RosstoFalstaff
 member, 146 posts
Fri 25 Jan 2019
at 22:59
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
Hi and before I start thank you to anyone who can provide insight

I'm thinking of running a West Marches game, which as I understand is a game with a central hub town which the PCs return to over and over, with travel, resource management (weight and food etc) and lack of information about the world being important aspects of creating a feeling of adventure.

The PCs are special and the adventure is out in the wilds, with home being safe, but boring (I might tweak that due to my love of urban stuff but that would be up to the players). PCs are drawn from a wider list than just one party, creating a party on the fly to go off on an adventure and returning to disperse back into the general adventuring pool. So there could be twelve players but two groups of six or three groups of four all on their adventures and mixed back up again at the next adventure.

I would like to gauge interest in such a game, and the variations of how people would like to see such a game unfold (not saying I'd hold to any one opinion but if a majority think doing something one way is advisable I'll consider running it like that)

Any help or interest is welcome!
McLugh
 member, 28 posts
Sat 26 Jan 2019
at 04:21
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
In reply to RosstoFalstaff (msg # 1):

If you're running West Marches you will not have a lack of interest. Things I would suggest from seeing other games start, know your own limit in your head of what you can handle. Maybe look into any interest in a co-DM?

As a player, mixing urban and rural/country combat and adventures could be fun. Depending on the size of your central hub could be easy to do both.
aguy777
 member, 303 posts
 Join Date:
 Thu, 28 Nov, 2013
Sat 26 Jan 2019
at 07:45
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
I run the largest West Marches game on this site to my knowledge (44,000 posts and 120 character, at the moment), so I'd be glad to provide some insight into how they work.

As McLugh said, you will have no problems with interest. The bigger problem is how easy it is to bite off more than you can chew. I've seen dozens of West Marches games die due to the GM accepting too many players or characters. Take it slow to get your legs under you, and find out where your limit is as you go.

If you have any questions about anything West Marches-related, I'd be more than happy to answer.
RosstoFalstaff
 member, 148 posts
Sun 27 Jan 2019
at 21:52
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
So perhaps limit it to one small group (four) people to start and then go out from there?

Should I allow players to have multiple characters (but not both at once in one group) at later times?

Should I try to keep everyone roughly the same level or allow level discrepancies to crop up?

Should I have a roster of npcs to fill holes in parties if the numbers only work out to three people being interested in an adventure?

What is the most advisable level of work to put in? Is really fleshing out the core town important or should that be left to a ways in the future to see what the players want out of the town first? I'm a fairly deft hand at improvisation so I'm leaning towards adapting but I don't want the world to see boring and empty.
Smoot
 member, 134 posts
Sun 27 Jan 2019
at 23:22
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
From what I've seen:

1) That's up to you- a lot of people go for the 'high turnover is built into the setting' thing (kind of like how people heading west with "California or Bust!" on the side of their wagons sometimes met people going the other way with signs reading "Busted, by God." ;))

2) The better-run West March games I've seen had a "you have to make a certain number of posts with your first character before submitting a second" rule. (50 in one case.)

3) Putting a pace-car on it would, to me anyway, defeat the "just get out there and explore, make your own adventures" premise of a WM campaign. If everyone starts at 1, there's a good chance everyone's gonna grow at a similar rate anyway.

4) I'd personally be more stoked to be in a sink-or-swim campaign with a lot of PCs (some of whom don't make it) than one *like* that, but full of NPCs. Just me, but I doubt I'm alone there.

5)

a) I'd suggest putting most of your work into "what it's gonna look like when it's explored" and let that be your focus.

b) While I have an idea I'd use someday (where everyone gets an adventurer who explores and a '0-level' Settler who has a story in town, making it prosper, and they only affect eachother obliquely), if you're doing it the usual way, the town is usually as nondescript as possible.

