Sandboxes are all about the “freedom” that the PCs have to adventure, discover, and interact with a given environment entirely at their whim. It also includes adventures, encounters, and plots that the party just isn’t ready to handle yet.
Welcome back to Groundbreaking. We set out to create a sandbox and while I was having fun building up the region’s topography and various locales within, I started losing site of the main task as we wrapped up the foundation.
“What exactly is a sandbox adventure or adventure site, and how do we create one.”
Using a very narrow definition of the term, we have done what we set out to do, and we now have a detailed region with brief descriptions of the people, places, and some history within that the PCs can ask about, travel to, and adventure in. I would now like to put forth that a sandbox isn’t a sandbox without some amount of seeding. If you read magazines like the old Dungeon or (more recently) Wayfinder, you are going to find articles like Plot Hooks, Side Trek Seeds, Weal and Woe, or even random generators for “X did Y to Z”. These are all great things to have by your side as a GM to help inspire you or to fill gaps in your adventures/modules or simply to give you a free night from creating too much at the last minute. I have therefore decided that I will not waste your time on simply populating the towns, we are going to spend our time here laying out all the things that make a place interesting and give your PCs something to do or ask about.
The mysterious figure known in and around Lakeside proper as Ranthak is a female goblin wizard that studies archaeology and evolution, and dabbles in architecture. She is quite old (60 years!) but hasn’t let that slow her down as her magical talents seem to be preserving both her mind and body at the age of a 30 year old. She moved into the area after learning about the aquatic kobolds in the northern region and deciding that they would make a great source of study on a thesis she is preparing for her studies at the Arcanamirium in Absalom. After arriving, the sheer number of things that caught her imagination prompted her to take a leave of absence, setup residence, and acquire a source of funding in the form of designing The Four Dives. She keeps her true identity secret to avoid all the issues that go along with being a wizard, a woman, and an academic. She doesn’t want to seem like a tourist or draw attention to her work in the odd chance that information might get back to the college and draw others that might try to steal her work.
There are a couple people around town that claim to have knowledge of Ranthak, each with 5 or 6 details but only 1 valid bit. Combined, the party might get 3 pieces of information at most. One of the owners of The Dives is secretly trying to find information on Ranthak and is willing to provide lodging for up to a week to get it. The druids know her, but a relationship with them must be established first. She can be encountered traveling between Lakeside Proper, the kobolds, The Misty Ruins (they believe to have an artifact there), and the Dream Caverns (she uses it to improve her memory).
Ranthak’s friendship with the kobolds can be simple to learn from the kobolds (Medium Check) or difficult elsewhere (Incredible Check). If she is tracked down on one of her visits, she can become an ally with some effort (Hard Check). Usually she has use of adventurers for a handful of tasks, that can be treated like side quests in the larger sandbox. Fetching materials for inks or spells in the farmland (Easy Encounter), tracking down a new familiar in the forest (Medium Encounter), finding a lost ring or rod in the lake (Hard Encounter), or obtaining some dragon scales from the desert (Incredible Encounter).
Her income from The Dives is more than enough to cover her expenses in the field, but not high enough to arouse suspicion from the owners, each of which is unaware that she has the same arrangement with the others. If this information were somehow learned (Incredible Check) and given to the owners, and they believed it (Hard Check) it could create trouble for Ranthak, causing her to confront the party. This would either end a friendship, cause enmity, lead to a fight, or worse. The party would need to be wary of her anytime they are in Lakeside Proper or near the kobold tribes. This information could be used as blackmail (Ultimate Check) if somebody had a reason to blackmail her.
Her study of the kobolds led her to a fascination of their most powerful sorceress, which turned into a relationship over the years. This angered a rival mate and unbeknownst to Ranthak, he has been making plans to quietly remove the goblin from their circle. While she has been very careful to not let her relationship affect her study of the tribe, she has been extremely careful to avoid any written acknowledgement of it in case her papers are rejected for her interference. Either the love interest or Ranthak (or both) could be taken hostage at some point, giving the party a chance at a rescue mission (Medium Encounter) that culminates with a battle with a half-dragon kobold warrior (Hard Encounter).
In the spirit of 2e (Playtest) compatibility, I have provided Encounters and Checks that have the following ratings: Easy, Medium, Hard, Incredible, Ultimate.
Checks are of a skill that the GM decides is appropriate. Encounters really implies a series of activities or encounters, but a single encounter can suffice for a short side quest. If not using DCs scaled to the party, then assume an average party level of 5. For first edition, use the following numbers:
Easy – Check DC 10, APL -1
Medium – Check DC 15, APL +0
Hard – Check DC 20, APL +1
Incredible – Check DC 25, APL +2
Ultimate – Check DC 30, APL +3
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