But Manses are not free floating objects that provide benefit with no drawback. They are physical buildings and structures sitting in a location in Creation (or Yu-Shan, Hell, etc) that others can get at. This is important because it opens up opportunities for the storyteller to add drama, hope, and profit to the players lives. I do not advocate being a mean ST by taking it away at the drop of a hat, but I do like the idea of a risk to reward method of drawing in Manses to the characters story. But before we get to the methods of doing that lets ask the players a few questions:
Where is the Manse located? This seems obvious, but having a physical location and an idea the distance from the player to their Manse is important. Also local conditions alter the later steps in this process a little. A lot of players just say "It's in the west" and don't go from there. But what happens if Lintha pirates are using it as a base while the players area away...that would be rather important!
How impressive is the Manse? The merit rating for this will often be the guideline for how impressive and noticeable the Manse is. Don't let players auto-hide it by saying it's invisible or hidden in the terrain. That's a cowardly way of handling important background elements of the characters. The ST and player need to negotiate this element right away. This plays into my later Risk/Reward idea.
What do they think the 1st Age use was? Judging from the Hearthstone, and the location, and how it was laid out what do you think the Manse was used for back in the 1st Age? Was it a hunting lodge in the east? A military bastion for patrol boats of a Solar Admiral in the west? A long lost research lab? A diplomats embassy for Fair Folk? Let the player dream up what their character 'thinks' the 1st Age use was. Ask them why they think that, what was at the Manse to give them that idea. This is hooks the ST can use when filling out the Manse's history.
Is anyone else attuned to it? If the players have known each other it can be said that eventually they can all share attunement to the manse, but what about allies? Players can have contacts and allies as merits and one of the ways they can garner favors is allowing a useful ally to attune to the manse. It motivates them to protect it. As weird as the idea of a Manse time-share is, having multiple gods and exalts acting as staff/co-leaders of a manse is not a bad idea.
Now with these questions answered here is my RISK to REWARD method of flavoring up a Manse:
You can roll these if you want too but I like to pick one based on the situation described above.
- Squatters - Manses are mostly abandoned 1st Age buildings. You don't have to be an essence user to find having a near indestructible shelter as a good idea to live in. Assuming no physical defenses to keep people out then it is very possible that refugees will set up tends near the building, or take over unused rooms near the entryways as their homes. The risk is these people can give away the location of the manse, or they can damage it if they try to remodel it. The reward is if the Exalt deals with them correctly they can have followers on site maintaining the Manse when they are away. Mortals may not be able to get the benefit of some of the magical tools in a Manse, but you can 'leave the water' on for them and it would go a long way toward making the like you. Add in some training charms, loyalty bonding oaths, and eventually squatters can become staff!
- Local Gods - This seems like all risk with little reward but hear me out. Local Gods most likely either were around when the Manse was first built and had preexisting relationships with the creators OR they are new local gods looking to shore up their power base. The risk is having an essence using god as a rival for control of the Manse, which is never a good thing. The reward is a powerful ally who can act as a defender of the Manse if you allow for local prayers and offerings to be made to them at the Manse. Nothing like having a personal Manse God who acts as the patron for the Demanse your buildings sit on. Pull out a little of your Chosen of the Gods charisma and schmooze them.
- Guild Awareness - Much like squatters it is risky to allow the Guild to use your manse in any way. But then again they would be one of the few groups who would have resources you'd need to rebuild or enhance it over time. The risk is the Guild taking over your local territory from you, and possibly using your Manse to house things you don't like. Such as slaves, drugs, stolen goods. The reward takes establishing connections with the Guild but outlining your rules of use. Over time the guild will use your Manse as a supply depot, and trading post. It acts as a great cover for you manse and you can skim a reasonable 'fee' off the top of the caravans moving through.
- Partial Uncapping - Manses are structures on Demanses that contain the essence flowing off from the land. Partial uncapping of it means there is a lot of raw unconstrained essence flowing out causing mutations and local conditions to weird up. The risk is growing Wyld contamination, and possibly drawing in spirits and monsters that enjoy uncapped Demanse power. The reward is you can upgrade the Manse to contain the excess power, or maybe learn how to channel the uncapped power to other sorcerous projects. Either way to turn this risk around will take some serious 1st Age Lore R&D.
