Thursday, June 27, 2013

First Steps in the Sandbox

I'll share what I came up with and showed my players last Friday as I try to expand and improve it for our session tomorrow.  We'll be going up to a cabin to play so I want to have all my ducks in a row.  Here is a pic of the sandbox map I showed them:
They started in Ashborough and had just cleared out a Dwarven Outpost last session.  (Though they don't know the weird dungeon was Dwarven).  I told them they could move 3 hexes in a day.  To the east, a wise woman that sometimes comes in from the swamps to visit Moss End has the ability to farsee.  To the west a trading post.  South west is Gilworth, a town known for raising fighting dogs because of constant attacks from the woods.  There are caves located near the trading post and the other two villages.  There is also another Dwarven outpost in the hills near Ashborough.

So, pop quiz, where do you think my players went?  While you think about it I'll give you some more behind the scenes info.  The Dwarven outpost I already had prepared from a different set of friends I ran through it.  I had maps for all three caves.  I had maps ready for Moss End and Gilworth.  I didn't really have anything else ready-- no wandering monster tables for the roads or the plains.  Not even interesting treasures and monsters for the caves.  Trying to prepare four possible dungeons was just too much.  I can see why someone would want to by a product that would have at least the bones of this laid out.

Okay, got an answer?  The clue is that they just cleaned out a dungeon last session.  Heavy with coin, of course they wanted to go shopping.  I should have guessed.  They made a beeline to the trading post and then after shopping for a long time, headed to Red Crystal Cave, explored a bit, got in a battle and then left the cave to camp outside an end the session.  I think I'll just drop some bullet points of things that stood out to me:
  • A player sold a ring of water walking and a wand of mineral detection.  For pretty cheap.  He had put on the ring and nothing seemed to happen but never tried pointing the wand.  I should probably make magic items more apparent- it's the toyness/toolness of them that I put them there for, because it's fun to see players use them, so this coyness of not knowing what is magic left over from my 1e days seems counterproductive.  I did say outright after he sold the things, "if you find stuff in a dungeon it is probably good stuff", but maybe I'll make them glow or something.
  • I have been on a silver economy trying to make gold feel more exciting but it's like swimming against the tide.  Every equipment list I have is based on more expensive prices.  I found I am unable to convert on the fly.  I think I'm dropping that and just make everything more expensive from now on.
  • I know people have mentioned plat mail being easy to get before and boy is it true.  Chain mail doesn't really exist in my game because plate mail is clearly better and only a little more expensive.  I think I might require anyone buying plate in the future to be fitted for it.  And require at least a session's wait before it is ready for the players, maybe multiple sessions.
  • You can see "Beorht" written on the map.  That is a note to myself of the trader's name.  I was picking Anglo-Saxon names off a list.  Afterwards I decided it sounded a little too alien.  I want this to feel like Grimm's fairy tales and might go to English or Germanic names.
  • I told my players that I am still working on my wilderness rules but that there were three simple things I could tell them 1) stay on a road or by a river and you won't get lost, moving away from those and there is a chance you will 2) you need one ration of food a day and 3) you need one wineskin of water a day or "bad things will start happening".  I told them it would probably give them a negative in combat and start reducing their encumbrance.  With a list-based encumbrance this turns out to be super easy to do, instead of worrying about percentages you can just say "you can carry x less slots, drop some stuff."
  • The simple rule already had an effect.  Ashborough could only offer two rations worth of food so the party had to go talk to the local knight to buy more.  Players bought extra waterskins and one was freaking out about not having enough water.  I made it a running joke about her being very thirsty all night :)
  • I already knew this but I was reminded that I need three things to run a dungeon: a map, monsters- including a wandering monster chart, and treasure all pre-made.   I can improv details, atmosphere, dialog, tons of stuff, but I need to have those things as a minimum already existent.  Part of it is that my brain can only do one thing at a time, so if I'm describing the movement through the dungeon to the party I can't come up with monsters and treasures for the rooms they haven't reached yet as well.  The other thing is that I don't want the risks and rewards of the dungeon to be my decisions-- I want as much of that responsibility to be taken by the dice.
Okay, so what do I want to do in preparation for tomorrow?  I need encounter tables for the roads.  This is turning out to be harder than I imagined because it sort of sets the tone and danger level for the whole world.  Is this world a place where dragons can be seen flying over the roads or are they rare and hidden away?  Is this the sort of road where bandit attacks are so common that it is safer to travel through the wilderness than on the roads?  I don't know.

