Thursday, December 7, 2023

Taking Castles

Oh, the things I get dragged into.
; )

Over on the Pedantic discord (I think) there was a minor dustup over such-n-such argument about BrOSR/Jeffrogaxian 1:1 time play not being conducive (or supported) by the 1E "domain" rules or somethin-somethin. Not a terribly big deal (IMO) as I've already settled my thoughts/feelings on 1:1 time play and I'm content to NOT tell people how to enjoy themselves when it comes to running their campaigns (folks are going to do what they're going to do till they're tired of it). 

But then Ash wrote the following: 
It is better to take existing castles, at first. This is true for literally any campaign, timekeeping or no...One of my players took over a ruined keep, and made it a stronghold. however, that same player (once the ruined keep was established) began the process of building new strongholds/buildings from scratch
To which I had to put my foot in it, with this:
Rehabbing a house (let alone a ruined castle) would be a tremendous job given the presumed state of a pseudo-medieval campaign world. You're going to get skilled laborers, masons, carpenters, etc. to come out to the middle of an orc-infested wilderness to re-build a used lair? Are you kidding? Such a place probably ain't fit for human habitation, even after you clean out the slimes, vermin, and to burn it to the ground.
And also:
Taking over a ruin (that itself was, presumably, taken over in the past by whatever monsters were lairing there) isn't as easy as just killing the critters and moving in.
As well as:
A ruin would require substantial rehabilitation after recovering it from the monstrous creatures that live there before it would be a fit habitation for your average player character type? Um...that seems pretty obvious. Though, I suppose, only if one gives a shit about world building...nothing in the rules demand such action, though I suppose a DM could make it pretty difficult for PCs using the disease tables. 
Normal folks (even adventurous PCs) don't usually want to settle down in a troll cave. And a ruin would step up from that?
Oh, AND this:
A fortress built by a humanoid tribe is quite another issue. I was talking about a once-human (or dwarf or whatever) ruin that had taken over by hobgoblins. You want to claim an orc fort as your base of operations? You want to be the guy who lives in the orc hut? What is that going to do to your PCs' reputation?
I was having a bad day, I suppose (actually I was) and was in a combative mode...silly and childish on my part. Ash later discussed the incident on the Rolling Bones v-cast, refuting my protestations as (in part) one example of folks not grokking how domain play can function when running an AD&D campaign with 1:1 time. Which wasn't really the case...or, rather, wasn't really the point I was trying to communicate. The POINT, in fact, was just that taking over a ruin (or a lair or a "dungeon") for use as a stronghold isn't something to be done on a whim or a lark.

Doesn't mean you can't do so...I've had my own musings regarding taking such action. However, one should note that even back in 2009 (the hay-day of my adult B/X play), I was't so glib as to say such would be easy, and there were extenuating circumstances that made such a location worthy of consideration for my toad-worshipping cleric; observe the thoughts of "Younger Me:"
Sure, it would take a little work to get it up and running (a rickety bridge would need to be replaced, new furnishings added, kicked-in doors re-built). But for the most part, the place was of good dwarvish construction, had its own water supply, was located only a day from civilization (a little out-of-the way from curious travelers, but not inconvenient for obtaining supplies). Plus the waterfall and underground pond/river, and the small pool outside all said, “great-place-to-worship-amphibious-deity” to me.
Even at the tender age of 36 (before I'd started to grasp the importance of world-building and thoughtful campaign planning), I had an inkling that such undertakings would not be a walk-in-the-park. Doesn't mean it can't be done, but rewards of value (even in D&D-land) require effort. DMs that skimp on the effort do so at their own peril. Yes, the game is a game and we want to maintain its "game-ness;" however, we don't want it to devolve into Ren-faire farce. That way lies contempt, much the same as fudging dice rolls.

Every would be stronghold-nee-lair requires its own consideration in this regard. When the Starks retake WinterFell from the Boltons, it's mainly a job of policing the corpses and cleaning bloodstains off the cobblestones. In other words: normal castle maintenance (in a violent D&D world anyway). But that's humans taking a human habitation from humans that were using it for the same purpose (human habitation) that it was originally intended. We're not talking about a place with walking deads, acid-dripping slimes, otughs and owlbears. We're not talking about a ruin or a tomb or a "dungeon."

