Thoughts On Strongholds

Thanks to some great bloggers and writers, I have been exploring the older editions of D&D, as well the old pulps and older sci-fi / fantasy works that originally inspired D&D. My first taste of actual D&D on the tabletop of 3rd Edition*, so I was ignorant of how D&D was played before 3rd Edition. The OSR community has been amazing at helping me understand the history of the game.

Some of the changes from the older editions of D&D I understand, but there is one change that I cannot understand at all:

Removing strongholds from character progression.

That is not entirely accurate. You do not get a stronghold automatically when you level up. You must either build it yourself with your hard-earned gold or you find an old castle infested by evil critters and evict them with extreme prejudice.

Doomguy should be your inspiration when evicting evil inhabitants of your new castle

While you could theoretically do this at a low level, only once you reach a particular level of experience (such as 9th level) do you have the power, authority, ability to inspire others, etc to truly rule the stronghold and the lands around it.

In the 5th Edition DMG, there is a little bit about owning a stronghold, but it seems hastily tacked on, rather than an integral part of the game. Let’s face it; the idea of having your own castle and ennobling yourself is absolutely fan-damn-tastic!

I have been considering how to integrate strongholds better into 5th Edition. From a gameplay perspective, it can add a new dimension of play. Instead of just clearing dungeons, now the players are responsible for the lives of others in their territory. There would also be potential political maneuverings with local lords and ladies. While I do not have a full answer on how to properly integrate strongholds into the game, here are some ideas:

1) You shall not receive a stronghold before 9th level.

The characters must have a level of power to make them intimidating to others and (hopefully) they have been adventuring in the area of the stronghold, so the locals know and respect/fear/love them. Even if at 4th level, the players cleared out Ned the Necromancer’s Tower of Terror, they cannot truly claim it as a stronghold until they have some more experience. Sure, they can use it as a base of operations, but settlers / followers will not flock to the land until the players can prove that they will keep the settlers safe or that the players are powerful enough to inspire the followers.

2) Your stronghold shall be a gold sink.

The Angry GM (no relation) makes a point about gold being somewhat useless in 5th Edition. While making the stronghold a gold sink is not a perfect solution, it would give the players something to spend their gold on. They could reinforce defenses, pay wages, fix bridges, throw lavish feasts, etc.

3) One stronghold for the entire party.

Rather than the fighter having a castle, the wizard having a tower 30 miles to the west, the cleric having a fortified church, 20 miles due south, and the rogue having a secret hideout in the woods, give a single building to the party. The fighter has control of the garrison, the tallest tower is converted by the wizard into a place to do arcane research, the chapel in the heart of the castle belongs to the cleric, and the rogue finds a secret tunnel under the castle that can be used to sneak supplies into the castle during the siege…or for smuggling illicit substances. While the party may need to appoint a figurehead for the purposes of interacting with other nobles, the stronghold would actually operate like an oligarchy composed of party members.

Does anyone have any stories of great stronghold play? Or other ideas that I have missed?

* Before I came to the table, I loved the Infinity Engine games built on 2nd Edition AD&D, but that does not count, right?


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