Worlds of Design: All Your Base

Where's your party’s base of operations?


Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.” - Obi-Wan Kenobi about Mos Eisley
A party’s base of operations says a lot about the party itself. It can be a place like the Village of Hommlet or (in Spelljammer) the Rock of Braal, a place the adventuring party goes to and lives in when not adventuring, or the aforementioned Mos Eisley cantina from Star Wars.

What Makes a Base?​

Not all places are suitable for a base of operations. It’s easy to underestimate how dangerous being an adventurer can be in the “off cycle” when they’re not adventuring – there’s a reason so many adventurers are orphans. Here’s some considerations:
  • How likely is the party to be attacked while resting there? In “peace” time, non-adventuring time, characters need a place where they’re unlikely to be attacked by enemies old or new. Not that even if the place is apparently peaceful and innocuous you can have secretive bad guys, a murder cult or religious crazies or smugglers or something else.
  • How safe is it when the party is away? In most campaigns there’s an often-unspoken agreement that characters can leave stuff “somewhere,” rather than carrying everything they own with them, and that this somewhere is “not subject to enemy action.” In fantasy role-playing there’s seldom an (insured) banking industry. Further, real estate is neither insured nor entirely safe from disasters.
  • How safe from interference is the party? This isn’t necessarily violence, but can simply include the party being harassed by tax collectors, religious institutions, or other aspects of civilized society that make it difficult to be an adventurer. Conversely, the party might welcome some side distractions and interactions like a business on the side to make some extra money or get specialized information.
  • What are the opportunities for adventure within the base itself (including something like a “side business”)? Some locations are particularly suited for adventure (e.g., the Yawning Portal). Being near where the party needs to adventure is convenient and gives them a place to retreat to quickly without the hazards of a long trek home. There may be crypts, towers owned by mysterious persons, underhanded guilds, or other features within the base itself that offer adventures.
  • Is it a source of “supplies”, whether legal or not, mundane or magical? A cave may make a secure base, but it’s not a place to resupply. Having available components for casters, ammunition for archers, and the ability to requisition food and equipment are critical when the party returns to base. This often makes town bases more appealing, or at least a traveling merchant who is willing to supply somewhere more remote. This can also include information: sages, libraries, old veterans of wars, retired politicians, and so forth may have unusual information useful to adventurers.
  • How can new party members be recruited? Bases can be so secure and secret that nobody can find it. This may seem like a great idea until it’s time for someone new to join the team. Bases that are too secure might be detrimental to recruitment. How do parties of adventurers get together? How do new characters join a party? There needs to be a mechanism for this.

The Base’s Character​

Bases are characters unto themselves, as Mos Eisley demonstrates. It’s worth considering the character of the base, including the base’s alignment (and that of the surrounding environs).
  • Like Mos Eisley (wretched hive of scum and villainy). This kind of base rarely provides a resting place, and you might wonder why the adventurers would want to live there. Maybe there’s no other choice (aside from camping in the wild?).
  • A “den of thieves,” but rarely lethal. This might attract daring adventurers, especially those who prefer the dark/chaotic side of life. It might be a good place to run a shady “side business”.
  • A place neither good nor evil, where most anything can happen (resembling some towns in American westerns). Perhaps the obvious place for treasure-hunting mercenary-type adventurers. Another place for a “side business”, maybe even a legitimate one.
  • A mostly peaceful and mostly orderly place. If you can find such a place.
  • A stronghold of the Good. The obvious place for “soldiers of god.” Or whatever amounts to the Goodguys in the campaign.
Your Turn: What makes a good home base in your campaign?
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Lewis Pulsipher

Lewis Pulsipher

Dragon, White Dwarf, Fiend Folio


Our campaigns generally have a base for the PCs, often mobile.

