Excerpts 05/03/2002

Stronghold Builder's Guidebook

Do-it-yourself construction has never been so easy! Whether your player character has newly won gold to spend or you're a Dungeon Master plotting your party's next adventure, the Stronghold Builder's Guidebook by Matt Forbeck and David Noonan provides all you need to create any fortification imaginable, from castles in the clouds to underground lairs. Design the perfect headquarters with detailed information on costs, components, and cool extras -- make it mobile, make it magical, make it your own! Then learn how to use it effectively in your campaign with advice on operating, defending, attacking, commandeering, and destroying fortifications.

The book also includes five complete sample strongholds to spark your imagination or drop right into your campaign. This excerpt details the Cheap Keep, the most basic fortification, to get you started.

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The Cheap Keep

The cheap keep is the basic protective structure in most Dungeons & Dragons campaign worlds. In fact, it's the equivalent to what you would get were you to draw the throne card from a deck of many things. The exterior walls are masonry, and the interior walls are wood.

The Basics

This structure's simple, no-frills design means it's likely to appear far from the comforts of civilization. Your characters might encounter (or intend to build) this fortification on their home region's frontier, high in the mountains, on a remote island, or even more exotic locales such as on a moon, atop a cloud, or at the last oasis before the desert swallows the land for miles around. In any case, if the keep is able to sustain itself over the long term, it's likely to be expanded.

Fourteen people are on staff here, including the cook, the stable boy, the scullery maid, the butler, the captain of the guard, and nine guards.

The guards rotate on and off duty in regular 8-hour shifts. One guard is on duty in each guard tower, plus another in the barbican. The captain spells the others when they need time off, or another guard pitches in for extra duty.

The cook, the scullery maid, and the stable boy share quarters with the three junior members of the guard. The butler and the captain of the guard share one set of bedrooms, while the others are kept ready for whatever guests may drop in or for additions to the family.

The owner of the tower has the upper floor to himself. The butler and the captain of the guard have free run of the place, but most of the others stay out of the second-floor living area unless they have an extremely good reason to do otherwise.

Stronghold Size: 28 stronghold spaces.

Total Stronghold Cost: 70,000 gp

Getting In

As you approach the keep by the main road, you see that it is situated with its rear -- which is to the north -- on the edge of a hill. This makes it difficult for anyone to get to the lived-in sections of the keep, which necessarily have lots of arrow slits in the walls to let in light and air.

The road itself runs up the easy side of the hill, and the walls accessible from this angle have no access points in them -- arrow slits, windows, whatever -- on the first floor. For those, you have to reach the arrow slits on the second floor, and you would have to top the wall to be able to get in.

The primary objective of this keep is defense. As a cheap keep, it has no defenses against those armed with powerful magic, but it does a fine job in keeping out just about anyone else. The key means of defense the keep has against anyone powerful enough to take it single-handedly is that most such people have bigger fish to fry and couldn't be bothered tangling with such a place.

You enter the keep through a gate topped by a barbican. Guards meet you at the door, greeting you through a sliding viewport -- or calling down to you through the arrow slits in the front wall of the barbican -- and asking you what business you might have with the owner of the keep. If your answer is satisfactory, the doors open, and the guards allow you into the space beneath the barbican.

Intruders breaking through the front doors would find themselves in a space beneath the barbican, facing a dropped portcullis. The guards above pepper the invaders with arrows or crossbow bolts through the slits in the floor of the barbican. At the same time, they shout to raise the alarm, ringing the small bell outside the rear window to the barbican.

This point is the only way in and out of the keep -- without resorting to magic, tearing down a wall, or some other extreme measure, that is.

The Interior

Assuming you're not invading, the portcullis is raised for you, and you're allowed into the main yard. To the immediate left and right, there are stairs going up into the guard towers in the southwest and southeast corners.

Directly before you are the main doors into the interior of the keep. To the left is a serviceable privy, while to the right stands a stable for up to six horses.

The stable boy comes to take your horses if you have any. If the stable has room, he brings them inside. Otherwise, he hitches them to a rail outside the stables and brings them fresh hay or oats.

When you enter through the main room, you're greeted by the butler, who offers to take your cloaks and fetch the lord of the keep for you while you make yourself at home in the common area. Beyond the common area, there's a hall that goes to the left and the right, and a doorway straight ahead.

If you go through the doorway, you end up in a pleasant, open-air courtyard in which the owner of the keep spends many a sunny day. A stairwell in the southeastern corner of the place leads down into the dirt-floored basement used for keeping foodstuffs along with miscellaneous junk.

Back up into the main hall, if you go west, you'll find two sets of bedrooms and two sets of servants' quarters. Most of the guards sleep in one of the servants' quarters, while most of the rest of the staff sleeps in the other.

To the east are several rooms. The first on the north side of the hall is a dining room. The stronghold owner and his guests eat here in relative comfort. The staff is welcome to eat here when the stronghold owner is off on business or out adventuring, but most days these people have to eat in the kitchen instead, which is the next room down the hall on the north side.

The kitchen staff prepares all meals for the stronghold. The household staff eats most of its meals in here too, as do many of the guards. The stable boy runs meals out to the guards who are on duty.

The guards' arms and armor, as well as that of the lord of the keep, are kept in the first southern room along this section of the hall. The armory holds enough extra weapons, armor, and equipment to supply fully half the guards with entirely new gear, making for a nice cushion in case of breakage or addition of emergency help.

The last room is a basic bath used by everyone in the keep. The room is near the kitchen so that hot water can be brought from the stove whenever desired.

The Second Floor

At each end of the lower hall a stairwell leads up to the second floor. The one to the west comes up next to the master's private bath. The stable boy or butler hauls hot water up from the kitchen whenever needed.

The master bedroom suite lies next to the bath. This room is where the lord of the keep rests. In addition to the arrow slits letting in light, the main room in this space features a window overlooking the open courtyard below. This can be shuttered in times of inclement weather, but it's usually kept wide open to let in as much air and sunshine as possible.

The hallway here also has windows in it that look out over the balcony that runs over the roof of most of the second floor. Railings line the balcony to keep people from falling off accidentally. It also provides more places from which defenders use arrow slits to target attackers.

Crossing the balcony to the east hallway -- which also has windows looking out over the balcony -- the first room along the hall is the master's study. This space has a few books, some paper, and a writing desk. When the master is not around, the butler works out of here as well, doing his best to keep the master's accounts in order and keeping the stronghold running smoothly.

Right next to the study is the keep's vault, protected by a good (Open Lock DC 30) lock on a strong wooden door. The master of the keep stores his treasure here, including any magic items he owns but doesn't use in day-to-day operation. This room also stores all magic weapons and armor, rather than the armory downstairs. Only the master and the captain of the guard have the key to this area. All others are forbidden to enter the place without one or the other of the keyholders in their presence. The only possible exception to this is the butler, who sometimes holds the master's key when the master is away for extended periods of time.

The balcony that makes up the remainder of the second floor extends out over the rest of the lower floor, extending out over the privy and the stables as well. If the keep's front door and portcullis are pierced, the guards that aren't in the barbican or the tower bar the main door below and mount up their last defense atop the balcony, firing their bows at any intruders coming through beneath the barbican.

The guard towers are situated in the southern corners of the keep. These high perches give the guards a good view of the surrounding area. The guards actually spend much of their watches standing or sitting on the flat roof of the guard towers, where they have a commanding view of the region. Only when they expect or experience trouble do they retreat to the relative safety of the towers so that they can fire at intruders through the arrow slits.

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