Story and Drama in the Sandbox

Some of us see 'emergent story' and we look for it even while we're running sandboxes and dungeons like Castle Zagyg.

Take one of our players, C. C played a human fighter named Hengist. In true old school fashion, the low level fighter died at the hands of some orc slavers. Hengist's role in the story was now over - but wait.

The orcs were using slaves to mine. As we're playing an old school game, C is able to roll his six attributes, pick a race and class at the table. Thus Ethelred is introduced, a human ranger, joining the adventurers that freed him from a short life of slavery.

What is to become of Ethelred?

Months later, the party finds a trail of a different band of orc slavers. Instead of other options like the plant creatures that the party had set out to kill, Ethelred insists that they track the orcs back to their lair in the Menhir hills.
The random encounter of the orcs becomes a plot element that's more important to Ethelred than the original objective of the party. His choice at the table in that moment.

They over come obstacles and other monsters, but Ethelred refuses to leave the trail. Within the dank caves, Ethelred is battered to unconsciousness by an orc lieutenant. The orc is out numbered and will soon be dead. He knows it. He can run if he fails a morale check, but he knows he's cornered.

As the DM, I hold up an 8 sided die and announce to the group. "The orc knows he's going to die. On a 7-8, the orc will call out a sacrifice to Grummsh the orc god and bash in Ethelred's head in a coup-de-grace."

Everyone watches the die roll. It's a 7.

The orc yells out for the glory of Gruumsh and swings his hammer down.

By pure accident, by choices made in game at the table, we've got a bit of pathos to the too short story of Ethelred. I'm no writer and this wasn't poetry, but there can be story in dice and choices if you look.

And yes, after he and the group mourned Ethelred, C got out his 6 sided dice to make a new character at the same table.

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