Alright so here's the post I'm sure you're all interested in. Here's my breakdown of the DMing side of things for Fever Swamp.
I got started pretty quickly-- I didn't flesh out a lot of the rules or procedures. I knew I was going with an iterative game approach to my West Marches and made that understood up front. We did a first session trial run early on using pretty much just the Fever Swamp rules as written and DCC rules.
Like all my games, I used a constitutional approach to rules precedents: we agree to play as written and in as good faith as possible to the game. Naturally this game creates loopholes and niche cases that require adjudication, but the GM does not have final say-- the group must agree the GM has final say and agree that the ruling seems appropriate. From then on, future cases of that niche will be ruled in the same manner as a precedent has been set. I avoided writing these down-- if we don't remember a precedent, was it ever really a precedent? How important was that rule? It's important to let your game evolve.
It took a while before we were running sessions like machines. I'm here to tell you that if you want to run a west marches game like a machine, you're not gonna do it from prep. You're gonna do it from experience and that's ok! Just play! Players don't mind-- and if they do? Fuck 'em. They're snobs. They're probably not fun to play with anyways.
As I was saying, it took a while before I could get sessions starting like this:
What you're looking at here is an organized table of every PC in Clink. At the start of sessions, players would grab whatever available ships were back in town and put their PCs in them and then we'd get to play. Sure if you wanted some new 0-level fodder to accompany your new level 1 PC in order to eat crocodile bites or get their throats slit or become zombie plant monstrosities, we'd do that, but then we'd get to play!
I'd copy over everyone in the staging area to the Player's Map as the main screen in roll20. I had a boat icon representing the party and then I'd begin to ask for roles for today's session. Roles were XP-worthy responsibilities players would volunteer for to help with play. These are character roles, not player roles.
So with our 5 players and about 15 PCs (3 each), we're ready to go into the swamp. Where are you going, Captain?
A Session of the Swamp
The party decides which hex to go to. You can only go as far in one roll as there is a line of hexes that are charted. Based on how far you want to go, the navigation DC rises. It's 5 per explored hex and an uncharted Hex is 10. You can't bypass an uncharted Hex. In other words, we can fast travel through charted hexes to get to the unexplored ones since you can't skip past unexplored hexes.
Once a hex was designated I would roll the navigation privately using the player's navigation score. I'd announce a success or fail condition to the roll and I'd move the boat a certain amount of spaces to show a vague amount of success. Dungeon Crawl Classics lets players burn their "luck" stat to improve rolls so now navigators have a choice: do I burn my luck now to ensure we make it ok? But what if I get a disease or we're in combat?
A success or failure condition to the roll isn't a game ender. What happens is that I whisper the navigator a failure result from a navigation outcome table:
If the navigator wants, they can re-roll the table but they must take that result. Following that was everyone's favorite part of the session: disease checks!
Now if you fast traveled or you traveled and got the result on the success table that ignores this, you'd have to make a disease check! This is the Fever Swamp after all!
I'd begin to script the montage of traveling through the swamp by generating a few hexes to describe the smells, sights, sounds, and weather of the journey. I'm not a creative person (believe it or not!) so I offloaded this all into a macro.
My all-in-one hex generator macro i dubbed "local color" did this for me.
Here's the dump of my tables:
I fleshed out the existing Fever Swamp encounter tables with some other swamp denizens and a few of my favorite monsters from other DCC adventures!
So to put this into context, the example above? I'd roll 2d4 and determine the amount of dredgers (giant ogre fishermen) in a fight with some undead crocodiles who are undoubtedly messing up their catfish nets. A 5 on the die of fate means the PCs probably hear and see signs of it and aren't noticed yet.
Do you escape? do you ambush them? do you wait and see? do you parley by helping them with the nets? Something else?
Certain hexes in the Fever Swamp would have preset encounters or locations-- Great! I'd use them as pretty much as written. Furthermore I'd discard the random encounter if there's to be a set piece encounter there.
