Thursday, June 27, 2013

First Steps in the Sandbox

I'll share what I came up with and showed my players last Friday as I try to expand and improve it for our session tomorrow.  We'll be going up to a cabin to play so I want to have all my ducks in a row.  Here is a pic of the sandbox map I showed them:
They started in Ashborough and had just cleared out a Dwarven Outpost last session.  (Though they don't know the weird dungeon was Dwarven).  I told them they could move 3 hexes in a day.  To the east, a wise woman that sometimes comes in from the swamps to visit Moss End has the ability to farsee.  To the west a trading post.  South west is Gilworth, a town known for raising fighting dogs because of constant attacks from the woods.  There are caves located near the trading post and the other two villages.  There is also another Dwarven outpost in the hills near Ashborough.

So, pop quiz, where do you think my players went?  While you think about it I'll give you some more behind the scenes info.  The Dwarven outpost I already had prepared from a different set of friends I ran through it.  I had maps for all three caves.  I had maps ready for Moss End and Gilworth.  I didn't really have anything else ready-- no wandering monster tables for the roads or the plains.  Not even interesting treasures and monsters for the caves.  Trying to prepare four possible dungeons was just too much.  I can see why someone would want to by a product that would have at least the bones of this laid out.

Okay, got an answer?  The clue is that they just cleaned out a dungeon last session.  Heavy with coin, of course they wanted to go shopping.  I should have guessed.  They made a beeline to the trading post and then after shopping for a long time, headed to Red Crystal Cave, explored a bit, got in a battle and then left the cave to camp outside an end the session.  I think I'll just drop some bullet points of things that stood out to me:
  • A player sold a ring of water walking and a wand of mineral detection.  For pretty cheap.  He had put on the ring and nothing seemed to happen but never tried pointing the wand.  I should probably make magic items more apparent- it's the toyness/toolness of them that I put them there for, because it's fun to see players use them, so this coyness of not knowing what is magic left over from my 1e days seems counterproductive.  I did say outright after he sold the things, "if you find stuff in a dungeon it is probably good stuff", but maybe I'll make them glow or something.
  • I have been on a silver economy trying to make gold feel more exciting but it's like swimming against the tide.  Every equipment list I have is based on more expensive prices.  I found I am unable to convert on the fly.  I think I'm dropping that and just make everything more expensive from now on.
  • I know people have mentioned plat mail being easy to get before and boy is it true.  Chain mail doesn't really exist in my game because plate mail is clearly better and only a little more expensive.  I think I might require anyone buying plate in the future to be fitted for it.  And require at least a session's wait before it is ready for the players, maybe multiple sessions.
  • You can see "Beorht" written on the map.  That is a note to myself of the trader's name.  I was picking Anglo-Saxon names off a list.  Afterwards I decided it sounded a little too alien.  I want this to feel like Grimm's fairy tales and might go to English or Germanic names.
  • I told my players that I am still working on my wilderness rules but that there were three simple things I could tell them 1) stay on a road or by a river and you won't get lost, moving away from those and there is a chance you will 2) you need one ration of food a day and 3) you need one wineskin of water a day or "bad things will start happening".  I told them it would probably give them a negative in combat and start reducing their encumbrance.  With a list-based encumbrance this turns out to be super easy to do, instead of worrying about percentages you can just say "you can carry x less slots, drop some stuff."
  • The simple rule already had an effect.  Ashborough could only offer two rations worth of food so the party had to go talk to the local knight to buy more.  Players bought extra waterskins and one was freaking out about not having enough water.  I made it a running joke about her being very thirsty all night :)
  • I already knew this but I was reminded that I need three things to run a dungeon: a map, monsters- including a wandering monster chart, and treasure all pre-made.   I can improv details, atmosphere, dialog, tons of stuff, but I need to have those things as a minimum already existent.  Part of it is that my brain can only do one thing at a time, so if I'm describing the movement through the dungeon to the party I can't come up with monsters and treasures for the rooms they haven't reached yet as well.  The other thing is that I don't want the risks and rewards of the dungeon to be my decisions-- I want as much of that responsibility to be taken by the dice.
Okay, so what do I want to do in preparation for tomorrow?  I need encounter tables for the roads.  This is turning out to be harder than I imagined because it sort of sets the tone and danger level for the whole world.  Is this world a place where dragons can be seen flying over the roads or are they rare and hidden away?  Is this the sort of road where bandit attacks are so common that it is safer to travel through the wilderness than on the roads?  I don't know.

