Saturday, September 11, 2010

Integrating the Sandbox

I currently run two games as a DM.  The first one is my Dead Orcs Society game.  That game has a fairly linear story line.  I don't like to use the term railroad, but the story arc is pretty well defined, and it would throw things out of kilter if the PCs decided they wanted to go off and do something weird.  It's not a bad thing, because my players recognize this, and so we're all in mutual agreement with regards to how that game is going.

That game, however, is not the one I want to talk about today.

My second game, my "small group" game, features just my wife (@FELTit), and another couple we're friends with.  When I started that game, I wanted it to be more of a sandbox game.  I wanted the PCs to be able to choose from several different paths.  The game would play itself out based on what quests the PCs encountered.

The only real issue I had with this idea, was that I didn't know how best to communicate to the PCs, where the quests were located.  The MMO method, where quest givers have a brightly colored exclamation point above their head, doesn't really translate well to the table top.  In addition, I didn't want to feel that I was leading my PCs on by having them just "bump into" the various quest giving NPCs.  I saw two issues.  The first one, is that the "oops, I just ran into you, here's what I want you to do" method is a bit contrived.  The second issue, is that the  method has a tendency to make the PCs jump at the first thing that will put coin in their purses.

The method I hit upon was to use a newsletter.  With a newsletter, I could present information about all the adventures in a veiled way.  The articles are written in such a manner, that the PCs are encouraged to follow their own leads.  Additionally, a newsletter isn't out of the question for a "points of light" campaign (which mine is).  The Old West (before the advent of the telegraph) was a similar "points of light" situation.  However, the Pony Express existed at that time period and enabled communities to communicate with one another.  I see no real reason a small printed newsletter couldn't be transmitted to various communities in my own campaign area in the same fashion.

I think I've hit on a pretty effect method of driving PC activity.  However, don't just take my word for it.  Have a look yourself.  Download the .pdf of the first newsletter RIGHT HERE. (right click on the link & go to "save link as". It will download the .pdf directly).  In order to make a little better sense of the newsletter, here's an accompanying map to the region (click the map to get a larger image):

If a lot of the info in that newsletter seems familiar, it should.  Most of the adventures hinted at in the newsletter are from the "Chaos Scar" series published online by Wizards of the Coast.  Some things have been changed, of course, for my own campaign; but all the 1st level Chaos Scar adventures (I believe) have been represented.

As the heroes in my campaign continue to advance in level, new editions of the newsletter will be released.  In fact, it's quite probable that the heroes themselves will (at some point) end up as subjects in the very newsletter they use to find their next job.

Let me know what you think!

Until next time...

Game excellently with one another.


  1. Wow. This is really awesome. I can see the players referencing the newsletter as they stumble across NPCs (do we know that guy?) and as they venture into areas.

    I may have to use something like this for my DMing sometime.

  2. Anonymous9:24 AM

    Cool idea.

  3. @Sam Thanks! I like to imagine groups of PCs gathered at an inn or samovar reading the newsletter and deciding what to do next.

    @metadm. Thanks! Stay tuned, I'll be doing this again.

  4. Anonymous10:00 AM

    Excellent, consider that idea appropriated, Town and Constabulary notice boards can be a good additional source for this too.

  5. @captcalamitous You're welcome! Yes, a "notice board" of some sort at the local guard post is also an excellent variant of this idea.