Setting Design: An Officer and an Adventurer


In my Aurikesh campaign, all of the characters belong to the Gallant Shields of Chardecum Mercenary Company. This is not very much like the private security companies of the modern day, and not (currently) all that much like the condottieri of Renaissance Italy that are their more direct inspiration. Instead of working on an army scale, they behave more like an adventurer’s guild, but with some of the trappings of a for-hire military organization to dodge some of the silliness that I perceive in the concept of an “adventurer’s guild.” Come to think of it, it really operates a bit more like Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters…

Up to this point, all of the PCs have been enlisted. The Company has three enlisted ranks: Recruit, Proven, and Veteran. These ranks don’t have a mechanical effect, but substantially influence the way the Company (including the PCs) interact – the players have shown substantial willingness to make the most-senior party member be responsible for making tough decisions.
Now that several characters are very well established, I’m interested in opening a way for them to become officers within the Company, because D&D is all about the fantasy of advancement, and… frankly, a promotion is a pipe dream in our real lives. Jobs just don’t do those anymore.
I’d also like for the officers’ commissions to have some mechanical impact on gameplay. The problem is, there’s not a clear design space in 5e for this kind of thing, other than nudging the players toward spending a feat slot on Inspiring Leader. Inspiring Leader is fine for what it is, but the two characters who have voiced interest in receiving a commission have fairly modest Cha scores, and I don’t want to create a situation where only bards, paladins, sorcerers, and warlocks bother becoming officers. I’m writing this post, then, to help me figure it out – and to open the floor to my discerning readers.
Let’s start with my acceptance criteria.

  • Mechanical benefit.
    • Less powerful than a feat, and does not cost a feat slot. I don’t want to force a respend, and I don’t want them to wait until 8th level.
    • Should be appealing to players, but not so appealing that you’re just playing wrong not to become an officer.
    • Because Aurikesh runs with a continually-changing roster, the team should be happy to have an officer along, but shouldn’t feel like it’s a mistake to go without one.
    • Should generally fit with the other design patterns of 5e.
    • Because of the range of abilities in the game, there may need to be separate options for different combat roles or classes.
    • There are four officer ranks in the Gallant Shields. In ascending order, with the number of each at any one time under current Company rules: junior commandant (6), commandant (3), senior commandant (1), councilor (5). There could be, but don’t have to be, scaling benefits for higher officer ranks.
  • Other gameplay effects, including drawbacks and intangibles.
    • Benefits and drawbacks for the Upkeep and Downtime systems are the first place I am looking.
    • Getting first pick of (something). While it would be realistic to make this something like “treasure from adventures,” I expect that that would greatly antagonize the enlisted characters.
    • In no case should benefits to the officer be penalties to the enlisted.
    • Other things might be on the table too, but any result must adhere to both narrative logic and gameplay logic. It must, you know, “be good design.”
  • Further acceptance criteria to follow, if I come up with them. It may be worth noting here that there’s a strong chance of the campaign shifting into a war epic for a while, depending on how the story goes. If that happens, I would like any hard or soft rules around the Company to support that shift.

One more, extremely important note. I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of any branch of the Armed Forces, or any private security firm. I absolutely do not know what I am talking about, and would be open to an education on high-level matters. 

One of my first go-to sources for inspiration is the excellent Purple Dragon Knight fighter archetype in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. That archetype, however, references core fighter features, and does not necessarily generalize well.

Officer Status

Upon receiving a commission as a Junior Commandant, a character is expected to maintain her equipment, lodgings, and table at a standard befitting a well-to-do commoner, if not higher (250 silver per week). The officer represents the Company, and the Company must display prosperity.
The officer receives access to an expense account, on the order of 5,000 silver per annum, to cover expenses in the normal course of business. This account may be increased at the order of the Council of Honor, typically when an officer is given responsibility for supplying and quartering any significant number of enlisted members (i.e., actions in the field and wartime).
Following at least a month of general instruction as a Junior Commandant, a character may gain one of the following training options. You may change between these options with a week of downtime; once you have had each option for at least one adventure, you may change between them with a long rest.

