Thursday, November 18, 2021

BDubs' Essential Guide to Patron Play for your D&D Campaign


Since I have the longest running most publicly well documented #brosr campaign running with Patron NPCs I have decided to create the Essential Guide on the subject. This is a public service for all the #Elite DND hobbyists or those aspiring for Elite #BROsr status. 

My campaign uses the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System (ACKS) but I also recommend Advanced Dungeons and Dragons First Edition (1e) for this sort of Patron play. The BROSR and BDUBs do NOT recommend using any other game system to attempt Patron play. It has been done with 5e but it is not ideal.

There is an Objectively Correct way to play Real D&D so you want to have the best foundation for your serious campaign. 1e is the best system for this, followed by ACKS. Choose another system at your peril!

Additionally, this guide assumes you are playing with Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping (JTK). Check the link and read that blog before proceeding, if you know not the term. JTK essentially means, outside of session play, time passes in the game world at the same rate as the real world. Real Time Timekeeping  grounds the campaign in reality and provides Patrons with a clear conception of how much they can do and accomplish each day, week, month or whatever.

Variable Time Keeping does not work well with Patron play, causing too many problems and weird issues cropping up. Don't do it!

Now, on with the guide.

What are Patrons?

Chanticleer is an e-friend, tw1tter celebrity, and the DM of a 5e Waterdeep campaign that employed BROSR best practices; including JTK and downtime. He coined the term "Patron" for "characters who would be NPCs whose downtime is controlled by a Player"

That's the quick definition. Allow me to expound.

Most DMs launch a new campaign with a handful of Important NPCs or they have to create them to suit the needs of the campaign as PCs explore the world. Some examples include The Castellan at the "Keep on the Borderlands", the Thieves Guild Master sort (ala Fritz Lieber's "Farfahd and Gray Mouser" tales), The Evil Wizard (ala Saruman or Flagg), The Orc Chief leading a nearby tribe the PCs must needs defeat ASAP, etc

NPCs stack up as a D&D campaign plays on. Chanticleer found that he was running out of time and imagination on what these NPCs might be up to each week. They'd surely continue to live their lives even if the PCs weren't engaging with them on a regular basis, right? 

Instead of allowing yourself as the DM to hit this wall of real life constraints on your time or a sapping of your imagination, you can simply give the major NPC(s) to a real Player to run. Said Player (now Patron) essentially makes Downtime Requests the same as PCs do between sessions. But the Patron does not play in Session Play. Such a right is reserved for PCs.

The term "Patron" was coined because many Patrons will end up looking up the PCs to handle various missions for them, since the PCs have the luxury of doing weekly (or at least frequent) session play. One thing you'll find running major Patrons is that you and the Patron player will better understand why the Castellan doesn't just clear out the Caves of Chaos himself, or whatever. He can't be bothered. There's usually much bigger threats and goals in front of the Patron than a clutch of monster lairs. That's why Patrons offer cash and prizes for PCs to take care of small-fry problems.

The Patron will also not want to risk his own non-expendable resources such as his major retainers or troops; sending them to the Caves of Chaos or whatever dumb low level dungeon the PCs are certain is the most important thing in the game world. To Patrons: PC's are an expendable resource to throw at their problems.

How Do I Introduce Patrons?

There are no hard fast rules on how to do this since only the DM himself will know his PCs, his potential Patrons, and his own aptitude for juggling all these things. However there are some approaches I recommend and some advice on things to be aware of when introducing Patrons. 

Limited Approach: 

If you already have a campaign underway you may find you have a few NPCs that need more weight in the world. More importance due to PC interest. Or perhaps you as the DM are very interested in an NPC that PCs couldn't care less about. Without Patron Play a good DM would basically delete or ignore that NPC for the rest of the campaign. If the PCs don't care then you don't force an NPC on them. HOWEVER, if you have an NPC you think is really interesting perhaps you find a Patron player who agrees and wants to run with the idea. 

