An epiphany is a funny thing.

Like how I can examine a subsystem from 3e D&D for eight years and not get it. Maybe it’s because I now have an accounting class behind me, or because I’ve tinkered with it for eight years. Maybe it’s because I have a use for it now.

Affiliations in 3e (Player’s Handbook 2) are like small businesses.

When you create an affiliation, you infuse it with capital. It grants a couple executive powers that can exercised periodically — to the detriment of the affiliation. If left to its own devices, an affiliation will sustain itself.

If you refrain from using your executive powers, the affiliation grows itself.

I get it now. It’s so subtle — I mean, I knew the affiliation system was a big deal when I read it, but I couldn’t figure out why. Why was it a big deal.

It’s a whole other game. A game within a game.

Affiliations are the bridge from low-level obscurity to high-level power. That much, I already knew. But I didn’t understand how. Or even really, why.

The critical piece, however misunderstood, was NPC hirelings.

Hirelings are a critical part of the game — whether it’s a porter, a squire, an apprentice, a torchbearer, or a whole team of mercenary warriors.

Even if I got it before, I still didn’t get it. Not before this morning.

Now I get it.

Better yet, I think I know how to fill in the gaps of the Affiliation system so that other people can get it too — and I think I know how to make it easier to see.

What does an affiliation do? It provides PCs with missions and hirelings.

If the PCs officially join an affiliation, they can climb its ranks and eventually assuming an executive role — and wield the affiliation’s powers.

This might seem obvious — I’ve grasped as much before — but now I understand how and why it works this way — and it all comes down to hirelings. It might even come down to how easily player characters can die.

That may require some more time to reflect.