Frankly, the GMs went out of their way to make the local authority figures really ass- which I can see the logic of. But if you don't want PCs dreaming of showing them up, deposing them or winning them over, but out in the world, "bland" is probably the better way to go. The original WM articles, sfaict, just had 'town' be the place where adventure isn't happening, not an adventure in and of itself.
RosstoFalstaff
 member, 149 posts
Mon 28 Jan 2019
at 13:50
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
Wow that's all really good advice actually. So don't limit character level growth, focus outward on the exploration, and require a minimum of in game posts before they can add another character to their roster (50 seems good, that's at least one very verbose adventure and it rewards the people who participate meaningfully)

I do like the idea of the party and the establishment not getting on necessarily, as adventurers tend to be disruptive sorts
DaCuseFrog
 member, 35 posts
 SW Florida
Mon 28 Jan 2019
at 14:49
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
Make sure that you have some good random encounter tables set up, but don't be afraid to let them evolve as the game goes on.  And also remember that between OOC threads and the party meet-and-greet, a person can reach 50 posts fairly quickly.  That's not to discourage using that as a number; most of the West Marches I've been in on here use that as a baseline.  I'm just saying don't be surprised if people are requesting their second character only halfway through their first adventure.
RosstoFalstaff
 member, 150 posts
Mon 28 Jan 2019
at 23:23
[Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
Well I wasn't planning to count ooc, not sure if that's a bad idea
aguy777
 member, 304 posts
 Join Date:
 Thu, 28 Nov, 2013
Tue 29 Jan 2019
at 02:14
Re: [Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
RosstoFalstaff:
So perhaps limit it to one small group (four) people to start and then go out from there?

Should I allow players to have multiple characters (but not both at once in one group) at later times?

Should I try to keep everyone roughly the same level or allow level discrepancies to crop up?

Should I have a roster of npcs to fill holes in parties if the numbers only work out to three people being interested in an adventure?

What is the most advisable level of work to put in? Is really fleshing out the core town important or should that be left to a ways in the future to see what the players want out of the town first? I'm a fairly deft hand at improvisation so I'm leaning towards adapting but I don't want the world to see boring and empty.

1: I started with three groups (two with six players, one with four), but the number you start with is however many you feel like you can handle. Best to dip your toes in before trying a dive.

2: This is a surprisingly tough question. I allow multiple characters, but have a cap on it. In my experience, if I were to start all over tomorrow, I would limit it to two or three character total. Players tend to spread their attention thin if they gather too many characters, or stop caring as much as 'I always have the other four if this one dies'. You're right to keep multiple characters away from each other, though.

3: If you keep everyone together, the game will feel much more on-the-rails. Level discrepancies are perfectly fine to have; the lower levels will reach an acceptable point before hitting something that would threaten their 'big brother' as it were.

4: No. The focus of a West Marches game is on the PCs. If three people want to go out together, let them. It's their choice and their consequences. Hiring mercenaries or trained individuals (NPCs) to join your expedition should only be done if necessary.

5: The town can be left alone for a fair while. I only started with a tavern and a general store, and that's plenty. Intentionally leave the town bare-bones, and let returning PCs build it up as they wish. Maybe the cleric spends some of his share of the dragon's horde to build a temple to his God. Maybe the fighter wants to build a rudimentary gym to train at in-between adventures. Let the PCs fill in the town with small locations like that. Only focus on the major ones (stores, the tavern, one or two major locations).

Smoot:
Frankly, the GMs went out of their way to make the local authority figures really ass- which I can see the logic of. But if you don't want PCs dreaming of showing them up, deposing them or winning them over, but out in the world, "bland" is probably the better way to go. The original WM articles, sfaict, just had 'town' be the place where adventure isn't happening, not an adventure in and of itself.

I think I know of the game you're talking about, and I agree with you. The NPCs should never be jerks unless necessary for something in the future (IE: the merchant who always ramps up his prices turns out to be robbing graves, or something). Not all NPCs need to be bland, though. They can have personalities; just don't make them the focus of the game.

DaCuseFrog:
And also remember that between OOC threads and the party meet-and-greet, a person can reach 50 posts fairly quickly.  That's not to discourage using that as a number; most of the West Marches I've been in on here use that as a baseline.  I'm just saying don't be surprised if people are requesting their second character only halfway through their first adventure.

That number of 50 posts? I've seen three other games that used it, and they all grabbed it from me (with my blessing, mind). To be honest, when I started, I just made that number up. Figured it was a good number. Nowadays, I would go more with 100 posts. That counts OOC, as well. The post requirement was meant to make sure they weren't just going to disappear the next day; 50 posts tends to take a while to get. 100 would likely be better, in my eyes, as I've seen some players reach that 50 mark really fast (thanks to OOC). Individually counting their IC and OOC posts to tell how close to 50 they're really at is far too much work and too time-consuming. Just setting the number higher is easier and gets the same result.
RosstoFalstaff
 member, 151 posts
Tue 29 Jan 2019
at 17:32
Re: [Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
aguy777:
1: I started with three groups (two with six players, one with four), but the number you start with is however many you feel like you can handle. Best to dip your toes in before trying a dive.


