Sunday, April 4, 2021

Wilderness as Dungeon - Monster Rooms, Strongholds as Treasure?

Previously in this train of thought:

  • Never Show Them The Map (2016): Showing your players the ground-truth hex map ruins the joy of exploration.  Dungeoneering gameplay gets this right by making them map for themselves.
  • Applied Wilderness Theory (2017): Trying to build a microsandbox borrowing some elements from dungeon play; thinking about days as like turns, and dividing monsters into beasts, sentients, and scary monsters, with the same ratios that those appear in dungeons.
  • Further Thoughts (2017): Thinking about stocking using the specials, traps, unguarded treasure, and empty ratios used in dungeon stocking, as well as inverse-jayquaying, creating barriers to otherwise mostly open wilderness movement.
  • Revisisted (2019): The realization that the hex is more like a 10' square than like a room.  A repudiation of microsandboxing (for reusable wilderness / campaign play).  Considerations around "rooms" or "biomes" in the wilderness.

BH2 got me thinking about the wilderness game again.  Something I've never really worked out to my satisfaction before with the wilderness-as-dungeon idea is how you handle "monster" rooms, if you're following a dungeon-like stocking procedure.  Putting a special somewhere in a 7-10 hex biome is easy.  But it wouldn't make any sense for a wilderness area to have no monsters - surely there are a few bears in the forest.  So then what differentiates a "monster" room from a regular wilderness area?

Two ideas eventually merged.  One was from Koewn's comment on Simple Domains that they looked a lot like monster lair entries, but really beefed up.  The other was revisiting Beyond the Black Gate's How I Hexcrawl posts while thinking about False Machine's Crypt of the OSR post, about the bloggers of old who no longer post.  BtBG noted:

With wandering monsters, I like to have certain "iconic" monsters for each area (such as werewolves in the Blighted Forest and Ankhegs in the Sunken Hills, etc), rather than a mixed bag, as it gives those areas a more distinct flavor. I would then assign a chance for an encounter based on my perceived density of the local monster population.

I think that's probably a reasonable way to handle a monster-heavy biome: roll once for monster type for each "monster room", and the biome is crawling with them.  I'm considering calling it an infested biome.  It might be goblin-infested or panther-infested or man-infested or wyvern-infested or whatever.  All lairs in that biome are of that type of monster (although contra ACKS, I think at most one lair per hex is a reasonable concession to manageability).  The random encounter frequency is higher than normal, and a strong majority (5/6?  9/10?) of encounters in that area are with creatures of that type.

A man-infested biome might be a borderlands domain, or it might just be full of bandit camps.

It might make sense to have a separate table of monsters which can infest a biome, or which are interesting as signature monsters.

Non-infested biomes / non-monster rooms still have monsters, they're just a grab bag and not present in the same density as in an infested biome.  Roll random encounters and lair chances normally for terrain of that type.

If about 30% of biomes are infested (the same proportion as monster rooms in the dungeon), and each biome borders 4-6 other biomes on average, then most infested biomes will have about one or two infested neighbors.  Border tension!

Something else I've been considering is ruined strongholds as treasure.  Yes, I know, they often get used that way already.  But it seems like something that a wilderness-stocking system should take into account.  It would be interesting to figure the value of a ruined stronghold into the total treasure of an infested biome (and to say that most biomes infested with sentients will have some amount of fortification), and to make taking and holding a stronghold grant XP, much like building one.  But I have no concrete proposals yet.



    Somewhere in my interminable disassociated pile of ideas was the abstraction of the physical dungeon, and in there was the idea of being able to "size" the dungeon after you've generated inhabitants - each monster's average dungeon lair size of individuals had a "lair unit" and that unit included their living space and the "empty" exploration space of...empty space, traps, or uniques as the remaining 1/3rd or 3/4s of the square footage.

    If that lair unit is made of dungeon rooms and hallways, then most indeedly the "biome" could be made of hexes, and just like rapelling straight into the heart of Goblin Town, dropping right into the "living area" hex of Orc Central Station would be a Bad Time. (and sizing biomes in hexes by monster size and "living area" requirements gets you one step closer to being able to define the strike area of that hobgoblin horde or the desolation of that dragon)

    Makes sense, systemically. Narratively?, as far as the exploration game goes, concentration of specific foes against a certain area paints that map in much brighter colors for the players than does the default assumptions, and may indeed brighten the "random encounter" areas as well as they'll stand out more, espc. with edge case results.

    RE: strongholds, p238 Dungeon Type table has, squinting, ~30-35% probably above-ground structures that could be used in a classic stronghold way. You could come at it from either direction - infested biomes might generate strongholds or generated strongholds might get infested - and a third of a third gets you ~11%? of biomes with a workable structure the players can take and invest in. Worst case the largest biome is a 24 mile hex, maybe, and in the worstest of worst cases 16 large biomes clustered together is a 96 mile hex which would have 1.7 (at 11%) above ground strongholds in it, maybe twice that counting surface and subsurface structures?

    At any rate just invoking the word "biome" makes me want to abandon the hex entirely and do everything on Voroni diagrams...

    1. Sorry about that lag,

      Sizing out dungeons by starting with number of desired lairs and then figuring out how much space you need is a pretty good idea. Makes a lot of sense from a "designing for gameplay" perspective, if you want n factions.

      > and sizing biomes in hexes by monster size and "living area" requirements gets you one step closer to being able to define the strike area of that hobgoblin horde or the desolation of that dragon

      Hm, I had planned to put "from nearby infested hex, if any" on random encounter tables, figuring that while they dominate there, they probably also hunt outside their home area (especially for huge carnivores like dragons), and it might give you a warning that next door is Orc Central. Figuring living space is an interesting angle; I had planned for humanoids to go the other way; biome is n hexes, carrying capacity of a hex at a tech level is whatever, there's how many live there.

      Re, stronghold estimates - maybe it's worth considering the possibility of multiple strongholds within a single biome? Like the river forts on the Rhine, but with orcs, and not unlike having multiple pieces of combat-relevant terrain in a single dungeon room.

      Another way to come at the problem of estimation might be, "this was civilized once, how many strongholds would there have been?" and then place that many ruins (provided that it was, in fact, civilized once).

      Have you used voronoi diagrams in play before? Do you end up referring to things by coordinates on an underlying cartesian grid, or is all travel just center-of-polygon-to-center-of-adjacent-polygon?