The Alexandrian

Opening Your Game Table

January 13th, 2011

When I first started playing roleplaying games, way back in elementary school, I used to play RPGs all the time. As I got older, of course, gaming became a bit scarcer. There were times when I didn’t have anyone to play with at all. But even when I did, it became tougher to coordinate schedules; tougher to find the free time even in my own schedule.

For the past few years I’ve been lucky enough to have a regular gaming group. But regular for us has usually meant averaging about two sessions a month. And it’s not just that I was in a completely different ballpark from the days when we would play every lunch hour… it’s that I was playing a completely different sport.

And I figured that was just the way things had to be. As we get older, after all, time becomes more precious.

But over the past year or so, I’ve realized that while I’ll probably never get back to that “every lunch hour” ballpark, it actually is possible to start playing the same sport again.


The ballpark/sport analogy is actually rather apt because what I’ve realized is that my schedule wasn’t the only thing that’s changed over the years. I’ve fundamentally changed the way I play roleplaying games. And while I did it for all the right reasons, I’m pretty sure now that I threw the baby out with the bathwater.

To understand what I mean, let me cast your thoughts back to that time when I used to game all the time: Lunch hour (or any other snatch of free time) would roll around and we’d pull out our D&D manuals and our character sheets. One of us would volunteer to DM and that guy would grab whatever dungeon he was currently working on (or he had just read through) and we would start playing. Eventually lunch hour would come to an end and we’d pack up our things. And the next time we played, we’d either continue exploring that same dungeon or we’d start exploring some other dungeon (possibly with a completely different DM). Maybe we’d use the same characters; maybe we’d have rolled up a new character or feel in the mood to play somebody else from our stable. Whatever worked, we did it.

Compare and contrast with the way my regular gaming group plays: At the beginning of each month, I send out an e-mail listing the best days that I’m free this month for gaming. I wait for everybody to reply back. Hopefully a couple of those days will be free for all of us, but if they don’t then I’ll go to the second best dates and start wrangling. Eventually we’ll have a couple of days scheduled. But if a conflict comes up, then we’ll need to cancel that session.

Other groups may have a larger tolerance for handling one or two missing PCs, but I don’t think I’m in error when I say that this is the way most people play RPGs now.

The important difference here is not our modern, adult, crowded schedules: It’s the fact that our games have become rigid affairs. The default mode of play is to gather a group of 5 or 6 people who plan to all get together on a regular or semi-regular basis for 10 or 20 or more 4-8 hour sessions.


The sheer level of commitment created by the now standard form of play is, in my opinion, huge.

For example, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft describes itself as “a mini-campaign lasting around fifteen to twenty sessions, or roughly five months of real time (assuming you play weekly)”.

This is not atypical. When you agree to join a typical campaign, you’re making a minimum commitment of 80 hours or more spread over months or years of your life. Dropping out or missing frequent sessions is usually considered bad form, since losing a player (and, therefore, their character) can be incredibly disruptive to the tightly woven continuity of the modern campaign.

This is the root of the “I can’t play because it’s too hard to find time for a roleplaying game” problem that many gamers face today. But there’s also another side to this problem: It becomes incredibly difficult to ask new players to join your game because of the huge commitment of time and focus you’re asking from them.

And this is particularly true if you’re talking about players who are completely new to roleplaying games because there’s really no way to judge whether they’ll like the game enough to want to commit a significant portion of their lives to it for the next year or more.


Let me put this another way. Imagine that you had never heard of baseball before and someone said, “Hey, wanna join a baseball team?”

“What’s that involve?” you ask.

“Well, we practice for 3 hours every Wednesday evening and we’ll have a game every Saturday afternoon for the next 7 months.”

You’d have to be really, really curious about baseball in order to take that guy up on his offer, right?

But, of course, that’s not how people get involved in baseball. Most people start playing baseball when somebody says, “Hey, wanna play catch?” And playing catch is easy. You pick up a ball and you throw it. And if you get bored, you put the ball down and you do something else. Some people, of course, will never pick that ball up again. But lots of people will find they like throwing the ball around, and some of those people will eventually find themselves agreeing to spend 300 hours every year participating in amateur baseball leagues.

Where’s the equivalent of “let’s play catch” in roleplaying games?

