Monday, 10 November 2014

Void Gulls


Deprived of their home plane long ago, these alien gulls have adapted to the void that howls between realms. When found in the material plane, they are found in small patrol or scouting groups.

They are keenly interested in sorcerers and summoners of all types, and will abduct them opportunistically, hoping to extract magical secrets from them.

They move by 'glide-hopping' - bouncing up on their one leg, and flapping for a few feet before hopping once more. In combat, they seize prey with their rubbery fingers, and deliver axe-like blows with their bony, tripartite 'beaks'.

Gull 'nests' are ruled over by a void-bringer, a gull with considerable magical ability. The presence of a nest in the material plane is a dire sign.


B/X D&D Stats

Armor Class: as +1 Leather
Hit Dice: 4+1*
Move: 120' (40')
Attacks: claw/claw/beak
Damage: 1-4/1-4/1-10
No. Appearing: 1-8 (3-24)
Save As: Fighter 3
Morale: 8
Treasure Type: C + N
Alignment: Chaotic
XP: 200

If either claw attack hits, the gull has briefly seized its target and may strike with its beak.

A nest of 13 or more gulls will be ruled over by a void-bringer, with the abilities of a 6th level Magic-User.


Dungeon World Stats

Group, Intelligent, Organized, Planar

Beak hammer blow (d8+1); 9 HP; 1 Armor
Close
  • Mob a solitary victim
  • Flee to fight again another day
  • Drag away a hostage
  • Conduct a ritual to tear open reality and let in the void


Torchbearer Stats

Might: 3
Nature: 4 / Hacking, Seizing, Gliding

Conflict Dispositions

Kill: 4
Attack +1s, Hammer Beak
Maneuver +1D, Rubbery Wings

Drive Off: 4
Feint +1s, Grabbing Claws
Defense +1D Mad Hopping

Flee: 8
Attack +1s - Rubbery Wings
Maneuver +1D Rubbery Wings

Armor: Leather
Instinct: Abduct a wizard or elf

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Reverse Level Benefits for AD&D

This is me playing around with AD&D level perks - instead of getting the perk as a result of collecting XP, you have to adventure to get the perk yourself, and you get XP as a result.

For example, in AD&D, a 9th level cleric can build a place of worship. In other words, collecting 110,001 xp lets you make a building.

Turning this on its head, you can try to make a place of worship whenever you like, and if you pull it off it'll earn you 30,000xp.

What happens to the game if you reverse all of the perks this way?

Here's all of reverse-perks I worked out:

The Perks

When a cleric builds a place of worship - a building of not less than 2,000 square feet in floor area with an altar, shrine, chapel, etc. - they earn 30,000xp.

When a cleric attracts 100 followers, they earn 30,000xp.

When a cleric constructs a religious stronghold (a fortified castle, monastery or abbey containing a large temple, cathedral, or church of not less than 2500 square feet on the ground floor), they earn 100,000xp.

When a cleric clears an area and establishes monthly taxation of not less than 9sp per inhabitant of the area, they earn 50,000 xp.

When a fighter establishes a freehold, some type of castle and clearing the area in a radius of 20 to 50 miles around of hostile creatures, they earn 30,000xp.

When a fighter attracts and pays a body of men-at-arms, led by an above-average fighter, to the well maintained freehold, the fighter earns 30,000xp.

When a fighter establishes and collects a monthly tax of 7sp per inhabitant of their freehold, they earn 10,000xp.

When a paladin finds and retains a warhorse of unparalleled quality, they earn 6,000xp.

When a ranger attracts a body of 12 or more followers, they earn 50,000xp.

When a magic-user finds and learns a new spell, they earn the spell's level squared x1,500xp (e.g. finding and learning a 2nd level spell earns 6,000xp, a 5th level spell earns 37,500xp).


Weird.. why?

Mostly I'm just playing around. One of the things I've said in the past is that class/level perks insulate the character advancement from the events of the game.

