"Saga of the Huscarls" as a campaign structure


As a GM, I've always struggled with coming up with campaign concepts and structures that provide real stakes that force the PCs into action while leaving control over the campaign mostly in their hands, but also have more depths than "We have a duty to fight all evil we encounter!" or "There's gold, so we have to loot it!"

Having the PCs save up their spoils to afford a castle and clear an area to build it on is an very old concept, but one that has several big flaws. One very big one being that in many proposed versions, you'd only get the stronghold towards the end of the campaign and for most of the campaign you do more or less unrelated things. Then there's also the issue that governing a holding is very different from going on adventures and the two don't really mesh. But the biggest problem is that being a lord is really a one person activity, while RPGs are group activities.

But I got a new idea on how the responsibility of running a domain could be used as a motivator that gives bigger stakes to adventures. So imagine this:

The open-world environment of the campaign is a very large borderlands or wilderness area with a very small population. Within this area are eight to twelve small strongholds that are spread out over a large area, each one with their own surrounding farms and perhaps even nearby villages. The PCs either start as the lord or jarl of one of these strongholds and several knights or huscarls who have their own estates near the stronghold, or they begin the campaign with the goal of establishing a new such community. Players who don't want to bother with their own estates can have their characters live in the stronghold or estate of another character instead.
The key idea here is that all the aspects of actual administration fade into the background and are not part of actual play. Instead what the campaign is actually about is when the PCs hear news about the neighboring jarls and lords being in trouble, or such a trouble coming to their own domain. The campaign splits up into various episodes in which the PCs have to take up arms and go out into the wilds to repel a threat, help an ally, or get a neighboring jarl in their debt or good graces. Or to strike against one of their enemies who's threatening to become a bigger problem in the future.

Doing heroics and going on quests is not its own reward. It increases the status of the PCs' stronghold and gains them friends and allies against common foes. They might even go on some quests purely on the promise of treasure because they can use the funding to improve their settlement, and in such situations you can have the party go on really long journey to foreign lands and the campaign doesn't have to be limited to always the same 6 days ride around their stronghold.
I am undecided if I actually want any mechanics for using the treasures of the PCs to invest in their stronghold and estates. At it's most simple, players could just convert the money into "cosmetic items" to just look at with pride at the end of each adventure, without there being any actual mechanical effects. I think it could still work as an effective motivator when a PC can brag that he has 200 cattle on his farm. But I think it would also be interesting to have player keeping an eye on their personal treasury, which then can become a factor when the party can take greater risks to gain additional spoils during their adventures.


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While I think it sound like an intriguing structure I don't think "don't do domain management" is a good solution to "how to do domain management." There is no reason why you have to wait until the end of a campaign to put the PCs in charge of a domain if that's what everyone wants to do. Their very first adventure can be "clear the castle" and then the local Baron gives them a grant, or whatever, and BOOM, they're in business. Now they have all the trouble of managing their domain while also all the trouble of being lower level. Many, many people have done this successfully.

Harn would seem to be a background that would readily support this type of campaign & Harn Pottage a free Fanzine would provide further inspiration etc. Columbia have been selling copies of the continental map for 1c plus P&P too....

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