Krail’s Folly: Pouring sand into the sandbox

In a previous post, I linked to +Jason Packer‘s concept for a Dungeon Fantasy sandbox campaign. In it, he posits a royal command, given by someone named King Krail, to reclaim an area bordered by some pretty distinct geography.

In short, he sketches out a sandbox, evocatively enough that it begs many questions, some of which are always relevant to any game, some of which may be a bit too rich for a stereotypical Dungeon Fantasy campaign. That being said, my experience is that while it is possible to run some sort of mindless hack and slash game, DF supports quite a bit more.

In any case, let’s start with the geography:

Describing the Sandbox of Krail’s Folly

I picture a large land area. The geographic features that Jason describes don’t always or necessarily coexist. So I want something that would take quite a while to travel across, perhaps weeks to months. So if I give people a walking pace of 2mph, and assume travel of 8 hours per day, taking two to four weeks to journey across this land gives something like 250-500 miles. That could be something roughly as large as the state of Montana, which might be a bit big. Maybe Maine would be a better example. A very large area (coincidentally, about the same land area as Portugal) that can be geographically distinct and diverse.

That makes it theoretically possible to cross on foot in about two weeks or so if you’re really focused on getting from A to B.
What else can we tell from the writeup? Let’s recap what that is:

“By decree of King Krail II, all lands east of Frostharrow, from the Gray Marshes in the south to the Granite Halls in the north, and as far east as the Broken Coast are to be reclaimed and purged of bandits, brigands and any fell creatures of The Blight. Any person who can carve out a portion of this land for him or herself and hold it against the forces of chaos and predation for a period of one year shall be granted possession of that land, for him or herself and any future heirs, in perpetuity, with appropriate title bestowed by the will of the king, with all rights and responsibilities attached thereto.”

So, to the North we have the Granite Halls. That sounds mountainous and forbidding to me; a natural geographic barrier. If you have Dwarves in your campaign, they’re going to live here, if they are sterotypical miners and dwellers. For some reason, though, they don’t live in this region. Or maybe they do.

To the south we have the Gray Marshes. OK, cool. Lots of standing water, maybe an extensive river delta. This makes some sense to me, since to the east we have the “Broken Coast.” So this monster land area borders a large body of water, probably an ocean or large sea. Maybe something like the Mediterranean. Warm (thus swamp) and fertile, and thus valuable. That it’s not under “civilized” governance means there’s something actively preventing it, likely.

Mwa ha ha.

We also have something called Frostharrow. Well, that sounds cold, and it’s the west, or maybe northwest, presumably. Maybe it’s another mountain range, or a glacier coming off of a range. Yeah, I like that. Maybe a glacier that extends south from the Granite halls. So maybe we have something like this:

Who’s this Krail guy, and why do we care?
OK, so we also have someone named King Krail, who is offering up this territory. What’s his deal? Well, if this land is so valuable, why isn’t Krail going after it himself?
Perhaps he tried and failed. So he’d like to do it himself, in an organized way, but he’s failed. So he’d rather go to volunteers, in the form of PCs, to do what he and his army can’t.
Perhaps he would like to try, but he’s unable. His army is small, untrained, or unwilling. Even more interesting, he would do this in a cold second, but some rival is holding his attention and power elsewhere in his realm. So his most experienced troops, the hardiest fighters, the mages most deeply steeped in arcane lore are all otherwise occupied to the southwest. The PCs are needed because no one else in the King’s direct employ is available – though if the PCs become troublesome, part of the problem (they turn bandit themselves), there is recourse for the King to deal with them.
Another point to consider is why Krail wants this area cleared out. 
  • He is trying to create dutiful nobles because of factional politics
  • His great-great-great-great grandparents were rulers or nobles in the area, and it’s a family legacy thing
  • The monsters and bandits are disrupting his ability to rule his current area
  • There is a legend or reality of great power or riches in the area – but he personally won’t be getting them, it’ll be the PCs. 
  • +Peter V. Dell’Orto makes a great comment below, so I’ll edit: Maybe Krail just wants to conquer this stuff, because he likes to conquer things, and this area is available. Hell, it may be fully inhabited by a functioning civilization, but one that’s just other enough to look like ‘creatures from the blight.’
  • Another variant that comes from the more scheming version of Krail is that he’s giving those most likely to give him trouble an excuse to trouble someone else.
What did this region used to be like?

One thing that makes this all kinds of fun is if this area used to contain some mighty civilization. Rome at its height or something. So there are tons of ruined fortresses, mines, dungeons, and ruined (or partially inhabited) cities. This gives all kinds of excuses for small “dungeons” occupied by all sorts of critters.
What’s this Blight thing?
Ooo. A source of nastiness. Maybe it’s a particular locale, like the Blight in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Maybe “the Blight” is delocalized. It’s a connection between this world and some other realm, plane, or dimension from which foul creatures spring. That’s your Wandering Monster right there.
This simple one-paragraph description that +Jason Packer provided leads rapidly to all sorts of plot-rich thoughts. 
Really fun stuff.

