I've always felt that D&D domain management--the gameplay that occurs once PCs reach name level and have fortresses and henchmen of their own--is full of untapped potential. Despite some really good ideas being put out there, I don't know of any system that works quite like I want it to.
Here's the kind of thing I want.
The PlayersArchmage Firand - dwells in a newly-acquired tower perched over the wild Eastern Forest, where he busily gathers arcane power in anticipation of coming conflicts.
Lady Jezeel - administers a small barony near the border where she and her knights rule the people with an iron fist.
Guild Master Bulgus - head of the esteemed Silver Thread Coster, a merchant's guild boasting a small-but-growing fleet of caravans that supplies frontier outposts.
Example PlayDM: The harvests are all taken in, and the weather is rapidly growing colder. And with that, it's time to see what you all brought in last season. Hmm... let's see here... Jezeel, your estates and taxes bring in 3 gold bars when all is said and done. Firand, you successfully gathered 2 vis from the lands around your tower. And Bulgus... yikes, you only get one gold bar this season after costs. Your right-hand man, Alladris, sadly explains that recent bandit activity along the King's Way has had a severe effect on the bottom line.
Bulgus: I eye him and tell him to redouble the guards. And keep me posted on developments.
DM: Alladris bows slightly and acquiesces. [To all:] Okay, it's the first week in November. The next event we have going on here is your scouting party, Jezeel, which is scheduled to return in the next week or so. And then we have the harvest festival later this month. Any actions people want to engage in during this time?
Firand: Yeah; with that Vis I should have enough to cast Eyes of the God-King at the center of the kingdom during the harvest festival. Do I need to do anything else to prepare for that?
DM: You and your entourage will need to get to the center of the kingdom, obviously, with your supplies in hand. Several wagons worth. How are you travelling?
Firand: On horseback, I guess.
DM: Okay, it'll take a couple weeks to get there and set up. You'll want to set out during the first week of the month, most likely.
Firand: Can I send them out ahead and then teleport to their location later?
DM: You can. But they will need to carry your precious vis with them in the wagons...
Firand: Yeesh. With the bandits on the roads, that's probably not a good idea. Okay, I'll travel with the wagons.
Bulgus: I really want to do something about these bandits--they've been a plague ever since a year ago, and I suspect they're really hurting my income. What do we know about them?
DM: By all accounts, they're the usual riff-raff. Poorly organized and ill-equipped. The one thing in their favor is they seem to have a knack for being where the guards ain't.
Bulgus: I don't like the sound of that. And they hit all targets equally?
DM: Offhand, you've heard reports of them hitting several different operations. You don't really have a wide enough contact network to know for sure how many have been hit.
Bulgus: Well, then that's the first order of business--I need to investigate to see who's getting hit. Are there any patterns?
DM: All right. Are you doing this investigation yourself? Or delegating this to a subordinate?
Bulgus: I'd better do it myself.
DM: It'll take acquiring and then combing through a number of bills of lading and loss reports. About 2 weeks' worth of combing. You'll need to get the records from other trading houses, some of which won't be available without some work on your part.
Bulgus: Which ones? The Horned Devils?
DM: For one. You also don't have an informant in the Coast Traders yet. Or a number of minor merchants and criminal gangs.
Bulgus: Okay, leaving them out for the time being. I'll just put a competent accountant on the records we do have.
DM: Okay. That completes in two weeks. If you like, you or someone else could ask around for the scuttlebutt on how the other trading houses are doing with the bandits.
Bulgus: Yeah, right. I'll have a few of my guards go ask the other guys' guards--just pay a couple guys a few gold to go find out what they can.
DM: Good deal. That information will be available with the report in two weeks. Anyone else doing anything else? Jezeel?
Jezeel: I'll wait for the scouting party--I want to know if they've found the goblin tribes.
DM: Okay, then moving the clock forward. The first. The second. The third. The fourth. You're setting out today, right, Firand?
Firand: Yessir. We're taking extra precautions against brigands--scouts and all the guards I can spare. And I'm personally riding with the vis stores.
DM: Noted. You set out with your stores of 5 wagons, all of your apprentices and assistants, and 50 of your best guards, leaving only a skeleton guard back at the tower. Correct?
DM: All right, moving up to the fifth of August, which is the date Jezeel's scouting party returns from the hinterlands. Or rather the remnants of the scouting party--only a score of bedraggled, haunted looking men, none of which are unwounded, stagger back to the castle. Their captain, Marshall Fredrick, is not among them.
Jezeel: Damn it! Which one of you is in command!
DM: A hollow-eyed man with what looks like a seven-day beard and a tourniquet around his left leg limps forward two steps. "I am, m'lady," he says.
Jezeel: Well then report, damn you! What happened? Where in the hells is Sir Fredrick?
DM: "He stayed behind to buy us some time. The goblins, m'lady--we found their camp. They live in a village at the feet of a fortress of giants--hundreds, maybe thousands of them, all looking down from their watch towers. M'lady, we were spotted, and Sir Fredrick bade us flee. He told us to bring word back to you at all costs. He said--m'lady, begging your pardon m'am, but he said to tell you that 'Your arrogance will destroy us all, surely as the waves destroy castles of sand.' Begging your pardon m'lady."
Jezeel: Now, I will ask you one time, and upon your soul you had better answer this true. Is that exactly what he said? And is that all he said?
DM: "I-I think so, m'lady. Yes... yes, that is all. I am sure. I would swear it upon my life."
Jezeel: "I may ask you to do so hereafter. But you did well. Know that this was a coded message, and you have helped save our kingdom. Now go and rest and bathe your wounds. All of you. I will send for you later."
DM: The men bow and limp away.
Jezeel: All right, I'm going to call a council of war. Do you think I can get all my commanders here by tomorrow?
DM: Yeah, that's reasonable. Okay, if no one has any other actions they'd like to take, I'll move the calender up to tomorrow, which is the sixth of August.