Thursday, December 15, 2022

Playing the Sandbox Part II

 In January of 2020 I wrote a post about starting a sandbox game. This was in reaction to some posts I saw in a Facebook group I was a member of at the time. Recently, this came back to the foreground for me when I was watching a Youtube video about the shortage of DM's in 5th Edition D&D. The point the video made was, that in modern times, DMing is a difficult task, virtually all of the responsibility for having a good fun game is on the DM, players have no responsibilities beyond making it to the game. Added to that is the various Twitch and Youtube streams of people playing D&D. Many of these streams are high production value shows featuring professional actors as players and DMs whose sole job is producing interesting content for viewers. This sets the bar very high for other DMs the games they are trying to run.

If I just started playing D&D in the last couple of years and my first exposure to the game was the Critical Roll game run by Matt Mercer, I would be terrified of DMing a game, because there is no way I could run a game of that quality. This is prevalent throughout the D&D community, I see Reddit posts written by players who are mad because they cannot find a DM of Matt Mercers quality and all the groups they join suck.

In this day and age you have to run a session zero for your campaign, even if everyone has been playing together for years, so the players can do all their prep work and the DM can layout expectations for the game. Back in the day, you know how our campaigns started? We sat down, rolled 3d6 in order, spent 5 minutes equipping them, then I would start randomizing a dungeon straight out of the Dungeon Masters Guide. If your character died, you rolled up another one and the game continued.  It became a running gag that players did not even name their characters until 3rd level. In case you think all we did was play one shots, this was certainly not the case, once the core set of characters was established, we would move on to modules or whatever crazy idea I had for a dungeon.

I am not saying everyone needs to stop watching Critical Roll, all I am saying is, lower your fucking standards, chill out and just play the game. If you want to DM but you are afraid, relax, I am here to tell you, if you run a game, players will come. Some will not like what your do, but others will. Even if you start with just one player, run the game. Even if you get six people to start a group and five of them drop out, keep playing. Find five more players and yes, four of them will probably drop out, but then you will have two players. Find 4 more players and continue on until you have four or five good players who show up to the game. Before you know it, you will have been playing with this group for three or four years and you will have a lot of cool stories that will put Matt Mercer to shame. Run the game, players will come.

When running your first game, throw out all the damn books, don't start with everything. Download the basic rules PDF, and limit your players to just the races and classes in that book. I would also download the 5E SRD, this contains more monsters and such, which will be helpful later on. Now get a sheet of hex paper, preferably 1/4 inch per hex, put a dot in the middle, that is your starting town, name it something stupid like Moosebreath. Each of those hexes is five miles, your first dungeon is going to be five miles (one hex) to the north of town. Now get a piece of standard graph paper, each square is ten feet, in the center, draw a cross road, 10 feet wide is plenty big enough. Now on one corner is a tavern, where the adventure will start. On the second corner will be a temple, make it a pantheon temple that covers several deities, don't make it hard on anyone, just make it the Greek or Norse Pantheon, most everyone is familiar with those deities and you will not need to explain Thor or Zeus to anyone. On the next corner is a general store, where the characters can buy and sell stuff. On the final corner is the Constables office, the local sheriff, if you will. You will add new buildings later, but this is all you need to start with.

Each of these buildings will need two NPC's each. Each NPC will have four 10's, one 8 and one 12 for attributes, assigned as you please. Give them names and assign them 4 Hit Points each. Assume each of these NPC's have the skills needed to do the jobs they have with a +2 proficiency and possibly the attribute modifier for the 12 they have. Give each one an appropriate simple weapon, which they also have a proficiency in. Yes, a group of four 1st level characters will be able to kill everyone in town, don't worry about it, they probably won't.

Draw more roads behind these four buildings and add several more buildings. I would not bother deciding what is in each of these buildings just yet. I would wait for the players to ask "Is there a blacksmith in town?" and then reply why yes there is, its this building. "Is there a wizard in town?", why yes, there is a hedge wizard, he is in this building. If they never ask for it, it is probably not important.

Next go to Donjon 5E Random Dungeon Generator, make the following changes;

  • Party Size: Set to party size
  • Motif: Undead
  • Dungeon Size: Small
  • Polymorph Rooms?:  No
  • Corridors: Straight
  • Remove Deadends?: All
  • Stairs?: No

Leave everything else alone. This should give you a random dungeon with 30-35 rooms designed for 1st level characters, already stocked with monsters and treasure from the SRD. This is the dungeon that is five miles north of town. Download the PDF of your newly minted random dungeon. Now you are ready to play, begin your campaign with "You are all sitting in a tavern in Moosebreath, you are having a quiet ale, when the priest and the constable walk in and say we have a problem, a golden chalice was stolen from the temple and the culprit was spotted headed north to the old ruins, we will pay you 100 GP each to recover the chalice.". 99% of the time the players will go for it and off you go. 1% of the time they will be dicks about it and not take the job, in which case ask them what they want to do and roll with it, if they want to flirt with the waitress, fine she will let them buy her expensive drinks until closing time. If they want to find another town, fine send them down the road and give them some random encounters, have them get lost and end up at the old ruins anyway.

Your total prep time for this game should be less than an hour. However, you now have the bare bones of your own home brew setting. You can add buildings and NPC's as needed to the town, you can place new adventure locations on your regional map, maybe add another town with different NPC's. Each 5 mile hex can be an adventure all in and of itself. You could probably play all the way to 20th level with the characters never leaving this area.


Here is a link to a quick and dirty sandbox I setup using this method, total prep time for this was 45 minutes.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.