Loyalty and its Mechanics

Loyalty is an interesting concept.  Like so many other things in life, it is something that makes society ostensibly run better.

The motivations for loyalty – no matter how romantic the idea is – stems from self-preservation since ancient times, where you would die if you weren’t loyal to the group.  Didn’t want to share the food you found with your tribe?  Congratulations, you’re exiled, which is basically a death sentence.  Don’t want to be a soldier for Sparta?  Oh, well, too bad for you and your family; you’re now the most popular pariah!  You might say that we’re built with a sense of loyalty, or at least it’s one reflection of our true state: selfish.

This concept has taken on various names throughout history, including chivalry and its like across the globe; we could trace it back to Rome, the Spartans, and even further).  But what is it, really?  What does it mean to be a knight and be chivalrous?  What were you loyal to and why?  And more on point, how is loyalty as a mechanic used in tabletop games?  Can we make it better?

Codes of Conduct (e.g. Chivalry) as Loyalty?

Chivalry comes from the French word for knight, Chevalier, and was instituted by the Catholic Church as a way to control unemployed soldiers during times of peace.  No, it wasn’t there to make women swoon over stories like Lancelot of the Cart and those knights we see in movies, lauded as the heroes, were really hardened soldiers that made money by hurting others.  Back then, when peaceful times came along and there were no programs to assist professional warriors into peaceful jobs, things tended to be bad for the soldiers and others.

Of course the why is still interesting, and around the time Chivalry was constructed, the church was dealing with the usurpation of the holy lands.  Finally, the aims of both church and soldier aligned in the crusades.  An oath to chivalry was one to God, and principally was the perfection of a soldier under God.  In return for your vow to defend the weak, the religious pilgrims, and all that was righteous (all Christian things in this case), you were granted many boons by the church.  These boons included divine dispensations, money, and the ability to absolve oneself of needing penance.

So, become a soldier who protects the ideals of Christianity and defends those who can’t defend themselves.  In return, you get some cash and lots of boons.  Effectively, keep the peace in your home town and go be a soldier far from home.

There were other mainstays that were part of being lordly or noble, which set one apart as a mere soldier, since the knight was the lowest noble class, and to be taken seriously as a noble is to act like one.  Concepts such as generosity, keeping the peace, being just, etc.

Loyalty as a Mechanic

Chivalry did not have a formal code, however, there are concepts loosely analogous to chivalry that had a defined code.  Whether or not it helps one be loyal to that code is something else entirely.

Loyalty comes not because of a vacuous desire to be loyal, but as a reward for following the expectations of that loyalty. Loyalty is the price paid for some reward.  So, systems of loyalty should follow this.  Pay a price and get good things.

As Currency?

On its face, loyalty as a currency feels wrong to me.  Loyalty shouldn’t be a zero-sum game that you spend until its used up for favors, but considering that reputation can only get you so far for so long with others, maybe a currency isn’t a bad way to treat it.

Really, though.  You can only ask for so much in return for your loyalty.  Been at a company for three years?  Okay, maybe you can ask for that big raise.  But if you’ve only been there 6 months, you may not have the loyalty purchasing power required.

This is loosely how Vampire treats loyalty in its “allies” or “contacts” merits.  You have a number of dots representing influence with a group of people, and you can ask for certain favors up to some limit.  The assumption in Vampire is that you’re always buying these favors on margin, and a GM worth his salt should reinforce that this is a two-way street, and you have to repay what you’ve borrowed from your “loyal” allies.

If you want to build a loyalty currency, consider that not all coins are equal and people will haggle.  There are bad deals to be made.  Investments go sour.

I might steal some ideas from economics and Vampire to build this mechanic.  Something like…

Loyalty (Currency)

  • Gain 1, 2, or 3 Loyalty for performing simple, difficult, or challenging deeds
  • Spend 1, 2, or 3 Loyalty for getting simple, difficult, or challenging requests.
  • Tie each “loyalty” currency to a group, region, people, or individual
  • You can “convert” loyalty at a cost.  Maybe some percentage lost like one-third if the group you’re converting from is somewhat friendly with the group you’re converting to.  More if their less aligned.  And no conversion if they’re enemies.
  • You can get loyalty loans with repayment (e.g. I grant you this much loyalty to spend throughout the kingdom for one month.  At the end of that month, I will get some loyalty to spend on your services).

Now that I think about it, this is actually kinda neat, since it gives the GM a way to say “hey, you owe this guy a service, and if you don’t repay it, he’s gonna come get you.”  You can spin this loyalty currency similar to obligations from FFG’s Star Wars (which I’m a huge fan of).

As a Stat?

This is what D&D uses in the Dungeon Master’s guide.  The stat operates like a second charisma score when dealing with others familiar with – or bound to – some sense of that loyalty (or honor) that you’ve worked toward.

What makes loyalty/honor different from the base stats in D&D is that it’s more volatile, able to move up or down depending on the actions your character takes.  Offend a lord?  Reduce your honor.  Show largesse to a crowd at great cost to yourself?  Increase your honor.

Loyalty (Stat you Roll)

  • A baseline loyalty/honor stat of 0 and ranging from -10 to +10, which modifies a roll where loyalty is needed.
    • Modify the starting baseline stat depending on the character and their ties.
      • Maybe most rogue-type characters have less starting loyalty/honor
      • Those soldiers of a kingdom might have higher starting loyalty/honor
  • When you do something honorable, gain points in this stat
  • When you do something despicable, lose points in this stat

In FFG’s Force and Destiny, they take this a bit farther.  They use morality as a light/dark-side gauge to see how far you’ve fallen.  While I don’t recall players ever rolling with this stat, there are clear, concrete benefits to dipping to the extremes of the morality range.

You can do the same thing in any system you want to bolt loyalty/honor onto.  Maybe it makes sense in your world for scoundrels to get a bonus when attacking an unarmed opponent or finding goods on the black market?  You can do that with an FFG-like loyalty system.

Loyalty (Stat Range with Concrete Benefits)

  • Create a stat with 5 possible ranges (let’s use -50 to 50 as an example) and benefits
    • Extremely low values (Dishonorable): -40 to -50
      • Gain a bonus to lie to others
      • Gain a bonus to recruit criminals.
      • Authorities may believe you are responsible for criminal acts
    • Low values (Scoundrel): –20 to -39
      • While in this range, gain a bonus to lie to others.
    • Mid-range values (Questionable): -19 to 19
      • No benefits or drawbacks
    • High values (Honorable): 20 to 39
      • Authorities more readily trust your word
    • Extremely high values (Unfailing): 40 to 50
      • Authorities more readily trust your word
      • You get cheaper prices for services while in the nation you’re loyal to
      • You’re unwelcome where scoundrels abound
  • When you take an action that is viewed as dishonorable or questions your loyalty, add a number equal to its severity (1, 2, and 3 with the most severe, dishonorable action being largest).  At the end of the roleplaying session, roll a die and subtract this number from the die’s result.

Now, these are just examples, and the astute observer will notice that these benefits/drawbacks dip into morality more than loyalty, because such a thing as a loyal thief might exist.  Scoundrels can be loyal to a cause, right?  (Han Solo, anyone?).

That’s all I’ve got for now!  Go forth and conquer!

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