Well, it turns out I had the secret of it way back in elementary school. And then I forgot about it. I became myopically focused on how awesome a baseball league could be, and forgot that sometimes just throwing a ball back and forth can be fun, too. (And a lot easier to pull off.)


I rediscovered how to play catch in the Caverns of Thracia.

The Caverns of Thracia are an old school megadungeon designed by Paul Jacquays. I’ve recounted some of the sessions I’ve run within its hallowed halls. I’ve also used it as the primary example of how to jaquay your dungeons. But it’s also taught me how the classic megadungeon campaign structure can be used to open up your game table and triple or quadruple your gaming.

The basic megadungeon campaign structure is pretty simple:

1. There’s a huge dungeon. So big that it can’t be cleared out in one or two or even a dozen gaming sessions. In fact, it’s so huge that the parts you’ve already cleared out will probably start repopulating with new monsters before you finish exploring the rest of it.

2. There’s a nearby “gold rush” town where PCs can form adventuring parties to explore the megadungeon.

3. At the end of each session, everybody heads back to town. At the start of the next session, a new adventuring party forms and heads back to the dungeon.

The last point is the the crucial one here: The megadungeon campaign structure fundamentally lends itself to variable playing groups. Who showed up for this week’s game? Which characters do they want to play? That’s your adventuring party for the week. Go!

This structure means that you don’t have to worry about wrangling schedules. Feel like playing on Thursday? Send out an e-mail saying, “We’re playing on Thursday. Who wants to come?”

It’s also incredibly easy to invite new players to join the game. Even if they only play the one time, they can have a great time without causing any disruption to “continuity”. In fact, if you can couple the megadungeon campaign structure to a fast-and-simple character creation system, it can be as easy to play a pick-up roleplaying game as it is pull a boardgame off the shelf.


Since putting a megadungeon back into my gaming repertory, I’ve radically increased the amount of roleplaying I’m doing. In fact, I can play now pretty much whenever I want to: I’ve got a mailing list of 30 players that I can send my invites out to, and from that list I’m almost guaranteed to get at least 3 or 4 people on any given night.

In the past year, I’ve also been able to play with a half dozen players completely new to roleplaying games and another half dozen players who hadn’t played in half a decade or more. (This is a large part of the reason why I have 30+ players on my mailing list now.)

With that being said, open table campaign structures are not the be-all and end-all of gaming. (Any more than catch is the be-all and end-all of playing baseball.) I’m still running my regular campaign, which has now reached its 60th session. And there’s a ton of depth, detail, and complexity in that dedicated campaign which is impossible to achieve in the loose style of the open table.

But, on the other hand, when I needed a replacement player for my regular campaign, I had developed a “stable” of players at my open table that made it easy to find a replacement.

The megadungeon, of course, is not the only form of play which can support this kind of open table. But it can be surprisingly hard, actually, to find the right mix of “I can GM this any time” and “the players can disengage at any time without making it difficult to pick things up again with a completely different group of players next week”. For example, for the past several months I’ve been trying to figure out how to build an open table campaign structure for Shadowrun… and pretty much failing. (A series of one-shots can work in a pinch, but they require a lot more prep work on the part of the GM and require a very precise sense of exactly how much gaming you can get done in a single evening.)

Another open table technique from my “golden age” of gaming was the use of multiple DMs all supporting the same stable of characters. In those elementary school games I used to be able to play the same cleric in Matt’s campaign, then take it over to Nick’s campaign, run it through Steve’s campaign, and then bring it back to Matt’s campaign without any problem. Haven’t really tried that lately, but I can’t see any reason why it can’t work now.

Open Table Manifesto
(Re-)Running the Megadungeon
Treasure Maps & The Unknown: Goals in the Megadungeon
Keep on the Borderlands: Factions in the Dungeon
The School of Turin: An Open Gaming Table in the Real World
Escaping the Dungeon

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37 Responses to “Opening Your Game Table”

  1. Justin Alexander says:


    This post (in conjunction with your megadungeon posts) has caused a paradigm shift in my thinking about RPGs. It’s especially exciting for me because of my limited and irregularity time to game.