I discussed this with my nine year old daughter (1E player): she was aghast at the idea. "It's a ruin! You'd need to fix it before living in it!" The idea of living in a place once inhabited by monsters sounded crazy to her. What kind of stench is left behind by a tribe of goblins or gnolls? How about the walking corpses that roamed the halls?

Yes, orcs build their own longhouses and forts, but how long to air the thing out once the orcs are gone? Do they employ glaziers? Doubtful given their aversion to sunlight. Would a lair built by inhuman hands be suitable for human habitation? Maybe. A goblin or kobold hall would probably have low ceilings; a fortress built to accommodate giants might have really, really heavy doors.

The desire for PCs to own property...some place to stash their treasure, some place to act as a base of a natural desire, and one likely to come up sooner rather than later in any established campaign. And such desires are likely to come up long before their characters reach 9th level or find an excess of gold burning holes in their trousers...why not use one of these cleaned out lairs as "adventurer HQ?" It's got walls and a roof, doesn't it?

But in a well-designed campaign, "walls and a roof" aren't the only consideration. Living in a cave (or under a bridge) is fine-and-dandy for a nest of trolls. But that's not a suitable demesne for a group of 5th and 6th level PCs, despite the expedience of such a shelter. Regardless of a lair's defensibleness, it's location (in a swamp, on a mountain top, underground, whatever) just might not make it livable. Probably not a place to entertain the local duke, or the princess, or the wizard that has a quest for you.

That's the thing: an orcish hill fort, a crumbling tower, a haunted moathouse...these are not places one wants to set up shop, generally speaking. Unless they are in an ideal location (close to resources...both material and personnel), and possibly not even then. The hobgoblin fortress had been lording it over the local villagers for years, and now they've been wiped out...but does it still stand as a symbol of degradation and malevolence? Is it a constant reminder of slavery and subjugation? Should it not be torn down and something new, bright and hopeful, be erected in its place?

Maybe not...maybe such issues don't arise in your campaign. Or maybe, like me, it appeals to your dark humor to build your base in a rustic humanoid have a certain penchant for the dramatic flair of Kraven the Hunter, and relish the idea of a PC warlord whose stronghold is decorated in skulls and antlers and the occasional banner sewn from skinned humanoid. Even then, it's generally going to take your character(s) a while to bring the place up to snuff. 

No site is going to be "move in ready" from the jump. Cheaper than building your own castle? Sure. Faster to rehab then quarrying the stone and prepping the timber. 100%. But no easy-breezy.

And me saying that has nothing to do with robbing players of their "shortcuts;" it CAN be a "shortcut" to claim Quasqueton as your new abode. Of course it can! And that's a nice little reward (on top of whatever loot you plumbed from it) for cleaning out the various monsters and villains, undead and vermin, that had (previously) spent YEARS if not DECADES (or CENTURIES) leaving their filth all over the place: bones and excrement and the detritus of uncared for interior structures. If I don't vacuum my house every couple weeks, the floors get FILTHY, and I'm just raising two kids, not a tribe of kobolds that cook indoors and aren't known for washing much. Don't forget Gygax included systems for dealing out diseases and parasitic infections, too!

It's not "screwing the players" to make them work a bit turning a hovel into a home; it's simply common sense (oh! that phrase!). Some things (some!) can be inferred from our own maybe there are times when PCs should take off their armor and unbuckle their sword belts. We don't need to have overly complex systems in place to handle cleanup operations, but neither should we simply hand-waive such inconveniences...unless (maybe) PCs have access to a pocket djinni or similar. TIME. MONEY. These are the driving factors of the D&D game. Hand-waive them at your own peril. 

NOW...does all this seem like some argument against using 1:1 time in your campaign/game? Maybe. Fact is, the thought hadn't really crossed my mind, even when I was initially putting my foot in my mouth. As I said, I'm not interested nor worried in the slightest about the debate over whether or not 1:1 time is valid or "the only valid" way to play D&D. That debate has no influence over how I run my campaign. In general, I run AD&D based on the guidelines in the DMG ("G" for "guide," yeah?)...and the DMG includes notes for construction and labor and materials. So why shouldn't I use those notes and instructions...both for players wishing to build their own castles, and as inspiration (and guidelines) when it comes to how challenging it'll be to re-hab the party's new (half-destroyed) digs. 

