Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dungeoncraft #6: Detailing the home base

Today is a fun day, as we turn back to our base of operations and prepare to map it out, both literally and figuratively. Ray believes, and I totally agree, that it's much easier to map small and grow rather than start drawing detailed continents and nations and working your way down. However, putting your homebase region into some context in terms of what's near or important to it geographically is important as well. For now though, just keep this in the back of your mind; we'll be drawing a local regional map at a later date. I say this, but also keep in mind that because I tinker with my campaign setting during my "off season" I actually do have a nearly continent sized area mapped out; the equivalent of the circum-Mediterranean area including the Mediterranean Sea, much of Europe south of the Baltic and North seas, much of North Africa down to the Sahel, Turkey and the Levant. While I don't necessarily recommend that you do this, I've done it, so I'm saying it now in the interest of full disclosure. That said, I haven't actually mapped out a local area around Iclezza, so I need to go through this exercise myself if I want to turn Iclezza from a dot on a larger map into something useable.

Now, Ray also recaps the purpose of a homebase, and here's where I disagree with him, if you recall from earlier installments. Ray sees the purpose of the homebase as a safe haven for PCs to return to after adventuring to split treasure, plot strategy, heal wounds, rest, craft magic items, buy stuff, etc. He sees the homebase as a change of pace from a "wild and woolly" campaign setting taking place somewhere else. Me? I prefer the homebase to launch the "adventures." I prefer the homebase to be the source and often the location where such adventures take place. I prefer the homebase to be a place where intrigue and plots are being hatched. I prefer the PCs to not get too careful and think they can rest on their laurels just because they made it back home. Don't get me wrong; PCs need to be able to do the things Ray says, but they don't need to be able to count on it! The homebase isn't like homebase in hide and seek--bad things can still happen to you when you're there. I don't like the strict dichotomy between adventures and downtime; it's unrealistic and breaks the verissimilitude of the campaign, and it makes the experience feel much more like a game and much less like a story. Either that or I'm just naturally a "rat bastard" GM, as the expression goes, and I want to hound my PCs even in their supposed downtime.

However, having said that, very little of his specific advice moving forward doesn't apply in any case. Even if you disagree with some of his minor points that follow (as I do) you need to give each component of a homebase some thought, and if you deviate from what he suggests, it works best if you know exactly why you are doing so and if you have alternate plans of some kind to back them up.

A Local Authority: Rare indeed is the homebase that doesn't have some force that is dedicated to keeping the peace and providing at least some measure of security to the populace. Darker games may have this authority be corrupt or relatively powerless, but that's a question of flavor. Also, this force doesn't need to be overwhelming, just enough to suggest some sort of protection. After all, if you assume the majority of any populace is low level commoners, it only takes a few warriors to keep them in check and appear relatively formidable. For the purposes of mapping this into the homebase area, you probably want a jail or stockade of some kind, and maybe a barracks. Large medieval cities also feature essentially huge fortresses of the local authority; the Bastille in Paris being a notable example, or the Tower of London.

For my Dark•Heritage campaign setting, I've already said that High Lord Nicasi is the local authority and his rule is absolute (in theory if not in practice.) Although he's a relatively benign ruler, I still need to give him a method by which to enforce his authority. I'll have a small contingent of what are mostly the NPC warrior class with a few fighters, rogues and others mixed in that make up a constabulary for Iclezza. Later, while detailing a few NPCs in another installment, I'll probably even give a nod to a few characters in this outfit. However, there's a wrinkle; the Inquisition also has a presence here, some higher level PC classes (although fewer in number) and some troops of their own, as well as some steampunkish spy constructs: smaller units that are designed for espionage. The Inquisition is technically outside of the High Lord's authority, although they'd be reluctant to anger the High Lord, especially since they don't enjoy popular approval and the High Lord operates autonomously from the capital in Terassa. These somewhat competing and uncomfortable rivals allow me to devise a few details about the local setting:

1) There's an intense political and emotional rivalry between the two groups.

2) There's some degree of corruption as the two groups either try to one-up each other, or alternatively occasionally turn a blind eye to something non-kosher.

I introduce a bit of a church vs. state conflict, as the Inquisition represents the Church rather than the High Lords directly. I'll also decide that the Church "reports" to another High Lord that has authority over it, rather than a regional authority like many of the other High Lords. I'll also want to develop an interesting provision on the laws of the town--the Constables actually have mages that are accepted by the High Lord, but which aren't technically part of the Ministry of Sorcery. Because of this, mages are not typically prosecuted by the Constables, and in fact, are often protected against the Inquisition, which still views them as heretics notwithstanding. This is the root of the rivalry between the two organizations; magic-users of any kind typically being viewed as dangerous and heretical throughout the Terassan Empire, and witchcraft trials being commonplace.

Townsfolk. You don't want to go and roll up tons of NPCs at this point, but you do want to give some thought to what kinds of residents there are in your homebase. Are there weaponsmiths? Mages that can make magic items? Local clerics that can provide healing and restoration? Sages that can decipher ancient runes? How do all these people live? Are there residential wards in the town, or are residences and shops typically housed together? Does the city follow the typical Medieval pattern of housing large families in single houses, or is it more "modern" in terms of space utilization? What's the infrastructure like in terms of getting water, commodities and goods to the residents as well as waste away from them?

