Patronage

Asheron’s Call launched with a variation on what we would now call guilds. (The system has changed over time, and a version appeared in Asheron’s Call 2.) It was an “allegiance” system based on “patrons” and “vassals.” Throw out your existing ideas of how guilds work and start fresh for this history lesson.

(Some of these mechanics may have changed since I stopped playing.)

Any player can swear allegiance to any other player of equal or higher level. The person swearing allegiance is the vassal and the recipient is the patron. When the vassal earns experience, extra experience is generated for the patron (not taken away from the vassal, just bonus). It is not a bonanza for the patron, although having multiple active vassals could lead to leveling while just standing there. Experience is similarly passed upwards to your patron’s patron, all the way to the top person who has no patron, the “monarch.” As far as game mechanics go, that’s it; the rest of the system comes from secondary and social effects.

There is an implication that the patron owes something to the vassal. Not all patrons do much, and not all vassals are worth much, but there is a social expectation that you owe something for the experience you are receiving. On the other hand, you could also see this as your reward for time spent in guild leadership. While you are organizing events, recruiting people, moderating disputes, etc., you are not out there killing monsters and leveling. This “pays for” that time. In practice, this is not enormously far from how it has (had) worked in-game. Newer players get assistance and pay for it in patronage experience.

(I’m switching to past tense, since I’m talking about my experience. I feel old.)

There is an obvious mechanical advantage to maximizing the gain from allegiances. Some groups of friends would pick one to be at the top of the pyramid, perhaps the one who played the least. There were some high profile fallings-out when very active players got tired of someone else leveling off their work and getting a “monarch” title to boot. A mercenary take came from “experience chains”: once the mechanics were fully mapped, allegiances formed based on the maximum conservation and sharing of experience earned and passed. You could productively level yourself by power-leveling someone several steps down the chain from you, both in terms of immediate pass-through and how much more this person can now earn on his/her own. This led to some of the highest level groups in the early years, and if you were a part of an experience chain, you knew you were with like-minded people who were all about hardcore leveling and optimization.

One effect of this was to wrap in rewards for recruiting your friends. It’s a pyramid scheme. I recruit you because I want the free experience you will generate for me. You recruit your friends. Get all your friends to play — we will be the biggest, most powerful guild in the game! In practice, this was not a huge draw, as may be suggested by Asheron’s Call’s place as the third of three in its MMO generation. Patronage had both mechanical and social problems as a recruitment mechanism.

Mechanically, new players were worth jack. Asheron’s Call had a soft cap for experience points, so you could always use more, but you could reach the point where it took billions of xp to earn one point of anything. A level 20 character had earned about one million xp total. If my next point of War Magic costs more than you will earn in the next 20 levels, and you only pass up a moderate percentage of that anyway, you have nothing to offer me. A level 1 vassal has something to offer to a level 4 patron, and a level 80 to a level 100, but the veterans have no incentive to recruit newbies; even if you are playing the long game, most newbies will abandon you before the investment pays off.

Socially, the ties of obligation led to much heartache. Some people were quite happy; vassals competed for who could pass up the most xp this week, or monarchs took support roles to help their folks advance. Other allegiances dissolved or exploded as entitlement, ingratitude, and differing expectations led to conflict. You always deserve more; you are never given enough honor or treasure. Why isn’t this patron doing more for the experience you pass up? Why does this vassal think I owe him something for the trickle of experience? Doesn’t (either) he see how much I am doing for him and getting jack in return? Those experience chains were often the most harmonious because they had explicit contracts so everyone had the same expectations.

A social element was that the name of your patron and monarch were visible whenever anyone examined you. Before you recruit this guy, are you willing to put your name on his back if he engages in bad behavior? Allegiances were most commonly identified by their monarchs. It was not just that your guild had a bad name; you get a bad name if you have bad people in your monarchy. You have someone to call if some jerk is kill-stealing, although you may need to jump straight to the monarch since his patron is his friend, whose patron is an alt from that first character, who is sworn to an alt from that second account, or maybe they tied in a third friend, and you can see how it became difficult for some monarchs to find rotten eggs, dead branches, and other mixed metaphors.

: Zubon

15 thoughts on “Patronage

  1. Machination

    So what’s to stop a patron from recruiting every single person she comes across? Even though a low-level contributes next to no experience, each point adds up.

    En masse, a tremendous spread of underlings might boost the monarch fairly high.

