[Classics Return] Birthright Domains in 4e.

Submitted as part of the Classics Return Blog Festival hosted by Daily Encounter.

What's my favorite classic D&D setting? Birthright. I love the backstory and I love the rulership mechanics.

Most PCs have the blood of gods in their veins, which gives them powers beyond the rest of humanity. This extra power boost worked out better than AD&D psionics, so I think the designers of Birthright learned a sense of balance.

In Birthright, if your PCs worked hard and got lucky, they could eventually control various holdings or even rule countries. To support this style of play, Birthright introduced Provinces (a piece of the countryside roughly equivalent to a county, usually 30-50 miles across) and the Domain Turn, which occurred every three months where leaders could grow their population, build a city, develop their holdings, trade, spy on rivals, or go to war.

This is the start of a system for inserting Provinces and Domains into D&D 4e. I won't get into taxation and gold bars and regency points, nor how Magical Holdings and Province Level limit each other. I will explore a framework for describing the area the PCs inhabit and how it might interact with neighboring provinces.

Provinces and Power Sources
Provinces in Birthright have an overall Province Rating and various types of Holding Levels. In thinking about how to describe those numbers in 4e, it seemed like Power Sources would provide a usable structure.

Since there are six power sources and six ability scores, the analogy maker in my head mashed together this table:

Power Source Birthright Equivalent 4e Ability Useful For
Martial Law Holdings, Fortifications, Armies (Temp Score) Strength Defenses, Army/Town Guard Effectiveness
Primal Province Level Limit, Province Terrain Constitution Natural Resources, Food Production, Citizen Health
Shadow Guild Holdings, Roads, Trade Routes Dexterity Trade Strength, Black Market Availability, Spycraft
Arcane Magical Holdings, Ley Lines Intelligence Technology Level, Spell Availability, Magical Effectiveness
Divine Temple Holdings Wisdom Church Organization, Citizen Welfare, Religious Strength
Psionic Province Level, Courts Charisma Propaganda, Entertainment Effectiveness, Citizen Happiness, Loyalty

With this table you can describe provinces using the six power sources, or as characters with the six basic abilities. I'll focus on power sources for the remainder of this article, since characteristics only make sense if the province somehow tries to act. This table was built using D&D 4e concepts, but this idea can be used in any system.

About the Analogies
Each power source for a particular province has a score from 0-10, ranging from no presence at all to the premier center of power for that source. The following table gives a rough idea of what each score means.

Power Source Score 0-2 Score 3-5 Score 6-8 Score 9-10
Martial Outpost Small Fort Castle Citadel
Primal Barren Natural Abundance
or Basic Farming
Developed Farmland Magically Enhanced Farms
Shadow Local Peddlers Thriving Market Urban Hub Merchant's Paradise
Arcane Hermit Wizard Small Guild Large Guild Magical Academy
Divine Shrine Temple CathedralHoly Site
Psionic Frontier Village Established Town Powerful City Metropolis

These scores are guidelines meant to fuel your imagination, not hard-and-fast rules. A high Primal score with zeros in every other category could mean an Eden of endless resources, for example.

Example Province: Bardmoor
Let's say your PCs are travelling across a swamp that you haven't developed yet. You want to quickly generate a thumbnail of the area which you know doesn't have a huge population, so you could assign numbers or randomly roll 1d6-1 for each Power Source. For larger provinces, you could roll 1d10 or 1d8+2. Let's say you get the following scores for Bardmoor:

Power Source Score Notes
Martial 5 Strong garrison. Bardmoor Castle sits in the middle of the swamp.
Primal 3 Good hunting, not much farming. Gator steaks a specialty.
Shadow 5 Well-developed trade hub. Riches from trading with Lizardfolk?
Arcane 2 Either a small cabal of wizards, or one strong/famous one in the area.
Divine 0 No established divine presence. Possibly anti-religious?
Psionic 1 Minimal government presence. Very few commoners - mostly military and traders.

Bardmoor Castle, center of trade.
From these results, we can paint an interesting picture of what Bardmoor looks like when the PCs arrive. Along the well-constructed wide road they'll see merchant caravans and numerous cavalry patrols. Everyone cautions the PCs not to leave the road, as there's nothing out there but endless swamp. Roadside inns will look like mini-fortresses: well-stocked with game and able to withstand anything short of an army. Inns and villages can accommodate merchant caravans easily, but they conspicuously lack any center of worship bigger than the odd shrine or two. The leader of Bardmoor Castle is a wizard of some repute. He makes a point to welcome fellow arcane researchers, but does little to govern the few workers in his province. Bardmoor boasts several bustling trade routes. Are these merchants passing through or is there something worth trading for in the swamp? Maybe the last tribe of Lizardfolk in the swamp have bought their freedom by mining a cache of emeralds.

You can get a sense of Bardmoor's typical classes based directly on the power source score. If we bend the rules and move Rogues from Martial to Shadow, we'll see mostly soldiers, mercenaries, and traders of varying honesty. Scouts and Druids are fairly common, but people would talk about the rare Clerics or Paladins passing through their town.

