Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Random Content and Speed During Play

One of the interesting things I'm learning during these early Black City sessions is the gap between good content generation tools and good content.  A simple example - the group runs into some bandits, what's the name of the bandit leader?  Which ship are they from?

It's Agnar.  "Agnar Thorvaldson, or Agnar of Bergen?  Oh, you meant Agnar the Sallow; good.  Just glad it's not Agnar son of Skjolf.  Old Skjolf already hates us."

The point being, there's a lot of ways to generate a good Viking name on the fly, I've built myself tables upon tables of tools to generate names, places, ship names, personalities, all these super flavorful things with the Viking details.  (Some of them appeared in previous blog posts, like here: Viking names.  There's a section on random tables on the Black City page).

Detail is important for this type of campaign, the setting demands lots and lots of easily referenced details.  When the party gets into a scrum with Agnar Thorvaldson's bandits, it's important to know they have kin on the Angry Yrsa, one of the ships on the island.  The party probably just made a handful of enemies in the other crew; this is the kind of stuff that's going to drive conflict in the campaign.  "You run into another set of Viking bandits"  is lazy and boring; "You run into another group from the Angry Yrsa" adds immediate excitement; the DM knows they'll take a penalty to the reaction roll because a party member killed Agnar the Sallow in a duel and the crew is spoiling for some payback.

Which brings me back to the original thought here - table top speed.  I'm finding more and more that tools are great, but generating content before we sit down and play is even better.  Having some huge lists of pre-generated names, ships, and so forth is proving to be best of all.  Dice rolling the stuff got to be a drag, so now I'm programming it all into excel to generate premade lists (I'm really too lazy to reinstall mssql and do it all through an rdbms right now).

I know the dungeons have been interesting so far, but I'm hoping the group explores the ruined surface when they need a change of pace so I can see how the hex content creation plays.  There's a finite number of hexes and I'm wondering if I should just number and auto-populate the hexes - it would play faster, but is less inspirational.

In a published version of the city, I'd probably include lists of premade content so a DM could sit down and play it 'right out of the box' with a list of premade ships, Viking groups, and so on - but include the raw tables in an appendix for additional creation and inspiration.  What do you guys think?

And the question for fellow game masters - there's excitement generating content on the fly and forcing yourself to improvise, versus having it laid out in advance and not having to pause for a dice rolling sequence.  Where's your sweet spot?