shoots up astronomically.

Sure, now, the murder hobos have to contend with an angry enemy navy made of pearl buyers on their coast, pearl price wars from other neighboring countries who allow slavery, and internal uprising from both the farmers and the private armies of the ex-slave dealers operating under ground.  Oh yes, and remember those pissed off wizards?  Well, here they are.  Pissed off. The bill came due.

This will work itself out with a little heavy handed dictatorship, military occupation, unlawful price controls, and a ruthless smothering of discontent.  This is nothing a Paladin as the new head of Government cannot handle.  Paladin’s are Good. This is for the good of this terrible land. Someone get that bard out of here.

And the fish people?  They live forever in horrible apartheid poverty. But at least they have their freedom.

The party totally prevails over the tyranny of the Supply Curve of Evil.   Level up!

* Because the GM also watches tons of HKAT.  Time for some Triad action!

The Lich Kings of Avalon – A Campaign Seed for D&D 5e

D&D5 Campaign Seed

This is a campaign seed for a fantasy campaign loosely named “the Lich Kings of Avalon.”

At the height of the King’s power, basking in the glow of victorious battles, wise in years but still spry in body, and a Kingdom at peace, the Necromancer came to Court.  The Necromancer offered the King a simple bargain: he would grant the King and Queen eternal life in return for the Necromancer and his ilk to live openly… plus a nominal fee.  He had arranged financing with the Transmuter Bankers, the Necromancer said, for the magic over several years with reasonable terms – not an issue for a King with infinite time.

The King’s advisors were aghast.   The Clerics of Good railed.  Sire, they said, this is Black Magic. Your soul is in jeopardy!  The Gods oppose working with the Necromancers!  Your ancestor banished them for a reason!  Do not accept this bargain!

The King looked at his second son – his eldest and first Heir dead from disease contracted in battle these ten years past – a boy of ten years who may not live to see fifteen.  His other two living sons were young.  He thought of his forebears who had the good fortune live long and to die slowly of strokes and dementia. Ten years, the King thought, barring his luck holds, until the inevitable downslide.  His beloved Wife and Queen, his wisest councilor, she too would soon fade and pass away.  What would become of his Kingdom?  His great victories?  His lands and treasure?   Would these boys rule and grow his Empire or would they, like all other boys fortunate to inherit peace, squander it all foolishly?

The King banished the Clerics of Good from his Court to go minister to the smallfolk in the Shires. He signed the papers of the damned Transmuter Bankers (so much more evil and terrible than Necromancy with their usury and compound interest and their promises of turning Flesh to Stone for non-payment).  He revoked the law set by his ancestor against establishing a Necromancy Guild in the Capital City.  And he gave the money to the Necromancer.

Afterward, a group of High Lords and Clerics who opposed the King’s choice of entering Undeath planned a coup.  They meant to destroy the thing that was their King and replace him with his ten year old son.  They struck the Palace through the sewers in the blackest night but the King anticipated their actions.  The Diviners had tipped off the Crown and those fortunate plotters who escaped scattered into the countryside. 

Those plotters discovered and identified by the smallfolk of the Shires fell upon them and took it upon themselves to mete out the King’s Justice.  They loved the King and Queen and those who struck against them found a bad end hanging from a gallows in some unmarked barley field.

The Kingdom carried on much like it always had in the reign of the King.  Some feasting moved from the brightness of day to after the night and Government in the Capital began operations later in the day.  The King required more tenting to watch the Jousts and Tournaments.  But the Camelot the King built glittered on its Hill, a beacon of Might and a source of capital.  The small people carried on as they always had, doing business, making money, plowing land, having families and living lives.  The Kingdom found new stability and predictability.  May the King live forever! 

The King elevated the Clerics of Gods of Kingdom and Law to the places in his Court vacated by those of Good and Peace.  He had no interest in nattering priests concerned with his immortal soul when he now had an immortal body.  Freed from the concerns of primogeniture succession, he then settled in to rule for a thousand years just as foretold in legends.  He was now the Once and Future King.

Quietly, the Necromancers opened a chapter house in the Capital City for business.

The first ten years of the Risen King’s reign saw unprecedented expansion and War.  A King with no fear of Death has no fear of battle. And a King with an infinite lifespan has no fear of paying down his war debts. For the Good of Kingdom and Crown, the King reopened War with his neighbors, lead his troops into battle and began a merciless war of conquest.

This could not stand.  The other prosperous Kings (or at least those with a tax base they could squeeze) would not watch idly as this obvious military advantage graced their mortal enemy. While the Risen King raided lands and burned villages, other Kings used their own networks of Diviners and Spies to bore into the Risen King’s Court.  Once the other Kings, too, understood what they needed to do to compete, they reached out to the Necromancer Guild.

