Day 4: West Marches thoughts

July 31, 2009

One major factor of a West Marches style game is that the rules need to be consistent.  For one, I’ll be developing material for the forseeable future.  For another, the game is supposed to “feel” like a world with dependable rules that the players can understand.

This is sort of like Lego blocks.  You can do a lot with them, but if the new Lego blocks didn’t fit with the old, people would get upset when they didn’t link together.

But therein lies a problem.  I’m not very satisfied with the options available to me for a ruleset to settle on. Some iteration of D&D seems to make the most sense, since ultimately this is a fantasy rpg.  But In 4e there’s too much emphasis on the powers, rather than the environment, and its combats take an hour.  3e has a lot of timesinks and unnecessary complexity (I’m including E6 in this).  2e and 1e AD&D are a mess, so that brings us back to the retroclones.

Retro-clone games are essentially remakes of old versions of D&D, reverse-engineered via the Open Game License that 3rd edition was distributed under.  Reviews of a few D&D retro-clones can be found here.  Of these, Basic Fantasy tickles me the most, but then I have to decide: Do I really want to run Moldvay D&D?

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7 Responses to “Day 4: West Marches thoughts”

  1. Mike R. Says:

    It seems to me that the retro-clones aren’t much better, because they tend to put the messy systems of AD&D on a pedestal, keeping them in for nostalgia’s sake. Have you considered something a little newer and/or story-gamey? That is, something with simplified rules that streamline play? A hack of Red Box Hack, or maybe Storming the Wizard’s Tower?

    • stoughton Says:

      Hey Mike. The crumminess of old AD&D subsystems is very much on my mind.

      Problem is, I want people to feel comfortable that I’m using a stable ruleset. I also want to run something that appeals to the widest possible audience – I want to meet more gamers.

      Storming isn’t finished enough for my purposes, and it also doesn’t support the “import 30 years of adventures” kind of thing I was hoping to do to make that dangerous West Marches style environment. Red Box Hack is also a bit too half-baked, and focuses on (if I recall correctly) big fights with single monsters, rather than manipulating the environment.

      I admit that the various old editions’ focus on manipulating the environment depends a lot on super-intense GMs bridging rules gaps. THAT I don’t like.

      But, I know you know a lot about systems, so given my objections, do you have any ideas what I could use?

      • Mike R. Says:

        Well, as we discussed earlier, your best bet is probably to just use 4E. It has the wide appeal, solidly-tested ruleset, and well-balanced encounter building system that you’ll need to run a West Marches style game.

        Wow, does that sound like an advertisement, or what? :S Anywho, I only suggest it because I’m not quite sure that anything else really fits.

  2. cr0m Says:

    What are the timesinks and unnecessary complexity of 3x? If it’s combat, maybe something like Pathfinder could work for you, where some of the clunkier parts of D&D combat are smoothed out.

    Btw, for a West Marches type game, IMO, you need quick prep, lots of tables and crunchy advancement. I’ve been running a WM-style Moldvay game this year (see my website) and it’s got the first two, but misses the little incremental bumps that 3e excels at.

    FWIW, I started running Moldvay for the nostalgia factor, but now I run it because it’s so rules light. Just about any situation can be turned into a d6 roll, and it does conflict resolution really well too. And the combats are wicked, wicked fast. It’s been fun!

  3. cr0m Says:

    Oops. I really should have read the rest of your blog before posting. I see that you’ve really moved on the game, and are running something much more outre than Moldvay is set up for.

    Looks like fun! I’ll enjoy reading more.

  4. kelvingreen Says:

    Well, what about Runequest? That’s a good stable ruleset, and if it’s too crunchy for you (it is a bit too crunchy for me), why not try the generic BRP?

    • stoughton Says:

      Well, I’m 50 days later now 😀

      So I think I’ll have to stick with the ruleset I chose, which is 4e. But I’m doing some things with prep that better line it up with the West Marches kind of game.


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