Commenting on the 9 Minute Campaign Design post, Cr0m of the Vancouver Red Boxers noted that it’s difficult to come up with a good “High Concept” for sandboxy D&D play. In fact, with the 9 Minute thing, one sandbox will closely resemble another.
There’s a reason for this!
We’re all playing Dungeons & Dragons (or early RPG’s very heavily influenced by D&D’s assumptions), and we’re all playing in almost the exact same sandbox style.
The obvious source of customization, then, is the High Concept. There have been some very evocative High Concept versions of Dungeons & Dragons: some early, some praised or reviled, some very recent. (How well the rules of Dungeons & Dragons serve these ends is a topic of debate which need not concern us.) But generally, for ease of access, most of us are running homebrew vanilla fantasy games.
(You can still differentiate between vanilla fantasy settings if you’re really good at establishing a particular Look & Feel or consciously exclude inappropriate sections of D&D’s eclectic bibliography, but noticing such subtle distinctions becomes a matter of connoisseurs. Tavis’s White Box game is noticeably different from Eric’s Glantri game, but I’m not sure how to describe it, other than that people are different, which isn’t helpful.)
At this point, the more concrete points of differentiation come down to proper nouns and house rules. So: MAD LIBS CAMPAIGN DESIGN, which can also be used to bring newcomers up to speed.
The way this works is, write down the following on a piece of paper – and then plug it into the standard D&D campaign script!
- Name of the adventuring party
- Type of government
- Region name
- Player-character race
- Town name
- Personal name
- Funny-sounding personal name
- Race that nobody ever plays
- Hardship unthinkable to decent folk
- God-forsaken place you would never want to go to
- Scary Adjective
- Custom monster
- Number, presumably non-negative
- Ominous adjective
- Cosmological catastrophe
- Early RPG author
- Gaming reward such as gold or experience or whatever
- Activity associated with adventurers that doesn’t occur in a dungeon
- Standard Character Class
- Dragon Magazine “NPC Class”
Thus and so:
Hi! Welcome to the (1). We’re adventurers in the (2) of (3). We spend our downtime among the (4)-dwelling (5)’s of (6). We’re aided by the kindly (7) and frustrated by that annoying dickhead (8). Nearby are the ruins of the (9), abandoned due to (10). Now it is known as the (11) of the (12) (13), where our party has lost (14) brave men in its depths trying to recover (15). If we fail, a (16) (17) will (18) destroy the (19).
So it’s your standard D&D really, except we use (20)’s house rules for giving out (21) for (22). In this world there are no (23) class, instead we substitute (24).
I’ll be curious to see your lists in the comments!