Friday, March 11, 2011

Where the Hell Are We? - Fallout 3, One Page Dungeons, Sandbox World Design

Yesterday, in my post regarding the One Page Dungeon Contest 2011, I mentioned the fact that to me, One Page Dungeons can be used for a very important purpose – filling a sandbox world. Now, I guess I should probably elaborate a little bit regarding my thinking on that.

I should preface all of this by saying that recently I have been playing a LOT of Fallout 3. I never played Fallout 1 or 2 (though I’m planning on getting them on my netbook, since they are playable with very little software requirements), but I am sure that they were great. Fallout 3 is probably one of my favorite games that I have never had enough time to play. I bought it when I picked up my PS3 a couple years back, but because of school, family, and other stuff, never had a chance to play it very much. This last week, I beat the living crap out of Bioshock 2 in a couple days and picked up Fallout 3 to play again. A couple hundred hours later, I’m almost done with the campaign, but have yet to explore the entire world, or even touch the downloadable content. I will touch it though. Trust me. It will be touched. New Vegas will also be touched… a lot.

So, I really like Fallout. It’s a lot of fun. Why do I like it? The reason I love the game and love the world is because it is huge and there are just so many interesting places to explore. This sandbox works, and it works very, very well.

The reason I find this world interesting is because it is literally filled to the brim with random, almost totally non-consequential locations which may or may not add anything to the story of the game, but do add a great deal to the atmosphere of the universe. In real terms, if you go walking around the Fallout 3 wastelands, you will find dozens of random spots to explore. Some of these locations may have something to do with a major quest line, but others, they really have little to do with anything.

In an RPG sense, a lot of us try and build those huge campaign settings filled to the brim with cool spots to explore. I just finished doing a series on World Building over at Stargazer’s World so this whole campaign setting construction mindset is still very much stuck in my head. One of the things that has always daunted me is the level of detail you have to go into with a world in order to really get the feeling that you get out of Fallout 3. But, if you take a bit more random approach to it, you can easily flesh out your world with random locations for your players to explore.

Take for example some of the random unimportant vaults that you find in the Fallout 3 world. These Vaults are really nothing more than little dungeons. Some of them might have a few monsters in them, but more often then not, they just have some interesting quirk to enjoy and a lot of random loot to plunder.

Now, switch over to the Pen and Paper RPG Mindset. Go grab some One Page Dungeons. Next time your players are traveling from one major location in your world to another major location, roll some dice, and figure out if perhaps they come across a location of note; now, grab one of those One Page Dungeons and describe what it looks like from the outside. How did they find this location? Does it stand out visually? Now, give your players the option of taking a break and exploring it. For a totally minor location, try to keep things down to one or two encounters, nothing more than a single sessions.

Now, the above is a good idea, but I think an equally good idea is to grasp one of the most interesting elements of Fallout 3 which I think is represented extremely well in the comic below.

Your players are probably pretty strong. At level 1, maybe this isn’t quite as true, but chances are once your players get to level 4 or 5, there are going to be enough lower level, completely powerless (in comparison to your players) creatures out there that your players can completely massacre very, very quickly. If you’re going to have some interesting, random locations in your world, don’t be afraid to scale down the power level and make the encounters appropriate to the people living near the location, rather than the heroic players who happen to stumble across it. Let your players run wild with that. Let them go through the dungeon in less than an hour and wipe out all the goblins who inhabit the subterranean ruins. Then, when your players end up in town the next day, they can say that they purged the local threat without breaking a sweat and now the helpless farmers and housewives have something to thank your heroes for. Good stuff. Everybody’s happy.

You could flip this situation and have the encounters be brutally hard, but hard encounters, that your players don’t have a chance of completing, can be a problem for locations like this because you run the risk of derailing the campaign over nothing. If you have them look into some minor location, but fill that location with equal level, or higher level challenges, you are probably going to be spending several game sessions getting through it (unless you just have one solo creature of moderately high level).

So, go download some of 2009 or 2010’s One Page Dungeons and put yourself together a little book of random locations.  If you can, try to throw some random locations in there that actually don't have encounters.  Those can be just as, or even more, rewarding than combat locales.  When you’re players are travelling, pull out a dungeon appropriate to the area and go from there. You won’t be disappointed if your players decide not to explore the location, but they might just have a really good time doing something that both you, and they, had never thought about doing.


  1. I'm glad that more people use the 1-pagers this way. It's awesome to see the concept keep alive.

    FWIW, on your part here: "You could flip this situation and have the encounters be brutally hard, but hard encounters, that your players don’t have a chance of completing, can be a problem for locations like this because you run the risk of derailing the campaign over nothing."

    I don't mind a dragon in the backyard because it keeps the players honest and these little side ventures only derail a campaign if they result in a TPK. Even if that happens, it should help the players learn the skill of running away, planning for the worst and the value of good recon and planning.

  2. Great post, great comic, and a great idea! I also agree with ChicagoWiz about the running away. It's the greatest skill any adventurer can learn.

  3. Yea, I really need to instill that idea in my players heads. I might even make a little banner that says "Never be stupid enough not to run away."

  4. And a dragon in the backyard will do that. It did for my campaign and despite the near-TPK, they still play, the campaign rolls on and they STILL are plotting the downfall of the troll-mage under the bridge.

  5. Sounds like a pretty good idea to me then. I think Dragons actually would do that really well. They provide a significant threat to an area, but at the same time, aren't so totally destructive that they cause total chaos in a game city or community. Many other creatures need a reason for not causing total panic in the game world, dragons, if they're not totally active, can scare players, but at the same time, not wreck the world. Good idea!

  6. I'm a huge fan of Fallout too! (played all three versions, haven' been able to play New Vegas yet :( )
    I even created a special d10 inspired in Fallout usage of vacuum valves: