Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Formative Sandbox

One of the best campaigns that I've ever played in was the first long term campaign I played in, back in my first year of high school (1980). It was kind of AD&D*, run by two DMs and a horde of players. We'd invade someone's house for about 24 hours each weekend. The two DMs were busy nearly the entire time. While all the players were hanging out, you could organize a group to put down the atari, pause the Monty Python and go after something in the game world - and the DMs would run it. They didn't, to my knowledge, use modules but their own world, city and dungeons. All of it was accessible for us to explore, though a lot of it was dangerous.

That kind of player freedom was incredible. Throughout the day and into the evening, you'd hear bits of what other players had accomplished. "Jeff and Chris went off to the island to see the archdruid." Wow - what did they do that for? What did the druid tell them, or give them? "Gabe found a secret door to another part of the 3rd level, and there were puzzles that used the pieces we found on the second." There was bragging of accomplishments (in good fun, we didn't really trash talk much.)

I remember one such expedition: just my character and one other, both elves. We purposefully limited our group to go down into the dungeon without light sources... as well as to get "more XP" for ourselves.

Here's another example: We knew that there were other parties of adventurers going into the sewers after an evil cult, as it was talked about in taverns. But we didn't know how to find the entrances. I got two players together who's characters were thieves, and through their guild they found out which of their fences were buying up items from the cult in the sewers. The three of us then cased the fences, found the npc adventuring party and followed them to the hidden entrance. I think we might have ambushed them too - not every character was good. (In fact the mix of alignments made things interesting.)

The DMs had laid the hook out to all of us but otherwise didn't help us in any way to find it. We were just the first players that invented a way to work the hook. Eventually we let other players in on the secret as there were parts we weren't tough enough to take on ourselves. We debated that - we wanted the loot all to ourselves. But the risk of death (it happened) was too great. We wanted to invite a cleric, but he wouldn't come along unless others did too.

As you can tell, it wasn't just the NPCs and monsters that were scheming - the players/PCs were schemers, too. Those kinds of player schemes, which depend upon DM flexibility to player initiative, DM willingness to play the whole world rather than just the established dungeon/adventure, are what sandbox play is all about.

Some of that mystery is lost now that I've had so many gaming experiences. But that "where do you want to go, the whole world is available" freedom made exploration and discovery a part of the game, a reward in and of itself, regardless of the XP or gold found. Gabe found that secret door to the other part of the 3rd level, and in a way that level would always be his.

So, as a player in my current game, Zeyya is very possessive of her map to the kobold lair. Ha! As a DM, I record who knows how to get to the cave of the plant people, which of the nearly 20 characters have a relationship with Godfrey, the village headsman of Barleyfield, and so on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Our Castle Zagyg Campaign

Matt and I are co-DMing a campaign of Castle Zagyg. It is set in Greyhawk, using Yggsburgh as another independent city in the area.

The wiki for the campaign is at Obsidian Portal.

We started it by taking over DMing duties in a 1E AD&D campaign of which we were 2 of 8 players.
The whys and whynots of switching to Castles and Crusades are worth post that I may yet write. I was inspired by The West Marches Campaign and memories of my first experiences playing Dungeons and Dragons in a sprawling sandbox campaign also co-DMed.

Having players that were turned away from the initial campaign because of a lack of table space, we expanded the campaign to a second session. Each are played every other week. So far we have 13 players, one more to start. Some have multiple characters, and the DMs also play when they aren't DMing, for a total of 20 characters.

Redbeard's Gaming Blog


This blog will mostly be about gaming, with occasional other nerdy cultural topics. I've got plenty of other interests, but lately I've been typing more and more about gaming.

Current Gaming Interests
I've been running a 3.5 campaign for nearly three years. I love the group, and I love the depth that these players tolerate and that the long running campaign allows. However, I am more and more hateful of the system. You'll likely hear what I do and don't like about 3.5. You'll also hear me enthuse (and occasionally complain) about this group of friends, and my devious laughter (or painful tears) regarding schemes I'm plotting.

I also play and run in a Castles and Crusades sandbox. It is set in Greyhawk, using Yggsburgh and Castle Zagyg. This is actually where my gaming passion lies these days. This campaign is co-DMed and has a large community of players (14!) so you'll likely hear about the unique situations that brings up, as well as my thoughts on C&C rules and my creative process in this campaign.