I'm not sure what they will want to do next time.  (I know I should have asked explicitly but it was late.)  They may want to go back into Red Crystal Cave and explore it more since they are right outside.  They may want to go to the Dwarven outpost because they found good treasure in the last one ( a player said this).  Or they might head to Gilworth because I think they are interested in getting dogs.

I need to prepare monsters and treasures for the caves.  I need to prepare a price list/ selection for the dogs.  I though iy might be cool to either have a chart randomly determine the type of dog or let some of the dog loving players choose from a selection, the type of dog that Gilworth breeds.

I would like to expand the map so they start getting a sense of more options.  Maybe growing the sandbox a little each session would be a good goal for me.  I scavenged the remnants of an easal pad from work and can center my map on it and that will provide a~2x2.5 ft map to work with and gradually fill up.

I need to assign health scores to the villages.  I am excited about how excited my players were to that idea.  I wish I had a simple goods system so that not everything on an eqipment list was available at every trader/merchant.  But that is a place where computers have me beat.  I don't want to roll for every stinking good to see if it's present.  Maybe just roll once with a percentile and that item is out.  But I don't know, seems ripe for a mini-game.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Village Hit Points

I think you'll like this, it's very simple but allows for interesting stuff to be layered on top.  So, give your villages a small number, 1-6, to indicate their "health."  This number, like character hit points is abstract and encompasses a lot of things- sanitation, safety, and economic and social wellbeing. 

Each session the players visit a village roll a d6.  If it's under this Health Score*, the village has grown a bit.  If you are using these Easy Villages, I would say it's grown by one, 1 pip hut.  Growth is beneficial to players because more huts means more opportunities for hirelings.  And more 1 pip huts means more opportunity for food.  You could tie more benefits in with a villages size too.  (If you roll over the health score I would keep the village the same size to prevent it from fluctuating too much).

Now make certain things modify this village health.  The terrain and climate it's located in could affect the starting score.  If there is a monster lair with a day's travel -1.  War or plague affecting the region -1.  Tyrannical or insane reeve or headman -1.  If these negative modifiers bring the health score into negatives the village will shrink by a hut every session the players visit.  And this would be in addition to non-abstract losses, players killed by cultists or werewolves, for instance, will also be noted and reduce the village size.  However, eliminating threats, bringing livestock, building mills or dovecotes can all give a bonus to the health score, making things better.

I mentioned this as an idea I had to my player on Friday, just as an aside really.  And they got quite excited.  They understood the simple premise and could see why doing things to help the locals would benefit them.  And they immediately set out peppering me with ideas of possible improvements.  I had to rein them in a little and make sure they knew I didn't intend for them to be able to turn these villages into town or cities, just help them become thriving villages.  They were still excited.

This could be an easy way for the lord of a domain to affect how many troops he/she could draw from an area-- healthier villagers mean more serfs to carry pikes.  You might have the villages affect each other, with a village of health 6+ giving all villages within ~ a days travel a +1 to their health.  And vice versa, a struggling village could be a drag on all others nearby.  I could make a list of simple improvements to show my players and make clear what the improvements would require.  So maybe a dovecot would take a wagon load of stone and a wagon load of timber.  That way the players could go about getting the supplies rather than just plopping down a set amount of gold.  Serfs might be hired to cut roads or drain swampy areas.

Maybe players shouldn't know the actual score of a village unless they visit it or talk with someone that has just come from there recently.  But the last known score could be put on the map so players can easily asses the state of the sandbox as they know it.

