Monday, July 24, 2017

Plot Traps Volume 8

I’m changing some things up with the blog and looking at a variety of new and old ideas in gaming.  I’d like to spend part of today talking about some recurring tropes and ideas that crop up in fantasy storytelling and how they can be used (and abused) in an RPG to some sort of effect.  Today’s volume is going to feature The Home Base phenomenon.  There are a variety of ways this idea can be used to great effect in a fantasy rpg.  Let’s take a look at how that can work.  Further, we’re going to spend the next few weeks examining other supporting elements that characters rely on in a typical role-playing game.  As always, we hope these help you out with setting up your own adventures, campaigns and stories.

Plot Point 8  Home Base

This iteration of a plot trap involves either the starting point of the campaign or adventure, or another place that becomes centrally located to the characters.  It is the place they return to, the place they make all of their plans from, and when the situation is truly dire, it’s the place they lay low to hide from their enemies and attempt to gather their strength again.  Home bases take a lot of different shapes and sizes, but they feature a lot of key similar resources.


Home base is referred to as Home base because the characters probably live in or near it.  Whether a foreboding wizard’s tower, a cathedral to the faithful, or a hidden den of rogues, each of these locations features a place for a character to rest and recover in relative safety and security.  Characters can go to extravagant lengths to provide for the security, comfort or anonymity of their personal residences, and each one of these lairs will be shaped by the personality of the person who built it.


Home bases typically have access to information resources that are atypical of other places.  Access to ancient stores of lost knowledge, helpful clergy and spellcasters with access to powerful divinations or the ear of a powerful spy master are all tremendous resources.  These are the types of resources that characters cultivate and go to great lengths to secure for their use, and the quests to find and access these assets are the building blocks of great stories.  


Wealth is a powerful resource for characters, but one that can easily work against them.  Money can dramatically reshape a local economy, and characters who have access to vast sums of coin and treasure are going to look for ways to put that treasure to good use.  Home bases serve an important economic function for characters.  They allow them to distribute their wealth in ways that benefit them directly.  Whether they are building connections with local guilds, sponsoring students to schools of higher learning or sending agents looking for rare and powerful magical items, Home Base is a key element in the way characters interact with their setting.  

Why is this a Plot Trap?

This Plot Trap is a Plot Trap because Home Base is safe.  For the most part, low to mid level characters are likely to be operating out of the same small town or city for the majority of their escapades.  Characters who invest money, time and adventures into improving their Home Base may reach a point where they are reluctant to abandon it, despite obvious signs that it’s time to move on.  The flipside of this is an interesting interaction between characters and the setting.  If the characters have invested heavily in their Home Base, it becomes a plot hook to motivate them to action.  Rampaging hordes, wandering monsters, mysterious cults, and a host of other ills can land firmly on their Home Base, and the characters should probably be motivated enough to get involved in the protection of their home.  The other thing to keep in mind is that unless your characters start in a location like Waterdeep, they will probably outgrow their home.  Eventually they are going to need resources that are not going to be found in a town of less than a 1,000 people.  When that happens, the characters are going to have to either move to a larger place, or expand their home to accommodate their needs.  Either way, you have stories that you can tell within this framework.  

Key Elements of this plot device
  1. The Location: Almost (we’ll cover the exception in a minute) every Home Base has a physical location that characters (and others) can physically access.  This can help you determine how big the Home Base is, and it can help you figure out some other resource ideas.  
  2. The Resources:  Every Home Base has specific resources and advantages.  Whether it’s an abundance of available food, easy travel routes, an ancient library, or something else of your devising, Figuring out what resources your Home Base has is a key element you need to define early.  There is a follow up point to this that includes what resources can your Home Base grow to include.  If there are additional resources that are available but not accessible, figure out why.  Are those hills rife with iron deposits as well as goblins?  Is that ancient temple filled with unquiet spirits that need to be put to rest?  Accessing resources and incorporating them into your Home Base is a reasonable type of adventure to send your characters on.  
  3. The Limitations: Every Home Base has needs to be met.  Whether they are needs for security from wandering monsters, needs for economic growth from increased trade, or whether they are basic needs like food and water, figuring out what elements Home  Base is lacking is essential.  This can help you shape some of your original foundational stories using this Plot Trap, and it can eventually help you determine when your characters have outgrown their Home Base.