With Limited Approach you simply turn NPCs or good NPC ideas into Patrons as they come into your game world. One or two at a time will enter the world. This is the approach I and Chanticleer used. When Ferigno the Green Dragon and Dairin the Evil Swamp Mage were firmly established NPC villains the PCs hated, I realized I'd never be able to play them both as well as they deserved to fight off PC incursions and schemes against them. They were assigned to Players as Patrons. The rest is history.

With Limited Approach be aware that Patrons will be MUCH MORE ACTIVE, on the whole, than an NPC. There is no amount of random action rolls you can make for an NPC that is going to compete with a player controlling an NPC with major resources at his disposal. 

A Patron Villain could be very dangerous to the PCs, for instance; using everything at his disposal to simply kill as many PCs as he can while they're resting at the inn. Patron Villains will do the sort of "unfair" things a DM would be too scared to do to PCs for fear of losing player loyalty to the campaign. Be wary of this effect when introducing Patrons, most especially villains. Having the villain be remote to the PCs "home base" will help mitigate a sudden assassination of a PC for instance. Or at least give the PCs time to become aware that Dairin the evil swamp Mage might send an assassin to kill them during downtime.

Brainstorm Approach: 

With Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping you're going to have PCs storm an orc lair, or whatever, kill a half dozen of them and run away with some treasure. PCs will then take to planning the best way to go back to eliminate/loot the lair. As a DM you don't want the Orcs (or whatever they are) spend the week or two the PCs are away just standing in their numbered dungeon rooms waiting to get killed. You can give the Orc Chief to a Patron Player  on a short term basis.

"Hey Joe, the Chief is sure the PCs are coming back. How might he prepare so he and his warriors aren't destroyed?"

Joe will then take to coming up with the most hairbrained schemes and ideas about how to defend his dungeon lair. You, as the DM, can just chuckle and take notes. 

"Ok first we're going to make a bunch of pit traps... and fill them with warg dung..." it will go on and on. 

If the Orc Chief and the lair in question are ignored for a long time perhaps the Orcs begin to gain back their numbers and even grow into a larger threat. Joe the Patron Player will be sure to ask you these sorts of questions. If the orcs aren't dead in a couple weeks Joe will begin to get attached to the Orc Tribe and grow them and start throwing crazy ideas by you about how he wants to leave the dungeon in search of more orcs... or the minotaur on the other side of the dungeon. The beauty is you don't have to figure all this out. You just field Joe's questions, make the best rulings you can, and roll with it. Just like you do with PC's during session play.

Audacious Approach: 

No one likes Session 0. "But I do!" No you don't. But you could launch a campaign with player input in a way that's actually fun and cool by letting a bunch of Players create and run Patrons in your campaign world for a while. All the crazy ideas for major rulers, kings, assassins guild leaders, or whatever will clash against each other and leave in its wake (or wreckage) an interesting campaign world for PCs to adventure in. 

Jeffro Johnson's incredible and impactful Trollopulous 1e campaign re-launched after about 30 sessions by having like a dozen Patrons all dropped into the campaign world at once just to see what would happen. After they ruined basically everything some new PCs were able to explore a game world that looked much different as far as political divisions or whatever.

You can do this same approach with a brand new campaign without having any ideas at all for the game world. Just ask 10 dudes what Patron they want to run, let them create it, drop rumors about the other Patrons (who they'll surely want to ally with or kill) and go. In short order you'll have a campaign world that's much more interesting than one in a module or setting box set.

How Do I Make a Patron?

Once you've decided which approach you want to use for Patrons you'll need to create them. The thing to keep in mind with Patrons is their personal Ability Scores and such are not nearly as important as the resources at their disposal. 

Is it the Baron's 18 Strength that makes PCs want to follow the laws of the Barony or his 500 soldiers? Obviously the latter. But how do you decide what these resources are?

