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Johnny’s Five – Five Reasons To Give Your Group an In-Game Sponsor or Patron

Posted By John Arcadian On December 16, 2009 @ 12:15 am In Johnny's Five | 12 Comments

Original: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TargaTasmaniaRacer1.jpg I’ve always had a bit of an issue dealing with money and loot in-game. Depending on the game system and setting that we are playing, money is very important. For some game systems, like D&D and Shadowrun, it enables the PCs to get gear that enhances their abilities. In other game systems, where the mechanical effect isn’t as tangible, it gives the PCs a resource with which to influence the game world. Often, I have a hard time creating scenarios that provide realistic reasons for loot to be provided. I try to compensate, but my group sometimes ends up with too much money and they are able to buy their way out of situations. I’ve been toying around with the idea of having an in-game organization sponsor them. To be completely clear, I am not talking about nascar-style sponsorships, but  old-school patronage style sponsorships, like artists in renaissance times or Wolfgang Baur use. Here are some of the reasons it might be a good idea, for my game and yours.

1. Prevents loot hassles by providing a steady paycheck
This is the big one for me. Sponsoring the group of characters in-game provides them with a steady paycheck. While they  may acquire some loot in-game, they can always count on having a steady progression. If they have their eye on a particular magic item, an upgrade to their cyberware, or some other expensive item they know they will eventually have enough for it. I no longer have to try to estimate the amount of money they “should” have, nor do I have to drop a treasure chest or expensive art relic into the middle of a dungeon where it should not be.

2. More options in giving the party high-level items
Can you really just walk into a shop and get the +12 sword, or portable hole that you are looking for. Mechanically speaking, yes. Worldwise, maybe? Sure you might have enough money for it, but the presence of these items in the marketplace isn’t guaranteed. I’ve always hated making such things easily available to anyone with the money to buy them, but I’ve hated denying my players the opportunity to get them more. One of the things I plan to do is to make items available through the group(s) sponsoring them. Now, instead of merely getting to money together to go out and buy it from the Local world-breaking magic and high powered illegal assault rifle store, the characters might ask the group that sponsors them to search for an item. Then, through means available to the more politically and financially connected patron, the item can be acquired. While this is mostly a justification for certain things being available to the group. It has a lot of merit. It need not be limited to items, but favors and other game changing events could be provided by the sponsor.

3. Salaries give a group a reason to go places and do things
I like to let my players have a lot of freedom with their game structure, but that often leads to party paralysis. While many of the players & characters have individual goals, they are often at a loss for what to do next. If I have something specific that I want them to do, getting them to do it with a believable hook can sometimes be tricky if their characters aren’t personally tied into the plot I’ve got. Putting the group on salary and having their employer tell them works pretty well. No justification or awkward introduction phase, just a message from their sponsor asking them to take care of something. The best part of this is that I could set up the sponsorship in such a way that I only pull it out when it seems necessary. Their sponsor might keep them on retainer and only call on them every so often, which enables them to pursue their own path most of the time.

4. Living Expenses
Ever actually charged living expenses in a game? Yeah, me neither, but I’ve always liked the idea of it. The idea of living expenses is pretty interesting, but would bog down a lot of games and not be very fun. However, I like the idea of a street samurai going home to his luxury apartment and getting clean or the paladin returning home to his loving family after a long crusade. These kinds of things give the characters dimension. With a sponsor for the party, I have an easier time getting the players to whip up some details for their life outside of adventuring without worrying about spending their loot on maintaining them.

5. Ok. Not so much a reason, but here are a couple of scenarios for sponsorship:

  • Part of a military or para-military group 
  • Itinerate problem solvers on a duke’s, noble’s, kingdom’s, or corporation’s payroll
  • Freelance investigators for an insurance company
  • Henchmen to an evil (or misunderstood) genius
  • The group has sold rights to the reenactments of their adventures to a magazine or tv-show
  • Attached to a corporation as a security or black-ops group
  • Sponsored by a merchant group who wants to ride the wave of publicity generated by the group’s good deeds
  • The group is sponsored because they cause problems for a sponsor’s rival
  • The group is sponsored by a country because of the monsters/troubles they inevitably clear up

The idea of an in-game group or person sponsoring the party is going to work for some types of games and not others. I’ve only thrown out a few reasons that you might want to add the idea of patronage/sponsorship to your current game. What do you think of the idea? Would your in-game group benefit from it?

