Wednesday, April 7, 2010

D.A.'s Anniversary and Fantasy Strongholds

Dave Arneson (October 1, 1947 – April 7, 2009)

While you can't debate EGG's profound contribution to wargaming and role-playing, his works never really sparked a profound desire to write my own works in the way that Dave Arneson's original Blackmoor did. The first time I read Dave Arneson's descriptions of Blackmoor in the Judge's Guild book "The First Fantasy Campaign" (originally pub'd 1977) I felt a connection with the "tongue-in-cheek" humor, inside jokes and "anything goes" style of fantasy that still persists in my adventures to this day (for better or worse).

One characteristic that stood out about the Blackmoor campaign was that a basic motivation for Blackmoor PCs going on adventures was to fund their strongholds, purchase improvements for the strongholds, and help defend or expand their lands. In other words, there was a feel of "ownership" in the Blackmoor campaign that you don't much see anymore these days.

In tribute to Dave Arneson, I outline some modifications for the creation of PC strongholds as they might exist in Spirit of Greyhawk.

So as a foundational step to Strongholds, I think you have to consider the tropes of the Fantasy-gaming genre and make a quick pass at Treasure (at least in the macro) as it might be played out in a world based upon dungeon crawls and treasure hoards.

The Treasure Track

Considering that a big point of the traditional dungeon crawl was the acquisition of treasure, I propose adding a stress track for Treasure. The Resources skill still exists, but is not directly used for spending money, determining lifestyle, or purchasing / maintaining workspaces and strongholds.

  • Purchases reflect stress applied against the Treasure track.
  • The Resource skill represents a per-adventure benefit paid into the Treasure track (like natural healing over time).
  • The acquisition of treasure reflects a one-time benefit paid into the Treasure track.

The Treasure track for any particular PC is determined as:

  • Base Treasure track score = Resource Skill
  • Plus any current Treasure (net increase, not gross)


  • PC with Resource Skill of Fair (+2) but no treasure has a Treasure Track of 2.
  • Same PC received a Good (+3) treasure so his Treasure Track is increased to 3 (not 5).
  • PCs spending drops his Treasure Track to 1 by the end of the adventure.
  • At the start of the next adventure, the PCs Resource skill +2, resets the PCs Treasure Track to 2.
  • If the PC receives a Great (+4) treasure, then the Treasure Track is increased to 4.
  • If the PC spends 1 stress worth of treasure, then the Treasure track stays at 3.

Not entirely the most accurate method, but it keeps the game moving and the fudging is on both sides of the scale so I think it evens out.

General Rule for Spending Wealth (Stress against the Treasure Track)

GM's discretion as to when to take stress to the Treasure track applies (so we don't get into paperwork to buy rope...) but essentially the cost of items (measured on the ladder) represents stress against the Treasure track. For now, roll-ups are applied normally as per any other stress track. Again, perhaps not the most accurate, but keeps the game moving.

Keeping the Randomness in Purchases

Because this is no longer a skill roll against Resources, we can shift the randomness function to instead focus on possible negotiations and modifications to the cost of something, due to the fantasy / feudal nature of the economy. This also has the benefit of making things more fun for socially oriented PCs.

Future Points of Consideration about the Treasure Track

Things to think about at some point in the future:

  • Distinctions about treasure "readily available" versus net sum of wealth.
  • The application of consequences against the Treasure track (like losing access to Strongholds, or losing them altogether)


PCs have the opportunity to purchase and own a physical location that would support them in their endeavors.

Basic Workspace Characteristics

A Workspace consists of ONE of the following at a level equal to the initial purchase quality +2:

  1. Mundane Library (use with Lore)
  2. Arcane Laboratory (use with either Wizardry or Sorcery)
  3. Temple (use with clerical magic)
  4. Alchemy Laboratory (use with Alchemy)
  5. Training Area (Melee/Missile, Thievery, Monk, Assassins)
  6. Armory (use with Crafting)

Example: To acquire an Armory of Fair (+1) quality, it would require a treasure amount of Good (+3).

