Friday, October 24, 2014

Not So Virgin Lands

The Wandering Gamist has a thoughtful post on Why It's Unexplored, looking at reasons why the PCs are the first (known) explorers in a hex crawl campaign.

I' have comments on a couple of the scenarios and one of my own that could be a playable campaign.
  • Cataclysm
    • A catastrophe has torn the land asunder.  It's scary out there, and all our maps are wrong.
    • Unfortunately, this sounds like something a competent army would put scouts on immediately.  Unless the army were busy suppressing riots in the capital, I suppose.  But in that case, there is an urban game to be had.  The other case is "the land has been torn asunder and we're right in the middle of it, and have no idea if the next town over is even still there.  There is no army, besides the garrison in the tower, and they'll be staying here thanks."  Problem: where do new and replacement PCs come from?

There is a false premise here, that fantasy/medieval armies operate like modern armies.  During the Napoleonic Wars, just over two hundred years ago, the Austrian Army noted that it's maps and knowledge of the south German states was so poor that it could be compared to their knowledge of America.  The recruits of the time were the dregs of society, even in Prussia the more economically valuable trades were exempted from conscription.  So any skilled work like scouting had to be performed by the officers.  At least up through the American Civil War, West Point's curriculum emphasized drawing and surveying for that reason.  Which made it's graduates very attractive to all the little railroad companies starting up at the time. And let's not forget that the European officers of the time were the privileged sons of nobility or at least those whose families were wealthy enough to purchase commissions - not exactly the best and the brightest.

  • Hadrian's Wall
    • The natural response of a decaying empire to Hostile Natives - throw a wall up, they can do whatever they please on that side.
    • Provides a very tangible boundary between civilization and wilderness.
    • Unfortunately very in vogue at the moment, what with the Game of Thrones.
You can add natural features such as rivers to this entry.  The Rhine/Danube boundary was the long term frontier for the Roman Empire.  Long before it began to decay, the rivers served as the boundaries of it's armies.  But it would be incorrect to assume that an empire has forted up behind such a feature; conquest is a matter of logistics.  Caesar's account of the Gallic War has several episodes where he is concerned about getting enough supplies to feed his legions.  Navigable rivers such as the Rhine, Danube and Mississippi are the most efficient means of transporting commodities in pre-steam civilizations   Even looking at what most people consider the exception to the Rhine Danube boundary, the province of Dacia in modern Romania, note that Dacia, along with Germania Inferior and Superior, was limited to the watershed of the east banks of the river.

Here's another scenario

   - You won

         - Your grandfathers sacked Rome/Byzantium/New York, now you are pushing back out through the fallen empire looking for over looked scraps

       - Provides a reason for all those ruins

       - New tribes are coming into the vacuum left behind, but haven't established themselves yet.

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