Thursday, July 30, 2009

Epic sandboxery

Here's a simple formula for an epic sandbox campaign. Start out with zero experience characters and play through an intro module or two, Keep on the Borderlands or something like. Add to the treasure vault of one of the most badass critters in the module the first section of the Rod of Seven Parts (stats for which can be found in Eldritch Wizardry, but I like the associated fluff in the 1st edition DMG better). We're going to cheat and only slip the Rod into the loot when the PCs find it.

Once the PCs have the Rod in their possession have an Elminster type show up and give them the bad news: they are the Chosen Ones. It is their job to reassemble the Rod to prevent the return of the Wind Dukes of Aaqa. The Wind Dukes created the Rod and only one of their own devices can be used to thwart their return. Most of the ancient sources depict these guys as angelic friendlies who used the Rod to save the world from the forces of Chaos. When they return they are to usher in a new golden age of purity and light.

They did turn back the Chaos, but in human terms these Masters of Law are just as dickish as the Abyssal Hordes they fought. To the Wind Dukes the idea of a perfect Prime Material Plane does not include such a corrupt concept as "matter". That foretold "purity and light" stuff was a literal description of their goal. They plan to burn the whole damn universe down to its subatomic components in the name of winning the Cosmic War on Chaos.

As the GM, all you need is a sandbox to drop the rest of the pieces of the Rod into. The rest of the campaign practically writes itself. If you've got Points of Light and Points of Light II (which you should totally own if you don't), just place each of five segments of the Rod in Wildland, Southland, Borderland, the Golden Shores, Amacui, and/or the Misty Isles. Put the last piece in Acheron or that awesome hell-volcano in the second volume. You could even roll dice for placement. If the Rod segment lands in an otherwise empty hex, build a dungeon around it. The net is lousy with free dungeons that could be pressed into service for such uses.

Or you can use the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for this campaign, if you've got a copy. Just roll a d20 for each Rod segment to find out what map to put it on. Map 19 can be found in Fight On! #3. If you roll a 20 I suggest placing the Rod segment somewhere in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord. If you're crazy, use a Traveller sandbox like the Spinward Marches or the whole dang setting and run the campaign in the Encounter Critical style, using EC or Rifts or something as your system.

For added fun, build a couple of rival NPC parties trying to get the Rod away from the PCs, one of Lawful-type Wind Duke sympathizers and one party serving Chaos. If a decent parlay can be arranged either group might be convinced to help the party, since the Wind Dukians probably don't realize how screwed they are if their side wins and the Chaos side's primary goal is the same as the PCs.

Once the PCs have the whole Rod, they have to rush to some apparently random point on the map where they can seal the portal between the Wind Dukes' realm and the Prime Material. If the PCs drag their feet, set a few minor Dukes (i.e. Godzilla-level threats) loose to stomp around the campaign world like the Vorlons in the fourth season of Babylon 5. They will, of course, attempt to burn down all the nice places the PCs have visited in their travels.


  1. Awesome. Simply awesome.

  2. ...and for super-kitchen-sink-lunacy, also have the last 3 parts buried in different eras, so you have to time-travel to get them.

  3. Rockin' Jeff. I want to run that campaign.

  4. LOVE it. This actually sort of jives with a Law vs. Chaos planar insanity game I had in mind for Cyclopedic D&D/Mutant Future.

    @Zak- Yes yes YES on adding time travel.

    The awesomeness of this post has redeemed this week in the blogverse.

  5. Ryan: If you're going to use D&D and MF for such an outing, may I suggest buying the next issue of Fight On? It will have a small MF sandbox written by yours truly.

  6. Oh Jeff...
    My recent skype B/X experiment went so well (with JB, Mike D. and Meepo) that it has turned into an ongoing thing. I am using Doomstones in Wilderlands and you just completely stole my idea ;)

  7. I'm worried that you're reading my mind. I'm currently writing up a sandbox game for my D&D group with this idea. It's in the Wilderlands and they are the Chosen Ones. However, here's where we differ. The Elminster-type will be Anaxagoras, the Great Red Wyrm who contacts them and let's them know what's going on. An even greater evil dracolich has unleashed a contagion which is mutating all the dragons in the Wilderlands. Only the Rod, once complete, can reset the damage done. This allows me to really mess with how the dragons look and act (thus using material from Fight On!) as well as James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator.

