Strongholds & Followers by Matt Colville is a new supplement for 5E, where you can build extraordinary keeps, castles, monasteries and churches, and get followers for your player characters. The supplement had a super successful Kickstarter campaign last year.
Matt Colville is probably one of the most influential game master out there, in league with Matt Mercer, Stefan Pokorny, Satine Phoenix and Chris Perkins. Needless to say I was quite excited to discover that Colville and his company MCDM were running a Kickstarter campaign for 5E supplement, focused on castles and building followers. To be honest, I was hoping for a bit of Birthright, but, still, having a good book with hundreds of ideas for great followers and henchmen, not to mention different kinds of castles and keeps is something every game masters should have access to.
For years I’ve used the AD&D supplement The Castle Guide, when I’ve needed to build and create castles and keeps for my games. Many players like having a place to rest and recuperate, and in many games this is a huge part of the game, like Forbidden Lands.
Strongholds & Followers is a great supplement for game masters who have players that want their characters to own keeps and have followers. The book is divided into four main chapters, Strongholds, Followers, a module called The Siege of Castle Rend, and finally three appendices containing new monsters, new items and rules of warfare. The book is beautifully laid out and has great and inspiring art.
This chapter was the main reason for me backing the Kickstarter campaign. I really like castles and keeps, whether I use them as adventure locations or base of operations for the player characters, and having more information and ideas on these is simply great. And Matt Colville delivers as promised.
I really like this part of the book, there are rules on how to build and maintain a stronghold that come with their own demesne. The rules are awesome and well thought through, something that I can’t wait to incorporate into my games. You will also find many example strongholds, many of which are great and accompanied with detailed maps. My favourite part are the class-based strongholds, which come more of less complete with demesne effects, stronghold actions and followers.
The only complaint I have is that I would’ve loved to see race-based strongholds. To see how Colville would lay out a dwarf keep, orc camp or dragon’s lair would’ve completed this part of the book for me, but that might come later as a second instalment.
This chapter comes with complete rules for followers, retainers and henchmen. In older versions of D&D having henchmen and followers was a huge part of the game. However, in later versions this part of the game faded out or was only available to player characters via feats.
The rules for followers are simple and easy to use. There are many great tables for the different characters classes, not to mention many examples of retainers, artisans and allies.
This chapter is nowhere near as long and detailed as the part on strongholds. However, I feel that it has more than enough information to build interesting and great followers for almost any kind of D&D adventure.
The Siege of Castle Rend
The module The Siege of Castle Rend is written by James J. Haeck but based on Matt Colville’s game notes and ideas. The module was one of the campaign‘s stretch goals. In it the player characters have the chance to fight orcs, gain a stronghold and defend it, not to mention gain followers and henchmen and, of course, make friends and allies.
This module is in many ways great, it includes enough sword swinging and spell slinging to slate the thirst of even the most thirsty die rollers out there, while still having enough political manoeuvring and social encounters to keep the roleplayers of the group happy. There are many superb NPCs and the ruins of Castle Rend is a very interesting and challenging location.
The final part, the siege itself, seems at first to be a bit of a challenge and I needed to re-read the warfare rules just to feel confident enough to run it. Don’t feel intimidated though, for this is probably the most interesting part of the module.
One final note about the module, I really like the White Tusk orcs and the many different stat blocks provided with the module. Orcs are great villains in D&D and you can never have enough of different kinds of orcs to throw at your players.
To be honest, this isn’t my favourite part of the book. There are many new monsters here, new types of demons, dragons etc. but I don’t find many of these interesting enough and I don’t expect that I will incorporate these in my games. I would’ve liked to see this part left out for more example strongholds.
If you ever played the old Battlesystem for AD&D many parts of this chapter should look familiar. You will find great rules for units and how to run games where war and great battles are a huge part of the game. I recommend that you read this chapter through and through, if you ever plan on having your player characters take part in huge battles or take the lead in an army.
The final part of the appendices include many interesting new magical items for your strongholds. I think many of these are great and I would’ve liked to see even more items and ideas on how to bolster and make your stronghold even more effect and powerful.
Strongholds & Followers is a great supplement for any D&D game. If you like to run games where your players have access to strongholds and followers, this book is a must have. Colville has done a very good job on creating rules for players and game masters alike, on how to acquire, build and maintain a stronghold. The rules on followers are also very good and the module The Siege of Castle Rend is very interesting.
The book is beautifully laid out, contains great and inspiring art and is easy to browse through. The text is well written and if you are familiar with Colville’s Youtube Channel you will feel right at home.
Of course, there were a few things that I would’ve liked to see done differently, e.g. I would’ve liked to see more example strongholds instead of the the new monsters.
Overall, this is a very good supplement.