Monday, February 23, 2015

Prepping a Sandbox Campaign: Part 7

Step 7: Background Noise

One thing to keep in mind about sandbox campaigns is that the world does not remain static. It must react to the actions (or inaction) of the PCs. This is where the Centerpiece Dungeon really becomes useful. As information about its contents spreads far and wide, the various factions of the campaign world will take interest and begin to act. Your job is to figure out who, when and what you’ll have the most fun with.

Note: I like to call this stuff Background Noise, because it may be as simple as letting the players know that there seems to be a larger population of Dwarves at Blackoak Castle, or that the elves seem to be a bit less friendly or that there is a strangely dressed man at the tavern these days. The world is moving, but the players need not act on any of it. Its just background noise until they decide that they need to find out more about the dwarves, the elves or the guy in the tavern. All of this leads to more information and more choices.

Remember, every choice the players make has a consequence. If they ignore the Centerpiece Dungeon long enough, factions are going to be able to mount successful expeditions and bring out artifacts that will then be used to further their agenda.

In Fedor’s Pass, there are three Jade Images that have been broken. Each is missing one or more pieces that may or may not be found within Fedor’s Pass. These pieces must be restored in order to get one of three keys that will open doors to the lowest level of Fedor’s Pass, The Tomb of the Old One which is going to have a Tomb of Horrors kinda feel to it.

Thus, part of the background noise is going to be these jade pieces. Where are they and who has them? Another is going to be the actions of Scytheback. He can polymorph into a human with one eye. Given his powers as an ancient dragon this will allow him to pose as an Odin-type figure and influence both the Osrobards and the Vasan Vikings (and through them, possibly the PCs). His interest will be making sure the Old One is dead and gone so that he no longer has to operate in secret.


  1. I'm really enjoying the series. Thank you. It's helping me to understand so much of what I'm doing wrong when prepping a sandbox and why the world feels flat, static, and generic. More importantly, it's giving me plenty of practical examples of what I can do differently.

  2. "The world is moving, but the players need not act on any of it. Its just background noise until they decide that they need to find out more.."

    Exactly. My NPCs have goals and plans of their own that (at least at the start) don't involve the PCs. I've borrowed a technique from the Islandia adventures of the early 80s put out by "The Companions:" I create a timeline that outlines how the NPCs will proceed with their plans, presuming the players don't interfere. Once the PCs start interacting/interfering, the NPCs will adapt. Thus nothing is really set in stone, but it does give the players the sense of a living world around them.