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Author Topic: [Distant Horizons] Explorations Map - some new thoughts  (Read 4811 times)
Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« on: November 01, 2006, 01:40:33 PM »

Distant Horizons is a game about exploring and adventuring. It is about people that leave their home to travel the world, and about how this will change them.

The exploration map is the tool used to create interesting situations, where both the GM and the players can add elements that they want to see in the game. The idea is that when the characters want to go exploring a new place, the players indicate this place on the map and then write down some elements they want to relate to that place. These elements can be something that are personal to the character, it can be an NPC they want to see again, it can be some event that the player think would be interesting, or other things like that.

My earlier idea for an exploration map (called exploration sheet - I describe it here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21435.0) was very abstract. A place on a map was indicated by a circle, and in this circle the players could write down all the elements that they want to relate to this place. Paths between places was just straight lines.

While this properly would have worked, I began to have some problems with this idea. The exploration sheet will take the place of a map, and I actually like maps very much. There is something very evocative about having a map lying on the table where you can see the landmasses and the forests and the mountains and maybe some small drawing of a dragon in the middle of a huge desert, and this feeling of wonder is exactly what I want to have in this game.

I have a couple of times been forced to come up with some fantasy setting in a few days. The way I handled this was to draw a map that only have a few features, like a coastline a city and a nearby forest. The characters then started in this city and as the story progressed I added new element to the map as needed - cities, mountains, rivers etc.. My thought is to make this a collaborate effort between the GM and the players like the way I describe with the exploration sheet, but now it is just a map instead.

The game starts with the GM briefly describe the important elements of the setting, and as he do this he draw a very simple map. When the player make their character they decide where on the map they will start the game. They will typically start the game in a Resting Place which is normally a city (I will talk about the different types of places later), so they make a dot on the map where the city is and write the city's name. On a separate piece of paper they write the different elements that they want to relate to the city.

Every time the characters decide to go out and explore a new place, the players draw this new place on the map (if they do not know exactly what it is they can just make an vague outline) and give it a name or a title. Again, they will on a separate piece of paper write down the element they want to relate to this new place.

And like this the map will slowly be filled out as the characters moves from place to place. There are a few different types of places that can be created by the player and/or the GM:

Resting Place
A Resting Place will normally be a city or some other place where the character do not have to be on their guards and where resources like food are easy to come by. Mechanically a Resting Place will be a place where the characters can recharge, and where more personal oriented scenes can be placed and it will be the starting point for new explorations.

Wonders and Unknown Territory
These are the places the characters go when they want to explore. A Wonder is a place that contain some kind of amazing feature. A Unknown Territory is a place that no one really know if exist - you can only find vague hints in old myth and legends. Mechanically these two type of places work the same way. They are created by the players, and the players can associate a number of elements to the place. The characters have to go exploring these places to keep their 'spirit' high (spirit is a character stat).

Character Place
A Character Place is a place that are requested by one of a player because it have a special meaning to his character's story. This place is created by the player which character it relates to. Going through such a place will make some major changes to the character. This type of place can be a 'sub-place' of some other place.

Tasks and Obstacles
These may not really be places. This  are just challenges the GM put in the characters way. This will typically be something the characters run into on their way from one place to another. These places are always GM created, but he can take a lot of hint from the character sheet, and he can use it to foreshadow things that will happen in the place the characters are on their way to.


It should be noted that while it is the players's job to create some of these places and describe elements they want to see there, it is still the GM job to tie these elements together into something interesting.


I really don't have any specific question. My intention with the exploration map is to create an interesting exploration game, so I hope people could give some thoughts on if this seems to work.

 - Anders
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #1 on: November 01, 2006, 09:55:40 PM »

This is an interesting idea, but I'm having difficulty imagining how it would work in actual play.  Could you maybe post a description of a short piece of hypothetical play?  This would be helpful to me.

I love the idea of the game creating its own record in the form of a map, with all sorts of possibilities for arcane notations and elaborate illustration, with no neccesary reference to actual geography, like a map from the medieval period.
I suggest that this could become an exciting feature of the game (for artistically inclined players, at least), and that you could build a lot of extra game mechanic information into margin illustrations, notations, and symbolism.

