Monday, July 3, 2017

GMing Challenge: Non-Sapient Wilderness Encounters

The last couple of months has seen me running a really fun sci fi game where the players are part of an expeditionary force going planetside to explore and colonize a lush but dangerous garden world. This is to ensure the survival of a dying human race, suffering from a shattered moon that has made the Earth unlivable for humanity. It's inspired by media such as Interstellar, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Alpha Centauri/Civ: Beyond Earth

So this has been my sci-fi, planet-focuses hex crawl that I have been running. The maps are bigger because the players have an all-terrain, and there are lasers and such, but essentially, it's a good little excursion into surviving a deadly and alien wilderness. Because this is a brand new world that is mostly untouched by civilization (more on that another time), one of the biggest challenges I imposed on myself was to have wilderness encounters that didn't involve ancient ruins, forts, or dungeons. Essentially, nothing built by a sapient species, except for certain things that fit the metaplot of the game (for example, crashed resources pods launched ahead of their expedition). I wanted to make all of the encounters based on the xenowildlife on the planet and showcase a world virtually untouched by advanced civilization.

This proved to be incredibly difficult.

Wilderness encounters were much more limited to either finding evidence of an animal, encountering it, then fight or flight. While there has been some variation here and there, many of the encounters have felt the same sadly. And without intelligent, sapient aliens, there isn't too much in the way of role-playing opportunities. To my players' credit, they have spent a lot of time taming the animals in the wild rather than killing them. But I can really only get so much mileage out of throwing an animal-of-the-week at them and exploration of forests and caves before things get boring.

One solution I did was to take advantage of the fact that it's an alien planet, so I can get away with crazy, gonzo things for the players to explore. I found that I could write up a dungeon as a ruined keep, but then reflavor it as something natural. For example, the players found a massive mound-like structure with several tunnels throughout it, similar to a termite mound. It was essentially one big dungeon, but it was easy to explain as part of the alien wildlife. Same with having trees that grow rooms, or massive vines that excrete a sap that slows the players, or natural burrows of some trap-door predators. I've gotten pretty adept at making these encounters for the game, though I do have a hankering for adding some kind of alien ruins in the future. 

I'm curious how everyone else would do a game of just wildlife and wilderness adventures, with no dungeons, no ruins, and no sapient creatures and structures.