Sandbox

Sandbox gaming is currently my favorite style of Old School gaming. See RPG for a more general collection.

2018-11-27 What is Sandbox?

Brad J. Murray has been writing about his games: sandboxery asks about our definitions of a sandbox. What are they?

A few months ago I wrote that exploration is overrated. And I offered the following summary:

  1. start with an empty map
  2. talk to people or otherwise learn of new locations put these on the map
  3. choose to go here or there, which provides for opportunities go back to step #2

Thinking about this some more, and considering Brad’s blog post, the important part to me is this:

  1. people get to choose where to go and what adventures to pursue
  2. the world does not automatically rearrange itself due to this choice

This 2nd point is a bit soft, of course, but it’s the bigger world out there that’s important to me and my suspension of disbelief. I want things to be reall and to happen “out there.” I want the options not pursued to have an effect, for example.

So, does that put me in the upper left corner of Brad’s diagram, with lots of world planning? I really like to have a map, for example. They provide locations, names, inspiration, they anchor events and people in space. If actual travel on the map is glossed over, however, then in a way, the geography and the relationship map start to meld into each other. So if you have a large relationship map, is that “world plans”? I’d say so.

For a game that really has very little world plans, I’d nominate In a Wicked Age. There, the only thing that seems to carry over from the last game is a single character. Everything else is new and braindstormed based on the oracle. I love it, but it’s definitely not my favorite game.

OK, so I’m saying the geography and the relationships are basically one thing, they anchor the in-game reality outside of the immediate adventure. The only other thing that matters now is choice with respect to this reality outside of the immediate adventure. In an Adventure Path, that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter what the rest of Golarion does unless the adventure the referee is running will take you there. And if you choose not to go where the adventure wants you to go, then it ends.

I like games where in-game decisions affect the future adventures my characters are going to have.

Sure, if somebody says “Yo! I just bought X and want to run it!” then that’s not a problem. I can go along with that. I just feel that a campaign that is solely determined by the products we bought or by the adventures we picked from a shelf (in other words, decisions made outside the game), is less immersive, has less pull on me, than a campaign where we play for fifty sessions or more, moving through the world pulled along by our in-game decisions.

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Comments on 2018-11-27 What is Sandbox?

Excellent, my response is up at https://takeonrules.com/2018/11/27/marching-through-the-sandbox/

Jeremy Friesen 2018-11-27 21:46 UTC


Wohoo!

– Alex Schroeder 2018-11-28 08:53 UTC

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2018-08-02 Exploration

@Tom and @not_another_mike were talking about a Western Marches style game. I started to organize my own campaigns around these principles back in 2008 and blogged about the experience in 2012: Whither the West Marches.

My impression from trying to run Western Marches style games over the years is that the term “exploration” is overrated. Exploration does not provide tension, wonder or joy at the table. It’s basically this:

  1. start with an empty map
  2. talk to people or otherwise learn of new locations
  3. put these on the map
  4. choose to go here or there, which provides for opportunities go back to step #2

That’s it. I’d say nothing is fundamentally incompatible with that.

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2016-10-18 Sandbox Link

An excellen introduction to the Sandbox at Raven Crowking’s Nest. I has a number of links, starting with what is great about the Sandbox and discussing the rules that enable it, and the rules that thwart it.

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2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

I’ve blogged quite a bit about running a Sandbox, and I’ve added my Swiss Referee Style Manual to my house rule document, Halberds and Helmets, which also has some points on how I run my sandbox. And yet, perhaps the author of the Sandboxes and Quagmires blogpost is right: we should also talk about failure modes and how to prevent them. +Ed Ortiz mentions the following problems:

  1. players monopolizing the plot, or more generally:
  2. players competing for plot
  3. players paralyzed by too much choice, or maybe
  4. players unable to choose for lack of information
  5. players mistaking a sandbox for laissez faire

What works at my table:

