29 July, 2016

The Variable Sandbox

I really haven't posted much this month, but that hasn't stopped it being one of the periods when the blog has seen the most activity from visitors. Strange!!?

Anyway, I've been thinking about the traditional form of play known in some cicles as the Sandbox. It's basically where you don't really have a specific story laid out, instead the GM provides an environment, perhaps some relationship maps, plants a few seeds here and there and lets the players go exploring for themselves (through their characters). Its the way I typically try to run LARPs, because it can be impossible to be a GM everywhere all the time, drip feeding story to every cluster of players. It's also generally the way I envision Familiar to be run.

The players help construct a region, a small town, even a ghetto in a large city. It's a community where dozns of stories interweave, and there is always more to the picture than can ever be seen by a single person (magical or otherwise). Actions have repercussions, making friends means making enemies, breaking a deal sees ramifications as word of that deed spreads across the community, helping someone in need has more beneficial cascade effects. But to follow the old idea of the West Marches, I'd deliberately indicate that there are areas of the game environment that are "easy" and other areas that are "hard". As players explore the wider game environment, they will learn which areas they are ready for and which areas they aren't. Investigation becomes important, dealing with regions on their own terms becomes key. You don't engage in violence near the police station, nor do you engage in violence in tightly held gang territory...the former because you'll alert the authorities and make other actions harder to accomplish, the latter because you'll "get a cap in your ass".

This is fairly easily accomodated by the system, basically by applying a default "and..." or a "but..." to actions that unfold in specific areas. Every "and..." makes a task more effective, and every "but..." makes a task less effective, or may be overcome if you are willing to increase the tasks difficulty.

Instead of simply making regions harder or easier, we then flavour them by applying those "ands..." and "buts..." to specific action types (conflict, influence, knowledge, magic). One area might have benefits in a specific field, but penalties in another. Some areas might have multiple "ands..." or "buts...", but we really don't want to overcomplicate things, so these would be rare, or might be at the borders, where one "and..." has a radius of effect that overlaps with another "and..."

Actually, that might be a good way to handle things. Simply draw the "and..." or "but..." on the map when it is found, then draw a circle (or other shape) around it to define how much territory is affected by this modifier.

Seems sinple enough, in my head anyway.
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