Enjoying the Local Knightlife, Part 2

Ryk Perry’s continuing series on playing realistic knights in fantasy RPG campaigns picks up with part 2. Now that we’ve learned about the economic realities of knighthood, what fun things could a knight character do? Ryk has some suggestions, along with a few new powers for mounted combat in D&D 4E.

In most of the games that I have played in, if a player makes a knight, he belongs to an order of knighthood probably loosely based on the Templars or something like the Solamnic knights. Almost invariably, those knights have neither lands of their own nor any source of income from their superior order. The character pays for himself through adventuring. A respectable day job but it may get a little stale after a while. Instead you could rule that a PC knight has a fief at the start of the game or that he begins as a squire or mercenary but will inherit lands at a higher level, or even that the character is trying to prove himself worthy of a grant of lands through his glorious deeds. Any way you do it, the knight can end up with a fief.

Now you have a tool to reference for that character’s fief. The knight will have an idea of what is actually on his fief and what the value would be of gaining more lands. This also offers potentially huge adventure hooks as a knight’s fief is threatened or raided by brigands/monsters/rival knights.

No matter how attached a knight is to his peasants, if too many are killed/captured by monsters (or whatever), they can’t work all of the available land and the knight’s income suffers. The same could be said for damaged equipment and tools or livestock that is slaughtered or driven off (cattle raid anyone?). If a young dragon moved into the area and decided the manor’s plow oxen are a tasty treat, the steward and other of the knight’s retainers would be hard pressed to deal with it. They would have to send word of the threat to the knight and the knight would have to decide how to respond. Keep in mind that if this is used too frequently, it could cause resentment from some of the more freebooting, landless party members but that will of course depend on your party’s composition and motivations.

Adventure Hooks

Here are some more fleshed out adventure hooks that you could use to spice up life for your PC knight.

Sour Milk

A peasant complains to his lord that a witch has cursed his cows, making their milk turn sour. The peasant might blame an unpleasant (and innocent?) neighbor but there really is a witch (bog hag, disgruntled warlock etc.) and there really is a curse. What’s more, the curse is spreading and if it’s not stopped, it will affect all of the cattle on the estate souring all the milk, resulting in a loss of 1-4 silver per hide of land per month as all of the dairy produce is inedible.

I’ll Have the Filet!

The knight’s livestock have enticed a large predator (like a young dragon) to help him cull the herd. Unfortunately the culling is going a little too fast. The beast is eating 1-4 cattle or oxen per month. Cows cost money! And if they are not replaced by planting time, each missing ox will reduce that season’s harvest by 1-4 gold. Likewise each missing cow will reduce the monthly incomes by 1-4 silver from lost dairy production.

Damsel in Distress

The ubiquitous damsel is once again in distress! Whether it’s an evil knight who kidnapped her after his marriage offer was scorned or a local dragon who thinks she might be a tasty treat for an upcoming holiday, the father of the damsel has asked the PC knight to aid him. Refusal might cause a drop in the knight’s reputation, but success might well result in the knight being offered the damsel’s hand in marriage (with the ensuing dowry or inheritance) or perhaps an additional grant of land from the father, who is presumably a relatively wealthy landowner. This might be a good way for a knight to be promoted to bannerette (for the straight grant of additional land) or even baron or higher (should the knight marry the damsel and inherit her own lands). Of course, the risk should be commensurate with the reward. If a princess was kidnapped by a young white dragon, all the knights in the land, as well as the king’s own household, would be charging to the rescue. On the other hand, if the princess was captured by an elder red dragon, only a very few knights would be up to the task.


This type of threat was very common historically and can be designed in many ways. Basically, a band of humanoids who have less than the knight (or at least want more) have decided to raid his lands. They could just be hungry and raid some of the live stock; they could be looking for slaves and carry off some of the knight’s peasants; they might be after tools or other goods; they could be raiding travelers on the road near the knight’s estate, the possibilities are nearly limitless. The authors of the raid could be bands of goblins from the forest, sea-going, Viking raiders striking inland, retainers of a hostile neighbor or perhaps peasant refugees who just want something to eat. As far economic harm to the estate, every five peasants lost translates into a loss of 10 gp at each harvest and 5 sp per month. Loss of cattle will affect the estate as in I’ll Have the Filet! above. For the other livestock, every 3 pigs or goats, 6 sheep or 30 chickens will result in a loss of 1-4 sp/ month. Clearly the knight must do something to stop the raids.

Go West Young man!

A powerful lord, whose lands border on wilderness areas, has decided to expand his dominion. He has offered the PC’s titles of nobility within his own court if they can take and hold new fiefs from the wilderness. This could even become a campaign in itself as the players have to clear the areas of the more dangerous predators, probably set up a stronghold, import peasants into the area and somehow deal with indigenous humanoids. This might also be an open invitation to anyone with the gumption to hold and defend their new territory which could well lead to conflict with other claimants. If a claimant can hold the land for a year, the lord will offer his protection in exchange for the fealty of the land holders.

Other Uses

Land (and title) could also be used as a reward for adventurers. Now instead of saying ‘for slaying the dragon, the king gives each of you 1000 gold’ you could actually say something like ‘in gratitude for your heroic destruction of the dragon that was plaguing the realm, the king grants each of you the title of knight and bestows on each of you 16 hides of land for the maintenance of your title.’ And, having said that, you’d have an idea of how valuable that would be.

