Friday, September 2, 2011

DM Advice - Be It Ever So Humble...

After a good day of slaying monsters, every hero needs a place to call home where then can unwind and relax. Everyone needs a place where they are known and adored whether it is a metropolis, city, town, hamlet or thorp or even just a bar at the end of the universe every player’s hero needs a place to just veg. As a DM, it is your job to provide such a place. Sure from time to time it is OK to let them camp in the wilderness and hide out in the dungeon but this gets rather old and it makes it difficult to really justify how they are able to get new equipment, training and supplies.

I like to give my players a nice base of operations that they can call their own. For me, normally a town or small city serves this purpose. I tend to do one of the two extremes – frontier adventures or urban adventures. It is rare that I will cross the two and so the base of operations usually becomes the center stop over for each adventure’s climax.  Take Superdungeon for instance. The game is centered around a maze of Dwarven Forge proportions in which the players continue to delve ever deeper into the mystery of what at first they believed to be a simple salt peter mine. The town of Fairhaven is the player’s base of operations.

In some respects, the town itself has become an adventure. There is a minor lord that visits from time to time sent by the Baron and of course there’s the magistrate, the bar keeper and the other townsfolk that keep the players in adventures.

How does one define a place that the adventurers can call home? I believe that this is a simple process of creating some NPCs that feel ‘good’ or ‘bad’ depending on the player’s alignments that would make the player’s character feel at home or at the very least invited.

The way I achieved this in Superdungeon is actually all very random. I am using the random tables in that game as an experiment (hey I hardly follow the status-quo) as opposed to what I normally would do which is assign treasure based on the actual ‘likeliness’ of whatever the players encounter having it.  I randomly rolled the type of people using the attributes in the DMGII and the DMGI for the town’s buildings, npc’s characteristics and even the number of people in the town and their various professions. Granted, I did add some elements later that were not random such as a small wizard’s tower outside of the town and the decision early on that I would make the inn a blockhouse but those are small compared to the overall scheme of the town.

The players arrived in the town as foreigners and through time and adventure, they have proven themselves to be allies and valuable assets to the townspeople. They have been granted free rooms and boons several times already and they have only been in town a month. Now as the town prepares to celebrate the annual holiday of High Harvest Tide they are very inviting of the player’s and their new friends to share in the celebration.
How did this all happen? Some of it just fell into place and some of it was orchestrated by yours truly but the meat and potatoes of it is that the players have grown to trust the townsfolk and the townsfolk have grown to trust the players. The players have even petitioned the various guilds to setup a shop in the town.

The town itself is also a nice background for adventure. Throughout the game the players have had a few encounters with enemies in and under the town, have found an underground cavern complex that leads to a nearby orc village and stopped a pending attack by virtue of warning the townsfolk.

I would say that the best way to create a place that the players can call home is to create realistic and different npcs to fill the various roles of townsfolk and then watch and wait as the players interact with them in ways that setup epic tales of friendship and bonds of trust.


  1. Good stuff. Of course, it could always be inverted occasionally when plot-lines start to emerge within the town itself. Not that I'm necessarily suggesting that you would do any such thing!

    Keep up the good work

  2. Caliban right now they are in the middle of plot that has the Drow using a long-lost son who joined the merchant marines and disappeared somewhere near Waterdeep being used by force. The drow have the wife of Kol the son of the one of the prominent members of town and leader of one of the guildhalls. Another of the town's sons, Timmy who studied under the wizard that is now training one of the players is also aiding Kol. You are right - I wouldn't stoop to such a thing!

  3. Player characters always need a base of operations. Somewhere they can recuperate, re-supply, and prepare for the next outing. What is fun is how those places start to take on a particular character of their own in response to the PCs various efforts, the loot they drag in, the things they kill or capture and try to sell, what they drive off or bring in...and those among the locals whom they support, make rich or have feuds with...all incredibly rich with possibilities. Good stuff!

  4. Netherworks that is exactly what I am getting at with this post!

  5. BTW since you are new to the blog NetherWerks - Welcome. Also, I do the DM Advice and the Player Advice (From Under a Rock) regularly. You can follow them on the links under Columns to the left of this thread.