One of the articles slated for Dragon this month is a piece on strongholds for player characters—what a stronghold is, why you want one, and how you get one.
The idea that powerful player characters should be in the business of building strongholds goes back to the very first set of Dungeons & Dragons rules. Volume 3, The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, covered the topic with four sentences followed by a page of illustrations showing the individual structures that could be assembled like modules into a functional castle: small, medium, and large towers; 90 feet of curtain wall, 10 feet thick; gatehouses, drawbridges, barbettes, and barbicans; stone stairs, iron doors, windows, and arrow slits.
Then there were the specialists you could hire to staff your stronghold: alchemists, engineers, men-at-arms, sages, spies, and half-a-dozen more categories of NPCs who would be highly useful around your burgeoning castle.
Why would you do such a thing? The real heart of that question was tackled in a following three-paragraph section entitled "Baronies." Being the master of a stronghold would eventually make you master of the surrounding territory. This wasn't a job for the weak of heart or for worn-out adventurers seeking a cozy retirement. It required active patrolling across the countryside to hunt down and eradicate monsters, thereby making the area safe for settlement and civilization.
In short, building a stronghold
- gave players something constructive to do with all of their characters' accumulated gold and other treasure;
- lifted their gaze to responsibilities beyond the dungeon's exit; and
- was a means of driving back the leading edge of darkness by expanding the points of light in the campaign (although those terms were still decades in the future).
Every one of those reasons is still valid now.
What makes a stronghold such an interesting choice for characters is the effect it can have on the campaign. It's one thing to be a wandering hero—even one who fights only in the cause of righteousness and virtue—and something else entirely to plant your feet, spread your arms, and announce to the countryside, "Here is where I am, and here is where I'll stay. You will find safety behind these walls; that is my pledge."
Of course, that's not the point of all strongholds. Some are just safe places to store belongings during your travels and to recuperate between adventures.
But a stronghold can be much more than that if players decide to take the high road of responsibility. By mid-paragon tier, your characters are paragons, and as someone's uncle taught us, with great power there must also come great responsibility.
This isn't a road all players will step onto, but for those who do, it leads to a whole new type of adventure and reward.
Have your characters ever built a stronghold and driven back the tide of darkness from behind its stout walls? Does that type of campaign excite or bore you? Share your ideas and experiences at firstname.lastname@example.org.