Search This Blog

Monday, January 4, 2010

[Gaming] Praise of a Blank Planet v. Fear of Failure?-

The guys in the OSR are still feeling their way through the issue of legitimacy regarding 'Each Hexism' versus 'Grand Visionism', which still baffles me to a great deal.

Having thought it wiser a few times to not publish remarks to various blog posts on this subject, I have instead mulled it over and have this incomplete thought to offer for derision or consideration:

Urutsk started out as a single city, Kryssan, but by the end of that first discussion (not session, as the system hadn't even been created, let alone an existing game system chosen) with my players, everything else began to follow as links in a chain, until, very shortly thereafter, I had a nation, culture, and internal politics. This 'big picture thinking' was, and still is, one of the things I am most noted for in gaming, fiction, and analysis.

I am not entirely certain why the OS seems afraid to embrace the middle-path between philosophically-engineered settings and the pride of retaining ignorance about what is in the rest of the one hex on the map.
--Isn't it 'game how you like'? Why expound dogmatic philosophies; selectively cite the 'Elders'; and then reward likemindedness while deriding holistic vision as part of the dreaded Third Wave Railroading / 'Frustrared Writer' syndrome, when nothing about it is that absolute or soluble to a repeatable process, let alone a design philosophy (supposedly 'the FORGE'-istic in nature)?

I think (as in, the jury of my mind is still in deliberation, and this is not a dogmatic opinion from which I cannot be dissuaded) complete worlds make many folks fearful that they'll 'play it wrongly', and it is that rather than the case of their taking some sort of moral highground that randomised exploration of each hex is the superior path to gaming enjoyment.
--As such, it may be difficult for (mostly) men to admit that sort of fear/sour grapes, and instead meet in agreement of the clan's chosen method and proceed in happy perpetuation of the 'tradition', so as to reassure that theirs is the One True Way (even though some make a real effort to make clear that their words, however unintentionally weighty, are not imperial edicts, but rather merely their own opinions, based upon their careful investigations and interpretations of the source materials).

While I would be glad to host such a debate here, I offer [a] Middle Path, namely, knowing what one wants the world-setting to be like in general, while still employing the 'Hexploration' methods to detail one's individual conception of an established and well-documented setting.
--I, too, believe in the 'Oracular power of dice', but also believe that preparation makes for more effective and safer undertakings.

Just a few Monday-midday thoughts. Nothing absolute, dogmatic, nor intentionally inflammatory.



  1. It would be interesting seeing the OP which inspired your reaction, TS. As far as dogma, aren't those found in 'dogma-houses??' ;)

  2. Rob,

    I may have difficulty collecting *all* of the OPs to stitch together into a coherent whole, but I think the OSR knows who their 'advocates' and 'lieutenants' are ;) and have celebrated these same posts in much the way I described.

    One a semi-related segue, there is this great gourmet Hot Dog place down here called, Dogma. That's about the only sort I like. :)

    I'll take this opportunity to attempt to mollify any warm tempers or bruised feelings by reiterating that the post was just one woman's musings on the subject matter.

  3. I don't think you should be apologizing. It's an excellent argument that you make.

  4. Thank you for saying that.

    An odd thing, though entirely unrelated: I am not receiving notification of others' posts. Hmm.

  5. Well done "Dogmas' in fact... Hi Ramsey! Funny thing seeing you here. ;)

    TS: Is there anything as yet published on your system and/or world? I for one would like to read through it if there is.

    As for the pundits I should think that they'd wait to when the game was released rather than 'jumping'.

    And I wholly agree with Ramsey's comment. Keep going, and a "Hex" upon them all... ;)

  6. Yep - the middle ground between extreme positions is really the way to go. At this point, I don't like to necessarily 'pre-load' my gaming with a lot of detail, but I do like to have (at-least) rough outlines ready to be fleshed out as needs be.

    I think that the dogmatic positions are largely artifacts of blog-writing. The positions of hex vs story are abstract ideals that anyone actually playing will find some middle position between.

  7. Actually a middle road approach that works for me is to roll the random encounters up a week in advance and work out the rational of why they are there in advance of the game as well as adding detail. Another technique is to use predesigned encounters, but place them on a random encounter table, so their occurrence is randomized. The final suggestion I found works well is rather than placing a dungeon which I have worked out in advance in a specific location and hoping the party stumbles into it; is to allow the party to wander whatever direction they feel like, but place the dungeon in front of the party when called for. I think one of the things Old School Gamers dislike about preplanned adventures is once the DM has invested the time and effort in the big elaborate scenario he is incentivized to use the big plot hammer to make the gamers play it. One of the great joys of using a random roll-up approach to adventuring is it allows the DM to experience the discovery of the world at the same time as the players. However, to avoid the appearance of being unprepared (nothing ruins the illusion of the game quicker than the DM spending a half hour shuffling through books and rolling dice with no player interaction) I use the middle road approach of rolling the encounters up a little in advance as stated above. As always, the objective is for both the players and DM to have fun.

