Bounties are the primary way that PK victims in Age of Wushu get to fight back against their assailants. If you murder someone, your victim can force you to spend time in jail and pay a constable for the service of putting you behind bars.

Much as in EVE Online's original bounty system, there are a few kinks. Overall, it works reasonably well, but there is a disconnect between the intent of the system and how it actually works. As a career criminal, I feel that having a bounty and dealing with it is what separates professional killers from mass murderers.

Quick recap of the bounty system

Bounties can be placed on anyone who downs you and finishes you off at the time that you are killed. The game will pop up a message, and you'll be prompted to confirm whether you want to add a bounty and/or add the player to your enemy list.

Alternatively, if you have any hatred rating with someone (i.e., if that person has downed you or killed you), you can add that player to your enemy list. If a player is on your enemy list and has any infamy (from downing or killing people), you can put a bounty on his or her head by talking to a constable NPC. You can place bounties only if you aren't a constable yourself.

Players with bounties can be slain by constables (only constables) without penalty, their presence is announced globally to every zone they enter, and the constable NPC will answer inquiries to the locations of all online standing bounties. If criminals are killed by a constable, they go to jail for 10 minutes per 5L bounty (minimum 10L, maximum 250L). The arresting constable then has the bounties delivered to his or her mailbox. The jail time must be served while the player is online.

Players can become constables by requesting a badge at a constable NPC and paying a small sum. The constable status lasts for 72 hours (offline or not) or until the constable gains any infamy from unjust murders.

How it works in practice

If you do the crime, you do the time. In the majority of situations, that's what getting a bounty means. If you happen to murder someone during script stealing and that person puts a 30L bounty on you, you're not going to be script stealing anymore because the chances of getting spotted and killed by a constable are very high. Having a bounty changes the way you can interact with people because you can be arrested at any moment if you're online.

Even setting up a stall, especially in Chengdu, is dangerous with a bounty. You could hide in a corner somewhere, but if you're within the city limits where vending is allowed, chances are high that someone could see you. Every constable in the city will know you're somewhere in the zone, and there is a high chance that several of them will be looking for you. Once you set up your stall, you're safe, but you are extremely vulnerable while setting up a spot and while listing goods.

In practice, it is rare that bounty money goes to a constable who "earned" it. Players with guilds will just get arrested by a guildmate and likely get all of the bounty or at least most of it. Players without guilds can just find a constable willing to split the bounty and voluntarily get arrested. This could result in double-crossing, but it's rare in practice. Constables who are not willing to split a bounty ("honest cops") usually just say so. If there's ever been a situation where a constable has agreed to split a bounty and then reneged on the deal after collecting, I have never heard of it.

Thus, when you put a bounty on a criminal's head, what you're doing is paying your cash (which may go to the criminal or his friends) to put the criminal behind bars. If you're a killer, you can actually make a fairly puny amount of money by killing people likely to give you bounties and then splitting the bounty with friends or just arresting yourself on an alt. It's not a really reasonable income source.

The life of a professional criminal

If your goal is to actually get and retain a bounty, that's a whole different story. Bounties last for a very long time. I think it's five days, but I don't remember, and it's been a while since I checked. You can just stay logged off, but it's honestly worse than being jailed, and you have the opportunity to split the bounty with a crooked cop. If you have a bounty, you generally want someone to collect it, or you want to use it.

Having a bounty lets you suppress the bounty by slaying constables. Every constable you slay adds 1 to your criminal rating and increments a counter that eventually lets you suppress your bounty for 24 hours. I thought I knew how this system worked exactly, but I have had 10L bounties that required me to get 10 kills, so I'm not really sure. I do know that in general, you'll start off needing only three unique constable kills, but it ramps up quickly.

Suppressing your bounty actually treats you as not having a bounty. I think you can have a bounty placed on you during this time, but I have also never really messed with it; I tend to suppress my bounty and then do non-criminal things.

When your bounty returns, it will also increase! This means that a 10L bounty can hit 250L if you kill enough cops. Every time I've had this happen, I've gotten unlucky -- or perhaps just careless -- and had my bounty taken by a cop who hadn't agreed to split it. This is useful if you're in a big guild with a fair number of constables. If you have an army of alts, you can also just pay to have all of them have constable status and then kill them to inflate your bounty, then collect on an alt for net profit. It's not very good money, unfortunately. You're better off selling materials. This is, however, one of the only ways to actually create taels in Age of Wushu without paying real money.

If you wear a sheriff star, it's likely to pay for itself if you can actually kill criminals or have friends who are criminals. If you're a criminal, you're going to jail, one way or the other. Unfortunately, bounties often end up in the hands of the criminals or their associates, which is really not intended behavior. Fortunately, at least the bad guys always get put behind bars in the end. I'd know, I'm a bad guy.

Age of Wushu is a wonderous place, full of hidden secrets, incredible vistas and fearsome martial arts. Join Patrick as he journeys through China, revealing the many secrets of this ancient land. The Ming Dynasty may be a tumultuous time, but studying The Art of Wushu will give you the techniques you need to prevail.

This article was originally published on Massively.