Friday, August 4, 2023

Faction-centered, location-decentered play: some murky musings from the road

 We've been on the road for some time, having driven faaaaar to visit friends and family in Alaska. The regular RPG-ing and wargaming have ground to a halt during the trip, of course, but the scenery is certainly conducive to musings about potential fantasy stories and adventures...

Here's a campaign concept I've been mulling (and not too revolutionary of an idea, though I am unsure whether I've really seen something like this fleshed out for play): a kind of weird cross between the faction play typical of Blades in the Dark or Urban Shadows and the normie fantasy D&D sandbox so celebrated in OSR and NSR niche circles. Oh, and I'd probably run using a version of Into the Odd or Cairn (including Detachments and Establishments) and for magic, I'd use Wonders & Wickedness or the various spin-offs inspired by that title. 

Other points: 

+ play centers around factions and their goals

+ characters are not just free agents among the factions, but the party is its own faction with its own stakes and interests in the setting

+ I envision a moderate-prep campaign with most of the prep up front. Prepping the campaign would require fully fleshing out, in advance, the major factions - their key NPCs, at least an outline of their assets and order-of-battle, their known goals and needs, and at least a thumbnail description of their hangouts, lairs, HQs, and clubhouses. And maybe the map for the campaign would be a pointcrawl that is almost entirely known to the players. 

+ Executing play would involve finding out what the party wants to do, and then -- if a location map is needed -- grabbing a suitable Dyson map or the 'generic' locations in the Monster Overhaul bestiary, etc. - and kind of winging it. 

A lot of OSR-style campaigns I've pondered or even started have bogged down in the cycle of prepping dungeons and the quests that point parties into those dungeons. I guess I'm wondering whether just having a few (published) dungeons in the entire setting could work, if I assumed that most of the action would happen in alleys, country lanes, ruined wilderland watchtowers, etc. - driven not by clearing rooms but by navigating factional politics until tensions break? 

Again, this is hardly revolutionary, but I'm mulling it over and wanted to get some juices flowing here despite being on the road. Cheers and happy gaming!


  1. Interesting idea. As you mention, a lot of the locations would probably be pretty straightforward instead of weird and fantastic -- these are places that social intelligent beings are actively using, not puzzle dungeons that "a wizard did" -- with depth provided by the inhabitants' goals and possessions.

    I'd expect encounters to be shaped primarily by the broader stakes at play. When your goal is "loot", this loot is usually as good as that loot, but if you're trying to gather information on an opposing faction's plans for a region, you don't really care about finding 100 GP on a corpse. In that sense it's almost taking the feel of a lot of more modern or sci-fi mission-centric games (e.g. I'm thinking of Lancer sitreps as a useful tool) and translating it back into a fantasy setting.

    1. Thanks! Yes, you're capturing the feel I imagined. I am only minimally familiar with Lancer, so I should check those out! However, to maintain a 'sandbox' approach, I think I'd want to front-load a sort of 'campaign sitrep' - feeding lots of information, quite generously, to the players up front - so they can start making their own choices about how to approach their long-term strategic goals. The ideal situation would be to have THEM generate the goals for various sessions in play, so that the GM can just add a bit of local color and detail (or come up with more specific details to address emerging player interests). Hmm, this is sounding intriguing...

    2. That's exactly what I think Lancer sitreps would be useful for. They define the basic structure for an encounter, like "escort" or "defend this point" or "destroy this specific enemy". It might be a little more game-y than you want, but if nothing else you could use it as inspiration for how to differentiate between different kinds of encounters and give them each a distinct feel without depending so much of the details of the location.

      (I don't understand what you mean by "campaign sitrep" but I don't think of this as conflicting with a sandbox approach at all.)

    3. Thanks again. Yes, that does sound useful (it also sounds like the mission briefs in the supplement for The Mecha Hack, making me wonder whether Lancer inspired that part of TMH).

      Re: "campaign sitrep" - to coin a perhaps too-stretched concept - I just meant a detailed overview of the different factions' known wants, needs, goals, assets, locations, and weaknesses that the players might want to interact with and exploit from the beginning of the campaign.

      If one wanted to minimize GM prep, then the sort of sitrep you've discussed might optimally be mission objectives handed out by patrons or factions who want to hire or partner with the PCs: "please go escort XY to Z," for example.

      However, I haven't actually seen the Lancer sitreps, so I should look at them more closely when I have a chance to see what other aspects they offer too. Thank you for the tip! :-)


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