Gothregel Primer: My thoughts on my open world, wilderness exploration game

Just about four weeks ago, I put out a call on my Facebook, wondering if people would be interested in an open table, wilderness exploration adventure. It received a fairly decent response, so I began my research, and started figuring out what I’d want in such an adventure. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that I signed myself up for a lot of work. 1. Open table

The first facet of this campaign is that I’d like it to be open table. An open table game means that I need to design a setting that any player can drop in or out of the game for any session. With it being an online game, I’d only be able to have four players in a game at a time. (Maayybe five. Four is what I’d prefer to run for.) This means that only a third of my (current) player base would be playing at a time.

So, there can’t be ‘plot.’ Nothing that would last past a session. That’s not saying there can’t be pieces that continue from past explorations, but I can’t run something like a murder mystery or an investigation of any kind. Dungeons also need to be designed with the thought that we’ll only have two or three hours to delve it before heading back to town. I have the rough idea for a setting that could do that, but it still needs a lot of lore.

I do plan on recording the adventures, so people not playing may be able to learn what happens. It may also be streamed by various people, but on a less consistent basis. I also started a FB group for it, and I would have no problem with people talking about their adventures and speculating on the world and stuff. A lot of my inspiration Comes from Ars Lundi’s Western Marches, which had a large amount of interaction between their players.

2. Wilderness Survival

A true exploration game is one that I have not played, although I have been pondering the playing of one for a while. Part of the problem with it is that 5e is not configured for such a game. From rules of resting, to encumbrance, to the mechanics of navigation built into the system, there’s a lot of 5e that just won’t work and, if this is to be a game worth speaking of, it has to.

So, part of my larger project is that I have to determine what rules are broken and need patching for this game, then I have to go out, do the research, write up how it works, then make sure it fits seemlessly with other rules, patches, spells, class and race abilities, items, and anything else that I’m afraid might throw off the balance. It’s a lot of boring work. In the end, though, it’ll be included in my Briefing Document.

3. Change is Good, Briefing Document is best

My Wilderness Exploration rule patches won’t be the only things of note to the players. I already have two races, one class, and one class archetype penciled in on the chopping block of not being allowed. There will also be a lot of tweaks to items and things, costs, weights, availability, etc. Some rules, such as Crafting rules, may need to be rewritten, assembled across various manuals, and polished for easier use by the players.

Basically, there will be a document that I will have written before we can play. You will not be able to play, unless you have done the homework of reading the thing. It will not be hard reading, but I will be very annoyed if a rule change outlined in the document blindsides players. (like, rocks fall on party level of annoyed.)

4. And we will call it: this land

One of the really cool things I’ve determined for this game that seems to be making a lot of work for me is the lore for the setting I’ve decided on. See, I thought it would be really cool if the party would be going out into a world that had never been seen by civilization. Any civilization. So this vast place to explore has not been explored by people who speak Common, or any other tongue. Think of it kind of like the Virginia Company meets the Long Earth, as those examples are two of my inspirations for the world.

It isn’t until you start preparing encounter tables that you realize how many monsters in the manual are ‘civilized’ to one extent or another. So, in addition to 5e’s skewed CR curve, I have a limited selection. I’ve been turning to other manuals, of editions past, of other systems, and, let me tell you, there are some fun monsters ahead. I just have to convert them into something nearing 5e, then use the stupid Monster maker to try and pin a CR on it so I can have a fairly balanced curve. I haven’t actually started that yet, so maybe, once I start cranking out the baddies, it’ll get easier. Or I’ll write a spreadsheet to do it for me.

It is worth noting, at this stage of pre-outset, that you will not be guaranteed to fight these monsters and win. These encounters will be determined at random. And you may very well be in over your heads and need to run away. If you think you are invincible, you will get other characters killed.

5. Look what I found!

Another big time sink are the tables I need for discoveries and flavor. Some of that may may come forth as I figure out the hidden lore, but others will just be casting my thoughts around randomly until I run into a chain of ideas. On one hand, these won’t have to be large tables. I can add to it as we go and I’ll only be slowly dribbling items from the discoveries. And I’m not as concerned about the second one. Flavor can be repeated. But my discoveries will be lasting landmarks (probably) and I’ll need to know a lot about them as they appear.

6. Cartography at it’s finest.

One of the big things I need to do is to have a map. A very impressive map, all annotated with things like “Here there be Dragons” or whatever else. A map keyed with adventure sites, encounter tables, travel times, and anything else I may need.

I am nowhere near ready with my map. There is a lot of work I have to put into the thing, and then, once it’s done at the max zoomed out level, I have to zoom in to where the actual adventures will be. And then maybe zoom in again. I’m not really sure. My D&D experience hasn’t prepared me for map making. So while it’s a main focus of what I need to do to be ready, I have no idea how far along I am.

