I started a post on this subject yesterday. It was a simple suggestion, but I realized that it affected another part of the game as well, and that area would benefit from some changes... before I knew it, the idea had mutated into a monstrosity, each area daisy-chaining into some other related change. I came to a conclusion: no single change would suffice to orient the game in a more gritty direction, and that even seemingly small, simple changes could have far-reaching consequences (or no effect at all.) It's difficult to predict exactly how a change will affect the game world, because of some hard limits that you run up against and the occasional contradiction between what you need and what resources are available. I think the game could benefit from a bit more grit in the works, though, so I'll try to organize my suggestions a bit. I really only talk about noble Houses, since that's where I have most of my experience, but I'm sure some of these things would be applicable to other areas.
Going with the theme of keeping things organized, let's list out a few things we know about nobles and noble Houses.
- Nobles need guards. They don't (generally) do their own fighting, nor should they.
- Every noble House has a similar military. Not in theory, mind you, but in practice.
- There's a lot of "keeping up with the Joneses" when it comes to the number of PCs in a clan. If House X has 10 PCs in it and House Y has 4, House Y will either complain bitterly (ICly or OOCly), go on a hiring spree and cram themselves full of people, or both.
- Guards get free food, water, storage, and usually gear as well - in addition to a decent salary, which generally ends up spent on armor, weapons, apartments, and so on.
- The structure of most House Guard/military units is identical.
- Nobles have a tendency to overuse (and overtrust) NPC guards, and underuse (and distrust) PC guards.
- PC guards aren't to be used for "dirty" work.
There's a place for noble militia organizations, but not every House needs to be the same. If we're going to tweak one thing, we might as well tweak them all. First, let's separate out the Houses that have formal militaries from those that don't, and talk about them separately - they're two different types of organizations after all.
Second, let's look at a tradeoff between power (or degree of control) and responsibility. Simply put, who pays the salary calls the shots. If we rest the responsibility for paying and equipping a guard on the House, the House gets to call the shots for how the guard is used. If we put that responsibility on the noble instead, then the noble calls the shots and answers for the shots called, both of which I believe promote a grittier feel to the game.Common changes to both
Let's strip out the idea that guards aren't to be used for "dirty" work. These are the minions of the evil empire - they're JACK-BOOTED THUGS in uniform with a get out of jail free card courtesy of the House name, as long as they're not too extreme. At least, that's how I'd like to see them
Reduce access to the NPCs by making them accessible only to ranking nobles, nobles on official House business, and other necessary uses. How does this make the world more gritty? Well, it acknowledges that Houses don't have unlimited manpower. In fact, junior nobles might have to go out without additional protection! It also puts nobles in a position to interact more with their own House PCs, which is always a good thing.
Non-military personnel (such as aides) would be paid from the noble's stipend - provided that they worked for an individual noble and not the House as a whole. Aside from some form of identifying garb (such as a cloak, coat, etc), it would be up to the nobles to provide their aides with equipment. House personnel would of course be outfitted by the House as appropriate. Non-military Houses
These Houses get something of a makeover. Most Houses have a use for their own internal military to protect their assets, but there's no reason that these forces should be anything but virtual or NPC. The military houses are going to provide the coverage for playing that type of PC, if you want to. So let's scrap the idea of a coherent "House Guard", and let nobles hire their own bodyguards, out of their own stipend. Instead of having formal arrangements for rank, bodyguard rank could be dependent on the noble they work for. Aside from identifying garb (cloak, etc), the nobles would be responsible for outfitting their guards - and if they so chose, could order uniforms from Salarr, etc.
This might require bumping noble's stipends up a bit - or perhaps just offering more opportunities for them to "earn" more. In my opinion, that's more of a feature than an obstacle. There's also a balance here - nobles no longer have a "pool" of guards to draw from whenever they're on, but on the other hand, with their newfound flexibility on hiring, they should be able to pick people whose playing times fit their own. House rules would still apply to the guards (going outside, etc.) but the "training schedule" would be more like a guideline for when training was taking place, since PC guards would (in theory) now be more focused on the nobles who hired them.
Oh, and I see no reason that a noble couldn't purchase a bodyguard slave (PC or NPC). This would be a reasonable alternate for those who absolutely refuse to use anything but NPC guards, as well as adding some business interaction to the slaving Houses.Military Houses
There aren't really any changes specific just to the military Houses. Because of the size of the playerbase, we don't really have enough people to split out both a military in the House and have nobles hiring their own bodyguards. Therefore, these organizations would continue to exist in essentially their current form with only the changes common to both types of noble House implemented.
That's about all I've got.