Stuck fighting undead baby kraken at sea? No worries, you'll still earn that precious xp that will make you a better magic-user or sneak thief, even if that seems a little weird.

In a way, it's a pre-packaged heroic character arc on rails, the player-side mirror image of a linear adventure.

Another observation: rules like this prevent something from becoming the focus of the game.

For instance, if you automatically attract religious followers when (as a cleric) you acquire a certain amount of treasure (xp), the GM and players don't need to get into the business of trying to attract religious followers. It just happens, as if by montage.

Similarly, in The Regiment (Apocalypse World-based WWII game), there's a downtime move that causes hours, days or even weeks of leave to breeze by in a single die roll, because while downtime is vital to war-weary soldiers, the game isn't about the downtime.

Maybe that's what you want, maybe it's not.

One of the things I'm playing around with these days is mechanics that have the greatest possible effect on the buildup of campaign capital, and I think this sort of design decision is a central one.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Monstrous Effects on Terrain

If you haven't seen it, there's an amazing video on YouTube about the effects that wolves had on the geography of Yellowstone National Park.

Yes, the geography.

It's worth the watch, but in short, wolves prefer to hunt in areas where they can easily ambush prey. As a result, this keeps deer out of valleys and gorges where they can be easily trapped by natural barriers like cliffs. Without hordes of deer stripping everything down to shorn grass, areas quickly sprung up into dense thickets.

In some cases, whole valley systems turned into forest in less than a decade.



This allowed a whole forest ecology to spring up - birds, beavers, rabbits, mice, hawks, foxes, badgers, bears, etc.

Since forest roots stabilize soil against erosion more effectively than grass roots do, the rivers tend to straighten, following narrow, deep channels instead of shallow rivers that meander their way into loops and bends as a result of rapid erosion.

The presence of wolves changed the rivers.


Why Not Monsters?

If wolves can do this, why wouldn't monsters?

Imagine a pack of lion-sized wyverns.  They spend ages on the wing, in great flocks, descending on anything meaty that lets itself get caught out in the open.

With no way to evade them in open grassland, grazers must stay near enough to the edges of forests so they can run for cover. As a result, out in the open areas, saplings are no longer being stripped of their soft back and shoots, so they can sprout up. Eventually patches of this develop into copses.

When the copses are mature enough to provide cover from wyverns, the grazers can occupy them, making brief forays out into the grasslands when the coast is clear.

Eventually, you wind up with a patchwork; large copses of tall trees, separated by wide lanes of grasses.

Stripped of their saplings and underbrush, the forests are robbed of their next generation, and eventually turn into skeletal stands of dead trees - which make perfect wyvern roosts.

Since nothing grazes so near to wyvern flocks, these skeletal stands soon thicken with underbrush, rejuvenatigng them.  Eventually, the grazers have stripped all the nearby copses, and so wyvern and deer alike move on, beginning the cycle anew.

Useful Knowledge

What's important about this isn't my ability to predict the evolution of a complex ecosystem, maybe I've got it all wrong.

But who cares - we now have an interesting telltale of the presence of wyvern packs: copses separated by lanes of grasslands, with occasional stands of dead trees choked with underbrush.

This is very distinctive, enough that players could soon learn to recognize it as a sign of wyvern activity.

Brainstorm More!

I turn it over to you. What other terrain effects could monsters exert?  Whether or not you get as far as the resulting ecology, what are the raw pressures that various creatures could exert?

Herbivore Patterns

  • Imagine giant blight ants that only eat mature trees (they do something with the wood, involving fungus).
  • Imagine river-swimming herbivores that can come just far enough onto land to remove riverside vegetation.
  • Beavers cause flooding with their dams, perhaps certain underground dwellers divert underground water sources.
  • Foragers that turn up the soil.  (Ankheg burrowing brings in flocks of birds, looking for freshly revealed worms.)

Predator Patterns

  • Ambush chasers prefer close, confusing terrain, driving favored prey elsewhere.
  • Airborne hunters prefer sparse, open ground.
  • Droppers need overhanging branches or cliff faces.
This is of course to say nothing of the weird shenanigans that intelligent monsters can get up to.

