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    Default Exploration-based games

    If you were creating a game from the ground up (either a fully home-brewed system, or just using an existing game with a new setting) that focused almost exclusively on exploration, what would you want/need to have to make it work?

    What sorts of resources would be necessary for the GM and players? What would you want to avoid?

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    • Put more detail into the exploration rules than the combat rules. (If you read a lot of rulebooks, you'll notice that a good number of games intricately detail combat, but only briefly describe skills and company. This is the legacy of D&D, I think.)
    • Avoid "Easy Button" magic.
    • Include GM rules for laying out landscapes and scenery on-the-fly.
    Last edited by Grinner; 2013-05-05 at 03:06 PM.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Well, you'd want to think about what makes "exploration" intereting and what the rules can do to accomplish that.

    Just as an example, you frequently require a large amount of equipment when exploring, but that doesn't mean equipment management and encumberance should be a big part of the system. While it would be realistic to do so, there are stories and games that mostly ignore equipment limits and still handle exploration just fine.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    How about this idea? You could create an exploration system that replaces the Dungeon Master.

    Sounds bizarre, and is probably not good for anything but 'one-shot' campaigns, but the idea behind the system is that it's a bunch of random generators. You could have tables and modifiers that generate broad brush strokes. For example, the further you move away from the equator, the higher probability you have of ending up with dry and cold climates. Then you could have more complicated and detailed tables and modifiers for the smaller brush strokes like what creatures are dominant in the area. Further still, you could have tables and modifiers that help determine what kind of encounters the party stumbles upon.

    This could, with minimal effort, be plugged into most roleplaying games, and you could even provide extra rules regarding survival and various other skills for games you are specifically trying to support.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Combat is interesting because it's about conflict, and pitting one side against the other to see who's better. What players get out of it is treasure, experience, and an easier way forward.

    Exploration is interesting because it's about discovery, uncovering details about the world that could potentially be helpful. Be sure to figure out what players get out of it.

    Work from that. I'd say you should also have some sort of tension device such as "running out of resources"--this can make the decision of whether to investigate an area far more tense. Do you scout around to find the safest path forward, while burning through more of your rations?

    In addition, I'd steal the "wagers" system from John Wick's Blood & Honor; it's all about giving the players the tools to add details to the story (or the world, in this case).
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by Zovc View Post
    How about this idea? You could create an exploration system that replaces the Dungeon Master.
    Bad idea.
    Exploration is all about finding exciting, unique places. "Randomly generated from a table" is the polar opposite to that.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    I'm going to say more here about campaign design than rules, since I think once one has an idea of what a campaign could look like it becomes easier to see what rules might help or hinder. Generally speaking I think you'd want:

    - A well-understood way to handle the trickling of information that suggests that there might be something to explore. Basically anything from rumors and stories of failed expeditions to how to handle 'I go up to a high place and scan around'. The ability to have little bits of information about what one might find makes the final player choice to go after A or B much more meaningful.

    - Some hierarchy of wonderment. Basically, what constitutes a small discovery, a medium discovery, a large discovery? The equivalent to your +1 sword treasure versus your Deck of Many Things treasure. The reward can't always just be money, especially in an exploration themed game. If the PCs have things they think they know to be true about the world/universe/whatever, then the degree to which their discoveries violate or confirm those ideas plays a large part in what's a big find or a small find.

    - A hidden pattern of some sort. For an exploration game, imagine something like putting together a puzzle. Each tile you explore/location you find is one piece of the puzzle, but it becomes a campaign if somehow these pieces all fit together. Perhaps you find ruins at equidistant points that form a hexagon. The first ruin is just an isolated incident, as is the next. But the third ruin hints at the pattern and by the fourth ruin the players may be able to figure out where they can go next.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Award XP and/or loot for exploring, either purely for the act of exploring or through encounters that result from discovering new areas. I'm thinking of the Gothic series of PC games, where you could climb some random cliff and find some miscellaneous loot in a cave. One of the keys to making this work, though, is that the reward can't feel like a random encounter; it has to be unique to the area the PCs have explored.

    A corollary of this is that exploration campaigns are a lot of work for the GM. If your PCs are wandering around in the wilderness, you can't just drop them into a series of interchangeable encounters; it really has to feel like every location is unique, which means planning out a lot of locations, with the understanding that the PCs won't necessarily see most of them.
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    Quote Originally Posted by CarpeGuitarrem View Post
    Combat is interesting because it's about conflict, and pitting one side against the other to see who's better. What players get out of it is treasure, experience, and an easier way forward.

