Saturday, February 26, 2011

Taxation, again

My online AD&D group has just had almost the same exact reaction as my tabletop players had about 2 years ago when they came hauling a load of loot to the city gates... and then were stopped for inspection and taxation. The screamings... the wailings... the plotting of how to get around it... there were machinations that rivaled anything else in the game to avoid paying gold to the King.

I'm amused for two reasons. One, I don't charge for training to increase levels. I take care of that via taxation on goods brought in and in "cost of living" which I have a published formula and cost for. I confess that if I weren't so against training costs, from a personal "I don't like it" POV, this wouldn't be an issue. Second, from the perspective of their characters - taxation in this form would be normal. Yes, it can be avoided, but the lengths both the tabletop and online group wanted to go through would seem crazy to normal people in the imaginary world.

... and the players in my online game were coming up with some funny ways of getting around it... from casting charm person on the guard (there are multiple guards and people around... that would be an attack. A Bad Thing, especially for a 1st level guy that's probably not going to last long against guards.) to levitating over the wall with the loot... to trying to somehow transport the NPCs outside the city to to the loot...

I had this to say to them:
Me: BTW, just as a note... this is not unusual for this world as this would be the practice in almost all human cities and places where a goverment existed. Only in small villages, hamlets and places where mostly locals operated would this activity not appear. It's a common custom of taxing incoming goods/items that had been "found" or brought in or even items being shipped. 
Player: Do you mean that our backpacks are checked everytime we go into the walled part of the city, but since we're not usually carrying anything unusual we don't RP it? 
Me: No, you've just never presented the profile of a merchant or someone who has goods to be checked.
Look at it from the perspective of a guard. He probably is looking at 5 to 10 people a minute coming in, on a busy stretch. He'll look at what they're doing, if they've already entered and are leaving, what they're carrying, if they appear to be a merchant or not, if they have some sort of reason to be searched, etc. The times you've entered the cities, you've presented the profile of mere travelers. With urns, boxes and sacks, you're going to look a bit different.  
(Just as an aside, I'm astounded - again and I don't know why I should be - at how the brakes screech and the heads snap around and the "WTF"ing starts when I mention taxing ... imaginary... gold :D) 
So yes, you'll definitely look like merchants, you'll probably be stopped and checked. This would, from your character's perspectives, be business as usual and unless you really were interested in saving every last gp, most "ordinary" people would not go out of their way to avoid it.
I swear, I'm starting to channel Alexis more and more each day... ;)

BTW, this is not a bitch at my players, we've had a good discussion and they're actually more worried about the guards opening the urns that they wish to keep intact till they deliver them to the NPC. That's a valid concern and I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

It's just funny, to me, that they're doing the same thing my tabletop guys did 2 years ago.

Do your players do the same thing when you extract gold from them?


J G Halmayr said...

I think the idea of being taxed intrudes on the player's sense of being in a fantasy world. No one likes the IRS, and having to deal with a fantasy version of it breaks the suspension of disbelief. No one would actually do all the crazy things that PC's come up with to avoid taxation, but since it's not reality, the players get to live their fantasies about not paying the tax man in the real world.

Desert Scribe said...

There was certainly taxation in medieval times.

Not only that, but I vaguely remember from my property law class that in England, treasure troves (meaning newly recovered artifacts, gold or gems that had been buried/lost in Roman times) were actually the property of the king. In other words, you might get a finder's fee, but the bulk of the loot went to the sovreign!

Imagine coming out of the dungeon with a magical weapon or two, only to have the royal guard confiscate the king's "property" ...

migellito said...

Every time my players go in or out of the front gates of Yggsburgh, they get plinked for 1cp. So far the only one avoiding it (easily) is the rogue. They've made enough gold that it's only an annoyance, but it's definitely eased them into the knowledge that The Man has his eye on them.. hehe.

Rob Conley said...

Ah the good old Hawking Taxes. Note that the usual standard for applying them is based on whether you have potential goods to sell then whether you are a merchant or not.

Bring in enough goods or things of high enough value off you go to the Market master to declare your goods and have the Hawking Tax levied.

One thing is that they were not levied against nobles usually. I say that because if the PCs come in looking and acting like nobles than the chances that the guards will let them through.

It far less risky approach then smuggling.

Capheind said...

Well who pays taxes in their fantasy? That said I pull the same tricks. You come into town as a traveler the guard will probably just need a little entrance fee, you come in with any real wares and there is a quick stop at the tax-mans shop, you come in on a cart piled high with treasure and your going to see the king, who you better placate with some tribute before he decides to annex the entire horde.

Staples said...