Clearly establish which plot elements belong to which character. This is how we make sure that plot time is distributed fairly even though many players have a thing going. It sounds weird, but saying it at the table makes it easier for people to make fair decisions. Resurrecting Arden is Johannes’ plot element. Building the ivory tower is Claudia’s plot element. Going after bandits is Flavio’s plot element. Sometimes it isn’t easy to say. Samuel is easy going and he seems mostly interested in spreading poisonous giant frogs wherever he goes, for Tsathoggua. Michael is mostly interested in getting treasure and better armor and avoid all dangers. (Chicken!) Lilly is new and hasn’t found her thing, yet. Stefan is interested in things, but I haven’t felt a particular push in any direction. But, knowing that we’ve done a number of sessions pursuing Johannes’ plot, it makes it easier to say that the next few sessions will be about Claudia’s plot, out of the game. This is not an in-game decision.

Explicitly list open plots and ask for preferences concerning the next session. Even if players cannot decide, or no majority can be found, at least you can prepare for one of them and tell people that you’ve decided that they were going to go after X. Narrate the transition and off you go. It’s not “pure” sandbox—the players can see the man behind the curtain when they read their emails, but I don’t think that’s a problem. They couldn’t make up their mind and the referee picked Limbo and Slaads for the next adventure. If you didn’t like it, why didn’t you say so when you got the email? Sometimes this will fail and the referee will have to improvise. It happens. It’s OK. But this is important to me: This, too, is not an in-game decision.

Provide enough information. When I recently listed the open plots, I provided more information than the characters actually had available at the time. It went something like this: You could a) go look for the Formian city mentioned by the slaad spies and try and prevent the spread of the iron shadow, or b) visit Limbo, the home turf of the slaad, looking for a grey elf wizard who supposedly researched the iron shadow, or c) learn more about said grey elf wizard by visiting his home town in the astral sea, or d) continue exploring the mirror labyrinth (and stumbling into the Red and Pleasant Land, which I didn’t tell them). Provide more information than is strictly available in-game.

Make sure there are consequences and announce them. You don’t have to be super explicit, but if you take the golem armor made of old brass magic off the dead dwarven hero and envoys ask you to give it back, and you don’t, and instead you write a letter to the dwarf clan saying that you’ll wear it and use it wisely—then there will be consequences. The enjoys will fume. The scribe will shake his head. And the campaign news page will describe the dwarfs raising an expeditionary force of about two hundred dwarves and there will be interesting sessions ahead. Make sure that interesting actions have interesting consequences and make sure your players know.

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Comments on 2016-09-13 Rescuing the Sandbox

The blog post by Jens D. and the discussion on G+ left me confused, however.

For example: “What happens when people are allowed to do what they want? […] They start thinking that there are no (social?) rules at all and - in a worse case scenario - you’ll get anarchy. […] I’ve seen it happening […]” – what? That sounds like very dysfunctional people. How about talking to them? “A sandbox game is different to those traditional games in that it takes away as many limitations as possible, beginning by the world and going as far as designing rules towards the same principle.” Huh? “The DM should provide a strong sense of place and culture, so they know where they come from and a just as strong sense of the stories people tell, so they know where they are headed.” Huh?

As I said, I felt like I was reading a blog post from a different gaming culture that had used all the words I was used to in surprising ways.

– AlexSchroeder 2016-09-13 22:53 UTC

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2016-07-07 Preparing a Sandbox

Recently, Rob Monroe asked about tools to use when preparing a sandbox.

I listed the following:

  1. A map. I started my last one with a random Text Mapper map using the Hex Based Campaign Design blog posts by the Welsh Piper.[1][2]
  2. I also enjoy +Kevin Crawford’s system of assigning two tags to each hex as described in his book Red Tide, and of establishing a cabinet of evil movers and shakers right at the beginning as described in his book An Echo Resounding.

Alternatively, I could also imagine running my next game as a point crawl based on the structured input of my players as suggested by +Jason Lutes in The Perilous Wilds.

