Backgrounds of the rich and famous...
Work on an upcoming fantasy setting has me thinking about nobles. There are a few noble houses I want to flesh out, and since I'm on an Inspiration Pad Pro kick, I thought a set of carefully crafted random tables was in order.
I've incorporated a few assumptions into these tables (which is code for "I reduced the scope so I could meet my deadline"). Specifically, these tables assume a quasi-feudal environment, so they may require some adjustment for your campaign. That said, here's the basis I'm working from:
- Nobles are landowning aristocracy and direct vassals to the king
- The "King" is whoever runs the country, probably in an "absolute rule" sort of way
- Nobles have their own vassals, to which they parcel out their land
- Consequently, nobles represent the only possible check against the king's power
The tables below suggest a noble house's background, from which you can glean its role in the campaign. You'll still need to fill in some details of your own as (and when) you need them (e.g., house names and details about prominent members). You'll also do well to come up with a coat of arms for each house—the campaign detail is worth the effort, and Inkwell Ideas Coat of Arms Design Studio is a fast and free tool.
Other than that, these tables should get you started. For each noble house, roll for Head of Household, Alignment, Influence, Holdings, Family Size, Recent Activity, Current Ambition, and Closet Skeletons.
Head of Household
The house's patriarch (4/6) or matriarch (2/6), who ultimately directs or approves any activity that impacts the family's status and fortune. Roll for general age category and corresponding personality.
1: Young (d6: 1 naive; 2 bold; 3 confident; 4 fearful; 5 rash; 6 arrogant)
2-4: Middle-aged (d6: 1 calculating; 2 assertive; 3 savvy; 4 cautious; 5 aggressive; 6 bullying)
5-6: Old (d6: 1 cunning; 2 demanding; 3 prudent; 4 subtle; 5 detached ; 6 domineering)
The noble house's default approach toward achieving its goals; exceptions amongst individual family members may (and in fact, are likely, to) occur.
An aggregate measure of power, wealth, and prestige. Influence is helpful when approaching the king, dealing with other nobles, and leaning on vassals. In game terms, think of this as "What are the chances of the family achieving its goals?". Use this to gauge the success of the noble's plots, plans, and acquisitions. If you want to quantify influence for specific in-game ventures or your own OCD, roll 1d6 every time the noble wants to do something major (see "Current Ambitions," below). If the result is less than his original Influence roll below, he pushes through on his plans.
A noble's real estate is his holding. Roll 1d6 on the table below to see how much land the noble owns; the number in parenthesis indicates how many 5-mile hexes are under the noble's control (though many of these hexes are likely to be unsettled wilderness). Assuming the feudal model is in use, the noble holds these lands in fief from the king, and has probably subinfeudated portions of it to vassals of his own.
1-2: Modest (1d10)
3-5: Appreciable (1d10+10)
6: Extensive (1d10+20)
The number of relatives who can lay claim to the noble house's resources. These are all relatives—not just immediate family. You can use this value in two ways. First, whenever you create an important NPC, check the size of noble families—it may make sense to squeeze him in as a relative (known or unknown). Second, whenever the noble needs a favour or has to draw on a connection, he'll probably try relations before strangers—the bigger the family, the more resources he has to pick from. Whatever you do, don't try to detail (or even identify) every family member straight away. Instead, add relatives as you need them, up to the number indicated below.
1-2: Small (2d6)
3-5: Medium (2d6+6)
6: Huge (2d6+12)
These are noteworthy events in the family's recent history that happen by circumstance (i.e., the noble doesn't specifically set out to achieve them, like "Current Ambitions" below). Use these to put a name behind important campaign events, or to justify a family's current outlook (e.g., Lady Merrywhite is bitterly opposed to continued skirmishes in the north because she lost all her sons in the last border war). Players can use this info as a conversation starter the next time they find themselves at court. Roll on this table based on family size (Small: 1/6, Medium: 2/6, Large: 4/6).
