Friday, July 1, 2011

Still more to learn about this Sandbox stuff

James at Grognardia took to time to write a great review of Blackmarsh. To me a great review is one that I can learn from whether it is positive or negative comments. The positive teach me what to continue to do, and negative helps me learn what I need to work on. Especially valuable are those that help me look at something in a different way.

Many of the Blackmarsh reviews commented on the locales that are "frozen in a moment of time."

This is one of them

0214 A mother black dragon (old, HD 8) and her child (young, HD 7) have slaughtered a herd of deer and are in a meadow consuming the carcasses.

I generally try to minimize these type of entries as they are pretty much one shot deals. Too many will limit the utility of the products.

However there are reason to include them in a hex crawl map. Perhaps just not as a locale like I been doing. James', Akratic's, Chicago Wizard's review all helped clarify my thought on this. Which is good because when I do this in the future I will have clear idea as to why I included such an entry.

Right now I see several types of "frozen moments in time" that will be useful for a hexcrawl setting.

First is the wandering monster as a locale. That what the black dragon encounter represents. Instead of putting it the encounter table, I just made it a locale. However for a map the size of Blackmarsh they should be no more than two or three of these and they should be particularly memorable. Which is why I would have left this in even I knowing what I know now.

1503 A flock of 9 hippogriffs (HD 3) landed on Egbert’s farm two miles from the river. The locals have gathered to watch. Egbert weeps as his pigs and chickens are devoured by the hippogriffs.

Another type is this

2618 A ship from the Ochre Empire is sailing toward Blackmarsh searching for the lost expedition sent here five years ago. It is commanded by Lord Travvarn (Ftr7, L), a powerful myrmidon in the Church of Sarrath, the Dragon God. He is assisted by Archon Devers (Clr5, L) who enforces a strict discipline among the ship’s crew and warriors.

This along with the gang of bandit attacking Blackoak Castle are events about to happen. What I think would be better and just not make them locales but their own section like I did with the Geographical entries. I did something similar to with the tribal entries in Points of Light's Wildland. The initial layout had them as locales which really didn't look good. So they were pulled out and made their own section. Perhaps also do the same for the special wandering encounters like the Black Dragon.

Note that Blackmarsh doesn't have a wandering monster table is it is meant to use the base rule set tables (Delving Deeper, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, etc).

So there still more the learn about to write effective sandbox products.


Unknown said...

I have found "Frozen in time" moments can sometimes be necessary, particularly when the party has been traveling for a while without any encounters. If the group is on a long trip, I always throw in a couple of these just to make sure something happens. Of course, it's different for a publishable product. I think the idea of giving these encounters their own section is a good one.

amp108 said...


I think the benefit of those descriptions comes from the grains of context and motivation they provide, something that depends, in part, on the specific location. Inside a dungeon, castle, or lair--that is, inside an environment specifically shaped for a purpose--it's easy enough to provide that context, at least for keyed encounters. You're in the wizard's private chambers because that's where he keeps his secrets safe. If you stumble into the giant's kitchen, there'll be giants cooking food. Et cetera.

Trying to emulate that level of engagement in an outdoor setting is hard, due to the intransient nature of the various populations. But it's that level of context that wandering monster tables often lack (in my experience, anyhow). I like what you were aiming for in those hex descriptions, but I think there might need to be a different mechanism for deploying these encounters, something that is neither keyed nor a wandering monster table result. I have no good idea for how that would work, unfortunately. Maybe if I screw on my thinking cap....