These were the salad days for the Necromancers.  Celebrated in Courts and rich with other men’s financed debt, they traveled from Kingdom to Kingdom and Duchy to Duchy to offer the gift to military supremacy through eternal life.  Everywhere the Gods of Good opposed them, but the Necromancers and returning spies pointed out the Kings could supplant the Gods of Good with the Gods of Law and Right and their Kingdoms would be even stronger.  Take the Undeath, finance it through the Transmuter Bankers (always ready with the paperwork), give up one mundane life for a life befit of true Royal Blood, and break your Kingdom from the stranglehold of succession and failure.

Those who could mortgage their Kingdoms did.  But those who could not swiftly became vassal states of Empires.

The Risen King continued to reign a hundred years more with his Queen at his side.  Powerful beyond measure, he ushered in a new Golden Age. His sons grew up, married, grew old, founded Ducal Houses in the Kingdom, and died.  His grandsons grew to adulthood and stepped into the roles once held by his sons.  Soon they too married, grew old, and died.  Great-grandsons did not know a time without the Risen King on the Throne.  Great-great-grandsons were not sure their role in the Crown should the Crown ever fall.  Were they even of Royal Blood any more? What was Royal Blood? 

The Kingdom was always externally at War but always internally at peace.  The threat of Civil War by succession was gone.  There were the other Lich Kings of Avalon to fight, to take their towns, to raid their Empires, for the good of the Kingdom.  Where there was no War, trade and industry flourished.  Where there was War, it was merciless and brutal. 

We are always at War but we are always Winning.  The Gods save the Mighty Risen King!

The Lawful Gods of Might, Stability, and Kingdom supplanted the Gods of Good.  The Necromancers openly spread through every country and Empire. They became wealthy beyond imagining offering legal Turnings to those of High Nobility but never the greatness of the Turnings offered to Kings.  Social class dictated undeath.  Vampires lounged in the Great Courts and convinced the Risen King to pass laws allowing their legal and noble right to feast upon the peasantry and bathe in their blood (the Kingdom has so many we will never miss a few!)  Revenants, once great Generals and now Ever-living, haunted their black suits of armor on the fields of battle.  Undeath became fashionable.

Did Undeath corrupt the minds of the Lich Kings?  They ruled, for good or for ill, as they always did among their Undead Courts.  External to Court politics, the Kingdoms and Empires were much the same.  Was this the king or his succession of advisors, some undead and some the grandsons of his original advisors, maintaining eternal stability and peace within?  Or a blessing of Undeath? 

And did it matter?

The Once and Future King had returned to all the Great Courts of the World.  May the Lich Kings of Avalon rule forever!

The Murder Hobos of Avalon  

It is not entirely obvious from the outset that the undead run the Kingdom.  Much of the truth of the dealings with Kings and necromancers never became popular knowledge outside a few Government officials, High Nobles and highly ranked Clerics. The Crown’s propagandists long persuaded the populace the King’s unnaturally and bizarrely long life is a blessing to the Kingdom.  Sure no one sees the Queen much any more in public.  The King rides through towns in the countryside in an enclosed carriage.  He sits under his special tenting at his tournaments. In armor, the King appears with his visor closed and that dark visage around him is simply his God-given powers over Men and Dwarf and Gnome and Half-elf manifesting.

Besides, the doings of Kings, Dukes and Earls are so far removed from the lives of the villages they might as well be on another planet. For most people, as long as the Kingdom carries on and doesn’t bother them, they support their King.  Only through slowly peeling back the onion skins of lies and deceit surrounding the King and his Court does the horrible Truth finally emerge.

The War against the Risen King is a Shadow War.  The Risen King is too powerful to fight in the fields army to army in great cavalry charges.  Freedom from eternal peace and stability and life given back to the Living requires plots, spies, plans, assassinations, and murder.  It needs dubious Murder Hobos.

Who Fights the Risen King?

The Risen King enjoys broad based support throughout his entire realm. Few will publicly raise their fist against him lest they be dragged off and properly lynched.  But some would like the Kingdom – and all Kingdoms ruled by the Undead – returned to the hands of the true Living, even if it means enduring the chaos of succession.

