Continued from Part 1
So the idea of an episodic sandbox is predicated on episodic adventures that can stand alone and be enjoyed by players in attendance, and those that can't make it that week won't feel like they are missing a big part of the story. The setting and sandbox the players interact in SHOULD be familiar though. When you are adventuring, certain elements should be familiar. The town the players live in is the one that is attacked. The same lonely mountain that the player's delved into for treasure may have a hidden bandit fortress somewhere on the other side.
Though the adventures are episodic, I want player agency to remain important like any other sandbox campaign. If the players are unable to finally hunt down and kill that manticore, they may find a few friendly NPCs have gone missing at the start of the following game session. If the bandit leader escapes death and flees his fortress, he may come after the players with assassins to get revenge. Choices during the episodic adventures still matter. The consequences of the player's actions will spawn new adventures down the road. If the players discover and take over control of a borderlands fort, their adventures may include defending the supply lines to the fort, defend it from attackers, etc. If the player's start acting more evil, they may have to contend not only with other villainous creatures, but also the forces of "good".
The next question is, how do player's get hooked into these adventures? When we accept this type of campaign, we must give up notions of some save-the-world story. Things are more local, gritty, and since we'll be playing swords & wizardry, deadly. The player's will operate out of some sort of base. To start, this will probably be the cliche'd tavern in town. We can accept cliches because it facilitates the campaign style needed. In typical fashion, the players will begin their adventures here but also end them. At the end of each episodic session, they will return to the tavern to rest up, count treasure, etc. When the characters in drinking ale, they will become privy to adventure hooks. There may be a bulletin board with rumors, ads for 'heroes needed', etc. May also include the occasional bursting in of a troubled NPC with an immediate problem. This will be summarized to players by me describing what's new or current on the bulletin board, what they have heard around town, etc. Either at the end of the session or via email between sessions, the players will vote on which lead interests them most. This will allow me to make sure I have time to properly prepare. The player's can then prioritize what they want to do. Dave really wants to hunt down that hydra but can't make it next week. The others decide to leave that trail alone for now and instead look to take down the slavers' operations down the river. That hydra can wait for Dave, though it may ravage a few farms in the mean time.
I will be looking to craft a sandbox out of the steps shown in the ACKS rulebook, but I will allow for "Schrodinger's Dungeon". That is, a particular adventure site may or may not exist until I need it. Sure the player's have been to hex 1016 before, but the wizard's tower wasn't really "there" until I had an adventure set there. Perhaps it was illusion'd. No, the player's did not notice the cave in hex 2034 until they had the treasure map leading to it. The large amount of square mileage available to me means the players will never truly explore every nook and cranny. I can fill the sandbox as much as I want. Goblin hordes move in from the north and set up new villages, earthquakes unveil new cave structures, etc.
So far I have explained facilitating adventures and making the sandboxes feel alive. In the next post, I'll discuss how player flexibility will keep things interesting and allow for progression of the campaign over time.