Sunday 16 May 2021

Meet the new boss: some thoughts on domain-level play

I've long since lost count of the exact number, but I'm pretty sure that my current 'City of Spires' campaign has now run for almost as many sessions as the 'Team Tsathogga' campaign that preceded it. This has prompted me to think a bit about the different shapes that the two campaigns have taken. 'Team Tsathogga' was, from beginning to end, an extremely freewheeling, even anarchic campaign, with the PCs roaming randomly around the map getting involved in whatever seemed most interesting at the time. In 'City of Spires', on the other hand, the PCs took over their city twenty-odd sessions ago, and everything since then has dealt with their ongoing attempts to cement their positions as regional power players. 

This has been a new experience for me as a GM, as I've never had to deal with this form of domain-level play before. The PCs in my long-ago AD&D games sometimes rose to become high priests and archmagi and whatnot, but their non-adventuring duties always remained firmly in the background. The Team Tsathogga crew regularly took over entire communities by accident, but they never stuck around long enough to actually rule them: they'd just appoint some viceroys and wander off. In City of Spires, by contrast, we now sometimes have whole sessions that are basically just 'upkeep', with the PCs checking in on all their various civic projects and trying to deal with whatever barriers they may have encountered. (One recent example saw them plotting how best to scam an ancient subway AI into lending them a digging robot through the use of rigged customer satisfaction surveys.) They've built bridges. They've set up trade routes. They've negotiated diplomatic marriages. They've organised the planting of stands of date palms and the digging of irrigation canals. I keep worrying that they'll get bored by all this SimCity stuff, but they insist they're really enjoying it. Mysterious wildernesses on the edge of the map remain resolutely unexplored in favour of yet more civil engineering. 

Over the course of these sessions, I've developed a set of rough-and-ready principles for running games which devote a lot of time to domain management. I don't claim that this is the best or only way to handle such situations, but this is what's worked for me, at least so far...

1: Keep the focus on problem-solving.

I think that one reason people often shy away from domain management is because they worry it will make their games dissolve into a morass of tedious accountancy and logistics. In reality, of course, such logistics are absolutely crucial to running a successful polity. But they're also crucial to running a successful military unit or long-distance wilderness expedition, and we never let that stop us when running normal D&D!

If you were running a wilderness trek, you probably wouldn't keep the focus on the exact logistics of pack animals, trail rations, and so on. Instead, you'd focus on the moments of crisis: how are the party going to get themselves and their supplies over this raging river? How will they sneak them through this hostile territory? Running a domain is just the same. Of course, you need a general sense of what kind of resources the community does and does not possess, to keep decision-making grounded in some kind of shared imagined reality. But for the most part I've found it helpful to assume that the day-to-day stuff just proceeds at its own pace in the background until it hits a specific problem, at which point the PCs have the option of stepping in. They're not project managers - or maybe they are, but that's a role they play off-screen. When they're onscreen, it's because they're acting as troubleshooters. 

2: Keep the problems OSR-style

The general principles of OSR encounter design - 'an encounter that can be solved by simply crossing some resources off your character sheet is a bad encounter' - apply here, too. The problems the PCs encounter should never be the kind that can be solved by just throwing more resources at them. Instead, they need to be qualitative problems, the kind of things that act as potential bottlenecks for the whole project. 'You thought you'd need X amount of lumber, but then a fire destroys some of it, so now you need Y amount of lumber instead' may be a serious problem, but it's not an interesting problem. You can assume all these sorts of things are already 'priced in', and are being dealt with by the local management: that the mine foreman, for example, knows perfectly well how to deal with normal problems and setbacks involved in running a mine. It's only when his crews accidentally mine their way into a haunted subterranean city, or when a tribe of goblins cuts off the roads that the ore is carried down, or when flooding cuts off production just before a time-critical deadline, or whatever, that he'll come running back to the PCs to beg for help, because he knows that they're the kind of people who can be relied upon to come up with creative solutions to otherwise-intractable difficulties. 