*I think Health Points is a better name for this than Hit Points but figured by putting the latter in the title you would immediately know what I was getting at.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Misc IX

With this post, only 18 left till my 1000th.  Yikes.  I have been working on lots of blog stuff, though there seems to be too many things I need to make at once.  I'm trying to work out a systematic way to handle intelligent opposition, or at least how to record on a map what guards will do and such.  I've also been working on my sandbox.  I can't put it off any more.  I think I'll have to just shrink the size of what I present to my players tonight to a couple day's walk in all directions.  I've prepared tons of simple cavern complexes.  Now I need to figure out ways to distinguish them so they don't function as quantum caves of a sort.

I've got more silhouettes ready in the pipe, but they're mostly animals and harmless things.  I'd like to find another monster or some savage Amazonian women before I do another post.  Going up into the mountains tomorrow.

It could be fun to set up a game of player skill where they resolve something-- maybe gambling in a tavern or magical research-- by tossing a dice on a piece of paper and trying to get it to land somewhere without rolling off the paper.  I wouldn't want that to be a common mechanic, just something unique to make certain resolutions feel different and to keep my players guessing.

Tree Ring Scrying
The reading of information from tree rings isn't a new idea, but I realized how closely a cut stump looked like the trackless wastes hex:
So, a ranger or player with wilderness knowledge who is lost can take an hour to find and cut down a suitable tree.  Then, by looking at the rings they will know exactly where in a hex they are.

Feats like Encumbrance
I handle encumbrance as a simple list, once you fill up all your slots you have to drop something.  What if special abilities were treated like this.  Maybe characters in the game can learn how to shapeshift, go berzerk in battle, or raise undead, but they can only know 4 abilities at a time.  In a way it would be like Vancian spell picking, or socketed items in Diablo.  But these would be abilities not spells.  Players would have to choose, unrelated to class or level, what they want to be able to do.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Item Generator

Here is my take on a tool to help DMs come up with items.  I'm assuming that qualities of the items would be handled by a separate chart.  And if the items are magical that would be a separate chart as well.  This is just meant to help you come up with a random thing.
Drop two different colored d4 on it.  Choose one color to correspond to the figures and one to the triangle shaped categories.  Where the figure die lands on the silhouette indicates what it is related to.  So, a die on the hand has something to do with hands or fingers.  The other die will tell you what type of item it is.  If it is aesthetic, the item might be a ring.  If it is warfare, it might be a gauntlet.

A die that doesn't land on either figure can be read as items that aren't directly related to the bodies: furnishings, wall-coverings, urns, coffers, statues, etc.  A category die that falls off the page will still be in one of the category triangles, which stretch to the horizon.

Most of the categories are pretty self-explanatory.  I see "Learning" as information storage and retrieval: calendars, zodiac charts, royal successions that are incorporated into an item (like this), or scientific tools-- astrolabes, magnifying glasses.  It could also be a book about what the other die is pointing to.  "Daily Life" is meant to be tools, toys, musical instruments, etc.

You can read the number on the figure d4 if you want to.  So, a Daily Life item for a child on the hand might be a top, or a small spoon, or doll, for example.  An aesthetic result on the horse head could be a fancy falcon hood, a dog collar, a wreath for sacrificial oxen, or a bridle of some sort.

You don't have to use d4.  They are pointy and flat, though, which makes for a good choice here.  And the small number of results should be memorizable with use.  But you could potentially drop d10s or d12s or something and have whole subcharts of specifiers.

I playtested this a bit with my buddy and using it in conjunction with the object qualities chart really helped.  Mostly knowing what it was made of helped you figure out what kind of thing it might be too.  (I plan to revise the object quality chart soon).

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Order of Battle

Though I've used sentient enemies before, I'm always leery because of the way they push me, as their proxy, to be in opposition to the players.  It's why I use a lot of animals, insects and weird creepy things that have their own systems of logic.

I want to use intelligent, organized factions more in dungeons, though.  So I want to think out how they might react to incursions ahead of time, so they will have plans and goals that are seperate from me, the DM, before players even encounter them.

