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29 October 2020

3 Ways a Home Base in D&D Will Improve Your Campaign


Tuesday night. The characters of the Caught in Galen campaign are all gathered at what they’ve dubbed “home base”, a structure on the western end of their community named the Faded Ember Inn. After almost every adventure, the characters return to this cozy inn to recuperate and discuss the calamity that seemed to be befalling Galen. Concurrently, they confer with many of the colorful characters they’ve met throughout their quests and convinced to come stay at the inn: Rea, an aasimar acolyte of Bahamut and love interest of Ignis; Unread Book, a tabaxi turned mad by the beholder-like expurgat Ixigana; Blast, a brief enemy and current ally forging iron defenders for the party; and those are but a few!

At this point, the inn is nearly at full capacity and has been the site of at least one major combat. After a quick discussion, the characters prepare to depart. Alas! The inn’s owner gasps and points out the window. Barreling through the sky is a great airship, heading directly toward the Faded Ember Inn. The symbol of the Eldritch Knights: a suit of animated armor with a blade in one hand a fireball in the other, illuminates as a flash of lightning arcs in front of the flying vessel. More visitors to home base. Fantastic.

The player characters are usually adventuring across the land in their pursuit of riches, power, and glory. They hunt green dragons in tepid bogs, delve into the ruins of frost giant warmongers, and save the world from the machinations of maniacal archmages.

In many of these situations, they might not have roots anywhere. The player characters simply squat in whatever town or settlement they are near: the joyous tavern near the river, the wizard’s tower overlooking the endless plains, the underground hideout kept secret by yuan-ti rogues.

They might already be deeply invested in the world and the campaign but there is an easy way to draw them in further. Sometimes, you might need to hint at it, others, they might jump at the opportunity without any nudging.

If you want to help your players and their characters care more about your Dungeons & Dragons game, prompt them to or help them construct a home base.

Art by Anna Stokes.

This act will invest them into your campaign and world, provide a plethora of plot hooks and quest ideas, and give everyone the chance to try out a new type of gameplay.

Improving Investment


When a place is your own, you care more for it. Compare an apartment to a house. With an apartment, you know someone else owns it. You call others to fix issues, are unable to make it your own, and are confined to a few rooms and a patio. With a house, you know its yours. You put time and effort into it, fixing what you can yourself and decorating it as you see fit.

The same goes for home bases in D&D.

If the player characters are hopping from camp to camp, to places they do not own, their care for each will be shallow and simple. Sure, they might enjoy verbally sparring with the sharp-witted kenku innkeep along the Eastern Way, or laugh hysterically at the cult of whispering trees that surround a druidic citadel in the Allgloom Forest, but their connections to those places are brief. You will be lucky if they last more than a session.

Once they own their own place, their care will rapidly ascend.

The player characters will ensure their home base looks interesting and resembles their adventures. They might decorate it with the rewards of their prior quests. They will also want to know who lives there besides them. They could invite a humble cleric or a reputable merchant to make it their own and start to build a following there. After adventures, they will have a place to travel back to. There, they might relax, recover, and recount their fantastic accomplishments and solemn missteps.

For these reasons and a few more to come, the players and there characters will become more invested in your campaign and world once they have a place of their own.

Here are a few ways you could encourage the characters to establish a home base.
  • The characters discover an abandoned keep in the middle of an ancient forest. With a bit of renovation, it could become a formidable citadel.
  • A wealthy patron offers the characters a plot of land and a blank writ of credit in exchange for the completion of a dangerous quest. They will be able to do what they want with the land, but it's set atop a hill and would make an excellent location for a massive tower.
  • Remind the characters that they're accumulating a lot of wealth...too much to carry around on adventures. Unless they want to open a bank account or hide the treasure somewhere "safe", they are going to need to set roots somewhere.
Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Hoard of the Dragon Queen).

Improving Story


A home base in D&D provides plenty of opportunity for Dungeon Masters to wrap the plot further around the player characters. In addition, it gives the player characters ample opportunity to pursue downtime activities unrelated to the main plot.

Let’s take a look at both concepts.