Jason Lutes then linked to two examples of how he did it in 2013, which are also based on blog posts by the Welsh Piper, random generators by Chaotic Shiny, and all that, in order to create the world and a village.

It looks like a lot of work but it looks super beautiful!

I still think that starting out with a random Text Mapper Map and adding notes and settlements to the text describing the area and using the tool to render a picture of the area still is the best value for my time. See How To Get Started With Text Mapper for more.

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2016-04-19 Immersion

Recently, William Nichols argued on Google+ that some games avoid the dichotomy of Sandbox vs. Railroad one often sees discussed. This was in reply to me sharing a hilarious video, about 15min, about two campaigns: the sandbox that turned into The Hobbit and the railroad that turned into The Lord of the Rings. It comes with many asides that I remember myself thinking when I was younger, e.g. the idea that players had a social obligation to go along with what I had prepared.

William basically argued that some rules designed the problem away by using improvisation and he listed Dungeon World (which I have run) as well as Fiasco and Apocalypse Now (both of which I have played).

I think these examples are definitely role-playing game designers trying to design their way out of the problem space of “wasted prep” – either because it’s a lot like work for the GM or because it affords railroading, which is not fun for players.

But then again, if you manage to set expectations such that people know that some parts of your game are not improvised, then these locations on the map will be “more real” than things you all just thought up. That’s how I work, at least.

So that’s the counterweight I see: we can design away the option of a railroad, but we must be careful not to design away an important source of immersion, the suspension of disbelief that there is an actual, imagined, shared, pre-existing world out there. For me, that idea is powerful. In games that afford a lot of improvisation, this is often lost, I feel.

Dungeon World navigates this by suggesting the creation of a map beforehand and Perilous Wilds even offers a procedure to create a shared map at the table.

To make a long story short: I think it’s important to remember that adding more improvisation also means that you loose something. Being aware of that trade-off is important.

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Comments on 2016-04-19 Immersion

I partially agree on the “more real” part, but for a different reason. I think things created through collaboration are fun and useful, but feel soft to the players. Things fully in control of the GM, whether prepped or improv’d, feel harder and “more real”.

– Aaron Griffin 2016-04-19 16:54 UTC


Yeah, I don’t really know how this belief in the imagined world is created. In 2014 I wrote that rolling treasure on a table made it “more real” than simply making it up, so even I as a DM benefit in some weird way. To use your nomenclature, rolling random encounters and random treasure on a pre-existing table makes it “feel harder” and thus “more real”.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-19 17:20 UTC


The discussion in that G+ thread continued. I was asked, “is there disagreement to the proposition that prep is a product of design?”

I don’t think we ever had a disagreement. To argue that there is only sandbox and only railroad would be foolish. When I posted that link talking about sandboxes and railroads, it was mostly for entertainment reasons. Also, my preference is sandbox classic D&D, but I have played plenty of indie games to feel that I’ve made an informed choice. Up above, I argued why a lot of improvisation is no solution for me. But clearly, improvisation is an important skill and there are various techniques that are useful to any GM out there. Prep is a product of design, I agree, but improvisation is not a panacea. I guess that was my point somewhere in all of that.

Further down, the conversation turned to prep. William argued that good game design would make sure that very little time would be spent in prep otherwise “my time as GM is not valued.” And furthermore, the requirement for prep “is one more way we keep people not like us out of the hobby.”

I personally find more than half an hour prep per three hour game of classic D&D is my upper limit. Sadly, the older D&D versions did not come with a good discussion of efficient prep. Luckily, we have blogs and oral tradition and where as new games incorporated all this accumulated wisdom into the actual text of their rules, nothing stops a DM from eclectically building their own procedures for prep. So yes, I concede that the actual rules are lacking, but it will still work for people. And one aspect we haven’t touched upon is that prep can also be an enjoyable solo activity. It’s not for everybody, but if it is, then D&D is for you.

