Grand Experiments: West Marches (part 3), Recycling

Did you read part 1 and part 2 already? No? Go do that.

Running frequent on-demand games is a lot of work, but because the campaign was set in a fixed region there were ways I could maximize the reusability of some material I prepared.

Recycled Maps: Evolving Dungeons

Maps were a good example — I could pour tons of detail into wilderness maps because I knew characters would be returning to those areas frequently. Even after some players had mostly explored a region they still had to trek through it get to farther away areas. Plus since there were lots of players there was always someone going to an area for the first time. Lots of return on investment. Compare that to a normal game where the players might stroll through a region once and never look back.

Interior maps of dungeons, ruins, etc. were also a very good investment, because even if a party came through and wiped out all the creatures the floor plan did not change. Come back a season later and who knows what will have taken up residence. Wipe out the entrenched kobolds and next spring the molds and fungi that were a minor hazard before have spread into whole colonies of mushroom warriors. Drive the pirates out of the Sunken Fort and its lonely halls become the hunting ground for the fishy devils from the sea — or maybe the whole place is just empty. These “evolving dungeons” were a key feature of the West Marches.

Recycled Danger: Wandering Monsters

Another massively useful tool was the venerable yet mockable wandering monster table. No, seriously. Think about it: by creating a unique wandering monster table for each wilderness area (one for the Frog Marshes, one for the Notch Fells, etc.) I could carefully sculpt the precise flavor for each region. It made me think very carefully about what each area was like, what critters lived there and what kind of terrain hazards made sense (anything from bogs to rock-slides to exposure to marsh fever). They were effectively the definition for each territory.

Most tables also had one or more results that told you to roll on the table for an adjacent region instead. If you’re in Minol Valley you might run afoul of a goblin hunting party that came over the pass from Cradle Wood. The odds were weighted based on how likely creatures were to wander between the regions.

For all encounters there was also a chance of getting two results instead of one: roll twice and come up with a situation combining the two. It might be a bear trapped in quicksand, or a bear that comes across you while you’re trapped in quicksand. Combining two wandering monsters results is surefire way to come up with an interesting encounter.

Just having these detailed wandering monster tables at my fingertips meant I was always ready when players decided to do a little “light exploring.” These tables got used over and over and over again.

Players never saw these wandering monster tables, but they got to know the land very, very well. They knew that camping on the Battle Moors was begging for trouble (particularly near the full moon), they knew that it was wise to live and let live in the Golden Hills, and they knew to keep an ear out for goblin horns in Cradle Wood. Becoming wise in the ways of the West Marches was part of their job as players and a badge of merit when they succeeded.

next up: West Marches, part 4

    Ben Robbins | October 26th, 2007 | , , | show 10 comments