Thursday, July 15, 2010

Wilderness vs Dungeon Encounter Map Generator part 1

Dungeons are more linear and have been adopted by how much it eases the GM's job by boiling down options to doors, rooms and hallways. After being much exposed to natural hazards from my other hobby, I wonder why can't we just use slightly more sophisticated set of options and decision of a wilderness encounter.

The thing about wilderness is that, as much as we would like to think every path is traversable, they are actually not. You can walk outside the trail or foot path, but it will cost you twice more effort and maintaining that for hours is at a dangerous cost of energy (not enough to escape, fight effectively or think). There are things that may look traversable, but the cost and the risk will have you limping and aching in frustration.

I remember when I thought that scouting a head will just be a difference of distance, boy was I wrong. Not only was I supposed to be ahead of our main group, I couldn't just use the same trail if there was a real threat of danger. Moving outside the trail was harder, and noisier if I was too tired to round an obstacles and hazards. Carrying one's own supplies or foraging was another compounding complexity.

I can go on about the merits of Wilderness over Dungeon, but it mainly requires experience and a nagging demand of realism to go with it. Assuming you have the same problems as I do, lets go to figuring out what are the problems of using the wilderness as game staple.


Wilderness Encounter MapGeneration? A wilderness terrain generator needs to be able to allow GMs to quickly create maps. If there are any specifications on such a system, it should take a GM 20mins to work out an encounter good for the average group. Mostly that will be rolling on tables, appropriate for terrain. 10% of the time to rolling, 50% to writing what the tables say, 20% to drawing and coloring (4-5 minutes on a letter sized paper) and 20% to polishing it up.

The 3 maps. These maps have to be workable in 3 scales: Strategic, Encounter and Tactical. Trying to imagine my own limitations as a GM, I have to have a map players can make strategic decisions.
Strategic maps. These are maps that allow the players to plan how they are going about the adventure. Ideally, they can allow the GM to prep in more detail by being moder detailed themselves. Basically the GM takes into account, dangerous terrain where encounters are more likely to happen or the climax of the adventure.
Encounter Map. This is where encounters happen. Each hex is a Kilometer in length. Hiking (2.5mph or 4kph) straight would take 15minutes. On a map, this can be at the scale of 1cm to 2.5cm (1inch). Although because trails would typically be winding, rising, and falling, double the time it takes at default. So the default wilderness hex takes 30mins to negotiate or 15mins if straight like a imperial highway.
Each Hex will be marked by coordinates and the GM will have tools to generate randomly what can be found, what physical obstacles, natural features, subtle land marks in a separate sheet. typically traversing the entire map takes about 4-5 hours (about 15-20 hexes across), which is a good segment of the day.
  • Hexes and Revealing. Fog of war can be created by Painting an acetate or plastic sheet over the map and erasing to reveal the terrain in the hex (or some similar technique).
  • Time and Maximum Endurance. Increments of time are 15min increments. This is because characters can Double time and spend half the amount of time or slowed down eating 50% (45mins) to doubling the amount of time they would spend (1hour). Given that normal human high range performance is at 1liter or quart per hour of heavy exertion characters can tire very quickly (B426 under dehyration and Starvation) AND double the servings of rations. Realistically a GM can impose unrecoverable FP penalty when these energy requirements are not met. This stress Strategic thinking severely. Consider a Cut-off or Exit strategy when things are going no where.
  • Behind the GM's screen. Imagine this kind of Wilderness encounter where there are other scouts, forces, or monsters moving along the hexes. The GM has his own map and moves units on macro time (30min increments).
  • Distances of 1KM hexes. At these distances only very few and tiny clues can give away what is happening in the other hex. Wind Direction, Observation of Animal Behavior (birds taken to flight, circling birds, wild animals, unusual animal behavior, etc.) and reactions (Survival check), Dust Clouds etc. (examples of these can be found in Sun Tzu's Art of War).
  • Ideal Tools. Google Earth will be a very useful cheat for this. Slap on a hex and draw over the villages and other locations and your pretty much set.
Tactical Maps. These are maps the GM can quickly draw (5mins average) on their plastic covered hexes with colored white board markers. Ideally there are a legend or language matrix of symbols and colors that will allow the GM to communicate very effectively and clearly in the short amount of time he will draw.
Examples would be small x's in of the same color as the area boundaries to symbolize the whole area if of that color, instead of taking the time to paint the whole area. Diagonal lines, Cross hatched Lines, Crisscrossing lines, and Swirling Lines all mean some thing in the legend.
Colors represent what appears to be what. Example Green for plant and vegetation, black for natural ground earth or stones, blue for man-made structures, and red is for notation.

FP Tracking (GURPS).
  • Temperature. beyond the <1c>26C (B430 and B435). Dont forget Wind Chill that reduce the temperature further and Humidity that Increases the heat factor up to +10C. From experience, shade can mean lasting 2 to 10x longer in some cases.
  • Fit, Unfit, Very Fit, or Very Unfit. These all work well with the 15min increments.
  • HT based skills. Haviing good HT matters even more! The penalties of low FP are very bad B426. Realistically