So, what about those other players at my table. Are the rules of D&D and the requirement to prep holding them back? I’d say that I don’t want the others at the table to GM because they don’t want to GM, as far as I can tell. Those that do get to run their games, using their preferred rules, no problem. And I scratch my itch for other games by having an indie game night. There’s no need for my game to be the one game to serve all people.

So, does D&D need an excuse for it’s community of bloggers, of oral tradition, of advice given? Is all of that necessary because it’s simply badly designed?

Our lives are full of activities that are not fully prescribed and these lacunae allow us to bend these activities to our preferences, and to make blunders, yes. But that doesn’t mean that all our games need more rules. I don’t share the enthusiasm for the designed experience. I prefer my games to be less like a board game. I want there to be gaps.

Let’s go back to the beginning, however. What are we talking about? The conversation started with the contrast between a sandbox and railroad. Then we argued whether improvisation could help solve this problem, and we talked about the perceived burden of preparing our games. I basically argued that not improvising and instead preparing for games also increases verisimilitude, and I argued that preparation is also an interesting activity in and of itself. And thus, for people like me, for people who enjoy this kind of game, classic D&D remains an option.

Perhaps we need to reevaluate where this discussion is supposed to go. Are we trying to come to agree on a single answer to what’s best in RPG design? I don’t think this will be possible. I’m trying to illustrate the width and depth of the space we’re talking about and I guess I was warning against thinking that improvisation would be a cure-all, and I’m warning against thinking that no-prep is a cure-all. I guess I’m arguing for an appreciation of the variety of human needs and the design space available to all of us as we write our RPG rules, or house rules, or rule variants.

– Alex Schroeder 2016-04-20 14:34 UTC

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2015-12-15 Using Fronts

Ramanan S. recently asked on Google+: “So what exactly do people do to track what the hell is going on in their game? What stuff do you have on hand when running a game?”

I replied the usual stuff. Stage fright never goes away. Keep notes on a Campaign Wiki.

And I mentioned how prep using fronts has been creeping into my game.

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/22046823074_f2be2f1fbb.jpg

So here’s the evolution of how things had been going, on a campaign level. First, I had a passive world, waiting for the players to mess with it. My motto was and still is: “The harder you look, the more there is to see.”¹ Then I started using An Echo Resounding and thought that the domain game would provide for the kind of slow movements in the world around them. As it turned out, the domain game didn’t get my players excited. It felt a bit like accounting and it was too much effort to simply introduce some random setting changes. I then turned to using a random table to introduce setting changes. But we kept forgetting to roll on the table. There was simply no incentive. So finally I have arrived at Fronts.

Fronts are easy to write up. Here’s what I have been using:

  1. a catchy name (”Slaad Invasion”)
  2. a short phrase to describe it, a subtitle (”The Manifestation of a Slaad Lord”)
  3. a number of events with escalating effect (”war in the land of the fire giants”, “war of the god men against Asgard”, ...) – a list of things that I can look down on when there’s a lull and improvise some calamity, an encounter, a news item, whatever; “announcing future badness
  4. a question or two regarding a player character; this will help me twist and turn the dagger so that it’ll end up pointing in their direction; it also reminds me to have daggers pointing at every single one of them (”Will Logard fight this anarchy?”, “Who will help the dwarves?”)

Footnotes:

¹ The longer form of my motto is this introduction I recently elaborated:

“We’re playing in a sandbox. Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations, goals and quests to your map. The actions of your characters determines the direction the campaign will take. There is no planned ending for the campaign. As long as you keep investigating rumors, exploring locations and following quests, I will keep developing the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.”

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Comments on 2015-12-15 Using Fronts

Wow! You’ve named the process I’ve been doing in my head for years. That’s a really cool feeling, knowing there’s a left-brain approach to my right-brain method.

Also, your motto is crystal clear and I’m totally printing it out and sticking it into my gaming binder. It’s a great thing for new players to hear when starting a sandbox game, especially if they’ve only played modules or in linear campaigns.

