In my fantasy campaign, the players recently acquired a flying airship. This gave me the chance to reflect on the advantages and possible concerns with a mobile base of operations. While many of my examples will be based in a fantasy setting, the same principles should apply to any mobile base, be it a starship, sailing ship, or catbus.
Travel time – If your group likes to get right to the “good part,” a mobile base of operations eliminates much of the issue of travel time. There may be an even bigger benefit if your group can only meet sporadically. In that kind of arrangement, you probably won’t want to spend a lot of time dealing with travel preparations or wandering monsters.
Varied locations – Any type of vessel will greatly increase the variety of locations you can provide to your players. Much like in “Star Trek” you can do a jungle adventure one week, and then jump right into an arctic adventure next week. In the real medieval world, almost any kind of travel was quite limited.
Airborne adventures – A flying ship (or something similar) can allow players to repel air pirates, visit floating castles,, encounter ghost ships, or fight flying octopi. If you wish to take your adventures to other worlds or planes, include floating planar portals or sky storms that hurl you into a different sphere.
There are, however, some concerns that come along with a mobile base of operations. Let’s look at a few, and also see if there are ways to perhaps mitigate these concerns.
Lack of familiar NPC’s – When a campaign is based out of a small town or keep (perhaps on the Borderlands), players get to know various NPC’s. These NPC’s can provide information, supplies, adventure hooks, healing, and even friendship. With a mobile base of operations, these roleplaying opportunities may be more difficult to provide. When players range all over the globe, they may not put down roots.
To help provide recurring minor characters, you can just bring them aboard. If the vessel is large enough, they can be the PC’s fellow crew members or traveling companions. Also, if you do not wish to bring the NPC’s aboard, provide a home port where the ship must dock from time to time for refueling and resupplying. Then they can get to know all the locals. Also, if your game is structured such that the PC’s get their orders from a king or wizard, provide a way for them to contact the ship at the beginning of each session. Perhaps they call the party through a crystal ball or magic mirror. Have the same person make the call all the time, and be sure that communication is instantaneous so players can interact with them.
Lack of familiar surroundings – Some players enjoy tromping over familiar territory. They like studying an area map and exploring all of the ruins and interesting sites. A mobile base can make it more difficult for players to get to know a particular area, or to build up a reputation as a local hero.
Along with a home port, a limited patrol area can help players focus on a smaller area. They don’t need to cover the entire globe all of the time. For example, where a land-based campaign might focus on an area the size of a county, a ship-based campaign might cover an area about half the size of a state.
A patchwork feel – When characters adventure in a particular area, it is easy to indicate the change of seasons and provide a sense of the passage of time. This can help make the game feel “real.” However, a mobile campaign may feel a bit more disjointed as you travel from desert to jungle to arctic and back. If your group prefers a more seasonal feel to the campaign, this may be a particular problem.
Along with a home base and recurring NPC’s, you can structure your adventures to provide some more continuity. If you’ve just sent them on a wild venture to Pluto, bring them back home to deal with some local trouble. After a particularly wild setting, try for something more traditional or Tolkienesque to bring them back to a fantasy grounding. Make note of the passing of the seasons and have NPC’s fill them in on what has happened in town while they were away.
Have you used a mobile base for any long-term campaigns? What successes and challenges did you face? Let us know below.