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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Settlement Campaigns

I was going to write something about "What is an RPG?" introductions, but I think I'll mull that topic over a bit longer.

Instead, here's something I've been thinking about: the settlement campaign, as inspired by Dwarf Fortress. I don't mean a campaign with monsters and other details borrowed from Dwarf Fortress; I mean playing D&D with the intent of establishing a functioning settlement instead of robbing tombs or hunting for treasure. The adventuring party, like the embark party in DF's Fortress Mode, is a band of settlers; the object is to establish a colony, get it to self-sufficiency, tame the wilderness.

There's a hint of this in standard D&D. A lord or patriarch builds a stronghold and clears the wilderness around it. But the details of stronghold management are pretty sparse, and seem to be focused more on establishing a tax base and waging wars. I'm talking about a much lower level of play, here.

I'm contemplating how to do this without bogging everything down with bookkeeping. I've got some ideas, but I'm wondering what others have done along these lines.


  1. For a sci-fi take, see Living Steel from several decades ago (http://index.rpg.net/display-entry.phtml?mainid=8564): aliens, plagues, etc have devastated your world, and you've been woken up from cryogenic sleep to lead a band of survivors in founding a settlement. Room for "we need to explore region W", "we need to (keep the team safe while they) scavenge ruins to find X to build a Y", "we need to make peaceful contact with group Z", and "we need to fight enemy Q".

    Way too many details for gun fighting, but also some sketchy rules & lengthy tables for building all sorts of structures & machinery across a wide range of technologies that feel like they could spur OSR-style rulings. ("You want to build an antigrav-bulldozer? Well, you've got a couple of hovertrucks to scavenge, and that seems to fall into into Construction Machinery class III, so you'll also need resources A, B, C, and skills D, E, F - have you yet found or trained the right specialists?")

    Gamer ADD powers activate!

  2. Really interesting idea-- maybe you've answered your own question about players being "disappointed" that they don't reach high levels-- you don't have to wait to gather a few other hardy souls and build a log stockade somewhere.

    I've been in games something like what you describe. And they play kind of like a wilderness hex crawl except that the PCs stay in one place and things come to them. And as we had more non-combatant farmers, there was more of an impetus to be proactive about tracking the baddies back to their lair and making sure they don't raid you again. Which is one of the classic D&D set-ups-- but with the intriguing difference that you really are protecting what's yours, rather than taking a mercenary job for a generic village.

    The oriental adventures 1e book had some nice tables at the back about daily events, monthly events, and yearly events-- plus how they all might fit together. Again, many of them are about wars and bandits, but things like crop failures are also listed.

    Finally, there was a 2e book about building a stronghold that included tables for what might happen while you were trying to build.

  3. I've started (but not yet gotten very far with, so I don't yet know how well it'll work out) a campaign in which all of the starting PCs are servants of the same Lawful Good god (so they're all Clerics, Paladins & Monks) setting out to establish a mission in a wilderness frontier inhabited by both potentially friendly demihumans (whom they hope to convert) and almost certainly hostile humanoids (whom they also hope to convert, but expect to have to fight).

    I intend to minimize the bookkeeping aspect of the campaign in two ways:

    1) I'll require careful bookkeeping only when it directly relates to or seems like it might lead to interesting roleplaying.

    2) Because the PCs are only a few of the 1st Level members of a mission company with higher level supervisors and even higher level than that leaders, they won't have to deal with much bookkeeping unless (until?) their supervisors and leaders are no longer able to do it.

  4. Another SF version was in Traveller: The New Era, which had a supplement called World Tamer's Handbook. The idea was that the players would be leaders of a colonization effort, and would use the economic model rules, mass combat, and random events to try to make it successful. There were also rules for exploring the planet, determining the available resources, and so on.

    In the supplement for Avalon Hill's edition of RuneQuest called Dorastor: Land of Doom, one of the campaign frames was "The Riskland Campaign", in which the players would lead an Orlanthi settlement in that chaotic land.