The first pillar of my tabletop role playing games – Exploration

Artwork by Dean Spencer

Introduction

When I first started reading the Dungeon Masters Guide by Wizards of the Coast in 2018, I pressed a finger on the glossy pages around the three pillars.

“Pillars, eh? This seems important.”

I structured my gameplay around these pillars, aiming to achieve the perfect balance between the three – exploration, social interaction and combat.

With a little time and seasoning, I developed my own understanding of these pillars and added a fourth for round out what I considered role playing.

In fact, the entire game, from the moment we start to the finish is role playing, the agreed upon space in which we collaborate to assign value to our imagination.

Because, no I’m not really carrying around 10 torches in my backpack. From the moment our story continues, it is all role play.

So, to help me and my players understand the point of the role play, I divided them up into categories or pillars to help the game have that wonderful feeling of purpose. They are exploration, interaction, combat and drama. I hope you may see my logic, methods and how each pillar differs from the other to serve the game’s overall purpose.

Exploration

Not exactly what you may think, although it does involve travel and diving into murky underwater ruins. Exploration is the part of the game where all of the players, including myself, build the world. Inevitably, the players will poke around the ruins, town or shopkeeper and explore. And I have not prepared for it at all.

I try to prepare as much of the world as possible, but cannot guess what mood my players may be in that night. So, exploration is the part of the game where we all explore what will happen. If a player explores a part of the game world that I am not prepared for, I roll dice and consult charts.

You can imagine this is simultaneously terrifying and exciting to me. But rest assured, I keep a pretty good poker face so my players don’t suspect I’m improvising. After rolling the dice, I then describe the results of the exploration. And in some cases, I turn that narration over to the players.

Methods

Roll a d6 for the 6 senses a character may experience. Then roll high/low dice; on a high the sense is positive, on a low, the sense is negative. This gives quite a bit of power to the players and like I said, frightens my sense of control. Luckily, I have pretty cool players that don’t draw too far outside the lines.

Hawkins and Sterling are stomping through the floodwaters under the church. They arrived here because they wanted to see what is inside (I HAVE NO IDEA). So, I borrow a bit of time by having them describe their positive/negative senses after consulting the dice. Moments later we now have a negative taste from Hawkins as he describes the taste of sulfur from the air. Sterling says he saw a positive sight by noticing an old religious relic among the ruins, bringing him peace.

I have an idea – the ruined church is THE haunt of one of the demons they are hunting. It is wounded and hiding. Time for an adventure. The religious relic makes me think that Sterling has found a piece of the McGuffin that I’m hiding somewhere.

Another way I run an exploration encounter where I don’t know what may happen is by consulting random tables. If the players surprise me by digging through the ogre’s lair, then I will pull up a random table, roll dice and help them conclude the scene. I do this with wandering monster encounters. Lately, I have been practicing generating 6 random outcomes and then asking the players to roll dice to determine the result. This really keeps me alert.

Exploration really pushes the boundaries of the game and stretches my imagination. Exploration also provides a way for experienced players to help build the world with the game master.

I hope you enjoyed this post and look forward to reading about the other 3!

As always, may your story continue.

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