'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Expanse RPG: The Zone, Part 1: The Basics.

I first encountered this idea in Conan 2d20, which isn't surprising since it was the RPG that brought me back to this hobby. I've seen it used a spatial idea in other games since then, which isn't to say Conan was the first, just the first to me.

When not playing theatre of the mind, games like Pathfinder use a grid or a measurement to move miniatures around and determine if they can attack. ie Thogar, my warrior can move 20' in a turn and a square is typically 5 feet, allowing my character to move 4 spaces in a turn.

Zones allow us to understand our spatial relationships but remove the idea of moving 4 squares or 5 squares. It gives up some granularity and some level of tactics, but gives us a fairly nice bridge between the boardgame/wargame feel of a grid/measurement based system and a theatre of the mind.

If you are unfamiliar with a zone, you can think of it as a spatial area where some action might take place. It's size isn't *THAT* important but should probably make some sense given the encounter. If we take a generic tavern we might have 4 or 5 zones.
  • The Bar.
  • The Front Entrance.
  • The Tables.
  • The Fireplace.
  • The Dark Corner.
Instead of measuring your 4 or 5 spaces a character can generally use their standard action/move to simply move from one zone into another. Moving around inside a zone is generally a simple/minor/half-move action depending on the game you are playing. Yes it removes the ability to do tactically think about where a character is moving and if they will trigger attacks of opportunity or similar. Yes it removes the ability of some players to be a little faster than others. What it does give you is a fairly simply way to spatially show about where players and their antagonists are located in an environment.

You can also fairly easily define areas that are slower to move through by simply making those zones a little smaller. Consider the following graphic showing a road flanked on either side by dense forests. Without specifically counting squares we can see that the road is a faster way to travel and in this case, twice as fast.

You can further make the environments interesting by adding skill tests or increased difficulties to the zones. In Conan 2d20 perhaps the forests add +1D to all skill tests including combat unless they are at home in the forest. In something like ICRPG where you set a TN for the room, you could now set it for each zone instead. Perhaps the zone is on a cliff edge and requires a dexterity test to not slip and another once slipped to not fall off the edge? As you can see it has the ability to add a lot of environmental factors in pretty easily.

You can define these zones with terrain as normal, although this is often the most challenging way to do it as terrain will often bleed together and where a zone is exactly can be difficult for a player to see, especially if they are used to a grid or measure based system. Another way to define a zone is with a set of simple index cards, and I would be remiss without mentioning Runehammer's collections of index cards that make excellent zone markers. Currently he is up to four collections of these cards, with volume 3 being sci-fi oriented.

Our next installment is going to look at how I am thinking of implanting this with Expanse given the full set of Modern Age rules. Things may change but it will give us a good starting place on how to implement this awesome and simple system in our games.

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