Friday, April 25, 2014

GAGP's Solution: The Episodic Sandbox Part 1

In today's previous post I talked about the Great Adult Gaming Problem.  It is not a new problem by any means, but I think I have a solution that will work for my future campaigns and maybe it can help yours too.

First and foremost, I must give credit to Beyond the Black Gate, as most of the underlying concepts are taken from the blog author's series on episodic play.  You can read them here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The essential bits to be taken from that post series, is that episodic play relies on bite-sized adventures that can be done in 3-4 hours and are relatively compartmentalized from each other.  Al, the author of Beyond the Black Gate, gives a short list of adventure types: Relics & Ruins, Tiny Dungeons, Monster Hunting, Megadungeons, and Random Generator Travel.  For my purposes, I ideally want to narrow this down to basically three types of adventures: Small dungeon delving, monster set pieces, and multi-terrain objective.

Small dungeon delving is essentially Al's Relics & Ruins and Tiny Dungeons categories combined.  These would be micro-dungeons with 5-10 rooms, able to be explored within a session.  They would probably include typical dungeon denizens inside, typical treasure, but the reason for being there is clear.  There is an artifact to be found, a bounty to be collected, a hostage to retrieve.  These areas need not be underground, but it is the idea of a multi-roomed structure to explore, possibly clear, with a goal in mind.

Monster Set Pieces are much like Al's monster hunting.  I don't like to use the word hunt because the situation could be that the players are reacting to monster attacks, not specifically hunting them.  The monsters serve as set pieces, wherever they are encountered.  An entire adventure is dedicated to a specific monster.  This monster is probably much stronger than the players, and thus each encounter will be dramatic.  For example, the town and country-side is being ravaged  by a roaming manticore.  The player's must find a way to eliminate the threat.  This will include tracking the creature, fending off the creature when it attacks the town, and possibly going after it's lair to neutralize it.  I've been looking at numerous monster books, thinking about which ones make great singular monsters for these types of adventures.  They should be monstrous, iconic, and be something that requires proper preparation by the PCs.  I fortunately have many monster books to use and select unique monsters from, especially ones the players have never encountered before (standard trolls are too easy!).  For old school rules (including Swords and Wizardry and OSRIC/1E) see: Monstrosities, Tome of Horrors Complete, Tome of Horrors 4, the Teratic Tome, and Monsters of Myth(free!).  Since OSRIC is so close to Swords & wizardry Complete, I will be able to use any of those monsters pretty easily in my S&W games.

Multi-terrain Objective adventures are the catch-all for anything else I can think of.  Perhaps it's an urban investigation, diplomatic role-playing story, hexcrawl of discovery, etc.  The idea here is that the player's should have a clear goal to accomplish, but it is neither a dungeon crawl or pure monster slaying.  Perhaps the characters must race to find the location of a lost city or temple.  This in turn might lead to further adventure possibilities.

Al does some great write-ups about these general ideas, so again I recommend reading his posts as well to get a deeper understanding of how to prepare these adventure types.  Supplements like the Tome of Adventure Design and the D30 Sandbox Companion provide tables and ideas for creating the episodic adventures.

Now, so far this has all been based Al's work, but here our my personal plans.  These individual episodic adventures are more like episodes of the X-Files rather than Game of Thrones.  There will be the one-offs, but also some possibilities of several of these episodic adventures be connected.  Like the X-Files' overall plot about government conspiracies, certain things will be recurring elements because they are parts of the sandbox world that exists around the characters.  More on this in the next blog post.

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