Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Streamlining the Epic Sandbox

Get bang out of our buck. This plan for your sandbox means you spend time on players not places.

Let us get this out of the way. . .

Thanks LoonyDM for the Inspiration.

We're not going here.  The plan for the Streamlining of the Sandbox is to help you get to a point where you have flawless streaming games with as little muss and fuss as possible.  I hope that this will help you just a bit. The following post has been very interesting to discuss with various individuals and I feel that it is a great solution to the Epic Sandbox.  

Location/Group Rules: Locations as “Characters”.

In a sandbox game it can be difficult to keep track of a truly organic play experience.  From discussions with various DMs who have attempted the sandbox in multiple settings showing overall measured signs of ‘change’ can be difficult to quantify over the scale of a country, a continent, a world.

So I figured I would provide a bit of my own ideas of a self-contained system for generating locations within a Sandbox that serves three purposes:

  • Clear the Clutter:  Make a quick streamlined interpretation of the location that can contain a location from a small hut to a metropolis in a format that is easy to read at the speed of plot.
  • Provide artificial change mechanics:  Give a DM the ability to quickly interpret how events in a location determine the events around them.
  • Contain the Infinite and Provide Uncertainty/Variability until observed.  (Heisenberg’s Jello Principle): Jello is a viscous liquid that fits any container it is placed in until it is ‘set’.  The system should allow for an individual who is directly observing the material to ‘see’ a personalized view of events, which ‘sets’ when you are in it, but then can change based on outside factors while you are away.

Seems like a lot of work… But let me present an example (based on the FATE system of city generation with tweaks) to go off of:

Old Woman’s Hut (Local Location) [Town of X], Stress: 000
Concept: On the outskirts of town sits a woman on a porch…
Aspects: Creepy Old Lady, Been There for a Lifetime, Strange noises, Stranger Visitors.
Stress:  Defeat Town of X, Personal.  Heal: Personal. Restore: 2/Arc. Exhaust: Abandon.
Ideas: A place so few tarry, but those who do…
Occupant: The Old Woman (X).

At 9pt (my standard for documents for my binder) and 2 columns the base form fits 12 locations per page (with slightly more complex locales fitting 8-10).  But how does it work?  Well… If you have played a game of Fudge or Fate you probably recognize the base of the system here with certain variables.

We’ll start out with the Name.  Old Woman’s Hut could be anything you wish (The Dancing Pony, Keep of the Mad Mage, Giant’s Steps, The Azure Path).  On this line we provide the Location’s ‘type’ (used for purposes of knowing about the location.  This place is labeled as a simple Location of note, but could be labeled as a Threat (Something Bad Lives Here), a Plot Location (This is an important place in some overall plot in the area), or a Boon.  The Old Woman in this place could be an Annis Hag stealing children and trading her wares with those of a similar bend (Threat), a key source of knowledge on the plot, or someone who provides aid to the players in the form of a Boon.

The location can have one or more Aspects, little tells of the location’s attributes that define this location.  These Aspects could provide good hooks or opportunities.  In the Fate system an Aspect include the ability to Compel, providing a benefit for noticing these specifics.  In a game that includes Conviction/Fate Chips/Action Points a similar concept may exist, but it is beyond the purview or our current discussion.

SHaRE: Stress, Heal, Restore, Exhaust.

Stress is associated with the location’s continuing existence in the campaign.  As it stands the Old Woman’s Hut has 3 Stress, and has certain locations, events, etc. that can cause this Stress to increase or decrease. Events that affect the Town of X or the location personally This location heals when positive personal events occur to the location.  If the player does not affect a location directly or indirectly through their actions each location Restores Stress at a noted rate.

If not noted a location dropped to 0 Stress becomes Exhausted, and the location may have specific effects caused by this Exhaustion.  In this case the location becomes Abandoned, though the location may gain additional Aspects, Occupants, or other effects when Exhausted.  Some locations may Exhaust their Occupant OR the location… The Fire Mountains will always be there barring Epic intervention, so the Tribe of the Fire Mountains will probably be the Exhaust target.

Ideas are simple in that they provide a specific small hook of an idea, and can be any descriptive text.  Keep It Simple Stupid is a good idea in this case… KISS will save you plenty of time in generation, and if you remember to provide a concise but open substrate here you will have something to build off of.

Occupant provides a slot to place the basics of what goes bump in THIS
night. Personally I sometimes place a note (or link for an Internet resource) to a stat block I may use for the character somewhere else in my notes.  If you do not see a need for combat stats for a specific challenge just put your basic notes!

Stresses should be set around 2-5 for minor locations, 6-9 for moderate locations, and 10-15 for a Major Location.  Using Stress Immunity or Reduction (Below) can also assist, but remember Recovery rates…

The Balance Sheet: How To Keep Track, World and Local Balance, Ripples, and Random Stress.

Don’t want to have to work out a huge amount of math every time the party kills the [Evil, Demonic, Vampire] tagged location and affects a dozen Locations?  Never fear, the Balance Sheets are here.

You should have two forms of Balance Sheet (World and Local Balances):
Local Balance Sheets can actually fit multiple ‘sheets’ on a specific location based on the themes of the area.  Generate a  Minor Sheet for every Local Area.  For example the Metropolis of Calais-on-the-Sea and its surrounding areas may serve as a  Local sheet.  The Village of X listed above would have the Stress Level of its Keyword noted on this sheet, along with the various Calais interests like local adventuring groups, royals, churches, etc. that have their own unique local Keywords.  In short if Calais is currently the only area affected by a specific Stress note that stress here.   Define each Local Area and note those locations that are Adjacent for the effects of Ripples.  Local Areas have unique Recover Rates.

Your World sheet?  It covers World Stresses.  Major Keywords (Magic, Nature, Evil, Good, Chaos, overarching themes (War, Plague, The Empire of Flowers, Elven Relations, etc.) Keywords are placed on this sheet.  The World Sheet is also a good place to note Crossroads or Major Ripples (see below), locations that have a much larger effect than other events.  The World sheet has a range of -25 – 0 – 25 for the effects of each type, and you add a full point for a Major Location, half a point for Moderate Locations, and a quarter point per Minor Location.

Your actions killing Bob the minor Necromancer in the Village of X may lead to adoration in the Village… But it doesn’t really make a blip in the World at large.  Ripple is a way to keep track of how your actions affect the rest of the world.  When factoring Ripples, look at your Local Areas.  If an Area is adjacent reduce overall Stress produced by 1 point.  Reduce this amount by an additional point for every Local Area away the specific location sits.

Specific locations may cause Major Ripples, shown as Major Ripple X (MR x) at the Keyword location.  Treat a Major Ripple location as applying full Stress to locations at a range of X away from the location that was affected.  Certain locations serve as Crossroads for a specific Keyword, providing stress to ALL locations and full points to a World Sheet even if it is a Minor or Moderate location.

In the next post on the Epic Sandbox I will discuss Advanced Options like Stress Reduction and Stress Immunity, and the Events system.

Good Gaming.