What I Learned at Chincoteague
My wife and I went to Chincoteague Island and Assateague Island for our anniversary, and to say I was excited is an understatement. I loved the book, Misty of Chincoteague, and being able to visit the home of this herd of wild ponies (not to mention a beach trip, which is great) was something I'd always wanted to do. And it was a great weekend, getting away from cell phone coverage, which was awesome.
But I also found myself getting a host of ideas for roleplay campaigns because of what I saw there, and that's what I want to share with you in this post. We will start with the island and its surrounding coastline and then go into the creatures we saw to give you possible elements for your next roleplay campaign.
I. The Islands and the Coastline
The islands are located on the Altantic Coast, and help to form the outer barrier of the Chesapeake Bay, making it a bit of a trek to get to, but well worth it purely from a scenic perspective. Not only are the islands beautiful with the smell of the sea around you, the lead-up to the islands takes you through miles of wetlands, which also make an appearance on the island as well. So surrounding you for miles are marshy tufts with small copses of trees, pools of water, and resilient underbrush.
Now think about what this kind of setting does for a roleplay game. You have vast visibility to see threats coming from a mile or further away due to the nature of the wetland. Depending on the theme of the campaign, you could even have the antagonists always within view, just out of range to fight, providing a looming threat much like a siege force, but without restricting the mobility of the protagonists.
You will also find pockets of tall grass and bamboo-like shoots capable of blocking views, allowing you to set ambushes, use for weaving, provide tinder for fires, etc.
Wetlands also provide limited agriculture and grazing, forcing the party and the antagonists to rely on hunting, fishing, theft - things that make for good encounters and adventures - just to feed themselves and their allies. In exchange, though, you get lots of reeds and mud, allowing for the easy building of weatherproofed houses.
It also often requires boat travel instead of walking/riding to other places, allowing you to do different travel-based encounters and the oh-so-necessary maintenance on said boat, allowing you to add complexity to the planning process of your party. And with sandbars and tufts of solid earth amidst the pools and streams, it's not as simple as, "we go over there": the party needs to plan to sail, then haul the ship and all supplies, then set sail again, then hide the boat while doing their mischief. Of course, all of this could be complicated by flying mounts, so just be aware of that.
Add onto this access to diseases due to proximity to mosquitoes, flies, etc., and you can have sweet non-combat challenges for the party to overcome.
The setting itself is ripe for adventuring, but rarely used. Take advantage of this to give your players a very different, unique feel for the campaign.
II. The Creatures of the Islands
The most well-known creatures of Chincoteague are the wild ponies by far, but they are not the only creatures that make an appearance in the landscape. Chincoteague and Assateague are islands in the Atlantic, with a host of sea life on its coast including dolphins, stingrays, fish of various kinds, and crabs (some edible, some...technically edible but not "good eating," shall we say).
Assateague is also home to bald eagles, though, as well as small vermin like squirrels and rabbits. Add onto this mosquitoes and horseflies (which have a wicked bite, though it doesn't do much beyond breaking the skin a bit), and you have a very varied ecosystem ripe with options for mission prompts, challenges, and potential allies (if you have talking beasts, for example). Which is where we turn next.
III. A Word on Ecosystems
I really should do a post on ecosystems and how they create more believable worlds, but for now we'll note that a healthy, balanced, diverse ecosystem helps make a world immersive. If an island (or region, or whatever) only has large meat eaters (who make for good challenges for adventurers), one has to wonder how their young grow, as there is no small game that can be easily brought in and fed to them. And if all of the creatures are carnivores, why in the world have the plants not overgrown the area?
So variety is important - you need smaller animals to have larger carnivores, and you need both herbivores and carnivores to keep population for flora and fauna respectively in check. What some people forget, though, is that sentient races are also part of the ecosystem. Why would only slow animals exist in an area populated with fast-moving hunters on ponies? Why don't we see more turtles and other creatures with strong shells in places where eaglemen (or avians, or whatever your bird-human creatures are) live, as attacks are most likely to come from above? Find ways to build out your ecosystem in light of who lives there.
Part of why Assateague has a herd of 150 ponies is because of the lack of large predators on the island. Since the largest non-sea carnivores are bald eagles, they have the ability to graze and repopulate, as their smaller size is not a detriment to their survivability. So think through what creatures are in your ecosystem, and how that will affect what species can flourish there.
There's a show on Netflix that does a wetland adventure really well. In Season 1 of The Last Kingdom, the protagonists find themselves in a marshy wetland. This makes for a nice change of scenery from the rest of the show (with the rolling hills of Northumbria and the crowded streets of Wessex), but they also effectively use the wetland setting in the story. Since parts of the wetlands have grass coming up past the height of a person, you can do a game of "hide and seek" with enemies, attempting to take them by surprise to make smaller numbers more competitive.
They add in the elements of disease and travel as well, creating new challenges for warriors that showcases their non-combat skills. This is one of the best things you can do for your players: change the types of challenges, help them to branch out, and then reward them for their creativity in a new environment.
We want our players to not get into a boring cycle, and changing the environment is one way to do that. When we change the environment, we not only help them avoid boredom with the campaign, we also remind them that the world they are in is large, including a variety of environments. So experiment: try things out, and see what works.
Until next time,