Using Scarcity, Abundance, and Enough to Inspire Settings and Encounters

Recently I had an opportunity to ponder how economics plays into the development of an area. It was a thought that first occurred after reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond many years ago – but I hadn’t really been at a point where I could ponder how it applies to game mechanics or writing inspiration. This time however, I boiled the ideas down into a comparison of scarcity, abundance, and “enough.”

street-view-abandoned-islandLet’s look at a scenario. I have a place on the map. I know it’s abandoned, but I don’t know anything about it. Where it is on the map appears wooded, with a nearby river, so water probably isn’t an issue. Game is probably plentiful. And natural resources are there if you work for them (building materials, food, clothing, etc.).

So why in the heck is the place abandoned? They obviously had a problem of some kind, right?

If we come up with a list, we see a d6 table –

  • 1-2, Scarce
  • 3-4,  Enough
  • 5-6, Abundance

Now I need another list (d8 for now) to see what we are describing the quantity of…

  1. Food
  2. Shelter
  3. Water
  4. Enemies
  5. Friends
  6. Weather
  7. Supernatural
  8. Roll again (probably others, but we’ll leave it small for now)

At the time it was abandoned, we roll and see that Shelter was scarce. If we roll again, it’s remained empty because Enemies are in Abundance.

Another place might have been abandoned due to an Abundance of Weather (perhaps the area was undergoing constant flooding) or a Scarcity of Food (maybe a group of wolves was moving in to scare off all the game).

So if this particular place has bunches of enemies, we’ll say that the woods are flooded by tribes of kobolds who moved up from the south to escape domination by a warring clan nation of orcs. (a large group pushing out a smaller one). But why hasn’t one of the kobold tribes used the abandoned ruins as a home?

If we roll again, we might get an abundance of supernatural… I interpret that as the fact that the ruins are haunted and the kobolds are scared. That would explain a lot.

The PCs might be in the area and need to recover something from the haunted ruins in a land populated by kobolds (occasionally raided by orcs from the south), but this gives me all sorts of interesting ideas for encounters with only two simple tables.

Great for world building and quickly providing a bit of context for an adventure without knowing a ton ahead of time. If I had a map I was looking at and needed some ideas, this would be a fantastic method for throwing a few dice and letting me get the lay of the land.

What do you think?

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