Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Modifying West Marches

Ben Robbins stirred quite a discussion online with his West Marches series of posts. The funny thing is, what he was describing wasn't really new for the most part, but was the way OD&D was meant to be played, with
  • An open sandbox of both wilderness and dungeon settings. No referee-engineered rails that the PCs would be compelled to follow. The emphasis was on exploration, not plotlines.
  • A large group of players whose characters would mingle in numerous configurations instead of a single, set, and small adventuring company.
  • Dungeons and other settings that were not meant to be "cleared" in a go and never visited again, but rather to be explored in many ongoing expeditions over time and to have mysteries that might take numerous expeditions (and a lot of leveling up) to crack.
  • A dangerous world that would require the PCs to work together just to survive, let alone prosper.
  • No town adventures; the town was a safe place to plan the next adventure "out there," not a source of adventure.
It's that last point that I would modify in Asryth. Frankly, I like city adventures and a bit of intrigue, and so do my players. All the same, I don't want the campaign to stay rooted in the city, so here is my answer:
  • The city is a place to spend money, not to earn it.
Some of the best adventures of Conan, Elric, and Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser took place inside great cities--but somehow the heroes never seemed to come out ahead (or at least not for long), and were always compelled to go back out into the world to raise more funds. In the same way, the players should find that while exciting and rewarding, the costs of wenching, buying equipment, maintaining homes (or rooms at their favorite inns), giving to beggars, donating to their various organizations, training, digging out information, getting involved in intrigues, etc. all quickly drain their characters of funds. They may occassionally come out ahead, but if that's the rule instead of the exception, you're not doing it right, at least not if you want to get them into the dungeon.

Combined with an option to gain xp for spending gp rather than simply finding gp, this should serve to keep the characters lean, hungry and eager to set back out on each new expedition without the referee having to be overly stingy about handing out treasure in the first place.

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