  8. This is a seriously cool idea! I may just steal it.

    "...just place each of five segments of the Rod in Wildland, Southland, Borderland, the Golden Shores, Amacui, and/or the Misty Isles..."

    Wildland, Southland, and Borderland are located in different points of history in PoL. However, if you go with the "time travel" idea, that's not a problem!

    Word verification: "bargain"! Just like this cool idea! :)

  9. Anonymous9:43 AM

    You remind me of the Sixfold Crystal campaign I ran back in 1991, which ripped off the Doctor Who season 18 Key To Time storyline, and had the party trekking all over a 1,000 x 1,000 mile wilderness area... the fifth segment, as I recall, was located back in the Basic dungeon where the campaign started. I even managed to rip out bits of the Time Of Troubles modules and insert them at dramatically appropriate moments.

    *sigh* Now you've done it - I have no further excuse for not resurrecting my campaign world!!

    Especially since I've been eying KOTB and wondering where iny my world to place it ;)

  10. I tried the same thing back in the mid-80s (though I called the thing the Rod of Pesh for some reason); thought it was a great artifact to base an entire campaign around.

    However, I did not have the "evil Wind Duke" twist. Oh...and my campaign ended even before the 3rd piece got found.

    With hindsight, I'd make it a straight 6-8 adventure campaign to prevent interest from being lost (the last adventure would be the "close the portal" deal). Sometimes more than 1 piece might be found in a particular dungeon.

    O course, you'd want to keep applying the pressure from session to session (disasters wracking the world and such)...
    ; )

  11. Anonymous12:48 PM

    I ran a late 80s 1e campaign with a multi-part amulet. The DIRECTIONS to the last part were in the Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, and the final piece itself was in a mountainside city which had been buried by lava. I wanted it to be the biggest baddest dungeon ever.

    Unfortunately, the last session left the party 2/3 of the way through Tsojcanth. We never played that campaign again.

  12. As a child of the 80's, I am a huge fan of the 'find all the parts to X' type quest- though I've never really based an entire campaign around it. Ashamedly, I should point out that part of my love of the 'multi-part' quest is based on all the 80's GI Joe cartoons, where almost ALL of them were based on a race of good vs. bad to get all the parts to the *insert doomsday device here*.

    Because knowing is half the battle!

  13. I'm always amazed by your creativity. Nice work again.

  14. I have to say, I'm a bit confused as to how this is a sandbox campaign. As I've understood it, sandboxes allow the players as much autonomy and agency as possible. They choose how the campaign plays based on their own ambitions, goals, and whatnot.

    What you're presenting here sounds badass and awesome and an excellent way to stick it to the damn Vorlons (screw you, Lords of Order!) but it doesn't sound like a sandbox.

    I'm reminded of Mass Effect and other CRPGs, actually (possibly because I'm in the middle of Mass Effect at the moment) - the characters must accomplish tasks X and Y in order to unlock task Z. They can do task X or task Y first, but they've got to do both, and then got to do task Z.

    A sandbox lets people build whatever they wish to. What you're presenting here sounds epic and badass, but not sandboxy at all. When the players are the Chosen Ones, spoken ex cathedra by an Elminster tpe, then it seems like the campaign has left the realm of the sandbox.

    Or perhaps I am missing something big here as to how this campaign setup allows for sandboxy play.

  15. Good catch, Allandaros. The point of this exercise (which in hindsight I should have explained) was to demonstrate an option for use of sandbox-style hexmaps by those DMs not interested (or not ready) in play without an overarching plot.

    Does that make more sense?

  16. It does indeed! With that in mind, it definitely clicks far more into place. Thank you, sir. :)

  17. I don't see a huge issue with most of it though in terms of a sandbox. Take out the "chosen" part and dial down the consequences if they don't succeed (maybe they are just Wind Nazis) and I think you could still use this in a sandbox.

    Just because it is a sandbox doesn't mean there is nothing happening.

  18. Cool concept! Especially how it connects the Law vs. Chaos scenario of The Keep on the Borderlands with the Rod's background.