4e: Building Organisations

Organisations are one of those things that most editions of D&D have but they all seem to have weird ideas about how to relate to them. In 3rd edition, for example, a lot of organisations had you spending feats to learn specific mechanical options that marked you as a member of that organisation. This led to a lot of killer feats but also meant that if you didn’t have a feat slot to spare, there was no reason to care about these organisations.

I’ve been thinking about organisations, especially in my campaign setting, because I do keep using ‘people choosing to arrange things’ as an important part of the cultural landscape. For this reason I’ve been thinking about ways to represent organisations that people can join at any time without it consuming a limited number of player build slots. Themes and Paragon paths are fine – but what if you want to be a member of the church of Amaunator without being a Morninglord?

Now look, there’s one of the most basic and obvious things organisations can offer players in terms of access. Being a member of an organisation can give you some physical spaces to go to like baths or beds or specialiesd toolkits like alchemy labs or the like, which means players who are members of the group have the opportunity to be and do the things they like to do. A wizard’s college can give players access to libraries and the like, and don’t sell it short that the players can just enjoy having access to these things.

You can also use these as tools to encourage players to spend their money in particular ways. There are lots of systems in the game that care about sales and exchange, but odds are good that just pragmatically, you don’t have players walk into a city and pull open the rulebooks for the items they want to buy. If your groups are anything like mine, that kind of thing jerks the game to a halt, and that means that players are more likely to describe ‘We do some shopping’ and then move on to do other social roleplaying stuff that doesn’t need the outcome of that shopping.

If a player can buy, for example, potions at a discounted rate at their organisational potion store, then you don’t really need to do much to make that work out in a balanced fashion; if they spend N on fees, think about how many potions you want them to use in a level, then give them a discount on potions by N/that number. Then if the player wants to maximise that discount, they have to spend way more on potions than they might have, which has the twofold effect of pushing players into a mechanical space they might have neglected and it makes balancing the fee for entry pretty easy.

Another thing you can offer players in an organisation is rituals. Rituals are really cool sort of near-spell effects, with their cousins, Martial Disciplines, where you can use them to represent any kind of limited-use, thoughtful activity. And I don’t mean ‘you can use the organisation to do rituals’ where players bring things to the organisation to have them handled, I mean that as a member of an organisation, you may learn a trick or gain access to a common resource that is represented by that player gaining the ability to do a ritual.

You can even separate out these rituals by organisation. Normally, rituals are paid for with ‘ritual components,’ a fungible purchaseable component. You could make it so that before an adventure, a player spends some time and effort (ie, money) on building up practice or a dietary resistance or a magical circuit at the heart of the organisation, and that ‘stored’ money can be then used as their ritual components for when they leave the space. Then you just have to pick things that express the kinds of thing members of that organisation can do, whether it’s Dustmen and preserving corpses or Surveyers and talking to birds.

Finally, another tool you can use for organisations is Alternate Rewards. In the compendiums there are a bunch of slotless magical items whose whole job is to be special quest rewards, things you’re not meant to be able to buy, and which often have really desireable slotless effects. Browse them sometime and see which ones work for your organisation.

That is, when you want to give players ways to belong to organisations that offer mechanical actualisation, you can do it without adding new mechanics by just using what we already have:

  • Access to thematic spaces
  • Discounts on niche gear
  • Specialised Rituals
  • Alternate Rewards
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