Making "Monster" Patrons: 

These are the easiest to create. If you're running 1e (which you should be) you can simply direct your Patron player to the 1e Monster Manual and say "roll up an Elf lair as per the numbers Mr. Gygax elaborates". The Patron player then goes through the very long "Elf" entry in the Monster Manual and after some time he has rolled up the numbers of his troops, the numbers and levels of all his officers, and he claims the "Elf Lord" as the Patron proper. This Elf Lord "lair" is placed in your game world wherever it seems feasible and the Patron Elf Lord begins marching his army around, casting or researching new spells, getting into trouble with PCs or other Patrons. 

It's assumed you gave this Patron some general starting motivation about why he's riled up enough to start being more active in the world. After a while the Patron will develop his own motivations based on his own broken psychology or perceived slights by other PCs/Patrons or whatever; and take on a life of his own. 

Making a Hill Giant or Dragon Patron is just the same. Open the monster entry in the manual and start rolling up numbers, treasure, etc. ACKS has a monster section very similar to the 1e Monster Manual so you can do the exact same thing as with 1e.

Making Human Patrons: 

This is very similar to introducing Monster Patrons except Human Patrons are more likely to be installed in the PC's Border Fort or City or wherever they lay their head for safety at the end of an adventure. These will be your Kings, Dukes, Guildmasters and the like. 

ACKS has the upper hand on creating these without DM input, in my opinion. Open to page 253 of ACKS Core book and you'll see how the writer has designated "Adventurer", "Conqueror" and "King" tier designations if you wanted to have PCs start a campaign at higher levels. 

You simply apply this to Patrons instead. These rules have a game system for the Patron having a certain amount of XP and Gold Pieces to use to pick a class at a higher level. Then use his GP to acquire major Retainers, Mercenaries for his army, Keeps, Guild house, magic items etc. You can create this for the Patron (if he's a novice RPGer) or you can say "take care of this and get back to me".

If you're running 1e instead you'll need to peruse the 1e DMG for information about your campaign city's demographics, how that translates into income for the Patron, and extrapolate from there on what sort of resources he might have based on the type of Patron he is. The assassins guild master will have a bunch of assassin toadies, for instance. The Mage Guildmaster will have apprentices and library full of spell books. etc. You could also use the 1e rules for Creating NPC Parties to decide what magic items and equipment the Patron would have on hand, if you wanted to gameify it.

If you're using a module and are designating an NPC in there as a Patron you can simply cut and paste the information about the NPC's entry  and his resources to a Word doc or something and send it to the Patron Player. It won't be long before he's ignore most of the boring parts about said NPC and grabbed onto the fun aspects (or made his own).

If you have an idea that has no in game economics or tech tied to it then just work with the player and hit the best solution you can. I don't believe 1e has economics or tech on how to create a thark airship but that's exactly what the Trollopulous Patron Macho Mandalf had under his authority.

The economics on all this does NOT need to be perfect to start. If you start a Patron with hardly any cash and scratching for every gold piece you can rest assure the Patron player will begin coming up with schemes to get paid. He will rise to the challenge or fail. Just like a PC.

How Do I DM/Play a Patron?


DMing and playing a Patron is done a bit more by feel than exact instruction. If you're already running Downtime requests in your campaign (and you MUST be if you want a Real D&D campaign) you simply allow the Patron to make Downtime requests the same as the PCs. You then apply those actions to the campaign world.

Doing this will depend on how you run Downtime. You can do like I do and have a chat client with all your PCs and Players and they can send you Downtime Requests between session play and you execute any rulings on these as you find time day to day. Some BROSR Elite call this an "Always On" campaign. This is what I do. Although PCs and Patrons know I will get to requests when I can, I'm an adult with real responsibilities.

Another approach to Downtime is, upon the end of a Session, you ask all your Participating PCs what they're doing between now and next week's session. Gray Mouser is racketeering the Street of the Gods, Merlin is researching a new spell, Fagor the Orc Fighter is recruiting sumo wrestler henchmen etc. You take note of this and the date it started and the next time Merlin asks you "hey about 2 weeks ago I started spell research when I wasn't adventuring" and you check to see if that was long enough to finish. Roll any dice on the matter there if necessary.

You can do something similar with Patrons though you'll need to text them or call them or something, take a quick note, and go from there.


