Sunday, February 25, 2024

[The Domain Game] part 3: Keeping Player Interest

"The Anointing of Solomon" by Cornelis De Vos

Now the players have a domain and they are being kept busy by the random encounters that lead to classic adventures like "find the lycanthrope", "protect the farms", and others that monsters and the like exist to enable. But that isn't everything that can happen.

 Oriental Adventures had its share of problems, from unbalanced character classes (an issue it shared with Unearthed Arcana, but that's a matter for another time) to a vaguely racist orientalism (though that was probably less of an issue than some make it out to be, it was and is still an issue). But, those matters aside, it presented a couple of truly great elements and one of those was the tables for yearly and monthly events. (Another was the fairy-tale atmosphere that it tended to bring to play, including some truly innovative creatures like the Ikiryo. Someday, I might like to completely redesign the fairy creatures from the Monster Manual such as the brownie, leprechaun, sprite, pixie, and so on in the same sort of style. It would be a big undertaking, though, and they do already have some of that going on, so I dunno.)

The basic concept was that the DM would roll on the yearly event table at the start of each year to sort of establish a tone for the coming 12 months. This would result in any of a number of major events, from the death or assassination of a lord in the region to the appearance of a new religious movement all the way to a rebellion or war. The specific time of year would be fixed by a roll of a d12 to figure out the month, and perhaps a d30 to figure out the exact day of the month if relevant. Then, depending on the exact type of yearly event, there would be monthly rolls on a set of monthly event tables. These would be generally related to the tone set by the yearly event, so that in a year with a natural disaster as the dominating event, the players are more likely to see hauntings, bandits, or minor natural disasters, while in a year of assassination, incursion, political plots, rebellion, or war there are likely to be incursions, battles, and troop movements. And then there's a column for "other" events, which are any event other than the sort listed in those first two columns, and tend to lead to more normal sorts of events like births, marriages, injustices, or the appearance of a Maiden of Virtue who sets off a competition among the unmarried lords to woo her for her virtuous character, the prestige marriage to such a person brings, and such. Those things are tuned specifically to the sort of cultural model implied by even the title of that book, but they should prove inspirational for setting up similar tables for your own setting.

We also have help in this regard, because the article from Dragon magazine issue 125 that we have already referenced a couple of times, "Meanwhile, Back at the Fief…", brings a more generic-fantasy oriented table of annual events. In this method, the DM will roll for 1d4-2 (to a minimum of zero, of course) events for the upcoming year, placing them by rolls of d12 and d30 as before. The article was short, though, and had no room to present monthly events in the same manner, but it shouldn't be hard to come up with a set of tables for those for your own setting, or to expand the fairly brief tables in the Dragon magazine article. It's worth noting, too, that the events related to natural disasters in the article rely on the suggestions in an earlier article, "The Role of Nature", found in issue 108, but due to some editing or layout errors they are somewhat confusingly described in "Meanwhile…" so it is probably best to have a copy of the earlier article available as well.

In addition, in Dragon magazine issue 145, in an article titled "Holding Down the Fort", there is a table for weekly event checks for a castle or other stronghold, with a 50/50 chance each week of rolling on the table presented. This gives a mix of good, bad, and ambiguous events such as rotten or excellent food stores, magical or non-magical duels, the appearance or leaving of various figures, and so on. These might be just minor color, or they might be the start of an adventure of their own. The DM might roll a d7, or d8 re-rolling 8s, to determine which day of the week the event occurs on.

Finally, there is the matter of DM-incited adventures. This includes, but is far from limited to, the sorts of intrigues that occur around the neighboring lords maneuvering for advantage and to take over the resources available to the players, the appearance of heroic or legendary figures with their own agendas, the really large sorts of incursions such as those inspired by the Mongol invasions of Europe in the 13th century or European crusaders invading the Middle East, and so on. That is, the sorts of things that are not really applicable to random event tables for generating them, the sorts of things that mark turning points in history or that are so omnipresent and tied to the personalities of non-player characters that they need to be specifically guided by the DM's discretion. Further, this category can include all sorts of "side quests", as it were, small-scale adventures unrelated to the larger forces in motion in your setting. There are plenty of examples to be found in sources like Dungeon magazine (though as Bryce points out repeatedly, many of those are really terrible design). I'd also recommend Pendragon for many useful examples in this regard.

Updating my thinking on the last entry, I wanted to point out that there are disadvantages to underground lairs of the sort that Rogahn and Zelligar built. In addition to the enormous expense such a massive excavation requires, a big one is that while a castle serves as a present and visual reminder to the people that someone is looking out for their safety, that does not apply nearly as much to a hole in a cliff side. It seems that the doughty adventurers who set up Quasqueton were going to fix this by building a tower to mark their territory, but they never completed it. Perhaps your players might, should they claim the place for themselves. They should certainly keep that issue in mind if they instead excavate an underground lair of their own design.

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