Friday, June 18, 2010

Campaign Design Assumptions

There is a game of Southern Reaches tonight.

Not just a game, but a game with EIGHT players!

I play in a 4E group and some of the players there were curious about how Pathfinder plays, so I invited them to join the game and they accepted. They are mostly MMO players and have been getting into table top games, but they've been very fun to role play with and I think they'll get along well with my regular players. But it has got me to thinking about the campaign design assumptions as I’ll need to explain them to the new players.

One of the initial design assumptions was that the PCs are the only adventurers. This puts the focus squarely on the PCs. To meet this goal, I put the campaign starting point on the edge of an area unexplored by current cultures. This does not mean that there have never been people here, just that the current culture “back over the ocean” has never been here and has no records of the previous civilizations that were once here. The downside to this is that there has been little interaction between the PCs and NPCs, mostly limited to “there’s a monster – kill it!”

In a West Marches-style game, there is also the assumption that there will be many, many players involved, possibly running competing groups (and by “competing” I mean “racing to discover all the good stuff first” not “let’s eliminate the competition by ambushing them”). I’m not happy about how this manifested earlier for several reasons. I think this is something that might work better with many more players than I have and if I was able to devote much more time. It would have been awesome back in my college days when I had ready access to a pool of 30 or more players and tons of free time. So for the time being I’m sticking with a more cooperative style game.

The third major design assumption was that there was a wide area to explore with adventure locales scattered throughout. The starting Table Map worked. The game is getting to a point where I need to expand on that and that is a work in progress. I have a large scale map of the area. Next steps are to create the Table Map-scale maps of all that terrain and seed it with adventure locales.

A minor goal was to have adventure locales point or hint at other locales further out. This is turning out to be a bit more difficult than expected, partly as I am doing more DMing off the cuff than anticipated. That’s happening due to a lack of directed writing on my part. I need to spend more time actually writing down stuff rather than forming a general idea off the map and then running with it. It is something I’m working on as a DM.

Having run this now for a little over two months of weekly games, I’m starting to see some of the weaknesses of my setting and I’m taking steps to correct them. As discussed in my Bandits and Humanoids post, I’m seeding groups into the setting. This will start bringing the Southern Reaches more alive as what’s happening in locations changes over time, plus there will be more opportunities for role-playing. I’m also doing more work linking sites through the treasure found. There will be more about this in a later blog posting, once the players find more of these links.

I’m also introducing weather as a way of indicating the passage of large(r) scale time. It is now the rainy season on the plains, which will slow movement a bit and hopefully bring a little more verisimilitude to the world. In three months in-game, the auroch herds will start showing up in number, causing a shift in the random encounter tables as bigger predators start showing up due to the increased food supply. Plus, more auroch paddies for the PCs to avoid.

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