Building the Gulf of False Hope (Part 1)

I’m still kicking around the idea of that West Marches game I mentioned a few weeks back. I haven’t really got the ball rolling because I am not really sure if I have the time to commit to running it on top of my non-gaming obligations, which are kind of up in the air at this point. We’ll see where things settle, and worst case I will just have to wait until my schedule clears up to actually try to get anything off the ground.

Still, I have spent some time thinking about the region itself, both in terms of some cultural elements, physical geography, and other background information. This is more of a brain dump for my own benefit than anything I expect my future players to read, but if they (or you) are interested in this random world building stuff, feel free to read on.

Basics

As I briefly mentioned in the previously linked post, the setting is the “Gulf of False Hope”, a large natural bay across the sea from the civilized world. The Gulf appears a natural landing site for would be colonists attempting to tame the continent, and there have been several attempts to do so in the past. While some of these attempts lasted longer than others, all eventually met their end, which is how the Gulf earned its name.

Still, in every age there are those that are willing to risk it all for a chance to start over or improve their lot, and the Gulf has once again begun to see an influx of migrants believing that they will succeed where those that came before failed.

The game will start about 40 years after the first of the newest wave of settlers arrive on the Gulf. Humans, Halflings, and even young Dwarves will be young could easily have been born in the Gulf area. Elves, meanwhile have almost all been born overseas, but it is said that there is a hidden village of Elves that has survived since the last previous attempt. The coastal areas have mostly been cleared, and quite a few towns and villages have been established since then, but further inland remains wild and mostly unexplored. The previous attempts at taming the Gulf will have left lots of ruins, tombs, and other remnants of a bygone age that makes for classic dungeon crawling.

East and West

In the classic West Marches game, the adventure was, as the name implied, to the west, and civilization was back east. The Gulf of False Hope, however, is on the West Coast of its continent, meaning adventure is out east, and civilization to the west. There is no particular reason for this reversal, just that my very rough sketch of the Gulf placed it on the west coast.

The western (civilized) continent is called Asila, while the Gulf is on the continent of Pericolosa (not exactly subtle but still makes a cool name). In West Marches tradition, Asila is not a place for adventure, at least in terms of old-school dungeon crawling. No monstrous beasts, no unexplored ruins, no unmapped and unexplored sections of wilderness. Pericolosa, however, is the opposite. Outside of the (relatively) safe coastal areas, there are beasts and wild men, ruins and lost places, even dungeons and dragons.

Travel between Pericolosa and Asila takes about 4 to 8 weeks, depending on the winds and other factors. The Trade Winds along the latitude of the gulf tend eastward, so the return trip generally takes longer. It is not an impossible trip, but it is also not one that is made lightly, and, in the context of this game, if a PC gets on a boat to Asila, that is likely signaling that PC’s retirement.

The Salvatian League & The Gulf Colonies

I could probably spend a great deal of time going into the politics of Asila, but my efforts are best directed in keeping it to what is relevant for the game.
Most of the major sea powers of Asila have an interest in gaining the resources of Pericolosa, and over the last few decades, have been racing to claim their share of the pie. The region around the gulf is primarily occupied by the Salvatian League.

The Salvatian League is a loose federation of eight duchies. The federal government is an elective monarchy, with the eight dukes being both the sole electors and candidates. The Dukes generally see Pericolosa as a chance to not only expand the League’s power, but also their own power within the League, in hopes of leveraging that into becoming the next King or Queen.

The Salvatian League is a predominately human nation, with a noticeable Halfling minority. A few Dwarven Holds and Elven Forests exist as enclaves within its boarders, but aside from the traders, mostly keep to themselves. Salvati refers to the people, and the language (which replaces the common tongue given to all PCs), Salvatia is the name of the region, while goods and animals originating from there are Salvatian. Ethnic Salvati (of all 4 races), fall in line with the default rules in the rulebook, it’s boring, but it makes things easier.

Culturally, Salvati are a conservative society, and generally distrustful of outsiders or new ideas, although these traits are less pronounced in those that chose to start a new life in the Gulf, they are generally still present. They value self-reliance although not so much minding your own business. Both men and women Salvati are notorious gossips and rumor mongers; it is said that a Salvati would rather believe a well told tall tale than a boring truth.

