Because two of my players have officially hit name level, I am now at that point that many people think characters should be retired ... the ‘endgame.’ I’ve read the squad of people calling for a ‘restoration’ of the endgame, as though somehow DMs couldn’t work out for themselves and their players whether this is something the party wants or doesn’t want. And I’ve read about the difficulties (boring accounting) with regards to players building strongholds and having to work through the procedure of working out the production value of their lands, the multitude of soldiers and other hirelings, taxes and general management of the whole headache.
And I think, how small these imaginations be.
It is as though the fiefdom the characters create somehow exists in a bubble. They build their castle, they hire, they pump out food for the hirelings to eat and now and then they fend off some entity that invades. And that, my gentle readers, seems to be it.
A siege mentality IS a dull campaign, particularly when it comes after adventuring, plumbing the depths of the earth and ascending to the skies. Why would the characters now care about stone and food? They have solved great puzzles, turned back the tides of evil, hurled down villains from heights that would dizzy the eagles and they have scourged the seas and lands clean.
And you offer them ... farming.
Now, I don’t downplay the importance of food production, or of fortification building. They have to have somewhere to store their stuff. By now, they’ve accumulated an awful lot of stuff ... and beasts, and possibly princesses (why is it no one ever keeps a cute prince in a tower?). So sure, there’s going to be a few runnings where these living arrangements get hammered out; my party is crying out for this right now, telling me they want a running or two just to do accounting.
No problem, you know I’m ready for them.
But I’m not building the rest of my campaign on accounting, and damn it, I’m not going to launch into another five month battle scenario anytime soon. So what is to be done?
Let’s parse it out:
My party’s land does not exist in a vacuum. They requested some aid from the Graf (or Lord) next door to lend a hand in wiping out the military force equivalent to a sizable town: 450 regulars in all. Despite considerable losses, the Graf’s men who survived improved considerably in strength and power and the Graf walked away with a substantial pile of treasure. Because the Graf lived, and because the party was seen to act bravely and respectful of the Graf’s soldiers and the Graf’s interests, they’ve made themselves a friend – one who is more powerful than he was at the outset.
A friend who was already on the ‘inside’ as regards to the Kingdom’s power structure.
In the game months following the combat, the party can expect to be introduced to a number of interested parties – some who will come to look at the devastation out of interest, and some who will come for the currency the battle generated. For awhile, this is the most interesting thing to happen this season. The party will find themselves visited by the high mucky-mucks of the kingdom: the Archbishop, a Cardinal or two, the Magician’s high councilmember, the kingdom’s general and probably half his staff, the heir to the throne (who has the time and would come to learn), representatives of virtually every artisan’s and merchant’s guild imaginable, the Burgomeisters of a dozen large towns surrounding the fief where the battle took place ... and so on. Because this particular fief shares a border with the Ottoman Turks, there will probably been the right-hand subordinate of the nearest Emir (administering the bordering province) and a messenger from the Sultan himself (on a fact-finding mission). Minor lackeys from a number of kingdoms around (Poland, Hungary, Hapsburg Austria and the Grand Duchy of Kiev) might show up for similar reasons, as those kingdoms learn of the event from their resident ambassadors – very likely, an ambassador might pop around just out of interest. No doubt, the local thieves guild and assassin’s guild will drop by without announcement, along with secret members of a dozen groups such as the Illuminati and the Gnomes of Zurich, the Jesuits and other fraternal orders, the Servants of Cthulhu and heaven knows who else ... skulking around, asking questions, assessing the possible threat offered by these newcomers, all to determine whether they are friend or foe.
Each of these individuals and groups will form a first impression of the party, depending on how that first meeting goes. Each individual will have questions to ask, and expectations, and promises, and offers ... and somewhere down the line, inside information, alliances or threats – depending on how they were affected by the party.
More than that, all of these people will have problems ... investigations that need doing, information that needs finding, groups that need putting down and groups that need capital and support. They will be asking the party to ‘back them’ when they make a threat against such and such. The party will be expected to take a part in ‘posturing,’ or throwing their weight around with little expectation that it really will come to fighting ... for the good of the kingdom, or their allies, you understand.
They may be asked to ‘look the other way’ when they casually put a knife in the Prince in the adjacent city ... and to conduct a search for the murderer in a slipshod manner – something the party will need to accomplish without arousing the suspicion of some do-gooder amongst their own soldiers.
Or asked to pursue, or not pursue, particular persons ... which either way will piss someone off, who won't seek compensation through battle, but through spreading rumors.
After all of that, a stand up fight will be a relief. In any case, anytime the party wants to start one, there will be plenty of opportunities to go around, what with every cretinous power-hungry crew rattling their sabres at each other, not to mention the occasional oblivious group of adventurers stumbling through the landscape haphazardly cutting down a critical member of this secret council or that.
Endgame? What the hell are you talking about?