Designing Content with a Hierarchical Graph in Sandbox/Hexcrawls
This is a short one, and I don't intend to reinvent the wheels. Loads of people must be doing something similar, and it will maybe sound obvious. But since some people might not think of those things, I wanted to share this procedure that I use to create and maintain content within a sandbox setting.
The assumption here is that if you have a huge sandbox/hexcrawl, you won't literally write down everything up to the smallest detail in advance. This is especially true of locales, dungeons levels, etc. Therefore, this procedure is to show how I craft my content through an iterative loop as player explore and do stuff to maximize my time and content.
Overview: the goal is to create only what you need in the near future by determining through possible interaction what is attainable by the players.
For example, let's say the players are in an hexcrawl with 10 hexes available. In one of those hexes, there are ruins. Those ruins contain a dungeon. That dungeon has three levels. Each of those levels have 25 rooms with various content where the player needs to always at least go through 15 rooms before getting to the next level. In another hex, you have a tower with an NPC wizard.
If you map this in a graph, where every interaction (generally, adventuring and doing stuff) is one level of the graph, it could look something like this:
- D0 content is 100% ready and on the table
- D1 content is 95% ready and what is missing is dice roll at the most (treasure generation, monster HP generation, maybe monster choices but I have at the least my themes/monster type, reaction rolls for less important NPCs, etc.)
- D2 content is 75% ready. I have names, rooms, maybe some info, but I need to still decided what goes where, what are the entry in each key, etc.
- D3 content have a solid concept and a sketch/plan. For dungeons, I might or might have not done the whole dungeon plan, but at the very least I know where the main rooms are and the stairs to go up or down.
- D4 content is designed conceptually and I know how it fits the D3 and below.
- D5 is an idea, a vague concept, probably linked with D1 to 4 content I already sketched out.
- Region "background" and general knowledge at 100%
- Content for hex 1 to 10 at 90%
- The ruins will have been prepped with rooms, what they are supposed to find, monsters placement
- The dungeon level 1 will have been sketched, and I will probably have done the first few rooms in case they get in
- The dungeon level 2 will have a concept and I'll know where it connects to level 1
- The dungeon level 3 won't have anything if not the idea behind how the dungeon itself could end
- The wizard tower will be placed with all that can be interacted from without, including the guardians of the tower and so on
- The wizard will have been thought about, maybe fleshed out a bit (motivation and so on), but a big piece will be decided later or on the fly
- The tower room itself will probably be sketched out, but without much details