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.
Net/net
This simple one-paragraph description that +Jason Packer provided leads rapidly to all sorts of plot-rich thoughts. 
Really fun stuff.

Thursday is GURPS-day, and +Jason Packer just threw down the gauntlet. In one paragraph, plus some short supporting details, he sketched out enough of a compelling sandbox game intro to make me want to start running this exact setting in a game of my own.

I love it. I love it so much that I will repost the first paragraph (with Jason’s permission) and make adulatory comments.

“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.”

OK, why is this awesome?

  • It immediately sets the boundaries, geographically, of the campaign. The GM has just said “I’m going to give you a map of the area, and if you want to explore beyond it, you’re dumb.” The King has offered estates and title to anyone who can take and hold land in this area, but no other. There’s simply no reason to leave the sandbox. 
  • Part of the genre convention of DF is a very Munchkin-like “kill the bad guys and take their stuff.” This Royal Dispensation tells you that all brigands and foul creatures in this area are “Other” by law, and it’s not just genre convention but your Solemn Duty as a Subject of the Realm to kick ass and take names
  • It sets up that “Fell Creatures of the Blight” are involved. So, look, monsters exist, no surprise.
  • There’s built-in continuity. Once you take land, you have to hold it. 
Seriously: I want to run this.

GM: +Nathan Joy
Players: +Douglas Cole , +Mark Langsdorf , +Kevin Smyth , +Theodore Briggs , +Emily Smirle
Reference for this game 

We start in media res. There’s no Ravenscraeg 3 because I didn’t write up last Thursday’s game. We’d gone upstairs in the tower, and been jumped by a bunch of demon ninja or something. Then a few air elementals showed up, and then Thumvar, the Knight, went up some stairs and found a bloodraven, who threatened him in plain language.

Two air elementals, called Stormy2 and Stormy3 are in the local area. Cadmus had just done Protection from Evil (Enhanced), causing all of the pesky Ninjas – some sort of demonic bird-thing with supernatural durability  – to jump out of far-too-convenient windows. Thumvar, our Knight, had wandered upstairs, and managed to likely walk into the Big Boss encounter with a really big “bloodraven.”

Who immediately cast a spell at him. Unknown effect. Stormy2 throws air back at Brother Michel – a cone attack. Stormy3 fires off a lightning spell at Brody’s flank. It hits for a graze, and the graze, at half damage is still 3d6 (2) burn surge, roll of 16. He’s on the ground, stunned, suffering a major wound.

Yow. Things are not starting off well for Team Ameiko.

Staver does an acrobatic flippy thing over or through Cadmus to get into the room, off the stairs. Lucky him. In the Out-of-Character chat window, we all start fretting about our inability to damage or injury translucent air elementals. Time to seriously think about how we effectively deal with various DF-style threats that don’t respond well to bifurcation via axes.

Thumvar activates the Magic Resistance on his own Named Possession, Svalinn the Axe. Cadmus steps and prays for generic intervention from Pharasma against air elementals. Michel casts a 2d explosive fireball, which will do stuff next turn.

Thumvar gets pecked at by a “black shape,” presumably some sort of construct or spell. Thumvar blocks, which triggers the spell. Some discussion ensues about resisted spells and the general complexity and poor integration of GURPS Magic. There’s an initial roll to cast the spell, and then resisted spells get a second roll. OK, good, important safety tip.

We debate what Thumvar’s about to get nailed with after he fails his roll. The effects bear repeating in full:

You suddenly feel unpleasantly warm. You are Nauseated: you have -2 to all attrib-ute and skill rolls, and -1 to active defenses. As well, roll vs. HT after you eat, are exposed to a foul odor, fail a Fright Check, or are stunned, and every hour in free fall or in any situa-tion where you might suffer motion sickness. A rich meal in the past hour gives -2; anti-nausea remedies give +2. On a failure, you vomit for (25 – HT) seconds – treat as Retching, below. More fun will occur on your turn.

Um. Yow.

Stormy2 drifts closer to Michel and hits him with a horizontal cyclone, which knocks him back a hex. No real impact otherwise, so that’s at least not too bad. Stormy3 chucks an unwelcome lightning bolt at Cadmus, who manages to dodge out of the way.

Brody recovers from his stun, but pretends to still be stunned with an Acting roll. Staver charges up the stairs to shoot arrows at the bloodraven. Thumvar charges up the stairs as well, looking to smite some bloodraven butt.

