Sunday, June 3, 2012

Session Recap and I Need to Take a "Prep" in the Sandbox

Session Prep really is turning into a four letter word, but I'll get back to that.

Last night marked the return of one of our group's original players to the group, which puts the current number of PCs at five.  It also adds a cleric to the mix, which is the first healing that they'll have that doesn't come from potions or rest.

There was a crapload of in between session stuff -  the usual mix of spell acquisition for the casters, equipment shopping for the fighter and thievish folks and gladiator games for the gladiator in the party.  Well, not FOR him.  He just spent all of his loot arranging for, putting the purses up and throwing the general party in the surrounding town area for the gladiatorial games.  A fun time was had by all.

As I've mentioned in the past, I'n running my current ACKS campaign as a sandbox style, or sandboxie, game. I'm not so sure it's the purest sandbox out there, but it works well for it's purposes so far.

One of my players hit me with a ton of inquisitive emails prior to the game session. Thankfully, one of players had some thoughts on where he felt the party should be heading to during the night's game play.  Literally minutes before the game (as I was out most of the day) I reread some adventure info the party was likely to stumble upon while making the trek.

I use a combination of adventure sources for my sandbox.  I have some megadungeons planted, some smaller ruins of my own design, and handful of story hooks and dungeons from one sheets and the like.  I've been a big fan of adventure seeds and such since my early days of DMing, when i ran a sandbox styled campaign without even knowing that was the label.

So, forewarned with a probable route and destination for the party, I pulled out my notes and refreshed myself.  The Gnomes from Christian's 000 Hex Series made an appearance, as did one of the NPCs.  I had already planned on using a One-Sheet in the area where they planned to cross a large river - I just didn't expect it to be yet.  No matter, they are doing well, especially as they have the extra body in the party now.  They've already fought and defeated a handful of ghouls, including one that was "cut" in half by a coffin lid that the party's warrior was intending to use to pin her to the side of the coffin (natural 20 with 18 strength.  ouch!)  eat, I think it's playing out well so far.

The problem is the prep.  Prepping for a sandbox isn't like prepping for the next installment in a 12 adventure chain.  It's more like having the chain's links scattered across a board and watching your players randomly assemble it.  Knowing and preparing for everything they could possibly do is an enormous, and probably futile, task.  Conversely, not being prepared enough can lead to silence at the gaming table as you try to recall, remember, create or stammer your way through the next encounter.

I'm very thankful I'm pretty good at improvising in general.  That being said, my party is definitely keeping me on my toes ;)


  1. As the pain in the ass with the emails referenced above, I definitely share your pain man. :) My PnP game is today with my LOTFP group, and unfortunately they triggered something at the end of the last session that could go way way bad for them today. In fact, nothing good will come from today, its just a matter of how bad. And that is going to be determined by a series of dice rolls, like 5-10, near the beginning of the session. I have no idea how it will turn out, and I have been preparing mentally for about 10 different outcomes in my head all week. Ultimately it is all futile, because one thing is for certain with my players---those 8 motherfuckers constantly do what I do not expect and fuck my shit up beyond belief. :) That's what makes it fun!

  2. In general, on sandbox play as a DM, I've been struggling to find that fine line, the balance between being not prepared and over-prepared. The one thing that helps me, is that I have a sense of the whole world, map and general countries and power structures. And I have a sense of the regional conflicts. And I make use of the AD&D DMG Random Monster tables liberally. That, plus the ones in the old Judge's Guild Ready Ref Sheets. Those tables and charts can be brutal, but hey, I'm playing lamentations of the flame princes. So far in 9 months I've managed to kill off 22 of my players' pc's and/or npc's. And the fuckers still keep coming back!

    Once you have the bigger picture in mind, geographically and politically, and the regional conflicts and power groups, I try to develop a mini-story about each area/section. "Over here is the half-demon v the paladin kingdom war. Over there is the city ruled by a lich, in conflict with his cousin the archmage who formerly competed for the affections of a woman---who just so happens to look like one of the party members." That sort of thing. You can do that right down to the town level. Then when the pc's enter into an area, they get the wandering monsters, but they also get to be part of the local story. Every area has a local story, from the town to the country to the continent, to the inn-keeper. It's just a matter of the players, who are creating their own story, or list of deeds--so I don't sound like some Forgie here---interacts with what is going on in that story-line.

    All the rest, the layout of a town, the inn's menu, the names of the local big-wigs, i usually make up on the fly and write down for future reference. Same with their personalities.

    With that structure in place, I've found I can handle most of what they throw at me.

    Of course, that being said, now I'm off to the game, to see how they're going to fuck my shit up this fine Sunday. Cya!

  3. last night was fun once we got going (next time, remind me to do my shopping between sessions; we don't need to drag everyone around town while I try to find a warhorse).

    Slamming the lid on the ghoul felt pretty good. It seemed an appropriate action, and it worked better than expected. Nice 'goddamn right I can take you' feeling.

    As for sandbox prep, it looks like I'll be posting a series at Troll in the Corner about sandbox construction, so I'll be talking at points about just that.

  4. Last night rocked, my only regret is how long it took us to start racking up XP, as I think I won't make it to level 3 on this session's bounty. :(

  5. I probably did, if I'm allowed to level away from town. I was only 250xp shy of third level.

    +1 damage per attack and a new combat proficiency, nice. Now, as long as I don't pooch the hit point roll...

  6. Group emails or individual emails to the dm are the key to the getting the BS out of the way like buying the horse, etc. That's the only way I can swing it with the campaign I run.
    Unfortunately, i began thinking about and sending erik emails on a million things 6 hours before the next session when he was out of town. Sorry man, will do it better and earlier next time.

  7. lol

    joe, not a problem in the least. alls good. besides, i needed time away from the bday party ;)

  8. And just as a followup to the earlier post, we went from 22 deaths in 9 months to 29 deaths as of today. 7 more pc's died today. it was fucking brutal. And it was due to their own actions. They wanted a shot at the brass ring, when they knew the chances of success were low, and failure means death, and they knowingly took the shot and failed. oh well

    oh, and all those semi-contingency plans were blown to shit. they ended up where i never ever would have predicted in a million years. both party changing and world changing events happened, the repercussions of which i will have to think about on the bigger picture for days to figure out what is going to happen next. fun!
    oh, and i'm up to 10 players in my group. talk about chaos. now i know why the old books talked about a caller.


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