The Stay-At-Home Adventurer

Yesterday marked the beginning of my third week of unemployment. While the stress of my previous job is no longer an issue, I am faced with a whole new host of things to worry about. The first is, obviously, trying to find a new job. There’s lots of things to get done around the house, so it’s not as if I have a lack of things to do. Getting them done with a 3 year old who has no regard for his own personal safety (much less the well-being and structural integrity of his parents’ belongings, the furniture, or even the house) significantly raises the challenge rating on keeping my sanity. I’m used to spending my days in my own little world hacking away at some perl script, or  among adults, talking about programming and D&D. I am reasonably sure, however, that my level of reading comprehension has risen somewhat after watching forty-seven episodes of Super Why.

To cope, I’m using a strategy I got from the father from Calvin and Hobbes. I’m not very good at lies, but I figure I can stunt my son’s development sufficiently if I teach him a bunch of random strange information that he will slowly peel open like an onion over the course of his adult life. When he hears thunder, he says “that’s Mjölnir.When he hears “Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses, I have him trained to say “shananananananana knees.” And people, you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a toddler say “algorithm.”

From The Comfort Of Your Own Castle

It occurred to me this morning during the few precious seconds between Super Why episodes that you don’t see very many D&D campaigns set in one place with the PC’s never really leaving. My first impulse is to think such a campaign would be boring without the joy of exploration and travel. Would it still be boring if everything you would have fought on the way came to you? A frequently used setting would be a benefit to DMs in that they could work on scenarios in a semi-constant familiar place, and the players might get emotionally attached to it. Then again, familiarity breeds contempt, and there’s the risk of both the DM and the players growing bored.

It should be said that I can’t quite unflag this as an Awful Idea, but I was intrigued enough that I figured I could run the risk of boring all of you for a few minutes. (It’s what I do.)

Shiv +3, Soap Tongue

It seems to me that there are several scenarios ripe for not-going-anywhere: prisons and castles.

The prison scenario would have to drive its plot with the actions of the inmates. It could be as simple as the campaign representing the PCs’ sentence in prison, ending in their release, and all they have to do is survive for the duration. Individual adventures could deal with trying to negotiate with prison gangs or evading the brutal prison guards, eventually culminating in large-scale prison riots (and possibly escape attempts). One potential limitation I can see is that your players had better enjoy fighting other humanoids and using primitive hand-made weapons. Also, rules regarding the consumption of pruno would need to be written.

A scenario in which the PCs were castle guards (or some other employee of the kingdom based in said castle) intrigues me for the simple reason that the dreaded Campaign Rails are not really an issue because that’s just sort of how the whole thing works. The PCs are doing their jobs, and the adventures show up at their doorstep. In a given session, they could be repelling an invasion, driving off monsters, or trying to make sure no harm befalls a particularly hedonistic nobleman. (Yes, that last one was inspired by my 3-year-old.) It’s certainly not out of the question that the PCs might run an errand outside the castle, but that’s not where all the fun is. Yup, there’s the little voice that makes me want to put my players on rails. I knew it would show up eventually.

A Man’s Castle Is His Home

Ultimately, even after thinking about how to make this more fun, I don’t really know if cooping the players up in one place for that long is such a good plan. I do, however, think this kind of idea might be used successfully — in moderation. This kind of thinking seems well-suited to a campaign where the players have a home base, especially if the PCs ended the last session at the home base and the DM has limited time to plan the next session.

Anyway, that was a fun little excursion. With any luck, I’ll be using my at-will power of “D&D As A Metaphor” to write an article about how to play adventurers who have recently been hired as IT professionals. (There’s usually quite a bit of culture shock, and the wizards don’t do as well as you’d think.)


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  1. I once toyed with the idea of running a campaign where the PCs were all gladiators. Only part of the campaign would actually involve fighting matches, but also the intrigue in and around the arena. You can seriously close off the PCs by ignoring the concept of gladiator schools (ludi) and have all gladiators “stabled” on-site in dungeons below the arena. Much of my inspiration came from reading part of the old 3E AoW adventure path.

    The Spartacus showed up and took away all my momentum.

  2. What you are basically talking about is taking the Star Trek franchise and creating DS9 out of it. Very doable, but there are caveats. First, you need to have a good reason for adventure to come to the castle. DS9 had the wormhole, Sunnydale had the Hellmouth, Camelot in Merlin has Arthur (and more particularly Uther). Monster-of-the-week really starts to stretch credulity in a supposedly civilized place.
    Second, politics and relationships are going to be more important than wilderness and exploration. It requires a whole different skill set, from both the characters and the players. This is probably not a good campaign to spring on an established group without laying some groundwork first.
    Third, you should mix things up with occasional trips out of the castle. Visit another noble. Rescue a kidnapped princess. Accompany the dowager queen on a pilgrimage.

  3. iserith says:

    I’m reminded of AD&D’s Birthright in which at least one of the PCs is a regent of a particular domain and has to manage its affairs as a major aspect of the game. There is some adventuring, sure, but oftentimes, you’re trying to figure out how to screw with neighboring countries politically, build roads, make war, and deal with random disasters. I never played a game in this campaign, but read it when it was new and always thought it was well-designed (for 2e) and had TONS of flavor. A 4e version might well be very fun with just the right mix of domain management and adventures related to it.

    I could see this being used for a “stay-at-home” adventuring campaign.

  4. Its funny, I run a Shadowrun game and I tend to find myself dealing with the opposite concerns. Players tend to operate routinely in their one location and rarely go far outside of the city itself.

