This is a brief series of posts on how you might re-imagine a Beyond the Wall game in an archipelago, with the characters’ starting village on one fairly central island (or small island cluster).
I’m considering both Beyond the Wall and Further Afield for constructing this “saltbox”. Changes should be minimal — I only want to add the extra rules that I feel are needed for this kind of game. No change to the core activity. Minimal changes to playbooks (I don’t really have time to redesign a set of playbooks anyway). I have some ideas for maritime combat but rules already exist for such in LotFP and (I believe) Labyrinth Lord, so maybe just use those. Also I will import some rules from my Death Comes To Wyverley hack.
At the end I’ll probably tidy this into a pdf or something. For now, hope you like it and please comment, if you like.
The aim is to re-skin the playbooks with minimal fuss. A few basic (and obvious) things:
- Riding skills will be devalued in favour of Sailing; that will change the Would-Be Knight among others
- Navigation, Sailing, Swimming all become important
- Where NPCs are mentioned in playbooks, consider sticking them on their own little island (or sandbank, spit, etc.). The Witch’s Hut lies on the Witch’s Island, right? Or maybe it crosses shallow waters on stilts.
There will be a random island tool that accounts for island features including
- Size (how long it takes to cross)
- Natural Features
- Signs of habitation
- Safety slider (this affects encounters both on the island and in the waters around)
- Also consider “virtual islands” i.e. floating communities of travellers, pirates, etc. plus areas of sea that are significant.
If the whole “saltbox” is the “wilderness”, individual islands will be the “dungeon” or “adventure” (in the manner of Zelda: Windwaker).
Crossing water can be done by bridge, rope ferry, small boats, large boats, by sailing or rowing, etc. Some rules for size of boats, how they can respond to storms, navigate (and go off course), and deal with damage (bail out!).
Water itself may be safe or dangerous, depending on the proximity to different islands.
Ocean, Land and Big Fish
The Ocean is the open water that no-one has been able to cross and return. It represents either a greater boundary to the whole sandbox (it’s too big for the island craft to cross; it’s full of dangerous storms and giant creatures; possibly there were once Ships of Legend that took settlers here from across the Ocean) or something at the very edge of the Archipelago, like the edge of the world itself. There could even be a world beneath the Ocean (the Hyrule of Zelda:WW, or Rebma in the Chronicles of Amber).
The Land can be a vast unbroken land mass near the Archipelago. Unlike the other features this one should be optional (no such Land appears in Earthsea). There must be a reason that the folk of the Archipelago are not part of the Land. Wild and dangerous, weird and spooky, home to a decaying Empire from whom the denizens of the Archipelago have fled generations ago, etc.
The Ocean and the Land should represent Big Ideas in the world; the Ocean could symbolise an otherworld (whose “far shores” are the Elven homeland — or so the Elven PC says) and the Land a decadent, even hellish place.
Oh, and Big Fish: what does the Leviathan symbolise? Is it a threat or symbol of hope? What myths surround it?
These are some fiction things I like that inspired this re-skin:
Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea is already an influence on Beyond the Wall. It’s a “vast archipelago of hundreds of islands surrounded by mostly uncharted ocean” (wikipedia).
Christopher Priest’s Dream Archipelago and The Islanders are collections of short stories set in the titular Dream Archipelago (also featured in his novel The Affirmation). Although it’s not fantasy, it does give a strong sense of the variety of different cultures that run through the islands, and at the same time the common threads that bind the islanders together.
The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker on the Nintendo Gamecube (and later remastered in HD for the Wii U). Probably my favourite in the series, and for a 10 year old game it manages to not look dated thanks to the cel-shaded style. It involves travelling to different islands and doing the usual Zelda quests for the Triforce. Also Zelda is generally a nice example of how to re-skin the established tropes (dungeons, creatures, antagonists, format) to fit the premise.
Sinbad was a TV series on Sky in the UK; it lasted one season. Pretty rubbish acting and plotting but I quite liked the atmosphere, and the idea that Sinbad could only set foot on each island for one day and then had to return to sea was a nice premise. Filmed in Malta.
Worlds Apart is a reimagining of classic Traveller for islands instead of stellar maps.