Saturday, July 9, 2011


As I transition over into thinking about what sort of powers classes should have to interact with zones, I started thinking about all the little ways the flavor of zones could be incorporated into the game. Here are some quick samples that hopefully will spark some imagination. Sound off in the comments and let's brainstorm some stuff.

  • If zones have terrain type (i.e. wild, cavern, stone, etc) you could introduce the idea of a ranger preferred terrain. Gaining some sort of bonus while occupying zones of various types. Additional terrains could be added as the ranger increases in level.
  • Races could have a preferred terrain that impacts their movement class (MC). For instance, perhaps dwarves have MC 3 with Stonewalker racial trait. The first zone they enter with the cavern or stone descriptor doesn't count against their MC. The DC and all penalties remain in tact so it is a modest bonus, but it would still have an interesting impact.
  • Powers could increase passive move, in essence allowing you to take 12 instead of 10. This would be a fairly powerful power but it would disappear if someone moved ambitiously (i.e. beyond their MC). In this way, we empower the character and speed up the game because there are more potential moves that are declarative, but we don't really increase the top-end of the power spectrum.
  • Class powers could allow you to ignore certain terrain penalties. For example, an elf power might allow you to ignore  "Difficult terrain: [rules]." We could further limit that, if so desired, to only applying in terrain with the Wild descriptor. 
  • The oft-overlooked knowledge skills could be incorporated to reveal important information about zones.
Some other fundamental ideas about zones that arose in comments:
  • Could (or should) zones be used to present other, more abstract conflicts? For example, could the idea of zones be expanded so as to create a visual representation of a skill challenge? A social challenge?
  • How would zones change if we took it vertical such as a fight scaling the scaffolding of a tower?
  • How would zones change if we went 3d and added flight?


  1. I can forsee a "social combat" system in which the character's involved, the subject of the discussion, and the situation provide the "terrain".

    An example:

    Bob attempts to seduce Herrick in the middle of a tavern. Bob and Herrick are friends, but Herrick very much likes women and just doesn't see Bob that way. Bob on the other hand, believes that Herrick is harboring some sort of secret "crush" on him. Herrick's goal in the encounter is to convince Bob that he just doesn't like him like that, while as Bob's goal is to get Herrick to "come out".

    The "terrain" might be various subjects such as:

    "Herrick's Sexual Preferences"

    "Mixed Messages"

    "How about another pint?"

    "Our long-standing friendship"

    "Small Talk"

    and of course "Sex".

    Each piece of terrain would grant bonuses or penalties to certain conversational "attacks"-for example if Herrick and Bob are both talking about (ie. both occupying)their long standing friendship, that might provide Bob with a bonus to rolls that draw on that as a reason why they should get together, or by Herrick as a reason why they shouldn't risk it.

    Movement could be determined by Cunning, by some sort of personality mechanic, or by one's rank in some sort of social skill. It might have to be handled differently, with a character making a roll to "change the subject" (ie. move), with a successful roll forcefully changing the subject and a failure either changing the subject but inflicting a penalty on social rolls, or failing to change the subject (which as we all know, can be awkward).

    In addition, unlike regular combat characters would be free to completely escape social combat at any time-just by removing themselves (physically) from the conflict. That might have nasty repercussions depending on the situation, but it'd remain an option.

    Attacks,renamed "Arguments" or "Points" could have ranges that measures just how widely applicable they are. For example, an accusation is a powerful conversational tactic, but it's relatively limited in it's application, thus having a short range. Everyone would be able to use any argument, but true social combat masters would pick up trades that increase their viability in intrigues.

    As far as resilience in the face of argument, you could have some sort of "social hp", or use a different system based on, say a number of successful rolls (similar to a skill challenge).

    Just some ideas.

  2. Another interesting permuation to the "zones as social combat platforms" is to allow characters to create new zones by bringing up related subjects of conversation, alter zones through revelation or interrogation, or even destroy zones through magical curses that prevent someone from speaking of something or even through mundane interrogation.

