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Saturday, February 20, 2016


Before we can discuss Chaos Theory and sandbox vs story design, we need to build some sandboxes and quick. Method below is actually used in real life by Wall Street analysts, but for evaluating companies for mergers and acquisitions.

You need a germ of an idea of what you campaign setting will be. It could be a map of the wilderness, it could be a city or a dungeon or a world or an idea for a story in which you players will be taking place. I had an idea for Midlands, and the nature of the world dovetailed neatly into the arch quest for the campaign. Beyond that I started with a Barony, that will be the initial base of operations for players for a while, after that I figured out roughly what lay the North, East, South and West of the Blacklands Barony. I did the geography for the Barony, and figured out various travel times between different locales for future play. Finally I came to the point where I needed to flesh out a lot in an instant. There were warrior houses, thieves guilds, churches, trade guilds and a few other players in the Barony, with the Baron skillfully maintaining harmony among the diverse interests. I needed to flesh those out and stumbled upon the concept Excel Spreadsheet for design.

Across the top of the spreadsheet I put the names of the warrior houses, which train and lead the various little armies of the Barony. These were Sele Baar, Sele Klawu, Sele Heeglah, Domo Nattricks, and Sippe Kottah.

In the left most column I put the criteria along which the different houses will be compared - type of livery, how their warriors are armed, what kinds of troops and how many each, how each warrior develops, for instance, the traditional houses Baar, Klawu and Heeglah are more or less traditional Anglo-Saxon style warriors, but the Snakes (House Nattricks), their knights can fight in pitch dark and are fighter-thieves, while Sippe Kottah are fencing masters who fight with a main and a companion sword, that is their school. Other conceptual criteria would be each house's main source of revenue, some collect rents, others run women and prostitutes, one loots dungeons and trades in magic items, etc; where their men hang out, and what if any, have ties with the underworld. Couple of Houses themselves run their thieves' guilds, as was historic, while some are corrupted by their thieves, while still others are at odds with them.

This Spreadsheet keeps expanding with time like a sponge, and you can have others, contrasting and comparing various features of your setting. One of the most important things is to be able to produce a combat encounter on the spot, because the minute the players want to take violent action and the DM is not ready to roll the D20's, the game either stops or turns into a bullshit session. To avoid that, flesh out the details for armor, weapons, ability and HP for the men at arms, various guards and henchmen which fight and protect various interests in your sandbox. Once you have those in place, it will become much easier to pull out hostile encounters on the spot, as the situation calls for them.  


  1. I disagree with you in regards to BS sessions, and do think that they have their place. Hell, I'm playing one tonight! But I digress; we've got our skeleton and you've thrown some flesh at it. What now?

  2. You miss the point, a BS session is where the DM chooses to run narration over administering game mechanics. Players encounter monsters, and the DM assumes that players will kill them all and narrates over, to save time. You can also have sessions, where die rolling does not come into play, or does in the minimal fashion. I had players sail as passengers down the river on a ship. I covered a week's time in a four hour session, there was a lot of social interaction between the players and the NPC passengers and crew, but little happened in the way die rolling.

    Throwing flesh on a skeleton is cool, but what we are creating are explosions of color and sunburst to dazzle the players, a spinning world shedding magical sparks. Standby for subsequent posts.

  3. I get you now, I misunderstood. This is more palpable. Ignoring the mechanics of the game is pointless, I do try to hide them in the back ground the best I can, and not distract away from anything going on in our heads. I almost always know when we are going to use a little used mechanic prior to play so I'll refresh myself in its usage during my prep, even if that is all the prep that I'm really doing is reading.

  4. DM is really a referee, among other things, and s/he applies the game mechanics to determine the outcomes of events in the story. The other part is the material that goes into the story-telling. Here is a paradox to ponder: D&D and it's infinite number of supplements give you a ton of ways to create a random dungeon and or adventure, and yet, the published dungeon modules are never randomly generated - they are carefully thought out and written. The only guy to try and publish a randomly generated adventure - Ja Mal's Dwimmermount, was a total failure.

    I have seen a lot of DM's who are either tired and/or lazy, and will run a BS session, rather than apply rules and interpret outcomes.