    I would like to try this out but lack the time to make a dungeon from scratch. What published products (especially D&D 3E compatible) would you recommend as being (mostly) pre-jaquayed?
    4 days ago, 3:32:09 PM

    Justin Alexander
    Thanks for the link, Alex. Good discussion.
    Saturday, January 15, 2011, 12:49:09 AM

    Alex Schroeder
    Interesting post! It resulted in a small discussion amongst me and my RPG friends on Google Buzz ( I think we’d love to find ‘the right mix of “I can GM this any time” and “the players can disengage at any time without making it difficult to pick things up again with a completely different group of players next week”‘ for our games. But we haven’t found a solution, yet.
    Friday, January 14, 2011, 7:35:34 AM

    Justin Alexander
    @jdh417: The original 1974 rules of D&D.
    Thursday, January 13, 2011, 9:04:05 PM

    What version of game rules are you using? That make a difference in being able to quickly create characters and teach the game.
    Thursday, January 13, 2011, 8:38:55 PM

    Like so many great ideas, it’s a really simple one, it’s just the case of adjusting your mindset to reckognise the potential. Think I may look in to doing this with the Leverage rules in a sort of Mission Impossible type set up. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction!
    Thursday, January 13, 2011, 1:42:42 PM

  2. Carl says:

    Justin, thanks for writing this. With all the things demanding our time, our group has had to adjust how we game and what we play. That’s why we chose this topic for our last episode of our podcast.

    I am in the process of writing what I call a ‘mini-setting’ to address this issue for our group. It’s not a world, but a small area that can handle numerous nights of mission style adventuring. I see Monte Cook’s Ptolus setting as similar, although his city setting is much larger that what I’m doing.

    It follows your boomtown example. It has just enough to keep the PCs equipped, informed and going back for more. The NPCs can offer jobs, pleas, bribes, etc. as adventure hooks. I see this style suitable for my group, because each ‘mission’ is simple, with a clear objective that can be achieved in one or two sessions.

    For those looking for alternate RPGs that lend themselves well to short gaming sessions, I would suggest Gamma World and Savage Worlds. Gamma World is fun, demands little in the way of prep time, character creation is largely random, quick, and easy. Savage Worlds is $10 for the game and can be used for a variety of game settings… steampunk, high fantasy, supers, etc.

    Keep rolling those dice!


  3. Justin Alexander says:

    Thanks, Carl. I really enjoyed your podcast. I think your actual play stuff has probably sold me on the new Gamma World, too.

  4. Blacksteel says:

    So with this approach how do you handle when the party is somewhere in the dungeon when the session ends? The odds seem to be against having that particular group of players gather again in the immediate future. It seems as though anything requiring more than one session to complete would be going somewhat against the philosophy of the open campaign so how do you manage that?

  5. Justin Alexander says:

    In general, I haven’t found this to be a problem: The understanding at the table is that you have to get out of the dungeon before you can go home for the night; and the players are generally strongly motivated to get out of the dungeon in any case.

    The other option is to simply handwave it: “We’re done for the night. So you all leave the dungeon and go back to town.”

    But I’ve also designed a tool for the occasion: Escaping the Dungeon!

  6. Bradford C. Walker says:

    This is so harmonious with the West Marches series of posts at Ars Ludi that I can not avoid connecting the two. I’m trying to run a West Marches style of campaign, and now I know what’s wrong with it- I’m missing a mega-dungeon. Time to get to mapping.

  7. ChicagoWiz says:

    @Justin – great post!

    @Bradford – not necessarily… what you can also use is a dynamic dungeon that most people will ignore once emptied out. I have two such areas that I keep within the “easy” frame of mind so that if I need a game of “catch”, I can quickly repopulate them based on current game state.

    I’m also running a West Marches game, we’re into its third (actual) year now.

  8. Beedo says:

    I just discovered your blog, and am enjoying a lot of your fresh insight on cool old-schoolisms like learning to love the wandering monsters.

    I agree about the episodic charm of megadungeons, but your analogy about playing catch says it much more succinctly. Glad you’re on WordPress (and can be read through a feed reader).

    On the virtue of episodic games

  9. dariel says:

    Great post! I’ve also been trying to wrestle with this problem for some time. I’ve been advocating episodic, loosely related one-shots ever since a friend told me she’d quit gaming because she had never been part of a story that reached a satisfying conclusion. Having at least an informal agreement that the party must get out of the dungeon before session’s end is a great idea – it’s an achievable good ending.

  10. Malimar says:

    I ran my first OGT megadungeon yesterday. It went pretty well. People seemed to like it.

