Smoot
 member, 124 posts
Mon 8 Oct 2018
at 15:43
What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
Just curious what people think, now that WM style games have been in style for a few months.

I've enjoyed most of the ones I've been involved in. I'd be interested to see whatpeople (GMs and players alike) think the strengths and limitations of the format have been- in a PbP format, especially.

For instance, it seems to me that a GM looking to do less- like its a synonym for freeform or something- are gonna be disappointed. And GMs looking to do a lot of custom homebrew/houserule stuff on the fly (rather than up front) could run afoul of the style's "just use the RAW PHB, try anything" pillar. And, of course, it won't fit every genre.

On the other hand, I love the exploring aspect of it. It really suits a certain kind of game brilliantly.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:27, Mon 08 Oct.

evileeyore
 member, 121 posts
 GURPS GM and Player
Mon 8 Oct 2018
at 21:49
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
Smoot:
Just curious what people think, now that WM style games have been in style for a few months.

A few months.  They got real popular starting about 5 years ago following the success of ars ludi's 2008 West marches game.


But here's a terribly kept secret, the style is far, far older than that.  We just didn't call them that back in the day, they were just 'hex crawl exploration games' with large rosters where people could come and go as they could.

quote:
I'd be interested to see whatpeople (GMs and players alike) think the strengths and limitations of the format have been- in a PbP format, especially.

Weaknesses:
Over the long haul:  Limited inter-party roleplay.  It's harder to establish character disputes and friction as well as 'who works well together' and the banter that eventually forms between long-standing party members.  The "meat and potatoes" of roleplaying in my opinion.

Short haul:  See above.  Some players are less likely to want to try to form Character bonds with other Characters that won't be there on the next mission, or even any other missions going forward.

Strengths:
If you run a good game, you'll always have people.



And of course, this is PbP so just because you're in a West marches doesn't mean you can roll with the same group every single mission.  In fact from what I've seen here, it often ends up that after the shake out missions, most groups tend to end up with same handful of Characters going out together every single mission, so it can even end up avoiding one of the problems I have with the style (the other problem is lack of plot).

quote:
For instance, it seems to me that a GM looking to do less- like its a synonym for freeform or something- are gonna be disappointed. And GMs looking to do a lot of custom homebrew/houserule stuff on the fly (rather than up front) could run afoul of the style's "just use the RAW PHB, try anything" pillar. And, of course, it won't fit every genre.

I don 't know about freeform, but there is nothing implied in a West Marches style that demands adherence to The RAW.

As for genre, no of course not,  It fits those that can be built around exploration.  So Post Apoc, Heavy Wilderness/Points Of Light Fantasy, SciFi World Exploration, etc.

It won't stand up well to detective noir.  But a Two Fisted Cliffhanger exploration of the Dark Heart of Africa would work fine.
Smoot
 member, 125 posts
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 00:01
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
evileeyore:
A few months.  They got real popular starting about 5 years ago following the success of ars ludi's 2008 West marches game.


There's been a burst of them, lately, hence " in style for a few months".

quote:
I don 't know about freeform, but there is nothing implied in a West Marches style that demands adherence to The RAW.


From:

http://arsludi.lamemage.com/in...rets-answers-part-1/

"West Marches character creation followed one very simple rule: you could only build characters using the original Players Handbook. No classes, races, feats, nothing from any other source. And because everything in the Players Handbook was allowed, I could just say, “If it’s in the Player’s Handbook, it’s good” without having to look over anyone’s shoulder or screen characters.

Even religion worked that way. Need a god? Just pick one of the friendly faces in the book, read the tiny paragraph and you’re ready to go. Want to buy something? Check the price on the equipment list and spend away. The only caveat was that no one sold alchemical crap like tanglefoot bags and sunrods for the simple reason that I hated faux-technology stuff. Get a torch or get a wizard!

Using just the Player’s Handbook made life simpler because there were no debates about whether to allow X, Y or Z in the game. It wasn’t even an issue. But even more importantly it started players on the right foot by putting them in the driver’s seat. They didn’t need to ask me to approve anything. If they had the Player’s Handbook, they could make their own decisions. It put them in a West Marches mindset before they even started playing"

This message was last edited by the user at 00:01, Tue 09 Oct.

evileeyore
 member, 122 posts
 GURPS GM and Player
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 00:19
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
Smoot:
"West Marches character creation followed one very simple rule: you could only build characters using the original Players Handbook."

Yeah, that's his game.  I follow a number of West Marches style games (and play in two PbP) and none* of them are "By The Book, Raw Only".  All of those are "these books and these pages of house rules", so despite ludi's game being Book Only, I don't know of any that work that way (except of course ludi's).


My point being, that while it does reduce GM overhead†, it's required for that style of play.



* Actually one of them might be.  But I don't have the books to know if the pages of "you can use these subclasses" are Book, homebrew, or cherry picked from books that are otherwise not allowed in the campaign.

