Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Wilderness

REFEREE's MAP is a wilderness map unknown to the players. It should be for the territory around the dungeon location. When players venture into this area they should have a blank hexagon map, and they move over each hex the referee will inform them as to what kind of terrain is in that hex. This form of exploring will eventually enable players to know the lay of the land in their immediate area and thus be able to select a site upon which to build their castles. (Castle building and its attendant requirements will be covered hereafter.) Exploratory adventures are likely to be the most exciting, and their incorporation intro the campaign is most desirable.
--Reference Sheets, Dungeons & Dragons (1974)

10 comments:

  1. I understand the reasoning behind this approach and used to follow it strictly. However, lately I've relaxed my stance on "fog of exploration" in an overland context, especially with new players unfamiliar with a setting.

    To paraphrase a wise fellow on the Harnforum (because I can't remember the quote), in the battle for hearts and minds, we use every tool at our disposal to evoke interest and a sense of wonder ... if a beautiful map will help with that, unfold that sucker.

    Every time I've ever flopped the Darlene maps in front of a new player, the "whoa" factor has far outweighed any negatives associated with OOC knowledge.

    So I know the terra incognito approach is valid and has its own advantages, but I've personally drifted away from it.

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  2. this, like your equipment post, seems like it points to a kind of theory of the D&D world - of the life PCs are supposed to live, or to have lived before their first dungeon. In this case we assume the PCs have never been here before, and nobody can tell them about the world they're in - something like the situation right at the start of the Riverworld books, perhaps.

    That attitude's always bothered me as a player and DM: the assumption that all is unknown, that nobody really lives here, and certainly nobody's made maps or established trade routes. There are castles but no farms. These days I'm more inclined to wonder if you can build such a world, what it would be like, how it came to have any products. I don't have any non-comedy answers to those questions yet, but maybe when I get some, I'll be forced to start DMing again.

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  3. maybe it's particularly American, this idea of an uncharted wilderness, where there's nobody you can ask for directions/no directions to give, and orcs (William Blake's name for archetypical, natural-bestial lapsarian man) are native Americans. I bet someone's said that before.

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  4. the assumption that all is unknown, that nobody really lives here, and certainly nobody's made maps or established trade routes. There are castles but no farms.

    I think that's perhaps an extreme interpretation of the quote. We know from reminiscences back in the day that the players weren't so utterly in the dark that they couldn't do research, ask questions, and plan accordingly. I think the point of the quote is that there's a parallel between the dungeon and the wilderness and that both point to one of the pillars of the game: exploration of the unknown. Lose that and you lose much of what D&D is about.

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  5. maybe it's particularly American, this idea of an uncharted wilderness, where there's nobody you can ask for directions/no directions to give

    I think there's something to that. I've pointed out before that Westerns are an important ingredient in the development of pulp fantasy and thus of D&D. There's a reason even an edition as rootless as 4e establishes "points of light" as its default setting assumption. The uncharted frontier is hardwired into D&D.

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  6. but I like being absurdly literal! Two explanations spring to m mind for how the situation could arise, where the PCs know nothing about where they are. Both, I think, might make good openings for games:
    1) shipwreck. The players are equipped with wha they can scavenge from the wreckage. The only way inland from their secluded beach is through a cave entrance.
    2) they were on their way to some military campaign and got sidetracked. This could be as simple as failing to wake up when the armed encampment moved out (sounds bizarre but it really happened!) or more exotic: maybe they were part of a group sent to relieve a remote bastion of the Great Flying Castle: in the middle of battle the bastion was blown up and they were thrown off, landing in whatever benighted corner of the underrealm they happened to be passing over at the time. Now they have to try to get back to the castle, which is thirty feet up and moving at about the speed of a running horse, and already some miles away. Their best bet is to try to enlist the help of some powerful wizard.

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  7. Richard, your option 2 is totally new school. The GM must present an overriding premise to the campaign.

    Old school was all about the GM presenting a world, and then letting the players explore that world (whether it was a wilderness, or a dungeon, or some combination).

    The shipwreck idea has certainly been used before (it's not too far off from the way MAR Barker suggests an Empire of the Petal Throne campaign be started).

    But looking to the American West is definitely a good way to look at things. Except the wilderness is way ramped up. Look at the encounter charts. It's deadly. Normal men don't trek into the wilderness, except in large caravans. It's a place for heroes to explore and tame.

    Which fits just fine with the idea of D&D characters and how they progress in levels.

    A fully settled, known, world presents problems with the D&D power progression. It invites GMs to populate the cities with high level NPCs to keep the PCs in line.

    Frank

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  8. he does, fair comment. The idea of a story-campaign is basically opposed to the idea of a campaign per se (sequence of assaults), isn't it? A wargame is a game of enacting the war itself, not of the causes for war or the potential for peace. I still think there's mileage in trying to understand the implicit narrative, though. I've been having mor fun with it over here, if you're interested: http://richardthinks.livejournal.com/

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  9. Richard, your option 2 is totally new school. The GM must present an overriding premise to the campaign.

    in my own defense, let me say that I'd never put something like that in a rule book, although I might well base a campaign around a premise like that. I'm also not opposed to sandbox play, just interested in the narratives implied in how the sandbox is set up.

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