About  John Arcadian

John Arcadian is the head of Silvervine Games, a freelance writer and art director, a website developer, a builder of sonic screwdrivers, and a purveyor of kilted mayhem. When he isn't out causing trouble in his kilt... Well, no, that is pretty much what he does when he isn't running RPGs or or trying to take over the world.




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12 Comments To "Johnny’s Five – Five Reasons To Give Your Group an In-Game Sponsor or Patron"

#1 Comment By XonImmortal On December 16, 2009 @ 3:54 am

Wow, I think I got the first comment.

A problem I ran into with sponsorship (with reference to # 2) was the players treating it like their own personal high-end supermarket. When it came time to to resupply the group after their last adventure, they’d dig through to find just about everything they could get their hands on.

It didn’t help that one of the characters was the only normal-sized person in the group, and combined all the more objectionable traits of a pack mule, a pack rat, an elephant, and a bag of holding. He literally carried all of the equipment for the group that wasn’t absolutely necessary for the others to have on their person. In fact, he insisted on it.

That is where things like availability, item creation time, and personal quirks come in. I actually used this one once, and had the players roaring with laughter: “Oh, our artificer won’t make those any more. He says the prime ingredient makes him sneeze for days afterwards.”

It’s important to stress to players (and by association, their characters) that there had better be a very good reason for an item or expense. “Portable hole??? Carry your own d—d luggage.”

Another trick to use is a mini-patron. This is an interested party who can be relied on to provide a very specific and limited service in return for a very specific and limited favor. In one of my worlds, their is a sisterhood of clerics, who gather and disseminate knowledge, acting as the world’s librarians. Usually any large city has at least one making rounds, dropping off books and picking up returns. My group was able to use the sisterhood as a means to relay messages to other folks (such as family – I like my players to have to worry about ‘real life’ issues as well as adventuring), in return for the donation of a single item they had found that was quite useless to the group. They also found that, on occasion, when they gave the sisterhood some piece of information that was deemed important, the sisters would volunteer to do some small favor for them, such as provide a map for a particular area.

Providing the players with a NPC group that is friendly and will exchange these small favors works very well. My players actually started keeping notes of things they saw, to provide to the sisterhood. This gave them access to better favors as they went along, and the interactions with individual sisters gave them more insight into how the world worked and the sisterhood’s place in it.

#2 Comment By OgRib On December 16, 2009 @ 8:38 am

Thanks for the idea. This article got me thinking I can use Charlie’s Angels (without the T&A) as an inspiration for sponsor/base of operations for my new players when we start.

They are recruited to work for a mysterious stranger the party never meets (call him Townsend?). Instead the party only hear his voice and see a shadowy outline in a crystal orb attuned to Boz – who acts as local support/liason for the adventurers (maybe a NPC who can manage an occasional resurrection) but never goes adventuring.

Finding out who the sponsor is and what his goals are will make for some interesting long term play.

The sponsor idea nicely addresses my discomfort with ‘magical’ and elite items being too common. Requiring powerful friends and significant effort to get bonus item should make them more ‘special’ to the players.

#3 Comment By MaW On December 16, 2009 @ 8:39 am

It works in Paranoia – although many conventional things don’t. Since all the PCs are Troubleshooters working directly for The Computer (in theory, and when they’re not working for their ordinary day jobs), they get immediate motivation to do what they’re told, and they also get a steady(ish) stream of income in exchange for completing missions.

Of course, as anybody who’s actually played Paranoia quickly finds out, ‘completing a mission’ is not something that happens very often – and you have to be alive if you want to enjoy your bonus credits.

#4 Comment By Nephlm On December 16, 2009 @ 10:21 am

I would really like my group to grow to be their own patron. By which I mean I’d like them to hire people to do various non-adventuring things and retain them on staff. They need a business manager, researchers of various stripes (intel, academic, legends, magical, etc). They should have their own facilities and cadre of guards to defend it not to mention staff and quartermasters. A diplomat/negotiator or two to smooth over any problems and secure the blessing of the powers that be would also be a good idea as they grow.

Once they are an organization in their own right, they sick the research department on finding the ‘whatzit’ they decided they need. That could be either a merchant that has one, or a mage who could make one…. for a favor.

Once they are an established presence, of course people are going to dispatch a message to their business manager when they need help and the powers that be may tap them for a job that they’d be perfect for.

I like the idea of them having a little empire for them to care about. Sadly my success rate of getting my players to follow along has only been so-so. Too many players are afraid of having something to care about, to many bad GMs have made them sand off all the handles because GMs have only used them to hurt them.