If the DM doesn’t want to deal with a landed knight, or if none of the players are interested, the value of a fief could still be a useful tool to determine the amount of wealth that is available in a particular area. Knights formed the lowest tier of the upper class; they can set benchmarks for the local economy’s ability to handle trade with adventurers.

For instance, if the party is in a village held by a poor knight, his income is less than 500 GP/year even assuming he manages his fief himself. He is also going to be the richest man in the village. That means that unless the party encounters an anomaly in the village, or the knight is sitting on an old hoard of plunder from previous adventuring, the party will not be able to sell anything that is at all expensive. And the knight will likely be the only potential buyer even for relatively cheap (in D&D terms) items.

Further, the knight’s potential income and the scutage costs can indicate the relative value of a reward offered to a party for whatever task they might be hired for. For example, if the Lord Warden of Fallcrest hires the players for 100 GP, to go kill some kobolds, he’s paying the group about 1/5 of a knight’s potential yearly salary. If they are offered 2500 GP (and there are 5 characters) they are each being paid a knight’s fee to undertake a task that will likely take far less than a year. Not a bad deal.

Keep in mind, adopting this feudal economic analysis has implications for the broader economy of your game. D&D’s in game economy is not at all based on a viable feudal system. If you hold strictly to this measure, only the richest lords and kings would be at all able to hire high level characters for the amounts of money that are expected by the calculations in the DMG. However, you now also know what a thousand acres of land is worth (at least in income) and could reasonably assume that it is worth at least ten times that in sale (approximately 5-6,000 gold).

That means that a 40,000 acre barony might be worth 200-240,000 gold and a rich county (say 300,000 acres) could sell for as high as 1.8 million gold.  Keep in mind that almost no noble would be willing to sell the land that supports their title (and there may well be laws against it) but a character may well be able to buy the lands of several small freeholders. Your players would also have campaign based societal benchmarks for comparison rather than just the mechanical stats in the PHB or DMG. Think of the bragging rights (my sword is worth more than your barony, Harkenwald!).

Feats and Powers

The following feats and powers are presented to help flesh out a PC knight in a manner more appropriate for the traditional heavy cavalry purpose for which knights were renowned.

Trained Lancer

Tier: Heroic

Prerequisites: Str 16, Dex 12

You have been trained to use your horse, yourself and your lance as a single weapon on the field of battle, crushing any foes that stand in your way. You may take Lance Charge in place of one of your other at-will powers.

Deflecting Shield

Tier: Heroic

Prerequisites: Str 14, Dex 14

You are trained in the proper way to set your shield in the face of a lance charge so as to deflect its full force away from your body. You receive a +4 to AC and +2 to fortitude against the Lance Charge attack.

Able Administrator

Tier: Heroic

Prerequisites: Wis 14

You are a capable administrator in your own right. If you spend at least 3 months overseeing your estate and checking on your steward, you increase the revenue of the following year by 10gp per hide of land.


Lance Charge

You channel all of the force of well over a thousand pounds of horse and rider covering at least 20 feet at a gallop into the point of your lance, causing a grievous wound.

At-Will Martial, Weapon, Conditional
Standard Action Melee weapon

Requirements: You must have the mounted combat feat, the trained lancer feat, be wielding a lance, mounted on an un-bloodied horse, in a saddle with stirrups and charge at least 4 squares.

Target: One creature at the end of a charge.

Attack: Strength vs. AC

Hit: 1[W] + Strength modifier + Constitution modifier then make a secondary attack

Miss: Half damage

Secondary Attack: Strength vs. Fortitude

Hit: Target is knocked prone
Level 21: 2[W] + Strength modifier damage + twice your Constitution modifier.

Special: You must use this power in place of a melee basic attack at the end of a charge. The lance is unusable after the attack and must be replaced. Two knights making a Lance Charge resolve their attacks simultaneously if the initial distance was more than 6 squares.

Weapon Damage is based on the size of the horse:

Riding Horse [W] = 2d6

Warhorse [W] = 4d8

3 Responses to Enjoying the Local Knightlife, Part 2

  1. Man, you’ve really put a lot of thought and effort into this. It’s definitely cool to think of all the applications this could have. If you had a whole party who wanted to play this style of game then Hell, overseeing the lands could hold its own set of skill challenges, and the like. Maybe one person deals with shady businessmen, another handles a worker trying to steal from the farm, or any number of things. I dunno… you’ve definitely laid some serious groundwork, and opened up a lot of potential though.

  2. Yeah, Eric, I’m rather diggin’ this. I had a party comprised almost entirely of knights on two separate occasions. One ended up being a bit more of an epic war campaign, but the other was actually designed where all of the knights were near neighbors on a set of fiefs who were dealing with a recent power vacuum as the kingdom had lost its king and there was no viable heir. Everybody splintered away and the lesser lords had to fend for themselves. Unfortunately I still had no way to determine how much revenue was gained from the lands that the knights owned so I just assigned arbitrary numbers. It worked but wasn’t very satisfactory.

    That campaign ended when the son of a minor Baron who led a considerable body of troops got fed up with the imperious tone of a minor knight who was impoverished and had no troops. the one challenged the otehr and the duel turned into a death match with bad blood between the players after the baron’s son was killed. Up til then it was a lot of fun.

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