Let’s say the PCs are headed towards a small town, out in the middle of nowhere, that’s surrounded by dangerous monsters and ruins. Let’s further say you haven’t fleshed anything out beyond that basic concept.
(Astute players will recognize this as the setup for a West Marches campaign.)
What if you could build these dangers collaboratively with your players?
Here are some rules for a quick, 1-hour “session zero” fleshing out the monsters and adventuring locations near a particular spot in your world. It’s inspired by Microscope, but it’s much quicker and simpler.
The facilitator prepares ahead of time by writing several monster types (goblins, orcs, trolls, etc.) on index cards or sticky notes, as well as remote adventuring locations (mine, temple, dungeon, caves, etc.). Each card has one monster type or adventuring location. The facilitator also write the name of the base town on an index card.
In play, the facilitator places the card with the base town in the center of the table, and off to the side the facilitators places the other cards (all face up and visible, not stacked), as well as blank index cards and pens. The facilitator then chooses one other player to go first.
On a player’s turn, the player may do one of the following:
- Choose an existing card and place it on the table near the town. Its placement relative to the other cards corresponds roughly to its location in the fantasy world.
- Write further details on an existing card (“orcs” becomes “orcs – large war camp with goblin slaves”). This can be written on a placed card or an unplaced card.
- Create a new card, which should contain only a monster type or basic adventuring location (in other words, avoid fleshing out a card on the same turn you create it). The player can duplicate an existing card (so there can be more than one dungeon site).
At the end of a player’s turn, the player chooses the next player to go, until everyone (including the facilitator) has had a turn. Play continues until the group is satisfied with the amount of content generated.
At the end of the game, photograph the cards on the table. This is your basic adventuring map.