Unearthed Arcana: Strongholds

I own a copy of Stronghold Builders Guide, a book with a very narrow focus of helping you price and construct castles, keeps, towers, etc. The book is also very meticulous about materials, using magic to speed up the process, location (for materials), and magical capabilities, if any (such as flying or resistances). Admittedly, and also surprisingly, I had a chance during the longest 3rd Edition campaign I played to use it. To build a house. Well, to be fair, it was a two-story house with a basement.

After a few hours of planning and drawing, I submitted the blueprints and cost to the group. At only 3k, they were pleased with the idea of having an actual home, complete with alchemy lab, office, and basement-vault to hold our excess treasure (something that the doppelganger rogue insisted on). We kept playing that campaign for quite a while, doing the adventuring thing while it was being built. By the time we returned from one adventure involving a sunken ship guarded by a morkoth, it had been completed. Then we were chased out of town, and quit playing altogether soon after that.

Truly, DM giveth and DM taketh away.

Where Stronghold Builder's Guide likes to focus on the tiniest details, this Unearthed Arcana article sets a price, some space restrictions, and lets you have at it. As it stands, the default stronghold is a generic building, which can be a castle, cathedral, monastery, tower, or whatever the players want within reason. Regardless, they all cost 25,000 gp, same as any level 15 magic item (or nightmare steed, as the author points out). This means that its an appropriate award as soon as 11th-level, fitting for a group of characters just making the paragon tier.

As for acquisition, the article proposes a few ways to "gain" a stronghold, generally through legitimate purchase, building your own, or killing the current owner and taking their stuff. If there are no easily dispatched villains around, and characters aren't up for putting the adventure on hold for 1d10+5 years (assuming its not in an outrageous location), a ritual is provided to help the building process along so long as the necessary materials are available within a mile or so: Bigby's construction crew is dependable, fast, and cost effective seeing as the cost for buying and using the ritual once totals 25,000 gp.

Personally, I'd have considered flipping it since it lets the character keep building castles at a fifth the cost...oh well.

I like that the appearance is handled in a very loose way. You're given 300 squares of space to work with, along with rough guidelines and recommendations for room and hall sizing. There's also an assortment of special rooms that you can add on for an extra cost that do specify sizes and benefits. An auditorium costs 520gp and 24 squares of space, but gives you a +1 to Bluff and Diplomacy. On the other hand, chapels and magical laboratories eat up a smaller amount of space (9 and 4 squares respectively) and grant scaling bonuses to Religion and Arcana. I find it funny that guards are listed as a "special room". They cost as much as a magic item of whatever level you want, and make the stronghold immune to attacks by creatures of their level or lower.

Speaking of guards, the only mention of staff is that you get them along with the stronghold, and that their upkeep cost is factored into the stronghold cost. I'm not sure how much I like that, though it does help avoid bookkeeping. I would change this rule depending on how central to the campaign the stronghold is. I've liked the idea of doing a campaign where the players are in charge of a region of the land (like, the old kingdom of Nerath), and in that situation I might better develop NPCs and add in some more micromanaging...for the Heroic tier, at least. Otherwise, at best I'd probably just chalk off money each month to keep it simple.

Finally, if players want they can add traps to their stronghold, and cites wondrous lair items out of Adventure Vault 2 as being actually useful outside of nigh-unlootable treasure. Again, only really useful if the stronghold is going to be an adventure arc or campaign focus. The article follows with a level 20 ritual that lets you teleport your stronghold to wherever you are, even across planes, and a level 23 ritual that lets your stronghold fly. Forever. Finally, things wrap up with some advice on how to handle a stronghold as the players increase in level and invariably start to deal with threats that could arguably demolish their stronghold singlehandedly, regardless of the level of their guards.

I really like the abstractions here, even when it makes me write guards in italics. Its a simple, fast system for allowing players to focus on the look and feel of their stronghold without having to worry about micromanaging the cost of materials, their availability, the work crew, and so on and so forth. Sure, I had fun with it five or so years ago, but I can't imagine anyone at my table wanting to put that kind of work into something that may or may not see much use (if at all). Even so, owning a stronghold isn't for every party, and certainly not for every plot. At best, I see most strongholds falling into neglect once the players are on their way through paragon tier.

That being said, my current character is a tiefling cavalier with eyes set on founding a new kingdom for tieflings, so this will be a handy resource in the weeks to come.

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