    I do have a question:

    For now, everybody’s starting at level 1. But I foresee the people who happen to be there every week quickly making it to higher levels, while people who just want to play once or twice (the very people the OGT medium is designed to accommodate) will stay at level 1, noticeably weaker than everybody else.

    How (if at all) do you deal with this level disparity?

  11. Justin Alexander says:

    In my experience, level disparities have not proven to be that big a deal in either OD&D or 3E. A few factors that help:

    (1) When death is a real and meaningful danger (particularly at the fragile lower levels), my group quickly came to appreciate having higher level characters along to keep them alive.

    (2) Similarly, adventuring with high level characters is a great way to level up quickly. This will usually result in you quickly catching up. (For example, if you’re a 1st level character adventuring with a group of four 5th level characters, then they’ll each be netting 300 XP for each CR 5 encounter while you’ll be netting 360 XP. If you start at 0 XP and they start at 15,000 XP, then in just 3 encounter you’ll hit 2nd level. When they hit 6th level, you’ll be hitting 4th level.)

    (3) Allow (and encourage) players to run a “stable” of characters. This makes it easy for the players to figure out what mix of characters they’ll all be happy running with in a given evening.

    (4) As a DM I find it can be difficult finding the “sweet spot” for challenging a party with mixed levels. But this difficulty literally vanishes when the players are allowed to control the amount of danger they’re willing to take on (which the traditional megadungeon allows): They’ll go out and take on the risks which seem reasonable and fun for them… and if it isn’t challenging enough, they’ll choose to “push on a little farther”.

    This is really the biggest secret to most of my GMing: Let the players choose what they want to do and how they want to do it and the odds are pretty good that they’ll have a good time doing it.

  12. Malimar says:

    Okay. I was indeed inclined to just trust the auto-balancing nature of the level system, especially as you’ve posted about it before. I just wasn’t sure if it was really so powerful that I didn’t even need to pay attention to level disparity at all.

    On the one hand, I kind of want to maintain that new characters will always start at level 1, and let the auto-balancing system take care of it forever. On the other hand, I’m a little afraid that might discourage players from keeping a stable of characters, if they have to bring each character up from zero.

    For players who don’t want to make their own characters or who don’t have time, I’m also using a common stable of pre-gen characters that anybody can play, who will level up just like any other character. Unless a player likes one so much that they want to claim them permanently for themselves, which I will also allow. All but one character wound up being a pre-gen in that first session. I’m afraid this might discourage people from making their own characters, but the ability to say “I brought pre-gens, you don’t need to make a character unless you want to” is an incredibly powerful tool in reducing the barriers to entry. (I did try to make the pre-gens bizarre and non-optimized enough to encourage players to make their own. Elf barbarian, warforged rogue, mongrelfolk paladin, things like that.)

    I’ve been telling my players: not everywhere they go is necessarily suited for their current level. I’m hoping that after a few sessions, they’ll either figure out what places have the most appropriate monsters (at whatever level of difficulty they choose to define “appropriate”), or they’ll figure out that they Gather Information exists for a reason, and they have the option of asking around in town and some bartender might recall, “of the last party of tough adventurers to head to the Cave of Burning, only one returned, and he was so badly burned as to be unrecognizable”, or “I heard a bunch of adventurers scoffing at the lack of sport in slaughtering masses of centipedes in the cold iron mines”. I imagine it’ll take at least a few sessions for people to really start to get used to this completely non-railroady way of doing things.

  13. Auroch says:

    I am hoping to start a campaign using some mix of L&L and Pathfinder in a group of heavily-worked college students where an open table would be much more convenient. However, I’m a first-time DM and have not been a player many times, and the rest of the prospective table aren’t any better, so I’m nervous about running a campaign without the structure of a published adventure to back me up.

    What advice do you have? Any particular resources I should look up?

  14. Justin Alexander says:

    In general, I recommend starting with a specific scope and then building from there as your comfort level grows.

    The mega-dungeon really is the best place to start. If you can figure out how to lay your hands on a copy of the original Caverns of Thracia, L&L’s monster creation system will make it really easy to convert it to a 3E/PF structure. (Simply take the HD of any pre-3E stat block, plug it in as the creature’s CR.)

    Alternatively, the 3E version of the module is available for sale on RPGNow. The “re-imagining”, IMO, is over-designed. (I’ve grown more and more intolerant of 8 paragraph encounter keys that are written like a short story instead of a game reference.) But it uses the same basic maps and structure.