* The Vassalized Kingdoms subjugated mercilessly by the Risen King as part of his Eternal Empire are not ruled by undead. They are not great and glittering Kingdoms on a hill. Their Courts are not filled with overdressed Vampires and the occasional Wraith.  These are the tax base for the Risen King’s eternal war, kept poor and forced to the soil so the King can squeeze pennies from their blood. They remember a time before the Risen King and the other Kingdoms of the World.  They remember when Necromancers were evil and not celebrated wizards and advisors to great Courts.  They remember when the Gods of Good were not hunted to the edges of the World.

However, representatives of the Vassalized Court who may or may not harbor their own dreams of attaining eternal life of a sort for themselves. Outwardly their motives are noble – freedom from oppression for their people – but inwardly they want what the Risen King has: power.  If they destroy enough of the undead Lords and seize their lands, they, too, could treat with the Necromancers.

*  Underground Clerics of the Gods of Neutral and Chaotic Good.  While some of the Gods of Peace, Hearth, and Home are unequipped to fight Courts of Undead, many Good Clerics follow Gods of Light and Nature.  Gods of Light may provide warmth and light when all around is dark but they can also burn the Undead with focused laser fire.  Nature has horns and teeth. The King’s Agents may have pursued these Clerics to the edges of the Kingdom and forced then underground but these Clerics still hold their sermons in homes in the Shires of those who hold to the Old Ways.  

* Great-grandsons of the Risen King who want their Blood Right as King.  Via primogeniture they claim the right of the Throne and Kingship but a long dead King occupies their Throne.  They have money and their have their Ducal Lands but they want the Throne and are willing to open a bloody war to get it.  Problem is there is now more than one of their little group who also can claim the Throne. Backing one Great-Grandson may mean opening Civil War with another.

* Agents of other Lich Kings of Avalon pretending to be employed with the Vassalized Kingdoms or the Gods of Light.  The Wars have long stagnated between Kingdoms and the only way for one Kingdom to gain an upper hand over another is for a Lich King to find a quick True Death at the hands of enterprising Murder Hobos. That way, the other Kingdom’s hands are clean, a Kingdom falls into complete Chaos, and the War shifts from equilibrium and into another Lich King’s Court. 

In the hundred years of stability, stagnation and growth, Kingdoms have had plenty of time to work out the kinks in their elaborate spy and Divination networks. All they need is to make a move.  In the name of Good and Freedom.  

* Enemies of the Necromancers who want their little Guild closed down, them removed from world Courts, and cast back into the Shadows.  While they rarely dabble in undeath themselves, they are the peddlers of the high fashion of the nobility.  They bring eternal life to the Courts and guarantee endless War and Empire. Destroying the purveyors of undeath will begin to free the world from their pernicious presence.  But they are rich and powerful and have high up friends and will not go down without a fight.

* Relatives of those murdered and fed to the Undead Courts for their blood feasts to maintain their eternal lives.  One of those vicious Earl Vampires ate a wife, a son, a family in wartime – legally.  The endless cruelty and evil must come to an end and the lives of the dead revenged in Holy, Purifying Light.

* Demons of Chaos and Hell who want their souls brought to them in payment for services rendered.  Eventually that bill for eternal life comes due and the demons want their flesh. The Necromancers may or may not have mentioned this part. Sometimes they forget.

* Transmuter Bankers who want their debts paid in full and are willing to have eternal life forcefully removed from a client and liquidate those estates to get it.

* Disciples of Chaos who simply want to watch it all burn for their own glorious financial gain.

The fight against the Risen King is a long slog.   One cannot merely walk into the Court and kill a century old King.  Besides, many have tried. One needs to get through his layers of protection, chip away at his support, and murder his most powerful vassals before coming face to face with the King.  And, in the mayhem aftermath, there are 10 more Kings out there just like him. 

Law vs. Good

This is a story designed to turn the normal fantasy Good-Evil axis on its side and ride along the Law-Chaos axis. If you want to turn this campaign seed into an actual campaign, the recommendation for constructing the first few sessions is:

1. Start the players off in an oppressed vassalized Kingdom saving villages from standard orcs and trolls and leveling;

2. Encountering clerics of Good and Light to spin out their tale of being banished to the edges of oblivion;

3. Come to the attention of Agents – either of the Vassalized Kingdom or an enemy Kingdom – and employ the Murder Hobos to destroy an undead lesser Noble Lord and let them figure out how to accomplish that task; 

4. Leave clues that the undead conspiracy goes all the way down.

After this, it is more about PC choice than unspooling a complex plot. Preference is to making all the “Good Guys” appear Good with loads of dark Neutral Evil motives.  The Undead Courts and the King are, without a doubt, undead, but only some of them are evil.  But this is only a suggestion – don’t run campaigns on rails.   

