Tag Archives: manor system

Noblesse Oblige Video Blog: Overview

I’ve recently finished the 37,000 word first draft of Noblesse Oblige, the lordship supplement for Chronica Feudalis. And, well, instead of writing more words about it, let me just tell you what it’s all about.

Sorry about all the ‘uh’s and ‘um’s. I’ll get better at this, I swear. If you want to track what I’m saying about it on twitter, follow me (@jeremyjkeller) or search for the hashtag #NobOb.

[CFMS] Scale of Play

Over the last couple of days we’ve talked about how the manor system scales size and time. But there’s one more scale-related facet to explore and that is the scale of play-styles.

There are many ways to play the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Largely this is because there are many elements that can scale in complexity based on how interested you are in the element. If the tenants of the manor are villeins who work on your demesne, then you roll each season to see how they do with their farming / fishing / sheep herding. If they are free peasants, you roll nothing and just collect flat rent payments from them every year. The choice between the two has as much to do with the play style you’re interested in as anything else. If you’re interested in mining and lumbering, you can hire laborers to do these tasks for you or you could just buy the materials outright and avoid the hassle.

And because of the way that the system scales in size and scales in time, you have some choices in this regard. Are you telling the story of a family of peasants working one virgate strip of land – because the system can do that – or are you telling the story of several wealthy barons, each with their own manors, because the system can do that too. Or maybe each player is a peasant with their own virgate or perhaps all the players collaborate on running one baron’s manor. Are you playing with the manor system as a framework for your adventures or are manors something that work in the background of your role-playing focused campaign?

So what’s the problem? Lots of choices and scalability are good things, right? Well the issue that comes up now is how do I write this? At any one decision point, I feel the need to spell out not only all the various options, but also how each previous decision impacts all those option. Choosing between villeins and free peasant tenants is a different choice depending on weather you are playing the tenants or the lord.

My decision – for the moment anyway – on this issue is to create a default play scenario and write the manuscript targeted at that play-style. The scenario will likely be the one that most engages with the rules. It’s not that this play-stye is any better than any of the other options, it’s just that it hits on nearly every eventuality. Likely we’re talking about a knight’s fief (allows you to see every facet of manor life but still gives you room to grow) with the players sharing responsibilities of running the one manor (to illustrate how responsibility sharing can work) that uses the manor system as inspiration for short, episodic adventures (so that we can explore epic time-frames of castle building and generational play). I will of course hint at and imply the various other play options – probably including a section that introduces several of them – but it seems like it would make the writing of and learning of the system too muddled if I map out each path linearly through each chapter.

[CFMS] Scale of Time

Yesterday I tackled issues that deal with the scale of size in the Chronica Feudalis Manor System. Today, let’s get into the issue of time.

How do you match the hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute urgency of adventure stories with the long time-frames needed to see results come from your manor? Ploughing and planting fields will take up a full season. Then it takes almost a year (from the autumn planting season) before those crops are ready to be harvested. Building something like a church could take a few years. Building a castle or a cathedral takes decades.

The solution here, if you really want to engage with the manor system, is to let the manor system frame your adventures (and fortunately games like Pendragon have paved the way for this option). You’ll start play using the manor system and end play using the manor system. In the meantime, you will have periodic and distinct adventures. What I mean by distinct is that no urgent plot threads are left dangling. Are you really going to let five more years go by if your spouse is still held hostage by your rival?

So, how can adventures be inspired by the manor system? Well, we talked about hardships the other day: these are temporary aspects that can be compelled whereby you turn whatever obstacle your people are facing into a problem to be solved. Also, the GM can always compel the lord’s aspects. To be a lord, you either have to be a noble (which implies some obligations that might be the impetus of a compel), be a knight loyal to a noble (which has its own compel-worthy obligations), or hold some high office in the clergy (which again is full of obligations).

But another source of inspiration is having a rival manor run by the GM. What happens when the rival needs a resource that the player manor has? Or vice versa? Are deals made? Are raids planned? Do the two factions go to war? Conflict breeds stories, and conflict on the manor level can instigate adventure after adventure.

[CFMS] Scale of Size

The manor system presents a few big design issues that seem to orbit around the concept of scale. I’ll be talking about these over the next few days. My first issue has to do with the scale of size.

How can you represent a few acres of farmland and an administrative division of a county in the same system? How can you represent a single family of people and a full town of people in the same system? How can you represent enough stone to build a modest home and enough stone to build a cathedral in the same system?

Anything that needs to be measured in the manor system is measured in step-die ranks: d4 through d12. That’s five distinct measurements to use. Five measurements does not give us much to work with if we use a linear system:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 30 people
  • d10 – 40 people
  • d12 – 50 people

So the obvious next step here is that each step should increase exponentially in what it represents. The purse in the core rules already works this way. Each step is worth two of the step below it. Two d4 purses can be combined to form a d6 purse. If we use the same 2:1 ratio for population sizes, we get the following:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 20 people
  • d8 – 40 people
  • d10 – 80 people
  • d12 – 160 people

This is much better – we start to get the sense that each rank tells a different story. A d4 is about a (large) family. A d8 starts to be a pretty big crowd. A d12 is a good sized work force. But you would still need a lot of d12s to fill up a town. You could make each rank represent more, but then you loose the smaller end of the scale.

