Adapting to Late Medieval/Early Renaissance

Hello, all. I’ve been considering hosting a game set in Venice, or another Italian city. It’s going to be very focused on mundane politics, so much so that I’ve been playing with the ideas of only allowing minor magical traditions or changing the Order so that it’s much more embedded in mundane society. Regardless of the status of magic, I’ve decided to adapt the rules from Lords of Men to the violent, chaotic world of late Medieval/early Renaissance municipal politics. While the developers have done a great job keeping the game fun and historically accurate, the time period I want to cover in my games doesn’t quite fit the feudal system they’ve modeled. I plan on setting the game in either 1220 in Venice, or another Italian city a century or two afterwards. The main characters will be designed as Mythic Companions, and played as members of the municipal patriciate. While I realize that the current rules could be used to build such a character (one of the commercial Major Virtues from City and Guild or Gentleman and the Temporal Influence Minor Virtue), I think that it would be more fun to come up with a set of rules relating to the ruling class of large cities.. This class tended to be much more diverse than how they’re commonly depicted. While commerce was definitely the lifeblood of many Italian cities, the patriciate also drew wealth from landownership, different types of rents arranged with different entities, sinecures, patronage, etc. Many still had vestigial feudal rights; while government and society still reflected feudal-like attitudes. They should hardly all be depicted as Capos with Temporal Influence. These rules are ahistorical in 1220 for much of Northern Europe, but can be accurately applied to some parts of Southern Europe, where cities and municipalities continued to play a major role in society. As the centuries passed, the places where these rules are applicable increase, which is why I might set the game later than the official starting date.

The following is what I’ve come up with. Firstly I’m posting the Patrician Major Virtue and the rules that revolve around it. Secondly, I’m including a bundle of related virtues, rules, and thoughts. I tried to use as many of the rulebooks as I could gain access to. Please post comments, thoughts, ideas, criticism, etc.

Patrician, Major Social Status Virtue

Your character is a member of the ruling class of a major city. Regardless of his exact origins, whether they lie in the ancient landholding families or the mercantile popolo grosso, your character fulfills all the legal and social requirements to participate in town politics as a member of his class. He is also the master of a wealthy household, enjoying enough revenue to support himself and his family as nobles. His sources of income are likely varied, including commerce, various forms of landholding and rents, sinecures, benefits from patronage, and bribes. If your character is Wealthy, he has an excess of 20 pound, if standard then one of 10 pounds, if Poor then no excess. Your character must also spend one season working if Wealthy, two if standard, and three if Poor. “Work” in Patricians’ case means overseeing the family holdings, acting as a patron in ordinary circumstances, making grand social appearances, and doing enough politicking to avoid having his property confiscated, his family banished, and his head displayed outside the municipal palazzo, fates that awaited the unfortunate in the fierce, competitive climate of the Italian municipality. Labor Points for Patricians may be calculated using a variety of formulae, depending on the strategy of the character and the context of the story. While leading men in war or at sea, ((Presence + Leadership) X Wealth modifier) can be used, while plotting to obtain office, ((Intelligence + Intrigue) X Wealth modifier), while insinuating one’s way into high society ((Communication + Charm or Etiquette) X Wealth modifier) etc. He may take both Martial and Academic skills and begins with 12 Agent Points to spend on clients.


Like Landed Nobles, patricians may pursue power by acquiring municipal offices or positions in the households of the mighty (both represented by the Temporal Influence Virtue.) They ordinarily do not have access to military levies or manors for their revenues, and must instead cultivate a web of clients from which they derive income and power. Patricians may claim one fifth of their agents’ income, representing gifts, services, “protection fees” and business deals or practices that favor the patrician. This counts as expending a year’s worth of favors. Further significant favors strain Bond Strength. Alternatively, a Patrician may claim one half of their agents’ income, but this definitely strains Bond Strength and sours the personality trait on which the Bond is based. Patricians may also have one Mercenary Captain Agent on retainer. The cost is part of the patrician’s lifestyle and therefore is not subtracted from the Patrician’s excess income, unless he picks a mercenary with a Wealth virtue higher than his. Thus standard Patricians must pay a Wealthy Mercenary Captain out of their excess income, while Poor Patricians can ordinarily only employ Poor Mercenary Captains. Patricians can be other Patricians’ clients, and may occasionally have to cough up money, favors, and displays of support. This is represented by the Major Flaw, Patron*. GMs should take into account the scarcity and demands of important clients. Characters should not start off with a roster of prize clients, unless they’ve already reached a high position of power. Valued clients should occasionally bring their problems to the Patrician. Failing to resolve these issues results in the straining of Bond Strength.

