Creating the Barony of Zundbridge
As I explained in my last session report, after killing the Baron of Blood (a Vampire Lord who had made Waterdeep his hunting grounds for ~700 years), the Open Lord of Waterdeep ennobled all of the PCs involved in this feat--and furthermore granted a Barony to Sir Aeoth the Paladin (Aeoth's player keeps giving him increasingly elaborate epithets in his username on Discord--but I can't keep track of Aeoth's latest self-appellation).
I think killing a 700 year old vampire merited a significant reward for the players--and by the time the Baron of Blood finally was dusted--Aeoth was the only man who still had a positive HP total. Giving a player a barony is neat! A fun way to reward the player for his investment in the character.
And the last time I ennobled a PC--my brother seized the Kingdom of Chult by strength of arms (with help from the other PCs)--when I ran Tomb of Annihilation for my IRL campaign last year, I gave the group a single "epilogue" session to play as the rulers of Chult--and then I told them they had to retire those characters and start a new campaign. The reason I did this was because there isn't really much guidance for how to let your characters run a kingdom in 5e. There are a few paragraphs in the 5e DMG which deal with the topic:
This information is relatively unhelpful--it doesn't provide really any framework, or possibilities for domain level play in 5th edition. You know how a group of players will hear about a dragon looting merchant caravans, from a sobbing survivor and basically tell the NPC "well that sounds more like your problem, we're kinda booked solid on quests atm." But the same group will pursue that dragon to the gates of hell and back, if it happens to pilfer a single magic item (even one no one ever uses)? Yeah. My only thoughts as a DM reading *maybe some NPCs will take away your players nobility and/or castle(s), if your players aren't nice enough to the NPCs,* is GOOD LUCK NERDS, LMAO.
Anyways, returning to my main point--until my current campaign, the elevation of Aeoth to the rank of Baron would have signaled the need for Baron Aeoth to become a retired adventurer (AKA, an NPC). Both because there isn't much guidance in 5e for the "game" that a player is playing once they become a Lord. There's a lot of material about dungeon-delving, and killing dragons, and rescuing maidens, and overthrowing corrupt & venal kings (aka noble NPCs who weren't nice enough to the PCs). But there is much less structured guidance (in 5e, at least) for how to run a campaign that includes a PC who has more than 100 soldiers under his command.
FORTUNATELY, unlike when my brother became the King of Chult--and I made him retire a really cool PC (who also, like Aeoth, began his career as an NPC before being elevated to a full PC). When Aeoth received the Barony of Zundbridge, I was much more well-prepared for how to handle this situation. EVEN THOUGH in the prior campaign, my brother's PCs primary goal was "Become the King of Chult" (for almost the entire campaign). AND IN THIS CAMPAIGN, I had no immediate plans to ennoble any characters (or grant them a landed titles). I certainly wasn't planning to end my last session with "All active characters are now Waterdeep nobility, and Aeoth is a Baron."
As I discussed in greater detail my latest post, there are three important "statistics" for a D&D "faction"--regardless of whether the faction is led by a DM-controlled NPC, or by a "patron," or by a PC. These statistics are (1) a roster that lists all the members of that faction; (2) some method for treating the members of the faction as units in "mass-combat"; and (3) a breakdown of that faction's passive income and upkeep costs.
Instead of panicking (as I did the last time a player became a landed noble in a D&D campaign), when the players took control of Zundbridge, I knew that all I needed was to make a Patron "character sheet" for Zundbridge. During the prior session, I told the players that Zundbridge keep is a "Keep, or Small Castle" as (very briefly) described in the "recurring expenses" section of the 5e DMG--a keep or small castle employs 50 skilled hirelings, and 50 unskilled hirelings.
In the "official forgotten realms lore," (which I occasionally consult), Zundbridge is just a bridge, with a small fort manned by the Waterdeep Town Guard. But I didn't like the idea of giving my players a wilderness fort with no settlement. So I decided Zundbridge is a town. In the 5e DMG, a town has a population between 1,001 to 6,000. Since "Zundbridge" didn't exist in official lore, I rolled a d6 x 1,000 (3,000), and 3d10s (6 x 100, 6 x 10, & 2x 1). So Zundbridge has a starting population of 3,662.
To flesh out Zundbridge--a little bit further--I turned to the "random settlements" tables on pages 112-114 of the 5e DMG. After consulting my dice, I learned Zundbridge is "destitute/rundown," (10 on "notable traits"), it is a "godless/impious" town (13 on "what is this town known for"); and the town is currently dealing with a plague, which may also "spark riots" (5 on "current calamities"). For the infrastructure of the town, I rolled for two taverns (14 - a gambling den, and 19 - brothel), one religious building (14 - an abandoned temple), and three businesses (12 - a carpenter, 16 - a mapmaker & 18 - a ropemaker). Here is what Zundbridge's statblock looked like when I was finished:
With this information, I felt I knew enough to start running Zundbridge as a town. As I learned from running Waterdeep, most of the important details about a location emerge during play. It would be counter-productive to spend more time detailing Zundbridge before the players start to interact with it.
When I started writing this post, I intended to go into some detail about how I ran the Zundbridge plague as "domain-scale" event.
But before giving this explanation, I thought it was important for me to explain a bit further how easily the "Patron" rules I originally devised in April can be adapted to allow for players to engage in "patron-style" (or "domain") D&D play. Again, the necessary elements are ACCURATE TIMEKEEPING, and the advancement of the campaign calendar following Gygax's "1 actual day = 1 game day when no play is happening" rule. In addition to this underlying framework, running factions, or domains, or patron style play requires the DM to prepare a "domain character sheet" which lists (1) the number of henchmen in the faction (as well as the population of a town, or the number of congregants in a church--these numbers are important for figuring out the domain income); (2) a method for converting these henchmen into mass combat units; and (3) an accurate accounting of the faction/domain/patron weekly income and upkeep costs (in many cases, this information can be derived from the costs to hire skilled and unskilled henchmen, and the "living expenses" in the 5e PHB.)
In my next post, I will go into greater detail about how I ran the Zundberg plague strictly by the rules--without having to roll many thousands of dice every day for the population's saving throws. I am also planning a future post about the "economics" required to run domains/ factions/ patrons.