I’ve been thinking an awful lot about running a new solo fantasy campaign set around the start of the Bronze Age. In truth, the desire to run a “Low-Fantasy” game has been coursing through my veins for months, if not years.
The main appeal of returning to the Red Box edition of Basic Dungeons & Dragons arose from a strong desire to “get back to my roots” and find “a simpler approach” to roleplaying games. Unfortunately, this desire gets derailed every time I seek players to bring it to the table. This isn’t to say that the folk I know are bad players, or don’t want to play the way I want to play per se. It’s much more the case that the vision I have for this game is quite a long way removed from the so-called “Classic D&D” fantasy game and I think that most other folk have a problem envisioning what I am aiming for.
In fact, I think that I struggle with this too. I feel like I am quite confused and conflicted. Perhaps the best starting point would be to take it step by step, building the framework that I want to play within, and share it with interested onlookers. If, in the fullness of time, people want to join in then I would be happy to add extra players to the game.
What’s The Game?
I want to run an exploration adventure game set within a pretty low-powered, low-fantasy realm. I am inspired by some of the classical Dungeons & Dragons tropes but I am also seeking to subvert quite a few of them.
For example, I don’t want a game that is bound by the assumptions that come from using the classical Class and Race tropes. I find these tend to create very limited character roles and also bind player action in conformity to the tropes they invoke. The classical Fighter is a character role built around the use of arms and armour; this is distinct from the other roles, such as the Magic-User or the Cleric, and later the Thief. The player of the Fighter is basically there to fight things and take their treasure. I don’t want this kind of game because I feel that the roles are too limited.
I suppose I want to subvert the idea of niche-protection. I would prefer a game in which the players are encouraged to think of their characters in more naturalistic terms: perhaps I am seeking a band of early human hunters who are facing the challenge of survival in a hostile environment, for example, rather than burly hero types with larger-than-life abilities.
What I do want to use from the classical fantasy roleplaying game are some of the game structures that lend themselves to extended open play in an infinite game. To put that in a less jargon-filled manner, I want to use some of the ways of playing that encourage a never-ending game that is focused on exploring the world, peoples, and situations that arise through play.
One example of this would be to use the classical hex-crawl to explore the map of the world. As this is going to begin as a solo game, I want to be able to generate the details of that world in play with the minimum of fuss at the table. To this end, I need to build or adapt some tools for my game.
Using My Hands More
Another thing I realise that is missing from my modern hobby is the application of my actual hands to the gaming experience. Increasingly, as digital tools proliferate and I play more online games, I find myself disconnected from the “making” aspect of the hobby that I used to love so much. I guess I feel more creative when I use my hands.
To this end, I have dug out a set of the rather whimsical Trailblazer Game Stamps and intend to build my first maps using those tools. I am going back to paper, pens, ink, and also adding in map stamps. I want to get ink on my hands and scrawl out rough maps of the places I explore. On top of this, I am going to use the Mythic GM Emulator Card Deck (because shuffling and turning cards is a nice, satisfying experience) alongside actual dice. I want to roll chunky 16mm or 19mm six-siders. I also want to add in miniatures and terrain to my gaming table. None of this is necessary to the play of the game, but it is desirable… at least to me.
On top of all of this, I intend to steal a lot of cool ideas from around the gaming blog-o-sphere and pod-o-sphere. Straight away, for example, I will be stealing the ” Three_Hexes_Zine” approach from Michael Shorten, aka “Chgowiz”. I’ll also be adapting the Goblin’s Henchman’s excellent “Hex Flower” innovation and might even steal the “Carapace” scenario outright. To top it off, I think I’ll probably adapt the Hex Crawl ideas from The Alexandrian to suit my own tastes.
Having written all of that, I am going to put my laptop aside and go get my hands dirty.