    Beyond that, most of the advice I can give you can be found in (Re)-Running the Megadungeon.

    That really can be enough to run an entire campaign. (I’ve gotten 20+ sessions out of just Thracia.) As your comfort level grows, though, you can start throwing down some hexes. L&L includes some basic wilderness adventure rules which were tested up in my OD&D open table.

  15. Justin Alexander says:

    Thinking about this a little more.

    Check out B2: Keep on the Borderland and also “Factions in the Dungeon”. This can be a good low-level testing ground and has pretty much limitless regenerative capacity.

    Then just provide some hooks from the cultists in the Caverns of Chaos to the Caverns of Thracia and you can ladder the PCs into the megadungeon.

  16. Hautamaki says:

    I just started a new campaign based on old school D&D rules (re-written from memory and updated with a few tweaks) at the Keep on the Borderlands. The old players were skeptical since they had been (enjoying) playing for months with a highly complex system and very difficult to kill characters that made them all but invincible unless they played completely suicidally. However everyone there had more fun then I think they’ve ever had playing D&D, and the open dungeon format is now going to be our go-to standard.

  17. Yora says:

    Interesting. I just made a snap descision with some friends from a videogame chat to start a Pathfinder game using some virtual tabletop and setting it in the wilderness bases setting I’ve been working on. Very early on I decited to approach this game in basically the same way as described here: The PCs will be characters from a single villages warrior hall, who set out on short adventures maybe three or four sessions in length. Since there is no formal company or unit, characters can be switched out at any time, either when the group returns back to the base, or they might even meet another of their warrior companions who just happens to be out on patrol or scouting in the area.

    Because I know from my last couple of campaigns, that planning ahead for more than four sessions is basically futile and I have no idea what players will want to continue playing for how long.

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  20. d47 says:

    I’ve been thinking about other “open game table” possibilities besides megadungeons. Urban campaigns are certainly a possibility. Another one is a starship where characters are all crew or passengers. How about a “Lost” type situation in which weird stuff finds the characters as much as they find it. Or, maybe the characters all work for some kind of teleporting team. Ready or not, Scotty is going to beam you up at the end of the session.

  21. Oren says:

    Based on your description of megadungeons and open gaming and various tips you have provided (such as the escaping the dungeon table) I decided to run an open game with a PF dungeon I created. It’s amazing. Thank you for the idea.

  22. Special Snowflake settings | Fictive Fantasies says:

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  23. Chris says:

    Great post! Right now i’m lucky enough to have some stable games, but this will be helpful for those times when I don’t, or when I just want to get some more gaming in.

    I’ve been reading Into the Odd lately, and I think it’d work great with this style of play. Also, Numenera could work really well.

  24. John says:

    We have been running an Open Table Ptolus game for a year since I read this and got inspired. We actually have shared GM responsibilities too by divying up the Underworld into a few broad chunks, each a megadungeon in itself. It means we have to be a little gamey sometimes because when a certain GM is available your choices are restricted to his megadungeon, but the megadungeons are so massive it hasn’t proven a problem so far.

    Everything you said about getting to game more often and having greater flexibility was totally true, and we still manage a fairly decent ongoing plot and character development, though much of it is done in after game write ups (something we used to do anyway but which I reward with an XP bonus after reading The West Marches.)

    It’s really changed our gaming for the better, and I have to say most of my ideas these days are of an Open Table kind of slant.

  25. Jeff says:

    Do you have any advice for running an open table with character shared resources like the covenant in Ars Magica?

  26. Justin Alexander says:

    One idea I’ve played with is running a Star Trek open table in which key players create a ship and its bridge crew. Each session focuses on one of these key players: Their PC is the captain and the rest of the bridge crew is run troupe-style, with each crew member being run by whichever other players show up for the session.

    Obviously consistency of presentation could be problematic. You’d want a one-page briefing document on roleplaying each character (as described in Muse on Your Left). Adding a section on what their relationship with every other member of the bridge crew would probably make sense. I’d probably also make each Captain responsible for maintaining a “Previously on the USS Whatever” one-page briefing document plus a matching one-page document for each crew member. (So players would have 2-3 pages of reading to do when joining a ship.)

    I mention that, because I think a similar approach would work with Ars Magica. I would think of the campaign as having two tiers of players: The experienced, dedicated players would each get a mage and a “stake” in the covenant itself. I’d create a mailing list or G+ community or something of that ilk where those players could discuss the covenant and its development outside of the immediate game table.

