Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Taxes and Fees

‘Paying the Tax’ by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Even in the 1600s, BONED.

I don’t do our taxes. This is because when it comes to numbers my brain has a hard time keeping them straight and tends to mix them up. I can also be a very paranoid person and the idea of incurring the wrath of the federal government for failing to carry a one fills me with dread. I don’t try to conquer my issue or face my fear even with the promise of user friendly software, or a free e-file. My spouse is insanely better at this kind of thing so I let him handle it. If someone has to invent a race of mangrove-forest dwelling fish people, huzzah! I am here to serve. But numbers and finances? No thank you.

Most of us think of taxes as an imposition to the lifestyles we wish to lead and the money we wish to have. The car! Sales tax. That first sweet paycheck! Decimated, if you’re lucky. The money we earn for the work we do is picked away to pay for things such as the military, education, infrastructure, the salaries of public servants and other things both needed or deemed necessary.

People in power have been collecting from those lower in class than them for thousands of years. The first known system of collecting taxes was in Ancient Egypt where the pharaoh would collect labour or goods from the citizens in order to fund building projects, the temples, military expidentures and otherwise keep Egpyt running. The Rosetta Stone was actually a tax document. The gathering of goods, money and hard work from the peasants in exchange for protection and recourse during rough times marched on through the ages. Not paying your taxes could be reason enough to be thrown into a dark prison. Not wanting to pay them has paved the way for many a revolt or revolution. Those who pay the taxes want to see them used wisely and when funds appear to be misused, things get ugly. Those who collect the taxes want them and on time, the consequences for failing to pay given in abundance. People want their money, whether they earned it or ordered someone to give it to them.

And let’s not forget the tax collector, an agent of the government but one of the people, a traitor to their class but a tool for the powers that be. Or maybe not? Maybe they love collecting the taxes. Caught in the middle, they are put in the perfect opportunity to pull a fast one on someone.

Let’s face it. Some of the services paid for by taxes are quite useful but they’re a source of grief and contention for many of us. What does an adventurer’s W-2 look like?

For GMs
-How often are taxes collected in the country and how are they collected?
-Who collects the taxes, keeps the records and transports the taxes to wherever they need to go?
-What is acceptable payment of taxes? Labour in a public venture? Wheat? Coins only? Jewels only? A variety of tenders? Foreign coins?
-Are there religious fees/tithes that followers are required to pay? Temples need upkeep and Crusades aren’t cheap. Do different denominations have different fees? What do they accept as payment?
-How do taxpayers prove they have paid their taxes? Are they given something? Is a record kept? Who keeps these records? Where are they kept?
-What are the taxes used for? Who decides what the taxes are used for?
-Are there different levels of taxation?
-How do people on the move pay their taxes? Are adventurers exempt? I mean, come on. All that loot? Untaxed?
-How are the roads maintained? Do cities and towns have ‘entry taxes’ for out of towners to accommodate the influx?
-Are there taxes and fees for things like admission to events such as elections, public plays, festivals, etc?
-What kinds of consequences are there for failure to pay taxes? Prison time? Loss of a limb? Possession of property?
-What kind of proof are people given to show that they have in fact paid their taxes?

Plot Hooks
-The PCs are tax collectors and must travel throughout the region, collecting the goods and monies of the populace, keeping it safe and returning to the capitol. How are the PCs received by those paying? How do they organize the people? When asked what the money will be used for this year, what do they say?
-A politician or member of royalty wants to pass the ‘Glorious Expansion Act’ which will increase taxes in order to pay to send adventurers beyond the borders of the country to find new places to build settlements and better the country. In order to promote the bill, groups of adventurers who might be sent out because of the bill are sent from town to town in order to raise support for the act, seeming heroic, proving their competence and showing support for the administrator in question. What kinds of concerns do the people have? Do the adventurers believe in the bill or are they just looking for work? What other kinds of bills have the politician in question tried to pass in the past? Do the citizens in general agree?
-Groups of people have been camping outside the city walls in order to avoid the Gate Tax imposed on all outsiders who pass through. The PCs find someone sneaking over the walls to avoid the payment, desperate to purchase something only available within city walls. What is the climber seeking out? What are the camps outside the walls like? What will happen to the individual if they are found without proof of citizenship or proof of payment of the Gate Tax? Is there an ulterior motive for imposing the Gate Tax, such as keeping certain types of people out?
-The penalty for tax evasion is one month labour for the Crown. The PCs are all guilty and sent out to pay their debt to society. What kind of work are they put to?
-Someone has been forging tokens given to those who pay their taxes. These tokens must be presented in order to receive and partake of some of the public services provided by the government. The PCs must find who is forging the items. Why are they being forged? What are the people with the forgeries trying to receive and what is done with them when they are caught?
-When the coffer for the Roads Rehabilitation Act goes missing as well as the politician who wishes to improve the roads heading out of the country go missing, the PCs must find the money and the politician. Do the clues left behind lead to lawmaker as well as the money Are the two necessarily linked? Why does the politician wish to improve the roads leading out of the country?

For PCs
-Who takes care of your taxes?
-What would you be willing to do in order to avoid incarceration?
-What do you think taxes should go towards? What issues/services are important to you?
-How do you feel about people who don’t pay their taxes?
-Who do you feel you owe taxes to? State? Region? Country? Kingdom? Church?

What say you? How can you make your campaign more taxing?

6 thoughts on “Reality Makes the Best Fantasy: Taxes and Fees

Add yours

    1. I can’t think of anyone who actually digs it. It can be made even more complicated/simpler depending on whether the adventurers file together as a group or individually. It can easily turn into a nightmare for the PCs. What if they only adventure in foreign countries so as to avoid being taxed by their home nation? Hmmm…

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  1. I’ve never played in a game where my character had to pay taxes, but I kind of love this idea. Of course they’d be taxed- they are going around collecting money and treasure! Adds a whole other (very realistic) layer to roleplaying games…

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    1. Yeah, a country without taxes can’t afford to have a standing army, roads, public services, any of that. If the adventurers are tax dodgers, they can be turned into villains, not giving their fair share to help the country. And if someone forgets to file the right paperwork to make sure the goods are taxed upon delivery? I mean, taxes are the reason why many a terrible criminal is caught and incarcerated, the worse crimes tacked on later. SO many layers and lots to go wrong! It’s a perfect plot hook, heh.

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