(Important addendum: this doesn't imply that every time the PCs attempt something, no matter how routine, you should throw some kind of intractable difficulty in their way. If it's the sort of thing they have the resources to straightforwardly accomplish, then just let them have it. But if it's something more ambitious, then they should have to overcome obstacles to achieve it - and the more those obstacles are qualitative rather than quantitative, the more rewarding the resulting play is likely to be.) 

3: Make sure the PCs have access to lots of highly specific assets

So the PCs set a project in motion, and it works fine until it hits a problem that threatens to derail it, at which point they have the option of stepping in to sort it out. Again, the normal principles of OSR-style problem-solving apply: an encounter that has only one correct solution is a bad encounter. Problems should be amenable to PC agency in lots of different ways, enabling plenty of out-of-the-box thinking. 

I've written before about the importance of giving PCs heaps of stuff to try solving problems with, and the same principles apply here, just on a larger scale. In the same way as dungeon encounters are much more fun if PCs are trying to work out how to deal with them with the aid of a fishing rod, a wedding dress, and a box of fireworks, solving domain-level problems will be much more interesting if the PCs have non-standard tools to work with. 'A unit of soldiers' is fine, but boring: if the problem could be straightforwardly solved by just sending in the troops, the middle management would already have sorted it out by now. But if the PCs have to solve problems with the aid of a malfunctioning robot eagle and a sleepy cannibal giant instead, they'll get much more creative, and will feel much better about themselves when they come up with some loopy solution that actually works.

You don't need to tailor specific assets to specific problems. In fact, you should actively avoid doing this. Just make sure that the PCs a bunch of random stuff to work with, all with potentially powerful applications and potentially crippling limitations, and leave them to work something out. Some of these resources can pass into their hands when they take over their domain, and some can be acquired on adventures, or be given to them in tribute. However, much of it will probably already be there, waiting to be used, because...

4: What were once threats are now resources

The PCs are now the masters of their domain. The dungeons that they once fought their way through fearfully, one room at a time, have now been mapped and cleared out. And that means their resources are now available for the taking.

If your PCs are anything like mine, then by the time they acquire a domain of their own they'll already have done plenty of more traditional wilderness exploration and dungeon-crawling, encountering all sorts of weird and dangerous nonsense in ancient ruins and accursed tombs. But while, from the perspective of an adventurer, an enchanted lake of acid is a dungeoneering hazard, from the perspective of a ruler it's a resource. Just think of what you could accomplish with all that acid!

If you're like me, you'll probably feel an instinctive resistance to the idea of PCs taking things that were once expressions of the Mythic Underworld and turning them into military-industrial assets. Resist that instinct. The PCs earned their access to these things, access that they paid for in time and hit points and dead characters: it's only fair to let them enjoy the fruits of their exploits. Let them turn the Heat Metal room into a power plant. ('Hey, free energy!') Let them weaponise the monsters and traps and curses they've long since learned to evade. ('What if we kite the zombies all the way to the frontier?') Let them redirect that river of screaming ghosts out of the dungeon and into the moat around their castle. ('This'll keep the barbarians out!') In this way, all the weirdness they've encountered in their adventuring career so far becomes the kind of highly specific resources that allow them to come up with creative solutions to their civic problems, solutions that would never have occurred to anyone other than a D&D PC. 

5: Simplify factions

When my PCs took over their city, the first thing they did was organise a grand council of all the other local power players to help them run the place. I tried to run a full meeting of this council, with all the dozens of NPCs involved in it, exactly once. Never again. 

When PCs are on the outside of a power structure, it makes sense to play out each of their interactions with it individually. But once they are the power structure, and everyone else has to come to them, trying to play it all out would be madness. Logically, they'll need to talk to every single local stakeholder about each new development: but for sanity's sake it's much easier to simplify all these groups into a few main coalitions, and reduce what would actually be a long series of interactions into a handful of conversations with their spokesmen. All those weird and idiosyncratic bandit chiefs they had to negotiate with back when they were ruin-crawlers can now merge into the Bandit Coalition, with one representative who speaks on behalf of all of them. Otherwise you'll never get anything done.

