Players sharing information was a critical part of the West Marches design. Because there was a large pool of players, the average person was in about a third of the games — or to look it the other way, each player missed two-thirds of the games. Add in that each player was in a random combination of sessions (not even playing with a consistent subset of players) and pretty quickly each player is seeing a unique fraction of the game. No one is having the same game experience, which sounds philosophically interesting but is bad news if you want everyone to feel like they are in the same game. Sharing info was essential to keeping everyone on the same page and in the same game.
There were two main ways information got shared: game summaries and the shared map.
Shared Experience: Game Summaries
Players were strongly encouraged to chat about their adventures between games. Email (specifically a list devoted to the game) made between-game communication very easy, something that would have been next to impossible years earlier. This discussion theoretically mirrored chatter between characters who had made it safely back to the town. Did you stumble into the barrow mounds in Wil Wood and barely escape with your life? Warn other adventurers so they can steer clear. Did you slay wolves on the moors until the snow was red with blood? Brag about it so everyone else knows how tough you are.
What started off as humble anecdotes evolved into elaborate game summaries, detailed stories written by the players recounting each adventure (or misadventure). Instead of just sharing information and documenting discoveries (“we found ancient standing stones north of the Golden Hills”), game summaries turned into tributes to really great (and some really tragic) game sessions, and eventually became a creative outlet in their own right. Players enjoyed writing them and players enjoyed reading them, which kept players thinking about the game even when they weren’t playing.
Shared World: the Table Map
The other major way information was shared was the table map. When the game first started the PCs heard a rumor that years ago when other adventurers had tried their luck exploring the West Marches, they had sat in the taproom of the Axe & Thistle to compare notes. While trying to describe an area of the wilds, a few thirsty patrons had scratched out a simple map on the top of the table (an X here, a line here). Over time others started adding bits, cleaning it up, and before long it had grown from some scratches to a detailed map carved into most of the surface of the table showing forests, creeks, caves, ominous warnings, etc. Where was that table now? Gone, but no one was sure where — maybe carried off as a souvenir, smashed in a brawl and used for kindling, or perhaps just thrown out after it was too scratched to rest a drink flatly.
On hearing this story the PCs immediately decided to revive the tradition (just as I hoped they would) and started to carve their own crude map on a large table in the taproom of the Axe & Thistle. As the campaign went on all the PCs would gather around it, quaff an ale, and plan adventures. In the real world it was a single sheet of graph paper with the town and the neighboring areas drawn in pretty well, and then about four or five more pieces of graph paper taped on haphazardly whenever someone wandered off the edge or explored just a little bit farther. Because the map was in a public place and any PC could get to it, I brought it to every game session for the PCs to add to or edit and kept a reasonably up-to-date scanned copy on the web for reference between games. In the end maybe half a dozen different players had put their hand to it.
Was the table map accurate? Not really, but having a common reference point, a shared sense of what they thought the region looked like kept everyone feeling like they were playing in the same world.
An intentional side effect of both game summaries and the shared map was that they whetted people’s appetite to play. When people heard about other players finding the Abbots’ study in a hidden room of the ruined monastery, or saw on the map that someone else had explored beyond Centaur Grove, it made them want to get out there and play too. Soon they were scheduling their own game sessions. Like other aspects of West Marches it was a careful allowance of competitiveness and even jealously to encourage more gaming.
It was also important to me as a GM that players share knowledge because otherwise I knew that no one would put the pieces together. Remember how I said there was no plot? There wasn’t. But there was history and interconnected details. Tidbits found in one place could shed light elsewhere. Instead of just being interesting detail, these clues lead to concrete discoveries if you paid attention. If you deciphered the runes in the depths of the dwarven mines, you could learn that the exiles established another hidden fortress in the valleys to the north. Now go look for it. Or maybe you’ll learn how to get past the Black Door or figure out what a “treasure beyond bearing” actually is. Put together the small clues hidden all across the map and you can uncover the big scores, the secret bonus levels.
