15 Side-Progression Ideas
As a DM, I like keeping things fresh for players. One of the tools I learned from ye olde Bioware, is the idea of “side progression”. In Baldur’s Gate 2, you can take over a stronghold. In Neverwinter Nights 2, you take over a castle. In several online games, there are various ways to have player housing on a personal or clan level.
I think this works really well with pen&paper as well. Not only it gives a sense of belonging and progression to players, but can potentially generate enough supporting content for a whole campaign. I mean, I’m sure you have a good story, but the players need a breather. Now and then, they’ll take a break, visit their castle, sort things out there and get back to the main adventure. Maybe use the resources generated through the castle: Gold, followers, connections… Of course, who says it needs to be a castle? In one of my games, the players raised an ancient dragon temple from underground and helped it expand by being sort of ambassadors for them. In another one, they assisted a town with only a house in their name and no say in the rule. In fact, it could be even more interesting!
This belonging and progression will bring the party closer as it’s something they can all be part of. They can be creative to find how they will be part of it and how together, they can make something that’s greater than the sum of the parts.
From your side, it’s more than just preparing how to purchase better stones for a castle or choosing a few followers. You can throw a bunch of problems at them, long or short term with combat or role-play opportunities. You can also play around with their exact position in things. Do they rule a place or just are advisers? What is the scale of things? Do people like them? Do other rulers like them? The possibilities are endless.
Below I will list not only some possibilities, how it can start and how it can be turned into an adventure idea, or at least a sort of challenge. They are simply ideas that should mostly not be used as mentioned, but adapted to your campaign however you wish.
- Players do something significant and the mayor grants them a house or the land to build one. They can decorate, build floors, add followers etc. The classic.
- Gathered one way or the other, players own a shop. They can find new providers to have lower costs or better quality items. They can find creative ways to promote their shop locally or maybe even in different places. They can make connections to be the provider for another shop or maybe part of a consortium. They also have to deal with competition, casual burglars and the local thieves guild who may extort, blackmail or make a shady but profitable offer.
- Gathered somehow, players own a place in the middle of a road. They build a trader inn, a Caravanserai. In time, they can expand it to have more features and convince traders to use that particular road. Security of the road will be a concern, as well as local marauding tribes of gnolls. Also, what do they do with the well-paying smugglers? Do they turn a blind eye and risk facing authorities or do they not allow it?
- Using leadership or negotiation skills or simply by paying people, the party manages to create a ragtag army and launches a siege on a castle owned by hobgoblins. It’s a tough fight vs the military-savvy goblinoids but they take over and claim ownership. In addition to usual “how to improve a castle” idea, they have to deal with the spirits of the people slain in the dungeons below and the noble who claims the castle belonged to his great father before the hobgoblins and demands it to be returned to him. If the party decides to keep the place, they will need to deal with the unending harassment of the noble.
- Noticing that they spend a hefty amount of gold to naval trips and that they barely see their home, the party buys a ship. In time, they will either buy another one, or replace it with a bigger one to match their growing needs. They have to pick the captain and the rest of the crew. The local population works cheap, but they don’t seem to be dependable. They had met a devout follower of a good god who could navigate a ship, but is he really the right one to lead a group of sailors in an area infested by pirates?
- The party kills a mad genius and claim his masterpiece: a special golem. The golem is made from different materials and can be “upgraded” with the right materials. Starting with common materials, the party can travel to exotic places or outer planes to find rare materials. Maybe the golem can have a diamond-hard skin that makes it slow but extremely durable. Or a special type of wood that is extremely light and can even regenerate, but makes it susceptible to fire. In addition, they can provide weapons and tools for the construct to use it for different purposes. Alternatively, it could be a machine similar to Apparatus of Kwalish, but customizable.
- After the party defeats a demon acting as a major to manipulate them for its own ends, the locals turn to the party to govern them. The party will decide policies, help the town grow and expand, set trade routes, invite artisans… Only to find everyone slaughtered when they are back from an adventure, about a year later. The demon has returned and decided to teach the party a lesson. Maybe some of them has risen as undead by themselves(due to the way they were killed), some raised by the demon. In fact, maybe there are hints to a secret cult that enabled the demon to do it. Maybe few survived. What’s the next step? Vengeance? Rebuilding?