Other Virtues

The Major Virtue, Patrician is highly compatible with a number of other Social Virtues, which may be altered in their Italian context. Additional Virtues usually require one to two seasons of time per year depending on Wealth. Thus Poor characters may not take additional virtues. Standard characters may, but will have no extra time. Wealthy characters will have their fingers in many pies, and so may take up to four Major Virtues, although the combination of virtues has to make sense to the DM. In return for their work, the character gains the excess income and powers associated with the virtue. Some holders of certain Social Virtues are required to either have Patrician or to be working towards establishing themselves as such. Taking certain virtues may result in certain flaws or Noble Reputations. The Wealthy Virtue is required to buy Greater and Legendary incomes detailed in City and Guild, but allowing starting characters to buy it is not recommended.

Developing a new Social Status Virtues is achieved by following the rules for rising in wealth and social class found in City and Guild. This represents the time and money spent on developing the sideline. Acquiring a new virtue does not affect characters’ Wealth virtue once it bears fruit, unless the character did not hold one of the Greater Social Status Virtues. Otherwise, it is also possible to exchange one Greater Virtue for another, with convincing story reasons (such as trading Capo for Landed Noble to represent the giving up of a successful business to take up a governorship.) Patricians that choose to work for four seasons may avoid developing a negative reputation, as long as at least one of the seasons was worked as a Patrician, since making a public appearance at festivals and Mass counts as work for them.

Capo and Partners both have to take Patrician, except for Poor characters who have to take a Major Flaw, Patron instead. Mercantile characters often take their business partners as agents, as well as sailors and caravan personnel, and the occasional trusty clerk.

Wealthy and some standard Factors have Patrician to signify their power and influence in both their home city and their adopted homes, although they operate with the Minor Flaw, Legal Handicap** in the foreign city and may have to take a Major Flaw, Patron to represent a protector in that city. Some cities formed legal enclaves in foreign ports. The leaders of these enclaves usually formed a council, although sometimes only one governor was responsible. The absence of the Major Flaw, Patron for that city and the Minor Virtue, Temporal Influence, as well as a few agents that operate in that city could be used to model such characters. Poor Factors must always take the Major Flaw, Patron, and the Minor Flaw, Legal Handicap. Alternatively, Factors may take the Minor Virtue, Protection instead of Patron.

Landed Nobles represent those who own substantial amounts of land, who hold the rights to certain rents from neighboring satellite settlements, and who still possess substantial seigniorial rights and influence over their territories. They may also represent the wealthiest and most influential landowning families from colonies and territories owned by the city, such as Crete under the Venetians. The Landed Noble Virtue may also be used to represent the governors of such colonies, but the virtue is rarely held for perpetuity in such a case. All but the most newly incorporated will also have the Major Virtue, Patrician or at least the Minor Virtue, Legally a Patrician***. Ordinarily, incorporated lords may not have the Oath of Fealty, only owing service to their city.

Only Landed Nobles, their kin, and closest retainers who have never taken commercial or guild virtues may take the Minor Virtue, Knight, which automatically grants the Prudhomme Noble Reputation at level 1 (and 50 points of Martial experience in my game), which other Patricians treasure but may never have. Players should take advantage of such a reputation since it gives them a degree of legitimacy that other Patricians never achieve. The typical podesta was a knight with the Prudhomme reputation, for example. Knights may never take commercial or guild virtues. Knights haven’t necessarily been knighted, but because of their association with war, wealth, and governance are perceived as being knightly.

Landed Nobles may use their access to wealth-in-kind to keep one more Mercenary Captain in retainer, unless they are Poor. This is in addition to the levy provided by their “manors.”