Later in the campaign we introduced escape mechanics. It felt like darkest dungeon in play and we all really liked it. To flee an encounter, the captain must declare the intention to retreat. It occurs on the next PC's action and doable 1/round. The navigator rolls a 1d6: on a 1-3, the retreat fails, a 4-5: you retreat at a cost (roll a d6 for a 1:disease, 2: lost, 3: left someone behind, 4-6: successful retreat), and a 6 is you retreat successfully. A warrior can spend their mighty deeds die to rally everyone to try and get out, forcing another escape chance.
After a hex encounter has resolved, we'd check if we want to rest or explore/chart the hex. If we rest, we get the benefits of resting where we'd recover HP and ability damage but we can't explore and chart the hex. If we chart the hex, we don't heal, (but charting a hex makes it easier to travel through next time AND earns you XP).
Returning to Clink
Returning to town had a similar navigation check only it was done in the open by the navigator. Since we're wrapping up a session, we're not worrying about random encounters. We're looking for the amount of disease checks, really. It seems very gamey describing this part of the game, but there's legit hoots, sighs, gasps, and dead quietness that comes along with each navigation roll when everyone's hurt, burnt their luck, and trying to get home with loot. That desperation is palpable and it's kind of awesome.
Near the end I introduced some more treasure and health rules to expedite play:
End of session healing rules
When you return to Clink with a disease and seek aid:
Add: Town Reputation (default: 0) + Disease Threat (default -2, Spirit Sickness -3) + Fort Save Bonus. Luck may be burned on a 1-1 result basis (3 luck to +3 to this move).
On a less than zero, pick 3, on 0-4, pick 1, on a 5+ you’re fine. Go on your way!
You’re healed but:
☐ it cost you your health. (-1d2 to a stat, judges discretion)
☐ The medicine requires rest (take no further actions in town)
☐ The fever swamp’s temperature raises
☐ you got another disease! (roll now!)
☐ cursed (judge’s discretion)
☐ it cost everything you have (keep 1 item).
☐ your healer demands a quest. (judges discretion)
☐ your healer demands a donation of 25gp (or judges discretion)
☐ you have had a change in faith: --- sold your soul to the drowned god --- you are branded with the sign of the nilfenbergian god --- you must care for a chicken of Manuk --- you burped up some silvery seeds.. (you’re probably fine) (if you take this choice more than once… oof).
new town building mechanics
CLINK: Inn, General Store, [herbalist], [blacksmith], [chapel],[marketplace], [empty lot] When you seek to improve the town, Pay 100gp x town reputation (default +1) and retire one PC. A [resource] is unlocked for Clink and the towns reputation increases by 1.
new custom item requests mechanic
When you put in a request for an item from Nilfenberg with a trader:
☐ You get it but it costs more (25%) and its superior (-1 to fumble results)
☐ You get it next week, but it’s hot (raise Nilfenberg Heat)
☐ You get it next week, but it’s clunky (+1 to fumble results)
☐ You get something else instead Items arrive in one week (following friday)
Heat is a sort of ire and threat that can build up and affect the world (more monsters) or a chance for civilization/clink to be shook up.
DCC was absolutely the best choice for this game. I waffle back and forth on my decision to allow multiple PCs play each week instead of just a single PC.
Magic was somewhat of an issue since PCs could sleep or summon a ton of creatures once per session. But at the same time it led to some REALLY epic stuff, and a single bad disease roll would kill your wizard.
At the end, I just got burnt out running 4 sessions a week for a month on top of the rest of my schedule of streams... I basically played an entire years of sessions in a few short months! We did like 75% of the content in the fever swamp and I had no plans for what happens in the future.
I loved my west marches group, I loved how much the core group loved the game, but I just really don't like how west marches games always end up with just a dedicated core anyways instead of being available for newer players. New players being onboarded into a west marches game that's been going on for a while just seems too daunting for them... too much of an investment. I get it, but I really wanted this game to be different. DCC, more than D&D or anything, really really does a good job letting 0-level PCs and various leveled PCs interact together and be fun.
Sessions were easy enough to run every day because everything I needed to do was offloaded into macros or I just had to remember my notes from particular hexes. Combat was easy enough since they're generally short.
Thanks for reading! Let me know here or on twitter if you have any questions. The final thing I'm doing for Fever Swamp is to be uploading each recorded session onto a youtube playlist I'll link later!
I hide in a cubicle all day until the night time where I play RPGs and other games and stuff.