Friday, May 27, 2011

Sandbox Preparation: Hex Content Category Templates...

Good Morning, All:

In regards to writing up the content of my sandbox, I find that having a sample template for each element really helps. However, in examining my Sandbox Preparation techniques, I find that I really don't have any minimalist templates that I can follow. With that in mind, as I begin to fill in my hexes, I wanted to stop a moment to consider developing a system of minimalist notation that will help me, and keep my notes small and concise. Thus, I have looked over each category of hex content, as discussed in my previous post, and suggested a base format that I would like to follow.

As an example of a Color description that I think works well, here's something from pg 298 of the Lenap Chapter used as a preview for Necromancer Games' Wilderlands of High Fantasy campaign setting (pg 5 of the PDF):

0804 The Lost God: The ruins of an altar to a lost god stands on a hummock. If a prayer is said at the altar, a beam of light will point to the nearest shelter, and no random encounters will occur for the night.

In further support, two pages later, you can find another example:

1623 Abandoned Cottage: A small cottage in a grove is infested with insects. A stone calendar stands on a small table of granite within.

From these two examples, you can see that the concept here is to describe a Color hex in two sentences, preferably taking up no more than two lines in the final document I create for my setting. It should be evocative, but concise. If there's a conflict, concise wins.

Suggested Color Template:
Hex Nbr Location Name: One or two sentences that describe the location.

I feel that there are two ways to handle Lairs in a sandbox write-up. You can use the traditional approach (two-three sentences that set up the encounter, define the participants and provide the treasure), or you can borrow from the One Page Dungeon format. With the One Page Dungeon, you are deliberately trying to describe an encounter (i.e. a room) in a brief sentence or series of sentence fragments that covers all the details in one simply line of text on the page, two at the most. Back in the day, as we old gaming fogies occasionally say, a paper publication called Dungeon Magazine used to define the following elements as necessary for describing an encounter:

The adventure itself consists of a series of planned encounters keyed to a map, timeline, or flowchart. Each encounter can include any or all of the following sections: Read-aloud Text, General Description, Creature(s), Tactics, Trap(s), Treasure, Development, and Ad-Hoc XP Adjustment. Do not include sections that are unnecessary for a given encounter. For instance, an area devoid of traps does not require a Trap section.

Looking at those elements, I think the list itself presents an immediate suggestion for a template to use in describing lairs. I've modified the list above somewhat, in keeping with the philosophy that we are trying to record the minimal information needed to run a campaign from these notes. Each element below is a sentence fragment (preferably less than ten words each), rather than a complete sentence, to help cut down on space and improve information density. For monster stats, I prefer to define those in a roster somewhere, and not in this particular write-up. That way, I can use the same campaign in multiple gaming systems with maximum re-usability. Here is my initial thoughts on the Lair template format:

Suggested Lair Template:
Hex Nbr Location/Lair Name: Description fragment. Creature(s). Tactics. Trap(s). Treasure.

You may find it worthwhile to develop a small table of options for tactics, so you can minimize that section to a few words. As an example, I offer the following:

Table: Encounter Tactics
AggressiveIncredibly irritable; will often attack other creatures on sight
HostileTreats others belligerently and attacks if it can reasonably succeed
CautiousAvoids contact with other creatures whenever possible
NeutralOnly attacks other creatures in defense of themselves or their own kind
FriendlyVery friendly, curious; Will seek to interact with others, if not threatened

There are almost as many ways to describe a settlement as there are gaming systems (and sometimes even those can see multiple formats for descriptions and/or stat blocks.) Toward that end, I simply perused a number of settlement descriptions for various systems with a little Google Fu, and noted the details that seemed important in each of them: Name, settlement size, population, available assets, spellcaster capacity, ruler/authority figure, government form, defenses, resources, tech level, alignment, law level, important NPCs, important locations, important organizations and so forth. Looking over that impressive array of items, I began to pick and choose only those elements that would add to my ability to portray the setting consistently. If I didn't feel it applied to the way I run my games, I dropped it from my list. Finally, I arranged the remaining elements into a simple series of sentence fragments, much like the Lair format above. My goal here is to bring it all down to as few lines as possible in my notes and still be effective. Here's my first suggestion for a Settlement template format:

Suggested Settlement Template:
Hex Nbr Settlement Name (Size, Pop. XXX): Government; Reaction to Outsiders: XXX (use reaction descriptors such as Hostile, Unfriendly, Indifferent, Friendly, Helpful); Resources: XXX (only the highest resource should be listed); Important NPCs: name (descriptor gender race profession), name (descriptor gender race profession), name (descriptor gender race profession) (Only list the top three or four). A single sentence description may follow, to increase the flavor and capture any important notes or elements that should be included here.

While the population is mostly flavor for me, I like having that number to banter around. Most of the remaining information I'd need can be determined from Settlement size and NPCs, at least in regards to assets, spellcasting capacity, etc.

Sites are often described in their own document, such as a One Page Dungeon or a stack of them. With that in mind, all we need here is a basic one sentence (or even sentence fragment) description of the site, and perhaps a sentence reminding us of where to look for detailed information. This wouldn't make it very different from the Color format, I'm sure.

Suggested Site Template:
Hex Nbr Site Name: One sentence describing the site, including number of floors and most outstanding characteristic about it. For more information, see [Name/Location of Site details document(s)].

Terrain Effects
To me, terrain effects are a lot like hazards and traps, and should contain the same type of information, even if the format is different. In essence, we should make sure that we've described the basic nature of the terrain effect, the impact on the character and what can mitigate or negate the terrain effect.

Suggested Terrain Effect Template:
Hex Nbr Location/Terrain Effect Name: One sentence describes the terrain effect. One sentence identifies character impact and possible mitigation or negation of the effect.

The Last Word... Today
My final words on today's topic is that, like all other systems used for information tracking, these suggested formats may shift and change as I use them more frequently. If I find myself not using certain pieces of information, I can drop that from my format. If I discover that I need information that I haven't recorded, I'll modify my templates to include it going forward. Of course, comments are always welcome, and shared insight might help me make changes while I'm still in the exploration phase. My goals for this project are simple, and anything that helps me improve the usability of these notes is welcome.

With Regards,

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