So my next step is to increase the ratio. This is what we get when we use a 4:1 ration of one step to the next highest:

  • d4 – 10 people
  • d6 – 40 people
  • d8 – 160 people
  • d10 – 640 people
  • d12 – 2560 people

And now we hit the sweet spot for what I want each step to represent. When they fight, d4 populations can get involved in skirmishes and d12 populations are clearly at war. The numbers just feel right.

The downside is that keeping track of this just got a lot messier. If you have three d6 populations of people it’s not quite enough to combine into a d8, but it’s still significantly more than one d6. So now a particular measurement is tracked using three dice instead of one. Now if a d4 population leaves that 3d6, you end up with 2d6 and 3d4 people. It all turns into a strange decimal system of dice. Like I said, it’s messy.

I sometimes play around with the idea of a 2:1 ratio of dice conversion but keeping the 4:1 ratio of representation. Would it be okay to combine two d6s of 40 people into one d8 of 160 people? There’s a big disconnect there, and while it could be explained away as an abstraction, it feels strange. Where do those other 80 people come from?

For now, I’m sticking with a strict 4:1 ratio. But this is something I keep coming back to trying to find a cleaner, more elegant solution to.

Check back tomorrow as I bring up scale in another dimension: the dimension of time.

[CFMS] When Bad Things Happen

When you are running your manor, you’ll be making a series of dice rolls. You’ll be rolling to see how many crops you plant or harvest. You roll to exploit your resources: cutting down trees and quarrying stone. You’ll roll to turn those extracted materials into structures like castles, bridges, and churches.

When you roll well and win successes, your manor is doing well. You are rewarded with more materials and better productivity.

When you roll poorly and fail, you don’t generate materials and you don’t produce. And to keep the manor system from being just a game of numbers, we ask ourselves why? What caused the loss of production that season? And we make up some fiction to explain the cause of the failure. You lost crops because there was a rash of crows that ravaged your fields or you couldn’t make progress on building the keep because of the terrible weather that kept everyone indoors.

We codify these explanations as something called a hardship. A hardship might be famine, disease, a rash of crows, tumultuous weather, something that is making life on your manor hard and miserable.

You generate a hardship when:

  • You fail a roll.
  • You push your tenants: either by asking for more week work or demand higher rents.
  • You do not generate enough food to feed a population your are responsible for.

Hardships are a subtype of aspect: like a condition or injury. They are ranked and generally they will need to be endured the next time that population makes a roll. They sound like bad things, right? Well, they are bad things. Enduring hardships penalizes your dice rolls, leading to more failures, leading to worse hardships. But at the same time, hardships are good things in disguise. These are FATE mechanics. Aspects that work against you earn your manor Ardor points! Hardships are Ardor factories. Each time you endure a hardship, that’s an Ardor point you can use to invoke something later.

Besides being endured, hardships may also be compelled. This is one way in which we can transition from the manor system rules into the core role-playing rules. You have a hardship on the table: let’s say it’s a Terrible sickness that is rapidly spreading amongst your tenants. The GM can pay you an Ardor and compel the hardship to create an issue. The issue is some matter that has to be solved through role-playing; at the very least a conflict should be played out to resolve it. In this case, let’s say the GM compels the Terrible sickness hardship to create an issue in which neighboring merchants are reluctant to come to your town for a trade fair because they are fearful of catching the sickness. The protagonists must now convince the merchants to attend. Once the issue is resolved, the hardship goes away and we may return to normal manor rules play.

To summarize:

  • Hardships are created as the explanation for failed rolls or inadequate food supplies.
  • Hardships are endured, making future rolls harder. This earns you Ardor.
  • Hardships may be compelled in order to create adventure hooks for role-playing sessions. This also earns you Ardor.

[CFMS] Masters

In Chronica Feudalis, you pick three mentors – three experts who help to define your protagonist. Likewise, when establishing a new manor, you will pick a selection of masters. Masters help to define what part of manor business you are good at. Master quarryman, master lumberers, and master miners can help you win resources. Master masons, master carpenters, and master smiths can help you build structures and equipment. A reeve is a master husband who manages the manor’s demesne. Other master’s can give your manor access to take on some more flavorful ventures: beekeeping and ale brewing, for example.

Each master comes with a special kind of aspect called a profession. A profession is freely defined like an aspect but is trained and advanced like a skill. You can take a master as one of your mentors during character creation. Each master trains you in two skills and one profession, which you add in addition to your standard three aspects at a starting rank of d6. With a d6 profession, you are an apprentice. Advancing it to a d8 makes you a journeyman and increasing it to a d10 would make you a master yourself. You can include your level of expertise in the profession’s description (Apprentice smith or Journeyman stone-cutter) or define them in as flavorful manner as you would your an aspect (Clumsy carpenter or Perfectionist mason).

The professions of resident masters are aspects that can be invoked in the endeavors of a manor. Invoke your reeve’s husbandry profession to help bring in a good harvest. Invoke you master mason’s profession to build that stone bridge faster and better. Professions not only represent the expertise of that one master, but indicate the ability of his apprentices and laborers in the village who have trained and work under him.

