Friday, 26 March 2010

Filling the Sandbox

So the first session of my new, “Borderlands” campaign (OK, so it’s not a impressively inspired title, but it does accurately express the feel I’m going for) took place last Saturday, two weeks ahead of schedule – a fact that I was actually rather glad about, as I was essentially ready to go by the time it became apparent that it would be starting earlier than I had planned. A report of the first session will hopefully soon follow (OD&DITIES 14 rather delayed things a little in this area…)

The plan was always to run an old-fashioned sandbox-style campaign, using the LL / B/X rule system (in the event, we had a huge variety of different books at the table – two ’81 Basic rules, a Cyclopedia, a Labyrinth Lord hardcopy and another printout, and even the rulebook from the ’91 black box set! (I ended up running using an ’81 Basic book and the ’83 Screen, largely because I finally got hold of a copy of the ’81 Basic and Expert boxed sets a couple of years ago and I’ve been desperate to use them in a game.) The Companion Expansion and Unknown Gods were the only two sourcebooks I brought, though in the event, only one of the ‘Unknown Gods’ was used.

Initially, when I began to work on the campaign, I started to draw maps – area, village, dungeon, but it rapidly became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to be able to provide a big enough sandbox to satisfy my players, so I moved to option 2 – which harkened back to one of the most successful campaigns I’ve ever run, back in ’03, which was where my current gaming group – the Kamikaze Dungeoneers – was formed. In that, I took a few modules and adventures from magazines, worked out what terrain features and locations were in each one, worked out which could do ‘double duty’ with a bit of adaptation, and then simply worked them all into a terrain map.

Well, I’ve got a lot more modules now, a lot of which I have been wanting to use for some time; specifically I have quite a few Judges Guild modules that have been sitting on my shelf for a while. So, I dusted them off and started to dump them on to the map. The Keep on the Borderlands was going to be a centrepiece of the campaign; I placed it at the top of the map, with the Caves of Chaos close by (guarded by a smaller, secondary keep designed to be a small base of operations for the PCs) and a small dungeon placed to fill the ‘Caves of the Unknown’ area. Quasqueton from B1 was placed south of the Keep, just beyond the swamps of the Lizardmen. I also dropped Badabaskor on the left of the map – and filled the top part of the map with an extensive mountain range, with the idea being that Badabaskor and ‘Castellan’ Keep were originally built to protect passes to the lands to the north from humanoid incursions. (Blizzard Pass also found its way in there, as well…that place has quite a reputation…) Castle Caldwell also got placed in there as a possible adventuring location.

For the southern portion of the map, I turned more exclusively to Judges Guild for my inspiration. A big portion of the middle – and the starting location for the PCs – came from ‘The Illheidrin Book’, a module that technically was for AD&D, but which I have run under B/X with success in the past. To add a more urban setting should I wish, I dropped Modron on the south side of the map, sketching in a sea. It was then a question of just filling in the landmasses, which I decided should start with a sea at the south, running through agricultural land to foothills and then mountains in the north. I didn’t give too much thought to what lay beyond the map, just that the area was on the northern borders of an ‘Empire’ I was modelling on the Late Roman Empire in style, consisting of a large collection of loose counties, duchies, and other such states – I rather envisioned more of a ‘loose confederacy’ than a strong Empire, but deliberately left the details vague so I could change them if necessary.

This map remains flexible, for the moment. The party ended up with two Clerics, both worshipping different gods (out of an 84-strong pantheon cribbed from Unknown Gods), so now two new locations – temples for each of these gods – have gone on the map as places for the party to visit. There are a few other bits and pieces I’m thinking about dropping on from various sources.

I’ve ended up after this with a hugely-stocked sandbox, and wherever the players choose to go, the area is already fleshed out with locations, adventures, and dungeons – and I can easily drop in any new modules that I pick up without too much work. All of it expands the sandbox. (For the ultimate expansion – the Isle of Dread is about 800 miles south of Modron. I wonder if the players will end up going that far south!)


  1. Sounds very cool. Any chance of us seeing a map?