What else?

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Interesting and Useful Dungeon Descriptions

A question I see from time to time in various forms is, "How do I make dungeon descriptions interesting?"

One possible answer looks like this:

Random Dungeon Details (d1000)
01-03  Bad smell (d6: 1-2 sulphur, 3-4 decay, 5-6 methane)
04-06  Manticore poop
07-11  Blood stains (d4: 1-3 old and flaky, 4 fresh)
...

Random charts are great, and this will liven up even an empty room. Interesting descriptions are fun!

The information, however, is going to be useless to the players. Why? It's not connected to anything important going on in the dungeon. (1)

Essentially, this is a red herring table. A few red herrings are fine to spice things up, but because they're a waste of time, they tend to score low as gameable campaign capital.

Adventuring in a Dangerous Place

Imagine a place so dangerous that the players can't afford to be distracted by red herrings. Just by coming in here, they've accepted a level of risk that would drive most folks to terror, because death could be lurking around every corner.

There might be great rewards, even potential allies, but there are also threats that they don't stand a chance against, and they don't know where those are.

Everything the party does spends a precious resource - time, light, magic, their unbroken bodies, their sense of direction, or just their luck.

Everything they use up might be needed later, every step forward invites an untimely death, or maybe a lingering one: the dungeon is only the halfway point of their foray!

Not only that, they still have to get home, and that's even harder than getting here. Sure, they know the way, but now their rations are stretched, they may be nursing injuries, threats along the expedition path might have been alerted by their first trip through, not to mention they might leave pursued by horrors from the adventure site itself.

Add to this the mundane difficulties of exposure, getting lost, and random mishaps.
disgusted manticore

What Do We See?

To survive this deadly place, what they need is information.

So when they say, "What do we see?" they're not asking for an "interesting" description, they're asking for a useful one. They need information that will help them stay alive:

Should we go around this corner? (If we do, will we die?)
Should we use this spell now? (If we do, will we die later?)
Should we turn back? (Are we already too beaten up to survive the trip home?)

Random Trivia Knowledge is Power

For players to want to risk their lives collecting information, they have to believe it's going to pay off. This means they need to believe that they are surrounded by useful information.

How do you do this? (drumroll) You surround them with useful information!

In fact, for practice, why not strip out everything else, so that absolutely everything they see can help them learn:
  • What sort of place is this? (What can we expect of the layout of the rest of it?)
  • What's been happening here? (What might happen again, soon?)
  • What's in here with us? (Where is it? How do we prepare for it?)
  • What does it want? (Should we avoid it?)
  • How bad is it? (Is it a militaristic, vengeful gestalt? How brutal is it with prisoners?)
In general, useful information reveals a pattern that lets the players predict what's coming.

I'll write more about other types of control, but that's the most basic. If you know there are four grues and a gold crown down below, you can make an informed choice about whether to go downstairs.


Stocking Dungeons With Useful Information

When stocking a dungeon this way, I like to think of the underlying patterns as emitters, spewing evidence everywhere.

Keep the emitters few in number, since each one is going to lay down lots of evidence.  An emitter might be the site's plan - what sort of building is it?  This can give players an idea of what sorts of rooms they might encounter, and (if the site follows a traditional plan) even give them ideas about the layout of undiscovered parts. (2)

Dungeon inhabitants are emitters - they move around, they defecate, they gather food, they improve their lairs, they leave signs of their culture and their other activities.

Important events are also emitters. What happened here?  A fight? Was the place repurposed?

Also consider the effects of weather, time, and flowing water.

Emitters don't just generate evidence, they also interact with one another. This is most of the fun in laying down evidence.

Strange Evidence

Sometimes, evidence makes no sense on its own. This is wonderful! The players (who by now have been trained to know that everything they see is a clue), will know that it means something, but they might not realize what. This creates an itching in their minds, so satisfying (and memorable) when it's scratched and the pattern fits into place.