(PROTIP: The representative for each coalition should be whomever the PCs have the most history with, even if they're not actually the coalition's most senior member. This both makes in-world sense - the person appointed to talk to them will be the person who knows them best - and makes interactions more meaningful, because of all the shared history they have behind them. I have loved seeing relationships that began with cutthroat encounters in the ruins end up taking on institutional significance. 'Hey, remember when you tried to kill us with hellfire? Good times. How's the literacy project coming along?')

6: Don't overestimate the powers of the state

Compared to modern states, most pre-modern polities are ramshackle as fuck. Remind your players early and often that just because they have 'a government' doesn't mean they have anything resembling a modern bureaucracy, with a police force and a civil service and so on. They probably have a stronghold, an army, a treasury, a bunch of advisers, spies, and informers, a network of local 'big men' who can be expected to semi-reliably enforce their edicts as long as they are kept in line with threats and bribes, and not a whole lot else. Their writ may run along the roads and the rivers and the major agrarian areas - but in between, in the woods and the swamps and the deserts and the mountains, there are going to be all kinds of places where state power barely functions, and where adventures can consequently continue to flourish. There are still lots of situations in which having an army isn't actually all that useful, and where it might consequently still make sense to get the old adventuring team back together for another journey into the unknown.

7: Let the PCs enjoy the fruits of their success

If your players have gone to the trouble of building a real powerbase, it's probably because they're interested in actually having and using power. So let them. It's totally OK if the rise of the PCs to power mean that a lot of things that were previously threats for them can now be trivially dealt with. The level of power they wield in the world has just increased by an order of magnitude: 3d6 goblins in a cave just isn't going to cut it any more. 

D&D PCs tend to be powerful, highly competent, individualistic, and more than a little crazy, so if a bunch of them have just seized hold of a domain, then that domain is probably going to be in for some interesting times. Let your PCs make changes. Let them make big changes. This doesn't mean that everything they attempt should succeed, but everything they attempt should have consequences. If their domain has been changed beyond recognition within a few years of them taking over, then that's a good thing. 

You know all those crazy lords and wizards in the backstories to D&D scenarios, the ones who are always building weird strongholds and meddling with arcane forces and making pacts with inhuman beings and bringing about lost golden ages and magical cataclysms and so on? Well, now your PCs have the chance to be those people. Let them make the most of it.

After all, just think of the dungeons they'll leave behind them!


  1. something about "turning the mythic underworld into military-industrial resources" just depresses me, honestly. roleplaying as unwavering goons of colonialism is one thing, roleplaying as their exploitative bosses is another entirely. although I suppose one does lead naturally into the other. I love your article, inasmuch as most of this seems like good advice even for more revolutionary-minded domain-level games, but it's a little depressing how easily we default to imagining ourselves as wacky murder despots and nothing better.

    1. I had similar feelings about his latter-most point, and while I do a lot of domain-style game GMing I try to discourage that specifically. That's just murder-hoboing on another scale, and if that's what a group wants then fine, but that really doesn't appeal to me, personally.

      However, the idea of industrialization of the "mythic underworld" does not bother me as much per se.

      I don't think it has to be military-industrial resources, it can also be medicine or tools of convenience or science and exploration. I think that this issue of a novel but perhaps dangerous world vs. one better understood but no longer as wonderous necessarily can be a really interesting theme to explore.

      But also, the industrialization of these magical things can themselves become a whole new form of exploration and discovery, of a world with different principles than our own to be learned.

      What happens when this polity you've established develops the means of continental travel, or opens up stable connections to other planes with their own polities? Or, it allows for new ideas and new cultures to flourish and perhaps these are at odds with those of the players' order. There's a lot you can do with all this.