Landed Nobles are distinguished by their ability to own “manors.” Rather than represent actual manors, each “manor” means access to a manor’s worth of income and levies from a town (calculated using the rules from Lords of Men), usually but not necessarily a satellite settlement of the character’s city. It’s quite common for a Landed Noble’s “manors” to be divided up by his heirs or given to daughters as dowries. It’s also fairly common for characters to inherit or acquire manors in different towns. Thus, the “manors” of income and levies as well as the character’s seigniorial status should be contested from time to time. Players and DMs should define their “manors,” whether they represent an isolated village that’s essentially run as a manor, or various hereditary municipal offices that grant the holder seigniorial standing and a degree of control over a small town. DMs should flesh out these communities, inventing relatives who also hold “manors” in the same community or working out just how many “manor” exist in a particular town.

Patricians may slowly buy land, rents, and seigniorial rights or otherwise increase their influence within a satellite town, and thus slowly create their own “fief” using the rules for advancing in social status found in City and Guild. They may also buy a fief from a poor noble, although the full benefit of the Landed Noble Virtue is only gained after they’ve gained significant influence in the town, modeled using the same rules as creating a “fief.” One manor’s worth of income and levies can be acquired for the cost of advancing one social status. Such undertakings should be fraught with conflict and suspicion, as the local towns people resist their new lord and Patricians in the city suspect and envy those who achieve such influence. Often, gaining and maintaining such influence is achieved by violence and intimidation. Labor Points for such work should be calculated using ((Presence + Intrigue, Leadership, or Hunt) X Wealth Modifier.) All seasons spent in such activities contribute experience points to the Prudhomme Noble Reputation and Violent Grande Local Reputations, although Patricians that have held commercial or guild virtues gain Social Upstart Reputation experience instead of Prudhomme. Local notables can contribute Labor Points to your undertaking if they are your client OR spend their Labor Points on undoing your work. Landed Nobles may sometimes loose influence in their territories due to story events. This can be modeled as a loss of “manors.”

In many cities, like later Florence, Landed Nobles are regarded with suspicion by the general population and the urban patricians, and even face institutional prejudices in the municipal government. This can be represented by taking the Legal Handicap Minor Flaw and a Local Reputation of 1 in Violent Grande. Although Landed Nobles are not usually allowed to have Oath of Fealty, many had more powerful Landed Nobles as Patrons, who acted as lynchpins for a coalition of Landed Nobles that formed a powerful bloc in municipal politics. Their access to levies and funds, the violence they often employed to control their “fiefs,” their reputation and training, and their martial mentality often led them to pursue careers as or under condottieri, often resulting in Mercenary Captains, capable bodyguards, and the occasional beleaguered Poor Capo as agents.

The Senior Masters of the more prestigious and profitable guilds (gold and silver smiths or those that run on the putting out system, like textiles, etc) qualify for the Patrician Major Virtue if they have enough time in the year. If they are Poor or belong to an un-prestigious guild, they must take the Major Flaw, Patron, who is usually their Guild’s Dean.**** Guild Deans usually take the Patrician Major Virtue and the Temporal Influence, Minor Virtue. Lacking Temporal Power as a Guild Dean usually signifies some sort of loss of power over the guild or being the Dean of a particularly unimportant guild. If Guild Deans are Poor, then they cannot take Patrician and must instead take the Major Flaw, Patron. Poor Guild Deans also develop a negative reputation among Guildsmen as X Nobleman’s Minion, X being the character’s Patron. Being in a guild also results in a Noble Reputation with the name of the craft. Thus, the Guild Dean of a cobblers’ guild would start with a Noble Reputation of Cobbler 1. In some cities, like later Florence, lack of guild membership resulted in Legal Handicap. Although many “members” were only guildsmen in writing, not actually running workshops and not actually possessing the Senior Master or Guild Dean Virtues. In other cities being a guildsman always resulted in the Legal Handicap Flaw and the aforementioned Reputation.

[b]Baccalaureus[/b] may be taken by university educated Patricians. They must decide whether they’ve actually pursued a career as a proto-bureaucrat. If so, then they work as such for one or two seasons in the court or household of a great noble or clergyman. While the pay for doing so is negligible, it is a great way to justify having a close Patron*.