Hope all that makes sense and doesn't overly annoy too many people. G'night!
; )


  1. Reminds me of one of my best and longest AD&D 1E games - it was the first one using my Aerth/Winghorn Guard setting and I think the last game I ran using D&D of any kind until 3E.

    The PCs, already decently high level, decided to take over the 'dungeon' in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks after going through the adventure. They wanted to continue discovering its secrets, clear it out, and use it as a HQ for their Order/Guild.

    It was a blast and really changed my perspective on gaming in regards to the hobo side of murderhobo.

    Many of my players, who had also played Villains and Vigilantes and FASA StarTrek with me, wanted a homebase. They didn't want to wander around aimlessly but preferred having a place all their own to go back to after a few weeks away adventuring. They got a kick out of customizing it and decorating their rooms, lol.

    This carried over to our starships in Star Trek, Star Wars, and Traveller as well as other campaigns right up to this day.

    1. Ha! That's a pretty cool anecdote. Knowing your penchant for Sci-Fi, I'm a little surprised you didn't allow them to get their new base up-and-running (as a starship) and take your campaign to the stars!

      [back in my adolescence, we threw AD&D characters into our Marvel Supers RPG, just as an example of genre crossover]

      ; )

  2. Your daughter's horror at moving into a ruin reminds me of why I enjoy playing with children: even the fantastical elements are taken at face value and experienced in context of their lives, less through media and abstractions. Moving into a ruined castle is like moving into a ruined house, and the latter we can all understand. Wisdom from the mouth of babes.

    Though, if your campaign world is on the slightly more farcical side and has a points-of-light feel, this may imply the existence of 'ruin-flippers.' Is there some mercenary band whose specialty is fixing up nasty old spots, turning a lair into a lodging? Seem like useful people to know. Food for thought.

    1. Ha! What I *didn't* note was her further postulation that the guy on the other side of the argument "must be single, and probably leaves his potato chips all over the floor when eating."
      : )

      With regard to "dungeon-flippers" I'm inclined to take the opposite stance: for many of these ruins, it's VERY difficult to see them as truly 'cost-effective' alternatives to building one's own stronghold. Hence the existence (and proliferation) of abandoned fortresses dotting the countryside, fit only for (new) monsters to move into.

      I've traveled through the Yucatan peninsula...I've seen the ruins that litter the countryside, many abandoned long-before the Spanish set foot in Veracruz, and few recovered (or maintained) even for tourism/archaeologic study.

  3. I quite agree. As a DM, I'd feel justified in having any number of things crop up in the supposedly "cleaned" dungeon. How many space-horror films must we make about people arriving at supposedly abandoned planets and space stations, only to find something apparently inoccuous turning into some terrifically awful monsterous plague? Don't people learn anything from watching these films?

    1. I wonder if this might not have something to do with assumptions/expectations set by video games. I do not mean that as an off-hand recent days I've watched more than a couple videos, read more than a couple blog posts where youngsters (younger than me anyway) ostensibly discussing "fantasy adventure gaming" would bring up points and/or comparisons to modern day video game design.

      And video games are, generally speaking, closed systems, that only change or develop when new content is downloaded/uploaded. And so, if you succeed at some task, you succeed...there is no on-going life after victory. The monster base is empty...good work! Move on (or celebrate your cut-scene or whatever).

      D&D campaigns aren't like that (well, certainly they needn't be), and there is far more potential for on-going LIFE in a D&D game then one finds in a vid game. It's one of the advantages of playing a game with a truly open system.
      : )

  4. One thing about stronghold rules that everyones ignoring is that strongholds are modular. You can add towers and curtain walls or even a "castle" if you need it. This is the strongest support for Ash's idea but I havent seen him mention it. A scenario where you shortcut by grabbing an abandoned wizard tower, then have a hard time defending it so you build a wall is a more realistic example than building a second castle somewhere else.
    But yeah dungeons are not ready living spaces, its like if the show Hoarders had death traps, it might not even be worth the savings.

  5. I think I would allow them to build a new structure at a reduced time/cost by using the ruins as a partial quarry. I think ruins have frequently been the source of building materials. Also it would certainly be safer as you wouldn't need to worry about some secret door or gate to hell you missed while making the Keep a bit more open concept with flow and all that.