  • As a bonus action, give a brief, inspiring speech, directed at one Company member, other than yourself, who can hear you within 60 feet. That ally regains hit points equal to 1d4 + the best of your Intelligence, Wisdom, or Charisma modifiers. If your current hit points are less than or equal to half your maximum hit points, you instead heal 2d4 + your ability modifier to the Company member. Once you use this ability, you must complete a long rest before you may do so again.
  • When you use the Help action to support a Company member’s attack roll or ability check, your ally adds 1d4 to the roll in addition to gaining advantage. You gain the same benefit when a Company member uses the Help action to support you.
  • When you and a group of up to twenty other Company members are expending Hit Dice to regain hit points as part of a short rest, any Company member with an unmodified die result less than yours uses your unmodified die result instead, even if the result is greater than they could possibly roll on a Hit Die. If multiple characters in the group have this feature, use only the highest die result.

Commandants must maintain a higher standard of living, on par with wealthy commoners (500 silver per week), have an expense account of 15,000 silver per annum, and (TBD features go here). The Company’s clerks of account will be after you if you’re spending any substantial portion of that money without obvious need.

Senior Commandants must maintain a still higher standard of living, on par with lesser nobility (1,000 silver per week), have an expense account of 45,000 silver per annum, and (TBD features go here). The Senior Commandant has a full-time clerk of account (included in the costs above).

As the Company’s whole income technically goes to the Councilors, they maintain the guildhall as well as their personal needs (5,000 silver per week). They also pay the Company’s yearly charter taxes (150,000 silver). They do not have expense accounts, as they are free to spend any money that the Company has, and can take out loans using the Company’s properties as collateral (this is common). Each Councilor has a full-time clerk of account and a barrister on retainer (folded into the costs above). They also receive (TBD features go here).

Design Notes

The Upkeep cost for officers is intended to be unpleasant – it’s conspicuous consumption, and my players mostly don’t want to pay more than 100 silver per week in upkeep. Officer status, and especially the trained feature, sweetens the deal in a big way.

The expense account idea comes from Sepulchrave’s Tales of Wyre, which I was reminded of thanks to an old Blog of Holding post. Thematically, if you’re undertaking greater missions and representing the Company, you deserve the financial support of same.

The first training option is, of course, healing word in all but name, and is a nod to the 4e warlord’s inspiring word; to address the oddity of shouting at an unconscious character to heal them, this requires that the target can hear you

  • Since this is not powerful or frequent enough to be any team’s primary healing, it shouldn’t feel mandatory to have an officer on the team. 
  • The dice double when you’re bloodied because front-lines leaders are more inspiring.
  • This might be better than the Magic Initiate feat, but it doesn’t grant a cantrip (which is usually considered the “main” benefit of that feat), and it’s more target-limited than a true healing word.
  • This action and the next one both engage with the action economy directly, which does different things to each class and build. A monk, rogue, TWF fighter, or ranger cares deeply about bonus actions, while most barbarians and wizards would scarcely notice if they didn’t get bonus actions in the first place. This is why it’s important for the third option not to touch the action economy at all.

The second training option is spontaneous guidance/bless, when using the Help action, but could theoretically stack with guidance/bless. This may be a problem for a future draft. 

  • Once again, it might be better than a feat, but it’s fairly situational unless you are a Mastermind (from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide) or otherwise get to use Help as something other than an action.
  • One of the things I like about this is that it works in non-combat situations, such as social or obstacle challenges. The officers may have to function as courtiers in some situations.
  • It also works when an enlisted member is aiding the officer, because I feel like leader-types should understand that their awesomeness is the result of having lower ranks as a foundation. Also, I don’t want to confine the officer to a more passive role.

The third training option comes – and this might seem silly, but it’s true – from the fact that I’ve seen White Christmas and Branagh’s Henry V a whole lot of times. Major General Waverly and Harry both spend time checking up on the morale and conditions of their soldiers.

Bob: We ate and then he ate. We slept, and then he slept.

Phil: Then he woke up, and nobody slept for the next forty-eight hours.

The King finds, in Act IV Scene 1, that morale is not doing so hot, but he goes through a lot of separate encounters to learn that, and it shows a deep level of sincere care for the well-being of his force that, I think, meets up well enough with what I’m doing here. I don’t really expect my players to attempt a St. Crispin’s Day speech to address flagging morale, but I won’t complain if they try!

It will be quite awhile before I’m directly concerned with the benefits of Commandant and above, so I’m probably going to test-drive what I’ve thrown out here for awhile. 

As a note, I’m not particularly concerned with my players being jerks to one another and pulling rank all the time, to shut one another down. If that happened, the officer would be called to the carpet by the Council to explain his or her actions. 

I would love feedback on this, especially from active and former Aurikesh players!

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