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In my world, the government has prohibited owning your own military-like force. So what is a filthy rich person supposed to do to get back at the one who has given them a deadly insult? Hire mercenaries!

There is a well-established and respected mercenary guild, with few (if any) mercenaries operating outside of the guild. If you hire mercenaries from them, you'll be guaranteed professionals who won't give you anything less than their best. If your adversary also hires from the mercenary guild the mercenaries will use non-lethal tactics against each other, but with the reputation of the guild at stake you are still guaranteed that the mercenaries won't give you less than their best.

What regulations from the government and/or self-regulations from the guild can prevent this system from being abused? I want to avoid situations where a richer person could force a less wealthy rival into a fight in order to have the rival spend money they can't afford to (or kill them off if that's allowed as an outcome). However, the system also needs to be able to provide satisfaction - leaving a deadly insult unpunished could lead the insultee to attempt more drastic measures. In any case, the mercenary guild does want to ensure its own profits, but it definitely doesn't want the government to feel the need to step in.

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    $\begingroup$ "I want to avoid situations where a richer person could force a less wealthy rival into a fight in order to have the rival spend money they can't afford": in any society, present or historical, a richer person can (and always could) force a less wealthy rival into an expensive lawsuit or wealth display contest that the rival could not afford. The mercenaries are just one means towards the end result of ruining the opponent. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 2 '19 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP there are certain protections in lawsuits, such as having the losing side pay attorney fees. Basically, I'm looking for analogues that translate to mercenary fights. $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Apr 2 '19 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ "Having the losing side pay attorney fees:" as far as I understand this is not the case in the U.S.A. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 2 '19 at 16:48
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/… - it's not always the case, but it can happen. From that link, "granting attorneys' fees to the winning side is often used when the losing side brought a lawsuit that was frivolous, in bad faith, or to oppress the defendant, and the defendant wins." $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Apr 2 '19 at 16:56
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP You may have seen these “no win, no fee” lawyers advertised on TV. I think that might allude to the fact that, in the past, you had to pay legal fees even if you lost the case. The “no win, no fee” scheme forces the lawyers to do everything in their power to win the case, otherwise they don’t get paid. In the other system, a lawyer could put in less work, lose the case, but still get paid. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris Apr 2 '19 at 17:01
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Set up a system resembling insurance or mutual assistance funds.

Whoever wants to be protected by the service of the "honor guild" has to pay a monthly fee. In exchange, he can use the guilds in the cases you mentioned above. However, if he is the one to challenge, his fee will increase, so that one is discouraged from being excessively litigious.

In this way the costs for the individual will be lower, as it will be spread over a larger base, while still serving the purpose of protecting one's honor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Agreed, the guild leaders know who's rich and who isn't. They would simply charge the crap out of the richest folks and not so much for others. $\endgroup$ – Rob Apr 2 '19 at 16:20
  • $\begingroup$ Gods, I would not want to be the actuary trying to underwrite those policies. $\endgroup$ – Joe Bloggs Apr 2 '19 at 21:58
  • $\begingroup$ I like this idea. Do you have any thoughts about how the guild would regulate the outcome of a fight? Does it end with killing the loser, pillaging their assets, or something else? $\endgroup$ – Rob Watts Apr 2 '19 at 22:42
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The dead don't get paid

Those mercs who get "killed" (in a laser tag kinda way) don't get paid. Those who survive get paid an awful lot.

Suddenly it's not in the rich guy's best interest to have an overwhelming victory because he has to pay the survivors and the poor guy pays very little as his soldiers are likely to be wiped out.

The mercs will treat it as life and death and fight hard because they want to be paid. The winner will want to win but want to only just win to keep the costs down and the loser will spend only a little as his team died.

The end result will be a close battle with neither side wanting an overkill. The guild charges a booking fee and a cut of the survivor's pay.

This would lead to some interesting tactics where a poor guy might hire a handful when he knows the enemy hired hundreds and use them to flee to minimise his losses leaving the winner with no casualties and a massive bill.

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The Guild may only allow you to hire a certain fixed amount of mercanaries at any one time. This prevents one person hiring significantly more mercenaries than another, making the fights more balanced.

As L.Dutch stated, there also may be a challenger’s fee where a significantly richer challenger may be charged more, discouraging over-hiring of mercs. There may also be a “victor’s fee” for the challenger where, if they win the battle using the guild’s mercs, the challenger has to pay an extra fee to the guild (almost like a forced tip, which seems like something a guild of mercenaries might enforce).

