February 25, 2009

Hero Building vs. Stronghold Building

The "adventuring company" is distinctly different from "the party".

It is, however, a common misconception that these terms are in fact synonymous.

They are not.

"Old School" is to Stronghold Building as "New School" is to Hero Building.

... there, I said it.

The meaning behind the phrase "adventuring company" has drifted away from its original intended meaning. This is likely due to a similar change in play-style (in general) over the more than three decades D&D has been around.

Our beloved hobby started with dynamic groups of players, sometimes as many as 10 or even 20, mingling and mixing between different Dungeon Masters and different campaigns -- all in a shared world. Characters moved around with their players too, from game to game, sometimes even between campaigns. Player characters had henchmen. Players would often play more one character, although not at the same time.

Nowadays, the focus is on the "the party". This likely started in the mid- to late-phases of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The game started to shift its focus away from stronghold building and toward being heroic and playing "epic campaigns". I suppose this is what people wanted - I mean... just look at the success of the Dragonlance modules. Both 2E and 3E Dungeons & Dragons defaulted to a 4-person group of "heroes", making most viable games requiring 5-players (including the DM). In 4th Edition the default part has been expanded to five PCs. Other than for the obvious commercial advantage, the reasoning for the subtle increase in the default party size somewhat escapes me. To be fair - the 4E DMG does do a fine job of offering a very scalable system. You could easily play with fewer PCs without much house ruling, in terms of DM planning, etc. But I digress... the point is that it is easier to be heroic and epic if each player invests all their time into a single character's development. The more emphasis you place on Tim the Wizard, the more you want Tim to be a (super) hero. Whereas, if you have a whole entourage of characters to worry about then you just might be more interested in the development of the group over time (stronghold building) instead of just one of your PCs (hero building).

Your hero requires ever increasing challenges. Your epic gear must be upgraded to even epic'er gear. Your foes must become even more eliter than the eliterists. Your gold must become even biggerer. In the end, you become a god.

The funny part is that this is finally in the core rules. It's no longer implied, its explicitly the goal of the game. It is the RAW.

Now, you all know I play 4E D&D. I don't see that changing any time soon as my gaming group is somewhat in the middle of things. However, the next game that I run I'm planning on steering it more towards a stronghold building campaign - as a basis from which to have a fun time, etc. I just think I've realized something though -- this sort of game is going to be difficult, or extremely house ruled, if I stuck with 4E D&D as the rule set.

4E is to Hero Building as 1E/2E/CC/S&W/etc is to Stronghold Building.

Maybe if I run a stronghold building campaign I should use a different rule set? Maybe... because you know what they say...

"Always use the right tool for the job"

Share you comments, and I'd love to hear what game system is best suited, in your opinion, for a stronghold building game.


  1. I think, though it may just be me, that the post sort of fails to define what constitutes "stronghold building" clearly.

    I know what it is in base – in the old school of D&D, a character got to a certain level, after a long time of gaming and if he even survived that long, and he attracted henchmen, built himself a keep, and became lord of his own lands. However, I'm not exactly sure if this was the "goal" of it, or just something that happened after a while. I'm also not sure if this is what you mean when you want to have stronghold building instead of hero building. Maybe I'm just thick.

    4e has tried to incorporate this in small ways, like the Mythic Sovereign Epic Destiny which gives you a keep with dudes and some land, until you reach 30th level and become a King or Queen. If you want henchmen in a 4e game, you can give them NPCs with one power of each type (as suggested for heroic NPCs in the DMG) but instead of adjusting extra powers for level, just give them higher level powers in their roster of 4. You can adjust encounters to be more difficult if you want, by adding more dudes. 4 Minions or 1 Standard monster is about a match for this kind of henchman.

    Do other games do it better? Yes. I recommend the retroclone Swords and Wizardry, which is based on OD&D. It is very simple to learn and use. I personally wouldn't play it – I'd try to fit 4e into the game, because I think it'd be interesting even if you have to do a lot of 'brew to get it to work, whereas I don't find S&W to be interesting in the least bit. But S&W does this better because, surprise surprise, it's based on OD&D.

    In short, I apologize for showering you with nonsense.

  2. NOno.. thanks for the contribution! You may be right about the lack of definition of stronghold building. I was writing this post on my lunch break, maybe should have waited a day or so before fleshing it out and posting it.

    My memory of playing 1E D&D was that building a stronghold _was_ a goal for most character types - although the definition of what the stronghold was varied: fort, temple, guildhall, etc.

    Also, this post - after re-reading it again - sorta drifted off topic. Initially I was going to write about the differences in playing a party vs. playing an adventuring company... but then I got stuck on the whole stronghold vs. hero thing.