1: Favoured by the king for (d6: 1-2 staunch loyalty; 3-4 the Midas touch; 5-6 shrewd politicking)
2: Achieved overwhelming military victory
3: Achieved Pyrrhic military victory
4: Supported a new vassal
5: Driven out/slain marauding monster
6: Returned after adventuring expedition to (d6: 1-3 local wilderness; 4-5 king's wilderness; 6 foreign country)
7: Captured (d6: 1-3 outlaws; 4 spies; 5 marauding monster; 6 humanoid rabble)
8: Brokered diplomatic agreement on king's behalf (d6: 1-3 trade agreement; 4-5 mutual defence pact; 6 truce)
9: Discovered valuable commodity (d6: 1-2 precious metal; 3-5 industrial material; 6 gemstones)
10: Birth in the family
11: Death in the family (d6: 1-2 natural causes; 3-4 battle; 5 accident 6 questionable circumstances)
12: Wilderness within fief is frequented by (d6: 1-2 outlaws; 3-4 wandering monster; 5 refugees; 6 humanoid band)
13: Family member ransomed by (d6: 1-2 foreign enemy; 3-4 outlaws; 5 humanoids; 6 unknown kidnapper)
14: Participated in a duel (d6: 1-2 won; 3-4 lost; 5-6 draw)
15: Afflicted by plague
16: Adventuring family member(s) presumed lost or dead
17: Losing money as a result of (d6: 1 stolen heirloom; 2-3 bad business; 4 raiders; 5 rival noble; 6 freak accident)
18: Vassal settlement endangered by (d6: 1 attack; 2-3 plague; 4-5 low food supply; 6 bandits)
19: Suffered military defeat
20: Snubbed by king for (d6: 1-2 poor military performance; 3-4 late rents; 5-6 causing trouble at court)
This is the noble's (current) pet project. For plot purposes, it's his primary goal, though there could be multiple motivations (e.g., money, power, favour, prestige, etc.). The noble will set about to achieve his goal will all possible haste, using all resources at his disposal. Make sure to temper roll results with the noble's alignment (e.g., a Lawful noble will not marry for nefarious purposes of his own, but he might be the unwitting pawn in another noble's game).
1: Support the king's top priority plan (d6: 1-2 expansion; 3 warfare; 4-5 diplomacy; 6 rooting out dissidents)
2: Advance the church
3: Acquire more land (d6: 1-2 strategic location; 3-5 valuable resource; 6 special feature)
4: Dispose of (d6: 1-2 another noble; 3 non-secular official; 4 military officer; 5 high-level bureaucrat; 6 powerful adventurer)
5: Marry into a particular family for (d6: 1 wealth; 2 love; 3-4 political advantage; 5 lust; 6 nefarious purposes)
6: Bring about political reform
7: Bring local outlaws to justice
8: Build fortification (d6: 1-3 defensive wall; 4-5 tower; 6 keep)
9: Establish a new settlement
10: Build infrastructure (d6: 1-2 road; 3-4 bridge; 5 watch tower; 6 signal beacon)
11: Clear stain on family name
12: Make a name for the family via (d6: 1-2 adventuring/exploring; 3-4 amassing wealth; 5 military conquest; 6 political influence)
Bumps on the road to power are the heads you have to step on to get there. These are some dirty family secrets held by one or more members of the noble house. These issues may be common knowledge within the family, but they are carefully hidden from outsiders for fear of financial or political fallout. Roll on this table based on family alignment (Lawful: 1/6, Neutral: 2/6, Chaotic: 4/6), depending on how aristocrats roll in your campaign.
1: None (outwardly, things seem a little too perfect...)
2: Engaged in treasonous activity with (d6: 1 independent; 2-3 official body; 4-5 foreign power; 6 dissident element)
3: Perpetrated and covered up a capital crime (e.g., murder, rape, arson)
4: Under the enchantment of a (d6: 1-2 cursed item; 3 sorcerer; 4 demon; 5 fey creature; 6 geas (or similar spell))
5: Manipulates the system to avoid military service
6: Supports a band of (d6: 1-3 outlaws; 4 humanoids; 5 organised thieves; 6 dangerous mercenaries)
7: Withholds the king's fees to (d6: 1-2 amass personal hoard; 3-4 divert funds; 5 cover gambling debts; 6 pay an extortionist)
8: Sideline poacher (d6: 1-2 fish & game; 3-5 natural resource; 6 valuable commodity)
9: Afflicted with lycanthropy (or similar disease)
10: Family history of mental illness
11: Member of (d6: 1-2 death cult; 3-4 outlawed profession (e.g. sorcerer); 5-6 seditious faction)
12: Addicted to (d6: 1-2 opiate; 3-4 hallucinogen; 5 stimulant; 6 exotic drug)
Noble houses probably do not assume a direct role in the campaign, so I'm not much interested in their stats or family trees. But nobles do have agendas, based on all kinds of motivations, and these are the bits that—as patrons, employers, foes, or allies—can influence the party's activities. This makes them useful pieces of setting background for all kinds of campaigns. If your group is all about exploring, use nobles to sponsor PC forays; if your campaign is about urban intrigue, use nobles to drive plot; if your campaign is about dominion, use nobles as peers to help or hinder the PCs' plans for conquest. Either way, give the tables above a few shakes and see what kind of nobles end up populating your setting.
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