Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Adventurers Face Death, Yes, But Also Taxes

Image found HERE - Click through for more info on medieval taxes
We all know the formula. Start in town, buy equipment, journey into the unknown, hopefully find lots of money, come back to town, buy more and better equipment (and maybe healing), rinse and repeat.

I have found that in practice, there are three ways this can go. The first, of course, is perfectly. More often, adventurers either come back without enough to support themselves in the hyper-inflationary economy they're all creating in town, or they come back with more dough than they can spend (assuming they're like mine and stubbornly refuse to hire men-at-arms).

It seems like the latter might have been more of a problem than the former in the old days. In AD&D, Gygax introduced "training costs" to, as I understand, siphon money away from successful mid- to high-level adventurers.

Another option is the bane of man's existence from the earliest days of civilization ... The Taxman!

Folks who regularly read the blog will know I was recently delving into the pages of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations. He does a long chapter on taxes, and as I was reading about the myriad forms of taxation that existed in the 18th century, it occurred to me that a random taxation table could be fun, with adventurers never sure just how the local prince was going to steal their money.

The idea here, of course, is not to make life needlessly difficult for adventurers. If they're relatively poor, the taxes will be relatively light, and an inability to pay them will result in being impressed into doing work for the sovereign, which can be used as a way to introduce new adventures and even entire campaigns (Robin Hood, anyone?). Adventurers tend to be outsiders and ne'er-do-wells anyways (why else are they delving in dungeons instead of holding down respectable jobs?), so another reason to bristle at authority should help to keep them on the adventuring path.

To get this rolling, we need to determine how heavy the taxation is in the locality, who is collecting it, and what the actual taxes are.


Different kingdoms/city-states/whatever have different expenses, and folks who spend tax money tend to overspend rather than underspend.

Each community will impose 1d4+1 taxes (see below) on adventurers.


The tax collector is usually a normal human, but might also be a captain (5 HD) or an aristocrat (3 HD). In rare cases (1%) he is a fighter or thief of 4th to 7th level.

The tax collector is not a popular fellow, so he is always accompanied by 1d6+4 men-at-arms (light infantry usually).

Not all tax collectors are created equally, of course, so we will differ them by their alignments. Roll as follows:

LAW vs. CHAOS (D6)

1-2. Lawful = Cannot be bribed or frightened easily from his appointed duties

3-4. Neutral = Can be bribed (Charisma check, -2 penalty) with an amount of money equal to half the taxes owed; can be frightened, but will return with triple the number of men-at-arms

5-6. Chaotic = Can be bribed (Charisma check) as above, but there is a 1 in 6 chance he will return later and pretend no taxes were ever collected; can be frightened, but will hire 1d6 assassins or thieves to get revenge.

GOOD vs. EVIL (D6)

Note, if you use the three-fold alignment system, consider Good to be implicit in Law above and Evil to be implicit in Chaos above.

1-2. Good = Is willing to fudge the tax bill down a bit (maybe 10%) if people look hard on their luck.

3-4. Neutral =No special behavior.

5-6. Evil = Will overestimate taxes by at least 10% if one is not very careful.

Where's the Taxman?

The taxman is usually stationed at the front gate of a stronghold, village, town or city, but may be encountered as a random encounter outside of town, but rarely in the wilderness.


1. Tax on coins: A tax of 1d4 x 5% on all coinage carried is assessed.

2. Tax on cargo: A tax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every 20 pounds of goods, above and beyond one's own clothing, they carry into the settlement. If the goods are "valuable", this is increased to 1d6 cp per pound.

3. Tax on arrows and bolts (and quarrels): The arrow tax is 1d6 cp per arrow, bolt or quarrel. There is a 1 in 6 chance they will also assess a 1d6 cp tax per foot length of bows and crossbows. This protects the local bowyers and fletchers.

4. Tax on iron and steel: A surtax of 1d6 cp is assessed for every pound of objects composed mostly of iron or steel. This protects the local iron industry.

5. Tax on copper: A surtax of 1d4 cp per pound of copper (including coins), bronze and brass carried into the settlement.