Specializing Workspaces

Workspaces can be specialized to function in particular area instead, at a level equal to the purchase quality + 1. Examples would be:

  • An Armory that specializes in creating swords
  • A Library specializing in Ancient Lands
  • An Arcane Lab specializing in Summoning

Improving Workspaces

Workspace improvements may be constructed with a skill difficulty equal to the quality desired +2 (or +1 for a specialized workspace).

Example: A PC with a Treasure available of +3 (Good), decides to have a workspace of a Mundane Library. The base quality of the Library is +1 (3 - 2 = +1). If the PC wants the Library to be improved and expanded to become +3, the difficulty would be (3 + 2 = 5), and so the PC would have to roll a +2 on the dice or better (5 difficulty - 3 skill level = 2). Of course, Fate Points and Aspect tagging rules would be available as per usual.

At this level, the physical area is usually represented as more of a house or something similar. Any general physical characteristics are set at Mediocre (+0).

Resource Stunts

Note that these stunts are still tied to having the Resource skill. In other words, just having treasure might give you a nice place to do your research and whatnot, going past that point and creating strongholds, keeps and citadels does require advancement to be spent on the Resource skill.

Secondary Residence

Used as per SotC RAW to allow a second Workspace in a second physical location (either pre-determined or can be specified during play as long it's on the same plane of existance). Some examples of a Secondary Residence might be:
  • A noble's family maintaining a residence in another city.
  • A ranger having a backup lair deep within the forest
  • A thief's safehouse

The physical characteristics of a secondary residence also start at Mediocre (+0).


This stunt allows one of the character's properties to qualify as a Stronghold. Note that a Stronghold is used somewhat generically: a bard's stronghold might be a playhouse, whereas a Wizard's stronghold might be a tower in the Yatil mountains.

The quality of the stronghold's "default" workspace is equal to Resources skill (or Resources + 1 if the workspace's function is specialized). The base physical characteristics of a Stronghold start at Average (+1) and can be improved with the Fortifications improvement.

The stronghold also will have 1 extra improvement (see "Stronghold Improvements", below)


Prerequisite: Requires Stronghold stunt

The keep is similar to the Stronghold, but provides an additional 3 Stronghold improvements. The base physical characteristics of a Keep start at Average (+1), same as a Stronghold and can be improved with the Fortifications improvement.


Prerequisite: Requires Keep stunt

The Citadel is considered a "Wonder of the World". It has the improvements from the prior stunts, but one 1 of them can be traded (if desired) for something unique and distinctive. This 1 unique improvement can be determined between the PC and the GM. The following are some examples:

  • A world-class workspace (adds another +2 quality to one of the workspaces within the citadel and adds another +1 to speed the rate of research).
  • An exotic location like: the Astral Plane or the Yatil Mountains. This also includes a means of dedicated transport for reaching it.
  • A larger and more highly-trained staff (the head of the citadel is of Good quality, and attended by two Fair and three Average lieutenants).
  • The citadel is movable (Baba Yaga's hut anyone?)

A citadel starts with base physical characteristics of Fair (+2) and can be improved with the Fortifications improvement(s).

Stronghold Improvements

Improvements can be selected more than once and can be stacked.

"Additional Workspace"

This improvement allows for an additional workspace to contained within the same stronghold. For example, an arch-mage could choose to have a Library and a Laboratory contained within the same stronghold.

"Add a Stronghold Aspect"

Adds an aspect to the Stronghold at the GM's discretion. Examples could be:

  • Holy Ground
  • More than it Seems
  • Hidden Reserves
  • Traps and Pitfalls
  • Perfect acoustics (useful for a bard's performance or for social combat showdowns in front of a crowd)
  • Situated on a Magic Ley line

Aspects can be purchased with treasure, but each aspect would require a treasure quality of Good (+3). Additionally, aspects purchased after a stronghold's inception would need some manner of explanation. Certain aspects are fairly easy to explain by the application of money ("Hidden Reserves" for one), others like "Situated on a Magic Ley Line" might take some thought to work out a plausible explanation.


