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Friday 10 March 2017

Make a Home Your Own

The combination of a slick set of rules in the form of Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition and the generosity of Wizards of the Coast has led to the establishment of the Dungeon Masters Guild, a platform that allows creators to write and publish material of their to support the world’s pre-eminent roleplaying game. This is in addition to Wizards of the Coast making available Dungeons & Dragons supplements and scenarios of ages past in both PDF and print, providing access to some classic titles. In choosing new titles, like any marketplace, it pays to pick and choose what you purchase, to find the wheat from the chaff, the useful from the useless. So the question is, is Homeward Bound - simple rules for player-owned base worth a Dungeon Master’s time and worth a Dungeon Master adding it to his campaign?

Written and published by Jan Sielicki, the concept behind Homeward Bound - simple rules for player-owned base comes straight out of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and previous editions of the game, that eventually an adventurer will establish a base of some kind. So, a Cleric will establish a place of worship, a Fighter a freehold, a Magic-User a stronghold, a Thief a headquarters, and so on. Homeward Bound takes this idea and develops it even further so that once added to a campaign, such a base becomes a refuge, a home, a development property, and more, but there is the one expectation that this supplement never meets and expectations that this supplement more than exceed.

The first expectation that Homeward Bound is designed not to meet is that it is a supplement about the player characters setting up home late in their careers, the types of home they can set up and develop, their gaining a place in society and the effects that can come from that, their putting down roots and the effects that can come from that, and the effects that this can have on a campaign. Homeward Bound is not that supplement, but rather a supplement that details one single home that the player characters can call their own, how it comes to be in their possession, the income to be made from this home and its surrounding lands, possible upgrades that can be made to the home and their effects, how it works in a campaign, who lives nearby, and the threats nearby that can be used to construct a campaign framework. So what Homeward Bound is not, is a generic supplement that details how to provide the player characters with a base and use it as a means to further develop a Dungeon Master’s campaign. Which is slightly misleading because from the outset, Homeward Bound - simple rules for player-owned base gives every indication that this is exactly what it is. So if Homeward Bound is not a generic supplement—and arguably that supplement is still awaiting publication—then what is it?

Homeward Bound describes the one location, the Sleeping Manor, named for the unusual nature of its windows—they show the view outside, but how it was twelve hours earlier, not as it is now. Nominally located in the classic Dungeons & Dragons setting, the Forgotten Realms, the default look for the Sleeping Manor is that akin to a French chateau, but it could be a classic castle, a wizard’s tower, and so on. To support this flexibility, the supplement does not include floor plans, but given how specific the rest of the supplement is, it seems slightly odd to keep this so generic and not include them. Of course, this does allow room for the Dungeon Master and his players to imagine the Sleeping Manor how they want. Various rooms are detailed, from the entrance hall and solar to a sample bedroom and the trophy room, with options for utilitarian or lavish outfitting and description depending upon how the players see their characters living.

Of course, once the Sleeping Manor is in their possession—perhaps as a reward for heroic deeds, an inheritance, or through simple right of possession—the player characters can start earning money from the surrounding lands and spending it to upgrade their manor. For example, ‘Land Improvement’ increases the monthly income from the lands belonging to the Sleeping Manor, a ‘Laboratory’ enables potions to be mixed and stored in a vault, and a ‘Shrine’ allows a divine spellcaster to prepare an extra spell. None of the mechanical benefits granted by these upgrades are powerful enough to unbalance a campaign, but they are strong to encourage the players to have their characters build them. Further, they give somewhere for the player characters to invest their ill-gotten gains acquired whilst adventuring.

Whilst the player characters are away adventuring, life continues back at the Sleeping Manor and perhaps something interesting might happen that will be revealed when they return, for example, a competitor might undercut the trade deal they made with the local merchants or an annual folk festival takes place and each player character gains an inspiration point because everyone is so happy. A table gives roughly twenty each of these dangers and blessings that can the player characters can come home to. There is a good mix and they do help bring the Sleeping Manor and its environs to life. If there is an issue with the table, it should be that the table should be full of events rather than including the occasional ‘nothing happens’, which could have been better handled by a roll separate to the table to determine if anything occurs.

Homeward Bound also expands on the lands surrounding the Sleeping Manor, nearby towns and villages—it is here that the player characters will engage in negotiations with local merchants to sell the produce of the Sleeping Manor; a cantankerous clan that farms the lands adjacent to the Sleeping Manor; a a strange temple and a vast swamp; rival nobles and more. Numerous NPCs are described for these locations, often with varying options and questions that allow the Dungeon Master to tailor them to his campaign. Rounding out Homeward Bound is a campaign outline that details not only a threat to the Sleeping Manor and its surrounds, but also the lands beyond… The Dungeon Master will need to provide the stats for all of these NPCs and the villain at the heart of the campaign, but this allows them to be tailored to match the Level of the player characters.

So if Homeward Bound is not a generic supplement for building a campaign around the homes that the player characters establish, it is actually more than the means to build a campaign around a single home and its surrounds. It is a campaign framework, one that provides a structure into which the Dungeon Master can slot the player characters’ adventures, whether down a dungeon or not. At the end of these adventures the player characters will return to the Sleeping Manor to play out what would otherwise be their downtime and as they return again and again the significance of the Sleeping Manor will grow and grow—especially if the Dungeon Master runs the campaign outlined in Homeward Bound. Of course, the Dungeon Master need not do that, but with or without the campaign, the Homeward Bound framework provides opportunity aplenty for roleplaying and  gaming.

Homeward Bound is a twenty-four page, 6.02 MB PDF. It is cleanly and tidily presented in full colour with a good mix of clip art, though the map depicting the area around the Sleeping Manor is disappointing. As a supplement, Homeward Bound does need another edit, but this does not mean that it is poorly written. Rather that it needs to be localised to read more easily for a native English speaker, but it should be made clear that the author’s English is anything other than poor.

There are two fundamental issues with Homeward Bound. The first is that it needs an editor or edit. The second is that it needs to make clear what it is and is not—and do so upfront. From the outset it appears to be generic supplement, then in its initial pages, it appears to be just about adding a single specific dwelling and gaming around that, but read to the end and it turns out to be something else, a campaign framework. Ideally, the supplement should be obvious about what it really is and be obvious upfront.

Yet despite the slightly obtuse nature of how its purpose is presented, Homeward Bound is a good supplement. By keeping everything simple in mechanical terms, it very nicely expands and develops the Dungeon Master’s campaign in a relatively short number of pages whilst also packing in a lot of gaming potential. Homeward Bound - simple rules for player-owned base is great add-on to the later stages of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that will add depth to both the campaign and its player characters.

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