Dungeons & Dragons Online

How to handle freedom in exploration and subsequent rewards

Hello there.

I need advice on something not exactly related to D&D (we run a homebrew system losely based on D&D), but since its kind of an universal problem, I think it's appropriate to post here.

Basically, space traveling is a huge deal in the campaign. The characters are always in spaceships going up and down and doing whatever they want in different planets. And there's menaces in space too, pirates, creatures and all that jazz. The whole theming is about exploring space, looking for something that will help, of course, save their own planet from the brink of destruction.

If an analogy helps, think about… One piece. Something huge is going on, people are launching themselves to space in search of this ancient relic, and the galaxy is in chaos.

And even like One Piece itself, most of the game takes places on the islands, which in this case would be the planets, and the events that take place there. Space is used more as a backdrop for traveling and we mostly skip it, save one or two slice of life scenes on the ship they're in.

But the campaign got to that point where, now, they have their own ship. Therefore, they can not only do whatever they want, they can also go wherever they want. Of course, they have leads. If it were a Rockstar open world game, their map would have markers that would indicate where to go next because a quest might be waiting there. Which makes things pretty simple and basic, I just need to know what they plan to do next and prepare accordingly.

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But I kinda wanted to make space cool too. And make space exploration a thing.

Allow them to explore shipwrecks to find treasure. Find some alien creature nests that would result in zero gravity fights. Hunt space animals for money etc.

But I don't really know how to go about this.

My idea so far is to create "space charts" that they can buy or find, loosely based on the Shadow of the Colossus world map. Certain explorable space zones divided in quadrants, and each quadrant having something going on about it that they need to go there to find out. So if they decide to explode "A7" they can find a hunting zone and a shipwreck. If they decide to explode "E5", however, they may find an alien nest inside a shipwreck.

I think it's a cool formula (you tell me if it isn't in the comments).But the problems start to show up when I start to consider rewards. Players like high numbers and shiny things, especially sidequests or optional stuff that rewards them well. And I feel like introducing this system would just result in the entire game being about it, not the main campaign anymore. I'm also worried about rewards. I mean, I'm fine with giving EXP and items and gold, but the thing is that they'll hit their caps eventually. It's not really a problem since it isn't a videogame, I can adjust challenges accordingly, but once you're so strong, full of resources and rare stuff you found, whats the point anymore?

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So far, the best "limitation" I found to this is to make everything be very roughly timed. Traveling from quadrant A to B takes X days, and if you don't go check that lead you have for a quest in Y days, its gone forever. Same for the main quest, where things will go very very wrong if they overlook it for too long. But I don't know if that's a good approach.

My questions, basically, are:

How would you implement something like this? You wouldn't? Should I just forget about this idea and pretend it never happened, keeping space a background for travels?

How should I properly reward them for exploring without making them extremely overpowered with EXP from those encounters?

Any better ideas of how to handle the whole space exploration thing?

And, two extras:

If you liked the concept, any ideas of cool things that could populate those quadrants and "events" they could go check out?

A software or website I could use to create those space charts? I could probably photoshop them, but, y'know, easier is better when you need to create a lot of stuff.


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