I think perhaps a critical conflict you may run into is that exploration is about journying into the unknown, wheras in this game the characters explicitly know what they're journying into.  This isn't a criticism, it's just an area I see possibly causing tension between expectations and results.  As a player, I like to be surprised by what's over the next hill, but I also like having influence over the game world.  How do you see your games resolving this?
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Troy_Costisick
Member

Posts: 802


WWW
« Reply #2 on: November 02, 2006, 07:44:26 AM »

Heya,

This is an interesting idea, but I'm having difficulty imagining how it would work in actual play.† Could you maybe post a description of a short piece of hypothetical play?† This would be helpful to me.

Yes, I agree with this.† What would an ideal game session look like in your mind?† What would the players do?

Peace,

-Troy
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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2006, 01:32:17 PM »

An example - good idea. This will be a little long because I find it necessary to have some good character descriptions to really illustrate how this work.

First it is important to understand that there are two thing going on in this game. The first is the exploration part, which is handled by the exploration map. The other thing is the characters's personal story, which is actually what is important. The exploration part is a motor that the personal story work on top of. I hope this make sense.

Here are the example characters:

The escaped slave girl
Name: Nicoline
She come from fare away land, but canít remember where. When she was four a ship she was sailing with was attack by pirates and she was captured and sold as slave. After seven years as a slave she manages to escape. The only thing that reminds her of this 'far away land', is a necklace she vaguely remember her mother gave to her. Now she will try to find her way back to this land, but she do not know where it is.

The demon boy
Name: Snorri
He is an young elf. He grow up in an elven village in some forest. Since he was born he has had strange markings on his body. Other weird things began to happen to him and to people near him, and many of these things was rather frightening (spontaneous fire, people start screaming without any reason and then pass out, and stuff like that). Everyone began calling him "the demon boy", even the older elf, but no one would tell him if this meant anything special. When he was in his late teens he could not take it any more, so and left the village. He now try to seek some answers to why he have these demonic traits.

The veteran
Name: Asger
He is an old (late forties) warrior. He have been in countless battles and seen a lot of gruesome stuff, and participated in a lot of gruesome stuff. He now regrets a lot of what he have done, and just want to go back to his farm and have a quiet life. But he find that he does not fit into this lifestyle after all what he has experienced. He leave the farm to his oldest son and travel out into the world to find a place where he can find some peace.
Asger have the Principles: "Only use the sword as the last resort," and "Always help people who are mistreated". ('Principles' is an aspect on the character sheet).

And an example of play:

The characters have been resting in a city for a couple of days and are now ready to find a new interesting place they want to explore. They borrow a book in the local library wherein they read about a beautiful ruin of an old temple in a forest only few days north of the city (This is suggested by the GM).

Now the players will draw the forest on the map and mark the temple's place with a dot and give it the title "Old Temple Ruin". The drawing should not be too perfect or precise, because neither the player nor the character know exactly where it is.

A separate paper are titled "Old Temple Ruin", and on this paper the players can write down one element each (maybe more) they want to see there. Here are what our example player writes:

Nicoline's player writes: "There live some elf nearby." Because after she met Snorri, Nicoline really want to see more elf, and Nicoline's player know that Snorri really want to avoid other elf, so this could create some interesting situations.

Snorri's player want to further his personal story, so he write: "I will recognise some 'demon markings' (resemble the ones Snorri has on his body) in the temple", to indicate this to the GM.

Asger has some unfinished business with a NPC - A swindler named Karl who takes advantage of the weak and poor. Asger have tried to stop him earlier in the game, but Karl got away - so he write: "We'll meet Karl there."

This process is done out in the open, so everyone can come with suggestions and ideas.

The GM will then take these three elements and use them to make something interesting out of the place: "Old Temple Ruin". He can freely add other element to make some conspires, plot or other stuff that will make it interesting for the players. (This is not done in the open). The only element the GM have to be very careful about is the one Snorri's player wrote, because that relate to Snorri's personal story. A personal story should be reviled in stages, so it can last for the entire game (this is a process I have not thought much about yet).

The story continues as the characters work their way to this temple ruin.

About surprises:
This is something I have thought about for some time, but I think the way I have described here, where the player only add a few general element, well give the GM plenty of opportunity to make surprises for the players. I do not know if this is good enough to keep the feeling of exploring the unknown.


Well, I hope this will give you a better understanding of what I want to achieve with this. If there is still something that are unclear, please ask.

 - Anders
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Christian Liberg
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #4 on: November 06, 2006, 01:08:57 PM »

Hey Anders.

This looks like a awesome idea, i really love it.

However im kinda wondering, how you intend to run the character creation?