Alright sounds smart thank you.

quote:
2: This is a surprisingly tough question. I allow multiple characters, but have a cap on it. In my experience, if I were to start all over tomorrow, I would limit it to two or three character total. Players tend to spread their attention thin if they gather too many characters, or stop caring as much as 'I always have the other four if this one dies'. You're right to keep multiple characters away from each other, though.


Alright, don't let people get too many or they get negligent, understood

quote:
3: If you keep everyone together, the game will feel much more on-the-rails. Level discrepancies are perfectly fine to have; the lower levels will reach an acceptable point before hitting something that would threaten their 'big brother' as it were.


But make sure to come up with a range of potential challenges, to keep the low level people interested right? Should I discourage the higher level characters from poaching the low level stuff or should I vary how a challenge is depending on level?

quote:
4: No. The focus of a West Marches game is on the PCs. If three people want to go out together, let them. It's their choice and their consequences. Hiring mercenaries or trained individuals (NPCs) to join your expedition should only be done if necessary.


And instead of npcs filling important roles in the town, I should strive to get the PCs into the "town priest", "mercenary captain/sherrif", "town fence" roles?

quote:
5: The town can be left alone for a fair while. I only started with a tavern and a general store, and that's plenty. Intentionally leave the town bare-bones, and let returning PCs build it up as they wish. Maybe the cleric spends some of his share of the dragon's horde to build a temple to his God. Maybe the fighter wants to build a rudimentary gym to train at in-between adventures. Let the PCs fill in the town with small locations like that. Only focus on the major ones (stores, the tavern, one or two major locations).


Rely on the players for some town building, that's appealing actually. Should I look to players with creative ideas over characters?

quote:
That number of 50 posts? I've seen three other games that used it, and they all grabbed it from me (with my blessing, mind). To be honest, when I started, I just made that number up. Figured it was a good number. Nowadays, I would go more with 100 posts. That counts OOC, as well. The post requirement was meant to make sure they weren't just going to disappear the next day; 50 posts tends to take a while to get. 100 would likely be better, in my eyes, as I've seen some players reach that 50 mark really fast (thanks to OOC). Individually counting their IC and OOC posts to tell how close to 50 they're really at is far too much work and too time-consuming. Just setting the number higher is easier and gets the same result.


I like less work, alright I'll do that.

What's a good scale to play different levels at? One day's travel for low level, one week, one month? What's a cake walk, what's a meat grinder? Should I roll for random encounters as often as the rulebooks suggest or should I lay off that and try to keep the PCs alive in the early days?

Obviously encounter tables are important and those will determine how challenging a given journey is, but a lot of times I've found PCs flee back to civilization when the outside world keeps kicking their butts, is this behaviour I should encourage or should I try to discourage circling back constantly to rest up and heal?
korodikrisz
 member, 19 posts
Tue 29 Jan 2019
at 18:09
Re: [Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
Ahh, West Marches, I love it.

quote:
(I might tweak that due to my love of urban stuff but that would be up to the players)


It is not necessary to leave out urban adventures from a WM game. The players might find towns and cities in the wilds. Or an entire underground city, which surrounds the dungeon. Or a city state, which is governed by a ruthless tyrant, not letting anyone to leave. Or a grand utopia, from where no one wants to leave. Or the ruins of a fallen empire, where the last remnants of a degenerate race clings for life. Or one where a shadow cult is sacrificing someone each day, to keep the spell running which repels the overwhelming masses of monsters of the wilds. With some creativity, they can be places of multiple adventures, wondrous secrets and dire perils.

(Plus, at low levels, there could be some easy tasks in the starting town to complete.)

This message was last edited by the user at 18:12, Tue 29 Jan.

aguy777
 member, 305 posts
 Join Date:
 Thu, 28 Nov, 2013
Wed 30 Jan 2019
at 06:10
Re: [Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
RosstoFalstaff:
quote:
3: If you keep everyone together, the game will feel much more on-the-rails. Level discrepancies are perfectly fine to have; the lower levels will reach an acceptable point before hitting something that would threaten their 'big brother' as it were.


