I plan for Rootless to have two different game phases: the exploration phase and the bonfire phase.
The exploration phase is inspired by the hexcrawl type of adventure. The Alexandrian provides a design overview of hexcrawls while Run a Game provides an introduction to the game style. The game takes the form of a sandbox-discovery game. The GM creates a landscape or world populated with points of interest for players to discover and tinker with. Rather than focus on a set narrative or even a defined goal, these points of interest act as prompts for adventures. I’ll admit this plays to my preferences as a GM—I like tossing out intriguing things for players and seeing them run with it—and as a player, because it allows for open-ended play that adapts well to different group preferences and moods.
The West Marches game run by Steven Lumpkin on Rollplay is a great example of this type of game, which you can find on the Rollplay youtube here.
Steven also incorporated “fronts” into his West Marches game, which basically means the world had different entities that are pursuing goals, so when the PCs return to an area they will find it changed from their previous adventure. These changes reflect the PCs previous actions and the separate goals of the entities in the area. I think fronts add a necessary component to a hexcrawl game, because otherwise spaces are really only interesting the first time you explore them, which seems like a waste of potential. He was starting to develop a faction system for entities like Stars Without Number as well, which adds another cool layer of dynamic interactions, but I’m going to leave aside that mechanic simply because it increases GM-prep time and I want this system to be relatively simple to maintain as a GM.
A hexcrawl landscape can be a carefully constructed, fully detailed piece by a GM, and certainly GMs can do that with Rootless, but I think it can also be really helpful to have random tables to act as inspiration for the world and help cut down on GM prep. In the final version of Rootless I want to provide a pre-crafted terrain as an example and for quick play, but the bulk of the work will go into creating a system for inspiring GMs to create their own terrains in a relatively fast and fun manner. (In my dreams, I could build onto this system with supplemental genres/worlds, so people could translate the basic premise of Rootless from modern apocalypse to sci-fi, high fantasy, Western etc).
I’m excited to unleash my nature-nerd on these random tables. They will be inspired by a lifetime of studying wildlife, watching documentaries like Planet Earth, and interest in survival skills, (for a childhood throwback, think the book “My Side of the Mountain” or “Julie of the Wolves”). The first terrain set will probably be based on the Pacific Northwest in the U.S., but I’d like to also add tables for different terrain like the desert, plains, and tundra. The landscape will be a combination of wildlife and broken down urban remains, so players can explore both the Wild, abandoned towns/cities, and interact with the creatures that flourish in these liminal spaces. (I haven’t decided yet if the game is going to have a magic system or more blatant supernatural elements).
The basic premise of Rootless supports this sandbox play: as a Chronicle you are sent out to “challenge” the Wild and given a rough map based on the exploration of other Chronicles, but once you get away from the city who is really going to supervise you? You can do whatever you want. Some players may want to discover how to destroy the Wild, some may want to explore mysterious places or collect loot, while others may want to set themselves up as the rulers over their patch of wilderness. Once I’m further in development I might see if having team types —similar to crews in Blades in the Dark—is helpful, but in some ways I want to leave the game as an open sandbox.
The second phase of the game, the bonfire phase, is inspired by a combination of the reworked inspiration mechanic in West Marches and the GMless game The Fall of Magic. I’ll describe its basic structure and use in my next post.
This blog is a mix of game design analysis, commentary on issues affecting indie dev spaces, and some personal reflections.