Saturday, January 12, 2013

On sandboxes and Wilderlands Part 2

Last week I wrote about the influences of railroad and sandbox campaigns.  It's important to understand that creating a sandbox was sort of implied by the original rules of D&D.  You built your milieu as the players expanded their explorations and what you ended up with was a fleshed out world.

Very early in the hobby's lifespan a company called the 'Judges Guild' began producing licensed material for D&D.  What could be considered the first third party publisher for the game, they crafted a number of products that have shaped many player's game worlds and is still used today as the setting of many campaigns.  If you're not new to the hobby, you already know all about this but I think it's important to write about here.  My continuing theme of blog posts that are upcoming will reflect this.

In case you don't know the famous campaign setting I'm talking about, it's the Wilderlands of High Fantasy.  Though this isn't a review (it wouldn't feel right to try to review a piece of history like this) I want to discuss what made this book so incredible at the time.

For those who could not draw maps very well or hadn't quite developed the imagination to build whole regions of a world, this book was great.  Right as you open the book you find tables for rolling your d6, to randomly create caves, lairs, dungeon dressing, and more.  The real chunk of the book though, is the details of the campaign world itself.  As opposed to today's modern technique of publishing a 300+ page campaign setting book and numerous supplemental material, the Wilderlands itself was a 30-odd page digest packed full of useful tables and information.  It had a few sister-books that detailed other regions of the campaign setting but those too were relatively thin books.

Of course when I use the word 'detailed', I do so carefully.  There isn't much detail to be found here at all actually.  What you find is listing of cities with some rough statistics, as well as lairs/caves/encounters with descriptive text of what is going on at that location.  Their keyed location on the enormous map that came with the book was a great technique.  Not only did you have a huge map of hexes ready-to-use, but you already had city names, adventure hooks, and more already placed and easily referenced.  As opposed to the book painstakingly describing each city and region, these details are largely left to the DM to flavor in the way they choose.  Is Telegonist of Kest the ruler because he used his magic to enslave the villagers?  Or is it because they revere him as a god?  It's up to the DM and the players to paint the story here.

What this has led to is a number of different 'Wilderlands' settings exist, each personalized by the DM.  One of these I'll be discussing in a future post, but I really think this was part of the magic of the Wilderlands.  Sure more material would detail the City-State of the Invincible Overlord and other areas, but this book by itself could be used for endless gaming hours.

Now the format of the book could be considered a little cluttered and disorganized to the modern eye, but I would still recommend taking a gander at the book's contents.  The best part is, it's still available as a PDF!  Not to mention a large sampling of other Judges Guild classics.

Whew, I still write a lot.  The importance of the Wilderlands as a ready-made sandbox will be illustrated more as I continue my theme of sandboxes and campaign settings on this blog.  Next post, I'll be reviewing a product very relevant to this blog post.  Should be fun.   

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