Quote
The game starts with the GM briefly describe the important elements of the setting, and as he do this he draw a very simple map. When the player make their character they decide where on the map they will start the game. They will typically start the game in a Resting Place which is normally a city (I will talk about the different types of places later), so they make a dot on the map where the city is and write the city's name. On a separate piece of paper they write the different elements that they want to relate to the city.

you say that they write the different elements they want to relate in the city, down on a piece of paper. How many items do they write down on a piece of paper?

I have difficulties seing when they write down the different elements, whether it be resting places or tasks and obstacles.

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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2006, 12:09:23 PM »

Hej Christian

I'll answer your questions in reverse order.

When the player want to go to a 'Resting Places', a 'Wonder' or a 'Unknown Territory', they say this directly, so there are no doubt about what type of place they go next.

On the other hand, places like 'Task' and 'Obstacle' are created by the GM; the players will not have anything to do with this. The GM can use 'Tasks' and 'Obstacles' to make challenge for the characters the players are unaware of coming. An example of such a place could be:

"The characters are on there way to the Old Temple Ruin, but the road they are following is leading them through a old and dark forest. In the forest they encounter some shadow creatures that keep people from a nearby village captured and use them to dig out some old occult artifact. The characters's Principles makes it necessary for them to act on this, before they can continue their journey"


How many elements can the players write for a certain place? Well I am not really certain. My guess would be one per player - but I properly need to play-test this to see what works best. Of course, if the characters go back to a place they have visited before, the player will have the opportunity to create new elements.


Character creation:

This is something I am working on right now, so this can very well change in the future. You should also be aware of that I do not have any resolution system yet, so I can not go into numbers.

First, in my two earlier posts I describe what information there should be on the character sheet and a little about character creations and development. You can find them here:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20974.0
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=21435.0

it is not strictly necessary that you read them, but it will give you a better idea of what i am going for.

Here is the character creation procedure:

1) The GM describe the important elements of the setting (races, gods, major conflicts etc.), and make a bare bone map.

2) The players then make a short back-story (ca. 10 lines) for their character, like the ones I have written for the example characters in my previous post. In this back-story they should answer the following questions:

* What was your home?
* Why did you leave it?
* What issues was unresolved when you left?
* What are you seeking now?

(I am not really satisfied with these question, so they will properly change with time)

When trying to come up with a back-story the players take turns to talk about ideas for their character, and here the other players are encouraged to come with suggestions. This will properly go around the table some times, but then all player will, hopefully, not only be satisfied with there own character but also the other players's characters.

3) Based on there back-story the players can begin to fill out the aspects of there character sheet. The important aspects are:

Secrets: The unresolved issue that are most personal for the character, and what makes the basis for the characters story.
Principles: Well, this is the characters's principles - stuff they feel strongly about.
Goals: This is the condition for when the character's Secrets are resolved. When the character achieve the his/her goal the character's story is done.

4) The player decides how the different characters meet. Each of these meeting scenes will properly be played out, but I am not quit sure exactly how this should be done.


 - Anders
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2006, 04:26:42 PM »

I'm really interested in this idea, as the "exploration" theme is something I really enjoy in my games.  For me, though, you're still not really nailing a balance between "mystery" and player involvement in creating the game world.  In this forum I posted an idea "Thinking about a metagame mechanic", which basically suggested the idea of randomly drawing player suggestions before a game, to keep it a secret which suggestions would be used.  So, if you were to adopt this method, players would still suggest what they wanted to find at the next location, except they'd all suggest multiple things, and you'd only draw a few of them to be used.  The unused suggestions are kept for the next draw.  This way, it's still a surprise what the players encounter, but you're working with their suggestions.

Something else that occurs to me: At the moment, the location of places on your map is somewhat arbitrary.  North, South, East and West are all essentially the same.  The map exists to seperate locations and show their relationship to each other in space.  Ancient maps often fulfilled a different purpose.  They showed the relationships between places in terms of ideas.  You could take a page from (I think) "Grey Ranks", which is being discussed here, and have each cardinal point on your map correspond to a different theme or issue.  Travelling further in that direction will bring the players closer and closer to resolving that issue or theme.  This stikes me as a way of capitalising on one of the key features of your game - the map.
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Christian Liberg
Member

Posts: 67


« Reply #7 on: November 08, 2006, 04:57:17 AM »

Hey Anders.

Okay now i have read over your other posts, and im becoming more and more intrigued, by the ideas.

I like the fact that the game revolves around the story of the characters, and how the characters themselves have a very good shove on how those stories are played out.

