New GM. New players. First adventure exploring a dungeon is a success.
But now the players are going to ask things like:
- Where’s the nearest town so my PC can cash in this loot?
- Where does my character come from? Where’s she live?
- Where do the PCs get information about the next adventure?
Here is where the GM should anticipate that need by having a home base in mind.
Now, there are plenty of published adventure sites the GM can use to provide a center of civilization in a world otherwise run amok with goblins, orcs and evil wizards.
I can recommend several. I think the coastal matriarchy of Hardby and the rough’n’tumble mining enclave of Diamond Lake are Greyhawk’s best, Forgotten Realms has too many to list, by I’ve always been fondest of Silverymoon, where bards frolic and warriors muster. Golarian’s Korvosa has an old-world feel that invites Errol Flynn-styled swashbuckling adventuring. In a similar vein is Geanavue by Ed Greenwood, which is set in the Kingdoms of Kalamar and is chock full of political intrigue. Lately, I’ve been exploring the charm that is Reywald in Midgard’s Grand Duchy.
But as wonderful as all those fantasy cities are — and each has its own merits — GMs who design their own home base will also be rewarded. Even if you, as I do, rely mostly on published adventures, customizing a home base can scratch the creative itch while not being as time-consuming an exercise.
Some things to consider:
A castle is an ideal place for a beginning GM. My own homebrew of Steffenhold began as a barony castle, and has served well in that capacity going on 10 years.
First, designing a castle means you are working with a single structure, a container into which you can place all the elements essential to a home base (healing, a religious center, general supply, mentors, a bank, magic and a martial presence that encourages adventuring). Secondly, it provides a plausible reason for these low-level PCs to go adventuring — as castle inhabitants they have the resources and luxury to do so (not to mention, as members of the aristocracy, an obligation to serve the public welfare). Thirdly, castle maps are easy to come by, thanks to the magic of an internet search engine. Keying them with fantasy elements is a matter of jotting a few notes in each of the blank spaces.
Sesame Street model
Draw an X on a sheet of paper. There’s the intersection to the neighborhood you will call home in the big city. Next, start writing in adjacent to those streets all the things that you’ll need to populate this “urban village,” including chapels, storefronts, artisan workshops, apartments for rent, and at least one alley that leads to the dead-end abode of a weird wizard-type. These will be your neighbors; better start getting to know them, quirks and all.
Ideally, this neighborhood can be dropped into a larger city of your choice, if urban adventuring is your thing. So, even if your choice is a published version of Waterdeep, then it will be “your” Waterdeep, because only your table will have this interesting collection of characters and assorted contacts.
Deadwood / Tombstone model
A fortified boomtown on the frontier might be the classic adventuring base. There’s a reason Keep on the Borderlands was included in the old Basic Rules box sets. Here you have an outpost that exists smack dab in a untamed wilderness ripe for the adventuring set.
Like a castle, the town can be populated with the elements adventurers rely on. But in this case, things on the frontier, from the equipment to the people, are always a little distressed or are outright hand-me-downs. And because it’s a boomtown, with a skewed one-item economy, expect the power structure in town to be skewed along with it. Certainly, there are powerful interests, all of them corruptible to one degree or another.
But the pioneering spirit pervades the space. The PCs can’t rely on the town being a source for everything they need. Shipments from the heart of the empire take time to arrive. So folks are used to having to make-do with the items and materials at hand. They are self-reliant.
The academy (either military base, arcane outpost or religious monastery) can be in a remote location, too. Being part of a school has many advantages, including the “safety net” that the school’s faculty, as “experienced former adventurers” provides. Plus interesting people visit learning centers all the time. “What vagabond will be the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher this year?”
Starship Enterprise model
A city that floats in the sky or a ship that sails on the water is really the old “Wagon Train” caravan model that even Star Trek borrowed from. In this case, the mobile base (ship, caravan, or magical train) takes the PCs to the adventure site. “All ashore that’s going ashore!” Again, the ship has either all, or mostly all, the resources the adventuring party needs.
If you’ve had success using any of the models mentioned above — or employed one NOT mentioned, please share in the comments area below.