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The West Marches, Running the Game 30

Matt Colville discussing West Marches on YouTube.

West Marches is an episodic campaign structure and play style for traditional role-playing games that was designed explicitly for open table play.

West Marches is similar to a megadungeon campaign structure, in that player characters begin every session in a place of safety and venture into dangerous lands of their own volition in order to seek adventure and treasure or other rewards; however, West Marches games usually take place above ground in a wilderness setting, with players given much greater control about where they will travel and how they will get there (unlike a megadungeon, in which routes to specific areas are limited by the design of the dungeon), so the travel element is similar to hexcrawling.

West Marches is also a play style that gives greater autonomy and responsibility to the players (rather than the GM) to organise sessions.

When the term is used colloquially, it may not refer to all elements of a classic West Marches game. The campaign structure element is more likely to be intended than the play style element, but the term may be used for the play style without the campaign structure too, depending on who is talking and in what context.

Characteristics of a West Marches game[]

West Marches style was developed and publicised by Ben Robbins, based on a campaign he ran of the same name. The definining features of a West Marches campaign according to Robbins are:

  1. "There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly."[1]
  2. "There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people."[1]
  3. "There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that's now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment."[1]

Beyond these, West Marches games tend to include the following:

  • Session reports and other information about experiences are always shared between every participant in the campaign, whether they were present in a specific session or not. This keeps people informed about changes in the game world and lets any combination of players follow up on new quests and story hooks.[2]
  • There is a shared geographical map, possibly an in-universe item like a treasure map, and it is potentially unreliable. This is a way of providing initial hooks to the players, and a place for the players to make notes after their adventures.
  • Competition between players is actively encouraged, particularly if the players' ambition and insecurity about missing out spurs them to go on more adventures.
  • The further away from town (or equivalent home base) that the characters travel, the more dangerous and rewarding their encounters are likely to be. However, this is not a strict rule and high-level enemies might be found closer to home (always well signposted), which may encourage players to return to previously explored areas when they have become stronger.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ben Robbins (2007-10-17). "Grand Experiments: West Marches". ars ludi. Retrieved 2020-08-16.
  2. Tiggerous et al. (2018-04-18). Re: "What defines a “West Marches” campaign?". Roleplaying Games StackExchange. Retrieved 2020-08-16.

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