In your play example, lets say that the players decide not to go to this old temple, but rather want another place to go? do they still write down what they think there would be at the old temple? and if they do not go to the old temple, but go somewhere else what happens when(if)they decide to go to the old temple later? are more elements added?

also
Quote
The only element the GM have to be very careful about is the one Snorri's player wrote, because that relate to Snorri's personal story. A personal story should be reviled in stages, so it can last for the entire game (this is a process I have not thought much about yet)

Have you decided upon a duration in the game beforehand?

What happens if a character resolves his own story, while the other characters still lacks several steps in their story? and how if at all, would you avoid this?

Christian

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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #8 on: November 09, 2006, 02:16:29 PM »

Simon,
I will think about you idea of picking random. It is interesting, but I am not sure if it do exactly what I want. Then again, I am not really sure what it is I want. Which does not make it easier.

Quote
Ancient maps often fulfilled a different purpose.  They showed the relationships between places in terms of ideas.  You could take a page from (I think) "Grey Ranks", which is being discussed here, and have each cardinal point on your map correspond to a different theme or issue.  Travelling further in that direction will bring the players closer and closer to resolving that issue or theme.

This is great. I can see that it is possible to do a lot of strange thing with the map if you go away from the idea if it being a physical representation of the world, and move it toward something more abstract. For example, there can be differed areas that represent different moral dilemmas or conflicts, that will colour the places that are created there. Maybe there can be areas that represent events in a world spanning story.

Well, I can see that there are many possibilities here that are interesting to look into. Thanks for the idea.


Christian,
At the point where the players mark the place on the map and write down the elements, they are more or less committed to go there. But they do not have to take the GM's first suggestion. The characters can ask around and look through books until they find something they all are interested in. But then again, a suggestions as 'Old Temple Ruin' is not very descriptive. It is much more important what elements the player tie to the place, and these will properly be mostly the same no matter what the GM suggest.

About the character's story. Well, this is something that I haven't worked much on yet. The length of the game is not decided beforehand, but it is depending on the characters's stories. The thing it that there will be a mechanic that will control how much of the character's story that will be reviled at a time. Like, there will be a certain number of step the story will go through, and it is the player (with help from the GM) that decide when the story should go to the next step. When all the characters's stories are concluded, the game will come to a end.

Sorry if this is confusing, but I do not have a clear idea of this concept yet.

 - Anders
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #9 on: November 09, 2006, 08:07:01 PM »

I think that the idea of tying locations on the map to themes in your game could really reinforce the idea of a journey as both physical travel, as well as emotional development.  The idea that the act of resolving a character's issues is a process that takes time, with several positions along the way is, I think, what you're trying to convey.  Perhaps it is best to tie the map's metaphorical meaning to character issues.  For example "Order" and "Chaos" could be major themes for your characters, so one side of the map represents order, and the locations there tend to reflect that them, in terms of strict laws, heavy cultivation and grand architecture, while the other side of the map involves wilderness, ruins and anarchic societies.  Simultaniously, the top and bottom of your map could correspond to "Peaceful" and "Warlike", or "Good" and "Evil" (for an obvious one), "Love" and "Hate" could lead to interesting interpretations.

Perhaps a good way to tie together PC goals is for players to agree on the meaning of the map before they create characters, so they can tie their character ideas into ideas on the map. 

Another advantage of a map, as you point out, is that you're not tied to strictly binary conflicts.  Different areas can have different relationships.

I hope these ideas are useful to you.

Simon
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TroyLovesRPG
Member

Posts: 150


« Reply #10 on: November 09, 2006, 08:22:21 PM »

I suggest allowing players to journey through four different realms of self-discovery and adventure. A map could actually look like a treasure map, forks, dead-ends, switchbacks, "here be monsters", etc. The map is circuitous and the player chooses the starting realm and the direction of travel. Each realm is an area with different locations that can be visited (and revisited) in any order. The realm becomes the focus and the player is encouraged to explore it completely before journeying to another realm. Leaving a realm places it behind you, in the past. It can be referenced but you can never return to it.

Between each realm is a location that immediately affects the player. The player visits this once and then continues to the next realm. Each way-point is of one of four types and all must be represented on the map. These are your locations for one-shot treasure, tragedy, chance and challenge.

Something like this:


Troy
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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #11 on: November 11, 2006, 05:53:44 PM »

Simon and Try,
Interesting ideas. This have given me a lot to think about. Thanks.

 - Anders
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