[b]Magister in Artibus, Doctor in (Faculty,) and Cathedral School Master[/b] may all be taken by Patricians. However, doing so may leave all but Wealthy character without enough time to publish, resulting in the inability to gain a good Academic Reputation, while constantly gaining a negative one, eventually leading to losing the teaching position. Thus, Patricians who pursue academics usually step down from politics, while still maintaining the Legally a Patrician Minor Virtue. University Deans must take the Patrician Virtue and the Temporal Influence Virtue, to represent their legal powers and standing in the community. If they’re Wealthy they can write for two seasons per year. If standard, then I might use GM fiat to decree that they delegate one season’s worth of work to underlings per year, thus affecting their academic output but not totally stoppering it.

[b]Senior Clergy, Priests, Templar Brother-Knight, and Commander[/b] are all eligible to take the Patrician Virtue, although they must have enough time in the year. Clergy and Templars who take the Patrician Virtue are particularly rooted and involved in the affairs of the city. In my game, Senior Clergy are also eligible to take the Landed Noble Virtue. Most communes were wary of Church interference. Many even had laws and regulations to prevent the clergy from participating in local politics. Thus in many cities clergy should take the Legal Handicap Flaw and a level 1 Noble Reputation as a Meddlesome Priest or Templar.

*I plan on using a system similar to the Gratitude system from Lords of Men to simulate working one’s way into a Patron’s circle of confidantes.

** Legal Handicap is used to simulate the existence of institutions or laws that impede the character. If combined with a negative Noble Reputation then it also implies a social or political stigma, but not one strong enough to prevent grudged acceptance into the patrician social circle. Thus a Patrician guildsman with a Cooper Reputation and Legal Handicap still benefits mechanically from having an income and clients, but is still considered a commoner by the law and at the very least has to endure the occasional social barb aimed at his parentage.

***Legally a Patrician means a character is considered eligible or already enjoys membership in the patriciate, but hasn’t joined or doesn’t actually fulfill the social niche that the major virtue implies. It is supposed to be combined with another Social Status Virtue, like Gentleman. Characters with Legally a Patrician, don’t actually enjoy any of the mechanical benefits of the major virtue, but may enjoy many of the legal and social benefits. These characters may become full Patricians by story, or by moving up in social class using the rules from City and Guild. It might be used to model a rural Landed Noble who doesn’t participate in city politics, an impoverished branch of a rich family, or a young son who hasn’t started his own household and political career.

**** I’d like to develop more rules involving guild politics and owning workshops.

Office, Minor or Major General Virtue

The character enjoys a municipal office. The minor version implies a relatively unimportant office, from which no mechanical benefits is derived, but which does give the character the opportunity to gain contacts and means to further his political career. It should also provide story opportunities to the DM. The major version grants the character an additional five pounds of income, as well as the Minor Virtue, Temporal Influence. The major version implies a relatively permanent and important position, though the very top offices should only be acquired through stories. This version also requires that the character spend a season per year performing their duties.

Extra Income, Minor or Major General Virtue

Your character enjoys a significant source of extra income. The player must define how this income is derived, and DMs are encouraged to occasionally have NPCs contest it. The character earns five extra pounds for the minor virtue and fifteen extra for the major. Examples include, taking bribes as a municipal official, a particularly profitable wine estate, a monopoly on a certain good (which might then be farmed out,) the tolls from a specific bridge, investing in the Mesta (in a later Iberian campaign,) loans made to individuals or the city, trading activity, tax farming, etc.

Cittadino, Free Social Status Virtue

The character is a legal resident of the city, enjoying all the rights granted to the popolo piccolo. The character should pick another Social Status Virtue, unless they are a general laborer or perhaps a thief who has avoided getting into trouble.

Cult/Coven Member, Minor Virtue – Cult/Coven Leader, Major Virtue

I’m considering limiting magic to secretive diabolical cults in my game. These would use the rules for Mystery Cults, infernal magic from Realms of Power, and a few other infernally tainted minor traditions. These virtues would be for members, who would have other Social Status Virtues for when they’re not sacrificing babies to Satan. Cult Member would give access to however much magical lore the Cult Leader is comfortable giving out, and social contact with other cult members. Cult Leader would give a sizeable store of magical lore and eighteen to twenty four agent points to simulate members, but the character must spend one season out of the year conducting said baby sacrifices. 