And after I have my maps finished, I have to poke at roll20 and see how to make the map play with their system. I have no idea how to actually run the game at the moment. There will be a mix of tactical, roll20 combat and arena of the mind combat, but I’m not sure how to merge the two. I will likely figure that out as we actually play, but I should at least have some Idea of it.

It’s also probably worth noting that my map probably won’t be seen by anyone other than me. Revealing the terrain takes the fun out of the wilderness exploration, dontcha think?. I’m not opposed to there being maps, but there will definitely be some fog of war involved. Ain’t no GPS here.

7. Receiving our just rewards

Another big part of the game that needs settled is how to reward the players. My world makes random caches of gold or other monetary units less likely than they’d exist in the D&D world. And, if there’s no civilized monsters, there isn’t any weapons, armor, etc for the party to loot for immediately useful rewards. So I need to determine how the party earns coin from their endeavors. Skinning various beasties and harvesting plants and body parts and stuff seems like the best way at the outset, but I’m not entirely sold on it. I have a bit more pondering to do on it. I mean, pure adventure isn’t the only coin worth getting paid in, right? You do need stuff to repair and replace weapons too, right?

Oh. Weapons have chances to break. It’s not all that scary, but people should know, you’re not going to be able to head out into the woods forever. You’ll need to plan ahead, have contingencies, and head back to town if needed. I think. So much of this project is projection and guesswork on my part.

Anyway, I need to pave over the 5e economy and erect my own, with a large focus on where the party gets funds from.

It’s probably also worth noting here that XP will be a bit different. I don’t have that all figured out either, but, odds are, you’ll get XP for “Days Adventured” instead of “Monsters Slain.” There may be some XP value in butchering creatures or accomplishing certain objectivs, but I don’t want that to be the focus.

And yeah, well probably use regular XP instead of Milestone leveling. And characters will be starting at level 3 and advancing, so there may some level disparity. I don’t like it, but I can’t think of a better way of doing it. I’ll add it to my “think on” lists.

8. Man, Matt, you seem to be going to town with the banhammer on this. Is anything going to be allowed?

Okay, It may seem like I’m furiously setting up rules, but it’s actually going to end up more inclusive than many campaigns you’ve seen. The class I’m nixing? The PHB ranger. Why? because it sucks and you should play the Unearthed Arcana Version. The Archetype? The Wild Magic Sorcerer. Why? Because it’s stupid. As a DM, I will never have a person roll on the table, rendering 3/4ths of their class abilities useless. (Now, the table is useful, if I needed a way for magic to go wrong on occasion) Again, I’m totally okay with using the Unearthed Arcana, meaning there are 6 other Origins that you can use, all of them much better than Wild Magic.

The races are, admittedly, 100% Matt hating on them, but they’re the Aasimir and the Firblog from Volo’s. Few people looked at them, no one really cares. Except me and my ire.

Other than that, you can make any character, using any race, class, etc from published work, including the Unearthed Arcana trial rules. All I ask is that you tell me what you’re using, so I can hop in and adjust things as needed. (Anything that mucks with foraging or lifting or other things that interfere with my rule patches may need to  be patched to be used. Let’s take that on a case by case basis, okay)

There is more about characters that I need to figure out. I have vague thoughts of limiting homebrewed races, of importing characters with Lore, and a few other similar thoughts. I think, in general, we want new characters coming to this world, to write their own stories. The lore of this world may limit the available backstories. But it’s the future that counts, right?

9. You call this an the update?

Okay, so I know this isn’t really a useful update. All I’ve really done is brag about what a work load I’ve put on my shoulders. But these are tasks that will need to be completed before I can run the game. I’m dedicating time each day to the effort, so progress is being made.

Here’s a better breakdown of what I need to do. I’m not far enough along to give any percentages or due dates. Maybe next update

  • Mapping, etc.
    • Continent level
    • Country level
    • Immediate level
    • ‘Dungeons’
    • Discoveries and Flavors
  • Monsters
    • Encounter tables
    • Statblocks
    • Unique Descriptions
  • Rule changes
    • Encumbrance
    • Weapon degradation/enhancement
    • Decide/determine spellcaster modification
    • Alchemy/Herbalism
    • Poisons
    • Crafting
    • Navigation
    • Resting
    • Class, Race, Spell changes
    • Backgrounds
  • Lore
    • Write background and Introduction to Gothregel
    • Timeline tables
    • Decide on Pantheon, civilizations, etc. available

So as you can see, I have lot to do, so I better get cracking! Thanks go to Paul, who commissioned this article as part of his reward for supporting me on Patreon. I would have written something like this, eventually, but it would not have been this soon. Please ask me questions! I love questions.


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