So, I started a West-Marches campaign. I call it Terranova. I have to say, so far it’s been quite a bit more work than I anticipated – you know, creating the “treasure map,” some setting background, a private message board and edifying all the little gamist bits: like forum guidelines and best-practices and (of course) all those house rules I intend to use.
For those who may not know what I’m talking about, here’s Ben Robbin’s original post that started it all:
And here’s Matthew Colville (love this guy) exclaiming the virtues of a West-Marches campaign:
It seems this West-Marches thing has caught on – and why not? It’s an interesting way to fulfill what every DM wants to do (i.e. run a long-standing and popular campaign) but way more importantly, it seem to be tailored perfectly for the “full time adult set” who still wish to game in an ongoing way.
Still wondering what I’m talking about? A West-Marches campaign is a method for DMs to get their players more actively involved in the creation, planning and even RL organizing of game-nights. In theory, it spreads the onus out a little more between players and DMs. On the DM-side, a West-Marches campaign involves some initial set up: establishing the basics of a world (or choosing one out of the box), creating a non-spoiler map of that world with some decent hooks for the players to sink their teeth into, and then setting up a private means to have players chat among themselves online in order to organize forays into the world. And that’s the cool thing about it: the players do the brick and mortar logistical work.
On the player-side, a West Marches campaign looks like this: you sign up, you generate a character, you look at the map and read up on the background and rumours, you introduce yourself and chat with other players (in character), and then (once you have wrangled some PCs together for a mission, or got wrangled into one) you book me to run the expedition. If you return from the expedition alive, you are expected to report back to the forum (it’s part of the Guild Rules).
It creates an interesting vibe. Sort of a mix of play-by-post and MMORPG. Ideally there is a high player-to-DM ratio and enough good hooks to initially spark player interest. Once the ball gets rolling, the theory is that players will create their own hooks and motivators by looking at what others groups are doing, vicariously learning about the world and its many challenges and hidden treasures. The big motivator is character level advancement (read, finding treasure), paying your increasing Guild Dues, and keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak.
So far I have about ten players signed up (and growing) and the first expedition is booked (that’s what I’m calling sessions). I’m using 1E AD&D as my system and I’ve rolled by-the-book “character upkeep” costs into the aforementioned Guild Dues that every player must pay monthly in order to stay in good standing with the guild and be allowed out of the city of Ironclad to explore the wilderness, Terranova.
Ironclad is a massive city-state on the coast of Terranova; a continent first “discovered” some 300 years prior. As the settlers tried to expand out into this “new world,” they were met by a harsh wilderness and then (quite suddenly after several decades) pushed back by the mysterious “Hordes of Chaos,” forced to abandon their new baronies and to batten-down in Ironclad. Ironclad itself was built over the ruins of some long-forgotten ancient city that must have been razed centuries before. It is on the shoreline of a bay but also nestled into a great mountain range. The settlers discovered a secret path under the ancient city remains that led to a massive mine in the nearby mountains – thus, Ironclad is still an ongoing economic concern. The 300-year-old city was originally named Fort Tauro when it was a colony under the Great Empire of Turan – but during the all the kerfuffle around the Hordes of Chaos (or “the Fall,” as it’s known in Terranova) the military leaders who were charged to defend the besieged city staged a political coup. Thus, the city was renamed Ironclad (after its distinctive outer walls, which are plated) and declared a free-state. Nevertheless, this “free-state” has very draconian laws, hardly any crime, and strict rules about who may enter and leave the city. The Guild, which is an expensive club to join, grants permission for leave into the wilderness and rights over any treasure hauled back (in return for detailed maps and information about the lands, which are, on paper, owned by the Overlord of the City).
The lands of Terranova are dotted with a the few abandoned colonial settlements that were established before the fall, many ancient and weird sites belonging to several lost civilizations, and a whole lot of wilderness filled with beasties.
Here’s “the treasure map” based on one of the early colonial explorers, Grotch Strongfist (a dwarven general). It’s not the most accurate map, but players will get the picture.
It will be interesting to see how this experiment plays out.