Dreadweasel 2016-02-03 23:01 UTC


Very cool.

Also, loved your post Two Stories With Regard to Killing People. :D

– Alex Schroeder 2016-02-04 09:55 UTC

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2015-11-30 Introduction

On Google+, Brendan S asked for an article about sandbox play for someone with no sandbox experience. I thought of the intro page I wrote for my own campaigns, back in 2012. Sadly it doesn’t talk too much about sandbox play. It’s also the first page of my Halberds and Helmets house rules.

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/6985816535_f066c5449b_m.jpg

We play classic D&D with rules from the early eighties. This is not a Monty Haul campaign and not a stupid dungeon crawl. If at all, we explore a nightmarish mythical underworld.

The rules offer very little mechanics: there aren’t many classes to choose from, no feats, no skills, no prestige classes and hardly any special abilities. Furthermore, elves, dwarves and other demihumans are simply separate classes. There are no elven thieves of dwarven mages. On the other hand, missing rules also leave a lot of freedom for players. The characters are as diplomatic, friendly or intimidating as the players want them to be. There are no rules governing it.

We’ll add rules as time passes. Discovering and befriending intelligent humanoids, for example, will allow you to hire them and eventually to play them. Certain magic-users can teach player characters new spells, too.

We’re playing in a sandbox. There is no planned ending for the campaign. The actions of player characters determines the directions the campaign grows in.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information gained is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations to your map and determine your goals in-game.

Players determine where the campaign will head. If player characters investigate rumors and locations, I will develop the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.

Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

Preparation and experience should help you avoid situations where your character’s survival depends on a single die roll. If you’re rolling dice, it’s already too late. A saving throw is your last chance to survive due to luck and experience. Ideally you would never have to roll dice because you’re well informed and equipment. Perseus didn’t have to save against the medusa’s petrifying gaze because he was well prepared.

Retainers are another safeguard against character death: torch bearers, porters, men-at-arms and mercenaries all cost money, but they will also keep your character alive. Should player characters die, the next character is most probably going to be one of the retainers.

Experience points (XP) is gained by spending the gold you gained in adventures. If you manage to obtain the gold without combat, good for you. The best strategy is to pick your battles and stake the odds in your favor as far as possible. Remember, if you’re rolling dice, it’s already too late.

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Comments on 2015-11-30 Introduction

I’m still thinking about the exact wording. Perhaps the following would work better? It looses a reprise of the “players determine the course of the campaign” theme but then again, Brendan also suggested less than three paragraphs and I still haven’t reduced it down to two.

“We’re playing in a sandbox. You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations to your map and determine your goals in-game.

There is no planned ending for the campaign. The actions of player characters determines the direction the campaign will take. If player characters investigate rumors and locations, I will develop the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.

Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.”

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-30 09:42 UTC


OK, one more try:

“We’re playing in a sandbox. Dangers are not adapted to the strength of the party. Generally speaking it’s safer near civilized settlements. The further you move into the wilderness, the more dangerous it is. That’s how players control the risks they want to take.

You learn of rumors from travelers in taverns, merchants at markets, sailors at harbors, books in libraries or sages in their ivory towers. This information is not always accurate or complete. Use these rumors to add new locations, goals and quests to your map. The actions of your characters determines the direction the campaign will take. There is no planned ending for the campaign. As long as you keep investigating rumors, exploring locations and following quests, I will keep developing the game world in that direction. The harder you look, the more there is to see.”

