Who really is my neighbor?

Thoughts on in-game communities

As I work through an updated version of “Those Who Came Before” (my hack of Into the Odd), I want to include some guidance for the GM or even the player about communities (towns and settlements). That is, how can we increase the focus on in-fiction communities of NPCs and maybe PCs? This does not refer to real life communities of players, GMs, game designers, etc., which maybe have a little overlap but not much.

Aerial view of houses in Positano, Italy at the foot of a coastal mountain
Photo by Yoosun Won on Unsplash

Basically, I want this game to encourage exploration for a purpose other than increasing personal power and wealth. How can we play games in an old-school manner but without robbing tombs, killing “evil” races, or generally being exploitative murderhobos?

One of the ways I started to do this is tie experience triggers to communities. When you do one of the following, advance:

  • Eliminating a significant threat to a community
  • Applying ancient techniques or technology to improve a community
  • Bringing long-lost scientific or historical knowledge to experts who can use it to make the world better

In my mind right now, we can think about threats for in-game communities on two axes: Internal vs External and Human vs Environmental (everything else). Some examples of the quadrants:

InternalExternal
HumanTyrantBandits
EnvironmentalFamineTsunami
Types of problems

Mechanical considerations

Players will tend to care about helping a community if they can relate to it in some way.

  • Personal connection (e.g. home)
  • Cannot meet their needs (e.g. no inn)
  • Cannot meet its own needs (e.g. unsafe)
  • Can be exploited (e.g. stealing currency)

Note that you might not want all of these in your game; in my vision of TWCB, PCs don’t exploit communities because that’s a different theme than what interests me right now. Generally I fix that by establishing shared expectations with my players before the campaign starts, or friendly discussion of those expectations once the campaign has already begun.

Communities can also provide things that meet PC’s (mechanical) needs. What should a community provide (ideally)?

  • Resting place (e.g. inn)
  • Health care (e.g. doctor’s office)
  • Knowledge Repository (e.g. library)
  • Supply for food, water, equipment (e.g. outfitter)
  • Hirelings & henchmen (e.g. available folks to hire)
  • Information on adventure sites (e.g. rumor mill)
  • Safety (e.g. wall or citizen militia)

As I suggested, those provisions relate directly to game mechanics: if you are attended by a healer, you get a bonus on your recovery rolls, for example. This means a GM who wants the players to consider helping a community has some levers to pull in the fiction without railroading them. They still have their agency: they might accept the lack of bonus, for example, or they might decide to move onto someplace else. But you can build a hook by connecting a need to a threat: “the doctor’s been kidnapped by bandits” or “we can’t talk to you because the town boss doesn’t want us to”.

These preliminary thoughts need refinement. I’d like to structure them in such a way as to tie them more closely to the experience triggers, for example. Also, please feel free to provide counterexamples that might not match that framework, either so I can extend it or decide whether I want to discourage some things (like exploitation).

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