I plan on using the rules for affinities found in Lords of Men to model raising forces that range from small armed gangs to armies. It will probably give you access to a part of your clients’ and Patron’s forces. It is also possible to have virtue, called something like Clan Charter or Powerful Family, which also gives you access to their forces.

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No comments or suggestions? I was expecting being able to have several social virtues to be controversial.

I'm still mulling the post over. There's quite a bit to digest... :blush:

Personally, I think that you are forcing your players to spend too many Virtue points on Social status. A major Social Status Virtue should give you a powerful, priviledged position: essentially a Capo, but with added civic responsibilities and influence; a minor one should give you a position with some perks (Temporal power/Gentleman/Priest etc.); a free Virtue the position of the common citizen -- incidentally, the latter should be cittadino rather than contadino, who's instead a person living in the country (contado) rather than in the city.

So, I would made "Patrician" a Minor, rather than Major, Virtue (as written). As a Major Virtue I'd have it represent a character who is the head of a famiily, and can thus pretty much boss every other family member around (but beware of assassinations!). I would not allow either version to be combined with Virtues such as Factor or Capo: as mentioned above, if you are a Patrician in the Italian city states, you are a Factor/Capo, just in a slightly different social context (you have a slightly higher status in, but also greater responsibilities to, your own polity). Similarly, I would not allow it to be combined with Knight/Landed Noble/Gentleman; if you are a patrician, your family probably holds extensive estates in the countryside, and you are already the equivalent of a Landed Noble/Gentleman (with slightly less power over those of lesser status).

I would allow Patrician to be combined with Temporal Influence if you have the ear of someone much higher up the social ladder, e.g. if you are the wife of the Doge or a favoured lover of the Pope.

Thanks for responding, guys! And also for spotting that mistake, ezzelino. I’ve edited the post to correct it.

I agree that spending more than one virtue on social status would be too much, but only if this were a typical game of Ars Magica. Take into consideration that players will be creating Mythical Companion characters, who will have up to twenty virtues to spend. Also take into consideration that having lots of different virtues that can be taken at the same time provides the players with options and goals, and encourages them to play politics in order to gain and maintain their virtues.

I’m actually going to encourage players to initially limit themselves to one Major Virtue, or perhaps even less. Wealthy is definitely out of the question, unless the character only takes minor social virtues. I’m hoping that the players will want to move up the social and political ladder, so starting off small will give them more to achieve through play. The first few sessions will be set in the newly established Venetian colonies in Crete, where the characters will be in the service of a high ranking nobleman who is acting as a high official. Through trading, piracy, extortion, and rewards, the players will achieve enough Labor Points (political standing and wealth) to gain the Patrician virtue and move back to Venice, where they’ll launch off their political careers.

I disagree that the Patrician Virtue should be a minor virtue. It’s actually quite similar to the Landed Noble Virtue from the main book. The character lives as a noble, holds a source of revenue, and is given the chance to enhance it (this part is from Lords of Men.) Players who wish to boss around their family should take them as agents (Close Family Ties), while players who wish to play the very top political players in their city should take Greater Noble.

Not all patricians were merchants, so they’re not automatically Capos. Many did dominate and draw revenue from satellite towns, to the point of being referred to as lord of x town, which I think should qualify them for the Landed Noble Virtue.

Less than 1 is 0. Some of your proposed virtues are Major. What problem are you trying to solve by not allowing them to take Wealthy in addition to another Major Virtue?

I would suggest, instead, of limiting to 1 major virtue, and up to 17 minor virtues, that you consider just starting with 10 virtue points and 5 flaw points and introducing the remaining virtues and flaws during play as stories unfold and players play a bit.

By "less" than one Major Virtue, I meant Minor Virtues. I was also specifically referring to Social Status Virtues, so players would only be able to take one Major Social Status Virtue or only Minor Social Status Virtue, while being able to take other categories of virtues freely. I'm currently leaning towards the latter, since I want them to start off in the household of a powerful noble.

If a player has Wealthy and a Major Social Status Virtue, then they're able to invest Labor Points into developing other Major Social Status Virtues. I want them to do this eventually, but not at the onset of the campaign.

How exactly would that work?