  8. Good points by Dave (*waves*). Much the way we did it back in the day so as not to force things, keeping fluidity and all that deserving motion going from both sides.

  9. TS, I don't think you need a disclaimer along with your post. You are just as entitled to your thoughts and stances as everyone else. Personally, your articulation of your points is even-keeled enough that only the thinnest of thin skins could possibly take offense.

  10. All: Thanks, guys. :)

    @Dave: > nodding < Cool beans. I like your methods. :)

    I almost always entirely improvise, occasionally based upon my knowledge of a new critter, scene, device, or environment I have thought up earlier in the week (rarely even writing notes or stats). Usually these only receive stats after I have used them in the game. So, while I advocate knowing one's own world extensively, I do not propound one know it definitively and exhaustively, with maps/sketches/write-ups and so forth. I've never found that the time invested in detailed adventure prep survives first contact with the PCs, who are by all rights, agents of chaos and mayhem, regardless of 'allegiance'' or 'alignment'. :D

  11. I see the backstory and 'unfolding events elsewhere' as strategy and the Hexmap and encounter tables as tactics. Often the big picture (foreign invasion, tech breakthrough, new religion gripping the populace) is conveyed to the players by changes to the random encounter tables (I never stick to using static tables from rulebooks) and hexes changes through and between encounters.

    I have played/DM'd in games just using tables of random tables but the gaming becomes reactive, whereas with a Big Picture to work with/against players can become more pro-active if they wish.

    Jorune never felt suffocating

  12. Sean: I like your Dynamic Tables idea. It really is a great interface between the two methodologies. Likewise, Hex-content changing, while 'obvious' never seems to come up in other discussions.
    --I agree also with the re-active v. Pro-active.
    ---Well said regarding Jorune! :D

    Thank you very much for your comment.

  13. In terms of pure randomness, while I rarely play that type of hexcrawl, sometimes I do.

    And the trick to understanding the mindset is to understand the fun it generates. In a hexcrawl such as that, the GM is not having fun by building a scenario to be solved or engaged, but by not knowing what is coming ahead. In short the GM is having fun with improv and knowing whats in a hex would spoil their fun. They would see themselves as the one person in a group who have already seen the movie and know who the secret killer really is, thus they have no fun. They need the unknown too.

  14. Perhaps you are confusing my stance and the text in UWoM with some Platonic Ideal in opposition with 'the unknown', but I have read posts by JM on Grognardia where he asks why he needs to know whether the gods are real, etc.
    --I simply find that puzzling, but then again, I am publishing setting, not a megadungeon module, and there are certainly vast differences between the two.
    ---Related to this is the concept of generic applicability/universal usefulness. If folks are looking for how to use Urutsk in their Greyhawk game, I think they will find a great deal to offer in that regard, but perhaps if one is trying to compare the two the 'usefulness' will be less apparent.

    I think the point I was making is that the polarisation of the 'camps' is preposterous and an artificial construct itself.

    Sean's solution is an elegant one that incorporates the best of both worlds, although I feel that it involves a lot of prep time that I personally rarely see the return on.

    Using the Wilderlands of High Fantasy as an apt example, we all have access to the same Wilderlands, but what we choose to do with Hex 2041 is our individual and unique take, making all of our WoHF worlds highly divergent, while still retaining vast similarities.
    --By describing each of the major political entities, the landmasses, and the cultures, and then hnding the Referee Hexploration tables, I have once again set play groups on a Middle Path of moderated divergence.

    My Quantum Nature of Reality post explains how there is NO wrong way to run Urutsk, so, that coupled with the above, I don't see how Hexists could possibly baulk at the railroadiness or stifling nature of a well-documented setting.

    Anyway, I'm going to go back to creating additional stuff to be used for UWoM and anyone else's games if they have the mind to use it.
    --Thank you for commenting.

  15. As an abstract prep-less resource I really like using Telecanter's excellent roll-all-the-dice Encounter Spur ( for hex-crawling.

  16. Sean: The spurs are very cool, this one is rather austere but I do dig it. Thanks for posting it. :D

  17. Old school gaming has very little dogma attached to it. Old school gamers, on the other hand...

    While I have some thoughts that guide my way in creating a campaign, I really think I have become a pragmatist. I have seen very elaborate worlds--homebrew and commercial--and thought, "I'd love to play that (as a player and DM)." I've also read accounts of very minimalist worlds, where the style of play has intrigued me as well.

    I think the most recent set of posts and comments compare the merits of building a world from the top down, with most of the major features, physical and social, mapped out or from the bottom up--starting with where the playing characters and creating as they go. I've done both and they each have pros/cons. Whatever the approach, it should be true to the rule set, vision, and DM-player preferences.

    All of this makes for great conversations, but rather silly arguments (if that makes sense).

    @TS: Excellent post.

