Monday, December 21, 2015

Discrete Worlds or Why the 6-Mile Hex Can't Save You

Image result for 6n graphWow, Feb 2013. It has been a while. I hope people are still listening. What have I been up to? Largely revising my gaming Magnum Opus, ad infinitum it seems. Life stuff. I am a very very busy person. But enough of that. This blog has never been about whats going on in my life and keeping it “professional” is how it is going to stay.

I have been thinking about a lot of things gamey and mathematical. Like I usually do. One of the big things I have been doing with the math is putting thought into why time, distance and light are concepts that are difficult to track in the context of even the most basic form of the game and grow to near impossible when presented with “the rest of the world.” Or, to be more sussinct: why am I playing this game if its always going to get caught up in minutia?

The best way I can describe this is with the dungeon corridor. Imagine a corridor in an anomalous subsurface environment aka a dungeon. The corridor is 50 feet long and ten feet wide with a door at each end. Now either one of two things is true- either there is something special about the hall, like a trap, a clue in the dungeon dressing on the walls - something that makes the hallway important; or the hallway can be represented as a line on the paper. Its a conduit from “area 1” to “area 2.” If it is important the hallway is really just a 10ft by 50ft room.

And there lies the rub - characters are discrete. Whereas much of the made up world they inhabit is not.

What is discrete? In math discrete numbers whose values have a clear demarcation from one another. Integers. Character stats are probably the best example here. You have a strength of 17 or 18. There is no 17.234534 strength characters. And most things about a character are described in discrete terms. Probably the one thing that approaches being continuous (the opposite of discrete) is the character’s wealth, but only when the currency is decimalized.

The “world” has discrete elements but more often is interacted with and operates in a continuous way. Lets go back to our corridor - often when it just needs to be a line on a sheet of paper it is still handled  in a continuous “object” that is it is given space on the map, but not given a description, and thus becomes dead space that must be “exercised” through - it has to be explored without payoff - it is simply a passage that only matches the description of the default dungeon features at best.

And that is the ultimate conclusion: The world must be rendered in a discrete format.
And its corollary is also true: The hex (6-mile or otherwise) is simply the DM’s survey grid used to measure distance when setting up a point crawl.

Got ahead of myself here. Because see, Chris at Hill Cantons and C at Hack and Slash have done a lot of legwork on how to bring adventure worlds into the discrete. Point crawls and set design go a long way here. Read up on what these gents have to say.

And that leads us to the design part here- people don’t think of the world in a continuous way. Its all discrete. Think about how you move around your town or travel to other places. You think in lines and destinations and landmarks. Think about how you keep track of where things are - your mind is built for chunking - In your room is a dresser, and in the dresser are drawers, and in each drawer is some set of clothes or other thing.

Almost all travel is along some predefined line, be it a road, trail, path, ridge, river, hallway, etc. The added benefit of the point crawl, the set design and random tables is things become easier to handle. They are written out the way that you think about them, and you can make the world just big enough to build illusion that there is stuff over the horizon.

The byproduct of all this is that it opens up player agency which leads to easier play: You already know what lies down that road the players just took without warning and as a result adventures happen without heavy handed "design" but as a byproduct of action and interaction.


benjamin wenham said...

Good to have you back. I discovered your blog, while you were away. Your work on the Six Mile hex has been really useful, and I look forwards to reading more from you.

Scott Anderson said...

Totally going to make a 17.234534 strength character now

Solabusca said...

Interesting read. I love what Chris at HC has done with pointcrawls; his recent update on Hexcrawls vs. Pointcrawls was a great read.