As for #4, I’ve run systems that have wealth/resources a skill or skill like thing. I usually require the investment of loot to raise it and if I just a pile of cash to give them I just give them 500 wealth xp to raise that skill (which can’t be raised with normal xp) or a +1 wealth roll token they can redeem later.

Depending on that skill level will determine what sort of life they are living.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On December 16, 2009 @ 11:37 am

I like the idea– it offers a way to give the players what they want, and what the game expects them to have, without the distorting effects of magic shops. Plus it’s another group of recurring people to interact with and figure out.

#6 Comment By Lee Hanna On December 16, 2009 @ 1:43 pm

I sometimes use a patron for setting adventure hooks, but I hadn’t really thought through using them for stuff, too. One of my campaigns on hold has at least one PC with ties to a secret order, and I am wrestling with how to get to the magic items that PC wants. I think looking at it from the points above, I will go ahead and give her the stuff, for the usual job ticket.

#7 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On December 16, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

Personally, I don’t like the “going to the store” side of RPGs. I’d much rather find things in-game than browse through all the swag.

Although some of these may be a bit railroady, here’s a couple of options that I’ve considered:

Religion – Holy Troubleshooters, Batman! Religion resolves so many of the traditional questions: motivation, pay, party cohesion, access to powerful items/effects, questions of morality, etc. Depending on the religion, it can open up a few tensions as well.

Independent Contractors – This is the loose ‘traditional adventuring party’ model, made official by the use of a charter and the rights/responsibilities therein. The charter can be as expensive, and as relaxed or as restrictive as you want.

Guild of Adventurers – This can be either a loose affiliation or a tightly run organization, which has bargaining power with the other guilds, items for rent or sale, the cash/credit to bond and finance operations (with proof of prior success), etc. Of course, members have a code of conduct, and membership fees, taxes, tithes, and even outright bribes and favors may be necessary.

#8 Comment By BishopOfBattle On December 17, 2009 @ 4:41 pm

In my experience with my group’s Shadowrun campaigns, I’ve found NPC Contacts to fill many of the “sponsership” roles you mentioned, without any one of them being the sole beneficiary of the party.

Often, when the group wants some hot new tech, they have to go to one of their various contacts and ask them to search around (because very few of them are sellers themselves). This gives me some control over how quickly they get their loot, but also rewards the players for helping out their contacts by forwarding them some bit of paydata they might find useful or tipping them off to information on their latest mission. As valued contacts, these NPCs are more motivated to help their friends find what they need. And when it turns out that these contacts have a favor to ask of the Runners, the players have invested themselves in them enough that they feel the desire to help them out.

#9 Pingback By Ravenous Role Playing » Blog Archive » Friday Five: 2009-12-18 On December 18, 2009 @ 10:24 pm

[...] Johnny’s Five – Five Reasons To Give Your Group an In-Game Sponsor or Patron The reason I’m linking to this story is that I’ve done this with groups before. Several times, actually. It works out quite well. It gives them all a common leader, a common thread and a source of information, goods and adventures. If you never “sponsored” a group before, then check out the post to learn more details. [...]

#10 Comment By The Stray7 On December 19, 2009 @ 5:15 am

I’ve done this to great effect in my game. The group are members of a local Adventurer’s Guild, which provides them with job leads and contacts in return for a cut of the profits, and will buy art objects and magic items from them.

However, they also have contact with a guild of dwarven artificers who they helped out of a jam recently and, in return, were allowed to get access to magic items. The adventurer’s guild can get access to custom items, given enough time, but the artifcer’s guild usually has a number of odd, potent magical items in stock, giving the players choice on how they want to spend their parcels.

#11 Comment By ggodo On April 22, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

I’m having my players act as a medieval special forces group behind enemy lines, potentially aided by a rebellious group called “The Order of the Owlbear.” The wisdom of the owl, the might of the bear. The players haven’t yet met them yet, but that’s mostly because the campaign just started. They also have their company quartermaster who’s kinda a dick, but he can find nearly anything, if you give him a little on the side. . . Of course you’d have to get back to your encampment to talk to him.

#12 Comment By dizman On May 4, 2010 @ 9:30 am

I only recently got same idea. Before reading this article today. I had my players do the guild takeover with dopelganger pretending to be a guild master and has other players to be his most trusted friends and now they are getting in the complex mechanics of guild functions and have them work for their guild which is run by a trusted npc. Although about “4. Living Expenses” i charged players one time 10gp each week for food drink and place to live expences. Seemd good but worked out bad so i dont use it anymore. BTW thanks this article opened my eyes in a way. Thanks


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