    Exploration is interesting because it's about discovery, uncovering details about the world that could potentially be helpful. Be sure to figure out what players get out of it.

    Work from that. I'd say you should also have some sort of tension device such as "running out of resources"--this can make the decision of whether to investigate an area far more tense. Do you scout around to find the safest path forward, while burning through more of your rations?
    Building on that a bit, one of my high school English teachers told my class that there are three sorts of conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, and Man vs. Nature. It's that third one you want to tap into.

    You will definitely want to have a plot going, but you will want it done subtly. It should never be stated outright, and it should be omnipresent. I think it should kind of be a puzzle-solving game.

    For inspiration, I'd suggest looking into pretty much anything written by Ernest Hemingway and the Myst games, particularly the Uru spinoff.
    Last edited by Grinner; 2013-05-05 at 06:25 PM.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    The first thing i'd do is go look up and play some exploration videogames.
    Colonization was fun; but more on point was uh; Seven Cities of Gold. I think that was the name; that was a fun exploration game.
    I'd also ask around about other exploration games; and i'd sit down and analyze what I liked about each of them.
    I vaguely remember one I played on the C-64 where you were exploring Africa.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Figure out a good mapping system, either through paper or software.

    That's the best I can offer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Grinner View Post
    • Avoid "Easy Button" magic.
    Seconding. If there's magic, have it work more like in Skyrim (a primarily exploration and discovery-based game) than D&D. Teleportation is, if it existed at all, ancient long-forgotten magic which nobody understands, and requires preposterous resources just to hook up two points. Flight is a big no-no, maybe the most powerful magicians have tried but failed to make it work. Permanently-levitating terrain features caused by cataclysmic magic-events are fine though.

    Perhaps obscure terrain features and locations would have rewards in themselves? Like some crumbling shrine or altar atop a mountain might provide a boon, or have a cool weapon stuck in it, or an enchanted pond might have curative properties.
    Last edited by Slipperychicken; 2013-05-06 at 12:33 AM.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    Bad idea.
    Exploration is all about finding exciting, unique places. "Randomly generated from a table" is the polar opposite to that.
    Especially if it's a realistic table.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    Bad idea.
    Exploration is all about finding exciting, unique places. "Randomly generated from a table" is the polar opposite to that.
    That all depends on what your table is. Ever played Traveller?

    (Or, if we're going tables--ever heard of Rolemaster?)
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    I wouldn't make a lot of exploration rules, I'd make a lot of exploration tables. The important thing is content, and creating it easily and quickly.

    Old D&D (the kind I run) is very exploration-based. I have hexmaps of areas spanning a thousand miles in a direction, to a scale from 5 to 20 miles to a hex. Littered in these areas are places to be found. A lot of random encounter tables (not just for monsters, but personalities, locations, plots, etc.) come in handy. The OSR blogosphere is full of this sort of stuff.

    Similarly, old games like Traveller might be like this; exploring planets (a lot of them, spending little time on any one), possibly looking for resources to trade or exploit...

    You have to define what you mean by "exploration-based", though. What are the PCs actually doing? Are they trying to find lost cities filled with treasure? Are they trying to find a way home? Are they trying to find resources? That's going to define what you actually need from the system.

    Quote Originally Posted by tensai_oni View Post
    Bad idea.
    Exploration is all about finding exciting, unique places. "Randomly generated from a table" is the polar opposite to that.
    Almost, but not quite.

    "Randomly rolled from a table and given life by a good GM" is exactly what I think works great for wilderness-crawling D&D, for instance. Every place does not need to be uniquely hand-crafted. In fact, wilderness map keys should be sparse and short, and the places are brought to life on the fly by the GM's descriptions and imagination. (Once you've got the entire area mapped out, you can flesh out individual locations at your leisure, though, turning a one-paragraph note into a dungeon, etc.)

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Exploration isn't a goal; it's the process of seeking a goal.

    So you need to decide what the goal is.

    Trolling through the wilderness looking for beasts to slay? That's a combat-oriented campaign.

    Looking for land to clear, occupy, and develop? That's the first step in an economic campaign.

    Exploring the ruins of an old empire? That's a treasure-hunting scenario.

    What is the goal of the exploration? Until you decide that, you can't really decide what tools are needed.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Well, for the game I have in mind... exploration actually IS the goal.

    I'm thinking of something along the lines of "The Time Machine" or other old school Sci-fi. Dropping the characters off in a completely unknown world, where discovery and exploration - of the world, of the cultures they find, etc - is sort of it's own reward.