15 thoughts on “Krail’s Folly: Pouring sand into the sandbox

  1. Granite Halls — a network of impossible passages the literally cut through a gigantic set of mountain range said to have been formed in the days of the Titans. ("I'm not saying the Granite Halls were made by aliens… but it was aliens.) People don't do much in the Granite Halls because of what is on the other side of them.

    "You are in a maze of twisty passages all alike."

  2. Nice stuff. Don't forget the simple version – maybe King Krail is just making a Manifest Destiny type pronouncement to simultaneously get rid of undesirable types (adventurers) and potentially profit by it. It would lead to a lot of easy backgrounds – exiled to the frontier, tossed over the border with an "and stay out," criminals getting sentenced to the borderlands, etc. Nevermind actual volunteers.

    Maybe he doesn't care if it succeeds, he's just getting rid of drunken angry 250 point Weapon Masters in his kingdom. Think "go fight in Syria." 😉

    1. Heh.

      That approach helps explain the lackluster support you'd get – they really want you busy, and to owe them if you succeed. But if you'd just die and take their enemies with them, well, that's all for the best.

  3. Another possible reason is that King Krail is politically unable to take the region. Maybe it's recognized on paper as the lands of another kingdom with whom he (or his superior, the Emperor of Corma, which is definitely not Rome) is technically allied. However, issuing letters of marque is politically defensible as a neutral position. This is a very common tactic, with variations, to destabilize other nations.

    Do this only if you want a background of political tensions, but it could play out in any number of ways. First, it could be pretty much exactly the same, since the other kingdom hasn't pacified it at all either, except that other adventurers you find could have an even more compelling reason to treat you as rivals and enemies. For a moderate approach, there might be small villages or travelling bands of people whose fealty belongs to another crown. Or, if you want to supercharge the orc babies dilemma, these could be actually partially settled lands on the outward marches of the other kingdom that King Krail is effectively hiring mercenaries to plunder.

  4. I love this. The thing that actually attracted me to DF in the first place was discovering the megadungeon as a concept, and moreso, through that, the open-ended sandbox hexcrawl. One of my dreams is to get a hexcrawl campaign going with GURPS, or even better to play in one.

    …there's probably a goodly number of books that could be written about open-ended DF play like megadungeons and hexcrawls. I wonder how they'd sell?

    Anyhow, for a very small contribution that might help such an endeavor, I wrote up some travelling rules, mostly focused on beasts of burden, in this post.

  5. it's always easier to write to a writing prompt than to a blank page. And apparently it's easier to flesh out a setting than to come up with the initial conceit as well. I know that this sort of collaborative world-building is alien to my experience, but it's also very, very effective.

    Doug's version of this game is already different than mine in any number of ways, and that's exceptionally cool.

    (and thanks, I was sweating the scale of the space. It's nice to see your thoughts on that aspect.)

  6. Note that Jason described Frostharrow as a "sleepy village" in his post.

    My idea for why King Krail is doing this is that he just got done doing the same thing, but on a largerer scale. He has just completed a dynastic struggle with his half-brother, and there are a lot of landless knights sitting around that he has made promises to. Also a lot of mercenaries, who may or may not be satisfied with what he was able to pay them.

    Bonus theory: only bad guys have names that start "Kr-." Clearly the wrong half-brother won the war.

    1. Bonus bonus theory: he's obviously the evil half-brother of King Karl and lost the struggle. He managed to flee with the help of the barbarian kings to a new realm just this side of the impenetrable Granite Halls. The village of Frostharrow is on the edge of his domain.

      The motive for exploration is simple: the lands out there are unknown, and the barbarians are not pacified. Plus, it is whispered there are worse threats beyond the mountains…

    2. So Krail is king only by his own say-so, and he's struggling to carve out a turf in this wasteland just like everybody else? Hmm, I like it. The PCs will have to decide if they back Krail, side with King Karl instead, or just ignore them both and go their own way.

  7. * First, my end results.
    * Second, another chance to toot my own horn: this is my attempt to make more formal rules for this kind of thing.
    * The best guide for this is Robert Conley's. It's a good walk-through, though I had to grab loads and loads of things off just to make those urban encounters, and I'm still not satisfied.
    * The other site that was really, really useful was the Welsh Piper's. It helped me roll up the major and minor encounters, more than anything, and I used Conley to set out settlements.
    * Jeff Rients has twenty questions that also focus small-form worldbuilding in D&D-type games.

    Sorry for all the earlier attempts; I keep screwing up these links.

  8. I was reading rules to the Dragon Age RPG and watching the Tabletop Episode on it, all while thinking, I would love to run my own world with these rules. Then it just hit me, I think this map and a modification of Krail's Folly is the way to go. Just need 2-3 players now. And time.


    1. If I run it, it will DEFINITELY be VTT.

      There are some things going on (not bad things, just things) that will shake up my current gaming schedule, and the answer may well be "run a game of my own."

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