Tasks you will find in the Wilderness Hexes.
  • DX. checks, balance and footing... Unskilled, emphasis on athletics can be enforced by making all tasks that fall under a skill considered default.
  • HT. energy to shrug and flexibility... Like DX, HT rolls where which a skill covers should be at a default penalty.
  • Flexibility. A character who is more fit, can have joints take more punishment. Tasksthat require reach, odd feats of balance, and using weaker muscles mean rolling HT or sprain, pull or twist a joint or muscle. Carefull characters with experience will be trained to stop, fall or react in a way they hurt something less important.
  • Climbing DX or HT. When hands come into the picture, it becomes climbing. If it is an obstacle that doesn't need any hands, it is an Acrobatics (Parkour).
  • Stealth DX or HT. Moving Stealthily takes effort, if you read up on the methods of sneaking: Apache Spirit Walk, Ninja Stealth step and Ghost Walking these are all tiring and hard. They are more HT than DX when you are doing them for the long minutes leading up to an encounter.
  • Acrobatics DX or HT. Parkour! The practicalities of Parkour is being able to travers difficult terrain at near or AT Running Speed. A cinematic take on the Mexican tribe Tarahumara are a precedent of Acrobatics (Parkour).
  • Jumping DX or HT. Note the Jumping Stats, and consider the extra effort
  • Running DX or HT. Running on Flat, level and firm ground needs no DX checks, unless for added feats like stopping abruptly. Flat/Open, level, and firm terrain is DX-based at +5. The BEST Pre-Modern (like roman roads) or Manicured Pitches are TDM of +0 to Run on. Cleared fields and most heavily used trails (which are packed earth) are TDM-1 to Run DX. It is really easy it is to twist an ankle or knee when running at full speed, especially when encumbered (add encumbrance penalty to checks).
  • Tracking Per or Int. Finding tracks are Per, Identifying or processing the clues uses IQ.
  • Search Per or Int. Searching is Observation in the immediate very narrow area. A small burroughs, mixed into a dirt patch, in the tall grass of your intimidate area.
  • Navigation (Land) IQ or Per. Finding old, hidden, faint paths is a Perception-Based Task. Imagine broken and unused paths and how there are so far apart and are counter-intuitive.


Similarities to Dungeons.
  • Puzzles are Tracks, Old Trails, Camp Leavings, Forensics etc. I admit it is a bit CSI but if you imagine a scene as vividly enough and get what happened there straight the clues are easier to figure out or extrapolate.
  • Corridors and Hallways are Paths of Least Resistance. In the wilderness almost any direction can be taken, its just depends on the work you are able to afford.
  • Traps are Natural Hazards, Natural hazards are anything that would force the party to linger too long, give away their position, or be in tactically unsound location when an enemy is encountered. They are just as difficult to judge and deceptive as any Fantasy Dungeon trap. You never know if the ground can support your weight, the same way even arborial monkeys never know if a branch can support their weight.
  • Treasure can be found in every area. Treasure can be information, water, forage, or valuable remains. It depends in your framing.
Wilderness Hazards.
  • Sharp Edges and Pitfalls. There are a lot of sharp edges and pitfalls in the wilderness. The more wilderness you see, the more you realize how dangerous it really is. In natural terrain, what can be so mundane like a rocky outcropping, strewn jagged rocks, and grass hidden earth can be very dangerous when forced to run or move quickly. Shallow Pitfalls in a run, slip, or fall can cause one to fall, injure a joint, or trigger a set of consequences that add up to a very bad accident. Sharp edges can cut tough fabric, flesh and bone all by accident. Plants and erosion change the landscape and hide many of these natural hazards.
  • Thorns. Thorns are natural plant and animal defenses. Some can only scratch you or damage protective clothing, while others can grow large enough to stab through a limb or torso and damage vital organs or arteries. .
  • Allergens and Toxins. Spores, Pollen, Dust, and other Invisible and Toxic substances can cause allergies, rashes, paralysis or death. Even terrible smells can cause nausea, irritate eyes, nose and mouth, give problems eating and penalize concentration and alertness.
  • Parasites. Insects, Viruses, some plants, critters and small animals can act as parasites. They can directly draw nutrients from the characters, from their supplies, or add to the discomfort that prevents them from resting or recuperating. They can penalize the characters in alertness and concentration, fatigue, or worse drain them of life or kill them outright.
  • Mimics. Things that appear not like something else happens in nature a lot. They can be as subtle as mimicking a kind of wild forage, herb, or water source. More insidious are mimicks that throw off pathfinding, survival and tracking skills. Most mimics, would be traps that lure something, which can be the players or something very dangerous into the area of the PCs. Some mimics, use PCs as a tool for reproduction carrying seeds, pollen or microbes to either attract something.
  • Dangerous Ground. Most often, the terrain will be disadvantageous for the PCs if enemies were to push them against them, entrap them, or push them where they will have a harder time surviving or defending themselves. This is not just Humanoids who are able to exploit Dangerous Ground, hunting packs, predators, and monsters can be the easily have the natural cunning to draw PCs into these situations.
  • Fauna and Foliage. Then there are the Direct Threats, some creature of some form that is dangerous to the player. It can be a simple and direct as a pack of wolves.


Notes on Strength.In my run of GURPS there are no strength checks (specifically Basic Lift). Strength is like Weight, Height or any measurable attribute that is not "tested". What is tested is HT, how efficiently the body can generate the energy to perform the work. Performing action that exceed the Work Capacity of a Characters are covered by extra effort rules (B356).
To illustrate,
I would say a "tangle of vines" obstacle needs ST10. A character with ST11 will have +2 on their HT (obstacle ST/Character ST). The character can push through the vines with no FP loss. The HT check is modified by the relationship of the ST requirement to the Character's ST, encumbrance and bulk.

ST Ratio Rules.
Take the Obstacle ST requirement and compare them to the Character Strength. Divide the larger ST by the smaller ST, this is the percentile difference. Then divide this percentile difference by 5%. If the Character has the higher ST, he gets the resulting value as HT bonus to the roll, if he/she is the lower stat it is an HT penalty.

Taken further. use this system when Making Wrestling or Judo Checks against characters when they are trying to overpower each other. It just represents who was quicker in bringing the necessary energy to bear. This is done in lieu of opposed ST checks.

So Incredibly Fit ST10 joe with HT15, is quick to apply necessary leverage on his stronger opponent's limbs.

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