Monday, September 24, 2018

The danger of this place

If each place has its own danger, places matter.

As a GM, I like each location to have a single listed danger.  There can be other dangers, like the regiment patrolling around or the spined coyotes the party just woke up, but I like to have one danger that's about the area itself, the danger of that place.  A few examples:
  • In the coal mine, air that's thick with coal dust is likely to explode on contact with flame.
  • Out on the bog, legs and wheels could get stuck in the mud.
  • Near the fort, there are spiked pit traps to grievously wound unwary attackers.
Having one single locational danger is very helpful for me.  If there's always a danger, I'm used to thinking of it.  And if there's always only one danger, it's easier to remember.

Dangers like these are also helpful to give the players a sense of the world.  The mine where explosive dust is a problem feels very different from the mine where all the timbers are about to collapse.  The players get to learn about a problem that they can interact with, something that reacts to their actions and can be overcome by their ingenuity.

Each danger has some kind of clue, a sign of its presence.  I don't like springing dangers on the party without any warning at all.  When my adventurers all die, they'll be able to look back and see how it was all my their fault.  (Here's a more serious take on lethality in RPGs.)
  • A sign at the entrance to the mine lists the mine company's regulations, including rules about wearing helmets, obeying the foreman's instructions, and only using safety lamps.
  • There's an abandoned cart halfway sunken into the mud at the edge of the bog.
  • A want ad is posted (with plenty of pictures) looking for giants to help dig pits around the fort.
You might prefer more explicit clues, or perhaps none at all.

Dangers could also happen in several steps.  The old bridge across the chasm won't give way all at once (assuming no one does anything stupid).  The first time you're on it, one of the crossbeams will break.  The second time the whole thing will creak and dip (time for an agility check).  The third time it'll crack and fall into the chasm.

What about places that don't seem to have an inherent danger?  My first suggestion is to figure one out anyway, even if it's not that big of a danger.  Places with no reward and no danger don't matter very much on the map.  (And if a place doesn't matter at all, just skip over it with a "You travel for several miles, reaching your destination...".)

But if you'd like to have a certain place in the game, yet there's no immediate danger, try one of two options:
  1. Show evidence of a danger that already happened.
  2. Show signs of a danger that's yet to come.
Crossing the high plains, the party might stumble onto a cabin that's been burned to the ground, along with the remains of its inhabitants.  They might find many square miles where a wildfire has come through.  Unknown creatures might have stripped the leaves from every tree around.

The director's office could easily hold danger (based on the party's standing with the company) but it's also a good place to show danger that's yet to come.  The director could know about threats to the company, impending war, famine in a nearby country, and so on.

Signs in the Wilderness is about adventure driven by big opportunities, not looming threats.  Danger is an obstacle on the way to your fame and fortune, not the driving feature of the adventure itself.  In an upcoming post, I'll talk about how to craft dangers that relate to the particular opportunities in your game so far.


  1. I really like this idea.

    It would make each "region" of the wilderness feel different and give each dungeon a slightly unique feel - without being such a big deal that it crowds out other elements of regional/dungeon-al identity.

    I can see instantly how it would help show "this forest is different from that forest" and "this abandoned mine is different from that abandoned mine".

    1. You could even add in some dangerous wildlife that only exists in that place: