I'm a bit new to DMing, so this may very well have been done before, but I've introduced a fun "mechanic" to my Tyranny of Dragons campaign that I thought might be a good fit for some of your campaigns as well. This is certainly not restricted to Tyranny of Dragons, by the way.
In a nutshell what I've done is allow my party to hire or inspire some otherwise inconsequential NPCs they meet along the way to abandon their lives and become residents, guards, workers, etc. of the party's flying castle they recently obtained. From there, they are able to briefly play as these NPCs in small battle encounters at the beginning of their sessions before diving into the meat of the campaign as their own characters.
For those interested in the idea, I'll elaborate further:
For those who have never played or DMed Hoard of the Dragon Queen, the final battle takes place on a flying castle owned by cloud giants called Skyreach. I believe the book writes the castle off as being destroyed or crashing at the end of it all, but that didn't seem like much fun. My players had developed a bond with the cloud giant there, and so I allowed them to basically become partial owners of the castle alongside their new giant friend.
Of course, after a big battle the castle was fairly empty. They had an idea of bringing people on in order to populate the castle a bit, and from there the idea just snowballed. Now, whenever they come across an NPC they think would be a good fit for floating castle life, they essentially try and hire them to live on the castle instead of whatever else that NPC may have been doing. As long as the NPC doesn't play a bigger role in the campaign, I usually let it happen with a good charisma-based check.
Now, at the beginning of every session I make one of them (whoever is feeling lucky) roll a D20. If they roll a 15 or higher, then that means something is happening to the castle while they are off adventuring.
I've created a list of 20 simple castle encounters that they can then play out using the different characters they have on board the castle. To pick which one, I make them roll another 20. So far, they haven't had any repeats on the list, but when that time comes I'll probably just pick the next encounter up on the list.
The encounters are not meant to be long-winded or overly complicated. Most are simple battle encounters – just something to give me players a chance to try something new. I think it's especially beneficial to them as they are all new players (like myself) and get the chance to get a taste of what other classes can do. The wizard, for example, has been having a blast playing as more melee-oriented characters for these quick castle sieges.
Some of the characters they have on board are the cloud giant who owns the castle, his son, a former orc slave, a dragonborn blacksmith they met in Parnast, and an exotic bird merchant they developed a close friendship with in the early stages of the campaign.
The encounters, like I said, are meant to be short. One of them sees the castle assaulted by a throng of goblins on hang gliders posing as sky pirates, while another one has them slicing at the electrical tentacles of a gargantuan sky jellyfish that looms over the castle. Just a bit of added fun, really, and they never take more than 20-minutes or half an hour. We generally play for about 5 or 6 hours, so it's not that big a chunk of our play time.
My players have really warmed up to the idea and I'm having a blast putting together quick-and-dirty statblocks for these new temporary NPCs that I print and give them all as handouts. So, I thought I'd put it out there to you guys. Maybe it's something that would fit in well with your own campaigns. If so, please let me know how it goes!
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More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Letting you party collect NPCs" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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