View Full Version : DM Help Dealing with Open Spaces

2015-09-28, 09:10 PM
When I design Call of Cthulhu games I generally define them very tightly. I define every room and where they are in relation to each other. I define what items and secrets are in each room. And then I define the characters, their motivations and what they plan to do and the adventure pretty much occurs from there. The downfall of this is that it doesn't work in a more open space like a forest. If I want to design a survival based horror adventure set entirely in the woods I'm at a loss as to how to proceed. I can define areas but not exactly where they are in relation to each other. So if I'm not sure where they are the players can't decide to go from one to another. If they go in a direction I have to decide where they end up arbitrarily, and that feels way too much like railroading. How to I deal with this with a degree of flexibility and player agency.

2015-09-28, 09:58 PM
Even open spaces have details. Sure, it is a forest, but forests have clearings, strange plants, trails(made by animals if nothing else), fauna, weird rocks, caves, streams, etc. You can map out the forest just like any national park forest is mapped out. Maybe not to the nth degree, but you know the party is X miles south of the glade, y miles NNW of the river, and Z miles due east of the old shack used for deep dark rituals to Hasteur. It can be difficult to have them constantly go in one direction, as they probably won't be moving in a straight line or a set path, but they can move in general directions. They are also likely to follow animal trails, riverbeds, streams, clearings, etc than just wander hacking through brush.

Don't make them choose exactly which two trees to walk through every 20 feet, but make them have a set direction. If they follow a natural path, they follow it. It can fork, turn, split, etc. If they bushwhack, then start making them bushwhack in a set direction. Giving the party a compass and/or map(even if it is incomplete, or eldritch nonsense throws the compass off) will help on both sides of the DM screen. Even in a plane crash or similar stranding, the players would likely try to find high ground, use stars, or somehow navigate. Let them get their bearings, and make them do so periodically by calling for a check or something(or have them meander at random).

I define the characters, their motivations and what they plan to do
Do you mean the NPC's, or the PC's?

2015-09-28, 10:03 PM
Do you mean the NPC's, or the PC's?

The NPCs. The PCs define their own characters.

2015-09-28, 10:18 PM
Yeah, just jack a hiking trail map like this one (http://www.myharriman.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/ramapo_hogencamp_trail_map.jpg). Put down pins on the trails and when your PCs want to go from one place to another, they must follow the trails and go through the places in between. The trail itself might not be safe, but it's far safer than going off-trail...

2015-09-29, 03:24 AM
I'd make a custom map of the general features of this area, separate it into areas and points of interest with more detailed descriptions, then improvise from there. Describing a forest is pretty easy, after all.

2015-09-29, 06:00 AM
Yeah, get a map for the area. You can then define what goes where. But how do the players navigate there? There are two general ways how. Land marks and navigation using a map and a compass. For the best results, combine.

Landmarks are easy. Players find out something happened at the lake? They try to find a lake. Clearing with a rock formation? Find a clearing with a rock formation.

Navigation using a map and a compass is a bit more tricky but if you are skilled enough, it's more precise. Let's say The Doom Cultists(tm) have done the sensible thing and hidden secret things in the middle of the woods. And not even literally in the middle but more like a bit to the west and a lot more to the south. Nothing but woods, woods and woods, as far as the eye can see for a pretty long hike. There's no way anyone will find it unless the PCs have the exact coordinates written down and possess the required navigational tools... or they have hired Aragorn to track which way the cultists went to hide secret things. I guess this wouldn't really work if the Doom Cultists just abandoned the secret things and there was no reason to write down where they are hidden.

... Or you could do what many computer RPGs have done and assume each section of the forest is basically its own "room", as far as the game mechanics are concerned. Perhaps make them do a survival roll when they want to move from one "room" to an another. If they fail, they walk in a random "room" which is suitably close. :smalltongue:

2015-09-29, 07:38 AM
Instead of tunnels, have forests/seas/deserts/some place covered in mist or fog where the paths aren't as apparent.

Doesn't mean there aren't paths! It's the good ol' 'illusion of freedom' trick :smalltongue:

2015-09-29, 09:31 AM
This might be a little abstract for your taste, but you could try making a flowchart that shows how the different "rooms" in the forest are connected. You can think of it just like a building, except that instead of being connected by doors and hallways, they're connected by paths and similar. You could do it by cardinal direction (X is north of here, Y is south), but I'd advise going by landmarks (X is up the deer path, Y is past the fallen tree) to make decision points more apparent to your players. by this method, it doesn't matter where exactly everything is, just how the "rooms" are related to one another.

2015-09-29, 09:36 AM
Yeah, pretty much design it as you would a dungeon with hard walls and long tunnels connecting the "rooms." The rooms are areas of interest and neat things to find. The tunnels are game trails, marked paths, and the like. The party can try to go through the walls with a bit more ease than if they were solid stone, but they're thick with undergrowth, and you can make the going slow and hazardous with "traps" that are really just natural features or scared wildlife, and you certainly can put monsters (or just wild beasts) in there.

Add in a higher chance to get lost and you can determine which "room" they wind up in next, yourself, based on random chance or the needs of your plot, because the woods are wild, dark, and deep, and it's easy to get turned around when not following a known path.

In essence, use the same design paradigm you're comfortable with, and just change the constraints a little bit on what keeps them in the "designed" areas.