In one of my dungeons, an abandoned monastery protected by a gatehouse, every single wooden fixture had been removed. There were no tables, beds, chairs, pews, furniture of any kind. Even doors and door frames were missing.  I didn't explain this up front, just pointed it out with each new room they entered.


Temple of the Second Try

Here's a bunch of evidence from an example adventuring site, in the order the players might encounter it.  I worked this up by writing out the emitters first, thinking up evidence, thinking up how the emitters interact.

Here's the emitter list:

1. A cult built a temple in the center of a small lake.
2. There, they achieved their goal of summoning their evil demigod
3. This triggered the formation of a sinkhole directly under the temple, killing everyone
4. The abandoned site was later inhabited by orcs, who adopted the cult's religion

Here's the evidence that players might encounter as they move through the site:

The Forest
  • hunting trails are everywhere
  • some are older and more overgrown than others
  • Galu devotional fetishes hang from boughs along the trails (symbols shaped from woven grasses and twigs, daubed with blood)
  • the Galu fetishes are not the usual sort, and are made in the shape of an unfamiliar symbol
  • any Galu encountered (that the party doesn't scare off) will be unusually friendly, inviting the party to join them at their camp
The Depression
  • in a low-lying area of the forest, the trees are much younger than elsewhere
  • a stone causeway, some 4' off the forest floor, runs east-west through the trees of this area
  • crazy doctrines are etched into every hard surface of the causeway, showing scenes of a huge, tentacled demigod appearing over human sacrifices on an altar
  • a large alterpiece radiates wavy lines
  • the etchings have been crudely vandalized, with large, Galu-proportioned stick figures added to the scenes
The Temple
  • at the end of the causeway is a temple
  • its crowning icon is the same symbol as the fetishes
  • it's etched, just like the causeway, but the vandalism is all below 7'
  • the temple is of the same architectural style as nearby human towns
  • the back half the temple, including the altar, has fallen into the sinkhole, leaving just the front facade and a bit of the sides
  • the temple doors are reached from the causeway, and are locked (as they were during the ceremony)
  • the Galu go in and out by skirting the edge of the sinkhole
  • around back is the Galu camp, animal-skin tarps stretched between the inner walls of the temple's entryway
  • the Galu have erected a wooden version of the altarpiece shown in the etchings at the edge of the sinkhole
As soon as the opportunity arises, the Galu will try to overpower the party, confine them and sacrifice them.

The Sinkhole
  • Some of the huge rubble pile at the bottom of the sinkhole is recognizably bits of temple
  • the rubble is strewn with refuse from the Galu camp
  • several Galu bodies are visible, as are a couple of trappers
  • The golden altarpiece (unrecognizable and battered) lies under rubble, near the top of the pile

So, this is a simple enough adventure site, but everything present can help the players understand either what's happening here, or their likely fate if they let their guard down (which is important if Galu have been established as territorial, but not especially violent or brutal).  Lastly, the etchings and the sinkhole form a crude treasure map.

Making Knowledge Useful

I'm going to revisit this topic again. In particular, I think there are some tricks to making knowledge more useful.  But before I get to that, I need to talk about integrating one-page adventures into a sandbox campaign!


Footnotes

(1) A fast-thinking GM can, of course, rationalize any detail and provide at least a tenuous connection to what's going on in the dungeon. What dungeon has a hard time producing blood stains?

(2) Note that this means the randomly generated dungeon is essentially an ongoing, architectural red herring.  Endless, purposeless geometry, reminding you over and over again that there's nothing to be learned and you should stop thinking about it.

Monday, 6 October 2014

What Will They Do With Us?

So the party's been pursued, run down, overcome and captured.  Now what?  This is no time to go soft on them.  What good are the Star Queen's brutal gnoll mercenaries if they let the prisoners get away, allowing them to reach the Place of Bright Stones?