    For actual play, you’d have sessions “sponsored” by particular mages within the covenant. Other PC mages might tag along if it was appropriate, but you’d also have a healthy troupe of other PCs for players (including more casual and new players) to pick up and run with.

    The open question would be how you’d manage the process of which players get to gain a stake in the covenant: Is it open to anyone who’s willing to make the commitment? Is it a GM judgment? Is it a decision made by the players who currently control the covenant?

  27. Airlock says:

    So, I’m new to GMing, and I’ve had a problem with keeping and acquiring players for a long term game. After reading this, though, I think I’d like to give an open table a try.

    The problem being that I don’t particularly like DnD. Right now, Shadowrun 5e is my drug of choice, but that game is super complicated and hard to get players into. Plus it doesn’t lend itself too well to the concept, as you mentioned… somewhere. *ahem*

    The simplest system I know is nWoD, so I want to use that. It takes like five minutes to teach the basic rules, and you can pretty much just take that and run with it. I’m also a sucker for post-apocalypse-type settings. So my idea was, I’d make a post-apocalypse version of a megadungeon. It seems pretty elementary to replace goblins with raiders, and magical beasts with irradiated critters.

    What do you think? Any tips? I’m new to running games, as I said, but I really like this idea, and I feel like it will help me build my skills.

  28. Justin Alexander says:

    Post-apocalypse is a great idea. If you’ve got a post-apocalyptic megadungeon that you think will work, go for it. But you might also consider making a hexcrawl. Scatter the landscape with ruins from the old world (that can be looted for legacy tech, canned food, or the like) and mutant gangs and you’ll be good to go.

    Margaret St. Clair’s Sign of the Labyrs might be some good idea fodder for the post-apocalyptic megadungeon.

    Something else to consider with an open table is how time-consuming character creation is: With OD&D it usually takes 30 minutes or less to make characters, which means you can have new players show up, make characters, and still get a good game session in. A lot of games will chew up an hour or more, and that will make it difficult to fit both character creation and a decent session into a single evening.

    Make a stock of pregenerated characters and/or create characters with new players outside of the game session (via e-mail or a special session).

    Re: Shadowrun. It is a tough nut to crack. I’ve been developing an Eclipse Phase open table concept built around discrete, one session missions: Whichever players show up for the evening form the team sent on the mission. In order to make that work as an open table, I’m experimenting with tossing continuity out on its ear: I’ll re-use the same scenario with different groups. That might mean that, in a later session, there’ll be two characters who have both played through different version of the “Morph Murders” scenario (or whatever), but that generally won’t matter. So every individual character will have their own personal continuity that will make sense, but there won’t really be a consistent “multiverse” if you look at things too closely.

    But, like I say, that’s still in development. So I don’t know if it’ll actually work in play or not.

  29. Airlock says:

    Hm. A hexcrawl could be a really good option, especially since it would make vehicles a more interesting option. I really want to focus on scarcity of resources, and the need for fuel could be a driving force for the PCs. Very Mad Max-y.

    I plan on using World of Darkness for the simplicity, especially considering character generation. It offers a lot of options, especially for characters that aren’t as combat focused.

    Using vehicles for a hexcrawl, do you think making the hexes bigger is necessary? Or just accepting that the players will be moving a lot farther for each span of time?

  30. Justin Alexander says:

    My theory on hexes is that their size should be determined by the density of interesting material: If you end up with a lot of empty hexes, it means that your hexes are too small. If you end up with a lot of hexes containing multiple sites of interest, it means your hexes are too large. (Or, at least, they’re too large in that particular area: Zooming in on “busy” hexes can be an effective technique.)

    The occasional empty hex or the occasional hex with multiple locations is OK, obviously. It’s just that if you’re making a habit of it you’ll make the abstraction of the hex less useful.

    With that being said, there’s a metagame issue of design here: The bigger you make your hex map, the more content you need to create to fill it, and the more time-consuming it is to prep the campaign.

    My recommendation is:

    (1) For an open table hexcrawl I recommend a 10 x 10 or 12 x 12 grid of hexes (meaning you’re keying 100 or 144 hexes).

    (2) You generally want to scale the hexes so that people are traversing 2-3 hexes per day. (Which means, starting from their home base in the center of the map, they’re 4-5 days from the edge of your map.)

