Ax Grinders Goal.
This is part of the Dyver's "Week Of Vengeance" Project started by Charles Akins
Dyver's campaign Blog is here.
“Uncommon patience in planning a revenge that is worth while.”
Everyone has an ax to grind.
The duke has finally gone too far, the party thief has been double crossed and here he is in some fetid oubliette. The rouge looks over his fellow prisoners, sneers, spitting into the darkness.Any Gm worth their screen and dice bag would love to hear one of their players direct such a bitter epitaph at an NPC. The player HATES that N.P.C. Job well done.
“I swear boys if we ever get outa this feted pit I'm gonna make Duke Havewald pay fer this, and pay dearly.”
Then what happens? Unfortunately the various flavors of the world's most well known role playing game don't present any mechanics for sworn vengeance.
There are some simple solutions. One way to approach this would be to make taking vengeance on the duke a goal for the whole party. If this route is taken the thieves revenge becomes the campaign until the situation is resolved one way or another. I have been known to use this technique myself with players taking the spotlight for a few games as they resolve their characters goals, then moving the spotlight to another player for a while. It works, unless the party as a whole is already embroiled in a bigger story than one thieves grudge against a duplicitous duke.
Another method is to make the thief’s advancement to the next level goal based. Telling the player “Your character can't level until your grudge against the duke is resolved.” This works well in some games, it may even be the best solution if the group and the player are going to have time to square off with the duke in the near future. If the party is off doing something else and the thief is going to have to spend time pulled away from the subplot however, this strict a ruling might hobble the thief's progression to severely.
Today I'm going to give a third option. Ax-grinding experience.
Look at how many experience points are required for the character to progress their next full level.
For example: Our rogue is 6th level and currently has 32 thousand experience. The DM would look ahead to the amount needed to raise from 7th to 8th level 40 to 70k or an additional 30 thousand experience.
Now figure out what 5% of that number would be, in this case 1500 experience. Let's call this number the "Ax-grinder Goal or AgG experience". During games or between games if the GM and player agree the player may opt to bank some of their earned experience up to the AgG amount. The experience would be banked so that the character could pursue interests regarding the target of their grudge. The time they spend plotting their revenge.
Following the thief example above: While the party I pursuing their interests in town, spending the gold they just pulled out of some forsaken crypt, the thief goes off to dig up dirt on the commander of the duke's guards.
The player explains he's hoping to find some blackmail material so he may get closer to the duke at some point. The thief’s actions can be played out in game or reserved as “off page action” which ever works best for the group. The player in this example takes 1500 exp off their total current experience and banks it away under AgG experience.
After the next game the thief might conspire to procure floor plans of the dukes home. Working out with the GM how this might be done they would bank yet another 1500 points of their experience. And so on until they are satisfied with the amount of planning they have put into their revenge or they have banked an amount of experience equal to the amount originally needed to progress one full level. (in our example 30K) At this point the character has done whatever prep and plotting he or she could have done, anything more would just be over icing the cake.
While this is going on the character can take part in normal party activities and gain experience as normal. Experience banked away as AgG experience is a representation of the time the character has spent stewing and plotting vengeance against their hated foe, and not moving forward.
Eventually their character will take all of the bits of information they have gathered and seek their vengeance against those who have wronged them. When this happens the gm needs to ask one question. “What will satisfy your character?”
In our example the answer might be “The death of Duke Havewald!” In a another game the answer might be “To take control of the navy from admiral Sivin.” In yet another game vengeance might be simpler, “To spoil farmer Boyers crops.”
Regardless of the answer the Character must fulfill the statement, if they complete their vengeance, they receive all of their banked AgG experience. If they fail at taking revenge, say the Duke wins out in battle, the navy remains loyal, or the farmer successful figures out what's going on and saves the crops. The AgG experience is forfeit. The character might be free to start the process over again if the GM allows, but this particular plan has failed.
What does this system promote?
The use of AgG experience allows a player to give up small amounts of experience now, for a payoff down the road. In effect allowing the character to invest in his or her plan for vengeance while the rest of adventuring life goes on. If the the character banks a lot of experience early on there is a real motivation to take vengeance quickly and get that exp back, striking while the anger still burns within them. If a character waits too long the amount of experience banked may become less and less meaningful as the character raises levels. Bitterness fading as time passes and fresh priorities occlude the memory.
Mechanically using experience as a sort of resource that can be withheld until certain terms are met is not unlike a GM giving bonus experience for doing certain things during an adventure. “You picked the vaults lock!” the Gm jots down a bonus value for the difficult task completed.
In the case of AgG having the player character sock away experience already earned and attaching its use to a future condition creates tension. This vengeance MUST HAPPEN. The tension will create in the player the feelings much like what the character must be going through. Desire to successfully get revenge, anxiety over the chance of succeeding, and most importantly a desire to plan that revenge carefully. Planning which should in turn get them to sock away more experience and strengthen the whole cycle.
Finally Vengeance should have teeth.
A character bent on revenge should be obsessive, plotting, scheming all at the expense of other things. Once revenge is achieved it should be as if that burden is lifted from the characters back. If vengeance is denied the blow should be crushing, and costly.
Thank you for reading.
-Mark Van Vlack