Many years ago, I ran an ongoing campaign where all the PC’s were members of a secret society, some of them high ranking enough to be in charge of expansion into new territories. This meant they developed a keen sense for new bases of operations from which a new cell might put down roots and expand into the community. A good base can be a great feature of a campaign, and a few simple tips can lead you in the right direction.
1) Talk About Your Fixer-Upper….
It’s a popular trope to reward the PC’s with ownership of someplace that they have cleansed of ghosts or other monstrous inhabitants. Not only does this make the acquisition an adventure, it also makes good economic sense. Real estate of any kind is normally outside of a PC’s price range, but the reputation and disrepair may keep the price low even after they drive the baddies out. Between that and the gratitude of the owners, the PC’s may get it for almost free. To flip this trope on its head, start with a PC getting a title or deed super-cheap, only to find out that they have to deal with a horrible curse or other baggage that comes along with it. Rather than find another sucker to pawn it off to, they can free themselves of their imminent doom by confronting the problem head on, as adventurers.
2) So Hard To Get Good Help These Days
A base of operations should include some responsibility, if only for maintenance and cleaning. If the base requires special skills to maintain, a PC with the appropriate skills should be assumed to be doing some of this in their downtime. When my PC’s defeated a house possessed by a mechanical golem, the grateful owner agreed to let them live there in exchange for restoration and repairs by an engineer PC. Spellcasters may be able to defray a lot of these costs using magic, but the party should also consider staff. It’s not uncommon for people to come around looking for simple work cooking and cleaning up. Staff are a great source of background info, connection with the community, and the occasional adventure hook, but be careful using too many secret pasts, betrayals or infiltration plots. It’s one thing to keep PC’s on their toes, and another to frustrate players because their new base feels like nothing but a liability.
3) Battle Stations!
While the adventure doesn’t always come to them, a good base should be defensible in an emergency, and some effort in fortifying it will go a long way. Vampire hunter Rudolph Van Richten surrounded his nondescript herbalist’s shop with flower boxes growing garlic and wolvesbane, and the elegant glass windows were salvaged from a church and featured holy symbols. These kinds of precautions add character to a base even if they don’t see much use, and allows the base to grow in power along with the PC’s. This is especially true if the base’s activities center around a character’s career, whether a church for a cleric, hunting lodge for a ranger, etc. If a particular party member has the Leadership feat, they can set some of their followers to guarding and maintaining it while they are away, with the expectation that many of these folks are learning the ropes in the fight against evil.
4) Location, Location, Location
After the PC’s defended a forgotten sanctuary against a siege led by the former caretaker, I thought for sure they would select it as another base for their secret society’s expansion. It was hallowed ground for two PC’s, one with the Leadership feat, with unseen servants and magical defenses at their beck and call, but none of this was quite enough to compensate for the fact that it was just too remote for their society’s purposes. A good base needs to be accessible as well as defensible. It ought to be close to civilization, or at least to sources of supplies, services, and information, even if it’s just local gossip at a watering hole. Of course, it should also be accessible to places they will be adventuring, without being too vulnerable. Unless their adventures are largely urban, consider a location on the edge of civilization: a ranger’s fort on the frontier, a training dojo on a mountainside just outside of town, or lonely tower on the edge of a village are all great concepts.
Whatever you choose for your base, the most important things are what you bring to it yourself. Make it unique, make it yours, and it will be a memorable character your group will reminisce about for years to come.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.