  18. Here's another interesting, if odd, little hex-map-related address:

  19. Rusty: Thanks.

    Yes, I suppose I ought to have been clearer in also addressing the Top/Bottom-building issue rather than simply hexing, but I'm glad it wasn't lost on anyone.

  20. I enjoy your blog and commentary to others.
    Are you interested in playtesting/ reviewing
    a RPG based upon ERB’s Barsoom?

    If so, I will send enough spiral bound copies
    For you and your players; however,
    I need a mailing address sent to


  21. My preference for "starting at the bottom" is primarily one of utility (I find hexcontents and encounter tables useful improvisational tools as well as an attempt at some degree ofimpartial "fairness" for lethal tactical combat) and well as leaving me lots of wiggle room to implement whatever future wacky ideas I become infatuated with.

    Despite my dislike for "Grand Unified Theories" in fantasy adventure fiction & gaming, there is certainly much value in the the "middle view." There is much I "know" about my campaign setting and it's universe that hasn't been hexed or written down, but I do have a philosophical preference for keeping the big questions unanswered and I like the idea that the individual players could come to their own indpeendant opinions regarding such matters in the campaign.

    Regarding worldbuilding, I certainly enjoy it, but I do consider what I create to be an amusement park and I try to focus on building material that has potential immediate utility or that functions as evocative set dressing with potential future utility.

  22. Blair: I think, in final analysis, that I likely do much the same as the Unknowners, I simply do it faster and don't wait to do it at the table with my players. I kick back and let my mind wander, finding links to connect one thing to another. Some links remain un-connected for years or even decades, but eventually, I want everything to make sense.
    --This fundamentally separates me and my ilk from those that seem to enjoy being surprised by their own creations. Perhaps it is the writer in me that requires knowing where the story is going (in a general sense, not a formulaic one) rather than writing tens of scores of words, meandering thither and yon, knowing that I have a reading public (of whatever size) to whom I am responsible. My content is beyond their input or consternation, but I at least owe them some degree of actual progress of plot. I cannot be bothered reading wandering multi-volume blathering, and I won't write it.

    Likewise, I feel most comfortable knowing /why/ there is an immortal golden cat in the jungles of western Yaeshan, and /why/ everyone who possesses it prospers while they retain it, etc.
    --Just putting it out there, willie-nilly is just not how I operate. My musings attempted to understand the /whys/ of the Hexic/Bottom-up/whatever phenomenon, not simply examine the pro's and con's of them. That's just me. :D

    I am certain that there are perfectly wonderful reasons why the Unknown works for those it does, but there are equally wonderful reasons why the Known works for those for whom it does, and I don't see that kind of equity in the Unknown camp's clannish reiteration of their party line. Rather I read of Railroading, Control-freaking, and Frustrated Novelists.
    --With a background in Psychology, I tend to switch to that diagnostic method to try and determine the /why's/ of social behaviour, and my hypothesis was the half-baked result of that musing.

    As far as the purpose of creating a worl/setting, I think you bring up a great point, albeit perhaps unintentionally: I don't write this stuff up with PCs in mind. I write up what appeals to me, and try and make it as interesting as it is different from other stuff out there. There are specific philosophical, religious, sociological elements in the setting that I have invested hundreds of hours developing, laughing at, being surprised by their repercussions, and at game time, seeing how others who do not share my insights or outlooks react to those elements. Sometimes I am told that while my adventure was engaging, perhaps challenging, it wasn't always fun, and I am more than OK with that. Some of the best works of fiction are anything but fun, and they still have meaning and worth.

    Now, all of the above stated, do I want my players to want to come back for more each week, a resounding, 'yes'. So, I ask them what they are most interested in, aid them in creating characters that maximise their enjoyment, and, challenge their tactical sense of wonder. But, I'll be the first to admit that I'll settle for 'cool' over 'fun' almost any day of the week.

    I am a dark chocolate sort of gal. ;)

  23. Reads like you have good gaming there, I have never really been afraid of detailed settings and running them wrong, sometimes things will go spectaculary "wrong" but if gaming is still rewarding it actually doesn't matter at all.

  24. I don't think you CAN prepare everything. Take a single dungeon - if you're mapping at 5' squares you're going to be able to write down a lot, but if you write it all you make your work unusable at the table.

    But taken up to the 5-mile hex scale, there's no way to map the countryside below the scale of major rivers, highways, and towns.

    At some point a DM has to sit back and realize that it's okay to leave many things unfinished and just make it up as you go along. Take notes as you play so you don't change things accidentally.

    Simplifying is the way to go though. Any dungeon should be mappable on the one-page format, even if you have to split up levels because they're too big. Most simple adventure sites and villages can be described in one page of text. A town is the same, just pulled back so you don't look at individual people so much as businesses and the government.

    You fill in the gaps as you play using random charts, or whatever comes to mind (The priest's name is ... Yojimbo!). But you can't start with nothing, because you won't have any connections between places and people. Every place will be an island, and reference can be made only forward to a new place or backward to an undefined portion of an old place.