† Often the stated important goal for most West March/Megadungeon GMs.
V_V
 member, 774 posts
 You can call me V, just V
 Life; a journey made once
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 04:18
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
I was doing West Marches campaigns face to face since before D&D 3.5 was out. so at least fifteen years! They are great for face to face, Online? I'm starting one, so we'll see how it goes. it helps me though, a lot, because unlike face to face, I can just post when group is involved. If player gets huffy because they're "having to wait" then that's they're problem.It's not like when my friends would drive out to session and only end up chatting out of game. On RPoL, you simply group people and have those groups float. You have 20 freaking groups, if you need more than that, I'm sure RPoL would encourage separate board (if it sees use and moderation form you as a GM).

West Marches is big for me now more than ever, because I have seriously lacking mental abilities. Creating new content takes more time than GMing, so I by definition need more vocal and proactive and laid back group. I anticipate some huffy players feeling I'm wasting their time. After all, I can only post in one group at a time. It has the advantage to make what my players do play in tailored to their needs.

I GM an exalted game. Well, one player hates the Wyld Hunt, she would rather cautious and carefully tip-toe around the hunt. She hates it IRL, as a player, quoting the Bronze faction as if there were more than fifty total out there, AT MOST> So she's goign to be involved in social and mortal affairs. Whereas before she was shoehorned into the overwhelming majority who expect the Wyld hunt and cand said "Come get som!" especially with a caste dedicated to battle. I want to encourage that kind of tailoring. DFor me not to run story like movie and hope you don't walk out, but have YOU (well not you, but my players) tell me what YOU want and tell that story. Video games are getting bettrr and better and running narratives, that I don't GM games like that anymore. Hell, video games don't even do that anymore!. I miss that actually

So I like West Marches. I wish I had started this years ago. I say "Rathess lays unclaimed!" or "Lookshy is looking for demon hunters" or "Nexus just saw the newest execution by the Emissary, yet Filth remains as vile as ever" things the group can not only be involved in, but choose when and where. It frees up a lot of leveling issues too, by letting players choose their own level of difficulty. For a game like D&D, it does put some transparent things at better reach, but also encourages "grind" or stalling at low level. Which I hate both! When I go back to my D&D games, I may limit my eight person group to a team of five at a time. I think it'd help the health of the game.

I'll update this when my Exalted game starts, and tell you what the drop out rate was and which (in any) missions were successful. TBPH I didn't even know West Marches was in fad. I just have so little time between RL stress, surgery, therapy and F2F gaming. I did it out of little GMing time but enormous interest. Popularity played no part. It never has. :) I just like to try  something different everytime I GM a game, but take small steps so when something doesn't work, or works better I know what to keep and what to ditch. :)
aguy777
 member, 295 posts
 Join Date:
 Thu, 28 Nov, 2013
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 05:51
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
I run a West Marches game here that's over 40,000 posts (just hit that milestone a day or two ago). The style does work for PbP, but requires a little bit more work than normal games in my opinion (though that may be skewed, as my West Marches game has more than 120 characters). I do see a recent spike in West Marches-styled games, but that's nothing new. Plenty of players want a game focused on exploration, which is one of the design goals of West Marches.

The biggest drawback is the obvious one: lack of RP. You're not gonna be using your Performance or Deception skills terribly often when you're dealing with wild animals and monsters more often than civilized races. It's left more than one PC frustrated when they created a social-orientated character without understanding the setting at hand. Granted, that bit is more their fault than the game's.

So long as you are clear with players upfront about what the setting is and what the styling of the game is, you generally won't have any major issues along that vein. Players can have their own thread off to the side for chatting among themselves for RP.

The lack of a centralized plot is another common sticking-point, but is one that can be relatively easily resolved. Every character has some sort of hook built into them. It's just a matter of finding a way to incorporate that into the Marches. Looking for the long-lost MacGuffin for saving your town? Wouldn't ya know it? It's rumored to be in a forgotten temple out here!

One of the biggest boons, aside from the exploration, is the competition it causes among players. To hear from about the group that made more than a thousand gold and assorted magical goodies from slaying a Hydra makes you want to go out there and do the same. To know that a player survived an encounter with a hill giant by convincing the creature to throw him, and casting a spell to survive the landing makes you want to have your own note-worthy adventures. It encourages players to be proactive rather than wait for the next quest-related prompt from the GM.

I have had some players drop out, but not terribly above average. You'll always run into the usual attrition from PbP. Still, I've had some players stick with me for nearly three years now.
evileeyore
 member, 123 posts
 GURPS GM and Player
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 07:08
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
V_V:
I was doing West Marches campaigns face to face since before D&D 3.5 was out.

And megadungeon/hex crawl games of "whoever shows up plays" have been around since 1973, so it's not a new concept at all.

Formalizing and examining the style it is relative new though.  I'll give ars ludi all credit for that.
engine
 member, 668 posts
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 15:20
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
Smoot:
Just curious what people think, now that WM style games have been in style for a few months.

I like a lot of what I'm (just now) reading about it.

Only use RAW, for instance. I don't see another way to play, frankly. It's noteworthy that Ben's game started in the 3.0 era and that he observes that players of that and later editions probably won't find that approach strange. It reminds me how ad hoc a lot of earlier editions were.

