So, why it is your characters have so many problems to resolve constantly? Why are there so many problems to deal with that don’t seem to go away. If there are so many wealthy kings and queens are so wealthy and have so much power, why is it there are so many problems left in the world?
First we have to remember what the world of D&D is. Not M’Kal, not Forgotten Realms, not even Ravenloft or Eberron. It was said long ago, that the world of D&D is a dark, dangerous, evil place with pin pricks of light and goodness. Those pinpricks of light and goodness are the cities where most civilized peoples live. In order for the logics of D&D to work you need to understand that the majority of the world is evil, and while good tries to thrive, winning isn’t cost effective for leaders.
So, it’s not cost effect. But why is that? There are several costs that become excessive when trying to project power to control and solve problems in a world like D&D. First is the moral costs, second is the monetary cost, and the third is the ethical cost.
Let’s look at the moral cost first. There is a certain expectation people have. If you are familiar with the (lower end) of US politics you may have heard of the NIMBY(Not in my back yard) concept. Essentially, some people are all in favor of more prisons… just not near them. Put them someplace else. Well the reverse is true in some ways too. Why is it you, the government, have the means to send a thousand soldiers/guards five hundred miles away to deal with bandits there when you can’t keep people from robbing Toby’s Fish Market right here on my block in the city? So, in order to keep the moral of people up they have to create a more aggressive military force inside the city to make sure every little law is punished so they can show they DO care more about their own city streets than they do some stretch of road 500 miles away.
But, that same police state, where jay walking is severely punished has a moral cost. When you make every single small crime a case of ‘lets make an example of them’ to punish them heavily it wears down on a community. An overactive police force can lead to honest very minor accidents becoming a larger problem. Let’s suppose the single father of several children is pushing his cart of produce down the road and someone bumps his wagon. An apple falls off and roads across the street. If he runs over to try to grab that apple before someone steps on it, leads to several problems in a soceity that puts immense stress on ethics (Chaotic vs lawful) over morality (good vs evil) in extremes. If he doesn’t stop… is he guilty of littering? If he does stop is he guilty of improperly crossing the street? Is he going home to his kids tonight or are they going to be without their father for a day.. a week.. a month? Is this an extreme example? It sure is. But it still remains that a soceity will believe that they in the city are entitled to ‘more’ than outlying parts of a kingdom. If you can solve problems 500 miles away, you can solve them here. Unfortunately the more you try to root out crime, the more crime will try to find a way to get around your efforts. Thus, the harder you will have to try. If you are trying to ‘attack’ every problem, then you will have to get more and more aggressive over time. This means bystanders will get hurt. The more your bystanders in your society get hurt, the lower moral gets. The deeper the divide will get between leadership and their subjects.. and the more the subjects begin to look like the enemy.
The ethical cost comes when a government is deploying a massive police force, whom are all given a checklist of crimes. They are expected to deal with those crimes in the same way, equally, at all times. The larger the police force the less of an individual they become and the more they become their uniform, the insignia they have sworn an allegience to. This means it becomes a problem when two different acts fall under the same law. A sketchy looking man in black leader armor slinks trhough the allies, and cuts the purse of a noble, and makes off with a hundred platinum coins. Versus the homeless street rat that steals. In the eyes of the common guard whom is obligated to obey the letter of the law, theft is theft is theft. So both the homeless child trying to get her first piece of food in 3 days is likely to lose her hand the same as the trained rogue that just stole enough money to buy house. In D&D the average citizen is illiterate or barely literate. So it’s not really viable to try to teach a police force numbering in the thousands a bunch of different versions of a law where there are different degrees of theft, or different degrees of assault, or in some cases a crime should be excused because that kid was jaywalking only to get out of the way of an asshole on a horse that isn’t paying attention. Sure the kid broke a law but it was literally a case of if he didn’t he would have been trampled to death. But if you have a police force that is being over leveraged they may get to the point where they only care about legal or illegal, while ignoring good and evil or right and wrong. A police force that is grown to the point where it’s become inflexible like this will result in an erosion of the value of ethics.
Lastly, is the economic cost. Paying a police force isn’t the only cost when you are trying to project your power into regions well beyond the walls of your small clean city. When you are paying your guards are in your city you pay them their wage then leave them to find their own meals and bed each day. But when you move a hundred of them five hundred miles away your costs go up dramatically. You now have to probive them with a place and means to sleep, food to eat, chefs to cook that food, transportation for that bedding, food, and chefs.. plus any other supplies they may need depending upon their mission. In the end it may end up with the kingdom’s coffers paying several thousand gold or even tens of thousands of gold on a single mission to save a single trade route for a month. The Kingdom would be lucky to make a thousand gold back in taxes off the tradegoods on that route in that same month. The logistics of paying and projecting a police force large enough to qualify as a standing army just isn’t sustainable.
So, how does a goodly kingdom in a D&D world resolve it’s problems? You. You are the solution and the scapegoat all in one. Adventurers are expensive, but most cost effective than projecting a military police force hundreds of miles. Sure, it may cost 50 gold to send a group of 20 city guards on a one way trip along a 100 mile road from one town to the next to sniff out bandits, but it may cost 100 gold to send a group of 6 adventurers for that same trip. But the leader of the city isn’t expected to cover the cost of food, lodging, equipment, gear, and supplies for the adventruers. In a more drawn out mission, a 100 soldiers may be expected to travel that road constantly for a month or more until all bandits are dealt with. The guards are going to eat up thousands or more gold, but to the adventurers the mission is the same in either of the two above examples. They are paid 100 gold to make the bandit problem go away. Any additional costs are their problem not the leaders. Plus, there is the moral weight. If the leader of a city makes a choice that gets 100 city guards wiped out, there are 100 upset families and it’s the leader’s fault.. at least in part. If 6 adventurers get wiped out, it was their choice to be adventurers. You as an adventurer are cheaper in the long run, and more expendable. But.. there is another thing. You are flexible. Unlike a city guard an adventurer is not expected to just obey the letter of a law. An adventurer is expected of dealing with a problem as per their own morals. They may include punishments, or this may include blackmail… or it may include hiding a child criminal from the city guard and helping them escape to a life free of crime. Adventurers take the risk of disobeying the law with the full knowledge that if they are ever wrong, the villain they let escape today may be a bigger problem tomorrow. A problem that would result in bigger harm than when they let them escape. Adventurers may have to deal with the backlash of their choices. Leaving the solution to a lot of problems in the hands of adventurers does mean a leader is allowing, to a certaine extend, laws to be ignore and chaos to thrive outside the walls. But for leaders such as the Empress of M’Kal, it’s better to think in the long term and let citizens with the desire to adventure do so. Be a hero, thrive, and be paid well. In a world with mages, paladins, and clerics wandering about by the dozens a single leaders should not be the resolution to daily problems.
In the words of Empress Calmita; Our society has several lines of defense. The first is our written law, most are polite enough to obey it. Our second line of defense is our city guard. For those too rude to obey the written law, a thump from the guard will reach most to behave for a time. Our third line of defence is adventurers. Sure most of them behave outside of the law to some degree, but I would rather tolerate a drunk that pinches a bar wench on the ass than a necromancer raiding the farms of my citizens. I am the last line of defense and if your problem crosses my desk, I am sending ten dragons.