Improving Main Plots


My player characters currently station themselves at an establishment called the Faded Ember Inn. Many of their allies live in or around the building and almost everyone knows they’re staying there — including their enemies. Over the course of the campaign, this has given me a plethora of chances to entangle the inn with the main plot. I’ve achieved this in many ways.

The entire family of a noble house paid the tavern a visit, renting it out for the day and treating it as their own summit spot between them and the party. This meeting flung the Faded Ember Inn into the spotlight and highlighted the party’s relationship with this powerful faction.

A deadly thieves’ guild for hire working alongside the party’s primary foes attacked the inn. The encounter was quick and brutal, involving minotaurs attempting to steal away close friends and vicious halflings posing as jolly patrons.

Four high elves, heads tattooed with bulbous brains, drew the party into the street. Using their mind magics, they thickened the plot and revealed secrets about one of the player characters that might interfere directly with the troubles they were facing day-by-day.

Each of those encounters built on top of the main plot. They all used the party’s home base as a catalyst.

Improving Side Stories


Let’s continue to use the Faded Ember Inn as the example here.

One of the PCs works at the inn. He has forged bonds with the others who work there: the inn’s owner (Immi), her daughter (Nala), and a tabaxi cook (Unread Book). When the PC retreats to the inn to rest, he interacts with each of these characters. The owner, a fire genasi like the PC, has taken on a motherly role; the owner’s daughter has a crush on him; the tabaxi cook is his best friend. Since the campaign’s start, these relationships have grown and changed — all the characters have also had some hand in the primary plot. Immi provides safety and comfort for the entire group after an arduous battle. Nala adds a bit of bubbly positivity to the somber atmosphere of the story. Unread Book pops in to muddy the already mysterious plot.

Alongside improvements to the main story, this home base has provided room for the personal story of this character to grow. Without it, it’s unlikely this type of development would take place. Instead, the vast majority of time would be spent building on the main plot.

Improving Gameplay


Narratively, a home base provides numerous chances to build on a campaign. Concurrently, it allows players and Dungeon Masters to test and master new gameplay systems.

Here are a few gameplay systems you can play around with if your PCs hold a home base.
  • Strongholds and Followers by MCDM. This supplement creates a foundation for you and your players to build the greatest stronghold in the land, whether its a druid grove or a barbarian camp. It’s a super in-depth system with lots of room for customization, roleplay opportunities, and mechanical addition to gameplay.
  • Downtime activities. Many of these rules are outlined in the fifth edition Dungeon Master’s Guide and Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Activities include running a shop, creating magic items, and constructing a following.
Both of these options provide depth to your game and, while being primarily mechanical additions, will definitely provide a framework for more narrative gameplay.

Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Volo's Guide to Monsters).

Skyreach Castle


Wizards of the Coast included an example of an awesome home base in the first hardcover module (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) for fifth edition D&D: Skyreach Castle. Discovered by the PCs near the end of the book, the flying castle could serve as a great first home base in D&D, as long as it survives the adventure.

When trying to hook your players on a home base, take inspiration from Skyreach Castle. It's a truly fantastic location and that's what we want our home bases to be.
  • It's the former stronghold of giants; that's rad.
  • It's the location of the adventure's climax, which should instantly fill it with fond and dark memories.
  • It's a flying castle!
  • It has an interesting navigation system.
  • It has a storied history.
  • It's wanted by other factions.
  • It has plenty of room for construction, storage of treasure, and housing for patrons and allies of the party.
Art credit Wizards of the Coast (Hoard of the Dragon Queen).

Lessons Learned


Encouraging your players to create a home base or iterating on the one they’ve already constructed is a stellar way to improve your D&D campaign. Remember what we discussed.
  • Home bases compound on your players’ investment in the game and world.
  • Plots that surround home bases can be personal and world-shaking.
  • A variety of gameplay systems revolve around home bases and downtime activities. If the player characters own one, this gives everyone the chance to play around relatively untouched or brand new systems in D&D.
Until next time, stay creative!

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Art Credit, in order: Hoard of the Dragon Queen (WOTC), Unknown (Anna Stokes), Hoard of the Dragon Queen (WOTC), Volo's Guide to Monsters (WOTC), and Hoard of the Dragon Queen (WOTC).

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