– Alex Schroeder 2015-11-30 09:48 UTC

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2015-11-02 Fronts

Reading the Dungeon World chapter on fronts makes me want to rewrite the list of open plots and the todo lists for a quest or two, and the list of random upcoming campaign changes as fronts. Perhaps that would make all these things clearer to me. Now that I think about it, my campaign threats are a confusing mess of half baked ideas. They work – I think – but perhaps they’d work better if written up as fronts.

https://alexschroeder.ch/pics/22046823074_f2be2f1fbb.jpg

See the picture on the right for what I have for my campaign fronts. I probably have one or two more which I don’t consider to be a urgent. One thing I noticed is that the old structure of my notes was this: if you want to resurrect Arden, you need to do the following… and what followed was a list of quests, each of which I felt would make a nice adventure, should the players decide to follow up on it. The write-up as front changes the setup: if players don’t resurrect Arden, his insanity will spread, somebody else will take the throne of light and so on. I’m not sure I like this shift from “this is a sandbox and whatever you want to achieve will be full of adventure” to “the world will go from bad to worse if you don’t take matters into your own hands”. I suddenly feel like might be preparing two or three campaign arcs or adventure paths… a kind of campaign setup I tried to avoid because players end up feeling like they have less choice. Everything is falling to pieces and there is pressure everywhere and time is running out and go, go, go!

This seems to be the biggest difference in terms of how fronts work compared to my traditional preparations. In my sandbox, players get interested in things, they learn more about it, they formulate goals and then they discover all the difficulties that need to be overcome. The world is essentially static.

Sure, we like to talk about “living” sandboxes and all that but my campaign events are random intrusions where I think to myself, “an invasion of mind-flayers sounds great” and then the setting starts to change.

This process is less structured than the fronts of Dungeon World. Fronts are also tied into moves, so a failed roll by a player can advance a front.

No such thing happened in my sandboxes. People felt free to calmly consider the missions they care about and do some horse trading: “You’ll help me bring down Susrael and I’ll help you bring back the fire giant’s wife, OK?” Fronts put pressure on players and I don’t think they’ll feel as free to pick and choose because there will be consequences, always.

Anyway, I recently bought Freebooters on the Frontier, A Book of Beasts, Perilous Almanacs, The Perilous Wilds and The Perilous Wilds Survival Kit by Jason Lutes as well as Dungeon World by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel.

Comments here or on G+.

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Comments on 2015-11-02 Fronts

As Dungeon World is on my mind these days, here are two links that made me buy all the PDFs: a review of Perilous Wilds by Ramanan S. and Test-driving Dungeon World by Brendan S., to bloggers I respect, not only because their last name starts with an S.

– Alex S. 2015-11-02 19:29 UTC

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2015-05-07 Domain Game Procedures

OK, so we talked about setting up a game of Hexcrawling and how the game will eventually reach its limit if the known region keeps growing and more and more factions are being introduced, more lairs, more assets, more domain turns; the game starts to collapse under its own weight. We also talked about my Domain Game Goals. The things I like. The things my players like. We have come to the point where we need to talk about the kind of procedures that will offer us an interesting domain game without growing as the domain expands.

I think this is key: The procedure must always take the same amount of time. Think about random encounters. No matter how big your party, you always roll once for random encounters. The monsters might be stronger. The trek might be longer. But the number of rolls is constant. But think also about its failure modes. If the party travels for eight weeks, do you roll for over 100 random encounters? I don’t. That’s why random encounters only work at a certain scale. Our domain game procedure will also work at a certain scale. We’ll postpone thinking about attaining immortality and godhood, for now.

The simplest solution would be a random domain roll. The results on the table are all either adventure hooks or role-playing opportunities where we get to see what kind of people the player characters are.