    The former is so that you don’t have to key as much material. (My first hexcrawl I made the mistake of doing a 16 x 16 grid, which is 256 hexes and took several weeks of nonstop work to fill.) Once the hexcrawl has established itself, you can obviously push out the borders of that map (particularly in directions that the PCs end up being most interested in exploring).

    The latter is, based on my experience, roughly what you need to make it unlikely that your PCs won’t go trivially shooting off the edge of the map.

    So what I would do is take your Mad Max cars, figure out what hex size gives you 2-3 hexes of travel per day, and then determine your hex size accordingly. Then you simply design your barren wasteland so that it coincidentally has a density of interesting locations such that it works out to 1 per hex. 😉

  31. Airlock says:

    Well, I found a map that should work. Each hex is 46 miles across, which should serve well for travel by vehicle, assuming that the vehicles are equipped for off-road. The roads themselves would be cracked and damaged from years of not being serviced, so they’d slow the PC’s down enough, I think, along with encounters and the lack of fuel. The map is pretty interesting, it’s a hexmap of the US, after an apocalypse that left all the major population centers irradiated. Neat stuff.

    The first problem is getting characters involved in the gameplay. How to start them off, I wonder. Also, what should the “Home Base” town be like? Probably a place that has enough resources for them to restock when they need to, but not so much so that they don’t need to go anywhere. Or would they even need a home base? Would it be better to start them off somewhere on their own with some basic supplies but the need for more? I’ll clearly need to do some thinking.

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  35. Ilbranteloth says:

    You don’t even need a megadungeon to do this. I recently made the commitment to run a public, open-table campaign. The approach is partly modeled on the early Gygax campaigns, but moreso on Ed Greenwood’s, specifically Shadowdale.

    The idea being that there is a central location where all of the characters live. Starting at 1st level, there are lots of adventure possibilities (known dungeons, caves, wilderness, ruins, etc in the vicinity) along with just things that go on about town. Each player created at least 3 characters. Each session, whoever showed up would decide which of their characters they would use, and that would be the group that headed out for adventure. They’d return at the the end of the session, preferably after having exhausted most of their resources.

    The characters not involved in that night’s adventures? They were busy doing downtime activities. This is one of the main reasons I really like this approach – time actually passes in the campaign.

    The real key is that it’s designed to be at a point where the end of each session ends at a point where it doesn’t matter who shows up next time.

    Sessions ended up as small as 3 or as large as 13. Unfortunately, timing and other commitments ended the campaign for now, but I’d like to do more.

    This isn’t all that different from how I’ve handled things in the past. Most of my long-time players started at an open table. The longest campaign started at an open table where I and a friend co-DM’d with the original turnout of 30ish players (I think it was 31 or 32). Amazingly, if I recall, at least 20 showed up each week for the run through that adventure. The huge party size was a plus because we ran Tomb of Horrors!

    Like most of my games, a large number of players were first time gamers. Even the fact that a couple of the guys knew Tomb of Horrors and thought that they’d “ruin” it because they knew everything, it worked. And about 7 of them ended up in my home campaign.

    D&D 5e has made starting new players extremely easy. But I’ve been running games since the late ’70s, and I’m used to the idea that they players don’t need to know all the rules. For other game systems I’ve been out of the loop for too long to give suggestions. But for 5e, being able to find things on your character sheet, understanding “Roll a d20” to try to do something or attack, and the advantage/disadvantage mechanics, but the one or two abilities you have at 1st level is really all they need to know.

    I actually love running games for new players, because they have no metagame experience, nor any preconceived notions of what they can or can’t do.

  36. Tiago says:

    What thoughts do you have on a hexcrawl open table where the hexcrawl is nade collaboratively using the dungeon world supplement “Perilous Wilds”?

  37. S'mon says:

    Thanks again for this post Justin, my megadungeon open campaign is going swimmingly and this post definitely was a contribution!

    I solve the multi-GM issue by giving my co-GMs their own adjacent areas on the local wilderness hexmap, within a couple day’s travel from my main campaign area. With adventures taking up 1 day and occurring weekly in-world and in real time, it’s easy for PCs to plausibly transit from one table/area to another (we run multiple GM’s tables at the same time). In effect each GM’s table in real space represents an adjacent area of game-world space.

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