Today I’m going to talk about Guild Wars 2, the latest game my spouse and I have been playing, and something it offers that can be put to effective use in our tabletop games that usually doesn’t get tried.
For those unfamiliar with it, Guild Wars 2 is a MMOG that has some amazingly pretty scenery, and ArenaNet, the company behind it, is justifiably proud of the artistry that went into their game’s incredible views. This isn’t the only graphically gorgeous game out there, of course, but it is one of the only ones I know of that deliberately provokes players to explore the map and rewards them for the simple act of doing so.
We’re all familiar with the usual kind of exploration – there are hidden nooks and side tunnels that lead to rewards, which we all appreciate for the way it gives us a chance to get extra loot and a better grasp on the shape of the map. That’s nothing new or unusual; even EverQuest has areas hidden away to reward people who put in the time to look for them. Tabletop games are no different; everyone knows you finish exploring the dungeon to make sure you’ve found all the loot before you head deeper or go back to town.
What GW2 does differently is that it actively encourages you to explore for the sake of exploring by placing a variety of rewards across each section of the game map; each one is a reward in and of itself, providing players with XP, Hero Points, and so on, and each map has a completion reward. More than that, many of these reward points are literally just for finding a location or making your way up to a spot that gives you a dramatic view of the area – rewarding you with experience for finding something to admire.
This is something that Monte Cook Games tried to incorporate in Numenera, to limited success; the idea that discovering something, simply experiencing it, is worthy of reward. The light rules and thick tome of world information kind of drowned that out for the most part, and they unfortunately haven’t really pushed it in their supplements that include dungeons.
What we can do, though, is build segments into our games where players literally get rewarded for finding a place or a cool thing that has no plot or mechanical function. Imagine getting a handful of experience because you took the time to go down a side tunnel and found a grotto with luminous moss and a serene pool; have something like that happen a few times and you might well start looking for unusual corners to poke your nose in, giving the GM a chance to show off their worldbuilding and getting rewarded with both cool descriptions and trickles of rewards for your character.
This can work with pretty much any setting, any genre, and almost any ruleset. When your players are out exploring the setting, work in bits where they can go down a side route, make a skill check to find a half-hidden passage, or otherwise explore the world to find something that has no direct mechanical reward other than a dribble of whatever passes for XP or something similar – but enough to make finding the cool place you hid away worth the effort to find it.
Before long, your players will be exploring everywhere they can just to see what cool stuff you’ve hidden in the world, even without being rewarded every time, because you’ve given them permission and encouragement to go faff about like that.