Day 66: West Marches vs. 4e

October 1, 2009

In the original West Marches, travelling to a site involved crossing regions, with each region being largely defined by its random encounter list.  This was a way for the setting to be front and center, which hooked nicely into the GM-as-referee elements of West Marches.

But when using 4e as the system for a West Marches game, the random encounters just don’t fit.

For example, say the players are crossing 3 regions to get to an interesting site.  If each region is a day to cross, and we figure about a 50% chance of a random encounter per day, then we’ve got about 3 encounters just to get there and back.  Then there’s any site that the players investigate on the way, say 1 encounter, and another 2-3 encounters at the site itself.

With 4th edition D&D, that’s easily 7 hours of gameplay, and likely more when you have to split it over multiple sessions.  The players stop being able to flexibly schedule their characters, and that’s not what I want for Tag’s Folly.  I made this mistake in designing the regions and encounters that were relevant to the first expedition, which is the big reason they’re still not back yet.  It looks like 2 or 3 encounters rounds out a good 3 to 4 hour expedition.

The ideal West Marches style session involves leaving the safety of the town, travelling through wilderness, doing something at a particular site, and going back. The session is a self-contained sojourn that meaningfully impacts the world, which frees up all players to launch and participate in expeditions using their favorite characters.  So with 4e, I can’t make the players roll random encounters going through each region, since just going there or back will eat a whole session.  That’s why I’ve decided to jettison random encounters from the Tag’s Folly campaign, at least for now, and designing sites to be compartmentalized or tightly focused.

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