      It wouldn't be me if I didn't try to squeeze in a little self promo at the end of a rant, but I actually wrote about these topics as well on my blog recently, in a post on what I call "social intrigue" play, which I think can go hand and hand with domain play but can also apply more broadly.

    2. Thanks for the replies, both. The 'colonialism' angle hadn't occurred to me because this particular game has been very much about a group of dispossessed characters reasserting mastery over their own heritage: the various cursed ruins they're digging through are mostly those of their former masters, and I find it hard to feel too upset when they manage to repurpose the security systems of some long-dead tyrant to serve some useful end. I can see that it could come across very differently if PCs were marauding into someone else's territory and weaponising *their* heritage instead, though.

      And 'wacky murder despots' is a bit harsh. Most of the plans my PCs have put in place have had entirely laudable ends: improving the food supply, de-escalating inter-communal tensions, staving off foreign encroachment, etc. It's only the *means* by which they've pursued those things that have been... unorthodox.

      (I can see now that 'petty tyrants' was probably the wrong phrase to use, and will edit after making this comment.)

    3. Maxcan: Yes, absolutely. I'd even go so far to say it's part of the natural progression of a D&D-style game. Initially the Unknown is threatening and terrible. Then you learn more about it and it becomes navigable and survivable, if dangerous. Then you learn even *more* about it and it becomes a known quantity, something you can make use of in your plans for dealing with the *next* terrible unknown thing. PCs will already go through exactly this loop several times in the course of exploring any large dungeon. This simply expands it out onto a larger scale.

    4. I think your problem Crowbar is your perspective. Sure you can assume that a dungeon is despoiled because it was disassembled and the worked stone inside was used to build a castle or cathedral, but you can just as easily say that the dungeon was a place of chaos and disorder that was transformed into a foothold of civilization in a chaotic world.

      In the story of Tiamat and Marduk, Marduk slays Tiamat and uses her body to make the world. You can bemoan the fact that Tiamat, a beautiful and powerful being was killed, but to do that you have to ignore the fact that Tiamat was a danger to everyone around her, and was actively plotting to harm others. When Marduk defeated her, he did more than access a new building material- he was a hero who saved others by keeping them from harm.

  2. Great post. I have had very similar experiences and thoughts about my most recent experiences with domain play. Thanks for putting this out there.

  3. This sounds like a great campaign, and this is a very informative post. Hopefully I can put it to use next time I get behind the screen

  4. This is all very good advice.

    I think your item #4 above is (as for other commenters) the one that makes me the most nervous. I don't particularly like the idea of the PCs harnessing the power of the Mythic Underworld for their own purposes...certainly not on a large scale. But, I suppose, if one considers them FINITE resources (there's only so much acid in that lake), it's not quite as exploitive.

    1. This is interesting for me, actually. Presumably everyone here is onboard with the idea of making creative use of dungeon hazards *in the dungeon*: lure the skeletons into the fire trap, trick the ghosts into possessing the bugbears, whatever. That's OSR 101 stuff. So why the nervousness about applying the same principles to domain-level play? Is there a sense that what's found in the dungeon should *stay* in the dungeon, separated from the world above?

      I freely concede that I may be in a minority, here, and that my position may well be influenced by the nature of the campaign I've been running, which is a science-fantasy game that treats magic very much as 'sufficiently advanced technology'. A more spiritual / animistic setting, in which the Mythic Underworld might well be the *actual* underworld, might well make it much harder to repurpose random dungeon assets in the world outside...

