This week on the Campaign Trail we look at creating headquarters with your players.
Most Tabletop RPG (TRPG) involve a fellowship of heroes who wander the land righting wrongs and fighting evil. These characters often have elaborate backstories about the people and places they care about. Good adventures can pull these backstories into the foreground, but without a shared backstory – the other players will have to wait for their turn to shine. If a locale is not tied to any player’s backstory, it can make it even harder for players to really care about that place.
For your next campaign, try giving your players a shared place they can all call home. Rather than having your PCs wander from town to town as adventurer hobos, provide them with their own base of operations. Home can be a manor they cleared of goblins, an inn they purchased, a spooky wizard’s tower, a keep at the edge of civilization or old shack owned by a PCs parents. Wherever they call home, as long as it is a place they want to call their own, you are doing it right.
My Favorite Headquarters (HQ)
Home can be somewhere your PCs retire to after each mission, something they battle to control or it can be somewhere they long to return to after a long adventure. The following is a list of my favorite HQs from comics, novels, TV and movies.
- Bag End (Hobbit/Lord of the Rings)
- Inn of the Last Home (Dragonlance)
- Greyskull Keep (Critical Role)
- Tower of High Sorcery (Dragonlance)
- Avengers Mansion and Stark/Avengers Tower (Marvel Universe)
- Tree Fort (Adventure Time)
- Firehouse (Ghostbusters)
- 221B Baker Street (Sherlock Holmes)
- Four Freedoms Plaza/Baxter Building (Fantastic Four)
- Hogwarts (Harry Potter)
- X-Mansion (X-Men)
- Aunt May’s (Spider-Man)
- The Batcave (Batman)
- The Fortress of Solitude (Superman)
- Hall of Justice & Watchtower (Justice League)
- Tardis (Doctor Who)
- Ghost (Star Wars Rebels)
- KITT (Knight Rider)
- Serenity (Firefly & Serenity)
- The Black Pearl (Pirates of the Caribbean)
- Milano (Guardians of the Galaxy)
- USS Enterprise (Star Trek)
- Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)
- Nautilus (20,000 Leagues under the Sea)
I’m sure I’ve missed a zillion, please share your favorites in the comments below.
Setting Up a HQ
There are lots of rules out there for various editions on building strongholds and businesses during downtime. But I wanted to look at the background and motivation for building these structures and vehicles more than providing how to specifics.
How Do the Player Characters (PCs) Get their HQ?
- PCs Start Campaign with HQ. This works best if the base is humble. Just because a base is humble does not mean it can’t be upgraded later. A small hideout can be upgraded into an awesome keep or burned down to motivate your players to track down the culprits.
- PCs Build/Buy HQ. Players earn lots of gold for their PCs during adventurers and a HQ is a great way to take some of that gold back from them. In my current campaign, the players started as crew on the ship of and then purchased the ship later on in the campaign.
- PCs Earn HQ as Reward. Critical Role is my favorite live actual play show and the PCs in that campaign were gifted Greyskull Keep for saving the Tal’Dorei capital of Emon. Their keep is always somewhere they can return to at the end of an adventure or to hide out in when trouble brews.
- PCs Win HQ in Game of Chance. Poor Lando. He loses the Millennium Falcon in a game of Sabaac to Han Solo. This event puts the Falcon in the hands of Han Solo and his friends to save the galaxy (and Lando too when he borrows it later). The Falcon is special and quirky and we all love it.
- PCs Steal the HQ. Control of Pirates of the Caribbean’s Black Pearl is always being fought over between the main characters. You could give your players a chance to steal their HQ vehicle like they did in a recent space movie that lots of us must have seen by now.
Fill the HQ with NPCs, Hooks, Details and More
Some HQs are cool on their own, but filling them with details and personalities makes them even better.
- Once your players figure out what type of headquarters they would like, help them populate it with NPCs
- Create plot hooks. Once your PCs have a home, you can engage your players by introducing plot hooks around the headquarters and the NPCs that inhabit it. In my current campaign, the NPC crew of the ship had a tendency to get captured by baddies and needed rescuing.