In general most social status virtues should be gotten by earning them in adventures. Wealthy is a rare exception. And even that I question.

Good thing Wealthy isn't a social status virtue.


City and Guild has rules for advancing in Social Status Virtues. Essentially, a character generates a number of Labor Points every working season. These points are used to maintain the character's lifestyle and income. Surpluses can be slowly accumulated to raise a character from Poor, to standard, and then to Wealthy. Wealthy characters can use the same mechanic to become a Poor member of the next highest class. Poor, standard, and Wealthy characters also generate progressively more Labor Points, meaning that a Wealthy character must work less to maintain his status, and has more opportunities to study and accumulate extra Labor Points.

My addition to these rules is that Patricians, and a few other types under certain conditions, can spend Labor Points towards developing the listed Mayor Social Status Virtues as sidelines, gaining its benefits (influence, income, levies, social status, and mechanical advantages.) The downside, besides the major investment in time and money to develop the virtue, is that the character must now maintain that virtue every year with Labor Points, meaning they loose extra seasons. Since the Wealthy and Poor virtues determine how many Labor Points a character generates every season, they also determine how many sidelines they can have and the number of seasons they loose per sideline.

Kind of. I guess.

As I recall, it's pretty expensive, have you worked out the math to actually move up to a different class, how many experience points a character would have to forgo during the character generation process? Standard characters get 15 xp and are presumed to work 2 seasons per year, accounting for exposure, they would have 11xp earned in the course of two seasons. Poor people get 10 xp per year, and work 3 seasons, which means 3 seasons of exposure, and a season of 4 experience. And the wealthy get 20 xp and have three seasons free, which means they get about 6 xp per free season.

That may be, but it's not explained here, that I can tell. If they are earning labor points they aren't earning experience points very fast (exposure only).

How many labour points you can earn in a season varies. Unless you are doing something "wrong" it will cost 4+ experience a time you do it. However if you have high stats in the craft or profession (or whatever) you can get 12ish a season. Maybe a 3*wealth mod to 1 ratio. 5 seasons to go from poor to nothing, 10 to go from nothing to wealthy, and 15 to go from wealthy to poor (+class). Of course our theoretical social climber needs fewer at work seasons due to his super high productivity. Plus he might be a craftsman and that would give him extraordinary equipment to bandy about for extra win. A full 180 experience points if you are simply using independent study to train, and want to climb the class ranks.

Adventures change this calculus in a couple ways. They provide experience AND provide labour points.

But adventure isn't available in character generation. So, what we have is a situation where a character is doing a trade off in advancement in ability scores for higher social status. This may or may not be worth it...
It's much simpler to just not allow labor points to be accumulated or used during character generation.

They royally screw everything up if you do. If labour points enter in to Character Creation its the full-fledged extremely complex generation.

Exactly. The players' Patron and connections are going to be instrumental in their rise. Nepotism, ho! Also, City and Guild has rules on how to convert money into Labor Points, so having a sizable income will certainly speed the process along. Thanks for doing the math, Lamech.

It should also be stated that the each session is going to represent several years, so rising in class as a long term project is quite conceivable. Also, so far all the players want to play characters from patrician families (they're going to take the Legally a Patrician Minor Virtue), so it's not that they're rising in social class but more like growing into the social niche that their class is partly defined by.

Since I'm not going to allow the players to take on more than one Major Social Status Virtue during character generation, figuring out how to generate such characters is fairly low priority. It seems to me that the system depends on how many free seasons a character enjoys, so instead of classing characters by their Wealth they should be classes by how many seasons they can use to study.

"Additional Virtues usually require one to two seasons of time per year depending on Wealth. Thus Poor characters may not take additional virtues. Standard characters may, but will have no extra time. Wealthy characters will have their fingers in many pies, and so may take up to four Major Virtues, although the combination of virtues has to make sense to the DM. In return for their work, the character gains the excess income and powers associated with the virtue."

"Developing a new Social Status Virtues is achieved by following the rules for rising in wealth and social class found in City and Guild. This represents the time and money spent on developing the sideline."

It seems pretty explicit to me, Jonathan.


Yeah, I'm just going to ignore labor points during character creation. Also, I think that since they won't be taking that many virtues, I will limit them to ten virtues with five flaws.