Here’s the deal: I’ve been enjoying the hell out of Fate Core and FAE. I love fast playing mechanics, adaptable systems, and the philosophy of “Emulate Fiction, not Simulate Reality” really won me over. I’ve spent a huge chunk of my time in the RPG hobby playing games like World of Darkness, High Valor and others that focus on the story telling over the rules crunching. But I’m also a sucker for fantasy crawls, especially OSR “Sandbox” games and open world style adventures. This past year I’ve fallen in love with games like ACKS, played in an awesome polynesian-themed Lamentation of the Flame Princess campaign, and continue to enjoy game products put out by Sine Nomine (Stars Without Number, Other Dust.)
Talking with my girlfriend last night, it dawned on me that Fate is an awesome system to plan a sandbox in. To me, the appeal of Open World/Sandbox gaming isn’t that there’s “no plot,” but that there’s lots of plot hooks for the players to take advantage of in making their own story. While what I’m about to share is a bit more planning than what Fate Core advises, I think it still hits a sweet spot in leaving some “flex” room for the GM and players to develop in-game.
Taking a cue from the setting development guidelines in Fate Core, I figured you can start off with a broad picture of the game world and then “drill down” locations. To test my idea out, I spent a half hour this morning tossing together a generic map of a hypothetical game region in a style I did for my ACKS/OSR D&D campaign:
The first step in my approach was to set the overall conflicts of the region. Our location, cheesily named “Arcane Valley,” was given the following two aspects:
- “Political Strife and an Empty Throne”
- “Bandits and Uncanny Beasts plague the Highways.”
I drilled this down further, and gave each of the towns and cities their own aspects:
- Highburg: “Aristocratic Courts and Exotic Bazaars.” “An Empty Throne and a Missing Prince.”
- Townsdale: “The Church keeps the Faithful Safe.” “Goblins keeps sacking our crops!”
- Placeton: “Our Taxes are TOO DAMN HIGH!” “There is a strange power in those woods…”
- Highkeep: “Our forges burn bright with Mountain Fire!” “There’s whispers of Revolution in the ranks.”
The next step was to add aspects for the wilderness outside of these towns. For the most part, I stuck to entire regions instead of Hex by Hex — I want to use these for potential random encounters. But locations like the Ruins and the Tower were intended to be entire adventure locations in themselves.
- Area A — the Plains/Hills: “The Centaurs of the Hills are a proud people.” “Wary beasts stalk these prairies.”
- Area B — Haunted Woods: “These Woods echo with the Cries of the Dead.” “Strange fables have lured many men here…”
Using the Aspects I’ve put into each location, I could ad-lib on the fly appropriate encounters and obstacles for the players. Not only that, but the players themselves could invoke or compel these aspects to trigger events for the sake of the story.
Using 4dF, I would probably use the following for determining if an event or encounter occurs by my roll:
- -1 to +1: No encounter or event happens. Players or the GM are free to spend Fate to invoke/compel an aspect of the area if they so choose. Example: A player with a hurt character may invoke “Centaurs of the Hills are a proud people” to seek assistance from nearby tribes, or the GM may compel “Wary beasts” to have him ambushed by a pack of wolves.
- +2 or Higher: Positive encounter. The events are intended to provide an opportunity to assist the players in some form or fashion. Although, the GM is more than welcome to play it out with tension and uncertainty to keep the players on edge. Merchants or other helpful NPC’s are met, strange omens or blessings are bestowed, or interesting items are found.
- -2 or Lower: Negative encounter. The players either meet hostile opposition, a perplexing obstacle or face a setback of some kind in their story. Regardless of what the encounter is, the characters have an opportunity to overcome or avoid the events. Examples are: they’re ambushed by opponents or monsters, deceived in some way, tested by environmental changes or effects, etc.
Pursuing their own Milestones
The biggest appeal to using this approach is providing plot hooks all over for the players to discover, and letting them decide which adventures to pursue. Using the aspects we’ve slapped down for this region, I was able to quickly place particular milestones that the players may chase after:
Sample Significant Milestones:
- Defeating the Necromancer and his minions that reside in the Ruins located in the Haunted Woods.
- Exploring the Tower of the Fae Witch, surviving her trials and discovering the Captive Prince.
- Successfully escorting a Merchant Caravan from Highburg to Highkeep.
- Discovering, infiltrating and either defeating or taking over a Thieves Den in any major city or town.
- Successfully completing a mission of espionage or sabotage for the Rebels in Highkeep.
Sample Major Milestones:
- Completing the Three Tasks of the Fae Witch, which lifts her curse on the Captive Prince and allows him to finally leave her Tower and begin his campaign to claim the throne.
- Defeating the head of a powerful bandit gang or crime family.
- Bringing resolution to one of the major political conflicts in the region (the heavy taxation on the town of Placeton, the rising rebel tension in Highkeep, uneasy relations with the Centaur tribes or even helping the Captive Prince retake the region.)
So there. In about an hour and a half I have slapped together a pretty solid framework for an entire campaign. I could literally take this, and hold off preparing gaming sessions to the last minute and still deliver an incredible adventure for my group.