Alternatively, you might have a loan-based system where, even if you can’t currently afford to hire these mercenaries, you take out a ‘loan’ with the guild where they supply you with however many mercs you agree upon and you agree to repay a fixed amount to the guild every month (or, if you can’t, the guild will seize any assests you own to repay the loan). This prevents one richer person out-buying a poorer opponent. Again, you could also charge richer people a higher interest fee to discourage over-hiring.

(Over-hiring could be a problem for the guild because, if all their mercs are being rented out, they won’t be able to offer more people loans and make more money)

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Since the guild has the last word, the fighting sides could be chosen by a random (weighted) draft. Of course the mechanism shouldn't be too unfair toward the bigger payer, otherwise the richest ones would be prompted to hire mercenaries out of the guild.

So:

  • A rich merchant decides to pay 100 thalers to hire a mercenary to fight against a less rich rival
  • The rival can't afford to pay as much, so he pays only 50 thalers to the guild

The guild will then receive 150 thalers in total and will publish a list of available mercenaries: the one who pays more will have the first, third, fifth... choice, the other the second, fourth, sixth... choice.
The mercenaries will be paid by the guild, withdrawing from the 150 thalers (the first chosen will earn 50 thalers, the second one 40 thalers and so on)

This way:

  • He who spends more will have a small advantage (which is in the interest of the guild), but not decisive
  • In order to avoid situations where somebody pays 100 thalers and the other one pays only half thaler, if the ratio between the prices exceeds a certain threshold, the richer one receive an extra choice (for instance, first and second choice, then fourth, sixth...)
  • It could be also a good idea to keep the paid prices secret until the draft, so that noone knows who will have the best choices; in case both offer the same price, the guild will auction the right of first choice
  • Mercenaries will give their best to increase their fame and be the first ones to be called for the next challenges
  • If both sides are scrooge (both offering 1 thaler), they won't find any good mercenaries available, but only the weakest ones
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  • $\begingroup$ In this system, why would somebody ever pay more than 1 thaler? The reason being is that i know both me and my opponent are going to be drawing from the same ‘pool’ of mercs anyway. There would be no point in over paying because i would not gain a hugely significant advantage for doing so. If i pay 1 thaler and my opponent pays 100, i will still draw from the pool of soliders he has hired. Even if my troops are less skilled, i could afford to outfit them with better gear (which i bought before the fight and loan to all the mercs i hire), making the fight more in my favour anyway. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris Apr 2 '19 at 17:44
  • $\begingroup$ The reason i can afford to buy equipment in advance of all my fights is because i’m saving my money by only paying 1 thaler (where as my opponent might pay 100) to hire the mercenaries, allowing me to buy horses, better armour and weapons etc, balancing all future battles in my favour. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris Apr 2 '19 at 17:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Liam Morris: you're right, indeed my idea relies a lot on the fact that a mercenary can decide whether to make himself available or less for a draft. If the total money is 2 thalers, no good mercenaries will make themselves available. About the equipment, one rule of the guild could be that the mercenaries can only use weapons provided by the guild itself or use their own already-existing equipment. $\endgroup$ – McTroopers Apr 2 '19 at 17:58
  • $\begingroup$ I would imagine that guild-supplied equipment would be the way to go, otherwise you theoretically could supply some mercs with armour before the fight, hire the guild’s services and then pick the groups wearing the armour you gave them. $\endgroup$ – Liam Morris Apr 2 '19 at 18:11
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A possible alternative solution could be that your mercenaries will not take that fight to any location they wish to, but instead you have an arena of sorts where the fights between mercenaries take place. Your mercenaries will act like gladiators without being slaves in the first place - professional fighters with no intention of actually killing each other, but fighting to the best of their abilities in single combat or in groups in order to improve their standing in the guild or arena rankings and thus their payment.

This has the added bonus from the government perspective that the chance of innocents getting injured or killed as collateral damage will be reduced or eliminated completely depending on the arena safety.

In addition, it has the added bonus from the rich person's perspective that everyone will be aware and able to watch, how their honour is being avenged and give a clear show case of "do not cross me".

In order to prevent abuse of the system you could make it a lottery which gladiators will be assigned to which rival and make payment ot the guild dependent on social rank and income. In this way, anyone can afford the system, the mercenaries have a high intrinsic motivation independent of who hires them and the public receives their constant amuesment in the form of arena fights.

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