    1. Zubon Post author

      The technical limit is a cap on the number of vassals you can have. The practical limit is good luck recruiting those people, since they will likely want something in return.

      Also, I didn’t mention, either party can sever the relationship at either time. Dissatisfied vassals can break the relationship in a few clicks.

  2. bhagpuss

    I remember this system, either from the manual or from ancillary information I read while I was waiting for the game to install. At the time I thought this particular element was one of the creepiest things I’d ever come across in a game.

    Reading about it a decade later, I still do.

  3. savedr

    NO, I absolutely loved it. It was one of my most favorite things about the game, one of the clearest examples that they were doing things differently from EQ and UO. I’m still waiting to see this system show up in a new MMO.

  4. Aly

    So players were like Avon ladies or pick-your-work-from-home sales and recruiting occupation?

    Weird.

    I can see how some people can get into it. Me, I just want to explore and fight stuff, and leave the politics to others.

  5. Curuniel

    I’ve never heard about that system, very very interesting. In-game politics are a great idea for a living world but difficult to do right (at least, if TERA’s current attempt is anything to go by). A feudal allegiance system is a great choice, although I can see how some people would want none of it. Still, very distinctive.

    I like how it makes MMO ‘work’ (exp gain) analogous to real world ‘work’ (guarding borders, growing food, whatever else vassals do for patrons). The pyramid scheme aspect is a little suspect but I feel it would work overall.

    It’s stories like this that make me sad I came to MMORPGs late in the game, so to speak.

  6. gwj

    Seems silly. The rich (in exp) get richer, the poor stay comparatively just as poor. Interesting in the sense that you can have a sort of feudal relationship you wouldn’t see often in other games, but disappointing in that your development just puts you farther behind someone on leveling, and you’ll never be able to match them in power. (Unless there’s a level cap? I don’t think I saw you mention one. If so, what happens at the level cap for monarchs/patrons?)

    1. Galaji

      This is NOT the case at all. Due to the xp pass up being only a percentage of what the vassal earns, it is entirely possible for them to out level their patron. (This didn’t sever the link, however.)

      In fact, I personally had out leveled two or three patrons in my time. There was nothing holding back or taking away from the “little guy.”

      1. gwj

        Ah, I read that it was only a small amount of the exp passed on and then somehow completely disregarded it when I posted. ^^;;

  7. Ysharros

    Ironically, the guild I joined in Asheron’s Call is the guild I’m still in for most of the games I play.

    Any system can be creepy – I’ve come across some pretty creepy-seeming guilds in WoW. Just because it’s open to manipulation doesn’t necessarily mean everyone out there does it.

    And it’s okay, you’re not old alone.

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  9. Ethic

    Asheron’s Call was my first MMO and this system is largely responsible for hooking me into MMOs forever. My brother was part of a group of fun and helpful players. They talked to me for a while and at some point one of the higher level players agreed to take me on as his vassal if I was interested. I gave it a shot and it ended up with us staying in touch over the next 10 years in whatever game we were currently playing.

    He spent many a night giving me hints and strategies. When I was struggling, he would find some nice gear to donate to me which helped turn the tides. It was a great situation to have someone available for questions, for tips and just for some simple “Hey! How have you been?” comments. It really helped keep me in the game.

  10. pixledriven

    I loved this system when I played. The allegiance I belonged to operated more like a huge group of friends though, and treated the xp gains as such:

    XP trickled up – good gear trickled down (you have to remember, the only no-trade items in the game required you to go on a specific quest. All normal drops were trade-able)

    Also advice and camaraderie.

  11. Nazarielle

    I still remember my times from AC fondly, and still remember my patron (who was our monarch as well). I loved when they implemented the co-vassal channel as I was good friends with a couple of the regulars.

    I actually considered breaking from the pack and joining one of those experience chains. At the time, I played pretty hardcore and the experience boost you’d get from those chains was nothing to scoff at. But they had a lot of rules and restrictions on who could join and had a ‘required’ XP limit that you had to earn or you’d get booted.

    It really was an interesting system, but a strange one to encounter for my first MMO when guilds tended to be the norm, even back then.

  12. SynCaine

    One of (if not the) best ‘guild’ systems in MMO history, especially early when XP still meant something and not everyone was exploiting up to 256.

    I only played on Darktide (and to this day don’t understand the appeal of AC without PvP…), but the system worked beautifully in a FFA-PvP environment.

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