I advise DMs to run Patron actions week to week. Hit up the Patron and say "you have 7 days of actions you can take before the next PC Session is run". It's my opinion that Session Play itself keeps all this crazy Patron stuff grounded.

ACKS has clear description on what it calls "Campaign Play" and how long it takes to Rumormong, Heist a Bank, Train in a new weapon or whatever. For those running other systems I advise allowing one Major Action each day and 2 Minor Actions. Major Actions would be something like doing a heist or rumormongering, traveling, making war, whatever. You'll get a feel for Major/Minor distinction in your system of choice (ACKS or 1e only) especially if you are properly running wilderness travel, timekeeping and such.

Neutral/Friendly Interactions: 

What about when Patrons want to talk to one another? 

If the Patrons are in the same city or close enough to be feasible that they would have correspondence, you simply let them chat or talk on the phone as much as they want. They can LARP until their hearts content about how cool they are, or scheme with the other Patron against the PCs, or double cross one another. Said Patrons can then inform the DM of anything about the discussion(s) that would cause real movement in the game world that the DM would need to know about.

If Patron Merlin makes a magic sword for Patron Gray Mouser, the DM would have to know. If Merlin simply has tea with Fagor, it doesn't matter if the DM knows or not.

Patrons and PCs will begin to scheme as much as they can without taking actions the DM would need to be informed about. Recently my PCs had a pit fight between eachother a a Patron's illegal pit fighting facility without informing the DM at all. They had another player they trust oversee the attack rolls and stats. I was only told about it later. Amazing!

In this way the Patrons will act as secondary DMs and take alot of worldbuilding off the shoulders of the DM even with PCs. It's a way to avoid the bottle neck of always needing the DM to inform the PC about every aspect of a game world and him simply not having time.

Hostile Interactions

If Patrons want to attack or make war on one another, the DM will need to get involved quite a bit more. In this case the DM will need to know the exact makeup of the group the Patron is using to run the operation. Perhaps the Patron is sending some of his Major Retainers to attack the PCs or another Patron. You simply do the math on the timeline for something like this then roll it out in D&D combat or some abstraction system. The Patron will learn of the results through rumor or from any of his retainers that survive to tell the tale. If the Patron sends his Retainers out to do something and they die he may never find out what happened to them at all!

The best part of Patron play is it allows you to have hex based wargames running in your gameworld concurrent with session play. This is how Gygax and Arneson's tables were run, so you'll be in good company. 

If you're running 1e you'll need to use Chainmail for mass combat and if you're running ACKS you'll need to use Domains at War: Campaigns . The latter gives you clear rules for supply lines and hiring or drafting more soldiers or whatever. There is a time cost so once again Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping makes this all feasible and all such decisions meaningful. 

If Patron armies engage in Mass Combat you can run it Abstractly quickly based on best decisions the commanders would make. Or, if all participating Patrons and PCs are available in chat when you have time to run the numbers, you can ask them for strategic and tactical decisions here and there. 

Running Patrons During Session Play:

If the PCs decide to interact with a Patron during session play you are not going to be able to get input from the Patron Player that very moment. In this case you run the Patron just like an NPC taking note of the Patron's personality (based on his actual play) and any contingencies (traps, plan of attack, favorite spells etc) that he gave you. In this session I ran Ferigno like an NPC because the PCs came at his Lair with a squadron of various soldiers to try and kill him. They didn't win but they put a hurt on him.

Why are Patrons Important?

" As with most other role playing games, this one is not just a single experience contest. It is an ongoing campaign, with each playing session related to the next by results and participant characters who go from episode to episode. As players build the experience level of their characters and go forth seeking ever greater challenges, they must face stronger monsters and more difficult problems of other sorts (and here the Dungeon Master must likewise increase his or her ability and inventiveness). While initial adventuring usually takes place in an underworld dungeon setting, play gradually expands to encompass other such dungeons, town and city activities, wilderness explorations, and journeys into other dimensions, planes, times, worlds, and so forth.