    I think Lugh has a good point. Something supernatural or high sci-fi can form a good basis for “why is it this castle has a new riot / visiting noble in danger of being assassinated / marauding monsters / floods / magical curses every single week” and give you the opportunity to bring adventure plots to the players. But it doesn’t have to be that obvious of a feature.

    Shadowrun brings all the adventure to the players as they are (usually) low level criminals in a big city. People come to them to get jobs done, and there’s lots of people that need jobs done in a giant metroplex like Seattle, Denver, New York, Hong Kong, etc. You just place the players in a city where there’s lots going on and that offers plenty of opportunities for adventure in one location.

    The same could be used in D&D. If the players are guards / criminals / mercs for hire / etc in a large enough city, they could be hired or find themselves involved in lots of different adventures from breaking and entering to dungeon crawls through the sewar systems and long forgoten ruins the city was built upon as well as the periodic adventure into the surrounding country side to escort a merchant or track down a missing noble who went out for a ride. You could even neatly side step the whole “where do we sleep, get food, drink, etc” question by making them all have day jobs they are normally busy with which pays just enough to cover all their necessities, and adventuring is just the side job they busy themselves with in their off time and to bring in extra cash.

  5. Or, of course, you could have their day job *BE* adventuring, of a sort. I’ve heard of campaigns based on both CSI and Law and Order but set in Sharn (the big city in Eberron). I was in a game once that tried to mimic Vlad Taltos’ rise to power in the Jhereg, where the PCs were all criminals. (The game didn’t really work because of insufficient player buy-in.)

    Of course, a large city is a bit different from a castle. You have lots of place you can go in a city that feel radically different. There are going to be areas that practically feel like a foreign country. A castle is a bit more constraining. But, that constraint can also be turned into a plus, as your stable of NPCs is fairly well set.

  6. Dixon Trimline says:

    I really like this idea, and could see myself building a campaign around a fixed setting, like any of the ones suggested (prison, arena, space station, city, or procedural). Of course, this assumes I’ll fall backwards into running a game for a regular group, which seems unlikely. Once people get to know me, they tend to move away and change their names and take out restraining orders. There must be something wrong with them.

    But something you mentioned in this and the previous post (and probably earlier as well, who listens?) got my attention, and that’s unemployment. I’ve been there, and it is the suck. In May 2001, my company was dot-bombed, and I wound up out of work for 18 months, which probably had something to do with September of that year. I was bounced again for 3 months in 2003, which led to my current living arrangements in Virginia. Since then, happy employment, more or less.

    I know what you’re going through, and I know how crushing it can be. I may not have any wisdom or fixes to offer, but for whatever comfort it’s worth, you’re not the only one who’s been through this, and it doesn’t last forever, no matter how much it feels that way.

    And finally, “shananananananana knees” cracked me up.

  7. The first thing that came to mind was Hogwarts. There were several books worth of adventures just in the school and its grounds.

    A nice twist to the prison idea may be to locate it in some sort of alternative dimension or hellish abyss, a lockup for the dregs of the multi-verse. No need for guards or cells, because you can get in but you can’t out. Since some of the criminals are undoubtedly immortal, they’ve have eons to carve out little empires.

  8. Jeff Dougan says:

    I also have empathy for the unemployment thing (hitting not quite a year, although prospects are now picking up since it’s teacher hiring season). As noted above, hang in there — I know how demoralizing it can be, especially if you have reasons to have to confine yourself to a particular geographic area.

    That means that I’ve spent most of the last year playing full-time Dad to my two kids (known on the interwebz as the Grasshopper, age 5.5, and the Munchkin, age 14 months). I know the monotony that can be watching innumerable episodes of the same show — the current favorite for the Grasshopper is Wild Kratts. A survival tip or two, should this start to go long-term for you: if you can find some regular trips to put into the calendar, it will help give you something to look forward to. Especially if those trips can involve the chance to interact with other adults. (Until the Grasshopper aged out by finishing kindergarten, the local library’s preschool story time was a non-negotiable part of the week.)

    Other full-time dadding tips are available to offer, if you like. Contact me privately — I know I’ve had to give an e-mail address with the comment, which means you and/or Dave the Game should be able to extract it for use.

  9. Gargs454 says:

    I’ve long had an idea about running a campaign entirely within a single, large city. The land outside the city is simply inhospitable, etc. Of course politics and the like take center stage in this scenario, and its likely not the best choice for trying to go from 1 to 30 (assuming 4ed) but I think you could definitely get a lot of play out of it if done right. Sadly, I barely have enough time to run one game now so this is just another entry in the ever-expanding “Idea File”.

    And yes, “shananananananana knees” is full of win.

  10. A3’s comment about an alternate dimension prison reminded me of one of my favorite settings ever: Project LONG STAIR:

    Short version: Nuclear testing opened a crack below New Mexico. Behind that crack was an endless dungeon full of magic and fantasy creatures. The US has been sending crack soldiers into that crack for decades, retrieving awesome magic items but also risking a magical apocalypse.

    It’s like a cross between Stargate and X-Crawl. If I were running, each player would have two characters. One is a soldier that goes in on missions. The other is a support person who stays in the base. There would be endless craziness and old-school D&D references.

  11. One of the games I’ve been most excited about playing, lately, was focused on a group of very young heroes solving problems around their home town. I’m fairly sure the DM was reskinning the Chaos Scar, but he did so with such a focus on that granular, small-town interaction that outside of some similarities in mapping and so forth I never really felt like I was playing something familiar.

    None of us had castles (though who knows what we’d hit by paragon) but what kept us in the same relative location was a lot of prep work beforehand giving us ties to the community. The characters had families, friends, crushes, favorite spots…on the basis of all these things, they had motivation not to stray and rather to defend the threats to their homeland.