If you have followed my blog for a while you surely must have noticed that there’s a certain white whale I am hunting for years now: an old-school D&D sandbox campaign. I’ve made several attempts to get one up and running, I switched around between various variants of the rules, sometimes abandoning D&D completely. Campaigns meant as sandboxes became more regular campaigns, and more often than not, I quickly burned out on running roleplaying games in general.
For years I have struggled with how the get things started. I either didn’t plan enough and relied on my improv skill alone or I overplanned and quickly felt overwhelmed, the fun draining out of me, like blood from a festering wound. But I think I finally found solutions to my problem. In his blog ChicagoWiz’s Games and his podcast The Dungeon Master’s Handbook he thoroughly explains his approach to old-school sandbox gaming and even provides us with countless campaign starters.
The idea behind his “Three Hexes Campaign Starters” is quite simple. You start things small. At first you come up with a short campaign idea. What is your world all about? Then you place a homebase (like a small town, keep, etc.) on your hex map. In addition to this you should come up with three interesting places to explore and place them onto the map adjacent to the homebase. This should give your players a couple of options on what to do next without overwhelming yourself of the players. Last but not least you should have three important NPCs ready: one where the party can buy new equipment and supplies, one where they can sell their loot and last but not least someone who helps them with acquiring new loot. That can be a patron providing them with incentive to explore the wilds beyond the homebase or it’s an old man sharing rumors and legends with them.
You can then expand on this by adding more hexes, more locations, more NPCs as needed. You don’t have to plan out more than what you can use in the next session. It also should provide enough options without paralyzing the players with too many option. If you want to learn more about Michael’s ideas on starting a starting a sandbox campaign, I highly recommend his post titled “Just Three Hexes”.
This is a quick follow-up to my last post. I got in touch with Michael Shorten aka ChicagoWiz and asked him for advice on how to run old-school sandbox games. He pointed me towards the podcast he had been recording last year.
In the 17 episodes of “The Dungeon Master’s Handbook” he talks about how to run con games, how to design and run a sandbox campaign, and many more highly interesting subjects. What I particularly liked is the fact that each of the episodes is about 20 minutes in length. This is enough time to convey even complex ideas but short enough so that you can easily include it in a busy schedule.
I’ve listened to the first two episodes so far and I wholeheartedly recommend the podcast to everyone interested in old-school gaming. Unfortunately he ended the podcast after 17 episodes because of lack of audience and interest. I think it’s a shame because Michael has real talent and many DM’s could learn a thing or two from him. Perhaps some renewed interest in the existing episodes and some valuable feedback from new listeners might make him reconsider.
I really, really want to run a new game for my friends, but I am still not sure if I am a) ready for it and b) what I should pick. You know, I majorly burned out on running games. I tried to take up the gamemaster’s mantle several times during the last months and it always ended in me cancelling the whole thing after a few sessions.
So, instead of making concrete plans, I am looking for advice which might help me to get into running roleplaying games again and I also want to try out new things which will hopefully help me avoid old mistakes. One thing I have been eyeing for a while is a D&D-based sandbox campaign. Since I found 5th Edition too much of a hassle for me, I decided to give BECMI a try. I picked up a POD copy of the Rules Cyclopedia a while back, and I own the various boxed sets in digital form, so at least the mechanics side is covered.
I haven’t really run a sandbox campaign yet, but I’ve played in a long-running Mutants: Year Zero game, which has strong sandbox elements. I’ve also read various posts about how to run hex-crawls and sandbox campaigns, but I am still not sure how and where I should start with my preparations.
This is where I stumbled upon some posts written by Michael S. aka ChicagoWiz. He’s a veteran D&D GM and I worked with him in the past. Here are the posts I recently put onto my “to read” list, and I am pretty sure some of you could also learn from them:
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