I’ve been on the fence about grabbing this book for a while. In theory it promises a lot of things that I love: Castles, stewardship, and Heroes becoming more than lone adventurers in the world. It becomes less about dungeon delving and more about leadership. I’ve read other books that tackle these issues, however, and rarely are they satisfying. Often, they’ll be needlessly complex without pay off. Either that, or they aren’t meaty enough, glossing over the difficulties inherent in rulership. I know that is a tall order to fill, but I kind of want both. I want it to be complex and comprehensive, but I want it to flow easily within the already established rule set.
Here’s the thing: the hardcover book and pdf are $30 plus shipping. That is a really good price for 269 pages worth of game material. I started seeing some good reviews of the pdf (the hardcover isn’t released yet) and decided to go for it . I’ve spent thirty bucks on worse things. Don’t ask me what those things are. You don’t really want to know.
First off, this book is gorgeous. The interior art is fantastic. While quite modern in appearance, something about it invokes an old school feeling which I enjoy. The layout is crisp and easy on the eyes. I appreciate the oft times conversational tone that the author, Matt Colville, slips into. It makes it accessible and gives you the feel that your just hanging out with your DM while they explain some new house rules.
At the heart of the book is Strongholds. Matt uses it as a bit of a broad term when it comes to what it covers. This isn’t just a keep on the borderlands somewhere. It is that, but it’s also temples and theaters, inns and pirate ships. Lets not forget barbarian camps. Basically, it’s some sort of structure that your character owns that interacts with the world around them. It provides defense or information. It puts you closer to your god. Best of all, it provides some awesome powers.
When you’re in your stronghold, you basically have the equivalent of monster’s layer actions. One of my favorites is the band that shows up to play while a bard fights. Each of these stronghold abilities are pretty flashy and rank pretty high in the cool factor. They are all class appropriate, from a rogue being able to hide their allies in their domain to a barbarians war cry allowing their allies to frenzy right along side of them. Woe be to the person who tries to attack you in your stronghold.
Strongholds have levels between 1-5 and complete rules to build, maintain, and upgrade them. Like much of 5E, this is an homage to earlier editions where it was just assumed you gained one of these along the way. It was just a default character ability. Also like much of 5E, this book has streamlined the process and spelled out exactly how it works. The mechanics integrate right into the role playing and vice versa.
But strongholds are only half the game. Another throw back to earlier editions are the followers. When you build a stronghold, people hear of your exploits and come to follow you. Retainers, masons, soldiers, alchemists… there is something for everyone. The book expands upon this concept from previous editions, however. Artisans give you mechanical bonuses and more crafting power. Followers are like simplified characters, taking away some of the book keeping of running multiple characters. You get a lot of rad but not a lot labor. Normally, this would be a turn off to me, but it seems Matt really did it right.
In case having a few followers to do your bidding isn’t enough, you can also raise an army. There are many references to a future book that will cover warfare farther, but this one has a good start. Like everything else, it’s streamlined to allow the characters to remain the biggest and baddest, but seemingly satisfying at the game time. I was a bit disappointed when I saw it didn’t involve scores of minis. On the other hand, it uses simplified character sheets for units that are about the size of a post card. It’s quick and reasonable and allows you to focus on the real heroes: The PCs.
Interested in playing a Strongholds and Followers campaign? Ready to lead the hordes into battle? Contact me for more info, Chicago. I currently have slots open on the calendar for one shots and ongoing campaigns. Let get together and roll some dice.