OSR: Don't You Know There's A War On?

There's always a war on. Maybe it's not the War, but at the very least, there's a war, and you should have one in your setting. It's a useful plot device. The War is happening Over There: over a mountain range, an ocean, a river, a plane. Its effects are felt at home. The War isn't an epic struggle between good and evil. The marauding hordes of barbarian orcs are just propaganda. Both sides are roughly equal, speak related languages, fight using the same methods, have similar codes of conduct, and are generally interchangeable.
This isn't a sensible and orderly conflict like Bastionland's Far War. European medieval warfare is messy, infuriating, completely disorganized from our modern perspective. In a world without standing armies, centralized authority, or a sense of realpolitik and the art of the possible, war is a fact of life like plague, famine, or weather. There's not  much you can do about it. When the ruling class derives all its position and prestige from warfare, warfare will inevitably occur. 

Adventurers want to get rich. Wars are incredibly expensive. Traditionally, wars are paid for by levying taxes and taking on debt. Next time your PCs are in town inform them that there's a new tax on salt, lanterns, prostitutes, dogs smaller than a newborn lamb, and anything blue. They might be taxed directly on anything hauled out of a dungeon. If tomb-robbing is a respectable profession in your setting they might have to join a guild. If not, taxation is variable and highly unfair. To keep everyone happy the local noble could grant the PCs a charter or worthless title (Keeper of the King's Lesser Warrens and Catacombs) to cement their allegiance and ensure the gold continues to flow. If the local noble is not wise, he might kill the golden goose and imprison the PCs, raid the dungeon with his own troops, or exile the PCs from his lands

If the PCs are rich enough and have a sufficiently secure position, they might instead be asked to loan money. This is a dangerous game. The terms of repayment could stretch for decades, and if the War goes wrong, they might never be repaid. If all goes well the PCs could earn powerful allies.

80, Igor Sid.

General Effects of the War

News of the War can take months to reach some areas and is always accompanied by rumours and lies. The cause of a protracted War, or even the sides, can be forgotten. After a great victory the people will expect riches and a reduction in taxes (which rarely materialize). After a great defeat, they will expect rampaging armies and slaughter within days (which is slightly more likely, depending on their distance from the conflict).

People with a stake in the war's outcome always need money. They will make poor, short-sighted decisions to get it. Raise taxes until the peasants revolt (again)? Sell a vital plot of land? Make an alliance with a heretic king, an otherworldly power, or a band of smelly adventurers with a tall tale and a tame basilisk? Why not. Predigest and power are on the line.

Marching to the war. Marching back. Recruiting in every village. Getting drunk and starting trouble. Deserting. The closer you get to the War, the more soldiers you'll find doing almost anything except fighting, especially if there's a siege. If the War is small and the times are peaceful and orderly, soldiers will be focused on the conflict and their immediate needs. If times are turbulent, if authority is breaking down and pay is late and the causes of a war are as immaterial as the outcome, then soldiers become much more dangerous. Roving bands might search the countryside for wealth and plunder, not caring if they attack allies or enemies. The PCs might be perfect candidates to join them. On the other hand, the last thing you want after finally building your castle is a bunch of ruthless mercenaries taking it from you and using it to raid the countryside.

Just as the PCs might receive (Konsumterra's) terrible letters from home, they might also receive letters from their friends or family in the War. Second only to a death-letter is a ransom letter. Only nobles are ransomed individually. Peasants and knights are ransomed in bundles. The cost is usually unaffordable.

The cost of everything creeps up as you get closer to the War, or as the War goes on for years. The PCs might find that a local luxury good or a vital staple is no longer available. Trade falters. On the other hand, finding thirty usable but rusty swords in a dungeon suddenly makes you an arms merchant.

Battle of Grunwald, Jan Matejko

Encounters Far From the War

Add these to your rumour or random encounter tables.

1. A letter arrives from someone a PC knows. It's 1) dull, 2) good news (false), 3) bad news (false), 4) bad news (true)
2. A a drunk sergeant and a seedy corporal have enlisted someone the PCs know. They'll accept a bribe to cancel the enlistment.
3. Three knights and thirty-six archers, all marching to the War, camp near the PCs. The are 1) well behaved, 2) belligerent and coarse, 3) actively hostile to anyone they think they can rob or forcibly enlist, 4) desperate to avoid the War entirely.
4. Prices on one item go up by 20% due to a new tax or a local shortage
5. News arrives of a shift in alliances. No one is sure if this is good news or bad news, as no one is sure who was on which side originally. People with some information debate people with no information in public squares.
6. A rider gallops by, carrying sealed orders in a case. If intercepted, the orders are 1) coded, 2) actually treasonous, 3) false, designed to look treasonous, 4) true but mundane, 5) true but valuable, 6) obviously moronic.
7. A roving priest with 1d10 ragged followers, declaring loudly that the War is sinful bickering among the faithful, and all those who join it are damned.
8. Prisoners, heading to a city for 1) trial, 2) execution, 3) ransom, 4) negotiations. They look like the locals in all but one or two crucial respects, which are of course the topic of ridicule.
9. 1d20 wounded soldiers, returning to their homes. 1 in 4 are sound enough to be hired for dungeon work.
10. 2d20 mercenaries, eager to reach the front and obtain plunder and glory. If they smell easy riches they'll drop all plans. They are used to bargaining for their services, but they aren't cheap. 50% chance they are part of a much larger mercenary force. Their comrades, if informed, may also want a share. Otherwise, they carry rumours of distant lands, strange customs, and the conduct of war.

1. A letter arrives from someone a PC knows. It contains news of 1) a significant defeat (true), 2) a significant defeat (false), 3) a significant victory (true), 4) a significant victory (false), 5) a massive shift in alliances, 6) magical or supernatural events. The PCs have this information before anyone else in the region.
2. The local noble sends a large recruiting party to scour the area and raise more troops. The PCs may not be offered a choice.
3. A new tax is proclaimed. Prices on most goods rise by 50%. There is a 2-in-6 chance the peasants revolt and murder the local officials, tax collectors, and possibly nobles. They will ask the PCs to lead them. In 2d6 days, troops will arrive, arrest everyone, execute the ringleaders, and move on.
4. A significant victory! Soldiers return with loot and spend it unwisely. Feelings run high. Feasts are arranged. Bells ring night and day. The local nobles are proclaimed saints and geniuses. Maps are redrawn. Grand plans are proclaimed, but will inevitably fade.
5. A major defeat! Soldiers flee the front, made lawless by their fear. Despair spreads. The local nobles are proclaimed fools and traitors. Defenses are prepared. The approach of the enemy is feared daily, but they never materialize.
6. Defeat looms. The local nobles are bound by tradition, but some in their courts might seek the PCs, the PCs rivals, or stranger powers and buy their aid. Almost any plan will be entertained, from sorcery to assassination. The PCs will never earn public glory for their aid but they may earn a great deal of money and the attention of those in power.
7. A troop of 30+2d10 mercenaries passes through the area. They will avoid fortified towns or a serious fight, but isolated monasteries, wizard towers, villages, farms, and camps will be looted and burned. The mercenaries are foreign and don't speak the local language.
8. Truce! The truce holds for 1d6 months, exploding on a 6.
9. A creditable peace. The War is over, and while neither side accomplished anything of note, neither side has any immediate pressing claims. A new War will restart in 1d6 months, exploding on a 6.
10. A discreditable peace. The War is over, but the local side lost prestige, territory, a leader, or or an ally. A new War will start in the next summer, against the same target, a new one, or both.

There's room for camp followers, sieges, ridiculous politics, taxes, and crusades in another post. 

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