    2. Well if the dungeon hazards are of the Mythic Underworld variety, then trying to utilize them becomes the players "meddling with arcane forces and making pacts with inhuman beings". Redirecting a river of screaming ghosts into your moat isn't the same sort of engineering problem that redirecting an acid lake is. You have to figure out what's keeping the ghosts there and if they can be convinced to circle your moat. If the weird elements are animalistic in nature then the elements could be bargained with similar to how npcs are bargained with, the screaming ghost moat might only work if someone regularly preforms a ritual to appease them for example. The dungeon hazards could be finite, but they could also react unpredictably to attempts at being industrialized, in ways that aren't noticeable when your interacting with them in dungeon crawling context but are more relevant on the domain level. Maybe several months after the heat metal room power plant comes into full effect the sun grows dimmer in spite of it being the middle of summer or if that's too much then everyone who lives by the power plant feels feels much colder then they once did. There's a lot of weird consequences that can come about from exploiting weird resources. You can also follow the innovations structure of Magical Industrial Revolution, where exploitation of weird resources can lead to an apocalypse that ruins the players' domain and possibly the whole world if left unchecked.

    3. Sure... but all those sound like good things to me! And starting a full-blown magical industrial revolution seems like an edge case: in most cases the PCs are just going to be people with a handful of weird assets which they have no ability to reproduce at scale. (In post-apocalyptic terms, they're usually going to be more like scavengers who've salvaged a working tractor than engineers who've managed to build a working tractor factory.) Not enough to change the world forever, but enough to ensure that they leave some truly *bizarre* legends and ruins behind them!

    4. I think this is an important point, assets from the Mythic Underworld^(tm) are not scalable.
      Uleashing Death Frost Moutain on an unsuspecting invading enemy, will only work once. And after that you have the undead from Death Frost Mountain roaming your realm. You also can't just set up an Death Frost Mountain factory

    5. I do think the fact that your setting is science-fantasy encourages a technological approach to the game world that even a more traditional fantasy would not (or at least not as much), and while it's worth considering how a setting will shape player behavior (or what sort of setting will fit your friends' existing play culture), this is also one of the benefits of having different flavors of fantasy.

      I will say though that one of the great joys of tabletop RPGs is in coming up with a solution that will leave a lasting impact on the game world. It feels like pulling off a heist, I think because it's an experience that's very rare in other media. You've really got to work to break a videogame in a way the developers didn't intend, but in an analog RPG it just takes a little orthogonal problem-solving.

    6. Plus I think almost every gaming group I've been in has at one point or another looked at a dungeon and said "you know, if we cleared this place out we could have a pretty cool base"

    7. Pretty much every game I run at some point involves the players co-opting an exotic location as their base, that's like a core part of how I run my games at this point lol.

      In my current campaign the players have both hijacked an international crime syndicate and use their multinational distributed network, and also have befriended an Arch-Devil and use their off-brand Applebee's / horse racing themed Hell as their de facto base of operations.

    8. For me, one of the great joys of the OSR playstyle is the freedom to mess around with things like a *Heat Metal* room or river of ghosts. Everyone's free to play their game however they want, but personally, I would be more nervous about myself limiting the PCs' power to exploit the dungeon than myself giving them too much leeway.

  5. A moat full of screaming ghosts would probably drive down property values (and make it hard to sleep in the castle, what with all the screaming).

    Thinking about mythic-prosaic dissonance, even though Joseph says above that his approach leans towards science-fantasy, I think a fair bit of the ATWC material lends itself towards mystical perspectives. I mean, maybe I'm misreading? But some of the things going on in ATWC look like the Wicked King or his proxies have co-opted spiritual forces for their own ends in an imperialist/exploitative manner, and the wickedness of the city is to some extent fallout from those processes.

    1. Yes - I should distinguish here between ATWC (the setting) and City of Spires (the campaign). As I've detailed in earlier posts, City of Spires resulted from my adaptation of ATWC setting material to a pre-existing campaign world, which was already established as running on science-fantasy principles. This is one of the key differences between it and the original ATWC, which - as you note - runs entirely on animistic logic, and in which repurposing some mystic remnant would be accomplished by bargaining with the relevant spirits, not by rearranging the magical circuitry!