    Or, say, a game about treasure hunters, like pirates or Nathan Drake or Lara Croft.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    So they are exploring for the sake of exploring?
    Time Machine seems sort of like a Survival game. Explore to find either a way back home, or a good place to start a new "stronghold." Lara Croft explores for the sake of finding artifacts. More of a treasure-hunting game. The point is, they will be exploring for a purpose. It could just be to "fill in the map." But it will most likely be something else.

    Quote Originally Posted by headwarpage View Post
    A corollary of this is that exploration campaigns are a lot of work for the GM. If your PCs are wandering around in the wilderness, you can't just drop them into a series of interchangeable encounters; it really has to feel like every location is unique, which means planning out a lot of locations, with the understanding that the PCs won't necessarily see most of them.
    Not necessarily. You may be able to reposition many of them that would otherwise be missed.

    I think the idea is to have a bunch of "set pieces" for a given region, and have the PC's encounter them as needed. Unless a particular encounter must be in a specific location, be ready to move them around so the group encounters them.

    For example, in the "hexagon" ruins, it is a simple matter to have them encounter the first ruin. The 2nd one is encountered as soon as the group gets "X" miles/km in whatever direction they happen to be going. The third has two possible positions (to the left and right of the line between the other two); place it in the first possible position the party reaches. The locations of the other ruins are then set, but the party should then have the clues required to find them.
    Last edited by Lord Torath; 2013-05-06 at 03:08 PM.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by BarroomBard View Post
    Well, for the game I have in mind... exploration actually IS the goal.
    Well then, the first thing I would look at is map generation. You are asking for people to generate potentially large areas to traverse, and doing so on a rather frequent basis. Make it easy for a game master to create interesting maps, so that they can produce interesting places to explore.

    A good start might be old D&D generation tables, just to get some idea of interesting things to run across in different environments. It should give you an idea some interesting things to find in a terrain. An ideal finishing point might be a generic map-generating tool, with just gives general results (trap, sheltered spot, etc) and then apply the terrain-specific details to it. That way, players could use it for original terrian ideas you haven't thought of yet, or re-use maps with different terrains.

    Someone had mentioned rewards for exploring and finding locations, which makes sense - it's the behavior you want to encourage, after all. One thought is to make the rewards tangable for explorers: items, abilities, or useful locations granted for finding them. If you do want to hand out XP, I would recommend a (small) XP grant for first finding the place, along with XP for exploring it.

    Exploring should be dangerous! At least, in cases where danger makes sense. One thing that annoys me in D&D is when EVERYTHING is dangerous and EVERYTHING does damage. You should not be discouraging exploration and curiosity by making it hazardous! But on the other hand, there should still be enough of a hazard that sticking your hand in magma is a notably bad idea.

    Intelligent/observant character should be able to identify hazards before they run into them. For that matter, all characters should be useful during an exploration. Not that every character should always be useful, but that there should be uses for the big strong character, uses for the agile character, and so on.

    Combat, if you want to include it, should probably be derived from the damage/hazards of exploring. It would mean combat is probably less common and dangerous, but then again, it should be less common as well.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by erikun View Post
    For that matter, all characters should be useful during an exploration. Not that every character should always be useful, but that there should be uses for the big strong character, uses for the agile character, and so on..
    I've always been of the school that all characters should have a situation in which they excel, but at the same time, all characters should be able to find a use in any situation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Torath View Post
    So they are exploring for the sake of exploring?
    Time Machine seems sort of like a Survival game. Explore to find either a way back home, or a good place to start a new "stronghold." Lara Croft explores for the sake of finding artifacts. More of a treasure-hunting game. The point is, they will be exploring for a purpose. It could just be to "fill in the map." But it will most likely be something else.


    Not necessarily. You may be able to reposition many of them that would otherwise be missed.

    I think the idea is to have a bunch of "set pieces" for a given region, and have the PC's encounter them as needed. Unless a particular encounter must be in a specific location, be ready to move them around so the group encounters them.

    For example, in the "hexagon" ruins, it is a simple matter to have them encounter the first ruin. The 2nd one is encountered as soon as the group gets "X" miles/km in whatever direction they happen to be going. The third has two possible positions (to the left and right of the line between the other two); place it in the first possible position the party reaches. The locations of the other ruins are then set, but the party should then have the clues required to find them.
    Ordinarily I'd agree with you, but if it's going to be a straight-up exploration game, the players really need to feel like there is an endless amount of stuff out there to explore and their choices really matter. If they start to suspect that they're going to stumble across Dungeon X whether they go upriver or down, they're just running a string of one-shot adventures at the DM's whim. Which can be fun, but it's not "exploration."

