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Troy’s Crock Pot: It’s all about that base

New GM. New players. First adventure exploring a dungeon is a success.

But now the players are going to ask things like:

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:

Castle model

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.

Hogwarts model

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.


8 Comments (Open | Close)

8 Comments To "Troy’s Crock Pot: It’s all about that base"

#1 Comment By Philmagpie On February 24, 2016 @ 5:34 am

Hi Troy,

Great article.

We wrapped up our campaign on Saturday, which would qualify as your Sesame Street model. It was based in Sigil, which now makes me think of Sesame Street in Sigil. Now there’s a campaign premise for you!

Our previous two campaigns had been along the Starship Entrprise line, using a travelling nomad tribe and a pirate ship respectively. Before that was yet another Sesame Street tale, set in Ptolus.

Next session will focus on brainstorming the setting for our forthcoming campaign. I need to present the Players some of your other options.

Very timely advice.

Happy Gaming

#2 Comment By John Arcadian On February 24, 2016 @ 6:42 am

I’m in a game I found through Meetup that uses the Lost Mines of Phandelver and the Deadwood / Tombstone model. It’s been really fun to have the town to go back to and settle in at. The DM keeps trying to push us out to the other adventures, but we’re all planning our coup and settling in to be the new town leaders.

#3 Comment By Doc Eon On February 24, 2016 @ 12:25 pm

Some good ideas there.
Though I’m in favor of starting the process even sooner. As in, during chracter generation.
I like the idea of asking players to expound a little on the background of their characters. For example, in D&D5e they literally have a Background that needs explaining. “So you were a Soldier? OK, were you in a City Guard, or in service to some noble, or in a mercenary company?” etc.
Then take all their answers and stitch together a base that has the Fighters’ mercenary company, the Clerics’ temple, the Wizards’ magical academy and the Rogues’ thieves guild. Just to name the most stereotypical answers.

#4 Comment By Scott Martin On February 24, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

I’ve played in and run campaigns based on the army camp model, which is a lot like Hogwarts crossed with frontier, but the base is occasionally moveable. (Or, at least its population is mobile.)

It’s interesting to think back and realize how little I’ve done to create a good base/hometown–my work’s always on the adventure end!

Thinking further, I’m a huge fan of adapting modern cities and “sesame streeting” a district within it. For modern day campaigns, that’s my go to.

#5 Comment By Kingslayer On February 25, 2016 @ 11:55 am

Very interesting. I’m running a homebrew campaign set in Zendikar (a Magic: The Gathering plane). They have the Goma Fada (literally, “the city that walks”) Caravan, which is one of the largest “settlements” on Zendikar. It never occured to me to use it as a home base.

Thanks for a great article!

#6 Pingback By Campaign Brainstorming, Part 1 » Tales of a GM On February 26, 2016 @ 7:24 am

[…] These options are based on an article at Gnome Stew. […]

#7 Comment By Knight of Roses On February 26, 2016 @ 3:38 pm

Bases of operation are very important to most games that I play in or GM.

One of my favorite scenes from a game was after the first session of a campaign where we cleared out a village of zombies and my sorcerer turned to the other characters and said, “So, what do we name our village?” He spent the rest of that campaign trying to repopulate and improve that village.

#8 Comment By Julie Konopka On February 28, 2016 @ 9:51 am

One of my favorite types of “home base” is the roving caravan model.
This is my go to for post-apocalyptic settings. I used it for a game set in the Fall-out universe, where the players were members of a travelling merchant caravan. The group consisted of traders, a medic, a guard, and a protectotron called “Mule” who pulled the cart.
It also worked for a game set in a Shannara-style post-apocalyptic/magic world, the players were part of a slow-moving multi-vehicle caravan that would pick up and leave members as it traveled the country-side.

The benefit of this style of home base is that as GM you have a lot of freedom with the type of encounters that the caravan can walk into. Also there is a convenient narrative explanation if players need to drop out for a session or two, they just stayed behind or ventured ahead of the group.

#9 Comment By Troy E. Taylor On February 28, 2016 @ 10:42 am

Love the discussion and the ideas.