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Meta Thursday: Confessions of an Evil GM (Sandbox vs. Railroading)

B1_map_GMWhen I started playing RPGs, railroading was the only way ahead. Then something called a sandbox came along. I initially thought, “isn’t that where children play and cats do their business?” That’s only partly accurate; sandbox design is a way of making the campaign world more alive.

More alive? I just wanted to kill things with my character. Still, over time I came to love the new, open worlds previously unavailable to me – it was mind-blowing just thinking that I could go anywhere. I ultimately found sandbox design to be amazing and used (or perhaps abused) it for years. I went off the track just because it was expected that I could, and I could have been a better player if I hadn’t.

To this day I still expect a GM to know the proprietor of every tavern in the campaign setting. Now that I’ve taken up the gamemastering reigns myself, my views on the sandbox approach have changed…or have they?

renaissance-clothing-5Let’s consider it against its most polar counterpart: railroading.

I hate pure sandbox; learning everything in a campaign setting by heart? No thank you. Because I have a life, you ask? No, because there are too many cool campaign settings for me to reasonably do that (although I might add that I do have a life). For me the sandbox is of infinite size, both as a player and a GM. The player side of me loves the opportunities, but the GM part of my brain despises it, as the party can run everywhere and expect you to be prepared. This might be because my players are an evil lot, but in my opinion it is because if you give them a possibility, they will seize it. I know I would, so it is only fair that they do so when I’m the GM.

To combat the infinite size of the sandbox, I turned back to railroading. As we played around in the sandbox, we discovered the failings of railroading; it was restrictive and often proved to an impediment rather than aid to the GM. Basically, there’s a good way of railroading, and there is the bad way of doing it. Let me give you examples of both.

Morsain Castle interiorThe wrong way:

The party is summoned to the count’s castle. A railroading trick, the players are summoned by a powerful NPC so that no one tries anything, because the NPC is so powerful.

You must go to X and before the next full moon. Another trick, make sure the distance and time given allows for no or little leeway.

Carry this treasure/ransom/document to X. Make sure the item in question is so valuable that the party will not take any chance that might endanger the item.

Arrive at X, and sit in an antimagicfield and watch the villains take off with the ransom. This is the result of bad railroading; now we can wait until next time, where we will be sent off to somewhere else.

Did this actually happen to me? Yes, and I hated it; it was boring and restrictive.

The right way:

THE TORESTUS FULLGive the players an awesome handout. A map, a prophecy, or a book, if you are so inclined (I am looking at you Mike Myler, giving them a book, talk about raising the stakes for the rest of us.) Seriously with a handout like a map you can control their most likely path of travel (and compensate for going off the trail) and the same goes for a prophecy; any handout that controls some of or any part of their whole journey will help you narrow down your sandbox, which will help you make the passage to the destination more believable. You can prepare a few encounters and read up on the most likely towns they will visit, thereby making sandboxing a breeze.

I must admit that I don’t make handouts for all campaigns, but putting together an intriguing verse or prophecy gets easier with practice.

Checklist for a successful sandbox campaign:

1) Get familiar with or prepare a couple of backwater villages, including a small inn where the party can stay should they go too far from the path.

2) A list of names for quickly naming minor NPCs, so we can avoid the Hanson family of farmers, and the brothers Jonas.

3) You should know where the clerics that are capable of raising and resurrecting are located in the world – there is no free resurrection in every little village.

4) A list of rumors with details conveniently located on or close to the path you want the PCs to take.

medieval-age-2

5) Lists of the various city guards and mages might come in handy as well.

 To sum up my ramblings:

Narrow down the sandbox.

Use an awesome handout (prophecy, map or otherwise) to influence the PCs path.

Prepare lists of useful details for the campaign.

Submitted by Brian Wiborg Monster

[Edited by Mike Myler]

Do you have a contribution or idea for Meta Thursdays?  Send us your ideas (after reading the submission guidelines) to submit(at)adventureaweek.com with “Meta Thursday” in the subject line!

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Weird Wednesday: The Eternal Torment

Statue-3The Eternal Torment

Aura none (medium abjuration and medium conjuration, see text); CL 7th

Slot none; Weight 800 lbs.

The Eternal Torment is always a beautiful marble statue of perfect proportions, slightly larger than the creature it portrays. The face is contorted in pain but otherwise an aura of beauty surrounds the artwork. Upon careful examination, however, the statue surrenders its dreadful secrets—hidden hinges open revealing the interior of an iron maiden. Small spikes dot the inside, barely large enough to allow a creature to fit inside.

The Eternal Torment is a devious device used to imprison people in a torturous cage made all the more sadistic by their innocuous presence within a populated place. The statue bestows the benefits of a ring of sustenance, although the effects start only last from when a victim is fitted inside to when they leave it. The statue also has a working nondetection spell placed upon it. If a divination spell is attempted against the occupant, the caster of the divination must succeed on a caster level check (1d20 + caster level) against a DC of 19 (as if the occupant had cast nondetection on herself). The auras from these effects are hidden, and are only discovered with a successful DC 11 Will save (see detect magic spell text for greater details on how this is discovered). The spikes inside deal 1d6 piercing damage every round The Eternal Torment is closed, receding slightly when the victim reaches 1 hit point.

CREATION

Magic Items any statue or body suitable for a golem or similar construct. 

