I’ve now been running my Mutant World campaign for a few sessions and it has given me a lot to think about. I’m running it largely out of nostalgia for Gamma World in the 1980s, and I started with GW 1st edition as my base rules. They’ve now mutated quite a bit, in that I went through all the other editions of the game and looked at how monsters and cryptic alliances had changed. I modified the cryptic alliances to fit my setting, using some new ones and one or two from Paranoia, another game I liked. GW had a lot of closed matrices, and I’ve opened those up. For example, Physical Strength (PS) never went above a 20, but in mine it is open-ended. One of the player characters is a mutated bear with a PS modifier of 3.3 for size, so her STR is 59. I also modified the combat system, though I kept the old school hit points. I turned AC on its head and made it open-ended to accommodate very high ACs. I dissected the weapon damage vs. AC and made that open-ended as well. But I also learned that the original intent of the GW combat was to have fast combat (it was designed by a bunch of wargamers after all). My Navah system is based more upon the Runequest system, and is much more deadly than the GW system. Limbs and heads go flying all the time, and the combat takes longer. Combats with equal number of combatants can take 10-20 minutes in GW, 30-60 minutes in Navah, and 1-2 hours in RQ. I think the difference is game vs. story. GW is definitely a game, and is hard to make into a long-term campaign (though of course I’m trying to do that). RQ is much more about the story, as is Navah. And part of this is also related to the types of campaigns. GW was very much dungeon or adventure based. I created a random world generator for it back in 1990, and I still play it as a sandbox game, much as I do Navah or RQ.
I’ve also been listening to Matthew Colville’s YouTube talks about gaming, and have been enjoying them a lot (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWAhcY9QroQ). He seems like a very talented DM, a good storyteller, and he’s been doing this stuff a long time too. What he considers a sandbox is different from my idea of a sandbox. His sandbox starts with a basic town (Hommlet, usually) and then tosses hooks to the players that lead them to well-worn basic dungeons (Keep on the Borderlands, Caves of Chaos, Temple of Elemental Evil (revisited), etc.) that he has played so many times he can probably do them in his sleep. That gives him sufficient knowledge of the world to let the players pick their plans, and to allow the various other things in the world to keep happening, whether the players are affecting them or not. He calls this “the clock is always ticking.” Nice. But my sandbox is much larger, possibly because I’m an idiot and spend too much time on it. I develop a whole world, culture, and maps for hundreds of miles of territory. Then I generate every settlement, inn, tavern, mage’s covenant, leader, and their significant others, children, and magic items. I haven’t done pets yet (got to do that sometime!). I also have places of adventure scattered about the map and even 2-3 story arcs that are going on in the background. But I think Matthew is better at giving players story hooks. My players are often frustrated that “they don’t know what to do” because there are so many choices. I have lists of hundreds of rumors available in the city, so they chase every single one of them down hoping to drop into an adventure. I allow characters lots of choice, and some do well with that, but those players are so advanced they would do well just about anywhere. They can even get overly paranoid, which slows down the adventure.
Matthew talks a lot about about the Outdoor Survival Game (map below), but I haven’t had time to digest that game yet. Makes sense as an overland map, but then again, I have those already. Matthew also mentions Ranger region specializations, which sound good but I haven’t figured out how to add in yet. Maybe one’s Survival skill affects random encounters? That would be cool and make the skill worth more. He also points us at the D&D 5th Edition Random Encounter Generator, which is the sort of tool I love to develop. I think I’ll be editing my random encounter generator as a result, to allow for encounters with several types of creature.
Lessons for me today:
- Provide more obvious hooks to player characters that will lead to adventures
- Always have 5-6 adventures in the wings for characters to choose from
- Add encounter effects to Survival skill