  3. I believe Herremann had a similar idea in response to another post.
    In my opinion your ideas (and Herremann's) have a lot of potential, as long as we remember there are two types of zones:
    1) The physical zones where characters and objects are actually positioned, and
    2) The abstract zones representing parts of the conversaion.
    We just have to make sure we or players don't get the two confused, especially when you can easily be moving in one type of zone independently of the other type.


  4. I agree about the separation of physical zones and the abstraction parts of a conversation needing different names if they get used. For me I am mostly interested in the idea of using physical zones/the maneuvers to represent noncombat encounters as well. I guess I see no reason why similarly named (or exactly named) maneuvers which function as an edge and things like stuntways have to be used in combat.

    For example, say the players are at a party for the Duke, whose secrets they are trying to discover. Rather than worrying about the details of the house it could be set us as zones, maybe:

    Main Floor: A crowded party of nobles and other wealthy citizens.
    Secluded Gardens: The estates gardens, including many tall trees, that grow next to the house.
    Upper Floors: Portions of the house off limits to guests.
    The Duke's study: Where the Duke keeps his important papers- your target.

    Then just set up stuntways, like having to slip past some guards to get up stairs, use stealth out into the garden unseen and climb a tree and so on. To keep all the players involved maybe the stunways do not even unlock (or become easier to complete) if other things happen. So another player(s) cause a distraction on the main floor leaves you with no/less guards on the upper floors. You could handle these actions in the basic rules of skills/affinities and the combat maneuvers. Two people ganging up on one in a conversation is a lot like flanking, and I see no reason people can't spend a move in this kind of situation to do something trick like for a +2 edge on their roll. This seems easier to me than mapping out details of specific social actions, keeps it in the abstract.

    I guess my view of the zones is an abstraction that promotes dynamic action and a sense in the players that they can truly interact with their environment in someway beyond it being set dressing- so there is no reason this can't move out of combat situations as well. I am not saying I would run every scene where it came down to skill roles like this, but big/complex scenes I think a slight extension of the rules that already exist would handle 95% of what I can see using it for.


  5. Wow! I can see that people are really starting to see and construct ways of empowering the zone concept. Veritomancer has explored the social interplay idea while Mike has blurred the lines between zonal combat and exploration and that's exactly what I was driving at a few topics back.

    When a group gets together to play there are a handful of modes they play in:
    - The "Meta"-modes:
    *Character Development: Character sheets and creation, looking at different options, pricing things and other character or DM/GM specific stuff.
    *Player Socializing: Checking out the latest books, look at my new phone, who is ordering pizza etc.

    - And the Playing Modes:
    *Social Interplay: focusing on "roleplaying it out"; using in-character discussion to move the campaign forward.
    *Exploration: focusing on terrain and environment, discovery of new knowledge and moving from place to place.
    *Combat: focusing on the careful resolution of physical threats and conflict.

    These last three may all be united under the same umbrella of "encounters"; Social Encounters, Exploration Encounters and Combat Encounters. In terms of zones, social encounters work in the abstract where as exploration (in small scale rather than large) and combat encounters would seem to use similar zones. It is just that the overlay of features might vary between the two while the zones remain the same.

    Now the purpose of this is to look at ways how zones are similar (the goals that they tend to represent - even if momentary and constantly shifting such as in combat). Then you can ensure that even when translating between abstract and concrete zones, you are translating between two "dialects" of the same language.

    Next... that movement thing again and some ideas to ponder.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  6. In terms of class or "role" powers, zones apply in an interesting way if you view a zone as a potential if only momentary "goal". Now by a goal, I'm saying that zones may represent [abstract/concrete]:

    - A situation/area where participants/combatants do want to be (in); and perhaps if significant be the first to get there or perhaps even the first to discover it.

    - A situation/area where participants/combatants do NOT want to be (in).