You’ll only have a limited number of masters with a new manor (maybe two or three), so you’ll need to choose carefully among the available choices and pick which of many endeavors you want your manor to excel at. As play goes on, you can woe additional masters through role-playing to join your village and expand your abilities.

[CFMS] Step-Dice and Manors

Let’s start delving into some of the proposed mechanics for the manor system. The first step is step-dice. We’ll use the various die types – d4, d6, d8, d10, and 12 – to rank a few key facets of manors.

Holding size:

  • d4 is a virgate of land, typical to a single peasant family
  • d6 is a hide of land, the very minimum to support a lord and his immediate family.
  • d8 is a vill. It’s the typical amount of land given to a knight as a fee for his services.
  • d10 is a parish. Basically a larger version of a vill and a respectable size for a single manor.
  • d12 is a hundred. A division of a county/shire. Generally only bishops and earls would hold this much continuous land.

If you have four of one particular rank of land, they can be combined together to form the next rank up. So four d4 vigrates makes a hide, four hides make a vill and so forth.


  • d4 is a family – husband and wife, maybe a sibling or parent or two who lives with them and a few children.
  • d6 is a large extended family or a group of neighbors.
  • d8 is a small village worth of people.
  • d10 is a largish village of people.
  • d12 is the resident population of a town.

Like holding size, each rank is made up of four of the rank below it.


Step-dice will also be used to rank the tools available to the manor. This works basically as a technology level. Each manor starts with d4 tools, but various implements will increase the rank by one step. These implements are: oxen (or work horses), a forge, and a mill.

Holding size is effectively a cap on how much population can work on the land. Various manor endeavors are resolved by rolling the die appropriate for the population working on the endeavor and including the tool die in the pool. So just like core CF resolution, but with population replacing skill. Various aspects can then be invoked to enhance your chances or endured to make things tough.

[CFMS] Elements of Feudal Life

These are various elements of feudal and manor life that I’m interested in having some level of representation of in the system.

  • The difference between free peasants and villeins. The first pays rent to the lord in goods, the second pays in work on the lord’s demesne.
  • The manor calendar: plowing, sowing of spring crops, harvesting, more plowing, sowing fall crops, winter.
  • Survival and condition of the villagers. Are harvests good enough to feed everyone?
  • Who gets the surplus in the case of a good harvest?
  • Lords being able to demand higher rents at the cost of peasants’ condition, or forgive rents to improve peasants’ condition.
  • Employing laborers and experts. Quarrying, lumbering, and mining. Masons, carpenters, and smiths.
  • The time and resources it takes to build important structures like castles and cathedrals.
  • Being able to build structures out of different materials. Wood vs. stone, cost vs. strength.
  • The size of your retinue is based on the number of people you can feed by the income of your holdings.
  • Providing equipment for men-at-arms and knights.
  • Granting holdings to vassals in exchange for their loyalty.
  • Inheritance, marriage, and loyalty as means to gain land.
  • Conquering and adventuring as a means to gain land.
  • Battle on the open field as well as siege warfare.
  • Generational play: former characters become mentors for future characters. Holdings and status are passed down.

Now the issue is how to incorporate all of those elements (and I am sure there are more) into a clean, elegant system.

[CFMS] Design Goals

These are the intentions and desires that I think are important goals for the design of the Chronica Feudalis Manor System.

  1. Provide a fun, engaging set of rules to enhance strategic-level play of the core Chronica Feudalis system.
  2. The system should feed into role-playing, providing story seeds and inform how various people are faring.
  3. The system should be fed by role-playing. The rewards of personal quests should affect manor play.
  4. Explore facets of feudal society in a tactile way: lord and vassal relationships, treatment of peasants.
  5. Continued use of design elements from core Chronica Feudalis: step-dice and aspects especially.
  6. Avoid using charts. The system should be procedural and performed with minimum references to the book.

What other high-level concepts do you feel are necessary in a strategic, resource-management system such as this?

The Chronica Feudalis Manor System

I’m hard at work ironing out the mechanics and translating more scraps of Middle English scribbles for the as-of-yet untitled first supplement for Chronica Feudalis. This book will detail rules for ruling lands and people – a knight’s fiefdom, a monastery’s holdings, an earl’s county – and add themes of power and responsibility in a very tactile way to a CF campaign.

What our intrepid cellarer and brothers Adam, James, and William left us with is a very incomplete and contradictory set of notes for mechanics that resolve peasant husbandry, the building of cathedrals and castles, warfare, and leaving your holdings to your inheritors. This is not to say that they were not prolific: there are plenty of words. They paint a fairly clear picture of their intentions and the results, but the methods by which they implement this leave me with many questions. And the answers appear to have been lost to time.

So, as with Chronica Feudalis itself, I am being quite liberal with my translation and making up answers as I go along. This process – that is, what I am contributing to the design of the manor system – I will journal here. Feel free to read along and even comment and participate if you so desire. I will tag these posts with the acronym CFMS (which stands for Chronica Feudalis Manor System) until I devise a title for the new book.