What Will They Do With Us? (d6)

1. Kill us all
2. Eat us one by one
3. Make slaves of us
4. Mutilate us, take our stuff and let us go
5. Drag us before their leader to answer for our trespasses
6. Parley to find out what the misunderstanding was

Brutal enemies roll twice, taking the lower result. Merciful enemies roll twice, taking the higher result.

When? (d4)

1. Immediately
2. After they catch their breath
3. After a brief confinement
4. After an eternity of confinement

Rash captors roll twice, taking the lesser result. Contemplative captors roll twice, taking the higher result.

Capricious captors invariably change their minds given enough time. Re-roll on the first table (ignore Brutal and Merciful effects). Maybe they eat three of you and merely rob the rest.

Confinement might mean being tied up near the fire, sat on, impaled through the hand on something tall and sharp, tossed in a hastily dug pit (which they made us dig), or rotting in an actual prison.



Thursday, 2 October 2014

Non-Mechanical Difficulty Levels for Monstrous Threats

In Ben's original West Marches campaign, he arranged the adventure-filled regions of his wilderness in order of challenge, more or less. The further you were from town, the more likely you were to be in an extremely dangerous place.

This works fairly naturally in a game like D&D, which has an extraordinarily steep power curve. A party of tenth level characters can take on large numbers of monsters that are quite dangerous when they first set out.

In other game systems, though, power levels aren't nearly as steep.  In games like Warhammer FRP, Burning Wheel, or E6 (and I hear RuneQuest), characters don't ever get so powerful that they can laugh at mundane threats like they can in D&D.

In games like this, what are some ways to pull off escalating difficulty?

In Dungeon World, and its stripped-down cousin World of Dungeons, there's almost no quantification of monster power level at all.  These games aren't about flat power curves, necessarily, (they just don't make statements about power) but the effect is the same. What are some non-mechanical ways to tweak the danger level?

Ben tells an anecdote about his players fleeing from goblins for days, ultimately having to run so far they fled into a vermin-filled swamp.  He also talks about the barrow wights in the otherwise pleasant Wil Wood - dangerous, but easily avoided, and in fact not that easy to find.

These got me thinking about non-mechanical difficulty levels for monstrous threats in general.

The lens I'm looking at this subject through is stocking a west marches-type wilderness map, so I'm thinking of this in terms of concentrations of monsters - factions, settlements, lairs, and so on. It could be a single owlbear, or an entire subsurface city of Derro.

Here's what I've got so far.

Controlling the Degree of Danger

This is the general principle - how much control do players have over the degree of danger? Can they get a taste and pull back, or does moving forward risk pulling down more than they bargained for?

Speed

It's easy to get away from Slow monsters. Maybe they're just slow all the time, maybe they're fast in short spurts but can't match the adventurers for endurance (like cheetahs). Maybe they just suck in the terrain the encounter occurs in. In any case, the players can control difficulty by just walking away.

It's much harder to escape from Fast monsters. Maybe they have a terrain advantage, maybe they know shortcuts. Maybe they have mounts, or long legs.  But as long as they can find you, they control the distance.

Cohesion

Unorganized monsters can be dealt with piecemeal - maybe they communicate poorly, maybe they hate each other. Angering one won't necessarily mean angering the others, and even if it does, they're not organized enough to do anything about it.

Factional monster concentrations are broken into smaller groups that don't quite get along. They have great communication within the smaller groups, but organizing beyond that is fraught. Pissing off one faction probably won't prompt an immediate reaction from the others, could actually win friends.

Cohesive groups have set internal conflicts aside, and are willing to pull together for the common good, sometimes rapidly.

Militaristic groups are not only willing to work together, they've drilled for it. Sometimes they're praying for it. Their response to external threats will be quick and decisive.

Gestalts are extremely dangerous - they are so cohesive that the entire community can respond as a single organism.

Territoriality

Defensive creatures just want to be left alone - they might even avoid the party if they can. If cornered or attacked, they might react violently, but the motive is to intimidate intruders to drive them away.

To Territorial monsters, on the other hand, just being around is a threat.  Moose might not want to eat you, but they'll pursue you until you wish you'd never set eyes on them.