    - A situation/area where participants/combatants wish to deny that situation/area to others.

    - A situation/area where participants/combatants wish to encourage/force others into that zone.

    Now the interesting thing is how neatly all this hooks up with 4e adventurer roles in combat:

    Striker: A striker is the guy who is best equipped to get into a desired zone (or discover a new zone).

    Controller: A controller wishes to make certain zones unattractive and encourages combatants OUT of that zone.

    Defender: A defender wishes to deny a particular zone to non-allied combatants. They become the wall to get through.

    Leader: A leader attempts to get allies into a zone, or the flipside of the same coin, force enemies into a zone.

    I think when viewed this way, you have the basic foundations for a role which a class can tie itself to. Now interestingly, I think you also begin to define social roles when viewed in this way (as Veritomancer has begun to explore).

    Now all of this is very theoretical; and I have tried to keep it as theoretical as possible so that it does not get bogged down in "reality" too early.

    And now to movement...

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  7. Movement

    I wonder if you are making movement between zones too complicated and with a level of exactitude that zones suffer under and more to the point perhaps do not need?

    Let's look at a simple idea and see if we can make it work. Imagine that a combatant is in a "round" of combat {I think you are going to need to address initiative at some stage} and their basic options are:
    * Do not move: what can they then accomplish? Perhaps there are "special" actions that can only be performed if a combatant is "invested" in a zone (invested meaning they stay in that zone for the round).
    * Move and do something: the combatant can move to an adjacent zone and then also do something. I think the thing here is that certain classes and races when in a favourable zone get to move to that zone and also get a "rider" action/ability. They get to do a little extra in that zone compared to others.
    * Focus on moving and nothing else: the combatant is now allowed to move to ANY zone. And this is where it gets interesting...

    Why can't they move to any zone? Is it too far or too difficult? For example imagine you have an Underground Cavern zone and a Perilous Ledge zone above it. Can my character just "move there"? Well this sounds like a job NOT for the zones but for the stuntway joining them. If a zone is too far away or is too difficult to get there THIS round, then it is the stuntway taking the load. Perhaps the character is now "stuck" on the stuntway. They might remain there until next round, or they may have to remain more rounds after that before finally achieving their desired goal of the Perilous Ledge zone.

    Now this can be a little concerning as you are effectively taking a combatant out of combat for this time. You have to make sure that the "risk" of not contributing to combat is balanced by the reward of achieving that zone. Likewise if the battlefield has a zone that is further away, this is represented by the stuntway adjoining that zone but also likewise, you are going to want to make sure that the risk balances with the reward.

    And so, if you want to restrict movement through zones, the tacit weight of this is borne by the stuntways joining zones instead of just the zones themselves. [The interesting thing here is which zone does or can a stuntway belong to?]. However, you can then have changes to a zone such as due to terrain/environment or due to the actions of a defender so that movement always terminates in a zone unless the defender can be momentarily defeated or the terrain can be overcome.

    Just some thoughts to frame the idea of movement and the roles that zones and stuntways should play in this.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  8. Abstract Zones and Goals

    As I mentioned previously and as Veritomancer has excellently explored, I think an abstract view of a zone can be presented. The concept of zone as goal remains strong while instead of the zone representing a place, it represent a situation or a particular facet of a situation.

    For example, let's say our group of PCs are going to interact with a sleazy merchant who they believe has dire information that could save a party they are interested in. At first the goal may seem simple: they get the information or they do not. And I suppose it can be like this... but I prefer greater nuances than this. Rather than the sleazy merchant being a receptacle that can be opened or not, I prefer to put a little life and motivation into our sordid purveyor of dubious items.

    The goal zones become:

    - The information is given.
    - The information is given but is coloured.
    - The information is given and the merchant will not take further advantage of the situation.
    - The information is given and the merchant WILL take further advantage of the situation.
    - The information is given and the merchant will ACTIVELY take further advantage of the situation to the PCs extreme and immediate detriment.

