Thursday, March 29, 2018

Beyond the Wall - Further Afield Review

If you've read my review of Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures, you know I think it's a great game for zero-prep one shots, but with the addition of the Further Afield supplement it becomes a great game for ongoing sandbox campaigns. Even if you don't use Beyond the Wall, the Shared Sandbox creation rules and Threat rules are a great addition to any game master's repertoire. So what's in Further Afield that makes it a great supplement to grab?

  • The Shared Sandbox. An entire chapter guiding you and your players through a collaborative sandbox creation setting (You can hear an example of this in our Session Zero Beyond the Wall actual play podcast episode).
    • Not just a set of random tables, it has the players decide some of the details of a location and in a stroke of genius, has a roll for the GM to make to see how much of what their PC knows is correct. This means that a player has some investment in the locations but that they can't be certain they already know what's there until they send their PC there in game.
    • After each player has created two locations, then each chooses a location another player created to embellish, adding another detail to the sandbox and letting players build off of each other's ideas.
    • There are plenty of tips and hints for getting the most of the process and helping it go smoothly as well.
  • After the players have filled in major locations, the game master will separately fill the map in with minor locations (You can hear an example of this by listening to my first Lonely Fun podcast, where I cover the prep I did for our Beyond the Wall actual play campaign).
    • There are tips for integrating favorite adventures into the map, for respecting what the players already added and for working with the threats detailed in the next section of the book.
  • Threats! Like fronts from Dungeon World, these are a great tool for having over-arching plot, driven by a villainous NPC or a magical phenomena. 
    • They're more structured than fronts, and have an imminence rating that can go up or down according to player action (or inaction).
    • At the start of each in-game week, the GM makes a roll and if it equals or exceeds the imminence rating then the threat is activated. Each threat has an activation chart of events that occur that could have direct or indirect effects on the PCs... for example, kidnapping children from the PCs' home village. Something the players might notice immediately or that they might only learn about when they return home after adventuring elsewhere.
    • There are four pre-made threats in the book, all of which are intriguing, and more available for free PDF download. They can be neutral or even potentially helpful to the PCs, like the Imperial City that is expanding into the PCs' homeland or they can be completely villainous, like the Blighted Land that expands, devastating everything in its wake until the PCs defeat it.
    • There are also guidelines for crafting your own Threats, which is something I'm trying out for the Antagonist Relations Beyond the Wall actual play podcasts, where I'll be making a Reptile Cult threat for my players to deal with.
  • Running the Campaign / Travel and Exploration
    • While not as potentially system-neutral as the Shared Sandbox and Threats, the advice in these two short chapters is very useful for anyone running a sandbox/hex crawl campaign.
  • Optional Rules
    • The remainder of the main portion of the book until the appendices is largely optional rules for Beyond the Wall. There's guidance for dealing with PC death and new characters, character traits which are like feats for BtW, advice and options for the experience system, more items, treasure and magic.
  • Appendices
    • The first appendix is a few more optional rules for BtW, but Appendix II: Sample Regions has some great generic encounter tables and Appendix III: Minor Locations is a great page of tables to quickly generate interesting locations on the fly or to use to fill out a hex map.
  • Threats and Play Aids
    • The four sample threats are here, the Blighted Land, the Grey Prince, the Imperial City and the Vengeful Wyrm. I've not had a chance to run a game with the Blighted Land, but the other three have been fantastic for driving the plot of my Wednesday Beyond the Wall campaign that's been running  since May 2017.
    • The other play aids are great too, and you can find them for free at the Flatland games site! The Campaign Worksheet is used during the Shared Sandbox creation and Convenient Lunar Calendar could be used for any game that needs an easy to use and basic calendar.

Overall, I cannot recommend Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures and Further Afield enough. They're a great addition to any tabletop gamer's shelf. And while you pick those up, do yourself a favor and grab all the great free content they've put out there to support the game as well.

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