- The party selflessly tries to defend a temple. Some of them even die in the attempt. A planetar appears and not only raises the dead, but also grants them a place in the god’s realm. Technically a pocket plane, the party can travel there once a day. They are safe inside and are healed upon a long rest. They can also decide what’s inside: They can build and can even invite a limited amount of others to live with them. In fact, many outsider and otherwise followers of the god will volunteer. However, this also puts pressure on the group. Should they act against the god’s teachings, they may lose this privilege.
- The party defeats the ogre mage warlord. The tribe swears fealty to the party despite their wishes and the number of ogres they murdered. What does the party do? Use them to attack other evil tribes? Try and create a peaceful ogre community? How do they react when they are blamed to be in league with ogres?
- The party takes over a bar in Sigil. In addition to dealing with all the requirements of a bar (acquiring drinks, employing bartenders and bouncers and making profit) in a city that has visitors from all corners of a multiverse, they also need to be careful about their attitude for two reasons. First, the factions of Sigil will make things interesting for them by asking them to do things, not do things, join them, not join anyone etc. Second, the inn is on a special ground that if the regulars and employees in the bar are heavy towards a certain alignment, it can change the area around it with wanted or unwanted consequences. Of course, there is also the Lady. You never know.
- Party earns some land after defeating a menace, granted by the good king. However, his political enemies will find ways not only to sabotage the land, but also to turn everyone against them. They will scheme with other nobles to work against the party, work with the thieves guild and raiders to destabilize the life of the people on the land and even go as far to plant fake evidence that suggests that they mean to overthrow the king and the menace they defeated was orchestrated by the party in the first place.
- A noble, claiming he was born into a life he does not want, sells his land and title for cheap (still a high cost, but cheap to what it should be worth.) After the deal, it turns out that the land is cursed. Somehow the noble transferred the curse to the party and unless they are willing to do some evil deeds, they are stuck with the curse’s effects. Maybe the hag behind the curse asks for 12 newborns to be delivered to her lest the harvest gets a plague, or maybe every dead person ends up haunting the landlords, ie the party. Do they live with it? Do they try to end the curse? Or will they do the evil deeds to let go?
- A town worships an unheard god. The party reveals that this god is actually an aspect of god of lies, promoted by the local priest who also rules the town through his strict, yet “benevolent wisdom.” Once the priest is defeated, the party is asked to lead the town. A highly religious people, the town wants the party to choose the right god for the town. Some people will have suggestions and some temples will send representatives. Choosing the goddess of trade can turn the town into a trade center and create profit, while the god of magic could result in magicians moving in and making special items and scrolls available and choosing the god of nature to ensure the safety of town with the surrounding forest. Or maybe, these people want to be controlled, and striking a deal with an evil priest can have extra value. Depending on their choice, there will be future requests and conflict; including the gods that the party worship.
- An evil wizard is trying to get his hands on several magic items for a magic ritual. The party stops the wizard and finds the notes on the ritual, which seems to lead to a pocket dimension in the fire plane that has great treasure. It turns out to be a bunch of Azer, forged and left before activation. Upon entering, the Azer awaken and accept the party as their masters and follow them to the material plane. They can construct a village. They can integrate into a society. In the end, they will learn, they will grow and they will obey the party. Do they ask them to work with dwarves as craftsmen? Start a new society? Give them strict, specific roles? Do they use them as cannon fodder or do they try for a long-term result? Is it absolute ruling, freedom, or somewhere in between for the Azer?
- The party defeats a band of giants and finds out that they had enslaved a tribe of kobolds with a wyrmling red dragon leader. After the cruel slavery, they don’t seem to enjoy the idea of evil and want to be left alone. The party is convinced and they are asked to have the role of an ambassador. They will work with the towns around to trade with them, supply them with tools and so on. In return, the kobolds provide free space, labor and more, depending on how the party shapes their resources. As they grow with whatever help the party supports, others will be suspicious of their motives. Kobolds building an army, can’t be good. The dragon argues that every nation has an army and even towns has militia. How do the party deal with them? Do they take sides?
I hope you like some of the ideas and either decide to use them somehow or it inspired some new ideas in you. Either way, I’d love to hear more, so please drop a comment!