Monday, August 16, 2010

Sandbox Permutations

Due to trip preparation, there was no Southern Reaches game last Friday (August 13), so I don't have an adventure log today. What I do have is some thoughts on different ways West Marches-style games can vary.

First example* is the Southern Reaches campaign, where I am the DM. In this campaign, the PCs are the only adventurers operating out of a small barony on the edge of a remote continent. There are no humanoids in the immediate vicinity (at least none interacting with people on the surface). The immediate area is naturalistic and the climate mostly benign. Initial opponents are animals, nature, and the undead. The PCs were provided a map with some adventure locales on it.

* I only know the West Marches from some basic reading, so I don't feel comfortable second-guessing how the campaign actually worked.

Second example is Verden, where I am a player. While we start out right next to civilization (and lots of it), it is on the other side of an immense wall and we can only go back and forth every three months. The immediate adventure area is tens of miles of ruins and smashed siege equipment and good water is hard to find. Again, initial opponents are animals, nature, and the undead. The players have a blank piece of paper for a map and not even rumors of adventure locales.

Third example is a sci-fi game that I'm talking about with one of my friends. Players will slowly explore an expanse of space, with star systems and planets comprising the primary adventure locales. Civilization might or might not be present on an individual world, but it's not too far away (as long as the spaceship works). Opponents can be nature, hostile alien life, hostile aliens, and possibly hostile non-aliens in the form of raiders. For ease of reference, I'm going to call this one Stellar Reaches (a working title I just came up with). It is likely there will be a star map and maybe system information for some locales, but probably not.

As a result of the starting environment, Verden is more survival oriented than Southern Reaches. Rather than draw every stream and spring on the map in Southern Reaches, I assume that the players find enough water that it is not an issue. In Verden, water that reaches the soil becomes tainted, so we have to capture rain whenever we can and we are seriously thinking of doubling our number of waterskins soonest. For a Stellar Reaches game, survival includes fuel for the ship and air to breathe as well as food and water. However, as that should be available at whatever starport the players base out of (or anyplace civilization exists) and does not have to be physically carried by the characters, this is a matter of logistics, not necessarily critical need (although fuel for the ship should be a regular purchase and will become a modulator of player wealth).

One of the issues I'm seeing in both Southern Reaches and Verden is a lack of NPCs for the players to interact with (Southern Reaches more than Verden as it turns out, but I haven't put up that adventure log yet). This is both a blessing and a curse. With no NPCs to get plot hooks from, the players must be proactive about doing things. On the downside, the range of encounters is more limited and interaction skills do not get much attention. Roleplaying is mostly between player characters which is more a matter of the players discussing strategy and where they want to explore. For my next campaign (once I've decided to conclude Southern Reaches), one of the things I'll change is how isolated the adventure area is. Bandits and intelligent humanoids should probably be more frequent in a sandbox game, if nothing else to shake things up occasionally.

For Stellar Reaches, NPC interaction should be a great deal more common. In a purely exploration game, it is likely the PCs will have a patron supporting them or need to sell data to keep everything running. In a more commerce-oriented game, the PCs will need to find cargo to ship or speculate in as they go system to system, using this as their income source and means for keeping the ship running. To do any of this will require interaction with a number of NPCs, getting interaction skills some limelight.

That's really all I have to say at the moment on that. I may have more on Wednesday.

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