When someone says the word ‘adventurer’, the picture of a steady home life is not often one of the images called to mind. The dusty road, the shadows between the megascrapers, the space between the stars, these are most often the places that adventurers spend their time and make their fortune – or lose everything. While being an adventurer, or really any type of player character. almost universally involves going where others won’t either physically or mentally, I think there’s something to be said for breaking the mold and giving them a tavern, a ship, a base, a business, a home. While it might not be the one they were all born to, a party of adventurers with a place of their own can certainly turn it into a place that makes them feel like they belong.
What I’m talking about is related to, but a little distinct from, Domain-level play. The domains that Aaron was talking about there are, usually, rewards or prizes that a party of player characters attain after a long time in the field. Whether or not they’re still gaining personal power by leveling up or what have you, domain-level play not only rewards them but seeks to give them a way to exercise power at a higher level – Aaron nodded towards strategy and political influence, for instance.
I’m more focused on a player-engagement tool, here; domain-level play can certainly do that as well, but you don’t have to wait until your characters conquer a kingdom or control a guild before using owner/leadership to get players feeling invested.
Players can often feel attached to their characters, and to other characters both player and non, but so very many bands of heroes are children of the open road. They have one another, and they have whatever wealth they’ve managed to attain, but they don’t have anywhere to call their own. They lack roots, basically. The chance exists that they could attain somewhere to put down roots, true, but why wait until they can stand up to demi-gods to give it to them?
For a Shadowrun example, when our core trio of Cannibal Halflings and the usual batch of miscreants took a swing at 5th Edition our GM decided that we’d be doing things a bit differently: instead of the traditional SINless shadowrunners, we would all be low-level employees of a corporation managing a local branch. Given leeway to decide what kind of business we would be running, we settled on Sub-Urban Outfitters, a wilderness outfitting retail store that also prepared and ran ‘tours’ through the local combat zone for rich folks who wanted to see some bullets fly. While the GM had some regrets towards the end of the game when the party turned on itself and had to consult the blueprints we’d made to keep track of all the defenses we’d installed (“So many dots…”), by and large it was a complete success. Every player character had a part of the store they claimed as their turf (my character worked as the ‘spider’ in charge of cybersecurity, Aaron’s Morgan was the manager, the cyborg Captain Chrome ran the fishing section, etc.), and as a group we got personally invested in defending our store from rivals, local gangs, and the lines for the latest hot sim video game system.
Speaking of 5th Edition examples, one of the few times so far that I’ve been lucky enough to be a D&D5e player had this come up as well. You know, of course, about a group of adventurers meeting in a tavern. Well, the Durgenheim Delver’s Guild met, or at least started play, out in the wilds after having been forced out of Durgenheim due to a lack of work, and were almost immediately robbed. After just a few session, however, we found ourselves in the city of Bridgeport. and set about finding a place to lay our heads and maybe even turn our single party into a proper guild. We found a burnt-out wreck of a tavern we named the Shady Corner, poured every gold coin we had into getting it repaired, and set up shop. In between adventures the higher-than-usual number of people skilled with brewer’s tools created most of the stock, the druid grew herbs on the roof, my trickster cleric held service at the bar . . . and when a rival adventuring guild raided the place, we took it personal-like. Not only that, but rewards that benefited our chosen home and base (fire-proof wood for the bar, for instance, after those rivals torched the last one) were as or even more valuable to us than coinage.
Just the process of designing the party’s home can get them well and truly tied into the setting. When it came to Apocalypse World and Grandfather’s Bastards the moment that stands out for me was when Aaron asked us about what the Waystation produced, and how it sustained itself. One player started to talk about what Move they were going to use to find out; I pointed out that I suspected Aaron was not prompting us to discover those things, he was asking us to tell him what they were. The second of silence, and then the “Oooooh!” from the group were profound. Building up the Waystation, creating the NPCs who lived there alongside our characters, and detailing some of the surrounding settlements got everybody extremely interested in what would happen next.
It’s telling that Grandfather’s Bastards was a game wherein Aaron let players write little in-character interludes for bonus XP – and multiple players actually did!
Sometimes rules get baked in for this sort of thing – Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars introduced rules for having your own colony or business in Far Horizons, and rebel bases in Desperate Allies. Even without those rules, most Star Wars groups – including the Borrowed Time – have a ship that’s both most-useful-asset and home. And you can’t really have a game of Traveller without a ship, such as the Harrier-class Albatross.
Even without rules to back you up, however, consider having a place, business, ship, or whatever for your characters – your own or your players’ – to hang their proverbial hats. If the examples above do anything, I hope they show how engaged players can become when they’re given their own space to create, define, defend, and nurture.