Saturday, August 23, 2008

The West Marches of Cinder?

In the comments to last Friday's post on my World of Cinder sandbox Joseph asks:
Are you going to be going the full "West Marches" route with your sandbox? Have a bunch of different players who may or may not show up for any given adventure? Or will there be a single main party playing in the sandbox?
Good question. So that everyone here on the ol' Gameblog is up to speed, I'm going to quote Ben Robbins' original West Marches article. Dig it:
1) There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly.

2) There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people.

3) There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that’s now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment.

Ben's point #3 is a given here, since the whole point of this exercise is to run a sandbox game in the vein of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.

I like point #2 because I'd very much like to run an "open" campaign, as was more common in the good ol' days. Anybody who wants to contact me for some D&D is welcome to swing a sword in the Midrealm of Cinder. That doesn't just apply to locals in the gaming scene. You're coming through Central Illinois and you have a few hours? Give me a call. I'm in the phonebook. Or you know, email jrients at gmail dot com. Hell, bring your favorite character. No promises that I'll let that 35th level Paladin/Assassin into my world, but I'll do my best to work with something reasonable. I'd even consider allowing characters made with some non-D&D systems. Or we can just throw some dice and whip something up. No big whoop.

Not having a regular schedule and leaving the scheduling in the player's hands has its pluses and minuses. On the one hand, I avoid the hassle of being both the guy running the gameworld and the guy organizing the sessions. That's very groovy. On the other hand I've seen lots of games go to pasture without the social glue of This Is Game Night. On the third hand, if I could get a group that wanted to play together every other Wednesday (or whatever) in addition to others playing on an ad hoc basis I'd be very happy to have my cake and eat it too.

One thing that worries me about the West Marches set-up is Robbins' insistence that town adventures are anathema. Check this out from a later post in the West Marches series:
be careful not to change the focus to urban adventure instead of exploration. You can have as many NPCs as you want in town, but remember it’s not about them. Once players start talking to town NPCs, they will have a perverse desire to stay in town and look for adventure there. “Town game” was a dirty word in West Marches. Town is not a source of info. You find things by exploring, not sitting in town — someone who explores should know more about what is out there than someone in town.
When running D&D I usually focus heavily, almost exclusively, on dungeon adventures. The whole point of starting the Cinder project was to get some wilderness and urban adventures in the mix. And I suspect I can avoid the kind of pitfalls Robbins encountered by the simple fact that I really can't run the kind of adventures his players wanted to find in the towns. My idea of a town adventure goes something like blah, blah, blah, there's a fight, and then the town burns down.