Retrospective on Island Sandbox Campaign

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LuckyBurke
Gongfarmer
Posts: 2
Joined: Tue Jun 23, 2020 6:26 am
FLGS: Alterniverse

Retrospective on Island Sandbox Campaign

Post by LuckyBurke » Mon Aug 24, 2020 12:10 pm

I recently wrapped up a five month weekly game that I ran with friends over discord voice chat only. For a long time I used to get hung up on props and maps, and after more than ten years I now stand by the idea that using next to nothing means you can create absolutely everything. I did this as an island sandbox and prepped before we started the kickoff session, then did zero prep for the rest of the campaign. Below I'm going to detail my strategy going in. For the most part I just stuck to things I thought were visually or audibly interesting (Crystal Ninjas! Dumb sounding words! Squirrels!)

1. Drew a map (obviously contradicting my original point, I love maps) with all locations marked (town here, dungeon here, etc). Duplicated the map with only the starting town reveled, for the players to fill in as they explore. I did 3 towns, 2 wilderness areas, 5 dungeons (we'll come back to these) Island was called Globduur.

2. Detailed the short history of the Level 0s and main problem (2nd generation of shipwrecked cast aways / fish and food are mysteriously blighted)

3. Detailed, for me, what's causing the issue (Secret subterranean man-sized squirrel people have been growing a sentient crystal militia in order to squash a death cult of Serbok worshipping Snake-Men who are seeking to give rise to Serbok's champion form which is, in turn, the island itself. Some of the Crystal militia have gone rogue and attempted to poison the island directly which is causing the blight effect on the town's food supplies.) I wanted there to be a lot of stupid surprises and ridiculous twists that were only found if the players decided to dig deeper and ask more questions. They were free to interact however they liked at any stage. I did no further tampering with plot other than cause and effect from player actions. It was important to have this noted because it defines how you play each NPCs and their attitude toward the world around them.

4. Defined town names and note details on NPCs in towns. Salerno runs Farmtown, Emmeril Lasagna is mayor of Fishtown. Belinda Lunch's brother was taken by a troll a month ago. Farmtown's food is blighted starting at the westernmost farms. Etc. just to give the PCs something to grab onto.

5. Defined the 2 wilderness zones (North Forest and South Mountains) I found this to be one of the most fun parts as the results of the random encounters became part of the larger narrative. I wrote 12 random type encounters per wilderness area (stumble upon a bog full of harpys, sword found in the stone, ambushed by bandits exiled from town years ago) and rolled a D12 whenever they entered a zone. To get through any zone, they had to go through 2 or 3 encounters depending on how fast they were able to travel. Events and npcs met during random encounters pushed the game in a direction that I never could have predicted, as the danger and mystery of what might be found during travel was both scary and enticing. None of these encounters took into account the party's level or abilities, but I did make the mountains a lot harder than the forest out of a desire to have a higher level area.

6. Design the dungeons. This is maybe the part that was most challenging during pre-kickoff. I wanted there to be dungeons where "plot was happening" and dungeons that were just lairs from seeds planted in towns and NPC encounters (such as Belinda Lunch wanting to go save her brother from the Troll Lair). The players were motivated to their original adventure hook so not all dungeons got dove into.
- Conceptualized each dungeons - either monster lair, faction hideout or location of nefarious deeds etc.
- Hard mapped each one, with elements based on how powerful the world concept informed the enemies, NPCs and traps to be. Included room descriptions, hidden doors, rocks both turned and unturned. I did not plan out actual events in the dungeons, such as a betrayal. This was the most challenging part because I didn't know how the anyone would get through the dangers or how powerful they would be when they got there. It was entirely possible for the party to wander into The Death Maze just after reaching level 1 and get TPKd by Donna the VenomHydra because they thought that was a good idea. On the whole though, they avoided unnecessary and obvious high risk to great effect!
- One exception: I put details for the final dungeon in later on, as I wanted a release valve if things went too far, but conceptualized and mapped it pre kick off.

That's the long and short of it, and seeing it in writing, it does seem like a lot of up front prep, especially with the dungeons, but the investment does pay off later on when you get to just sit down and begin. It was very advantageous as I was working right up to the moment we logged on at some points, and had very little time for any prep between sessions. My final positive takeaway was this:
- No choice is a choice. The narrative exists whether a dungeon gets found or not. Entire sessions were well spent lost in the woods foraging mushrooms and trying to find a way out. Truly unpredictable things still occurred which always seemed to push the story forward, as the evolution of the plot wasn't dependent on place or any one quest being completed. Sure, I prepped a ton of things that didn't get touched, but that part of the world was there to be explored, and still is. All in all, it was a great campaign. PCs operated crystal robots, morphed into snake men, avoided encounters with vampires, completed The Jeweler that Dealt in Stardust somewhere in there, negotiated preposterously high rates on cash loans, and a lot of other things that when I think of them, the thing that comes to my mind is the old phrase "you can't make this up." Thanks DCC for a fun system to play this game in.

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