2015-12-15 Using Fronts

Ramanan S. recently asked on Google+: “So what exactly do people do to track what the hell is going on in their game? What stuff do you have on hand when running a game?”

I replied the usual stuff. Stage fright never goes away. Keep notes on a Campaign Wiki.

And I mentioned how prep using fronts has been creeping into my game.

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/22046823074_f2be2f1fbb.jpg

So here’s the evolution of how things had been going, on a campaign level. First, I had a passive world, waiting for the players to mess with it. My motto was and still is: “The harder you look, the more there is to see.”¹ Then I started using An Echo Resounding and thought that the domain game would provide for the kind of slow movements in the world around them. As it turned out, the domain game didn’t get my players excited. It felt a bit like accounting and it was too much effort to simply introduce some random setting changes. I then turned to using a random table to introduce setting changes. But we kept forgetting to roll on the table. There was simply no incentive. So finally I have arrived at Fronts.

Fronts are easy to write up. Here’s what I have been using:

  1. a catchy name (”Slaad Invasion”)
  2. a short phrase to describe it, a subtitle (”The Manifestation of a Slaad Lord”)
  3. a number of events with escalating effect (”war in the land of the fire giants”, “war of the god men against Asgard”, ...) – a list of things that I can look down on when there’s a lull and improvise some calamity, an encounter, a news item, whatever; “announcing future badness
  4. a question or two regarding a player character; this will help me twist and turn the dagger so that it’ll end up pointing in their direction; it also reminds me to have daggers pointing at every single one of them (”Will Logard fight this anarchy?”, “Who will help the dwarves?”)

Footnotes:

¹ The longer form of my motto is this introduction I recently elaborated:

“We’re playing in a sandbox. Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations, goals and quests to your map. The actions of your characters determines the direction the campaign will take. There is no planned ending for the campaign. As long as you keep investigating rumors, exploring locations and following quests, I will keep developing the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.”

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Comments

Wow! You’ve named the process I’ve been doing in my head for years. That’s a really cool feeling, knowing there’s a left-brain approach to my right-brain method.

Also, your motto is crystal clear and I’m totally printing it out and sticking it into my gaming binder. It’s a great thing for new players to hear when starting a sandbox game, especially if they’ve only played modules or in linear campaigns.

Dreadweasel 2016-02-03 23:01 UTC


Very cool.

Also, loved your post Two Stories With Regard to Killing People. 😀

– Alex Schroeder 2016-02-04 09:55 UTC


Also a good description of how to use fronts: Step-by-step: how to write up a front, by Jeremy Strandberg on Spouting Lore.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-19 07:34 UTC


I do something similar, I call them EVENTS. I feel you need something like Events to keep an urban sandbox from being passive. Basically an event changes the random encounter tables. It could mean totally changing the table, or for the duration this result=this result (the lazier way).

So KING’s BIRTHDAY is going to bring out larger crowds into the streets and more pickpockets and guards will result. NIGHTMARE SNOWSTORM will result in minimal encounters as folks hide inside.

I haven’t done anything bigger like an invasion, or tied specific adventure hooks to the events, yet. I’m still mostly feeling things out as I go. Your fronts are nice food for thought. Thanks.

– Ruprecht 2019-10-24 18:55 UTC


Thank you! 🙂

I think as my current campaign moves out into a more sandbox style game, I will have to return to all these topics again.

– Alex Schroeder 2019-10-24 19:53 UTC


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