Improves the physical toughness of the Stronghold by 1 shift. I would consider that fortifications could also be considered a function of the geography of the area as well, but I wouldn't consider that this improvement places it in some exotic location (see "Citadel")

"Landed Gentry"

This is sort of a catch-all improvement that basically states that Stronghold also has associated lands as well as some sort of feudal order that goes with it. The size of the lands within the Stronghold's control are determined by this improvement. Each improvement counts as 1 shift. This is a prerequisite for other improvements that follow.

NOTE: I haven't worked out the full implications of this improvement, but I expect that this might also have an impact on the PCs status or title.

"Improved Tithing"

Prerequisite: Landed Gentry
The quality of the lands within the Stronghold's control are a function of this upgrade. While a stronghold might control "large tracts of land" (pantomiming Michael Palin's father-in-law from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail"), this upgrade provides a shift in the quality of tithing that is provided by those lands.

So for a literary example of a relatively small stronghold with Improved Tithing, you might consider the Kamarg from Moorcock's Hawkmoon stories.

"Conscripted Troops"

Prerequisite: Landed Gentry
I haven't fleshed this out entirely (maybe Mike can chime in with suggestions as I'm using his Mass Combat rules), but I would look at each grade of improvement as the ability to marshal increasingly large forces for military purposes.


Note that this is slightly different from having minions/henchmen in that lackeys are tied to the location of the stronghold and the lands surrounding.

The stronghold has a small staff of competent people: two with Average skill at something (skill to be determined when defining the henchman), and a Lieutenant with a peak skill of Fair. However these henchmen are tied to the location around the Stronghold.

NOTE: I'm sure there's more to be thought through, but this is enough to start!

Maintaining Workspaces and Strongholds

This is still in the consideration phase, but I think that if a campaign is going to venture into the area of the PCs having holdings, there should be idea of having to accept Treasure stress in order to maintain these holdings. I mean if you're looking for a reason to go out adventuring, that's just far too choice to not use!

Being unable to accept the stress to the Treasure track due to maintenance costs would likely result in a per-adventure cumulative -1 "consequence" to the quality of the workspaces and then losing upgrades (one upgrade counts as -1). Fortifications crumble, unpaid troops will desert, etc.

Assessing the Maintenance Cost (or "Paying the Cost to be the Boss")

Each of the following adds or subtracts at the number shown next to the condition. Add all of the applicable together for a net Treasure stress to be assessed per adventure.

  • Workspace +1
  • Stronghold or Keep rating +1
  • Citadel rating +2
  • Conscripted troops (add a Treasure stress equal to their size/quality)
  • Landed Gentry -1 per upgrade
  • Improved Tithing -1 per upgrade
  • Owner's Resource Skill used as a modifier to the cost. (Note that this doesn't count against his Treasure track)

Apply the net result to the Treasure track. If the net result is positive, that gets added to the Treasure track!

Example: Branson the Knight has constructed a Stronghold with the following characteristics and associated maintenance costs...

  • Workspace (Armory) +1
  • Stronghold +1
  • Aspect "Moat" +0
  • Fortification +1
  • Landed Gentry -1
  • Resource Skill of Mediocre +0

He would have a maintenance cost of +2 assessed against his treasure per adventure. So then our knight is now heavily motivated to adventure so that he could...

  • Acquire sufficient upgrades to have the stronghold pay for itself (or fill his coffers)
  • Acquire sufficient advancements to increase his Resource skill
  • Acquire loads of treasure as a backlog to keep things in good repair

...otherwise, he starts losing stronghold improvements due to lack of maintenance.

WHEW! Okay, that's enough. Mr. Arneson: thank you for the inspiration.


Anonymous said...

This is interesting. I thought of two things that you did not mention. First, where there's stress there must be consequences as well, right? Second, what about a strongholds ability to generate revenue?

The Cleric's temple, the Bard's theatre may actually make money. The forge in the armoury might make money producing arms or take on some smithing work to offset the maintenance costs.

Unknown said...

Umm, I think the best I've got for both of those questions right now is in the last section regarding maintenance.

Negative maintenance costs result in profit.

As for consequences, the best I could come up with was that if maintenance costs could not be met, then the holdings' qualities (benefits) slowly degrade over time.

As for other consequences to not having money in my fantasy campaign, Status could be potentially impacted. Impoverished nobility are nothing new.