I'm not sure what they will want to do next time.  (I know I should have asked explicitly but it was late.)  They may want to go back into Red Crystal Cave and explore it more since they are right outside.  They may want to go to the Dwarven outpost because they found good treasure in the last one ( a player said this).  Or they might head to Gilworth because I think they are interested in getting dogs.

I need to prepare monsters and treasures for the caves.  I need to prepare a price list/ selection for the dogs.  I though iy might be cool to either have a chart randomly determine the type of dog or let some of the dog loving players choose from a selection, the type of dog that Gilworth breeds.

I would like to expand the map so they start getting a sense of more options.  Maybe growing the sandbox a little each session would be a good goal for me.  I scavenged the remnants of an easal pad from work and can center my map on it and that will provide a~2x2.5 ft map to work with and gradually fill up.

I need to assign health scores to the villages.  I am excited about how excited my players were to that idea.  I wish I had a simple goods system so that not everything on an eqipment list was available at every trader/merchant.  But that is a place where computers have me beat.  I don't want to roll for every stinking good to see if it's present.  Maybe just roll once with a percentile and that item is out.  But I don't know, seems ripe for a mini-game.


  1. I'm curious of your problem with #2, the silver standard. Are you using normal D&D equipment lists or did you create one yourself? Since I make my own equipment lists anyway, I also add a %chance to them to reflect availability. I also have separate equipment lists for villages, town and cities. Pendragon has multiple equipment lists and Bushido classifies goods and has variable prices/availability based on where you try and find them.

  2. Don't take this the wrong way, but it's good to see you struggle with this. I've been spending way too many cycles on how I should run my sandbox and I came up against similar problems. Just helps to know that I am not alone! :-)

    As far the "players are going somewhere I don't want them to go" my plan is to simply *require* that they give me a plan for where to go ahead of time and then stick to it. Yes, that may be meta-gaming, but my time has to be spent on things they are actually going to experience. Good luck, and I hope you'll post more updates!

  3. For random merchants:
    Uses Gold standard, but then you could just pretend it was silver.

  4. My favorite method for magic items is to include runes on them that have the magic item's name, purpose, method of use, creator, and so forth. They require read magic to interpret, meaning that players probably won't be able to identify them until the following session (though my players have learned that having a read magic or two prepared can be quite useful in my games).

    The runes make them obviously magical in a diegetic way that adds to the atmosphere.

  5. I don't understand the silver standard issue. Why not just find/replace GP with SP? So a sword that used to cost 15 GP in standard D&D would just be 15 SP.

    Alternatively, LotFP has already done the hard work of making more sophisticated changes to the equipment lists, is based on silver pieces, has both rural and urban prices, and is available for free:

    Probably an easy drop-in.

  6. Magic Items: Magic-Users (by default) and everyone else (with training) can spend am hour with an alchemy kit, burn about 30 gold/item in alchemical reactions and test if an item is magic.

    Shopping: The below link has what I do for merchants and other stuff. It's likely more nuanced than what you need or want but ought to be easy to revise.

    I have hand-written encounter tables for what happens on roads the further you get from civilization. Maybe I'll put them up somewhere if I have the time to clean them up and re-write them.

  7. Thanks for the comments, everybody.

    @Hedgehobbit: I tend to be a little unorganized and the opposite of meticulous. I do have an equipment list I made years back, but I don't even remember if I translated it to silver or not, I'll have to compare it to other lists. I'm just not sure the benefit for the silver standard is worth all the extra work.