I charge my players a silver piece/denarius whenever they enter the only large city that they've visited so far. They've so far spent most of their time on the "frontier," though, so I haven't had a lot of opportunity to tax them. Even so, they weren't terribly happy about the 1 sp entree fee.

Gratuitous Saxon Violence said...

Wait until the Thieves' Guild notices them and their loot. Should be a lot more complaining when those urns turn up missing.

JB said...

...and this is why they invented the portable hole...

: 0

Alan said...

Here we have a case of player expectations not matching the GM's expectations in a given fantasy world. When these two views diverge, the players will always have a jarring moment of "WTF?" until things settle down a bit and the players get a chance to meld the new expectation into their understanding of the fantasy world you have created.

I can understand a city entrance fee, bridge fee, fording fee, property tax, and I am familiar with hawking taxes which were oftentimes used to protect the merchants in the city from being undercut by those passing through. All of these I classify as "use" taxes, and are understandable - you wish to use one or more resources that the city has to offer, and for that privilege there is a specific fee.

Allowing the city guards to freely levy a (possibly arbitrary) tax on coins brought into the city is something I've personally not heard of before. If you bring those same coins into a few cities on your way to some destination, you could easily see your coin cache whittled away to half or less than what you started with, again depending upon what rate we are looking at. It has the feeling of a shakedown, and I don't know of many people who enjoy that kind of feeling.

I guess there is also the frustration of working long and hard to find a decent cache of loot, only to imagine officious guards having a free hand with whatever they choose, all for a supposed king who isn't fulfilling his obligations to the lands he claims as his own.

Badmike said...

In a world with magic, and invisibility, charm person, reduce/diminuation, fly, teleport spells, rings and magic items (not to mention bags of holding and portable holes, I don't see how a guard stop at the gate to collect taxes is anything more than a simple problem to be overcome (much like it is in a dungeon). I suspect a party might get caught the first time, but if they are halfway intelligent they should be able to get inside the city with all their wealth without many problems as long as they use a little brain power. I'd let them succeed as long as the plan makes sense and they took a little effort in making their plans.

For the record, I don't have any problems with PCs accumulating wealth, and make it a point not to artificially create obstacles becoming rich. As Halmayr said, real life itself sucks enough that players should be able to indulge themselves a little for a few hours a week spending imaginary gold in an imaginary tavern!

Pat said...

As a player, I would drop everything to avoid paying anyone taxes on anything, ever. It's a simple matter of not taking crap from an NPC.

The PC is the most important person in the game world - the entire world is there only for their edification. Submission to authority in a manner that doesn't advance a PC game objective is anathema, and the only reasonable course of action is to defy taxation.

Realism has nothing to do with it - it's an affront to player psychology.

That said, as a DM, taxing players is fun, because you get to have petty, zero-level NPC's lord it over the PC's. That just drives players nuts.

Guy Fullerton said...

I have a little bit of taxation in my campaign, but not very much ... mostly for flavor.

I prefer my to give the players reasons to be *eager* to spend their wealth (getting something), as opposed to making it feel like their wealth is being yanked from them (taxation).

That's one of the reasons I use the AD&D training rules, pretty close to BTB. They're eager to spend the gold on training, because that's how they actually acquire a new level that they've qualified for. (The money isn't necessarily for training in the literal sense; they're free to justify/rationalize the expenditure in any way they like, within some broad parameters that don't necessarily even require them to get back to civilization.)

I guess the end result is similar to a campaign in which something like taxation was used as the major means of removing excess wealth. But the non-taxation method seems much more palatable to my players.

I've had players whine that they need to pay 100 gp to gain citizenship in the major city-state, but they were quite happy to pay 450 gp for plate mail, 500 gp for a map of the region, and multiples of 1500 gp to "train" for a new level.

ChicagoWiz said...

@JG - This is a game of fun, not requiring such suspension of belief/disbelief that "taxes" will break their hearts or souls.

@Pat - no, the most important people at the table is EVERYONE. Otherwise, why not just fuck the DM, hey?

Affronts? Oh please... seriously? I'm in half astonishment that our players are such fragile little creatures that setting up some realism is somehow going to shatter their "experience".

I am definitely channeling Alexis too much today.

Justin Alexander said...

My players give me the evil eye every time the moneychanger levies their fee.

With that being said, I'm somewhat amused that you find people avoiding taxes so astonishing. Tax havens and audits aren't exactly novelties in the real world. Corporations spend millions of dollars lobbying to have their taxes reduced.

Badmike said...

Maybe the answer (what I use) is ever present "fees" on such things as weapons, spells cast, etc. While it might be easy to sneak a party of adventurers with treasure past the gate guards, they aren't going to be able to avoid every weapon seller, apothecary, priest, money changer, etc that they run up against during the day who will add a small "fee" on top of their regular price. In a way, it's like inflation: more gold coming into a frontier town leads to higher prices all around.

