Power to the People: Using Peasants in a Campaign

Today, I speak in defense of the humble peasant. Long has he suffered in the shadow of “mighty heroes,” “youth on a quest” and “princes in disguise.” Enough I say! It is time for peasantry to rise up and claim their rightful place within your campaign!

PCs are the privileged elite, whether by chance or training. A single PC carries more wealth than entire regions of peasants. PCs never want for the basic necessities. When danger draws near, PCs can easily defend themselves against most foes. Beholden to none,a PC strides across the land, a giant among the common folk, answerable only to his conscience and the Gods themselves.

Conversely, peasants face a lifetime of savage poverty. Completely dependent on their own farming to survive, there is no safety net for a bad harvest. Starvation looms every year. When violence threatens, feudal peasants may call upon a landowner/knight for protection, since peasants rarely own weapons. They are often prevented from doing so by law. Should the knight decide to fight for his peasants, the peasants must hope he arrives in time. As for mobility, many peasants never leave their villages. Indentured serfs, near slaves, that never earn enough to break free of the agrarian lifestyle.

For all of this disparity between a PC and a peasant, I believe that the peasantry is actually more powerful than any PC.

Start with the underlying purpose of the PC. He is there to fight evil, recover lost artifacts and clean out dungeons. All useful activities to be sure, but none of which really contributes to the underlying economy. PCs get an occasional (huge) windfall from slaying a dragon, but most of that money goes to specialized artificers for magic items or to the crown. Sometimes a church might be a piece of the action also. Overall, peasants actually produce more goods and services than all of the PCs combined.

Think about it this way, if all the PCs disappeared, could the nation survive? Assuming there is not a pending apocalypse that needs averting, nations run on blacksmiths, fishwives and farmers, not heroes.

I call this my “Hollywood Genocide Theorem of Relative Social Value.” If all the actors disappear one day, life would go on. Paparazzi, watchers of “Entertainment Tonight” and other vermin might suffer, but otherwise all would be well. Apply the same scenario to doctors or teachers and then society really suffers.

Amazing! I just made an argument that Lindsay Lohan and a PC have the same value to a society. Top that Chatty DM !

I could make the argument that peasants can revolt and seize power. There are many real world historical precedents for it in China and Czarist Russia, but that is too easy. Peasants have numbers and with enough people and a little political will, you can do anything. I will mention it, but it does not really inspire me. In fact, it is a boring cliche that should be eradicated from most campaigns or used sparingly.

I think the greatest power a peasant has is this: they have nothing left to lose.

PCs can look forward to a long and rewarding life, filled with adventure, glory and treasure. A peasant is damned to work the same farm as his father and die young from overwork or an enemy raid. This absolute certainty of misery and an empty death can inspire even a single peasant to desperate acts, acts which can change the world.

Take this quote from the son of a peasant family.

“I am the son of peasants and I know what is happening in the villages. That is why I wanted to take revenge, and I regret nothing.


Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo spoke these words after assassinating the Archduke Ferdinand and single-handedly started a series of events culminating in World War I.

PCs are professional adventurers, equipped, trained and focused on victory. They calculate odds, check the political wind and plan for after the battle.

Peasants are desperate amateurs with nothing to lose and do not worry about the repercussions of their actions… and they are everywhere.

Which one do you think has more power?

Trask, The Last Tyromancer

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trask

Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.

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