Players will add characters to their initial adventurer as the milieu expands so that each might actually have several characters, each involved in some separate and distinct adventure form, busily engaged in the game at the same moment of "Game Time". 

This allows participation by many players in games which are substantially different from game to game as dungeon, metropolitan, and outdoor settings are rotated from playing to playing. And perhaps a war between players will be going on (with battles actually fought out on the tabletop with minature figures) one night, while on the next, characters of these two contending players are helping each other to survive somewhere in a wilderness." 

-Gary Gygax, Advanced Dungeon and Dragons "Player's Handbook" page 7

Have you ever ran a D&D campaign like that? Probably not. Yet its in the introduction of the 1e PHB which we must assume no one ever read. Because that description of D&D sounds millions of times more interesting and engaging than the ones you or I grew up playing.

If you use Jeffrogaxian Time Keeping and Patrons, you can have this type of game. It's my guess that Gygax and Co. played so frequently that PCs leveled into "Name Level" thus becoming what we're calling "Patrons". Thanks to a combination of social factors most of us simply don't engage with our hobbies as much as Gygax and Co. did with D&D back then. So the quickest way to get THAT GAME is to use Patrons as soon as you, the DM, think you're ready.

Patrons inject excitement and unpredictability into a D&D Campaign. They take on our life of their own and their interactions begin to seed dozens of hooks week after week. They'll begin sending PCs on missions to get stuff for them. They'll double cross PCs and rip them off. They'll make war with other Patrons over the smallest of slights (or none at all!) and the PCs will need to deal with the fallout to the game world. 

Patrons may swoop or threaten to swoop PCs' adventure hooks; grabbing up the Magic Sword of MacGuffin before the PCs can get to it. So it will give the Session Play proper a sense of urgency and excitement. They'll be in a hurry to hit Ferigno the Patron Green Dragon so they can claim the treasure horde before the Patron Legate Drakon takes his army over there to claim it. 

Some PCs may realize they have an easier mark to sell items or economic schemes to in Patrons than in the NPCs the DM controls. So Elite PCs will start hitting up Patrons with their ridiculous schemes and begging for resources ("hey Legate could I get some of your soldiers to lead against this monster...") from Patrons rather than DM controlled NPCs.

And guess what... if you're a fair DM, you let them! The Patron will have to deal with the fallout if he lets the PCs rip him off all the time. And the fallout could be huge.

It's time for you to have the engaging wild and wonderful D&D experience that the creators of the game took for granted. It's time to bring PATRON PLAY to your campaign! With this guide. Now you can.


  1. My ACKS campaign is coming up on session 13. 6 regular PC Players and 4 Patron Players, so far. The machinations coming from patron interaction with each other and the players is already beginning to drive the action of the game. My players will learn that actions have consequences particularly when they discover that random encounter with an orc border patrol will be considered a truce violation by the orc patron, rather than some consequence free murder hoboing. The human patron may issue arrest warrants to save the peace.

  2. Are patrons controlled by active players (who control PCs) or inactive players (who missed the session) or "outside" campaign players? Could you explain, I didn't understand.

  3. Can players with pc's play as patrons between sessions? I dont really understand how can that work

    For example lets say I am the dm and my table has two players Max and Bob. During the campaign Max plays as patron that is the local kobold tribe chief. The party attacks the tribes lair in hopes of treasure and kills half of the orcs. After the session tim chooses what to do as the patron. Isint there a big conflict of intrest? The Kobold chief of course will propably want to add some defenses before players attack next session. Max of course does not want to
    not ruin it for everyone by making it too easy, but he still constantly has to think of he is making the challenge too easy or too hard. He cannot play the patron freely as someone who does not have a pc in the game.
    Now lets say that Bob patron is the local lord. What really stops Bob from saying. "My charecter goes to the Lord and asks for 4000 gp for being so awsome" and then as the patron giving the money to "himself". Bob might be okay guy and not abuse the system too much but its still something he hast to constantly think, he cannot play the patron freely. Is there something im not getting here?


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