    2. Ah, I see!

  6. Great post, as always.

    I read through the comments, and I think that the idea that puts people off (I felt the initial pang too) is making the unknowable knowable. But that's not what is happening in your examples at all, it seems. It's easiest to explain the possible misunderstanding with an example, and we'll see if others will agree. Suppose you describe an escalation of danger, like when a troll is eaten by a dragon, i.e. the threat increases rather than decreases even though the troll is destroyed. But you do not focus on the dragon, so to many commenters it might feel like you propose to just eliminate the original threat. Switch "threat" to "unknowable", and that's the core of the misunderstanding. You're escalating the unknowable from what a band of wanderers could encounter to what a kingdom would encounter, which honestly sounds exhilarating, but from your post alone it could seem like you're just trivializing the mystery of the adventurer-scale mythic underworld without introducing a bigger one. Which isn't actually the case.

    We'll see if I misrepresent the commenters or you or both. The above is just my attempt at a steelman version of my own reading the discussion above.

    1. Yeah, that's pretty much it. It's about making innovative use of adventure-level resources to address domain-level problems or threats. The dungeon-delving adventurer asks questions like 'How can I use this wind-up music box to evade this nest of eyeless zombies?' But the adventurer-turned-lord, who has been in and out of the dungeon a dozen times and has long since fine-tuned his musical zombie distraction routine to perfection, is more likely to ask instead: 'How can I use this nest of eyeless zombies to deal with the orc raiders along my western frontier?' What was once a danger has become a potential resource for dealing with the next tier of threats.

      As for 'trivialising the mystery'... I think that usually happens anyway, to some extent. Imagine a magical dungeon trap, like an enchanted archway that blasts anyone who passes through it with fire. First it's a terrifying threat: 'FUCK! That archway just incinerated our scout!' Then it becomes a known hazard: 'Remember, each person needs to chuck a rat into the archway to trigger it, then run through while it's recharging.' Then it becomes a tactical resource: 'Hey, let's lure the vampire into that fire trap!' By this stage, whatever wonder it possessed is likely to be gone: it's become a thoroughly known quantity. The shift to using it as a *strategic* resource - 'as long as we keep throwing rats in there we can use this fire trap as a source of unlimited free energy!' - is less a difference of kind than of degree...

  7. Thoughts of a player, for anyone interested:

    :- Absolutely confirm that I, at least, am loving it. The campaign split very clearly into two halves - a "before", where the players explored an ancient ruined city, battled its hazards and got to know its inhabitants, building up to a coup where we took it over, and an "after", where we've taken responsibility for it and slowly but surely been trying to make it thrive again. I enjoyed both halves, but the second even more than the first.

    :- For me, the key word hasn't so much been "domain" as "community" - I've really enjoyed the fact that the characters are embedded in a community that they (or at least some of them) care about, rather than being rootless vagabonds whose motivations are profit and curiosity. I think it's very much an advert for the "less scope, more depth" approach Joe has commented on in previous posts. If you're scared of running a game where the PCs have the autonomy of community leaders, I think you could generate something more similar to what we're experiencing as players than the difference in the PCs status might suggest, but with a bit more GM control, by casting the PCs as the community's go-to troubleshooters - still answerable to the burgomeister or the mayor or what have you, but with responsibility for seeking out adventurer-level threats and opportunities, and applying adventurer-level skills for the good of the town/village/city/tribe etc.

    :- I don't recognise the phrase "mythic underground" at all from the campaign as I've experienced it. To me, one of the distinctive features of the setting has been the total absence of the mythic - everything, including things that the PCs experience as supernatural - is wholly unmetaphorical and very clearly insufficiently-understood technology rather than true magic. I think this is the biggest difference between City of Spires and the AtWC material that inspired it - if we were playing a similar game set in the published AtWC setting, a much higher proportion of our solutions would be "make a pact with it", "drive it away", "kill it" or "appease it", rather than "smash it and salvage the useful parts to be repurposed".

    :- If you're looking for a fictional reference point, an obvious one is "Interesting Times" - Mr Saveloy's speech about how "You stole this, and you killed that, and then you defeated the giant man-eating avocados of somewhere else, and it's all just wallpaper, but now you have a chance to do something real" perfectly captures my attitude to the campaign.