Of course, the rules don't cover everything and it sounds like rulings are still called for in his games. In my experience, even when there are very clear rules and a very clear map to answer a lot of questions, the time saved just gets filled back up with other questions. The only way I've found to get around this is to just let the players decide things and roll with it.

I like the focus on adventuring and avoiding "town intrigue." I'm one who thinks there's more to "roleplaying" than just talking, so I think such a game would still have plenty of roleplaying. I can see how certain skills would see a lot less use - Streetwise for instance - but I think there'd still be room for Diplomacy, Bluff and the like. The world is dangerous, but not everyone the PCs encounter will need to be killed in order to deal with them.

4th Edition D&D, whether it took from this concept directly or not, seems to establish a similar kind of baseline setting: the world is dangerous and only the scattered "points of light" of civilization are even reasonably safe.

4th Edition also tends to push in the direction of the PCs being adventurers, trained to deal with dangers, not rat-catchers or blacksmiths who are in over their heads from the get-go. So, insofar as this approach advocates that, I like it.

I don't need it for the "huge player pool" aspect. I'm pretty much done playing face-to-face games, specifically because I'm a busy adult wanting to play with other busy adults (and also because there probably aren't 10 people within 100 miles of me who would want to play 4th Edition). PBF games are already "catch as catch can" in terms of participation.

I'm so tired of the glorification of "ooh, it's an open world, so the players could get in over their heads and get wiped out, ooooh." I don't need a game like that, I don't want a game like that. If my players specifically want to confront something really tough, I'll happily serve that up, but I'm not interested in trying to signal to them that something is too tough for them and that they shouldn't fight it, and I don't want to either fudge dice or deal with a wholesale replacement of characters.

That has a lot to do with the prep this approach seems to require, which is the biggest turn off for me. Ben likes layered, logical history, and a detailed map peppered with interesting (and logical!) things. I don't. I like an unknown and unknowable history that lets me put in things that are awesome and fun and I like to focus my effort on creating things I know will get used, because they're just about to, rather than on things that might never get used, or only get used when the players are hugely powerful and can just squash them.

I also like creating things with my players, so if they want to collaborate with me on a detailed history, I'm all for it. That way, even if it never comes up in game, at least we all know the details and can enjoy those, and even sprinkle references to them in games for our characters to blithely ignore.

That said, I am envious of the exploration approach that some DMs can implement. Back before I gave up and when to improv and collaboration based games, I tried it but could never pull it off. Now I'm edging back in that direction, but since I'm never going to premake a lot of stuff, I'll probably never really get it to work.

I'd play in this style of game, if it was with a system or edition I didn't find atrocious. But I probably wouldn't run one quite like it.

Edit: Another aspect of the game I think would grate on me is the apparent emphasis on death being the only way (or at least the primary way) to fail. One nice thing about set missions and plots is that the players can fail without even a scratch, and can win even if they're killed to the last person.

Edit: One downside with the "PHB only" approach is that this would seem to block the possibility of the DM say, offering a skill challenge instead of a gout of flame when the players "foolishly" stumble into the lair of a dragon who is too much for them. Skill challenges tend to step outside of how skills "typically" work and so might tend to veer away from the "players decide what is possible" approach. But it doesn't have to veer all that much, and this is already not the only thing a DM would have to make a ruling on.

This message was last edited by the user at 15:58, Tue 09 Oct.

DaCuseFrog
 member, 24 posts
 SW Florida
Tue 9 Oct 2018
at 17:47
Re: What are your thoughts on "West Marches"-style games?
I'm enjoying myself with playing in West Marches so far.  I've participated in similar games elsewhere, but never called by that name.  That being said, the range of "West Marches" games on RPOL is quite varied.  I've seen bare bones, I've seen kitchen sink.  If the setting appeals to you, then you'll find a way to make character creation work for you, whatever it might entail.  The nice thing about being able to use more books is the potential for so many different character types, but that can also be to the detriment of a busy DM.  Sometimes you just need to find a happy medium.



I'm also working on my own version in a different setting than your typical West Marches.  I'm allowing all "official" 5e materials (the books available for AL) and only added a handful of homebrews.  So while I know it's not strictly vanilla, I'm hoping that I didn't go too crazy with it.


Spoiler text: (Highlight or hover over the text to view)

Things I've set up for mine that step away from RAW:
  • Determining ability scores (different rolls, extended point buy chart, more points)
  • Default HP is minimum HP for rolling
  • Darts have Light (thanks to aguy777, though I don't know if he started it)
  • Warlocks can start with Scale Mail & a martial melee weapon if proficient (Hexblade)
  • One free feat (level 5 start), one feat created by me available
  • Increased chance of Wild Magic Surges (limited by CHA modifier)

For explanations, the first two just make more "heroic" characters, by lessening the chance of low stats.  The second two are things that SHOULD be RAW, but I believe were simply oversights by Wizards.  The last two are just giving a little more of things that most people love (feats and wild surges).  The created feat is basically setting driven.