Cadmus’ turn comes along, and we see what Pharasma has to say in response to his prayer. The entire group feels a tremendous pressure, as with the gaze of, well, a God. Staver, our Infernal, feels like he’s covered in bees. Yucky. Figuring Gods help those who help themselves, he also swings at the elementals torso. And the axe hits the elemental like hitting a tree. The elemental disappears into mist. Yay, Holy Pharasma.

Michel tosses his explosive fireball at the other elemental, and hits it in the face. Vaporized. Fire and Divine Assistance for the win. That’s good: 6d lightning bolts are No Fun.

That leaves the bloodraven and some missing demon ninjas.

…and a bloodthirsty swarm of ravens. Sigh. Why does it always have to be birds. Fortunately, when they swarm around Staver, she’s covered in enough DR to ignore their pecking, at least this turn. Brody chucks a ninja flashbomb, which blinds the swarm, but not the rest of us, and the swarm flaps around confused. Staver leaps backwards, draws a 3d explosive fireball arrow found in a previous adventure, and hits for 10 points, x3 for internal. Kaboom, burning feathers are all that remain.

Staver: “I need more of those.”

Indeed.

Thumvar continues to fight off nausea, and looks around, since our bloodraven quarry seems to have gone missing. Crap. Invisible birds? Teleport? He passes, more or less, and Cadmus starts to head up the stairs. Michel fast-draws a healing potion, and Brody likewise tries (and fails) to Fast-Draw a Healing Stone.

Brody then notices the formerly missing bird-ninja, popping up conveniently (for them) behind various PCs on the lower floor. Staver gets stabbed for 8 imp, while Michel, who is perceptive enough to get a defense, but not agile enough to dodge, gets nailed for 14 injury. Naturally, the weapons are poisoned; Staver gets hit for 4 toxic damage, while Michel, who made his HT roll to resist poison, takes the minimum 1 point of damage. Dwarven constitution for the win.

Guess Cadmus shoulda stayed downstairs. These are demon ninjas, so his Smite (auto-hit 2d burn to all malign supernatural creatures in 4 yard radius) might come in handy.

Thumvar is still rolling HT each turn for nausea from the bloodraven spell, and goes 3-for-3 in making is roll. Cadmus fails to notice anything upstairs, hears the pained screams from downstairs, and books back down. Getting his exorcise. Get it? Exorcise?

Well, Staver’s an infernal, so I can’t Smite near him. So I Heroic Charge, and wind up right behind the guy who just stabbed Brother Michel. I do a Deceptive Attack to the torso, because sneaky ninja, and am glad when he makes a Blindfighting roll and gets to defend anyway. He fails, and I deliver 9 (2) cut to his back; he takes probably 10-12 injury, and falls forward, maybe dead.

Michel does not go unconscious, and drinks his healing potion that was meant for Brody. Heals 12 injury, which is pretty sweet.

Brody too moves away from the ninja and crushes the healing stone to himself, but Brody’s player was pulled away to a tech support call, so we moved on without noting the results publicly.

Staver turns around, draws a demonsbane arrow – his only one, but clearly no time like the present – and shoots the guy with it. 9 imp for the arrow itself, plus 4d more for demonsbane. The demon explodes with a splortch into purple-green ichor. We like results like that.

The last ninja runs out of the window. Again.

Thumvar (again! 4-for-4!) makes his HT roll to resist the effects of the bloodraven’s spell, and jumps back down to the first floor.

We have a break for a moment. Michel figures out that Thumvar’s inflicted with Burning Death, and Cadmus heals Brody from 6/12 to 12/12, taking the injury on himself. Six minutes to recover that. Hope we don’t get attacked in that time.

We then beat feet down to the basement of the tower, hoping to find and slay the bloodraven. Assuming the raven was real. Maybe a construct. Anyway, through a couple of doors, but MapTool is lagging so badly in movement and graphics updates that it’s painful to explore manually.

We decide to head through a passage that branches off north, but is interrupted by running water. There’s a bell and clapper in the wall on the near side of the stream. Cadmus suspects hinkiness, but the successful Holy Warrior roll goes unnoticed, or unimportant, or both. In retrospect, the GM thought my Holy Warrior roll for “detect hinkiness” was jumping the stream. Ah ha.

There’s a five-yard plank that’s nearly a yard wide, and we do something to it, but for the life of me, I can’t parse what it was, or what we did. The lag is bad enough we decide to call it for the night.

Edit: OK, all but Michel jump across the three-yard stream of running water. Michel asks Cadmus to hand him the 3′ wide by 15′ long plank, which thanks to a well-made ST roll (I hate ST rolls) he does. Two trolls come shambling down the hall; Michel plans on negotiating with them. We’ll see how that goes.