 

A character that makes a Knowledge (history) check to learn about The Eternal Torment identifies the following fragments of lore:

DC 15      This statue bears all the hallmarks of the now extinct char’krar culture, nomadic horse raiders that conquered Kith Guhr, the jeweled city, some eight centuries ago. Seeing how comfortable city life was, their leaders abandoned their ancient ways in favor of urbanity. The few disgruntled tribesmen that voiced any concerns or reluctance were quickly found floating face down in the Ruby River.

DC 20      In the first three centuries after the fall of Kith Ghur, char’krar culture had a renaissance, going from crudely carved wooden idols of their ancestors to paintings and sculptures rivaling nearby cultures. Several of their nobles collected statues, trying to outdo each other with massive outdoor collections, called gardens. The char’krar enjoyed several profitable trade routes with nearby nations before four to five centuries ago, when a radical change overcame Kith Ghur: the temples of the city were defiled and the ancient gods were abandoned in favor of open worship of the demon lord Tzzeraxxt, lord of pain and joyful suffering. For almost a century trade continued with Kith Ghur until at last relations grew too strained to continue—the missing caravans and rumors of human sacrifices could not be ignored. Three hundred years ago Kith Ghur closed its gates for the last time as the char’krar withdrew into the city to worship Tzeeraxxt and tend to their own increasingly vile, debased, ritualistic practices of worship.

DC 25      As time passed, the gardens grew but a new feature was added—hollow statues used to torture and torment in the name of Tzzeraxxt. Many times servants awoke to find one of their number missing and another statue was added to their master’s garden; horrifyingly, they soon discovered their lost companions as statues, as the truly devout made their tombs to resemble their victims. Fear was a constant companion in Kith Ghur—no one was safe from joining a garden. The char’krar nobles tried to outdo each other in an attempt to gain favor from their vile lord Tzzeraxxt by increasing the pain caused by removal from the statuespikes were added to the hollow insides, longer spikes combined with regeneration (not that anyone were ever taken back out according to the legends). In time Kith Ghur fell silent apart from the muffled cries from some of the statues before those within died out, as the city itself eventually did as well.

DC 30      Persistent rumors speak of a few statues with the power to halt time for the occupant, it is doubtful if these statues were ever made, but if they do exist, the question arises: who or what will emerge should one be found?

 

Submitted by Brian Wiborg Monster

[edited (into a cursed item!) by Mike Myler]

 

Do you have a chilling idea for a haunt or cursed item? Send it along to us at submit (at) adventureaweek.com, but please, bear the following in mind before you submit anything for review:
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Weird Wednesday: The Count’s Carriage

Kobold TrailThe Count’s Carriage     CR 9

XP 3,200
CE haunt (10ft. x 70ft. roadway)
Caster Level 9th
Notice Perception DC 25 (to hear the faint neighing of galloping horses)
Hp 14; Trigger proximity; Reset 1 day
Effect A sickly florescent green horse-drawn carriage with ghostly tendrils trailing after it hurtles down the forested roadway. The curtains have been drawn and the interior cannot be seen and while the details upon the carriage show that it is a noble’s, it does not indicate which noble or even which family.

When the count’s carriage is triggered, the carriage appears and moves 70 feet down the road (in one turn); any target within ten feet of the carriage at any point during its move are attacked by one of the ghostly tendrils (melee touch +9). On a successful hit, the victim is pulled into the carriage. Here he suffers the same ordeal as the count’s victims centuries before (an effect emulated by a slay living spell). 
Resisting this haunt requires a successful Fortitude save (DC 17). The victim is thrown out of the carriage afterward (whether dead or alive) although any survivors elicit a primal scream of rage from the carriage as it dashes away.  
Destruction The original count’s carriage (located in the forgotten Dungeons of Anguish) must be burned while watched over by a cleric of a good-aligned deity. 
Adventure Hook Two hundred years ago, the Uberwald forest was the home of the Uberwald Fiend. Victims were found along the road, their faces frozen in terror with horrific injuries from slashings to their bodies. These atrocities followed no particular pattern, afflicting nobles and commoners alike. When Count van Twerten was found to be the Uberwald Fiend, massive mobs descended upon his manor and burned it to the ground. The count escaped in his carriage during the commotion and was never caught; the reputed Dungeon of Anguish, below the manor, was never found. Recently slain persons showing the same signs as the victims of old have begun to turn up along the forest road. Whispered rumors in the roadway’s inns speak of the return of the count, or possibly something even more sinister.

Do you have a chilling idea for a haunt? Send it along to us at submit (at) adventureawee.com, but please, bear the following in mind before you submit anything for review:
1. Anyone can submit an entry.
2. One entry per person at any one time. An entry must be your own work, not being published previously or considered by any other publisher, and it must original and not infringe upon copyrighted material.
3. All entries become property of Adventureaweek.com, LLP.
4. By submitting an entry you authorize the use of your name and likeness without additional compensation for promotion and advertising purposes in all media.
5. Adventureaweek.com, LLP reserves the right to withdraw or terminate this endeavor at any time without prior notice.
6. All decisions of Adventureaweek.com, LLP and their arbiters are final.
7. There is no compensation provided – any entries are given freely by their creators for use by Adventureaweek.com, LLP in perpetuity.
8.  Your statblock must be properly formatted (ex: The Drowned Maiden).