Taxation is an anaethma to game designers, who react to the idea of taxes the way that most modern people do:  with the idea that it is "not fun."  However, regular taxation in the medieval sense is the perfect solution to pack ratting and hoarding, and a great way to deal with hyperinflation.  The feudal system of taxation was not based on income, as it is in modern America.  Instead, a tax collector (or the sheriff) comes out to your house, or into your boarding room, with a couple of legbreakers, estimates the value of all your stuff, and assesses a tax based on your total estimated net worth.  This means that if you have the prototypical house full of useless but pricey junk, you will pay a significant tax.  If you don’t have the cash to cover it, he grabs some of your stuff instead (usually stuff of a higher value than what you owe).  Assuming you have an offline activity system,  this property tax is collected at regular intervals regardless of your online status, getting around the old standby system of "mules that hold all your crap for you."  One might always try to smuggle or otherwise conceal one’s possessions, but then they run the risk of having it all confiscated (if hidden within the protectorate of the local nobility) or having it stolen from you (if outside the protectorate).  One might also attack the tax collector if this is feasable, but then he is subject to strict penalties under the justice system (see "Justice Systems for Persistent Worlds").

Taxes can be applied in other ways to control the massive income potential of someone who plays the game for coin 24/7.  Entering a typical medieval town without special disposition usually entailed a head tax for each person and each animal.  Entering town with a whole bunch of coin and other goods usually entailed an additional tax on the stuff you were introducing into the economy.  Different city-states generally used different systems of coin, and so your stack of crowns from Aramica needs to be changed for doubloons in Portsmouth if you want to buy anything, usually at usurious rates.  (Historically, it was often illegal to even be in possession of external currencies, and this was subject to heavy fines.)  Once again, one can try to smuggle goods between towns, with the risk of repercussions appropriate to smuggling (confiscation at the very least, and possibly fines and/or jailing if the material is considered a controlled substance).

Taxes can be used as a balancing device to more effectively apply the "zero sum rule" to differing city-states.  A realistically conceived community’s services are based directly on how much food it can produce, and how many people are there.  A small village may have very low taxes of its own, but most of its populace is out in the fields harvesting food, so there aren’t many services available, maybe a general store with limited inventory, an inn that doubles as a tavern, and a stable attached to the inn.  As the size of the community grows, you have more "excess people" who are not required to be in the fields, and are therefore able to open more specialized and better shops, and practice more trades.  You also begin to run into problems like sanitation, crime and protection from raiders, and you need city services to provide for sewers, aldermen, and a militia, ergo you need higher taxes.  By the time you have a city capable of supporting things like a weapons dojo and a university of magical arts, your population is large enough to require even more services, and a bunch of officials to make sure they run properly.  If a player really feels he needs to be in Avalon because they have great shops and a school of thaumaturgy, his cost of living is going to be high, including his taxes.  (He can always try to camp outside the city limits and come in for classes, but he’s still paying a head tax for immigration, and will be susceptible to bandits.)

Take the example of early Asheron’s Call, and assume there is a taxation system in each town.  Each town is assumed to be producing enough food, goods and services to support its intrinsic population and some others, namely adventurers.  Arwic becomes insanely popular because it has the best prices for almost everything an adventurer wants, and has great proximity to a number of highly desirable locations.  Suddenly the town’s population is huge, swelled by adventurers, their servants (mules), and the people who hang on the edges of the adventurers to profit from them, or even just to be near them.  Suddenly you don’t have enough food for everyone, and the city is filthy!  Food must be imported from other areas, city employees need to be hired to clean up after the adventurers and their caravans, etc.  Taxes must go up in this situation.  If the population stays excessively high long enough (a very long time), the city may grow to accomodate its new needs with permanent sewers, more farmland, etc.  Taxes will then not need to be so dramatic, but they will still be significantly higher than when Arwic was a one-horse town.

Taxes can also be used by a creative enough content designer as a plot device.  A change in the rate of taxation can be seen as an indicator that things are happing.  For example, a town may need to quickly raise troops to deal with an imminent invasion from a neighboring kingdom, and taxes soar to cover it.  Player characters can pay the new taxes, or possibly get some relief by volunteering to go fight the invaders.  Driving off the invaders may help to reduce the emergency tax rates.  Another example might be one in which a crooked monarch decides he wants to squeeze the city so he can buy solid gold bidets for his bathroom.  Taxes go up with no justification.  If the players figure out that the taxation is rooted in a corrupt bureaucracy, can they incite and lead a successful revolt?

One more thing about taxation systems, or any game system that threatens to become too complicated and clunky for the players:  it must be streamlined.  This means that when you make a transaction that requires a commission or tax, it is automatically deducted from the monies exchanged without having to make a special trip to the collector.  When the sherriff shows up at your house to collect taxes and you happen to be there, you need to be able to just hit a button that says, "Pay," or else attack or flee.  If you don’t want to be bothered with an independent tax collector AI, just handle taxes automatically on login, based on the amount of time since the last tax payment.  You should never force a player to fill out a tax form when you could just have him press a button.

2 Responses to “Taxes”
  1. You would, of course, want to have lower taxes for higher level characters. This would encourage them to buy more low level gear to use to entice lower level characters to join their guilds, thus trickling down to provide an overall better gaming experience for everyone.

  2. I assume you’re being sarcastic, Dr. Shad?

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