The Risen King entered this contract with the best of intentions; these Kings and High Lords are the disciples and Saints of the Gods of Law.   Do the Neutral Gods care if their most powerful agents in the Realms are dead as long as their power extends down to the smallest freeloader and feeblest villein?  Law is a powerful construct.  It crafts Governments, it holds together Kingdoms,and it pumps life into sprawling Empires.  The Risen King has provided stability for his people and might against his enemies. If a Lawful Good God must face outcomes that expands his Domain in spite of embracing some Evil, does he send in the Murder Hobo death squads anyway?  

Yes, those filthy fashionable Vampires of the Risen King’s Court are ridiculously evil but they were ridiculously evil when they were alive. If the PC choice is to go after the Risen King and kill his Undead Court in the name of Good, remember this is also in the service of Chaos.  The Vassalized and oppressed home Kingdom will definitely be freed in the aftermath of disturbing a century of expansion and stability.  And maybe that is a victory condition for the PCs.   They will leave a Civil War in their wake.

Lay out the philosophical dilemma, provide the choices to the PCs and see what happens.

Writer’s Note: Big thanks to Beth McCoy and family for providing me with this idea!  It’s a good one.  Also I listened to tons of White Zombie while writing this.

I started constructing this as a D&D5e campaign and now I wonder if it isn’t better as a weird sort of Night’s Black Agents Fantasy game or a Dungeon World game.  Running this with Gumshoe would take some interesting rejiggering of the system to make it work but it’s loose enough to fit into most molds.  And of course Dungeon World would allow the players to “fail up.”

Featured Image by Lorc under CC BY 3.0

On the D&D5e Starter Set

Yesterday, we got together, went through character generation, and played several hours of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Set.  To paraphrase: I wasn’t a huge fan of 4th Edition because I am a habitual minis player and 4th Edition felt like a minis game.   I did love the board games – Wrath of Ashardalon and the like – because I love roguelikes and those games felt like the right balance between a roguelike and a ridiculous dungeon run.  4th Edition needed grids, minis, rulers, and careful measurements to play and combat bogged down.  It wasn’t the D&D I remembered so the books went largely unread and the game went unplayed.

D&D5e is not D&D4e. 

Character generation is good old fashioned D&D character generation.  Pick a race, pick a class, apply some bonuses, pick some weapons, fill out a form, and rock & roll.  I picked a Mountain Dwarf Fighter because smashing imaginary goblins with a two-handed maul is fun and because I love Violet from Rat Queens.  We all filled out our character sheets wrong in the same way – it’s the bonuses from the stats which count, not the stats themselves but because we were all trained by AD&D 2nd Ed we are still thinking the Fighter needs an 18/00 strength to be effective and, well…

Backgrounds shone.  We didn’t have many to pick from, this being the Starter Set, but I see a glorious future of entire splat books dedicated to backgrounds alone.  Two of us picked Soldier and one picked Criminal and we came up with some tenuous relationships between us.  Rolling randomized on tables to create character personalities came up with some mixed results but the concept of backgrounds works.

Combat is what we all care about.  Gone are the 5’ steps, the grid requirements, and the trappings of a minis game that starter in 3 and exploded in 4.  Combat was fluid and fast – we managed to get through 5 combats in less than three hours which might be a world speed record for D&D.  Granted, these are 1st level characters with 1st level character combats so they’re expected to be fast.  Goblins squish.  But there was a good balance of risk, reward, tension, and fast play to keep combat fun.  

The Advantage/Disadvantage system is a bit of genius.  It forces the players to think more tactically without the need of physical tactics.  Players want to get the drop on monsters to get those Advantages so they’ll work harder, think more, and work together to get those pluses while trying to stay away from situations which give them Disadvantages.  (For those not yet exposed to it, Advantages are when you can roll 2 d20s and take the best, and Disadvantages work the same way to the enemy’s benefit.)  This gives the combats more color and encourages teamwork. 

To understand the general tone of game play, go back to D&D 3rd edition and instead of shooting off into 3.5/Pathfinder, pull out everything that feels extraneous – most of the mechanics around Feats, measurements – and put in a more fluid saving throw, skill and combat system.  It is not AD&D 2nd Ed like people have claimed – there is no THAC0, the d20 is still king, it is still all rolling and adding – but there’s an essential AD&Dness mixed with the enormous improvements found in 3rd Ed to make 5th Edition.  It feels like Dungeons and Dragons.

It’s a super good game if you are in the mood for the kind of cheesy, ridiculous fun playing D&D brings.  And it has all the feel of murder hoboing without the overhead.

Will play again and will acquire the core books when they come out.