Thursday, April 27, 2017

A World From Scratch ~ Sign Posts

For the moment, let's dispense with my world-making apparatus, as it is mostly a lot of detail designed to use the Earth as a template.  We don't need that.  We can start a sandbox world with a minimum of effort, one that will carry through a couple of runnings.

And let's keep it very simple.  I've been thinking a lot on the tech level concept I proposed eighteen months ago . . . so let's say that the world we're building allows for a tech-5 culture.  That means technologies associated with hunting, gathering, living in the wilderness, fishing, crude boats and technology so low that the only class our characters can take is fighter.  But no matter, we don't need real players, this is theoretical.

A tech-5 culture is very low density; we may depend that this will be in a boreal or a desert environment.  I'll choose desert.  Suppose we start with 6-mile hexes.

I'm getting a little fancy with the design, but let's not worry about it.  Here we have a triangular world just large enough to walk across in a day.  There are two kinds of terrain/vegetation represented: the darker, yellow hex is pure desert, lacking any sort of water or plant growth.  The remaining two hexes are a bit more lush, like this:

So, the first thing we want to do is to establish that someone lives here.  We'll want the bare minimum of settlement.  I rate settlements on a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being the most intensive possible, so we'll have a size-7 settlement: between 40-80 persons.  We'll add a little 7 to the map; and we can add a little circle to establish the exact location of the settlement.

This makes the two like hexes distinct from one another.  One is "civilized," or perhaps better described as occupied.  The other, which we can call a hinterland hex, is not.  Our few citizens are much more familiar with the nearer, occupied hex . . . but they would be somewhat familiar with the other.

They would be less so with the desert.  It isn't productive and it is dangerous for a number of reasons.  There might have been forays into the desert, to make sure it is all desert, but by the time our characters come around, that would have been well-established.

Of the two productive hexes, the nearer one would be more intensely exploited.  Let's introduce some of the features I've used for defining hexes in the past: food and hammers.

Why one hammer and one food?  I'm basing this on the Civ IV game.  An unexploited, productive dry plain starts with one hammer and one food.  We can think of this as a hex that provides for someone, but is minimally developed.  It has some development, however ~ the hinterland hex has the same potential as the occupied hex, but as it isn't occupied, we don't make note of that potential.

Okay, what does the food and the hammer mean?  Well, the food we've talked about in the past; we can keep it simple by saying it provides enough continual food for the settlement clan, but no more.  Because we are talking a tech-5 culture, none of these people are farmers or herders.  They are much more the level of tribesmen, occupying a sufficiently food-dense space, with a producing water well (not large enough for an "oasis" as we usually imagine them).  They live on honey, bush tucker and occasional animal kills, with a wide range of scavenging.  This is desert, so there's no water for fishing (even though that's available with tech-5).

I've been thinking about this constantly while cleaning and making dough this past week.  I think we can establish hammers as indicative of specific social features/buildings/services without needing to calculate their existence.  The hammer in this case, in this tech-level, would be a "camp."  It represents the industrial culture that is making tools, weapons, leather from the animals killed, redigging the water well and similar activities.  All that work counts as a "hammer"; which, like the food, is just enough to support the clan's needs.

From this, we can now propose three straightforward adventures:
  • Go out and get food.  The members of the party, using the bare minimum of weapons (no metal!), are sent into the hinterland to forage around for an animal kill.  The bigger the better. Bringing back meat will do more than feed the village, it will give the party prestige in the eyes of the clan, so that they may be given special privileges, such as bodyguards and even, potentially, the decision-making right for the whole clan.
  • Take a group from the clan and try to establish a second clan in the hinterland hex (making it into an occupied hex).  This requires finding the water source, potentially fighting non-meat producing animals, maybe even a small, unknown humanoid group, creating further prestige by promoting natural population growth (and the right to procreate from every woman in the clan).
  • Investigate the desert.  Who knows what might really be out there?  Virtually anything, really, which might be very hard to kill with ordinary wooden weapons.  But then, the reward might be a treasure trove of ancient metal weapons, unimagined tools for the tribes' use, perhaps something that might change the clan's destiny.
And there's a start.  We can move on from here, and I mean to . . . if this post gets any response.  I hope that I've helped the gentle reader to understand that a vast amount of information can be interpreted out of a few sign posts.


Vlad Malkav said...

Hello Alexis,

The point is made, a clear framework (like your civ-inspired one and your tech levels) and some associated data (a hammer, a food unit, a desert, 2 semi-deserts and a settlement) provide a lot of data - the gameability of which rest upon the thinking of the user (but it has always been the case ^^).

I'm very curious, waiting to see where you're going after that. For now, it's nothing new from what is on the blog, but it's a refined form, the kind of post usually leading to greater insights ...

More, more !

kimbo said...

Like it a lot. More please.

Lothar Svensson said...

Indeed! Very much looking forward to more.

Sofia Viktorova Koleva said...

These are my favorite sort of Alexis posts.

LTW said...

Yes please, may we have another?

Pandred said...

What Sofia said.

Keith S said...

The neat thing about signposts from a GM's perspective is that it allows you to quickly communicate with players, and fill in the gaps with play. The "story" happens when the players start to play there.

It's awesome that you can set down the foundation for a whole series of adventures in a single blog post, with a basic map!

Keith S said...

The neat thing about signposts from a GM's perspective is that it allows you to quickly communicate with players, and fill in the gaps with play. The "story" happens when the players start to play there.

It's awesome that you can set down the foundation for a whole series of adventures in a single blog post, with a basic map!

Joey Bennett said...

This is the type of thing I keep coming back for.