- Provide fun details for the HQ such as secret passages for a keep, dusty old laboratories, ghosts living in a manor or a magical talking figurehead on a ship.
- Try to give the players stuff to upgrade. Maybe the place is a fixer-upper or could use some additional offensive or defensive capabilities.
Pull in a location from the past of one or more of your PCs or you can look at some of these HQ ideas you and your players might want to try to explore.
Castles, Strongholds & Keeps
- Work with your players to add colorful NPCs such as cooks, servants, pets and guards. Let them even recruit and interview candidates after posting an ad.
- Secret passages can be discovered by players or known to enemies.
- Give your players a chance to upgrade the offensive or defensive capabilities of their fortress.
- Attack their stronghold with a powerful force bend on destroying the place and people inside they care so much about.
- For my Adventure Time campaign I had the PCs stuck inside their keep during a knife storm. Under the floorboards, they discovered a staircase to a large deadly dungeon, which they defeated – freeing the ghosts of the former heroes who lived in their keep long ago. They later made improvements to the shack and converted the dungeon into a training facility.
- So your players cleared the goblins our of a manor and they want to move in. Now what? Whatever they like!
- They can use the manor as a hideout, fix it up to make it a posh estate to spend downtime or they can set it up as the center of fiefdom.
- If your players are interested, help them establish themselves as nobles running the old manor. This will allow them to gaining revenue and military support as the number of vassals on the manor increases.
- Like a stronghold, work with your players to add colorful NPCs such as cooks, servants and yeomen. For even more fun, create local trouble makers who are responsible for minor, amusing crimes.
Inns & Other Businesses
- Inns and other businesses can be fun diversions or serious money making opportunities for players.
- Unless everyone in the campaign enjoys discussing profit and loss during time that could be spent killing dragons, take care of this stuff away from the table.
- Businesses can be legitimate or can be more of a underground operation.
- During downtime a business can allow a player to make money from their PCs skills such as being a hunter, artisan or poison maker.
- In Dragonlance, most of the characters are from Solace, a town built into the treetops. The characters like to frequent the Inn of the Last Home and meet back there again after going their separate ways for 5 years. Years later, two of the characters end up owning and running the inn.
- Perhaps one of your PCs has moved from apprentice to master of the tower when his master was killed. Have the other PCs move in.
- Wizard’s towers should be full of magical items, portals, dusty old laboratories, dungeons full of captured monsters and more.
- There should be areas that are marked keep out for your players to ignore and explore.
- Pseudodragons and other magical guardians can make for memorable NPCs.
- The tower should be protected by powerful defensive magic or will be once your PCs find the spell/ritual on a quest.
- If you players have a sailing ship, spaceship or airship to call their own, they’ll never leave home – without home.
- Have your players figure out rank and responsibilities.
- Let them recruit their crew with some interviews on a dock or in a tavern over beverages.
- In my current campaign, the players started as the crew on the ship of Captain Naft, who wanted to retire from smuggling to spend time with his soon to be wife (and former first mate) Bess. Naft sold the ship to the PCs for a tidy profit and the players inherited a money making shipping (and smuggling) business.
- Ships are great ways to have your player’s spend their money on upgrades to make their ship tougher, faster or even cloaked. In my current campaign, the PCs renamed the ship, painted it different colors, added faster sails and upgraded the hull. The crew threw in some gold (after feeling bad about taking a share of all the treasure the PCs kept finding) to make the ship invisible around level 15.
- Create some quirks that make the ship special such as a magical talking figurehead that provides the weather, a hyperdrive the keeps failing or a Holodeck to one-shot bottle adventures when players can’t make a session.
- If things go right, your PCs will care about the ship and defend it to the death from monsters, pirates and worse.
Guild Halls & Other Organization HQs
- You could opt to have your players just call an existing guild hall home if they are members. This could work well for an all rogue campaign.
- If the players are interested, you could even have them create their own guild, faction or other organization such as a temple, grove, bardic school or monastery.
- Like a business, unless everyone in the campaign enjoys running these types of organizations, take care of this stuff away from the table.
So there you have it! Try working with your players to create a home they will really care about.
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