Next up: West Marches (part 3) Recycling
April 24, 2019 at 1:16 am
[…] PERO, en mi caso, en realidad no quiero DIRIGIR una partida usando un mapa de hexágonos desde el punto de vista del jugador. Quiero que los jugadores tengan más la sensación de estar orientándose por puntos de referencia sobre el terreno, encontrando puntos de interés y viajando de uno a otro porque la orientación visual es más fácil que dirigirse directamente al destino final, algo similar a la campaña de las West Marches de Ben Robbins (ver el comentario #7 aquí). […]
- (Video) How to Run a West Marches Campaign in a City
February 18, 2017 at 7:25 am
[…] I do plan on recording the adventures, so people not playing may be able to learn what happens. It may also be streamed by various people, but on a less consistent basis. I also started a FB group for it, and I would have no problem with people talking about their adventures and speculating on the world and stuff. A lot of my inspiration Comes from Ars Lundi’s Western Marches, which had a large amount of interaction between their players. […]
#13 Restless said:
May 25, 2016 at 12:41 pm
@Mike: I don’t know of a setting like you are looking for (but I suspect they *do* exist), but insofar as using The Wilderlands/City-State of the Invincible Overlord, the idea is to make it your own and put your own spin on the items on the maps.See AlsoLoss Payee and Lienholder addresses and contact information updated daily – free list | CSS Insurance Services, llcIndiana State Prison Address, Contact NumberCustomer Vs. Bank: Who is Liable for Fraud Losses?Hotels near Oklahoma State Fair park in Oklahoma City | Booked.net
Basically, read them over and start making notes on ideas that come to you. Tie them together with your own machinations and reasons and plots and flesh them out as needed (potentially using resources like the Ready Ref Sheets, Castle Book, that Judges Guild also sold, but there are many other such things or you can do it all yourself). Add a few locales and encounters of your own to sew things up, and remember to put three or four different clues for each major detail, because players will often overlook one or two and might need more reminders to make a connection, especially if it’s over several play sessions.
Before you know it, with a few good ideas you have taken their framework of disjointed encounters and shaped it into a setting that has your own personal flair and mark on it, ready to run.
#12 Mike said:
May 24, 2016 at 8:16 pm
“But there was history and interconnected details. Tidbits found in one place could shed light elsewhere. Instead of just being interesting detail, these clues lead to concrete discoveries if you paid attention. If you deciphered the runes in the depths of the dwarven mines, you could learn that the exiles established another hidden fortress in the valleys to the north.”
This is what I want to have. Most of the sandbox products I’m aware of (ex: City-State or the Invincible Overlord) the locations are very independent of each other. Are they any published products that have this level of interconnections?
#11 The Journey’s the thing; part 1 « said:
January 24, 2014 at 5:17 am
[…] is to roleplay it like you would anything else; an idea championed by Ben Robbins in his famous Westmarch Campaign. I mean, do you lay the maps of your dungeons out and say to your players, ‘where do you want […]
- (Video) The West Marches | Running the Game
October 15, 2011 at 1:12 am
[…] http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/79/grand-experiments-west-marches-part-2-sharing-info/ […]
#9 Eric said:
June 23, 2010 at 7:40 pm
This looks really cool. I might want to try something like this with gurps.
#8 Two Sessions In « said:
September 4, 2009 at 6:23 am
[…] I decided to use the treasure map approach Ben talked about in his blog and even directly stole the table map idea directly from the West Marches, with hopes to emulate the various PCs adding to it as time […]
#7 ben robbins said:
September 5, 2008 at 12:31 pm
@ jeff faller
Did you have a 5 mi / hex (old JG scale) map and utilize a lot of “random” encounters w/in the hex to determine exactly “where” the characters were on the map?
No hexes, no squares — just an open terrain map where I drew vectors to keep track of where the party was.
When you use hexes you create the illusion that once the explorers see that a hex contains “forest” you have explored the whole hex. Convenient in games that want to speed up exploration, but the opposite of what you want in a West Marches game.