6. Tax on silver: A surtax of 1d4 sp per pound of silver (including coins) and electrum carried into the settlement.

7. Tax on gold: A surtax of 1d4 gp per pound of gold (including coins) and platinum carried into the settlement.

8. Tax on gemstones: A tax of 1d4 x 5% of the value of gemstones carried into the town; those who cannot pay have their stones confiscated until they can pay, but must pay an additional 10% fee for failure to pay and for storage.

9. Tax on magic items: Obviously, this requires the presence of a person in the tax collector's retinue who can cast detect magic, or obviously magical items. A premium of 10 gp per item is collected, and items of a demonic or diabolic nature will be confiscated by local church authorities, with 10% of the item's value (determined by the church authorities) to be paid to the original owners, unless they are determined to be Chaotic (Evil), in which case they are clapped in irons and sent straight to the dungeon.

10. Tax on magic-users: Those who appear to be magic-users (the spellbook is a dead giveaway) must spend 1d6 nights patrolling with the night watch, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per night.

11. Tax on holy symbols: Foreign holy symbols are assessed a blasphemy tax of 10 sp (wooden or stone or common metal holy symbols) or 10 gp (precious metal holy symbols). Each healing spell cast in court on behalf of the king/mayor/prince/etc. is the equivalent of 5 sp of the assessed tax.

12. Tax on strength: Settlements always have hard work that needs doing on civic projects. Characters who look sturdy (i.e. Strength of 10 or higher) are impressed into a work gang for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 cp per day for able-bodied folk, 1d10 sp per day for muscular folk (i.e. Strength of 13-15), and 1d10 gp per day for the truly mighty (i.e. Strength of 16+). If a creature does not look as strong as he or she is, use your best judgment as  TK as to whether this applies to them.

13. Tax on beauty: The local ruler has an eye for beauty; those with Charisma scores of 13 or higher are tasked with attending court in their finery (or finery will be provided) for 1d6 days while in the settlement to impress visitors, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

14. Tax on feet: A tax of 1 cp per unshod foot/hoof, 1 sp per sandaled or shoed foot or shoed hoof or 1 gp per booted foot is assessed. If your game includes centipede men, they're going to hate this!

15. Tax on wheels: A tax of 1d6 sp per wheel is assessed.

16. Tax on beards: The locals have had trouble with dwarves, and so they assess a tax of 1 gp per inch of beard length on all (not just dwarves) who enter town. If you don't know how long a character's beard is, guess or roll randomly. If the dwarf's player has ever mentioned looking like "the dudes from ZZ Top", he's going to regret it.

17. Tax on warriors: The locals need strong warriors to deal with the humanoids and monsters of the wilderness. Anyone who looks the part of a warrior (leather armor or more) is impressed into patrol duty for 1d6 days, or else must buy out of this duty at a rate of 1d10 sp per day.

18. Tax on finery: Jewelry, silks, mithral, adamantine, cloth-of-gold and the like are assessed a tax equal to 1d4 x 5% of their value.

19. Tax on hides and pelts: Hides and pelts are assessed a tax of 1d10 sp for animal skins, 1d10 gp for magical beast skins (and similar) and 1d10 pp for dragon skins. If the tax cannot be paid, the hides are confiscated into the treasury of the settlement or king.

20. Tax on retinues: In order to support the local labor market, a tax of 1 sp per hireling or man-at-arms is assessed.

You'll note that there is no tax on thieves' tools - that's because they'll probably just arrest a person who has them or toss them out of town.

If taxes cannot be paid, the offenders are either barred entry to the settlement and its environs (i.e. sent back into the wilderness under armed guard) and threatened with being declared outlaws if they again return without their assessed taxes, or is taken into custody until they can work their bill off (i.e. a great adventure hook!).


  1. So if a player gets a contract to a Publican should they earn exp for taxes they collect?

  2. I dunno. If a kingdom is strong enough to collect taxes from PCs, then it's strong enough to not have any sites where adventurers could get loot from.

  3. But are the PC's strong enough to take on the entire kingdom?

  4. I may write up a centipede-man class...


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