Monday, February 16, 2015

Prepping a Sandbox Campaign: Part 1

The other day, I started going through Rob Conley’s Blackmarsh setting (which you can get for free here) to engage in a little creative calisthenics by thinking on how I would run a sandbox campaign using the goodness found therein. While doing this it occurred to me that while Rob has an excellent series on how to create to a sandbox similar to Blackmarsh (a map, encounter areas, major NPC’s etc.), not everyone (especially me at the moment) has the time or inclination to do all that work.

Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to write down my method for prepping a sandbox campaign using a preexistent setting like Blackmarsh, especially since it follows in the footsteps of settings like Judges Guild’s Wilderlands of High Fantasy with what might be called a terse style. I must admit, I am also doing this for the purpose of having a repository for the ideas I have come up with because this is becoming a campaign I wouldn’t mind running someday.

Step 1: The Read Through

One of the reasons I really appreciate the terse style used in Blackmarsh, and settings like it, is that it allows me to quickly get through an entire setting with a simple read through. What I look for during this read through are ideas or encounters that catch my attention, because these are the things I am going use as the basis for a campaign. Here is my list after that quick read through:

  • I love the concepts of The Mountain that Fell and Viz. They give magic a source — there is this alien substance brought to the world via an asteroid that crashed into the very region the campaign is to take place. In addition, viz is something that can be found, touched, forged, bought and sold. It gives the entire region a gold-rush kind of feel where greed is going to be a major problem.
  • There are a bunch of potential factions competing with each other over resources (like viz) and territory: The Osrobards, Castle Blackmarsh, the Vasan Vikings, the Grand Kingdom, the Blackmarsh Rangers, the House of the Raven, the Greywood Elves and the Bolzak Dwarves of Olden Hold.
  • The Osrobards are trying to become civilized, an endeavor the younger generation seems to take more seriously than their parents.
  • The men of Castle Blackmarsh are remnants of the long-gone Bright Empire.
  • The Vasan Vikings are refugees seeking revenge upon the Grand Kingdom which drove them from their home, but find themselves just trying to survive.
  • The Grand Kingdom, though the current champion of Civilization who is trying to take up the mantle once lost by the Bright Empire, is still just an usurper in Blackmarsh.
  • The House of the Raven are regular elves, not drow. Their motivation is chauvinism, not evil for the sake of evil. In other words, they are the heroes of their own story — the best kind of villain. As normal elves working for the betterment of elven kind, they can also operate secretly (openly?) within Greywood without raising an eyebrow.
  • The Blackmarsh Rangers are recruiting.
  • There is a bunch of undiscovered goodness at the bottom of the Smoking Bay.
  • The Dragonbone Peaks have an extensive cave system formed as a result of the Mountain that Fell.
  • There is an abandoned Dwarven Hold called Daur Anthar guarded by an earth elemental.
  • There is an old wizard’s tower where an experiment went awry.
  • There are a number of dragons, one who has a great name: Scytheback. This dragon is responsible for the destruction of a settlement which served as a hub for silver mines.
  • There is a hydra that the House of the Raven are trying to use to create havoc.
  • There are a number of Stone Giants that mostly leave people alone.


  1. I've had this setting for a while now, but haven't take the time to read it -- -yet. Now you've intrigued me. If you do run it, I'll look forward to the reports.

  2. A very interesting (and practical) topic for series of posts. Something like "A Sandbox for dummies". ;)
    I like it!