Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Five Foundations of Flavor

Speculative adventure games (aka TTRPGs) are just that: games. When all of the world design, history writing, and character building is finished there are only really five different places where your players really feel and pay attention to the world you have created: the places they explore, the spells (cast on them and by them), the monsters and villians they fight, the kinds of treasure they find, and magic items they use. These are the places where a DM puts the description of the world because these are the places where the players pay attention and the rubber meets the road.

How the places they explore are presented and if they are memorable or not has a big effect on what your players will remember. The way the traps work, hazards, weirdnesses, and the general feel of the place all say something about the world you have created. How often do places like this show up? How deep do they go? How weird do they get? Who built it? Is there any indicator as to who lived and/or worked here? This is how you get the history and feel of your campaign setting in to the minds of the players.

The way magic works also says alot about the world. Do spells have the names of their creators attached to them? Are there unique spells or ways of casting spells that show something about the world? If it is rare to find magic and hard to cast spells, then it colors the world in a certain way. There may not be any good wizards in your world. How the magic works would be a great place to accentuate that. Changing how the system works just a little bit can say a lot about spells and the people who cast them.

China Mieville's Slake Moth really brings home the setting of Perdido Street Station. Your monsters and villians are the probably the most defining element of the flavor of your setting. Are monsters (and demi humans) rare? Perhaps the only real monsters in your world are men with the occasional tentacled horror, or giant snake. The presence, size, intelligence and behavior of dragons says a lot. What the characters encounter really impacts the flavor of the world probably more than anything else because these are the things they fight and most of the interaction of most games is the combat system. When you fight a monster in a location the chances are someone is going to cast a spell. You can begin to see how the colors start to come together.

Treasure. It all comes down to what a large haul is. Do you find that dragons hoarde thousands of coins or just hundreds? In some worlds 300 gold pieces is small reward. In worlds with a little different flavor 30 gold crowns sets you for life. How far does gold go? How much do you find? Is the treasure even stacks of gold or is it historical artifacts and information about the world? What you find burried may not just be wealth but flavor.

Frequency and function of magic items works hand in hand with the spells and treasure. These things are generally a way for characters to touch the history of the game world. How they work says somthing about magic and the metaphysics of the campaign. Do magic items only ever show up based on fire and ice? Is it really just misunderstood technology? What magic items you present and how many of them you present is one of the best ways of conveying the world to the players.

These are the things your players will really ever pay attention to. These are the sticky points. They will meet you at these places and these are the things that they will remember. So if you want them to remember all the work you put into writing out histories and whatnot, do it in these places. Designing spells, creating magic items, building castles that will someday make a new ruin to explore, learning secrets about monsters, and seeking wealth are the ways players connect with the world. Fostering this connection by alowing the player to get involved allows them to remember more of what you have made.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

In Praise of the 6 Mile Hex

It is good to be back in action. I have been away on personal business, but I should be posting a little more regularly now.

So just today I stopped by Chgowiz's page and noticed that he was talking about wilderness hexes. (and it looks like Bat in the Attic has been playing with hexes a little too here and here)(and Chgowiz got Stirgessuck thinking a bit). When I left I had actually just started to kick around the old hexagon myself on this blog. And so I have some thoughts about hexagons already to go. I hope they are helpful to Chgowiz and everybody else.

As you can tell from the title, I think that the 6 mile hex is the ideal hex for wilderness adventuring hexcrawls. I used to be a big fan of the 5 mile hex as published by Judges Guild. But someone over at the Necromancer Games (was it Rob S. Conley?) pointed out back in like 2005 that it was actually a lot easier to use 6 mile hexes. And then I learned some more things about hexagons. Check it out:

1. Navigation. Estimateing a party's route through a 6 mile hex is a lot easier than any other hex. No other hex size breaks down as cleanly as a 6 mile hex. Trust me, I did the math. The numbers above are accurate to the first decimal. Thats good enough for general overland travel. Take a look at the diagram above. Its six miles from face to face. Vertex to opposite vertex is 7 miles. From the center to any face is 3 miles (half of 6). From the center to any vertex is 3.5 miles. From a navigation standpoint pretty much any route through the hex in general is covered. Enter from the vertex and leave through a face? You can approximate it pretty easily. 5 mile hexes do not lend well to this. If you wing it go with a 6 mile hex, you'll be glad you did.

2. Horizon. Your average human in a flat area without any obstructions in view (think a becalmed sea) can see up to 3 miles. Thats the distance to the horizon best case scenario. So a party travelling straight through a 6 mile hex is not going to see out of it. Unless they climb a tree or find a high place with a view. But the idea is that a 6 mile hex with varied terrain covers the distance that the party can see. A good rule of thumb is that if they take the time to survey the surrounding land then a party should be able to be aware of the terrain of the next hex over. Some pushback might come with the idea that you can see a mountain quite a ways away. But mountains are tricky in that you really can't tell how far away they are until you are a few hexes away. Getting a good vantage point (like the top of a hill or mountain) could be the opportunity for adventure in itself and being aware of the lay of the land can be its own reward. If you want to be able to tell your players how far they can see when they climb up the hill or tree or tower a good rule of thumb is that the distance to the horizon is the square root of thirteen times the height they are viewing from (

3. Sub hexes. The 6 mile hex can break down into half mile sub hexes. That is 12 hexes accross. (Mr. Chgowiz, this next bit is for you) If you put a dungeon or a settlement or some other important element in a hex, it is good to know where in the hex it is. Thus it makes sense to map out the hex in subhexes. Having these is good for distant encounters, chases, and well looking for that dungeon that is supposed to be around here somewhere. But wait, theres more. Each of these hexes can break down into sub hexes that are 1/24 of a mile accross. At this point your hexes can start measureing thing like furlongs, chains and all the other medieval land measurements. Thats really convenient when you want to figure out how many hexes should a farm take up. Also, 1/24th of a mile is a distance you can put on a battlemat. 5280ft/24 = 220 ft. 220 ft/5 = 44 battlemat squares. A Chessex Mondomat covers that area. Furthermore, if you are always using hexes that have 12 subhexes accross you only have to use one type of graph paper to keep track of all the projections. That is, the graph paper that you use for your sub hexes is the same as the graph paper you use for your subhexes of subhexes.

What this all comes down to is: The one-page wilderness template just got a lot cooler.

Merry Christmas Chgowiz!

*Graphic is soley my own this time... free to use and distribute...