    :- Tip for domain-level GMing that Joe has been doing, and touches on but I think deserves to be stressed more: keep it personal. The thing that separates an RPG where the PCs are in charge of (or just part of) a community from Sim City is that we keep running into, and care about, the same set of people (and, to a lesser extent, the same set of core locations).

    :- I know about the malfunctioning metal eagles, and they were really useful, but do we actually have a sleepy cannibal giant? And if so, why has no-one told me? We have what I think may be the /crown/ of a sleepy cannibal giant, and possibly also some of his other accoutrements, including a horrible undead shabti-type-thing, but I have no recollection of us encountering the giant himself. Have you just let slip that he may not be as dead as we'd hoped?

    1. No, they were just off-the-cuff examples of domain-level resources that might be both situationally powerful while still requiring some ingenuity to apply effectively. Thanks for writing all this up, though - glad you're enjoying the campaign!

    2. Not sure whether to be glad or sorry...

  8. Another - probably obvious - tip for GMing domain-level play: almost everything should start off broken.

    One of the most tedious games I've played in, many years ago, put the PCs in the role of some of the senior officers in a military expedition. (Part of) the problem was that it was a well-equipped military expedition, with lots of other competent officers, equal to the problems it faced, so there was just very little for us to do, and very little sense of accomplishment when things went right.

    You can see this being acted on in a bunch of Baldur's Gate/Pillars of Eternity/Dragon Age computer RPGs which institute domain-level play - the domain you inherit is /always/ a ruined, broken-down mess; getting it working is something you have to do yourself, through a mix of offstage resource-management subgames and onstage use of adventuring skills to solve domain-relevant problems.

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  10. Hi, long time reader, first time (I think) poster. :)

    I found this article very useful, as my own game is creeping towards this sort of play -though only on the scale of a small village that one of the PCs unintentionally became the lord of.

    While I see the potential peril in allowing the Mythic Underworld becoming the Mythic Home Depot thats not really what any of the examples given have leaned towards. I think as long as using the Weird to make the PCs domain better also has weird consequences that keep the PCs hopping a game will be fine.

    What is tripping me up is the transition from procedural dungeon crawling to the more free-form domain play. I’ve sat down a couple times to write up some way of systematizing the process but I’ve lost momentum every time. It sounds like it’s pretty organic in your game.

    Any interest in sharing your thoughts on how you set up the various issues your PCs are facing now? I’m sure some problems existed in the city from the beginning, but what is your thought process/method of introducing new issues to deal with? Or do you rely entirely on your players saying “What if we could XYZ?”, and then just riffing off of that?

    1. Sorry about taking a while to get around to replying to this!

      In my current campaign, the issues themselves haven't really changed - only the scale on which the PCs interact with them. So it was established right at the start of the campaign that the city was teetering on the edge of starvation: at first this led to the question 'how can we secure food for ourselves', but now that they *run* the city the question becomes 'how can we secure food for the whole population'. There are monster infestations in the ruins: at first this led to the question 'how can we secure our camp tonight', but now it leads to the question 'how can we secure the whole city this year'. A dungeon that might once have been explored one room at a time becomes an enemy stronghold to be stormed over the course of a single bloody day. And so on.

      As well as dealing with long-standing issues, the PCs also do a lot of just randomly poking at stuff, as PCs are wont to do, which sometimes stirs up new domain-level hornet's nests for them to deal with further down the line. And, of course, success generates problems all of its own. When their city was just a monster-haunted ruin, no-one else cared about the place, but now they've turned it into a functioning polity they've attracted the notice of larger forces eager to cream off some of that sweet, sweet revenue for themselves.

      I think if the setting has been set up in a sufficiently dynamic fashion, the campaign should pretty much write itself. PCs cause change, and every change causes cascading consequences. Just let them do something impactful, and then think about all the people and populations likely to be pleased or angered or intrigued or threatened by that event, and let it run from there...