  1. Invasion! A tribe of humanoids show up. Will you allow them to settle? Will you go to war? Will you investigate who pushed them out of their homeland? This needs a short list of likely humanoid tribes. Pick races, name their tribes. Give their leaders names. Determine the cause of their migration.
  2. Disaster! An earthquake or flood destroyed several buildings in one of your towns. Will you help rebuild it using your own funds? Determine the location randomly. In a village, a temple and a few houses need to be rebilt, costing 10,000 gold pieces. In a town, the keep itself and several large temples need to be rebuilt, costing 100,000 gold pieces. In a town, even more money is required to rebuild the city walls, the cathedral, the harbor, the granaries... 500,000 gold are needed. Make a list of buildings and have a price list ready in case your players will only partially fund the restauration. Make a note of up to five powerful locals and the grudges they’ll bear if the player characters did not pay for it all.
  3. Unrest! The peasants are revolting because one of your vassals is being inept or corrupt. How will you find out? How will you deal with your vassal? Will the vassal be written in to the dead book? Or join the rebellion? This needs a list of named vassals. The traitor had a reason. Write it down.
  4. Rebellion! All your former vassals and their greedy allies have decided to come and take what they feel is rightfully theirs. This requires a list of former vassals and henchmen. Make it personal. Make sure you remember some sour deals they had to suffer.
  5. Madness! A charismatic leader has started a religious movement. Their numbers are growing every day. They are instituting land reform. Killing the reach and distributing their wealth. They are calling on their brothers and sisters everywhere to come and join them. How will you deal with this sect? This needs a list of two or three leaders and a handful of other influental people that have fallen under their influence. Name them.
  6. A cult has taken hold! One of the towns in your domain has fallen prey to a cult. Its institutions are no longer trustworth. Your vassal in charge either blind or enthralled by the cult. How will root out the problem without a massacre? This needs a cult location, a monstrosity sent by a demon lord to aid the cult, a few charmed officials, the inner ring of cultist. Name them.
  7. Enormous monster incoming! A dragon or some other giant lizard has destroyed one of the border towns. It is wreaking a path of destruction. The peasants are fleeing. Mercenaries will no longer take the job. Will you defend the realm?
  8. Disease! Nobody knows whether it was due to widespread substance abuse, a punishment sent by the gods, or some other cause but now your people are reeling under the hammer blow of an epidemic. People don’t leave their houses. The sick are burnt in their houses. The dead are piling up and still no cure has been found. Have the name of a great rival cleric available that is trying to turn the tide. If the party does not succeed in stemming the tide, this rival will and the settlement will be ready to secede from the domain when he is done.
  9. Dispute! Your merchants seem to have fallen on hard times. Your trade income is decreasing. Who will you send as ambassadors to your neighbors? You need some disputes ready. Taxes. Territory. Fishing rights. Lumber rights. Mining rights. You’ll need the names of powerful people at your neighbor’s court. Determine what will sway them: bribes, threats, the use of force, sweet talking, back room deals.
  10. War! One of your neigbors has decided to follow up on that trade war. If there is no previous history, assume a demonic cult or some other madness has taken over. This is an opportunity for a little war game. Find allies. Make plans.

Several things are still missing. In order to track the “mood” of the current campaign arc, you could run with Chris Kutalik’s idea of a chaos index as explained in his blog post The Weird is Rising, Thanks World Engine.

I think I’d like more of a multi-dimensional framework that takes the gods into account. You could use something like the fronts on the MC sheet for Sagas of the Icelanders. Have a list of gods or other influences, list some keywords (”Hel: breathe disease, consume, hoard with greed”) that will color current events. This forces you to vary the description of the results depending on what front is in ascendancy. Use the result of the random domain roll to build a little four step countdown. If the party does not engage, step one happens. If they leave it to fester, step two happens. If they are busy elsewhere, step three happens. If they don’t take care of it now, step four happens. As time keeps passing and more rolls are made, issues are piling up. This is good.

If your players have “traits” that influence the domain game such as Sticky Fingers which I mentioned in previous post on the same topic, some of the results on the domain roll table should reflect that. In a Dispute situation, for example, Sticky Fingers might allow you to ignore the first two steps of the countdown as your thieves infiltrate your neighbor’s domain. You will have to handle the issue eventually or just move to War.

The important thing is this: I’m looking for a solution that limits the number of dice rolls and that doesn’t require any sort of computation before rolling. I don’t want to roll for every unconquered monster lair. I don’t want to add a bunch of numbers on the wiki for every roll I make. I don’t even want to look at what the last roll four sessions ago was before making a roll.

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