The Alphastream Game Design Blog
5E D&D provides rules for a Group Patron – an organization or entity that oversees the party, often acting as employer, financier, or mentor. Let’s take a look at how the rules work and why we want to use them.
I was fortunate to talk about this subject on Dragon Talk, the official D&D podcast! You can hear host Shelly Mazzanoble and I talk about this subject on episode #361.
The rules for Group Patrons first appear in Eberron: Rising from the Last War. Those are the ones to use in an Eberron campaign because they are tailored to the setting with specific hooks that will help the setting resonate for the players.
Otherwise, you will likely want to use the rules in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, which are slightly updated, have additional patron types, and fit nearly any campaign setting.
There are a few extra patron types in Eberron which are not in Tasha’s, so you may want to glance at both.
All patrons provide a common Group Assistance benefit. All patrons then follow a similar format, tailored to the specific organization.
To represent the common purpose, each member of the party can grant advantage to an ability check, an attack roll, or a saving throw of another member of the party. Character and target must be able to see or hear each other, and neither can be incapacitated. This benefit can be used once per party member, refreshing with a long rest.
I suggest using some sort of token to track each player’s Group Assistance. Have players hand you the token when they use the feature, or provide a small bowl that can hold them. Give the tokens back out with each long rest.
Tasha’s provides 8 example patrons. Each has a fairly similar structure, with slightly different benefits and guidance specific to the patron.
You can customize patrons to be specific organizations. For example, you could use the rules for an Academy or Criminal Syndicate as the famed Harpers of the Forgotten Realms, who seek to prevent organizations and individuals from gaining power that would harm the world.
For each patron, we get a description of the concept. I’ve summarized the patron concepts above. We then learn the perks received by members of the organization. These are often similar across organizations and may include:
Compensation – payment such as a fee for each quest completed, or a stipend paid at some interval.
Documentation – you may receive access to special locations, such as a university and its rare books or items collections. A group such as the Flaming Fists may provide a badge or writ of authority enabling you to carry out duties and enforce (or break) laws.
Research and Resources – the organization may have facilities or NPCs who can provide answers to questions that arise during adventuring. These perks work well a downtime activities where the characters gain bonuses due to their patron. Resources may also include equipment or even the loaning of consumables or other magic items.
NPCs and Contact – the patron may provide one or more important personages that act as the interface between the patron and the characters. A renowned academy professor, the grizzled captain of the guard, or a gold dragon. Patrons typically provide several options with rich concepts. In a university, you may be following a specific course of study and perhaps this brings you into conflict with other university groups (see the Strixhaven sourcebook for ideas, or any of many novels dealing with magical academies).
Roles – your organization may provide each character with a specific role. Yet again, the D&D team misses the obvious tie-in to the Acquisitions Incorporated handbook, which provides a system for roles you could use or even reskin. Those roles work especially well for explorers, adventurers, and adventuring companies, but many can be repurposed. For example, with a patron who is an aristocrat, the roles could be titles with special authorities and dominions, and could increase over time.
Quests or Assignments – each patron has a method by which it provides something for the characters to do. We generally get a table with several possible broad ideas that can be repurposed. For example, a merchant guild may direct the characters to eliminate a rival using unfair practices.
Next time: Let’s look into examples of patron-driven campaigns and how to make the most of the rules!