OR did the players give you more “direction” than that? Something akin to: We head to this point on the map and walk north west for two hours…or until we hit a definitive terrain feature and then we turn due west for three hours… So on and so forth. Which would seem to necessitate a fairly granular DM’s map.(Video) Weird Dice Live - 53 - 15/07/2022 (West Marches, Sandboxes & Hexcrawling)
They never knew exactly where they were unless they hit a landmark, but they got very good at figuring their general location based on the marching decisions they made. The map was constantly being refined and corrected as each group passed through areas again.
If they said “we head to this point on the map” I would say “that doesn’t mean anything to me, here’s what you see right now, describe where you are going” and they would say “march southwest into the woods for three miles, looking for a big tree” and then we’d check Wilderness Lore to see if they went anywhere close to where they intended. If I described a ridge they saw and they would point at their map and say “hey, we must be here” I would shrug and neither confirm nor deny.
I answered questions about what they could see but not meta information about where they were (unless it was exceedingly obvious).
#6 jeff faller said:
September 4, 2008 at 8:59 am
Quick question, when your players were adventuring, at what scale did you run your (DM’s) map? In other words, how detailed did you get? Did you have a 5 mi / hex (old JG scale) map and utilize a lot of “random” encounters w/in the hex to determine exactly “where” the characters were on the map? I’m imagining (possibly incorrectly here) that you ran at a pretty fine scale…so that players were able to make sense of their own map.
Example: “After coming off a gentle ridge in the Welkin Woods you stumble across the remains of an ancient, crumbling well…”
If the hex is larger (5 mi) then how do you determine if they actually have stumbled across a specific feature?
Oh and also, if you’ve got the energy or the time would it be possible to get a small excerpt of how you managed the “adventuring” through the wilderness portions? Was it as simple as:
Players: We head due west, into the Welkin Woods…
DM: (rolls some dice for random determination) You walk over the gently undulating terrain, under the canopy of the ancient pines of the Welkin Woods for roughly two days and stumble across an obviously very old stone bridge…in the middle of nowhere.
All this could be pulled off w/ that 5 mi. hex I would think.
OR did the players give you more “direction” than that? Something akin to: We head to this point on the map and walk north west for two hours…or until we hit a definitive terrain feature and then we turn due west for three hours… So on and so forth. Which would seem to necessitate a fairly granular DM’s map.
Hope I’m making at least a little sense here.
This is some of the coolest gaming stuff I’ve ever seen Ben. I just wish that I had the time and players to run such a thing. I’m planning on running a bastardized version though…So any information I can get on the “how” is always illuminating.
September 1, 2008 at 6:48 am(Video) CcD #865 - West Marches pt.2: Troca de Informação
[…] I’m stealing the West Marches concept of the build-as-you-play Table Map. […]
#4 ben robbins said:
May 12, 2008 at 8:05 pm
“Please tell me you’ve got a scan of the map!”
You mean the Frankenstein player table-map? Of course!
But like I said in another comment, the surface details of the game is not what makes it interesting. I could go on all day about the topography of the Goblin’s Teeth / Cradle Wood / Battle Moors zone, but it wouldn’t sound any different than anyone else’s game.
The procedure was the thing: the process in-play and the dynamic between the players and GM.
#3 tony dowler said:
May 7, 2008 at 10:36 pm
Please tell me you’ve got a scan of the map!
#2 Joetown said:
December 7, 2007 at 12:21 pm
So far this is a really cool concept! One way my campaign shares information is we formed a facebook group, and people posted threads about additional actions or details during their anonymous hiking day with one random encounter. Writing little short stories (if you have the kind of group that digs that) has really made the campaign richer. There could also maybe be a local Bard NPC at the tavern that always wants to hear stories and retell them for the patrons of the bar. You could allow the different players to write those Bardic narratives, sharing info that way.
#1 Stephen said:
October 25, 2007 at 8:21 am(Video) West Marches with a Story - Player Driven World Building - DM Tips - Dungeons & Dragons
Great posts. This sounds like something I want to try – keep ’em coming!
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West Marches style was developed and publicised by Ben Robbins, based on a campaign he ran of the same name. The definining features of a West Marches campaign according to Robbins are: "There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly."
The notion of West Marches was relatively simple; the game was a sandbox campaign with a large map to explore, but instead of a party of 4-6 players it had a rotating cast of closer to 16.
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