Thursday, April 7, 2011

Metagaming, Illusionism, and the Zones

One thing I like about the megadungeon format is that it lets the players metagame - the megadungeon allows the players to pick their level of risk based on game features instead of story.  I'm using the term "metagaming" here because I'm recognizing that players know things about how character levels, hit points, and encounters interact in a way that their characters don't know.  The players make decisions based on game elements that have nothing to do with the story - but like I said in yesterday's post, we DM's are always trying to come up with story explanations for the game elements!

In the post on Danger Zones, I outlined an approach I'm going to use for organizing wilderness areas in "levels" to support  similar decisions.  Areas bordering the civilized areas may be threatened by humanoids and other low level threats, but higher level wilderness will be further away, or on other continents, distant island archipelagos, and lost worlds.

I don't play any CRPGs,  haven't ever installed one, but I seem to recall from friends that WoW had the concept of "zones".  Is that similar?  Are there areas of wilderness that are known as 'higher level' that would be foolish for lower level guys to go there?  (Kind of like a party of 2nd level characters visiting the Isle of Dread?)

Another question has to do with Illusionism.  In a world zoned with levels, the DM has laid out where it's dangerous and more dangerous in advance.  However, I think most people run their game so that the plot hooks, encounters, and adventures scale with the party.   The DM is constantly shuffling the world behind the scenes to fit the current game circumstances and to surface appropriate adventure hooks when the party is ready for them.  Maybe this isn't Illusionism, but it's a little fishy.  Why were goblins threatening the village when we were level 1, and it's ogres threatening the same village now that we're level 4?

I wonder how different a campaign would feel, "zoning the world" consistently right at the beginning and handing the keys over to the players right from day one?


  1. Well, if the players head out into the Green Zone at level 1, they should have enough warnings that this area is going to be dangerous; on the other hand, they might be mostly unemployed in the Violet Zone, and, when the reach level 4, the Blue Zone should be a piece of cake for them.

    The world shouldn't revolve around the players, as long as they'll have some clues about where good treasures are and where danger lurks.

  2. Hi Omer - that's exactly right, that's exactly what I'd like to achieve. Set up the campaign so that players can make educated decisions about the level of risk vs reward, and plan wilderness expeditions like dungeon delves.

    To be clear, this is different from game balance. You can still run into monsters too dangerous in the low levels and easy areas, and run into easy monsters on the dangerous levels, just not as common.

  3. If you have not, you should check a series of posts over at ars ludi.

    There are like 4 of 5 in the series. A big part of the focus is multiple groups, which you may not have, but the world he describes is very much like you’re talking about with zones. Some of the best posts I have ever read.

  4. I went back and looked the 4th and 5th posts have the most on world building. People ask a lot of practical questions in the comments and he does a good job of answering them, so there is good infor there too.

  5. Good call, I should go back and refresh on the West Marches stuff (learn from someone else's experience).

    I keep mulling the idea of a world-spanning, Age of Exploration type campaign, and defining adventure zones on the macro level.