  • In my "Wing Three" campaign: The PCs were all members of the Greyhawk City Adventurers Guild, so they had their headquarters in the main building there. (In fact, they were the third of eight "wings" in that building, hence the name of the campaign.) They also got hold of a Daern's dollhouse (kind of the opposite of a Daern's instant fortress: upon saying the command word while touching the dollhouse, you were shrunk down such that you'd fit inside). There was also the Door That Doesn't Belong, a door-sized poster that, when unrolled onto a solid surface, opened up into an extradimensional space one of the PCs' enemies had been using as a living space; the conjurer PC kept it as his own, as it had a nicely stocked library inside (with a telekinetic unseen servant-type spell effect librarian).
  • In my "Kordovian Adventurers Guild" campaign: The PCs worked for the king of Kordovia and had been given a castle keep as their headquarters. Much later, they also got a Daern's instant fortress as a traveling headquarters.
  • In my current "Dreams of Erthe" campaign: The PCs are roving the continent, so a permanent immobile headquarters would be problematic, so as a result they stay in the extradimensional space inside Hesperna's lamp - think a magic genie lamp with living quarters inside. In a dozen or so adventures from now, though, the PCs will be heading to a different continent, where I intend to have them encounter a wood colossus that's basically an animated building that can take humanoid form, which could potentially serve as an alternate mobile headquarters once defeated and taken over. (I figure I made a 3D wood colossus "mini" for the "Wing Three" campaign out of cardstock, so I might as well get some additional use out of it.)
  • In my son's "Durnhill Conscripts" campaign, the PCs were quartered in rooms above the tavern they used as their meeting hall - all except for my human fighter, who stayed in the whorehouse down the street in which he worked (as a bouncer) for room and board when not actively adventuring.
  • In his "Raiders of the Overreach" campaign, for the most of the first half of the campaign we were slaves to the drow in an Underdark drow city, so we stayed in our assigned slave quarters in the House Pillar of our masters.
  • Finally, in our current campaign DMed by one of the players in my campaigns, "Ghourmand Vale," we recently uncovered an amulet with an extradimensional space very much like a Mordenkainen's magnificent mansion, so that's become our permanent traveling headquarters. Before that, we stayed in the farmhouse of a family whose daughter we had saved from kobolds in an early adventure.

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My players have no interest in bases, and neither do I. They lean into management sim type stuff that is just the sort of thing they do in real life and want to get away from by playing D&D.

The only sort of base that is any use are mobile ones - i.e. ships, and even then the players can barely be bothered to make up a name.


My players have no interest in bases, and neither do I. They lean into management sim type stuff that is just the sort of thing they do in real life and want to get away from by playing D&D.

The only sort of base that is any use are mobile ones - i.e. ships, and even then the players can barely be bothered to make up a name.
I have to admit, I think that my group is largely in the same basket. They have zero interest in the sort of management sim stuff as well.


Of all the rpgs I run, d&d parties tend to be the most nomadic. They have scattered throughout the world various settlements they return to once they have faster travel abilities. Usually ones that they have helped and feel at home in and contain npcs they have forged bonds with. But mostly there sense of 'home' comes from each other. I think in 5th edition I have found this more, becuase in earlier editions, you had to take periods of rest to heal,.now a long rest is quite quick, so mainly the pcs hit up the places that make them feel safe after I hit them with an emotional trauma. They'll retreat, re-group, talk about their feelings and then work out what they are doing next.


I just had one player group quit on me because their base was threatened! o_O They got so into roleplaying 'home' stuff, it seems they came to regard a threat to 'home' as illegitimate, a breach of the social contract. I don't think I've seen this before. The base was a fortified manor house at the centre of a small barony.


My current PC group bases:

1. Barrowmaze - The Wizardspoons Inn (renamed from The Foul Pheasant) in Helix.
2. Stonehell - not well developed, as some PCs only come together to adventure. Closest is the Temple of Yig on levels 2 & 5.
3. Xoth - The City of Dipur, Khazistan.
4. Dragonbane Misty Vale - village of Outskirt & the Three Stags Inn.
5. Odyssey of the Dragonlords - the good ship Ultros.


My favorite videogame RPG ever is Kenshi, which isn't even really an RPG in the videogame sense, having no story, quests, or real dialogs. It asks nothing of you, except that all characters have a hunger meter that always goes down slowly and you're in a desert with no edible plants and all animals are dangerous. One way to play the game is to beat up raiders and soldiers encountered in the desert and sell their stuff to buy food or butcher the animals you run into, but the game really strongly lends itself to recruiting more characters to your party in towns and build a base where you can farm your own food. Which means you'll get constantly raided by bandits or soldiers who want to take your food. Which means you need better defenses, so you need more workers in your party to get them to make better weapons and armor for your warriors. And to make the better gear, you need special resources that can only be found in dungeons or in the vaults of bandit leaders and warlords.
Hilarity ensues.

I think the key to what makes the game work is the cycle of the base providing means to explore and assault the more dangerous treasure sites, and the treasure sites holding the means to improve your base. The exploration and raiding parties have to constantly return to the base to get the resources needed to go in further greater adventures. And the base is something to invest money and work into because it will directly benefit the adventures.

Basic supplies and services like food and arrows can easily be accessible in many places in the game world of the campaign. But having a main hub where adventures start and end becomes much more important when there are only a few places that can provide more specialized services. Be it a main town or the PCs own stronghold. This requires the campaign to be geographically limited to an area with only very few major settlements that are open to the PCs.

I think the main thing the article is missing is mobile bases - whether ships, colossi, or just portable, pc’s tend to travel a lot so a home base is often impractical unless the party has some means to fast travel from the base to wherever the adventure is. By mid levels (when castles become affordable) that often means very long-range travel.

But now I want a flying castle, or at least a flying mansion. It doesn’t make sense for any of my current pcs but it’s on the long-term goals list.

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