You could have problems with peasants uprising.

I'm open to suggestions!

Unknown said...

Oh, I see what may have lead to the confusion. I forgot to do the accounting correctly on the example maintenance cost. It was actually +2 due to the -1. Oopsie.

Anonymous said...

About consequences:

I was thinking about the real deal. Failing your maintenance check, you either reduce the value of your holdings or take an appropriate (2/4/6/8) Debt consequence on your character. To heal those consequences you either need to find some other way to generate wealth or you roll it into your next maintenance check. If you generate more shifts on the maintenance check than you need for your holdings then you can apply them to your consequences.

As for Revenues:

If any of your holdings has a characteristic (the theatre's box office, the temple's collection plate) that could generate revenues then it is like a taggable aspect on you maintenance check.

Unknown said...


A "Debt" consequence is an interesting thought, depending upon the campaign.

As for the idea of using your stronghold to generate revenue (i.e., healing for Treasure stress), isn't there something similar in DFRPG about vampires "going off-camera" for a scene or two to replenish their blood stress track?

I would imagine you could consider something similar by having the PC use the skill associated with a workspace to generate revenue by going off-camera for a scene to work at the day job.

I would probably put it at something like...

MIN(Workspace skill + Workspace quality - 2, 1)

...where the PC generates treasure at a minimum rate of "1" per scene.

Perhaps a nastier GM might floor it at "0"--if you've gone to all the trouble to have a working armory, why would you leave it to risk your life adventuring anyway?

Anonymous said...

The Debt consequence (and Wealth track) is from Diaspora. You should check out the SRD; Starships are expensive to operate and they can generate revenues, passengers and cargo, to help with their maintenance. And yes, Dresden allows you to skip scenes to do things that are boring to roll play - going to work would fall into that category.

If characters needed to come up with cash during a session and wanted to use their Stronghold then I would let them skip scene(s) to do that. How long it takes and how much they can generate would depend - a rouge may operate a legit trading post as a front for other activities, so he may just have to drop by and pick up the petty cash. But, I assume, that maintaining a Stronghold would happen every month of game time, every 3 or 4 sessions. So it could be done at the beginning of a session.

The important thing, I think, is how the boring stuff will make game play interesting. A character starting out with a debt consequence may have to find alternatives to the quick and violent approach. That consequence is compellable, so plot hook - "You can't pass up this opportunity to make some cash, you have debts to pay." If they tagged revenue aspect of the Stronghold to make their maintenance check then they have fewer FATE points. A failed check may reduce the quality of the Stronghold's resource - "Ooops, I had to sell my copy of The Princes of Hell from my Arcane Library."

Having a Stronghold may be really cool; but when it affects game play, for good and bad, then it is really cool!

Anonymous said...

I was thinking about your Strongholds and the DFRPG and a little light came on. In DFRPG you buy stunts to make your character more powerful, they cost you points of refresh. The more powerful the stunt the greater the cost. There are a few stunts in DFRPG that I would categorise as Container Stunts (my term not theirs) such as Items of Power (Amoracchius, Barabbas Noose), Sponsored Magic, Feeding Dependency. The idea is that these things have a drawback so you get a rebate on the purchase of any powers you attach to them.

The Barabbas Noose gives Nicodemus the Physical Immunity power at a reduced cost because he only has Physical Immunity while wearing the noose and that could be taken away from him. Sponsored Magic can can be easier and more powerful than regular magic because your Sponsor has an agenda, which makes it your agenda, otherwise no more power for you.

A Stronghold is a similar thing, it gives you resources to draw upon but they don't do you any good when you're ass deep in orcs in the 13th level of Dungeonland. So, an Alchemist could take an Arcane Lab stunt to help with potions, if the stunt is attached to the character it may be portable so that it can be used in the field (portability could also decrease it's quality or increase it's cost) but if it is attached to the Stronghold you get a break on it's cost because you do not have access to it in the field.

And finally, you could ditch the whole economic cost of the a Stronghold (money matters may not be fun for all players) by introducing a different type of cost. If the Stronghold is an Aspect of the character then the cost is that you can't buy off compels on that aspect.