- Historical Landmark - Manses are very, very important locations. More so if they play into the history of a location. If the Exalts manse is located near populated lands there is good odds the building is a local landmark and is visited by travelers who pray, study, or just enjoy it's beautiful design. The risk is having outsiders reporting the Exalts coming and goings from the building. This works against you if the Wyld Hunt is after you, or you want to stay covert like Lunars and Sidereals thrive on. The reward is manifold. You can cultivate a cult, a following, maybe have the site act a focal point for your spy network. You have to come up with ways of masking the Manse true use with some local traditions and social networking. But it can pay off down the line. It makes the locals want to protect the site from outsiders.
- Dangerous Location - Sometimes Manses are located in areas you can not get to normally with ease. The Wyld may have surrounded it, there might be growth of dangerous plants, hostile terrain, or local animals that making approaching it impossible for anyone who is not Exalted. The risk of this is it makes utilizing the Manse very spotty, and you may have to defend it against the very environment that is empowering it. The reward comes from either taming or channeling the dangers around you Manse. It can be used to upgrade it's defenses in your benefit. Imagine taming a Behemoth that lives near your home. The ultimate watch dog.Or shaping the lava around the foundation to make an uber moat that melts anyone trying to cross with out your approval.So many options.
- Encrypted Library - This one is something that Solar or paranoid Dragon Bloods might have done. A manse is a great place to store you diary, research logs, or security files if (big part here) you encrypt it so no one but you can use it. The catch is you eventually die and suddenly all that lore is lost until someone finds the cipher. The risk is if you start looking for a cipher (be it artifact, blood line, or sorcery) someone is bound to find out an they might know WHY you are looking for the cipher. And if it has information they don't want getting out, you are bound to get company! Fast! The reward is lore, intel on family lines, secrets of new sorcery or necromancy that have not been rediscovered or shared with the world at large. Imagine a Manse who's very walls are a massive spell book that you have to puzzle out each spell weeks at a time using rituals and very specific reagents. Not only do you get a fun adventure, but the spells to boot!
- On Loan - Your manse belongs to someone else. Your mentor, your sifu, your allies and they have loaned the hearthstone to you with strings attached. The catch is the risk right off to bat. You are on call to deal with whatever the loaner requests of you for the power they are granting you. The reward is more specific to who you have been given the loan from. A Sidereal sifu might grant you more training in the Manse on your downtime. A Deathlord may provide Necromancy training if you carry out his wishes. The list goes on. Even Realm born dragonbloods can curry favor with their house, or patron by using the hearthstone for their causes. It may seem simple but it's a great way to make the Manse plot important.
- Networked - Eh? It's been done in the past where Manses may be part of a larger network of geomatnic lines. The Realm Defense Network is one such example, but there is nothing saying that other Manses may not be linked in a thaumatological manner to another. The risk is the owners (if there are any) of these other Manses may wish to take your over to link the network completely to reap whatever benefit the total network grants. It could be a localized defense grid, a forge power plant, some form of sorcery enhancement. Anything. And the reward should obviously be taking control of the linked Manses either by force or negotiation grants the same meta benefit to you.
- Treasure Trove - This doesn't mean more artifacts...it could be anything of worth. Gems, silks from the 1st Age, rare magical grain that grows in the desert. The idea is a treasure of some value is hidden, locked, or protected by your manse. You may or may not have access to the treasure yourself, but you do control the key to claiming it. The risk is others may be looking for this very treasure and any great treasure means risk in trying to use it. The key is the treasure while useful is troublesome. They might know you hold a lost alchemical distillery in the basement of your manse, or maybe a Oricalchum forge that needs minor repairs. Either way, you will need to control information about the treasure, figure out how to safely utilize it, and maybe, maybe garner a profit off it. The reward is new merits, allies who you share the treasure with, resources from successful selling parts of it, artifacts from using in your crafting, or maybe you just sit on it as collateral for those rainy days. Either way it's yours and you know how to use it when the time comes. Figuring that out is the trick.
These are all just suggestions. Ways for the Storyteller to flavor up the manses you claim as a character. You might run into these on new ones you discover, or find out about the problems months down the line as you adventure. Either way you can use them as plot hooks to tie your character to the very land they claim as their own. This Manse is My Manse should mean something.