23 April 2011

S is for Sandbox and Sandman

Note: This is the first of two posts for today, because I "fasted" from the Internetz for Good Friday.


Sandbox. The term gets thrown around a lot in the OSR, but what exactly is sandbox play? Well, simply put, sandbox play is less centered around modules and more about allowing the players to go and explore whatever they want to. This is not to say that the DM cannot prepare ahead of time, but he doesn't railroad the players into one adventure by starting with "Ok, you say show up at the entrance to the dungeon. What do you do?" Instead, the DM presents a series of hooks for the players to examine.

For example, in the classic T1 Village of Hommlett, the DM could place hooks like these (all taken or inspired from the ToEE video game):

1. One of the farmers has a daughter who has disappeared. He thinks she might be at a Deklo grove that's rumored to be the lair of some giant spiders.
2. Ostler has a problem. Furnok of Fyrd, a professional "treasure-hunter" has set up a gambling table and is fleecing the patrons for a lot of coin. No one has caught him cheating. Can the PCs help?
3. The local wainwraight's wife was travelleing to visit her sister in another town and is overdue in returning from her trip. Where could she be?

Etc., etc. 

Now this only helps in a single regional area. Suppose your players decide instead that they would rather leave Hommlett and head off for Greyhawk (the city)? Well, you're either going to have to adapt some hooks on the fly or be a really good improviser. Of course, maybe you have a file folder with adventure seeds and ideas in it for just such an emergency.  

However, let's say you've prepared 5 or 6 hooks in detail and the players still want to go to Greyhawk. But it's been a long week at work and you're not on your A-game. You can run something prepared, but improvise? Not today, no way. There's nothing wrong with stepping out of the game for a second and telling your players something along the lines of, "Guys, I really don't have anything set up for Greyhawk today. I'm not trying to railroad y'all, but could you try to do something in Hommlett tonight. If, after tonight, you still want to head off for the City, I can get something for you for next week." I think most players would be like, "Hey, no problem. Let's rescue that farmer's teenage daughter. Maybe she's cute!" ;)

Another good idea in sandbox play is to allow the players to assist you in creating the world; this takes some of the burden off of your shoulders. Let's say a player wants to play a barbarian, but you haven't really given much thought to what the barbarians are like in your world. I mean, you know where they're from and you know their culture is similar to that of the Frost, Ice, and Snow Barbarians of Greyhawk (ref., Unearthed Arcana, p. 20).



Ok, so you let the player create the bare outlines of what his tribe or clan is like, why he left his homeland, etc. Maybe his tribe was wiped out by slavers when he was a child and he was raised in captivity and trained to be a gladiator. Or something like that.

Or, back to Hommlett, maybe the player's are trying to get in to see Burne and Rufus and are rebuffed by the guards who don't want their masters disturbed. One of the players pipes up with "Hey, I'm a fighter, right? And even a 1st level fighter is considered a 'vet,' right? Maybe I know one of the door guards from a campaign or something...." Don't let this one get out of hand, but it can enhance the game and help the player out. Plus, it can make the world seem alive. For those who find it implausible, I ran into someone from high school when I was in the Army on the other side of the world. I didn't even know she had joined the Army! Later when I was out of the Army I ran into a guy I served with, who was California, not Texas, in my hometown. He was going to a local college. So, it is possible. :)

So, that's a few thoughts to keep in mind when working up a sandbox campaign. 


Sandman

AC: 3 [16]                                   Special: Sleep
HD: 4                                          Move: 9
Attacks: Touch                            HDE/XP: 5/240

Weird, extraplanar creatures that are made out of flowing sand granules, sandmen have some unknowable purpose in the world; they do attack humans on sight, however. A creature of any level that comes within 20 feet of a sandman must save or fall asleep. If the sandman touches someone, they need to save again (using a weapon against one does not count as a touch).




But not this guy...



or this one.


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