While the majority of the Mount&Blade series' gameplay centers on combat aspects, the larger game has a deep, strategic element, especially if played without cheats. Mount&Blade is a sandbox game, however, to achieve whatever objectives the player sets for him or herself - be they military, political, role-playing, or something else - the player must make careful choices. These choices basically revolve around the careful balance and management of four concepts: Money, Renown, Honor, and a register of Reputations. These four concepts intersect with and are backdropped by the constraints of Time, Geography, and a player's Character, Combat success, Military expedience, and Risk.
This article's goal is to be a jumping point for each concept as well as to explain the balance between them.
Money (Denars/Thaler): Money is made from quests, taxes, trade, pillaging, battle, tournaments, and from prisoners as ransoms. Different players can use character strengths to increase income--a player with a high trade skill can earn more from trading whereas a player with high looting may consider battle or pillaging, while a player who is a lord may rely largely on taxes, and a player with high persuasion might rely on quests. Money is spent most expensively on troop upkeep and equipment for the player and heroes, but also on recruiting, certain quests, food, bribes to bandits, lords, commoners, and feasts. When making strategic decisions, money is most commonly a trade-off for honor, reputation, and military expedience. In Calradia, as in the real world, money also buys time - hiring a mercenary party at a premium may be better than training a recruit from scratch.
Renown: Renown is the player's personal fame. Almost all actions will yield renown, but renown also degrades with time, and with certain failures. And renown is not easy to earn rapidly. Renown becomes harder and harder to earn the higher the player's level. While no game situations demand renown to be given up, many situations are out of the reach of players without a certain level of renown - namely the abilities to become a lord or lady, the ability to woo, ask for, and marry a lady, the ability to become a marshall, and the ability to lead a claimant's rebellion. NPCs also react differently to players with high renown, and life, in terms of time, money, fief-owning, kingdom building, and reputation are all lubricated with renown. Just as importantly, a player's party size is closely tied to renown. Since almost all players will earn renown at some point or another, the greatest trade off for renown is the costly time needed to attain it and the largely combat risks associated with trying to build renown faster.
Greater Risk typically generates greater rewards, particularly so with combat and renown. Winning when at a severe numerical disadvantage tends to yield large amounts of renown quickly. However, such engagements can quickly wear down your troops and your character's health. Losing fights usually costs both money and time.
Honor: Honor is the player's "karma". Honor is gained when enemy lords are let go, when certain quests are completed without pay, and when political quests are handled in a certain manner. Honor is lost when enemy lords are captured for ransom and upon completion of certain "dishonorable" quests. Honor is also lost if you refuse to give up a lady's suit after losing a duel. Having honor affects the reputation gain of a certain subset of lords' personalities that are also honorable quite rapidly if you have never met them. While honor can provide reputation gains with that segment, maintaining honor by refusing certain quests can degrade your reputation with others. Honor costs money, time, and military expedience. Maintaining and building honor can eat away at quest income, which also raises the specter of time. Setting enemy lords free brings them quickly back as a military power, again raising time as a specter.
Military Expedience typically operates at odds with honor. In the short term it is advantageous to hold enemy lords as it decreases the number of troop stacks wandering the map. However, by releasing them you gain honor which has long term benefits.
Reputation: Not only is reputation balanced against considerations of time, money, honor, and military expedience, each reputation must be balanced against other reputations. Few reputation gains are truly free - even the military rescue of an embattled lord carries combat risk. Some reputations are set up to be diametrically opposed - reputation gains and losses from political intrigue or affronted suitors and the ladies you woo. Others carry subtler trade-offs. Again, time, money, and geography might affect your decision to gather favor with a particular town or village instead of a lord. Time and money might cause a player to raid a village for money and food at the expense of reputation. Money may cause a player to sink thousands of denars into improving his relationship with an uncooperative lord. The passage of time might soften a lord's stance.
Reputation can have the following effects:
- Monarchs: increases the chance you will be awarded fiefs.
- Lords: extremely negative (at least -10) reputation precludes the lord from coming to your military assistance or improving reputation by acting in concert in combat. High reputation increases their political support for you, their support for your inclusion into their family through marriage, and increases the chance they'll defect to your kingdom.
- Towns: increases tax revenue and lowers prices.
- Villages: increases the number of, quality of, and willingness of the population to be recruited into your army. Also increases tax revenue and lowers prices.
- Ladies: increases their likelihood to accept you for marriage. A positive reputation with an ever married Lady will allow you to ask favors of her (like increasing reputation with another Lord, in Warband).
Time: Events in Calradia reset on daily and weekly timers. Almost all actions take time. The longer a player is unable to act, the stronger his opponents become, the more renown they gain, the larger bandit parties grow and respawn, the more trade bogs down, the more likely a lady will be wooed away, and the more likely a fief is raided or lost. Additionally, every week, the player must pay troop wages, placing a very real cost on time. While quests usually offer enough time to complete, some delivery quests are on tight schedules. And time forces a player to choose between quests and other priorities such as making money, recruiting and training, building reputation, or participating in Military campaigns. Unlike pre-Warband Mount&Blade, Warband's Calradia is not easily traversed in a few hours. Time is not a great issue early in the game, but becomes more important the more entangled the player becomes with Calradia. Additionally, night offers advantages and hazards different from those of day. The change of seasons affect caravans, and combat weather patterns.
Geography: In Warband, geography plays a much larger role in controlling the movement of players and NPCs alike. Bandit Camps easily bog down trade in locales, and mountains and woods provide dangerous chokepoints that can force a player to choose between an inescapable ambush through a fast route, or a safe route that takes too much time. Fiefs too far away to be defended might not be worth accepting. Low coastal regions are also more likely to become fogged in the morning - providing both visual impairments for a player's party as well as during combat.
Player Character: The specific characteristics a player chooses can affect the strategies and relative trade-offs between other considerations.
Combat Success is perhaps the most common way to collect renown. Victory in combat often depends on the player character, as unsupervised battles become pure numerical contests often with costly losses.