    @Peter: Are you kidding me, I'm happy to hear your comment for the same reason! I tend to procrastinate when I fear something, but I've been making some stuff today that could be really cool as tools down the road. Hopefully make this easier for you and me both.

    @Rorschachhamster: That's pretty cool. It would be neat if there was a simple program that you could enter your own items/prices/availability into and then randomly generate. I guess that's what a web page fronting a Mysql database does, but it's odd that there isn't an app for that.

    @Brendan: I love old runes and writing and if I had a better handle on the fundamentals here I might do some actual inscription handouts. How about as a compromise between ease and mystery, magic items feel warm to the touch under moonlight?

    As for SP, yeah, what about the items that cost cp, are they free now? Just too much math for me to do on the fly. If I'm going to stick with it I need to get prepared better.

    @Pearce: Ooh, those rules look very promising, I love variable charts that differ with the die you use. I'll copy those and look at them closely. Thanks.

  8. Re: CP costs: yeah, free within reason. As a player, I can't be bothered with doing that math anyways and just round up to whatever the main coinage is (there's enough money floating around in most D&D games that it's just a rounding error in any case). In Men & Magic, there are no prices below one GP, actually, though some cheaper items come in multiples (6 torches is 1 GP, for example).

    When I referee, the constraint on these items is more about encumbrance than price, and I think our encumbrance systems are similar (both list based), so I suspect the same is true for you.

  9. I'm an idiot, of course multiples for a silver. I guess I just need to sit down and make a newer equipment list but i don't find it interesting. Thanks for your patient comment.

  10. About #1 - There are two approaches you can take here, I think. The first is to just tell your players that if they want to find and use magic items, they have to use or arrange for Detect Magic or something similar. The other is to give clues, as you said. Instead of something so gauche as a glow (for most things, that is), perhaps have more subtle clues -- warm even in cool weather; made of odd or fancy materials; marked with runes or sigils or ideographs; etc.

  11. On stocking:

    How about leaving the stock unknown until someone asks for something? The shop can have up to X items in stock, if a player wants to buy wineskins, there is a 4 in 6 chance there's a wineskin.


    Shop has 10 stock. Players tumble in and start shopping. Player A asks for a wineskin, rolls 3 on d6, gets one. Shop has 9 stock. Player B asks for a rope, rolls 5 on d6, there is no rope. Shop still has 9 stock. Player C wants a wineskin too, and there can be one because nobody rolled a failure. Player C rolls 1 on d6 so there's a wineskin for him to buy. Shop has 8 stock.

    You can deny availability or reduce the chance for items that probably wouldn't be there. Maybe chainmail has only 2 in 6, plate 1 in 6, and there's no chance for a grandfather clock or greek fire oil.

    A bigger town might have a higher chance, or just multiple shops, or you could at some point just say the player found it somewhere and tick off a stock on an appropriate shop. So maybe this system is best for frontier villages and trading posts, or for rare items where the town only has one shop.

    Stock rejuvenates whenever you feel appropriate - I'd say monthly.

    Downsides: sometimes a player wants to browse and asks you what's in stock - such as your dog trainer or an alchemist. Or maybe he doesn't know what to ask for, such as an M-U trainer offering a new spell upon levelup.

  12. Sorry for the delay in response.

    @Confanity: I think subtle evidence of magic could be a great blogpost /chart. I told my players magic items would feel warm in moonlight, but you could have other clues too. Detect magic as a spell just seems kind of boring to me. Maybe I haven't experienced enough high-level play, but utility spells that let you do things like shrink yourself or water-walk are much more interesting to me as a player and DM.

    @1d30: I think that's a pretty good and simple mechanic. The complicating circumstance is that these players have all spent a lot of time in my city Nidus, where you have to roll to even find a shop. They were really happy to finally be able to just look at a list of stuff. But maybe I could combine the two: a certain list of items but only x number available per session. (I like sessions as a unit because I have no intention to track actual days and months in game, I'm not that organized. The season in-game is the season in the real world.)

    Thanks for your great comments.