Giving your heroes a home base opens up new options for fun at the table.
How old were you when you started playing Dungeons and Dragons? If the answer to that question ends in, “-teen,” then you probably at some point spent hours and hours hunched over sheets of graph paper, meticulously drafting your favorite character’s castle, house, grove, or ship. Homework left untouched and fingers black with graphite dust, days could go into perfecting this imaginary space. One need only look at the castles people build in Minecraft to see that for many gamers, this desire for creation and design does not really go away in adulthood.
Give Them What They Want
Do the heroes in your game have a home base? Since basic D&D, heroes have always been able to use their hard-earned loot and prestige to get fancy digs. Giving the heroes a base of operations can provide all sorts of adventure hooks. If the heroes are gifted a frontier keep by a grateful noble, then they will need to defend it from savage orc barbarians. If they take up a life of opulence and luxury in a major city, then their home may be at the center of all sorts of scandalous rumors. Basing out of old dungeon they have cleared is certainly a viable option, but what happens when the original owner comes to take it back? Giving the heroes a space to call home and then drawing it into the story can help engage your players.
As a player, a big part of the fun of having a stronghold lies in the design. Make this part of your game! Let the players design their own fort, and then let them know how much time and gold it will cost to build. One good reference for this, and many other aspects of medieval life, is DMGR2 The Castle Guide from Dungeons and Dragons 2e. Wizards of the Coast released this book as a free PDF a while ago, though it is no longer on their website. You can find copies online, though I am unsure of the legality of their distribution since Wizards took it down. You can also purchase a dead tree copy from any of several used game shops online. Another option is find a copy of the Birthright campaign setting, which contained rules for building castles as part of ruling a domain.
Once the PCs have a design on paper, convert it to a full (1″ = 5′ scale) battle map. This could end up being huge, but it is also a great tool to have handy in your campaign. If you really want to have the base be a focal point of the campaign, then there are all sorts of low cost printable, customizable terrain options on the web. Pick up an appropriate set and you can really go to town, giving your players time to build their base in 3D.
The Plan for My Game
In my home campaign, one of the parties has settled down as the lord and leaders of a frontier province. They have established a capital city, which is now really just a village, and they hope to grow at the game years go by. I have been wondering how to make this work as a battle map, and I think I came up with an answer.
The base will be a very large grass battle mat. From there, all of the buildings, roads, etc. can be modular, as separate pieces laid on top of the mat. Players can design their own buildings, like the wizard’s smithy, and choose their location. Now, as the village grows and the heroes add things like a fort and maybe eventually a full castle, they can just be added as a modular piece to the map as needed. Keeping all of the components modular means that the village will take a bit more time to set up when it is needed, but I will have all of the components available for other scenarios when I am hosting a different crew. Being a bit of a 3d terrain junky, I think this could be a lot of fun.
Giving heroes a home within the game world increases their stake in many aspects of the game. Give it a try and see how your players like it. I will include any results people share with my own results in a future post, once the village terrain gets off the ground in my home game.
Do the players in your game already have a place to call home? Do you map it out, or just play things fast and loose when it comes to specifics? Are there any books, supplements, or websites you recommend for would-be stronghold builders?