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Strongholds & Followers: A Review

After raising $2,121,465, Strongholds & Followers might be the most anticipated Kickstarter RPG (at least until the next record is broken). Of course, the bulk of the money raised went to the “Streaming” part of the Kickstarter so creator Matt Colville could get a proper studio for his very popular YouTube channel. The book definitely fills a need within the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons landscape.


In early D&D it was commonly accepted that players would eventually build strongholds and attract followers. While it still happens, judging by forum topics and supplemental products, it's not as common in today's games as it used to be.

Strongholds don't even get a full page in the Dungeon Masters Guide. Followers and hirelings get even less so Strongholds & Followers is definitely supporting, not competing with, the core books.

Colville lists four types of “strongholds” – keeps, temples, towers and establishments. The first three obviously align with three out of the four core classes. Establishments include bases like bars for rogues, theaters for bards, etc.

Stronghold abilities are recharged through extended rests to force players to spend time in their base and interact with their people. But not every player base has to be a traditional castle, tower, etc. Colville points out that a barbarian's camp is a mobile keep and ranks a pirate ship as another type of keep.

Each type of stronghold grants certain benefits, some obvious, like spell research for a tower. Other ideas are less obvious, like towers unlocking battle magic. The spell research in S&F differs from the DMG by involving random tables to make the process fun.

If random results aren't fun for your group, don't worry. You can change it however you want. Colville emphasizes customizing rules and ideas as much as you want, which is great. Unfortunately, he emphasizes it a lot, like in every section and sometimes more than once on a page. The repetition becomes annoying and distracting.

Another frustrating point is that Colville mentions towers unlocking battle magic but then refers people to Kingdoms & Warfare. Yet he does the opposite for Barbarian Camp benefits.

Colville does a good job of planting seeds for how players could have gotten their various bases and the fallout from it, with lots of political intrigue if you wish. I also love the ideas for each class, and how it can have a base of operations distinct from other classes. The follower examples are good, and I l love the sample NPCs in that section.

Colville clearly wants to inspire GMs and is very enthusiastic about that. You can tell by all the exclamation points, but 298 exclamation points in a 265 page book? (Yes, I hate myself for counting but after running into so many exclamation points early in the rule section and even in footnotes, I became curious.) For example, “How many minutes? You decide! Even 'immediately' is fine!”


Including a new version of the neutral gemstone dragons from Dragon magazine excited me but artwork of normal dragons with gemstones as growths was disappointing. Giving them psionic abilities distinguishes them from the Dragon #37 version, but psionics have had a fraught history in D&D. I would have preferred something different that worked better with the crystal theme.

The Siege of Castle Rend by James J. Haeck is a fun four-part adventure for five fifth-level characters. Needless to say, it includes rules from the book.

S&F has great content I'll definitely use in my games. I'm just disappointed that it wasn't as fun to read as I expected. Consider this a slightly qualified recommendation and hope that the next project improves on this one.

This article was contributed by Beth Rimmels (brimmels) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!!
 
Beth Rimmels

Comments

Baumi

Explorer
What do you thing about the Follower-Rules? I love the simplicity of it, but nobody seems to talk about them..
 

JohnnyZemo

Villager
Just a note that some people (like me) don't know what "Kingdoms & Warfare" is, and the article refers to it with no explanation.

I'm guessing it's another book by Colville. Is it out now, too? Is it coming later in 2019?
 
A

André Soares

Guest
Just a note that some people (like me) don't know what "Kingdoms & Warfare" is, and the article refers to it with no explanation.

I'm guessing it's another book by Colville. Is it out now, too? Is it coming later in 2019?
It's his next book, he says he's starting the process to write it. No fixxed timeline yet
 
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André Soares

Guest
It's funny how experiences may vary, I've found the book really fun to read...
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
AndrÃ[emoji767 said:
Soares;7558694]It's funny how experiences may vary, I've found the book really fun to read...
Yeah, its gonna be a matter of taste because he went for a style that suits him and his followers would be used to. I enjoyed the "hey let's chat" style.

I frequently disagree with him. Not a huge fan.

But (as I said before) he hit scratched all my rpg sourcebook itches in this product. He came at it from a perspective of utility in an rpg play and did well. Its ideas and systems spark a lot of ideas for me to use in my games.

Folks can niggle and bitty over this value vs that value but I expect to have to adjust anything for my games.
 
A

André Soares

Guest
My major critique is that he doesn't seem to have a full grasp of 5e rules and wording, so somethings look a little awkward in the book, and I don't really like hes spell creation system, but that's all easy to adapt to my tastes.
 