First, if you know of any good posts or articles please let me know.  Second I was thinking a good approach might be to think of questions before they need answering the way Jeff's 20 questions for a campaign does.  So here are some questions:
  • Where are guards posted?
  • Who are these guards-- how loyal, capable, experienced?
  • How do guards react to noise?
  • How do guards react to smoke or strange lights or smells?
  • In other words, when will they leave their posts?
  • Is there a way for them to communicate with each other, other than just shouting?
  • If reinforcements are sent, how long does it take them to reach different locations?
  • Is there a general plan of defense or perhaps, evacuation?
  • Is the goal to investigate, eradicate, or imprison interlopers?
  • Who are they expecting trouble from?
  • What kind of battle tactics will they use-- are they straight up fanatics?  Will they attempt to kill mages first?  Will they target any missile users?  Use shield walls?
  • Who is ultimately in charge?
  • How will that person be affected by battle results?  In other words will they be afraid, outraged, or impressed if players have killed guards?
  • How long does it take, if even possible, for guards lost to battle to be replaced?
  • How flexible are they, how willing to adjust tactics?  In other words, will they learn and adapt to losing battles to pcs?
That's all I can think of now.  Other things you know I should be thinking about because of experience, or things you wonder about yourself?

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


I try to gather up ideas that seem a little too thin to warrant a separate post into these miscellaneous posts.  Usually they are small house rule mechanics or campaign setting ideas.  Anyway, here are a few more:

Word Eater
They look like obese children with mouths slightly open and drooling.  They amble out of stark wastelands to follow parties and listen.  They appear mute.  If they hear a word of particular interest to them, such as a name or a word shouted with emotion, they will "eat" it.  The word then disappears from the mind of the speaker.  They cannot say it, read it, or understand it as language if it is spoken to them.  Some say the only way to get the word back is to slice open the belly of the Word Eater and extract it.  But such a butchering might release a flood of strange and ancient words.

Blight Writing
Some wise women have the ability to draw a malady from a person by "writing them out."  This involves several strange ingredients as well as bird guano and willow bark.  A set of scratchings will appear on the bark that resemble both quail tracks and cuneiform writing.  If a spell is cast to allow reading this willow scroll, the reader will catch the malady there recorded.

Extended Stat Check
To see how long the burly fighter can hold the collapsing ceiling up, the swimmer can hold their breath, or the rogue can balance on the swaying tightrope, try this: Roll a d6 each round and when the total of the results surpasses the character's appropriate stat they finally reach their limit.  I think this could be much more dramatic than a single stat check or saving roll and since a player with their character in such a situation will probably be static while the rest of the party frantically does something else, it will give them something to do each round.

Simple Charges
When you first use a wand or staff roll a d6.  A result of 1 means it just fails to work.  You can try to use it once a round until it does work.  Once it works, however, the failure range moves from just 1 up to 1-2.  This continues with each successful use.  Once the failure number is 6 the item will never work and must be recharged if that is possible. 

To recharge a single level, cast a spell of equal level on the object, then roll the number you would need to succeed if it had that level charge left.  For example, a completely dead wand would need a sixth level spell cast into it and then the caster would need to roll a 6 on the d6.  If successful, then a fifth level spell would need to be cast on it and then a 5 or 6 rolled for it to "take."  And so on until it is fully charged.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Making My Sandbox

I'm slowly working on a wilderness sandbox for my players.  Just the foundation for now.  A couple thoughts:

Abstract Wilderness
I want to make this as simple as possible for players, like a gameboard, so I can start specifying options and features in the wilderness.  I was thinking that it's funny that 4e spent so much time trying to simplify and specify D&D's abstract combat, but, as far as I know, ignored wilderness travel, which has always been super abstract.  Combat never seemed all that problematic to me.  I mean I can pretty much imagine what the results of a few rolls mean for 30 seconds of fighting.    With abstract wilderness, though, you gloss over travel through 5, 6, or 25 miles in a hex, you're missing the whole movie!