This is starting to get a bit long, so I’ll leave other stuff for a future post. I still want to write on time/calendar, religion, locations within the gulf itself, and a handful of rumors/quest hooks for what is out there in the wilds, so those will likely be covered in a part 2.

Daydreaming About West Marches 

I’ve been having a craving for some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling lately, and that feeling that I could maybe squeeze just one more game in. Still I am not sure I want to have another regularly scheduled time that I have to dedicate solely to a game, and something more flexible I think would be more up my alley. And, like many gamers, I’ve read the classic blog posts about the West Marches style of play a few times before. While I’ve always kind of liked the idea behind it, my current gaming cravings are actually making me seriously consider starting up a West Marches game for the first time.

For those of you not familiar with the West Marches style game (and don’t want to read the link above), my key takeaways from it are as follows:

  • Exploration/Dungeon Crawl Focused: Classic old-school play, go out into the wilderness, and try to make your fortune braving ancient traps and terrible beasts. Not much of a ‘plot’ so much as getting rich and discovering the secrets of the region.
  • Dynamic Group/Scheduling: Unlike a normal game, there isn’t a set time or group, a session happens whenever the GM and enough players can get together to play one. This allows you to have a large group of people involved in the game while still keeping player count for actual sessions reasonable. It also means that sessions are not held up because someone is “missing” you just play with who is there.
  • Player Driven: Players are in charge of scheduling the sessions, and coming up with their goals for the session. The GM will come up with content, as well as rumors and clues to help give the players ideas, but the actual focus of the game is on what the players want to do.

That’s hitting all my buttons of what I want from my gaming right now, and so I figure it might be fun to give it a shot.

Thus far I am still in the high concept stage and haven’t started getting a group together or anything, but I’ve kinda been daydreaming and brainstorming for a little bit. In no particular order:

  • I’m thinking either D&D Basic (likely Moldvay), or, Torchbearer. Torchbearer is probably what I’d go with if I have my druthers, but it requires a little bit of hacking for a West Marches style game, and old D&D probably has a slightly lower buy-in threshold. Probably don’t want to do a modern D&D, as much as I love 4e, and do enjoy 5e, but the conventions have shifted away from a survivalist, resource management, style of play.
  • For the region, I am thinking of a place called “The Gulf of False Hope”. Across the sea from civilization, the Gulf has seen numerous settlement attempts in ages past, but all have fallen as the once great civilizations crumbled. The game takes place a few generations into a new settlement attempt, with some semblance of civilized society and established towns near the coast, while the interior is still mostly wilderness, with ruins of the previous attempts dotting the landscape.
  • Basically, just enough civilization to give the PCs a safe haven when they need it, but most of the region still being ripe for exploration.
  • I definitely want to include a mix of content:
    • Sources drawing from classic D&D modules, cool stuff I found online, some cleaned up random generator stuff, and of course plenty of my own content and creations.
    • I want to have plenty of stuff that new players could handle, but also stuff that might be out of the league of starting characters.
    • I think also a mix of vary serious fantasy stuff, and also some of the more goofy crap found in old D&D as well.
  • Actual ideas for content include:
    • A powerful green dragon makes its home in the area. Very dangerous, but its laid likely contains vast riches…
    • Beyond the mountains lies a desert, including a great trap filled pyramid.
    • Speaking of the mountains, I’d like to hide this classic module somewhere in there.
    • Some god old fashioned ruins, tombs of long lost knights, abandoned dwarven halls, an ancient coliseum, and crumbling castles
    • The Gulf itself is full of ancient wrecks and potential plunder,
      but also protected by creatures of the deep that have made their home there.
  • Definitely would like to meet new people and expand my IRL playgroup though this, perhaps encouraging established players to bring friends?

Still really in the daydreaming phase at this point, will let you all know if this goes anywhere!

War Has Changed

I want to run a modern/cold war era “Special Forces” type game.  Then, when the team manages to infiltrate the facility, they’ll find out about a secret project to create a bipedal armored nuclear launch platform.  They then encounter an enemy going by the name “Rocket Launcher Mink”.

…Okay, I’m actually not in favor of bait-and-switch games, and any player who would be into it would catch on the moment I tell them it was a “sneaking mission”.  But going from ultra-realistic to the point where NPCs are telling the PLAYERS to play another game would be… pretty good.