So how do I want to develop Iclezza? Because my setting assumptions don't work well with small villages, I'll imagine that Razina is a relatively large town; certainly it has several thousand inhabitants. It's not a huge city of millions, but it's big enough to get lost in if you wish. I'll also imagine that a good 80-85% of those people are poor working people who are dock workers, miners at the iron mine, or other manual laborers. Most of them live in small, cramped, warren-like neighborhoods with houses crammed so close together that what separates them is better described as narrow alleyways than as streets. There are two such wards, one which is slightly more upscale than the other; it includes a few wider roads and a few plants. The true ghetto is for the itinerant workers, though. This entire neighborhood, several miles square, is a cramped ghetto of mud, efluvia and continually low hanging smoke and pollution. The constables rarely go into Mudtown, as this area is called, so it is a place of relative anarchy, organized and unorganized crime, where the inhabitants live in constant fear. The other low class neighborhood has open air, and is for a "lower middle class" so to speak. This area is much smaller, but much more pleasant. Both of these wards have giant bus-like wagons hauled by elephants or massive horse crews that ferry workers to the mines or the nearby lumber camps all day long.

Other than the relatively squashed wards where most of the residences are, there is also, on a tall ridge above town, away from the stench and smokes of the lower classes, the residences of the nobles and the nouvou riche of Iclezza. Because this class of folk tend to like their privacy, this ward is walled and probably features private security that is much more competent (or at least better equipped and manned) than the constabulary. This is where most of the stone construction in town is, although it's often seen as a point of local pride to have timber constructed mansions anyway.

Shops. Obviously the PCs will need to get equipment from time to time, or upgrade what they do have, or simply to spend the gains of their adventures. Having some place to spend this money is crucial, as is making available items they may want to use. There's a few guidelines to making equipment available, though. First, for simplicity of mapping, it's a lot easier to centralize your shops. Either make more generalist stores, or make market areas. If you've got PCs hiking all across town just to pick up essential adventuring goods, then you're making things more complex than you need to. Note, this isn't a rule of Dungeoncraft, just a guideline, and I think it's a good one. Second, don't assume you have to make everything available. Especially if your homebase is a relatively small one, you can assume that lots of items are difficult, of not impossible, to obtain locally. There's a couple of reasons this is a good thing. For one thing, the syndrome of creating "Ye Olde Magic Items Shoppe" in every little village, which have racks of Holy Avengers or whatever other exotic items for sale at all times, stretches credulity and makes items much more disposable than they otherwise should be. Second, if the PCs decide they absolutely have to have something that isn't available, you've got an instant adventure hook as they have to go in search of it.

For Iclezza, I'll decide that most mundane articles are available, although not necessarily for sale in any shop. Firearms are available in very limited supply; you're better off signing on with a mercenary or security force to get one rather than trying to buy one outright, but with the right connections, and the right funds, you could still get one, as well as maintainence and ammo for it. Advanced technology--the clockworks and steamworks, are not available for purchase from any shop, although you might be able to buy one on the secondary market if you really tried. There is a shop or two to repair these types of items, though. Magic of any kind is not available to be bought except on the black market.

Each ward will have market areas, although Mudtown's is more like an armed yard. Most things in this area are picked up via barter rather than through purchase. In addition, anything over about 50 gp can only be bought on the Ridge, and access to that ward is limited to any except those who live there or can obviously afford to.

Temple. Ray Winninger suggest making a temple available so the PCs can get higher level healing, restoration and the like before they have anyone capable of casting the spells themselves. I can't argue with this methodology, although personally it grates against my taste. One of the reasons I'm severely limiting regular D&D magic from my campaign is to eliminate these types of cliches. However, in another campaign, this is probably a good idea. Also, the temple can be a springboard for ideas; parish priests typically have a good handle on potential problems in their area that the PCs can be asked to help out with.

Take your religion section that you wrote up already and look at how you can incorporate a few temples from it. Depending on your religion decisions, you may decide to have more than one temple, if you have more than one deity that would fit the personality of the town. Don't go too crazy though; the point is to try and avoid adding more details and complications to your map and homebase than you have to.

Of course, as you no doubt noticed in previous installments, I don't really have much in the way of clerics in the Dark•Heritage campaign setting, and in keeping with the genre, I want the populace to be relatively irreligious anyway. However, the Church as a juggernaut of a political force is also a feature of the setting. Just outside of town, I'll have a massive, fortress-like churchyard that serves as a center for worship, as well as--clandestinely, although it's an open secret--the HQ of the Inquisition.

Fantasy Element. Ray has a great idea here; something to add a little color and fantasy to your fantasy roleplaying. Your homebase should feature something unique and "fantastic" about it. Some suggestions he offers: a barkeep that keeps a leprechaun in a cage, a centaur that serves as a scout for the watch, or from his own setting, an ornate elevator that moves people around to the treetops. That last isn't fantasy in a magical way; it operates on winches and pulleys and is pulled by guardsmen, but it's certainly unique and characterful, and isn't something you'd expect to see in a pseudo-Medieval campaign setting.

Now, to Iclezza. A number of fantasy ideas come to mind; in fact my first thought is that the characterful district of Mudtown might well qualify already. I have a better idea, though, that also reinforces the slight steampunk angle of the setting. Public transportation by means of magical and steampowered constructs ("clanks" I called them earlier) will be available in limited supply in Iclezza. First there are the cab services; two-legged clanks that are hooked up to two and four wheeled carriages and run by youths around the city.

Next time, we'll incorporate these elements we discussed today and actually draw a map of the homebase!

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