Changing the Scores
If the PCs or other leaders in a province start making changes, then the scores will change. Changing a score will take money and time. If there's a sudden push to build defenses, the PCs will see construction everywhere for the next few months as walls are built and towers fortified in every town in the province. The new Wizards' Guildhall is sure to raise the Arcane score of a province, but the money to pay for construction needs to come from somewhere.

Similarly, if a disease is ravaging a province or a natural disaster occurs, then scores may drop. Losing a war may drop a province's Martial score. That earthquake may have destroyed a temple and killed several priests, lowering the Divine score. If a leader acts like an idiot and alienates his people, then the Psionic score will drop to reflect the new lower opinion of the province in general.

Provinces in Conflict
When one province decides to invade another, or start a trade embargo, or hold a competition of festivals to curry favor with the High Priest of Bahamut, you can use this system to compare Power Source scores and determine who would win. The higher score has the advantage in most cases. If the scores are far apart, then the side with the lesser score may not even put up much of a fight.

A Martial 6 province in action.
For instance, a province with Martial 6 marches against a neighboring wilderness province with Martial 1. The wilderness province may be able to inflict some losses through a guerrilla campaign (especially with a high Primal score), but they'd be crushed in a fair fight. Similarly, a province with Shadow 2 wouldn't have much luck enforcing a trade embargo against a Shadow 8 province. Provinces with higher Divine or Arcane scores would be able to field more assets to help with conflicts in those areas, either humanoid or supernatural.

Feel free to use the Amber Diceless idea of changing the fight to a more advantageous arena. If a province is attacked with an army (Martial), stage an economic coup by ruining their trade goods (Shadow), or start a guerrilla war across the countryside (Primal), or call in favors with allies to counterattack on a different front (Psionic). There's more than one way to win a war, especially if you control food production in a province.

But Wait, There's More!
As I said, this is the start of a system that only covers how to describe provinces. I may develop this idea more as time permits. I've got a rough idea for handling an economic system in slightly more detail than just numbers, and there's plenty of room for development in having provinces act, both in conflict and in cooperation with each other.

I hope you can use this idea to think of your campaign world on a slightly larger scale. If you use this idea, I'd love to hear about it, either through the comments below or directly through Google+ or Twitter.

Thanks for reading!


  1. This interests me greatly. It looks like there is the possibility of a simple but functional domain-level game here. I've seen them tend to get bogged down in resource management, this looks like it has the possibility of avoiding that, or at least making it optional. Quick rules for over there, detailed rules for right here, sort of thing.

    I look forward to seeing more.

    1. Thanks, Keith! The original system had so many moving parts, I wanted to trim it down and see what I could do with it. The economic system I've been thinking of has the potential for complexity, but I don't think economy and domain need to overlap all that much.

      This is a high level way to describe a province. Switching it to a more active system made me think of True20 to keep the scores the same and simply use them as modifiers on skill/action/attack rolls. I'm making sure that works in my head before putting it into more permanent electrons.

      Thanks for the feedback, and with that I may need to work on this project for the short term.

  2. wow, was this really two months ago? I was talking about this topic (domain-level play, not necessarily 4e) tonight and felt a jonesing to look into it again.

    I'm thinking of something fairly simple:

    * left alone, things are likely to stay the same
    * events are seasonal or annual most likely. Roll d20 twice. <= 5 is bad, 6..15 is neutral, >= 16 is good. Combine.

    ** good+good = very good. Good result is a certainty, action can make it very good.
    ** good+neutral = good. No negative, action can make it good.
    ** neutral+bad = bad. Something negative, but action may prevent or mitigate.
    ** bad+bad = very bad. Something negative is unavoidable, but action can keep it from getting worse.
    ** neutral+neutral = neutral. "Something Happens" (or possibly "Nothing Happens"), no net effect itself.
    ** good+bad = neutral risky. An opportunity that could go bad if not handled correctly, a negative event that could be turned around if handled correctly.

    Resources handled abstractly, I think. Normally you can pay for whatever you have the population base to handle. If you need more money or other resources they have to come from somewhere -- raise taxes, out of your pocket (or adventuring profit), etc. I'm considering something on the order of Master of Magic-level calculations at worst.

    Population provides taxes. Trade (Shadow) holdings increase your money more. Foreign-held Trade holdings bring money for someone else. Other holdings produce other benefits, and all holdings may have costs. I suspect they may be handled by exception -- a population can support military holdings up to its own value, but increasing a holding may cost more as you enlist and train more troops. Once you get the holding up the normal attrition and enlistment cycle can maintain it.

    I need to expand on this some more, I think. I believe I can see the shape of where this will go.

    1. Sounds good to me. I'm planning on being a little more fiddly with trade and resources to give the economy a more concrete shape than "You're ahead a bit this month - anything you want to try to buy?", but I don't disagree with anything you've said here.

    2. "surplus" might be a 'good event'. You've got a bit of extra money, you can hold it or spend it or whatever. Keep it in case of emergency (crops failed!) or build up your military holdings, etc.

      'Very good' might mean a new resource is found (gold!) or now accessible.

      I want to avoid having to track it at the level I've seen most of them take it. I don't want to be counting families and measuring percentages. It seems most games that go that route try to balance it so you about break even, or have a bit of profit or variation, but not enough to really matter.

      I'm going to explore this in a bit more depth at my place, I think.