    - And then you have the exact same "goals" or situations but with the information NOT being given.

    In other words, there are a lot of situations (zones) the PCs could end up in. At this point think of these zones as circles on a page; but on the right hand side of the page. How do the PCS get there to that right hand side of the page [and how are those circles organized!]? Well they have to start somewhere on the left hand side of the page which at first would appear to be interacting with the sleazy merchant... but where? On neutral ground? At his premises under his terms? Ambushing him in a social situation not of his choosing (at the mayor's party)? These would appear to be the leftmost of the page situations although I can see some investigative lead-up at play here before you even got onto the "page" so to speak.

    And so now you have paths leading from left to right; stuntways and causeways joining them representing finding out particular knowledge, intimidating the sleazy merchants lackey, schmoozing your way through a third party who has information on the sleazy merchant and so on - each represented as a zone or situation that the PCs may attempt to pass through.

    If you can end up blackmailing the sleazy merchant, not only will he play ball but he will not react against the PCs but he cannot because they have him by the "short and curlies". If on the other hand they end up bribing him, this may present the sleazy merchant with a situation he can take advantage of and can continue to take advantage of. He may give the PCs the information they require but at the same time seek to sell them out because he can and because he can disguise his future influence. Or he may be cleverly threatened at the social ambush and divulge the dire information required but with IMMEDIATE repercussions for the PCs as they feel the weight of the sleazy merchants considerable influence actively sent in their direction. Actions and repercussions and all that.

    And so while this is the aspect of zones that I am least sure how to implement, it is also the one that I think has the most potential. Effectively, it is taking all the promise that skill challenges presented but framing them in their most natural way. Zones can most certainly achieve this in my opinion.

    Best Regards
    Herremann the Wise

  9. I intentionally stayed away from this post for a while to see what would happen because I've always felt that the opinion of the "owner" of a site too often shuts down discussion. I was pretty happy to see people building off of each other's posts and ideas.

    It seems that zones are a damn fertile design space to handle a lot of things in game. So far most of the ideas seem like zones are just a good mechanism to organize and arrange options. In this way, players can more fully realize their options and GMs are encouraged to create more and more interesting routes to the same goal.

    I think, though, that this has two flaws. First, the positive benefits I just mentioned are actually present in *any* system. It is just that they are harder to spot because they aren't as pronounced. So what overlaying this stuff on zones seems to do so far, is just make it more visual and therefore it begs for more detail. So part flaw and part strength.

    The second flaw, in my mind, is that none of this work necessarily comes easy. All of the awesome stuff people have been describing comes as a result of hard work on the GMs part. With zones in combat, I think it comes much easier because it builds on things you were already going to have to do. You were already going to have to describe the battlefield (or plot it on a battle map). Zones actually lessens the burden by ensuring you need less precise detail (i.e. 20' x 30') and can spend more of it on flavor.

    That said, I still really like the idea. Maybe in time we'll come to realize that zones really do lend themselves easily to social combats and I am mistaken. Maybe in time we'll stumble onto a better approach or maybe in time we'll develop enough little odds and ends that you just end up stringing together existing pieces to make something exciting. I'm not sure, but I am sure it is worth continuing to investigate.

    The final thing that this discussion made me realize is, in my mind, really damn exciting. And that is that I think zones could be the solution to a mass combat system that allows individual PCs to interact with entire enemy units without super cumbersome mechanics. That is probably a long ways out for me to focus on, but it looms with awesome potential.

    Thanks for the discussion and please feel free to keep it going if anyone stumbles back here to read this!

  10. Herremann--

    Your first two posts in particular I think are a good primer to understanding zones. I especially like the idea of linking the class archetypes to the primary ways characters interact with zones. I'm reluctant to adopt the 4e archetypes because I think they pigeonholed more than they intended, but I find archetypes useful in designing broad swaths of power. I think my design was already headed in this direction, but with a proper framework it might get their quicker and cleaner.