Setting a test
One of the most important roles of the earl is setting tests of mettle, ardour and resolve. This ability underpins most of the power of an earl, and allows the Dawnish system of noble houses to operate. Make sure that you understand the tests and how they work, they can be a very powerful tool in helping you control your house as well as making awesome stories!
The key thing to appreciate about a test, is that in creating a challenge for another player you have a massive impact on their game - if PD created that challenge for that player we'd call it "plot". Creating a good challenge - something enjoyable and rewarding to attempt is not easy. Pick something easier than the player wanted and you sell them short - but something that is impossible for them is no fun either. On the face of it - tests are all about political and social accomplishments - but that's the in-character truth. Out-of-character they are a device designed to allow players to help each other create cool stories.
Within the setting, a test can be almost any challenge. It can take years to complete - or hours. It can be dangerous - or not. It can be difficult - or not. The parameters are so open and wide it can be hard to define.
What makes a good test? For a test of mettle - it should literally test the mettle of the character who is attempting it. Mettle is "a person's ability to cope well with difficulties; spirit and resilience". To be consistent with the setting a test should be difficult; it should be challenging or dangerous - though even in-character it doesn't have to be both of those things. Crucially the real out-of-character goal is that the test should be enjoyable to attempt - and as cool as you can make it. When someone asks them afterwards what they did for their test of mettle - do they have a cool inspiring story of what their character did to respond with?
Within the setting, it is common to tailor your test to the applicant. A test is supposed to be challenging - it's not normally supposed to be impossible. Challenging a non-combatant healer to defeat a Jotun champion is effectively impossibly difficult but that doesn't make it a good test. The ideal test reflects a character's strengths - it may challenge them to do more than they have done in the past - or make them find new ways to achieve their best - but the best test fits the character like a glove.
If you have the opportunity it is also useful to tailor your test to the player. Some players will want an epic test that will form the main goal for their character for years to come. Some people will want a simple goal that they can achieve in a day that gives them a moment of challenging but fun roleplaying. If a player wants a milestone for their character, a test to jump over the moon is a poor fit. If a player wants an epic quest that will take years - a test to jump over a spoon is a poor fit.
In all cases, it is worth talking to the person involved to get an idea of what their expectation is. There are no hard and fast rules for this sort of thing, it is down to the individuals and how they feel about it.
A test of mettle should test the mettle of the character - it should be challenging, it can be dangerous, it can be difficult. But underlying all that - the real goal is that it should be enjoyable. If the recipient who completes your test has an OOC sense of accomplishment and an IC cool story to tell then you've given them a great test.
It can be cool to involve other player-characters in a test you have set. Challenging a knight to defeat the Wintermark champion in single combat is cool - but whether or not the player succeeds is then out of your control. It is better to avoid involving other characters in tests you set unless you are confident how they will respond or happy to run with whatever they decide.
Careful thought can involve another character in your test without making them the decision maker. "Defeat the Wintermark champion" is very different to "Challenge the Wintermark champion" which is very different to "Prove yourself in combat against the Wintermark champion". In the first case, success or failure will be dependent on the skills of the other champion. In the second case, the errant knight automatically passes by attempting the challenge. In the third test... you get to decide if the character has proved themself or not.
Most players who are seeking a test of mettle to become a noble have chosen that path because they want the challenge of attempting a test. There are some exceptions however. Young players who have come of age in-character may not be specifically looking for a difficult challenge, nor may characters who have joined from another nation. It could be as simple as a player who created a yeoman thinking it would be fun, but has realized they really want to play a noble.
There are lots of reasons why a player may not want their character to undertake a test for some reason. The player may be nervous or shy, they may simply find the prospect too daunting. Empire is primarily dependent on the hard skills of the player to succeed but everyone who roleplays is ultimate a weekend warrior - none of us are actually Merlin or Lancelot. Anyone can choose to play a Dawnish noble - the test of mettle is there to make cool stories - not to check that a player is confident enough to become a noble.
In these cases, it may be appropriate to set a test that is conducted "between events" if the player wishes. Roleplaying that the house set the noble a test of mettle to (for example) kill an ogre and then roleplaying that they did it in downtime allows for character development and doesn't make real world skills an absolute bar to entry for being a noble.
In Dawn, a noble house cannot refuse a request for a test of mettle. In theory anyone can ask to join your group. In practice, as the earl setting the test, you are free to make it as difficult as you like. An impossible test is a very normal response to a demand for a test of mettle from a character that you have not encouraged to join your house. If you don't want someone to join your house - then you can make the test impossibly difficult to complete. If you do this - it is worth making clear that their demand is unwelcome - so that they do not misunderstand what is happening.
Any character who receives an impossible test of mettle is free to seek out another test with another house. Shopping around for an easy test is the opposite of glorious - but Dawnish characters understand that an earl who doesn't want a character in their house may set an impossible test, so there is less stigma in passing on such a test and seeking one that can be gloriously completed.
Equally if you think a test is too easy - if you wanted something more difficult - don't be afraid to act on that. Most Dawnish characters only get one test of mettle, this is your character's defining moment that you have chosen to roleplay through. If a test is too easy - if you imagined yourself spending events or even years trying for something cooler - then demand another test from the earl - or from another house. You don't have to do the first test you are set.
IC and OOC Disdain
Dawn is written to have a degree of rivalry and competition between noble houses. In theory each noble house is striving to be as glorious as possible - and the earl is the captain of the team - picking their nobles for their glorious qualities. Houses that boast of how glorious their tests is very on-brief for Dawn - and it is not off-brief to be disdainful of "lesser" houses (all other Dawnish houses are less glorious than yours is pretty much the starting point for the average Dawnish noble house).
But it is worth being careful and ensuring that a sense of IC superiority doesn't turn into OOC disdain for the tests of other earls. Setting tests is hard, and the real goal is help a player create an exciting story for them and their character. It is very hard to distinguish IC disdain for a house, its tests or individual nobles from OOC disdain for the roleplaying of other players.
Roleplaying is ultimately its own reward. A good test gives a player as much challenge as they will enjoy coping with - but if a player doesn't want that, then all that has happened out-of-character is that they have missed out on something that was designed to be fun for them to roleplay. There is no out-of-character requirement for a test of mettle - it isn't a question of play balance or fairness. So there is no basis for out-of-character criticism of the tests. For that reason it much better for the IC boasts of a Dawnish house to concentrate on how wonderful they are - rather than how terrible anyone else is.
Working With Profound Decisions
Setting a test of mettle is often a challenging proposition. Any earl who needs to set a test of mettle is welcome to take advice from the Dawnish egregore. They will give some help and advice and as they are a member of our crew they have resources available that player characters do not - the ability to create quests and trips through the Sentinel Gate for example.