Over the past several months, most of the preparations that I’ve made for the B/X and/or Labyrinth Lord game have revolved around the dungeon, as suggested by the LBBs. With five levels of Stonehell completed and a rough wilderness map prepared, I felt that I had assembled most of the needed material to run a game if the opportunity presented itself. The largest omission from this preparatory work was the characters’ home base.
Although I assumed that the one-short game from two weeks ago would revolve completely around the dungeon, I wanted to be prepared for the possibility that the party might retreat back to “civilization” to recoup before making another foray into the halls of Stonehell. It was past time to start thinking about the home base.
I had a few vague ideas for what I wanted to do with the local settlement based on how I perceived this area of the game world. The settlement would be a “last chance” town situated on the very edge of the kingdom’s territory. The river that ran along the edge of the settlement would represent the political border between the civilized lands of Men and the unsettled wilderness beyond. A trade road passed through the settlement and into the wilderness, where it would wind its way over mountains, through deep forests, and past murky swamps before connecting with one or two distant human lands. In the uncivilized realm that served as a bumper between these kingdoms, a handful of racial holdings and free city-states have been carved from the wilderness and serve as commercial stations along the trade road, but the land is more wild than settled - a perfect place for characters to later lay claim to land and form their own political demesnes.
I decided to begin the home base design process with a map. In my youth, I would have insisted that I create something from scratch, possibly after looking at diagrams or surviving maps of typical medieval settlements to get an idea. I’ve grown more open to using pre-created gaming supplements to cut down on design time since my return to the hobby, however, and decided to paw though some of the old Judges Guild supplements for ideas to steal or build upon. The maps in Village Book I left me a little cold, as most were too small for my needs. I did find something that sparked my imagination in Castle Book I though (p. 54 for those of you who own a copy). This “castle” (it’s more of a walled settlement) had enough buildings to give me a decent cross-section of residences and business, plus it featured a defensive enclosure around the settlement (something any border town would require).
As I didn’t have much predetermined in my mind and I believe that the mark of any good referee is the ability to interpret random dice rolls in a manner that creates a seamless tapestry of world building, I next broke out the dice and consulted the tables in Village Book I to learn more about the settlement. Thanks to the pioneers of at Judges Guild, I learned that the settlement was surrounded by a wooden palisade (5’ thick, 20’ high) that was defended by a catapult, taboo symbols, and watch creatures. The taboo symbols were an interesting result. I see the weather-beaten wood stockade covered with whorls of azure, green, yellow, and brown repainted each spring in arcane patterns. I’m uncertain at the moment of what these symbols mean. I’ve considered that they may be meaningless decoration used to deter the superstitious Goblinoid tribes who inhabit the wilderness across the river, but the possibility that they represent that fact that the town is under the aegis of protection of a nearby barbarian tribe (the Tribe of the Moose) is also tempting. Since it’s unimportant at this stage, I made a note of it and moved on. The watch creatures are another bit of miscellanea about the town that bears expanding on. Watch dogs are the most likely candidate at the moment, but I haven’t put aside the idea of animals of a more unusual nature completely. Perhaps it’s well-trained boars with serrated blade caps on their tusks and studded leather barding on their shoulders and heads that protect the town?
The fact that the town sports a wooden palisade and not one of stone led to me to consider another bit of background for the settlement. As the town is not a recent community and has existed on the border for centuries, why haven’t the walls been upgraded to more resilient stone? An ample supply of it exists in the mountains across the river after all. This led to ideas about bureaucratic corruption and I decided that the former administrators of the settlement were more interested in filling their own coffers than improving the place. The position of the town’s administrator was not a prestigious one. Being forced to govern a small town on the outskirts of the kingdom was either a punishment detail or one taken by officials at the end of their career who sought to extract as much of a retirement fund from the town tax coffers as possible. Thus, the wooden walls remain long after stone ones should have been erected.
A few more dice rolls informed me of the settlement’s population and commercial establishments. There are 310 residents in the town. I took this to mean that 310 people live and work with the walls of the community. Doubtless there are outlying farmers and agricultural workers who come into town for trade and there’s a sizeable transient population in the form of adventurers, traders, and other mobile professions that pass through the town on a regular basis.
The rolls for business created some interesting results. In total, the town supports a messenger service, a fighter’s school, a scribe, a tavern, a silversmith, a brewer, a leather armorer, and an undertaker. I couldn’t imagine better results for a border town situated next to a large dungeon. As the final settlement on the kingdom’s border, a messenger service would keep the town in the know about events and developments closer to the country’s heartlands. It’d also be used by trade caravans and other transients coming and going from the place. A fighter’s school would ensure that the town’s garrison is trained well enough to protect the community against hostile monsters and tribes, as well as provide a place for adventurers with loose coin pried from Stonehell to pick up a few pointers. The silversmith and leather armorer, although those being their primary professions, would serve as places to unload plundered treasure (the silversmith trades in jewelry and gems) and to upgrade and repair equipment (the leather armorer does some chain mail work on the side).
Although I had predetermined that an inn would exist in town, the tavern result gave me the idea that the inn serves mostly trade and adventuring clientele, while the tavern is a “townie” joint visited by locals only to escape from the braggadocio of would-be heroes. The brewer provides product to both the inn and tavern, as well as buying some of the local farmers’ annual yield. The existence of an undertaker was surprising. Thinking on it, however, one makes perfect sense in a town just outside of Stonehell. I’m sure he/she does brisk business when adventurers limp back to town laden with coin and corpses. An undertaker will also give me the opportunity to explore some of the bizarre funereal rites of the various races and religions of the world. Perhaps he has a supply of varnishes and shellacs to meet the needs of certain beliefs and tenets?
With most of the important facets of the settlement determined, all I lacked was a name for the community. The random tables in Village Book I failed me in this regard, the results being fine for places the adventurers might pass through, never to return again, but ill-suited for a home base. My reputation for being overly-strict on myself when developing names precedes me (as any long-time reader who remembers the Dungeon Not Yet Named™ incident can attest). Luckily, I was able to settle on one rather quick in this case.
Picturing the town built near the banks of a river and in the eaves of a large forest brought to mind a breezy, shaded place. Liking “shade” as a starting point, I cast around for a suitable suffix. In other communities in R’Nis, I’ve utilized a common suffix for cities (-var), which means “city or large town.” Thus, there’s Xultvar, the City Resilient (“city on the River Xult”) and the Tvar v Tvarax (“city of cities” – the old empire’s capital). Wanting to do something similar with smaller communities, the word “-byrne” came to mind. Although Gaelic for “raven,” it’s similar enough to “burg” (“castle or walled town”), which is a common enough town suffix even today. It has the additional benefit of being a homophone for “burn” and I like the dichotomy between “shade” (a cool, comfortable setting) and heat connotations which “burn” suggests. And thus, “Shadebyrne” was born.
Despite having a good idea about the newly-minted home base for future adventures, there still remained a few important blank spaces to fill in. I still needed more information on the inn, the identity of the local government official, and a custom map that took all these little bits of detail into consideration. As this post has grown to a much longer length than I original foresaw, I’ll tackle those topics in our next installment.