I will generally agree players loathe being told they "must" do something, especially paying taxes; it goes back to railroading and telling players the "must" take the left path in the forest to continue the adventure, rather than using their wits to think around the problem. That being said if I had a "tax at the gate" I'd be eager to see my players machinations thinking their way around the taxation and probably award them EX points if they did so successfully!

Greg Christopher said...

You inspired me to riff on taxes myself, oh great Wiz.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Justin - I'm more amused than truly surprised, I think I was more surprised at the similarity of the response between the online group and tabletop group. That being said, if they can figure out a logical way around it, and it works, more power to them!

@Greg - interesting post, thanks! I do indeed require player-characters that are property owners within the town to participate in the town militia/defense - something they may have to think about very shortly!

Pat said...

I don't think what I meant to say, and you understood me to say, are the same thing.

I was talking about game world, not table - PC's are the most important thing in the game world. There's only 3 things there: monsters, NPC's, and PC's. If PC's aren't the most important out of those 3, then the game you're playing and I'm playing are probably very different.

Of course at the game table, everyone is equal, hopefully gathered together as friends. I don't game with strangers, so I don't know how game store pick-up type groups would work out.

As far as "affront", I was embellishing my language a little bit, but yeah - players are going to view it as insulting on the part of NPC's. I doubt they'd take it as an insult in "real life" if that's what you thought I was saying. That would be fairly fragile.

Things are worse in my games - when taxes are taken, you don't get experience for that gold. It's just gone.

ChicagoWiz said...

@Pat - perhaps, but that phrase did fire off this ... the word revulsion is strong, but close to what I feel ... when I hear of how the players (the people sitting at the table) are more important than the DM, how it's almost as if the DM enters into a service relationship with the players, giving them what they want, when they want. 4e is certainly, in my opinion, a reinforcement of that trend.

"insulting" only if someone wishes to take it as such and in my world, what is sauce for the gander is also sauce for the goose - everyone operates under the same rules (and tries to break them the same way).

I've had one player walk in and act like the monsters and NPCs should be groveling to a 1st level PC. He lasted 2 games and I did not invite him back. While there can be that expectation from PCs that have earned that reputation (4th level and above for sure - in a nod to Chainmail's Hero), the *player* that has that attitude from day 1 and I are not going to get along. If a PC is insulted at taxation... well.. *shrug* that's my game, they'll deal with it or they are welcome to find a different game and I have no issue with that.

My players get XP for gold, even the gold that they lose to taxation. If they find a 1,000 gp item, but the shrewd merchant only gives them 750gp, I still award them 1,000gp. They never truly know what the exact value is.

ken said...

As a player in the online game, I don't think it was a big deal. Michael set up the parameters, we tried to push the boundaries. No one likes to pay taxes, but that's the real world part of this fantasy world.

We all attacked the taxation like a challenge or puzzle, until, Michael graciously pointed out OOC that this is a natural part of this world. As much as the Orcs and Crabmen are. And sometimes you do accept that part of it. doesn't mean we have to pay the tax, but we certainly know that their will be consequences if we don't get away with it. Better to pay a bit, then lose it all and rot in the dungeon somewhere.

And I much prefer this method to training and such.

And honestly, the Urns were the big issue. Coin is easy to replace, supernatural urns are not.

richardthinks said...

I'm guessing there are 2 reasons for the WTF reaction: first, they didn't know about the existence of taxes beforehand, so it feels like a new and arbitrary penalty; second, they've already paid for their loot in the standard coin of heroic stories, risk. Having someone else extort their risk-trophies without themselves participating in risk doesn't quite break suspension of disbelief, but it does break the activity they thought they were doing. Especially if they're playing in some kind of manifest destiny mode, where wilderness is beyond the pale of civilisation and They Are The Law.

Still, it's a good WTF. Someone could explain to them that it's taxes that allow a city to be here at all. And plenty of historical merchants avoided interim towns between their start and destination exactly because they wanted to avoid taxes and tolls.

I always pay taxes. It's a good neighbour policy, especially if most of the other gold miners don't.

Randolph said...

Badmike said "For the record, I don't have any problems with PCs accumulating wealth, and make it a point not to artificially create obstacles becoming rich. As Halmayr said, real life itself sucks enough that players should be able to indulge themselves a little for a few hours a week spending imaginary gold in an imaginary tavern!"

Not to mention needing said cash for resurrections, level restorations, buying potions, etc. Saddle a higher level PC with his/her own domain and listen to the flushing sound as their fortunes dwindle, forcing them back into the dungeon >:-)