Related to that, I was realizing how the default unit for D&D wilderness seems to be the hex or sometimes the kingdom.  I'm thinking a much better unit to work with is terrain, and treat the terrain almost like a very large dungeon level.  My last post was my first steps toward that end.

I've actually grown to dislike hex maps because I associate them with these huge tracts of abstract land with little help on how to run what's in them.  And numbered hexes seem very futuristic to me, perfect for Traveler but not the right tone for a fantasy setting.  Because of this, I was going to try to avoid them altogether and use roads marked out with distances sort of like gameboard spaces.  But I want players to be able to go off-road too and have an idea how far they can travel through a forest in a day.  So hexes are unavoidably, really.  I'll try to keep them grey, just visible enough to see, but not obstructing the look of the map.

So, I think I've settled on hexes that are 1 inch wide on the player map and 6 miles in game.  I want the hexes big enough on the map to have images of landmarks that players can see as a group.  Not just one person squinting over the map.  As for in-game, you can see this old post extolling the virtues of the 6 mile hex.  I also like that these will work better with leagues.  So I'll actually be treating them as 2 league hexes.  Leagues, like stones for weight, are good because they make the numbers we're working with smaller and they're also evocative of an older time.  They are also handy because human walking speed is about 3 mph so you can say every league is an hour of walking.

My desire for simplicity wishes that the hexes could be one league each, but it would make the sandbox way too small.  Players could walk out of it in two days.

Let me back up a bit.  I'm going to assume folks can walk 6 leagues a day.  That's a bit low, but I'd rather err on the low side than on the high side.  And keep in mind, even on roads, the terrain is probably rough, overgrown, and requiring a constant watch for hazards.  This will also let me simplify horseback travel by telling players to double their number of hexes they can move.  Again, 36 miles in a day on a horse might be on the low side.  But another reason to keep them low is that I can simplify forced marches by just saying double your hexes.  So, 72 mile for a horse being pushed is within reason as is 36 miles for hikers.

Sandbox Dimensions
I started out with four letter-size pieces of paper laid out in a rectangle.  But that was too small.  So I upped it to 3x3.  With rough terrain slowing folks down a bit, even on horseback, it should take more than a week to get off map.  It also isn't too big to have on the table in front of all the players.

I don't want to constrain the players to this sandbox, but if I'm going to put work into making a lot of locations they can visit, I want it to be of a size that they can't just ditch it all in one session.

Hmm, I don't know, I might still try to shrink the hex size to half an inch and make them 1 league each.  Then I could have small icons representing landmarks but much larger images along the margin of the map like the last example here.  I suppose design isn't finding the perfect solution, but the best compromise.  I'm trying to balance simplicity of communicating travel rules to players with them having a map they can see and not walk off of in one session.

Building on the Foundation
If I keep it simple it should be easy enough to add complexity on top of it.  So, traveling through rough terrain could halve your travel distance and traveling through some terrains in winter could halve it again.  Special breeds of horses could add a hex to their travel distance, or only in certain terrains (stout ponies in hills) or seasons (shaggy tundra horses).

You might even decide a certain speed rumors/news travels across the map in hexes.  So, if players keep getting hirelings killed, for instance, the next village may not want to see any of their offspring hired.

Friday, June 7, 2013

One Page Terrain

I'm trying to get my players into the great outdoors.  I'm trying to make a sandbox that will allow them to experience lots of different terrains that feel different.  I'm finding it a lot of work because I'm building it from scratch.

Seasons, weather, travel rates, encounters there's so much to decide about a terrain and then convey to players.  Here's an approach I think I'm going to try.  Rather than have all the season rules in one place in the rule book and the travel rules in another, what seems more relevant is to show the players all the rules that apply to where they are (or are soon going to be).  A single page with every thing you need to know about that terrain.  Well not everything.  I can't fit all this stuff and the special travel challenge mini-game too.  But maybe that can be on the back of the same piece of paper.