  3. I'm really not sure that the mechanics have to be built about a specific goal.

    Strongholds were built because that's how men gained power and armies and got involved in bigger things than ye olde dungeon and nearby town. With a stronghold, you collected more minions and more power. Campaigns built themselves to support that by the situations and set up.

    I may not be the most experienced at 4e, but if you ignore the fiddly bits, at a core, any D&D game can be run where the real power lies with the landowners. Sure the rules might support firebreathing superheroes... but that don't mean squat if at the end of the day, you're just a rogue firebreathing superhero. (see Kingdom Come for a nice touch on that...)

    After the Edition hoohaa from last week, it really dawned on me just how much I let "mechanics" dictate my concept of what each game is. I think that might be true for a lot of other people. They see 4E and they think that just because the rules are XYZ, you can't do ABC.

    It's you, Mr. DM, that set the tone of the campaign. Do you want the players to concentrate on politics and empires, establishing their bases and such? You can do this, and I doubt you have to rely on mechanics to make it happen. Situations, flow and set up would let you do that. Don't worry about "Mythic Sovereign Epic Destiny which gives you a keep with dudes and some land, until you reach 30th level and become a King or Queen." *cough* because that's just some mechanic. Let the idea of what you want establish itself.

    I'm probably not explaining very well what I see in my head.

  4. @chgowiz - no, you make a good point. Any edition of any RPG can be used to play a wide variety of campaign "styles" -- it all just depends on how much house ruling, ad hoc, you want to endure. In 4E, there is virtually no "world building" element, even less so than in 3E. It's all about the individual players characters (of course, I'm talking about the core rules here). Now, WotC may be addressing this with the suppliments treadmill, but all that aside, the previous editions of the game seemed to facilitate (if i can use that term here) a stronghold building style game out of the box.

    Sure, i'm all about houserules -- i just find the connection between hero building vs. stronghold building and the various editions of the game.

  5. EDIT: last sentance should read - I just find the connection between... ...interesting.

  6. In 4E, there is virtually no "world building" element

    What do you need? Castle costs? Tower specs? Henchmen/Follower rules? Or are you talking about something else?

    If it's the former, I would just find whatever suits you from the older editions. I'm sure it's pretty standard stuff.

    If you mean something else, like setting and situation, I don't think 4E is going to give that to you specifically? AD&D never did, they just said "Guess what, after 9th level, you're probably powerful enough to build your own land. Go have fun..." and I took that as a guideline. If a 7th level character came up with enough gold or political power, no reason why they can't build away.

  7. "I would just find whatever suits you from the older editions. "

    Precisely my point. I, being a new school old school gamer, have all those older editions. Not a problem for me.

    But the 2009 version of me at age 14 might strugle a bit trying to figure out how to game this way. Heck, I might not even know that "stronghold building" was even a goal of previous editions of D&D.

  8. Ah, hero building vs. stronghold building is a good way to put it. I've been tinkering with some house rules for 4e because I want to run a stronghold building type of game along with the hero building that 4e's mechanics is really centered upon.

    I don't think that mechanics are necessary to emulate that sort of play, but when it comes down to it if there is no mechanical reward there is probably no incentive.

    What I do think is necessary to run a stronghold building type of game is a setting that allows opportunities to recruit or attract followers, and conquer or be rewarded with land.

    But still with no rules for hirelings and henchmen or building and/or maintaining a stronghold it's all just fluff. Which I'm sure could also work but being able to take feats or powers, or complete quests to convince followers to join your adventuring company would be awesome.

  9. Not sure how in-depth you'd want to get, but the Rules Cyclopedia has stronghold rules in Chapter 12. It has a fortification table to simplify building depending on what you want.

    You can get the pdf for like $5 at RPGNow. To this day, I think the RC is the best compilation RPG rulebook ever released.

  10. Hmmmm, interesting perspective. I have noticed that although 4E is good, something's been lacking, in both it and 3E. I've been debating how one might run a more sandbox, realistic feeling world, with PCs emphasizing building up stuff in the world and not just tearing it down.

    I'm debating how things might work out with a larger player base of say 2 DMs and 10 players or so forth... hmmm.

  11. I wonder if that change of play style - from the circulating groups to the committed group - reflects partly the maturing of a cohort of players. Maybe they went from high school gatherings to post-high school fragmentation, and their play style reflected a reduced circle of available groups? And then module styles and rules changes reflected a university-based gaming set rather than a school-based one?

  12. @faust - interesting insight! never thought of it from that point of view; although this was certainly not true of the designers; most of them were already in their early 40's when AD&D was released. Unless they were dong market research... dunno how much of that TSR did though.

  13. @jeremy - head over to ars ludi and look up the west marches about running a sand box evironment with a number of players. http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/94/west-marches-running-your-own/


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