Ok, so mxyzplk over at Geek Related is now my go to guy for good solid blogging. His latest offering, “Giving Places Character“, inspired by the Angry DM’s article “Schrödinger, Chekhov, Samus”, expands on the concept of city stat blocks originally introduced in D&D 3.0.
While neat to look at, I don’t think very many GM’s really put any effort into writing their own city stat blocks for the simple reason that they were long and boring with very little game-applicable/useful information. The Angry DM took this idea and expanded upon it in his Slaughterhouse project to give us the “Zone Stat Block”. This is a really excellent way of illustrating the:
- Inhabitants in the zone. (Expressed in experience points, not absolute numbers)
- The Faction or Factions vying for control of the zone.
- What happens when the population of the zone reaches certain thresholds. (Useful for determining ownership)
- What happens when the population is depleted. (Does ownership change and if so to whom, does it revert to the wild, etc.)
This is a really neat way of organizing your adventure, particularly if you are doing things sandbox style. It is a bit more limited in scope to actual locations rather than a larger geographic area (a castle as opposed to a plain). It really shines though when you are dealing with an enclosed area such as a dungeon, a city, a keep, a box canyon, etc. In those cases having an organized plan in place to facilitate the player’s choices is key. If they side with this faction how does it affect the balance? If they wipe the keep clean of orc prescence and then leave what happens next?
And if your campaign has a very faction-oriented focus you can give them some extra personality as the Angry DM suggests here:
Using the population thresholds and triggers, you can actually give a lot of personality to different factions. Cowardly factions will abandon outposts at the first signs of trouble. Other factions will dig in. Faction behavior might change depending on other events (such as Lord Vizier’s willingness to hold the Fortress after the Temple is claimed). You can build a lot of versatility and life through a very simple system.
Ok, so that is all well and good but what about a wilderness adventure? As you know I am running my sandbox style campaign in the Mwangi Expanse of Paizo’s default world of Golarion. This is not a very urban area and things are places are seperated by great distance, however the map can still be subdivided into zones. Each zone, therefore, should have its own distinct character as well as an idea of denizens, settlements, geography, points of interest, etc. This is where mxyzplk’s proposal for wilderness stat blocks comes in.
The condensed format of the wilderness stat blocks is great for providing a quick run down of the average CR of the area, inhabitants, points of interest and random encounter tables. Really handy for a GM especially if you are running a sandbox game. Here is how I will be using both styles to really develop my campaign by drilling down from the campaign region to the individual zones and then even further to the individual locations.
For reference here is the map I am using for my campaign. Each zone is outlined in red.
Here is an example of a partially filled out zone block. I left out some details that my players have not yet discovered.
CR2 Tropical Coastal Flood Plains
Encounter Locations: Vanji River, Fever Sea, Totem Rock, Mangrove Copse
Inhabitants: Kvetch tribe, local and immigrant settlers (Mwangi tribesmen 50%, other humans 30%, other races 20%)
Notable Inhabitants: Consul Xandric Vellus.
Points of Interest: Bloodcove, Blood Ferry, Sweet Water Plantation
Random Encounter Tables: Plains CR3, Beach CR2
And here is an example of a location block:
Rising over 30 feet into the air, the spire known as Totem Rock juts out at a 45 degree angle from a cliff overlooking Bloodcove Bay. The sound of waves rhythmically lapping the base of the cliffs 75 feet below are soothing.
Owner: The Seaweed Witches
Inhabitants: The Seaweed Witches, summoned minions.
Reactions: Intruders are dealt with one at a time preferably. A solitary witch will reveal herself as a frail old woman, the victim of some nameless horror. Attempts to separate and mislead the party.
Triggers: When one witch is slain the other two will flee, leaving any summoned creatures to cover the escape.
Abandoned: Sahuagin scouts will discover the entrance within 2 months and set up a temporary camp. If not disturbed for 6 more months the camp is upgraded to an outpost with a population of 25+ sahuagin warriors who begin raiding the local area.
And a sample faction block:
The Seaweed Witches
This coven of witches have been behind the disappearance of dozens of local fishermen in the Fever Sea for over 20 years. From their lair in Totem Rock the trio delves deeper and deeper into the mysterious ruins buried beneath the rock.
Other Notables: Aesthir, Gormeth
Zone/Locations: Bloodcove Bay-Totem Rock (lair)
Agenda: The sisters desire only to gain power by unlocking the secrets of the ancient ruins beneath Totem Rock.
Allies: The sisters have made several unholy bargains with various extraplanar and extradimensional beings for both knowledge and support.
Enemies: The sahuagin of Bay of Senghor have been pushing closer and closer to the lair of the witches but have thus far been repelled.
With this I can build more and more detail, each block linked to others. Faction blocks can be linked to location blocks or zone blocks as necessary. Monster stat blocks can then be linked to faction, location, or zone blocks even. Using wiki software you too can build an inter-connecting web of relationships that will help you build a vibrant and complex campaign.
You can type these blocks up and print them on card stock, either 2 or 4 to a page. Or you can utilize a web service such as Obsidian Portal to host your campaign content in a wiki format so that you can dynamically link everything together. Really the possiblities are endless.
Thanks goes to mxyzplk and the Angry DM for getting this ball rolling. Be sure to check out their sites for more great content.