ChaosShard

Villager
This is exactly what I need in a review, thanks! It does look interesting, and a really good launching off point for him. Hopefully he cleans up some of the design flaws in his up coming titles, because 5e really needs these supporting supplements!
 

timbannock

Explorer
This is exactly what I need in a review, thanks! It does look interesting, and a really good launching off point for him. Hopefully he cleans up some of the design flaws in his up coming titles, because 5e really needs these supporting supplements!
It does? Have you checked out DMsGuild? There's some drek, to be sure, but there's a lot of fantastic stuff on there. One of my favorites (Companion System) does a bit of what Strongholds & Followers seems to do but even more elegantly, IMHO.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
My major critique is that he doesn't seem to have a full grasp of 5e rules and wording, so somethings look a little awkward in the book, and I don't really like hes spell creation system, but that's all easy to adapt to my tastes.
I know Matt and his team had a Google Sheet going where Kickstarter supporters could log suggestions/concerns/etc after the PDF was released. For the final hardcopy product, it is my understanding that they are going to incorporate at least some of those suggestions - which included cleaning up the language so it is more consistent with the core 5e rulebooks.
 
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André Soares

Guest
I know Matt and his team had a Google Sheet going where Kickstarter supporters could log suggestions/concerns/etc after the PDF was released. For the final hardcopy product, it is my understanding that they are going to incorporate at least some of those suggestions - which included cleaning up the language so it is more consistent with the core 5e rulebooks.
they've sent an update that improved greatly the wording, it was supposed to be included in the hardcopy
 

jmucchiello

Adventurer
What do you thing about the Follower-Rules? I love the simplicity of it, but nobody seems to talk about them..
I don't like them. They are too pidgin holed. IMHO, a companion is not someone who wants to learn from you but someone who wants to help you. A fighter needs a mage or cleric for support. A wizard would want a fighter perhaps.

I also found them too simplistic. I don't buy into the concept that someone cannot handle running a second full character (of lower level) at the table. It's not that hard.
 

dave2008

Adventurer
I don't like them. They are too pidgin holed. IMHO, a companion is not someone who wants to learn from you but someone who wants to help you. A fighter needs a mage or cleric for support. A wizard would want a fighter perhaps.

I also found them too simplistic. I don't buy into the concept that someone cannot handle running a second full character (of lower level) at the table. It's not that hard.
I haven't picked this up, but my desire for companions seems to just the opposite of yours - so maybe a will like them!
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
they've sent an update that improved greatly the wording, it was supposed to be included in the hardcopy
Yep - I got notification about 30 minutes ago of the second such update to the PDF, which is likely the final revision before the hard copy goes to the printer. Haven’t reviewed it yet, though.

EDIT: it’s the final version! Here’s an excerpt from the latest KS update:

We’ve done just what we set out to do.[FONT=&quot] We wanted to stream our next game...and we did it. We’ll keep doing it. The PDF is out there, the book is being printed, we’re planning the next book.
[/FONT]
 
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Retreater

Adventurer
I'm waiting until the final revision to start using it or reviewing it. At this point, it's just copy editing a draft.
 

SkidAce

Adventurer
I don't like them. They are too pidgin holed. IMHO, a companion is not someone who wants to learn from you but someone who wants to help you. A fighter needs a mage or cleric for support. A wizard would want a fighter perhaps.

I also found them too simplistic. I don't buy into the concept that someone cannot handle running a second full character (of lower level) at the table. It's not that hard.
I see your point, but followers/companions can also be those that come to learn.

If I was a young fighter, I would certainly like to become an apprentice/follower to a warrior of renown in the land.
 

JRedmond

Explorer
I thought the book was great and really enjoyed the way it was written. I read it in his voice. Obviously everyone will have their own unique impression.
 

Droogie

Villager
I don't like them. They are too pidgin holed. IMHO, a companion is not someone who wants to learn from you but someone who wants to help you. A fighter needs a mage or cleric for support. A wizard would want a fighter perhaps.

I also found them too simplistic. I don't buy into the concept that someone cannot handle running a second full character (of lower level) at the table. It's not that hard.
Wasn’t a fan either. While I appreciate the attempt to try to make henchmen a thing, instead it just adds another rules subsystem that doesn’t really jive with the existing mechanics, which I think would add more confusion at the table. Wound levels instead of hp, a slightly different way of adjudicating area of effects, etc....I think it would just add more friction to combat, rather than streamline things. And I might have missed it, but how does one factor followers in when trying to do encounter building?

I like the mass combat, but could use some fleshing out, which he promises to do in a later book.

Overall, after going through the book, I realized that I don’t really need hard rules for strongholds after all. As for followers, I’d rather just cook up some simple stat blocks rather than deal with a tacked-on system. Still, more monsters are nice, and the artwork is AMAZING. Some of the best art I’ve ever seen in an rpg book, to be honest. Gorgeous.
 
This is exactly what I need in a review, thanks! It does look interesting, and a really good launching off point for him. Hopefully he cleans up some of the design flaws in his up coming titles, because 5e really needs these supporting supplements!
Isn't 5e just a formal, nitpicky version of the OSR?
 

basilforth

Villager
There have been two updates and revisions of the pdf version of the book. Matt is doing a good job in making updates.
 

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