But make sure to come up with a range of potential challenges, to keep the low level people interested right? Should I discourage the higher level characters from poaching the low level stuff or should I vary how a challenge is depending on level?

If the random encounters are always balanced to the group's level, the world will feel less organic. Why did one group run into Goblins and wolves, when a different group fought nothing but giants and trolls in the same area? I find it better to leave the random encounters balanced based on difference from the town, and make the locations balanced based on group level. Higher-levels likely will be focused on the farther-out locations; more loot to be had.

RosstoFalstaff:
quote:
4: No. The focus of a West Marches game is on the PCs. If three people want to go out together, let them. It's their choice and their consequences. Hiring mercenaries or trained individuals (NPCs) to join your expedition should only be done if necessary.


And instead of npcs filling important roles in the town, I should strive to get the PCs into the "town priest", "mercenary captain/sherrif", "town fence" roles?

NPCs should fill the town roles (as it tends to be dull to just handle transactions all day long), just don't make them the focus of the game. A NPC can have an issue here or there that they request the PCs look into (if a group wants to), but the focus of the adventure should always be on the unknown wilderness.

RosstoFalstaff:
quote:
5: The town can be left alone for a fair while. I only started with a tavern and a general store, and that's plenty. Intentionally leave the town bare-bones, and let returning PCs build it up as they wish. Maybe the cleric spends some of his share of the dragon's horde to build a temple to his God. Maybe the fighter wants to build a rudimentary gym to train at in-between adventures. Let the PCs fill in the town with small locations like that. Only focus on the major ones (stores, the tavern, one or two major locations).


Rely on the players for some town building, that's appealing actually. Should I look to players with creative ideas over characters?

Not 100% certain what you mean, here. Do you mean only look to players with creative ideas rather than characters that want something? Regardless, it won't happen terribly often. Construction tends to take longer and more resources than buying a suit of armor. My players have a couple of these on-going, and they serve as a communal project.

RosstoFalstaff:
What's a good scale to play different levels at? One day's travel for low level, one week, one month? What's a cake walk, what's a meat grinder? Should I roll for random encounters as often as the rulebooks suggest or should I lay off that and try to keep the PCs alive in the early days?

Players should be allowed to explore as much as they want. It's up to them to know their own limits (and when to run in fear). Just remember to track the amount of rations the group has. I roll for an encounter once per hex crossed (~3 hours), which can result in a maximum of five encounters per day (although, mathematically, it's usually three). Players can take a short rest if they're wounded, and good encounter tables will slowly beat them up rather than wipe them out all at once. Too tough of fights are what will turn the game into a meat grinder.

RosstoFalstaff:
Obviously encounter tables are important and those will determine how challenging a given journey is, but a lot of times I've found PCs flee back to civilization when the outside world keeps kicking their butts, is this behaviour I should encourage or should I try to discourage circling back constantly to rest up and heal?

I can't say I've had a group leave town, get in a fight, and return for a quick heal. Most tend to stay out until they're ready to return; makes more sense that way. If they do get hurt, and run back to town for a quick heal, allow it. Only look to punish or discourage it if it's being abused.

korodikrisz:
It is not necessary to leave out urban adventures from a WM game. The players might find towns and cities in the wilds. Or an entire underground city, which surrounds the dungeon. Or a city state, which is governed by a ruthless tyrant, not letting anyone to leave. Or a grand utopia, from where no one wants to leave. Or the ruins of a fallen empire, where the last remnants of a degenerate race clings for life. Or one where a shadow cult is sacrificing someone each day, to keep the spell running which repels the overwhelming masses of monsters of the wilds. With some creativity, they can be places of multiple adventures, wondrous secrets and dire perils.

(Plus, at low levels, there could be some easy tasks in the starting town to complete.)

Also true. There can be independent monstrous kingdoms in the wilds. That can lead to interesting diplomatic opportunities, or even full-blown war (depending on how xenophobic the players are). However, such locations should be few and far between. It'd be weird if the land was unknown and unexplored if there was a city every few miles.
RosstoFalstaff
 member, 155 posts
Sat 2 Feb 2019
at 04:25
Re: [Tips and Interest] Running a West Marches game 5e
The game I am running thanks to your suggestions!

link to another game