Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Impermanent Landscapes

I had a post mostly completed for today but I wracked up my back yesterday and aggravated an old injury. As a result, I’m finding it difficult to spend too much time sitting before the keyboard. And before idle speculation begins, I did not injure myself in the mosh pit at the Fear show on Monday. As an old friend once stated, “It’s hard to mosh at twenty-five,” and I’m now well past the time in my life where such endeavors are even timidly considered.

Until I get a chance to polish up that post, I want to present an idea that occurred to me just a day ago. As I mentioned Monday, I plan on using geomorphs to mimic the impermeability of dreams in constructing the initial city. It has since occurred to me that a similar method might work well for the lands outside the city gates.

Drawing on a mechanic from an old board game I once owned, Survive!, I’m tempted to draw the initial wilderness map using an oversized hex grid. On that map, certain locations will be indelibly marked - places like cities, coastlines, some mountain ranges, etc. In other areas of the map, the hexes would be left blank and perhaps tinted a generic grey. These areas would represent territories in the dreamlands that are in constant flux.

Using cardstock cut to the appropriate size and hexagonal shape, I’d create numerous tiles marked with symbols and/or colors representing forests, fields, swamps, lakes, deserts, hills, etc. These tiles would then be placed in an opaque container. As the party moves overland and approaches these areas, I’d draw from the container and lay down a tile or three on the map to determine what terrain is currently encountered there. The party would then have to determine if they wish to continue through that area or search for a more desirable area through which to travel.

As with the city system, familiarity would eventually cause the terrain to stabilize in areas regularly visited, but to remain in flux on the outskirts of the “known lands.” Through careful note keeping, I could make each such section of the map unique to the party that explores it and two adventuring groups might have a different mental map of the dreamlands.

I suppose I could produce the same effect with random tables and a dry erase marker, but the tactile mechanical device of using tiles appeals to me greatly, even if it results in a greater initial workload. I’m a sucker for board game elements in role-playing games and I do like widgets and gadgets to a certain extent.

This idea of nebulous territory also brings to mind the possibility that some or all of these areas may be growing in size, which could indicate that there’s something wrong with the dreamlands. Perhaps something or someone is causing the dreamlands to erode and seeking out and stopping that force could become a major campaign goal for the adventurers.

I’m just turning ideas around in my head here. Would this sound like something you would find fun and unique to such a setting or would it just piss you the hell off?


Koren n'Rhys said...

Well, I think it sounds like a very cool idea, Mike. The instability of the wilderness is pretty neat, but I especially like the idea that areas you visit often enough can eventually become static. I'd go with it!

Herb said...

You know some of us ARE still slam dancing ( kids today) well into our 40s.

Tacoma said...

Cardstock will slide around. Consider printing your hexes on clear projector slides such that there is no "clear" white space left, then cut them out. Draw your hexes slightly larger on 2-3mm wood or fiberboard and cut those hexes out. Seal the board hexes with lacquer. Then use a tiny amount of rubber cement to glue your projector cell hexes to the wood hex bases.

Advantages: The wood will cling to the map better, mainly because of the extra weight. An errant sneeze won't scatter them. They won't curl up at the edges and will fit together properly. They're waterproof. Most of the work is in the wood tiles and you can peel the projector cell off and use the tile for something else. Finally if you want to use both sides for different terrain you can.

Ragnorakk said...

I'd be keen on playing like that. Reminds me of Moorcock's Champions of Law establishing reality out of Chaos.

rainswept said...

I used a similar idea in a campaign under the name psychomimetic...

The terrain of reality derives its shape from what you think (just like 'real' dreams) and is mapped as you explore. For example, the moon may have been made of green cheese in people's minds, but until someone travels there, it remains 'unmapped' - merely a visual element of the mapped space. When we travelled there, the intervening space was mapped as a vacuum to suit the astronauts' beliefs, and the moon 'proved' to 'be' an airless rock... because that's what the astronauts were expecting.

Good thing they expected to get home safely :)

Modern psychiatry uses the term psychomimetic to mean something along the lines of hallucinatory... but my D&D game doesn't have psychiatrists ;)

Robert Fisher said...

I like this. Complete impermanence might tend to annoy me, but in a more limited way, I think would work well.

For a while, I’ve been thinking of a setting like Three Hearts and Three Lions where there is a conflict between lawful civilization and chaotic wilderness and that there is an actual, moveable front between the territories. This strikes me as perfect for that. The lands of chaos/faerie should be shifting and impermanent. (Much like they seem in faerie stories.) As civilization expands, however, the lands take on a permanency. Should civilized lands fall to wilderness, their permanence once again fades.

Telecanter said...

I like your idea a lot. I think it would be cool to have certain features-- towers, great rift canyons-- that have set characters but move around, sort of like Tanelorn.

I've been working on a way to play solo D&D for over ten years now, and only recently been making real progress.

I haven't posted anything to my blog because I wanted it farther along, but maybe it's time. Anyway, it's hex based and meant to generate catacombs. I plan on releasing svgs for free on my blog and then maybe selling nicer versions screenprinted on canvas.

What might interest you, is that I've devised a way to generate things on the map from the map. But that will be hard to explain without showing you so maybe I'll go work on that post . . .

K. Bailey said...

"Survive!" is a great game.

I do like this method if it's assumed the PCs would in-character know that gray areas of the map were going to be random.

But even then part of me thinks it might be better to hide the mechanism from the players. That way they can't tell the difference between gray hexes and other hexes except through experience.

The part I really like is the changing of the terrain over time. It could be part of the terrain itself. "Those mountains are almost always there, though sometimes they turn into bleak hills. But *those* mountains over there are temporary, but whatever terrain they are, they seem to be choked with hostile plant life..."

David said...

That's pretty cool, and I know I'd enjoy that as a player. If you can keep track of what you pull for each hex as they go along, maybe any hex that gets the same terrain type for 2 pulls in a row, or even 2 out of 3 pulls could then be made permanent.