Here's my first mock up:
I'll have a better idea of what sections I need as I try to make more terrain.  For now, the mockup shows the most common threats on the right and the most common small/medium/large game animals on the left.  The game animals are for use with Talysman's cool Simple Hunting rules.  Also with my survival rule of one hit die yielding one ration of food.  This will give you an idea going in what dangers to be on the look out for and what the possibilities for living off the land are.

Some terrains may have no game animals at all-- blighted lands and such.  Also note with the mock up that one of the food options is also dangerous.

One of the benefits of silhouettes is that they can convey information even if small, so there isn't really a need for these to be so big.  I like it aesthetically.  You could make  them smaller and fit more monsters/animals on but I wouldn't want to over due it.  These might be just those folks know about.  Other mysterious dangers could be encountered.

The middle section is for any special notes about travel, seasons, and weather particular to this type of land.

I put a row of silhouettes by the name.  They don't mean anything.  But I was thinking if there were certain categories of information that come up again and again maybe they could be iconized to make things simpler.  So, maybe for these three it could be: yes the plague is here, threat of fires, and villages present (or maybe small rural settlements not even of village size).

Of course this might all seem silly and obvious in a "the forest has trees" type of way.  But it might not be for your Burning Tire Wastes or Crystal Deserts.  And if nothing else it's helping me as DM sort out in my head how to differentiate this terrains in a simple yet interesting way.  Let me know you thoughts.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Silhouettes LI

Here are more public domain silhouettes for your maps, charts, and counters.  These are just more animals, as I think more about wilderness maps and charts.

First, a fox:

A reindeer, aka caribou:
A doe, a deer, a female deer:
An ibex:
A dolphin:
A raccoon:

A tapir:

And an Agouti:
These have all been added as vector graphics to the zip file linked in my sidebar to the right.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Sandbox Choices II

I was going to make a draft map and post it, but my dsl is not working (I'm posting from my work office).

I got  a chance to talk with my buddy about my last post and we did some verbal brainstorming.  Here is a firmer list of things I'm going to try and incorporate in this beginning sandbox:
  • A witch that can see things (like inside dungeons) for you for a favor and lives in a swamp.
  • A shrine that gives you a short term boon but is hard to access.  Probably up in the mountains.  So, perhaps it makes you invisible to undead for a day or two and there is a barrow field with in traveling distance, but you'll have to do the mountain travel challenge to get there.
  • A village that breeds fighting dogs because they are prone to being attacked by goblins or something.  You go there, you might get caught up in defending a raid.
  • A bandit camp that has drugs for sale and is dicey.  Maybe in a half ruined keep that can be besieged later.
  • A monastery that offers aid and healing to travellers set in a cliffside.  Maybe you can get anitdotes there and various herbal remedies and such.
  • A hermit in a dangerous wood that can teach you how to become an elk.  I don't know what the fee should be, maybe as with the witch a favor.  That means first levelers can do it if they want but automatic drama hooks for later.
  • A temple with a library where command words and rumors can be researched but the cult that runs the place is unattractive, maybe St Cecily who is all about mortification of the flesh.
  • A wizard tower in a lake to get magic items identified.  I'd probably make this wizard friendly and helpful but out of the way and a challenge to get to.
  • Maaaaybe a shrine of resurrection that is days of travel through treacherous terrain away.  You want to resurrect Bob, sure, but you have to go through the jungle/desert/mountains.  Although, when players become more mobile in higher levels this might be too easy a solution.  I suppose I could combine it with my low gods type resurrection where you come back but with a catch.
  • A large town, maybe coastal.  You can sell things here and travel to other areas in the world.
  • I like the idea of magical portals at far ends of the map, but guarded by things pretty powerful like an ogre or something.
  • And I really need some magical pools or anvils somewhere, but those sound like they would be found in a dungeon.
As you can see, I'm trying to offer even 1 hit point mages choices they might take before there first or second dungeon delve.  But I'm also trying to allow for later complications and adventures and I'm trying to make opportunities for using my terrain challenges.   Another thing I want to try to do is allow for changes in the seasons-- that means rivers that freeze in winter allowing shortcuts, etc.  Gah, a lot of things to try to set up in advance of even showing them the dang map.