Vengeful monsters don't just want you gone, they want you to remember them. Maybe they send bounty hunters, trackers, rangers or wargs after you. Predatory monsters are similar.

Proactive monsters aren't waiting to stumble into you, they're on the lookout for threats before they develop, and will act to neutralize them before they get out of hand. They know what you people from the lowlands are all about, and they're not having any of it.  If they get the drop on you, they'll mess you up just to send a warning.

Perceptiveness

The quickened trees of Grilwood might be organized, vengeful, but are so Oblivious that unless you smell like orc or try to cut one down, they probably won't even know you're there.

Inattentive monsters aren't expecting to meet anyone, while Alert ones do from time to time.

A Vigilant threat, on the other hand, may have scouts, spies, keen senses, or magical scrying.

Range

The Sarlacc and Blood Willow are nasty, but controlling your exposure to them is relatively easy because they're Stationary.  Territorial monsters might be bad, but they're not so bad if their territory is only the graveyard you were digging in.  Some are Site-Bound and don't leave the site where they are found, others will venture in the Local area, and some will have a wider Territory. Still other threats will have a Regional reach, able to come and get you long after you thought you were safely back in town.

Numbers

Singular or threats can be dealt with decisively (whether by evasion, bribery, negotiation, or violence) in a single encounter.  Numerous creatures are not so easily dealt with, and Hordes are impossible to stop with anything less than an army, or cataclysmic magic.

Obscurity

How well does the party understand what they're dealing with? Do they know the lay of the land, the nature and disposition of the threats? Are their weaknesses, strengths, and motives understood?  If the threats are Understood, the party is at least aware of how much trouble they are likely to bring down on themselves. If the threat is Unknown, the party may not realize it's in danger at all.

I'll talk a lot more about this in another blog post.

Other Qualities of Disposition

These factors have a more complex effect on threat level.

Inaccessible sites are those with obstructed approaches - defenses, narrow defiles or bottlenecks, town walls or ruined fortifications, difficult ascents or caverns, or a long trip across the desert. These barriers may confine the danger making the surrounding area safer, but once the obstacles are crossed, retreat can be difficult.

If a threat is Hidden, this takes control out of the players' hands, and multiplies the effects of the threat's territoriality.  Hidden/Predatory threats are a big problem, while Hidden/Defensive sites may never be found at all.

Sealed threats are somehow confined, imprisoned, or penned in.  Perhaps a cave-in has trapped underground dwellers, a barricade is preventing the crypt ghouls from flowing into the rest of the dungeon, or demons are trapped behind a door of black granite. These barriers offer parties at least an opportunity for control - don't break the seal, and you're safe.  Once the seal is down, however, it's usually hard to put back.

In some cases, only experienced parties can break the seals, which is a useful way of shaping the danger level.


Overall Threat Level

These individual factors all combine to produce an overall threat level.  Fast, Militaristic and Predatory makes for a much greater threat than just one or two of those factors. 

By these standards, it's easy to see why the barrow-wights of the Wil Wood aren't a great danger to parties that wander through the area - they may be Territorial and Unknown, but they are also Unorganized, Inattentive, Hidden, and Site-Bound, giving players a lot of control over the danger they invoke.

The goblins, however, were much more dangerous - Fast, Cohesive, Vengeful, Alert and Numerous.

The Orcs of Tirru-Stryggal from adventure #09 are almost as deadly as they come: Hidden, Regional, Vigilant, Fast, Militaristic, Predatory, Fortified, Unknown, Numerous.  This is a threat that will destroy all but the most prepared and capable parties that tangle with them.


P.S. Once My Enemy, Now My Friend

Interestingly, the danger posed by these various qualities flips around when we consider our allies.  It's much more useful to make alliances with Fast, Cohesive and Vigilant settlement than with an Oblivious, Factional and Site-Bound group.  Those are like to bring as much trouble as they do aid.  Hidden, Inaccessible and Sealed supporters aren't very useful either!

