Friday, 7 July 2017

Generating the Infinite River

A long time ago I wrote a blog entry about exploring an infinite river. I've always had it in mind to take that idea somewhere, wherever it may be. The answer: probably nowhere, but at least in theory there could be a game lost in the tributaries.

The PCs start off at an original base in a port on the river. From there, they can explore. They do this hex by hex, with a method for procedurally generating hexes and their contents as necessary. Every six miles (or twenty miles or whatever) there is a new hex with new contents - geography, adventure locales, settlements, etc.

What I hadn't realised at the time but which is increasingly clear to me is that the only way that this can really make sense conceptually is if the PCs are only able to move downstream from a location upriver (perhaps because the flow of the current is so strong it's impossible to row or sail against it for any length of time). This is because the inhabitants of each hex, which are procedurally generated, can be fairly easily created so that they have knowledge of what's upstream (because the DM and players know this also) but not what's downstream (because that hasn't been generated yet). In other words, since every downstream hex is not generated until the PCs actually go there, the inhabitants of existing hexes can't really have any interactions with the inhabitants of downstream hexes. Only upstream ones. This means the flow of traffic/exploration must all be downstream.

What this means, of course, is that the Infinite River never reaches the sea. The question then becomes: is there a sea at all? I leave that question to the philosophers.

13 comments:

  1. Well, there's precedent for it not hitting the ocean. There's Farmer's Riverboat series.

    Also, say the river is a big (really, really big) loop. Who's to say they'll recognize where they started by the time they get back.

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    1. I never read the Farmer books. I really don't like his fiction - I think thanks to trying to force my way through "Riders of the Purple Wage".

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  2. Clearly there was never any Sea, only the Ocean. For the Ocean is the place where we all end, thus it is equivalent to Time. For all things fall into the depths of time, and all things are born within its cold womb. The Sea is just a term used by those who cannot understand the Ocean.

    But if something is infinite, then it has no beginning, because then it would have to be created, and no end, otherwise it would cease. So the Infinite River cannot be connected to the Sea. It is not actually a river at all, but something much older. Thus, the river does not flow to the Sea, or even the Ocean. It flows to the Beyond.

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  3. I think you are describing more of an infinite sea, with a current, and island locations, because if it is a river there's no particular reason people couldn't travel up and down by land.

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    1. That is actually a really good point. Maybe travelling by land is just really difficult for some reason...thick, near impenetrable forest?

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    2. For pre industrial societies, particularly in tropical conditions, the friction of terrain was a formidable obstacle. Check out James Scott's The Art of not Being Governed, chapter 2. Rivers were really important means of conveyance, and moving upriver was well-nigh impossible in certain conditions. Also, I trust you've watched Aguirre, the Wrath of God, directed by Herzog? The book on which it is based (in Spanish) would give you plenty of ideas, including on the idea of the existence (or not) of the sea...

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  4. Or perhaps, after far enough, the river transforms and dives down into the ocean ... The BBC wrote about undersea rivers of silt. http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170706-the-mystery-of-the-massive-deep-sea-rivers

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  5. There's a book series called "The Swan's War Saga" by Sean Russel, it's an interesting read on its own, though things kind of become a mess structure wise before the end. The reason it's relevant though is the whole story takes place in a valley bisected by a large winding river. Interestingly though the river winds through time and space in a way that's much more dramatic than the standard pull of gravity.

    So it turns out in the story that the river is a wizard, he was some big wizard, like one of the first, and when he realized that basically he and people like him were just going to doom the world with their magic bullshit he put himself to sleep and became the river. He also had three kids who he gave powerful gifts who do end up causing a bunch of trouble, but they don't really matter. So the river is an ancient godlike wizard's brain basically and flows through worlds and even back and forth through time, as you are kind of travelling through his memories and using them as a bridge across times. But some of the places the river takes people are essentially insane dreams of the wizards sleeping mind. So sometimes it just takes you down the way to the next village and other times it takes you to a world of gray mist with giant pillars that seem to have giant fossilized creatures in them. It can even take you back up river, in the story there's a large whirlpool in one section that the protagonists have to navigate twice one time right after the other because the river was in a bad mood.

    So I put it in my game and I kind of randomized it but only between a couple options for a test run and it was really fun. My players were so happy to get off of it, but also were really tempted to continue travelling just to see where they ended up next. In the book there are a few characters who can hear the wizards whispering thoughts in the sound of the river (I made it a group of halflings, the book makes it the "not elves/gypsies" that seem to pop up in fantasy all the time.) and they can steer you a relatively safe course up and down the river, even taking you through sections that end up up river but follow the current because it's a different world. The other neat thing is the river moves location, so if you go too far from the river without a guide or just take too long you might not find it where you left it. My players ended up in faerie land, a prison world and the shadowfell and surprisingly nobody died, though one player drank the water and went mad in fairy land due to his own existence being a disgusting sloshing abomination compared to it's beauty and another decided to smoke fairy tree sap and had a heart attack before essentially becoming an entire universe from it's big bang to it's heat death and waking up with the worst hangover of all time.

    Anyways, I can't see a reason that you couldn't just keep randomizing options forever and just have the river taking you to different worlds/dreams of the wizard. It could even have a red king thing going where if you needed a meta plot someones trying to wake up the wizard thus destroying the bridge between all of these worlds.

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    1. I love that kind of stuff. I'll have to check it out - thanks.

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  6. You can find inspiration in the various quests for the source of the Nile. That river was explored upstream, with many false leads, exploring side streams, encountering new lands etc.

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  7. Another good real-life source of inspiration could be the various explorations along the Congo river.

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    1. Or "River of Doubt", the newer one about Theodore Roosevelt's exploration of the Amazon after his lost bid for presidency. It's proving to be a pretty good read.

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