Wednesday, August 29, 2007

more Wilderlands musings

A couple weeks ago I blogged about how I was considering buying the Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set. I've decided to give the Wilderlands a pass. It looks awesome and I certainly wouldn't mind being a player in that setting, but it's not what I want to run. One of the reasons I decided that my unbelievably successful Wild Times campaign would be my last Greyhawk outing was because I felt I no longer needed to play in someone else's setting. Substituting Bob Bledsaw and crew for Gary Gygax and friends wasn't what I had in mind when I burned my Darlene maps. (Just kidding. I'm not that crazy. But I have considered selling all my Greyhawk stuff except my copy of Supplement I.)

But thoroughly investigating the Wilderlands has been extremely helpful, because the methods used to make that sandbox work are well worth imitation. Devin Parker said this in a comment on my earlier Wilderlands post:
I'm a huge cheapskate, so I always come back to the advice that Brian Gleichman gave on RPGnet many moons ago: look at the product you're salivating over, list the things you think are cool about it or imagine it contains, and then make your own version based on your perceptions of the product. Sure, you may miss out on some surprises, but you also don't get disappointed, and you save cash.
I think that's some pretty damn good advice. Which is not surprising, as Gleichman is one of the smartest cats I've met in the world of online RPG discourse. The biggest thing that caught my eye about the Wilderlands was the simple combination of a numbered hexmap and a key full of brief, punchy encounters. If the PCs happen to wander into hex 0312 or whatever, here in a nutshell is the adventure they can have. Many moons ago we did something like this in my Bandit Kingdoms campaign. The memory of exploring those little 1-mile hexes of the Bandit Kingdoms still sticks in my friend Pat's memory as a highlight of an overall pretty good campaign. (For my own part, I still fondly recall the time those pechs petrified his PC and he had to play his henchmen scrambling to get their stony boss out of the Dungeon of Doom. As a DM I live for moments like that, where the PCs plans all hilariously go to crap. But I'm getting off topic here.)

So I found that the good folks at Noble Knight Games would sell me some old Judges Guild numbered hexmaps and those babies are on the way to me as I type this. It's clear to me now that one of the reasons my poster-sized Wild Coast map and my recent Beyond Vinland map and my Brythunian Age map (Wow, anyone remember that project?) weren't working as I wanted was because the hexes weren't numbered for easy keying of encounters. I wouldn't have realized that was the problem without the Wilderlands.

This simple discovery, that I needed a numbered hexmap, has caused me to really dig into the Old Books once again. This time, I'm pouring over the Little Beige Books and the First Fantasy Campaign and the 1st edition DMG and my Arduin books and such looking for procedural advice. How did the old guys structure their campaigns, and how can that inform my play? I don't want to run Greyhawk or Blackmoor or Arduin or the Wilderlands, I want to use their methods to develop my own material. Just the same way that Ron Edwards, in Sorcerer & Sword, argues that we should stop running S&S games in Hyboria and instead look at how and why Howard constructed his world as a way of informing our own world-building.

The final piece of advice I can glean from the Wilderlands is to not be overly system-focused. Although the most recent incarnation of the Wilderlands is ostensibly a 3.5 product, you can use a crapload of the stuff in the Wilderlands for nearly any version of D&D, as well as many other systems. I want that. I want a campaign world where if I choose to once again run a campaign under an older version of D&D, it won't be much trouble for me. Or if I want to run some non-canonical MERP or something like that. And I really want to be able to use much of this same setting stuff for Encounter Critical. Will that mean Damnation Vans and Robodroid Warlocks in the same setting as clerics and beholders? You bet your ass it does.

More on this topic as my thoughts percolate more.