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Gameable Campaign Capital in Exploration/Adventure Campaigns

Bear with me while I muse on a few things I'm trying to sort out. All I'm really trying to do here is label an idea, so I can refer to it later - this is first in a short series.

Campaign Capital

Emily Care Boss came up with a useful term, Story Capital, as a label for the way that as a campaign progresses, fictional elements like player deeds, NPCs, nations, a favorite tavern - whatever - become laden with meaning and emotional investment.

For now I'm going to use the term 'campaign capital', because I'm looking at this all through the lens of exploration/adventure games rather than story games or character-driven games, but I mean more or less the same thing.

Now, I want to take about gameable campaign capital (to borrow a word Zak S. uses often), meaning accumulated capital that can provide fodder for ongoing play.

This leads to a sort of spectrum: campaign capital from least gameable to most gameable:

1. Fondly-Remembered Deeds (aka Remember that Awesome Thing We Did?)

This type is common in linear dungeons and travel-intensive quests. Challenges were overcome, Bargle died and got left behind, great battles were fought. It's awesome, and all in the rear-view mirror.

It's not really relevant to ongoing play because it's four hundred leagues back, and anyways why would we go back to that dungeon we collapsed?  Still, remember when Garridor rolled 20 and critted the lich with his lantern?  That was awesome.

2. GM-Initiated Recurrence (aka Boba Fett! Where?!)

At this level, the GM is bringing things back into play.

Actually, you've got to go back to Zoundheim all because the lich's phylactery was smuggled out by those death cultists you never took care of.  Then it turns out they were the ones who hired you in the first place.

The campaign capital gets reused, and now it's even more awesome - the little groove in your memories gets dug a little deeper.

Lasting curses and injuries inflicted by enemies also belong in this bucket.

3. Player Consideration (aka Bring More Bloody Arrows From Now On)

At this level, the players are aware that things come back into play, and realize that they're worth preparing for.

If the GM has made a recurring threat of harpies, the players may not be seeking out or avoiding harpies - that's in the GM's hands (or the hands of the random encounter table) - but they've figured out that it's a good idea for everyone to have a ranged weapon.

This isn't an exciting example, but play is being shaped by the mere memory, the threat of flying monsters.

For something to quality as this level, it's got to be the players that are bringing it back into play. This is important - not because collaboration is magical or anything like that - but because there are more players than GMs. The more people around the table that can bring something back into the game, the more gameable that thing is.

4. Hard-Won Assets and Options (aka Let's Introduce This Guy To Boba Fett)

This is player-initiated recurrence.  Elements at this level are both useful and worthwhile for players to bring back into play, and they have the means to do it (perhaps at some cost).

Maybe it's allies, maybe it's just a shit sandwich they've figured out how to serve to someone else.  Either way, it's a tool that they control (or can influence).


(This taxonomy is 100% complete and authoritative, and I didn't just make it up right now.)

Okay, So What?

Yes, good question. After all, in urban intrigue or investigation games, player-initiated recurrence is so common you don't even notice it. Your bookie is threatening to beat you up, you can get in touch with him any time you want by phoning him. It's trivial.

Right now I'm thinking a lot about exploration/adventure based play, and I notice in many cases that hard-won assets and options accumulate a lot more slowly.  Part of it is that travel is so difficult (which is why you need explorers and adventurers in the first place!), so hard-won assets are often far away.

You met the queen and you made friends, for instance, but when the harpies are attacking, the Queen and her honor guard are forty miles away where they can't help you.

In adventure games, the usual hard-won asset is character advancement - more hit points, spells, and dish out way more damage with their haul of magical weapons.  But these rarely bring the history of the game back into the present.  Sure you have a +3 sword, but after three adventures it rarely matters where you got it from.

This is what I'm currently noodling on - what are good ways for exploration/adventure games to quickly build gameable campaign capital?

My ideas right now revolve around patterns of clues, the value of knowledge, and fiction-connected advancement. More soon!