    Something like what you're describing works better in a game where exploration is secondary to an overarching campaign. In a regular game, you'll only pull that trick once or twice, then the plot will take the PCs somewhere else. So even if the players kind of suspect that they were going to stumble across the ruins of the snake-worshipers' temple no matter what, it's still just a fun sidequest. In an exploration game, finding these locations is the whole point, and you've really robbed the players of any agency if the DM chooses what location they're going to next. If they catch on to that, I think it's a big problem.
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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    I would do it this way:

    - Make a world map sort of thing, but make it in the form of hexes perhaps 20-30 miles across. Each hex has a certain type of terrain, out of a list of predefined types (plains, forest, desert, etc). Each terrain type has a special mechanical property that the PCs can know ahead of time - forests block line of sight and provide good food/water; plains allow you to automatically see up to 3 hexes away; etc. These should include a good number of exotic types, like 'fungal vale', 'floating islands', 'void space', etc. Furthermore, for 'advanced' terrain types, require some particular 'thing' in order to even attempt to pass them, and a second 'thing' to pass them without threat.

    - As the game proceeds, the party accumulates more and more of the things that let them get past the difficult hexes. As such there can be areas near their starting zone that they know cannot be reached, that later on they can go back to. This is a good way to seed their interest in exploration, since its an 'obvious' mystery what is in that one hex they can neither reach nor see into.

    - Also, as the game proceeds certain hexes become trivial to get across, so the party can range further and further from base. There should be perhaps a maximum exploration radius in terms of how many 'turns' of motion they take, where as they render terrain trivial those tiles become free. The party can attempt to acquire extra turns en-route by scavenging resources/etc, but its uncertain and failure means death or loss of gear.

    - Each hex has an Exploration chart. Any time PCs pass through the hex, they discover the next thing on the chart. They can also sit there and canvas the area to proceed up the chart more quickly. Many of the slots will be blank. Maybe the higher entries of the chart require a certain DC search check.

    - The party can find maps or rumors that tell them about things on the Exploration charts of certain hexes, or perhaps just unveil them directly.

    Edit: For the exploration chart, a really cute way to do it would be to basically implement a pseudorandom process on the tile coordinates, so each chart entry can be deterministically derived, so you don't need to pregenerate a bazillion entries.
    Last edited by NichG; 2013-05-06 at 06:48 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by BarroomBard View Post
    I've always been of the school that all characters should have a situation in which they excel, but at the same time, all characters should be able to find a use in any situation.
    Well, yes, in the sense that all characters should have a chance of overcoming an obstacle. That doesn't mean they'll be good at it, though.

    The agile character could try all the combinations of a trap, attempting to dodge consequences of failure each time, or they could let the intelligent character analyze it and determine the correct combination. The intelligent character could make their way up a cliff face eventually with enough rope and pitons, or they could like the strong character climb up and pull them up easily.
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    Quote Originally Posted by headwarpage View Post
    A corollary of this is that exploration campaigns are a lot of work for the GM. If your PCs are wandering around in the wilderness, you can't just drop them into a series of interchangeable encounters; it really has to feel like every location is unique, which means planning out a lot of locations, with the understanding that the PCs won't necessarily see most of them.
    Not nearly as much as you might think! People do it all the time (and used to do it a lot more). "Wilderness campaign" was a standard type of D&D game (indeed, the two original types were dungeon and wilderness).

    Hexenbracken, an example of a wilderness hexmap. The short, one-sentence hex keys certainly spur my imagination.

    Zak S. on running a hexcrawl.

    Really, if you're interested in exploration games, I can't think of anything better to read than OSR blogs on hexcrawls and wilderness adventures and world creation. The principles of starting broad and creating depth only at need are very applicable.

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    Default Re: Exploration-based games

    Quote Originally Posted by Rhynn View Post
    Not nearly as much as you might think! People do it all the time (and used to do it a lot more). "Wilderness campaign" was a standard type of D&D game (indeed, the two original types were dungeon and wilderness).
    Yup. The third book of the original D&D was The Underground and Wilderness Adventures. A copy of the Avalon Hill game Outdoor Survival was listed as recommended equipment to play the game, along with TSR's Chainmail, graph paper, colored pencils, etc.

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