Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Search Of Strongholds, Part 1: In Which Froth Is Sold On Inherent Bonuses

Howdy everyone. As you may or may not be aware, I am always looking for ways to tweak 4e by adding classic edition mechanics and flavor. Over the last few weeks I have been starting to put together some ideas for "Stronghold" rules for 4e. I love Stronghold rules. Love them. Love them, love them, love them. They are one of my favorite things about D&D as a matter of fact. Sadly, up until this point the concept hasn't worked so well with 4e. This has been for a number of reasons.

For one, although 4e PCs have roles within the party, 4e PCs are far less reliant on Henchmen, Hirelings, Toadies, etc than in previous editions. There are some classic dungeons that I simply would never enter without some Meatshields. In 4e, that is almost unthinkable; there is a whole generation of new DnDers that won't even know what you are talking about. I have put some new Henchman and Hireling rules out there to try and get a bit of this flavor back in the game (the full text and treatment will be in the mag, and this has been one of my most popular posts). Anyways, Retainers are a critical component of maintaining a Stronghold. It seems the lack of good Retainer rules in 4e helped keep Stronghold rules from developing.
Secondly, the career trajectory of 4e PCs usually doesn't resemble that of classic PCs. Many of the old worlds were assumed to be more or less quasi-medieval; building castles and armies were reasonable endgames for PCs. This changed a lot over the years, and with 4e, high level PCs are typically expected to be plane-hopping and saving the universe, rather than dealing with mundane barony taxation. So the assumptions of high level play have changed.

Lastly, the default economy of 4e doesn't support Stronghold rules. In "vanilla" 4e, the amount of money PCs find scales with their level, the reason for this being the need to purchase magic items to keep pace with expected enhancement bonuses. So you run into a lot of issues. If a player has to choose between keeping his basic numbers up to stay effective, or a little tower to call his own, you cannot fault him for buying an item. I mean, the game is telling him to. You also have issues when you try to assign a cost for building a Stronghold. The cost might be completely prohibitive until a certain level...but soon after that level, it becomes too cheap and insignificant. This is where I struggled the most when trying to come up with ideas. It seemed the only way to remedy the situation was by completely revamping the 4e economy. How could this be accomplished? As long as players need items to keep pace with the system, they will always need increasing amounts of cash. That is when the answer hit me-inherent bonuses.

I have resisted inherent bonuses in the past. Maybe that's not entirely accurate. I have resisted forcing a specific magic item philosophy into my work. I have changed my opinion. I am now going to recommend inherent bonuses as the default. Why? Well, its not to screw with builds that rely on certain items. Hopefully DMs will still let PCs quest for items that they really want. The reason is that I have a lot of ideas that simply don't work if I use 4e's default system. Using inherent bonuses means PCs no longer have to make a certain amount of money per level. Since they cannot buy items, there is no need for treasure to constantly inflate. I mean, how many Adventurer's Kits do you really need? So, since I am no longer bound to a certain amount of gold per level, I can set prices for Stronghold construction that stay constant over all levels. So it is never cheap to build one, but once you hit a certain level, it is also not impossible.

I don't know if this has any of your wheels turning, but I have three words for you: "Random Treasure Tables". How about two more words: "Treasure Types". Yes, I can bring back random treasure, treasure types for monsters, taxes, long-term Retainer pay rates-everything. I can bring it all back. And do you know the best part? I don't have to really do much work at all. Since the weird self-inflating 4e economy is no longer needed, I can just go back to old prices. Old item lists. Old treasure tables. Old Stronghold prices. I will have to do a few tweaks of course to make it my own, but I honestly think in the end that it won't be all that different from OD&D. Almost word for word.

So yeah. I never thought I would say it, but I freaking love inherent bonuses.

Part 2 on this series coming soon! As always, I would love to hear thoughts or ideas!


  1. I'm really looking forward to my next campaign (using 4E) because we'll be using inherent bonuses and making magic items matter again.

  2. In our group one the first things we house ruled was the 4E economy.
    Items were sold at market-price, not 1/5 of the market price.
    Magic items are now upgraded by specific quests, but in future campaigns I intend to use inherent bonuses.
    The PCs had opportunities to buy shops or houses, but haven't done that so far.

  3. I entirely agree; this is exactly my experience with Inherents. I wasn't really intending it, I just didn't want to have to worry about 'handing out' treasure parcels, I hate the idea of entitlement 'wish lists'. Inherents solve that issue. But, just as you say, they also enable a consistent economy, where a thousand gold pieces is always quite a lot of money! My Loudwater campaign - - seems to fit almost eerily well with your ideas. It's much more 'grounded' than the 4e default, being designed for long term play around a specific locale. Plane hopping is possible, but should never be _necessary_. I'm hoping also to see PCs become dominion lords (one already did), possibly engage in territory development etc.

    1. Thanks a lot for the feedback! I started following your blog and put it on my blog roll. Looks like a lot of good stuff on there to check out!

    2. Cool, you're very welcome. :) I'm happy to answer questions on stuff (eg in the comments) since I tend to write mostly for myself, so it may not be explained well. Eg I've been working on the local power groups and political connections with an eye to one of the PCs, possibly Lirael (Kimberly) becoming 'Warden of the North', ruling a dominion north of Loudwater close to the High Forest, dealing with political as well as physical challenges. It will be interesting to see how it develops. I'm trying to apply previous lessons of 4e, so eg I won't be using a lot of high-crunch mechanical resolution for battles etc, probably a more narrative style.

  4. BTW I've been looking for a 4e blog like this for ages! I feel like I've crossed the desert and found an oasis at last! :)

  5. Sean Robert MeaneyJune 3, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    it costs a minimum one ounce of gold to mine a ton. Thats the cost of mineability. So big blocks of stone...lets call this the ten by ten by ten foot cube is seventy six tons of stone or seventy six ounces of gold. Gold coins were one tenth of a pound so 47.5 gp per thousand cubic feet. If you can calculate the volume of stone for your tower keep, you can price your castle. That is your minimum price.