There are a couple of variations on this theme that all work roughly the same way.  Let’s take a closer look.

The Moving Base

In this instance, the Home Base has an extraordinary capability that other Home Bases lack.  It can move from place to place.  Whether it’s a mighty air vehicle, or a seaborn city like a modern aircraft carrier, or something more amazing (like a castle that plane hops) these Home Bases allow characters to take their creature comforts with them when they go adventuring.  The downside of a resource like this is  that it’s a rich prize for others, and characters have to work hard to protect their mobile home.

The Hidden Base

This version of Home Base has two caveats with it.  The Base itself is hidden from casual observation by a variety of methods ranging from careful construction to magical obfuscation.  This base is either hidden far from the civilized world and serves as a hidden refuge in the wild or It’s a hidden base inside a hostile environment.  Like a hidden nest of rebels inside a larger hostile city, these hidden bases are often in plain sight, but are tightly secured to prevent the people living inside from being captured or killed by the people looking to do so.

The Destroyed Base

This version of Home Base is a tricky one.  Through powerful forces or energy, the characters have had their home base either destroyed or taken away from them.  This plot begs two important questions.  Can the Base be recovered, and can the party who destroyed it be punished for their crime?  This can tell a powerful story, especially if you work in the Vendetta plot we discussed last week.  


Home Base is an important conceit in the Fantasy RPG genre.  Everyone has a place they eventually venture to in the search for information, wealth and greater resources.  These places are magnets for adventurers and other people looking to hire them.  Because of this, there are usually powerful forces invested in making sure that at least some of these places are reasonably safe, and eventually your characters can grow into that role.  There’s a similarly important concept for adventurers, which we’re going to call Patrons, but there is another important support network for characters.  We’ll cover both of those ideas in coming weeks.   

I hope this gives all of you some insights and ideas on incorporating this style of a Plot Element into your game without it becoming a burden to your fun.  If you’d like to see more of these, or have a question about a specific plot element that you’d like to know more about, drop me a line on twitter, which you should be able to see over there on the right side of the screen.  Game On,

Game Fans.  
Almost.  Like i said above, i’m going to give you a campaign seed for using a version of this plot trap in a hopefully not crazy way.  

Campaign Seed:  The Blackstone Citadel

This campaign seed focuses on the ancient Black Granite and Marble fortress known as the Blackstone Citadel.  Occupied by allied clans of Dwarves and Humans, The Blackstone Citadel is a bulwark in the north against hostile tribes of goblins, orcs and things far worse.  However, the Citadel is a shadow of what it was, and something must be done to restore the bastion to its former glory.   

Part 1:  The Ancient Mines

The characters are asked by the elders of the fortress to investigate long sealed mines in search of ores and potential resources.  These are deep beneath the Citadel, and were originally closed because of threats tunneling up into the Citadel from below.  The characters quickly realize that something has opened these ancient tunnels and must race to figure out what’s going on before the citadel falls.

Part 2:  Alliances Renewed

After their success in handling the crisis in the Mines, the characters are given greater access to places within the Citadel and are eventually tasked with a serious quest by the Elders.  The Wyrwood has long housed Fey and Elven Nobles who at one time were allied with the guardians of the Blackstone Citadel.  These pacts have faded with time, and the Elders have tasked the characters with visiting these ancient allies and resealing those ancient pacts of friendship.  Something dark and terrible is moving against them, something that would prefer these ancient friends remain strained friends at best, or bitter enemies if possible.

Part 3:  A Call to Battle

The tiny communities that lay outside the Blackstone Citadel have come under attack by hordes of orcs and barbarian raiders.  They call to the Citadel for aid, and the strain on the Citadel’s resources is weighed heavy against the manpower that would be lost chasing down these raiders.  Can the characters convince the Elders to send them to battle and renew even more alliances and strengthen the Citadel. The dark forces that have been hounding them finally reveal themselves and the characters are in for the fight of their life as terrible enemies emerge into the world.

Part 4:  The Citadel Stands!

The Evil powers that have driven the orcs and raiders forward drives them like a clenched fist at the Citadel.  The Characters must seek out the source of the ancient evil and destroy it, shattering its connection to the world while the Citadel and its allies hold out against a siege of legendary proportions.  Can the characters defeat the Watcher in the Dark in time, or will the Citadel fall?  

And that’s our 30 minute campaign seed.  See you guys next time.

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