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Friday, April 1, 2016


By now we have established that to bring a truly two-dimensional sandbox campaign to life, we need a keyed area map, backed with a well developed setting of your own design, that you will know like the back of your hand, and also a Timeline for the place that exists outside your players and is largely independent of their actions. The goal of the campaign, the measure of the players success, is how much and in what direction the players were able to affect the events in Timeline with their adventuring. The players need not be aware of this, by the way. If they develop interest and what is known as Player Agency, they will figure out what they need to accomplish and will align themselves with one or more sides involved in the events.

The one last thing that is left to do is to breathe life into your sandbox. You do this by requiring players to play through the lives of their characters between the adventuring - leveling up, acquiring knowledge, spending wealth, healing, and keeping track of the time that they do. Gary Gygax writes in his DMG about the importance of keeping track of days between the dungeon expeditions for the purposes of keeping track of the party members as they go about their separate ways between the adventures and have to get together for the next adventure.

The way you set your sandbox in motion is by creating a set of random events tables to cover your world. Usually yearly events at national level, seasonal events at regional, and monthly events at the local level of the city, town or village, where the players are based. In addition, there should be weekly events in the lives of your players. This, and the wilderness map key, is your real and only chance to immerse your players in your world and show them what is in it. Does your world have volcanoes or purple mountains? Dark forests or elven cities with landscaped wilderness? Your area maps should show these details. Events likewise, should show off your unique setting. Pick up Gary Gygax's Oriental Adventure supplement, that he published in 1985. In it he invented the use of random events to make the players' setting be reminiscent of the classical Chinese literature that he bases the setting on. He breaks the major yearly events into three tables - Sociopolitical events, natural events, and special events. There are weddings, princely births, comets, famines, peasant uprisings ands visiting armies. This is your chance to express your unique and original setting in terms of major events that happen in it.

The second book that you may find helpful in The Insidiae, which I reviewed previously, the Vol. 5 of the Gygaxian Fantasy Worlds series. Essentially, that book is the version of the Oriental Adventure created for the more storyline centered conventions of the AD&D Second Edition game rules. It features NPC centered adventure design - you create NPC's, give them a role in the story of your players, and the adventure hooks come out of their motivation. I don't like it for many reasons, primarily because it was written by someone who is neither a literary scholar, nor a genuine gamer, so the ideas seem a bit abstract and generic. Also I don't like the casualness in which powerful magical items, demons, and other fantasy elements are treated. Everything is mundane and is taken for granted. Where the Insidiae book works wonders for me, is in setting the timeline for each area in your campaign setting. You get to flesh out the underlying issues and the direction of the historic development for each individual region. When I tested it on my own Midlands campaign setting, it coalesced beautifully with my own ideas about the place and formed a rich backstory for the place, a neighboring Barony to the east of Barony, where players are based. I could also use the Backstory as the inspiration for the random major events that will be scheduled on the campaign calendar, that will include fairs, celebrations, religious festivals, that happen regularly in that fantasy world.

Finally, with the fantasy world in motion, we need to create events that affect your players to distract them from their daily business of life. Keep in mind that your thieves and magic users will be affiliated with guilds, your players will be somebody's warriors or men at arms or knight errants, if they have the money to afford it, etc etc, every player will have his or her routine and some kind of minimal affiliation with the outside world. Into this routine, you throw random events, which cover events at their guilds or places of business, encounters with friends, enemies, patrons, family members - NPC's of significance. Players own backstories are a great source for random events for the player characters - mostly people from their claimed (by the player) past coming to visit them and sometimes player characters' past coming back to haunt them. That is why I say, anything that is said in the campaign is CANON, whatever players want to claim for their charters is fine - exiled princes, demons, sons of King Arthur, it's all good! No need to roll for 3d6 starting gold if your dad is a rich vampire! Of course, a good DM can twist all these fairy tales into deadly and terrifying adventures for players! Another thing I like doing, making players roll 3d6 or 4d6 pick the highest against each ability. Players can roll up a smany sets of stats as they like until they get the character that they truly like! DM saves all of the rolled sets of stats. These all will come into game as NPC's from the player character's past trying to kill them.

And there you have it!

A Sandbox!


  1. I try to keep the players on the run, and formulate the games to be like movies. Where stuff like this is helpful, is between movies. Using the characters themselves to supply the next hook. I also try to tell at least 2 stories at once, the game stories are short enough that they typically always leave loose ends which can be explored or repeat themselves throughout the lives of the characters. I have found that the little details such as dungeon dressing or a buildings past offers some of the most rewarding storytelling elements for everyone involved.

    I have thought a lot about "News" as window dressing. I wish that someone would write a book of little on going stories that one can tell about far away lands, during the writing process, it takes all of my energy just to fulfill my basic needs, I would love to add an additional element that one would here in a tavern or while sharing camp on the road, but I just don't have the mental capacity to accomplish the goal.

  2. You misconstrue "News". Get the original AD&D book Oriental Adventure, the one Gary Gygax wrote. You can get the original one on e-bay for either 8 or 17 dollars. Read through the Events and Encounters section on page 107. The Newsworthy events consist of things liked epidemics, earthquakes, invasions, famines, ominous comets, peasant uprisings, births, deaths, assassinations, new cults, revolutionary movements, as well as the mundane - Emperor births, bountiful harvests, royal weddings, merchants delegations etc. Not quite window dressing - you do your calendar, say there is a peasant uprising on day 157 of the Year, and it catches the players riding along the countryside. Do you see the possibilities for a life or death spur of the moment adventure. As the players approach the village, they see a large crowd if peasants rushing out as if to greet them. Some of them seem drunk and rowdy. Is it a wedding celebration gone wild? Is there a fire? What's that smoke over there? Hay, wait! Why are they holding axes, pitch-forks and god-knows what else? Is there an invasion?

    The procedure is quite simple - make up a table of random events - yearly, monthly. Make up a calendar for the campaign. Pre-roll as if for encounters, say each 1 0r 2 on a d10 means a significant event. You get three or four events, randomly generate dates for them on your campaign calendar. Roll to see what they are and outline away, Maybe there will be an apparent causal connection if the events occur close enough to each other. Whether these events become news window dressing or something lethal to your players will depend on where they happen to be when the Date X come sup on the campaign calendar.

  3. Oriental Adventures was required reading, even years after the book was out of print. I don't think that any supplemental ever did the info found in that book any justice. We used it right along with all of the rest of the 2e stuff that we had and didn't modify it at all.

    I definitely have to get that book back, it is one that is now mysteriously missing from my collection.