I'm also trying to figure how many days travel large this map will be.  I want each of these things to be a viable option to pick at first level, so within 2-3 days travel of fairly safe road travel or maybe with a day of more risky travel.  But I don't want the place to feel cramped or over stuffed with junk.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sandbox Choices

I wrote a post asking where the beginner sandbox was.  And I'm still interested in the ideas in that post.  But I realized it assumes players of low level characters will want to make choices.  Do they?

I realized, with my players, that they know and I know that there will never be a walk-in-the-dungeon-and-pick-up-the-money with no struggle situation.  The whole point of the evening's entertainment is the risky delve.  So why would it matter if they go to risky dungeon A versus risky dungeon B?  Here are some thoughts:

  • With my dwarven outpost type dungeon they can choose the devil they know.  The dungeon will still be dangerous but knowing what locations they are looking for can make things less dangerous.
  • They might want to obtain certain items.  I made an offhand comment about a location having ash shields (I think) they could be splintered to prevent magical damage and was surprised at how that became the focal goal of the group.
  • They might want to learn certain abilities.  I think it was Zak who had the idea of letting feats be learned in different places in the world.  So if you want to walk across water the guy that knows that is near location A.
 And I realize the choice is not so much a choice between dungeons but things in the world the players might want that happen to be near the dungeons. So that could be gear or animals, for example.  I remember Chgowiz had a campaign where there was a tin shortage and players attacked a band of orcs to get their lantern.
  • Regions might be known for particular livestock like hardy horses, camels, fighting dogs, or trained apes.  And if you want them you need to go there to get them.
  • Maybe particular types of hirelings.  Though, it seems a stretch that low level parties would make travel decisions based on that.
  • I feel like I posted this, but maybe I just thought about, locations players might want to visit and revisit because of an immovable service-- libraries to test rumors, magical anvils, or pools that give fairly predictable and positive results.  Also, locations to get rid of curses and identify magic items.
  • Guild membership, if it has benefits attractive enough, might be a draw to the location where they can join.
  • Geographic or climactic flavor might be a factor.  Maybe several sessions in a swamp and anywhere dry will look better.
  • I suppose this could apply to dungeon flavor too.  If the party is sick of battling undead, orcs might look like easy targets for a change.  But this and the last assumes some experience, and how much will low level parties have?
  • Roleplaying could be a key for some, though probably not my crew who sort of play avatars of themselves.  I mean if your character has a background visiting the family lands might be a reason to go somewhere.
  • A big urban area could be a draw because of the services only found there, like selling magic items.  Or if you are using carousing of any sort that pays off better for bigger cities.
  • I suppose treasure maps and keys found in dungeon A could lead to relatively easy loot in location B.  But that seems less a choice between A and B and me as DM funneling them from one area to another.
  • I suppose the choice could involve the lesser of two evils.  If their current location is going to be overrun or winter is coming, for example, they might want to move somewhere safer even if it isn't safe.
I'm sure there are more, let me know them in the comments.

Another problem is that for them to make these decisions they have to have a whole lot of information up front.  For example, I'm thinking now, if you had a domain-level endgame planned, experienced players might start maneuvering for allies from the start.  Or familiarizing themselves with various regions ripe for a new warlord or wizard.

Trying to convey information quickly is one reason I started making silhouettes.  I can put dogs and horses and such on the map so they see quickly what different regions offer.  Also a pointcrawl with picture insets would probably work better than the typical stew of fantasy names and a gazetteer.  But how would you show that, guy-who-teaches-water-walking is up north?  I'm not sure.  It could always come up in conversation with an NPC, but it also might not.

I think a common bit of advice might be to ask my players where they would want to go.  It sounds obvious.  But, heck people don't even know where they want to eat in the real world, or what they want for Christmas.  And, again, it is about knowledge.  My players don't know what's even possible in the fantasy world burbling in my head.  So I feel I need to make choices of my own and then communicate them to the players.

This isn't all just noodling.  My player's B-Team have reached the point where they need a map and I need to make something for Friday.