Sunday, October 23, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 14

I've been receiving some solid feedback on my Non-Traditional Sandbox Design series (thanks guys!), and in reviewing it, I realized I'd forgotten to include an overview of the process.

One point I would like to reiterate here is that many of the steps shown in this series may be considered optional. I can't say that my method is the best, or the only way to design a campaign setting, but it has been used and tweaked for nearly 34 years with excellent feedback from players and DM's alike.

Once you have the basic process down, you can quickly jump to any step and continue to expand your campaign as needed, to stay ahead of the players, and of course to suit your own demented desires for design. To that end, I've placed those that I consider to be optional in bold/Italic text (and added the words if applicable) for your convenience. So without further ado, here is the outline:


1: Create back story and rough outline of the county map.
2: Create a list of towns central to plot points (to be developed in future steps).
3: Create a trade route and list its principle Start and End points.
4: Place Towns on map.
5: Place Trade Route on map, connecting the principle locations from step 3.
6: Have Players name important landmarks.
7: Add Mountain and Hill features.
8: Define Lakes (if applicable).
9: Define River by random roll
10: Add traditional vegetation features.
11: Choose Plots (use Custom or Commercial modules as needed)
12: Create a series of Adventure Hooks
13: Create Calendar, and holiday/events of note.
14: Fill out the Campaign Time line, including days/months of the year.
15: Create Coins for the Realms, based on input from previous steps
16: Fill out Campaign Events, Holidays, and Specifics for Banking (if applicable)
17: Create Taverns and Shops of interest, to drive Plot Points
18: Create Guilds and Organizations in the Campaign
19: Lay out detailed notes for special events (if applicable)
20: Finish Monthly Calendar (if applicable)
21: Create basic map of towns/villages
22: Devise basic monster backgrounds for regions
23: Player Character Sheet (If applicable)


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Material Spell Components

One of the areas of the AD&D 1E Vancian Magic system that I've always enjoyed is the idea of Material Spell Components. Yes, I've sat at a table and played with DM's that required a systematic approach ranging from listing every component in detail to even needing to quest for specific, and I might add, common ingredients so that the mage could ply his trade. Other DM's never worry about them, simply saying you cast the spell and here is the result. I'm guessing the majority of DM's (and players) fall in the latter category as well.

I fall somewhere in between those two extremes.

As for my current campaign, there is an Alchemist in the group whom has been collecting various items, which may or may not aid him when preparing alchemical concoctions down the road. The Alchemist to me is a class that fits tremendously well into my vision of a campaign world, and also promotes this collection process that I think all Mages should use to their advantage.

Collecting the poison from a slain spider happens regularly for the fighters and thieves in the party to coat their weapons.Yet, when the same party walks into a deserted lab and see scrolls and potions sitting with dust on a shelf, there's a mad dash to grab the first one. Left alone on that same shelf, sitting under that same layer of dust is a literal plethora of riches for the mage (and anyone else) willing to do a bit of investigation.

Case in point, last gaming session I ran, the intrepid party was in the the Dark Chateau. In the basement, behind 2 angled purple curtains were tables and alchemical supplies on raised platforms. One of the shelves had a secret catch, and when it was manipulated, a grating sound could be heard. To the players (whom had just been discovered by a hungry Hook Horror) that grating obviously was connected to the part of the wall that slowly lowered, revealing a triple set of mirrors in an alcove. What the party never investigated was the shelve on the far wall, sitting out in plain sight. On it was a veritable trove of goodies ranging from powdered diamond and a small vial with mercury, to four pea sized crystal balls and a small bag with a candle.

For the mage, these may just be spell components, but the party threw away 600 gp in materials that could have been sold back in Yggsburgh. Does it bother me they missed it? Not really, but to that end I've decided to combine all spells from the Player's Handbook and Unearthed Arcana that need a material component into a single document for easy reference.

Material Spell Components

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gem Tables

In AD&D 1st Edition games, much has been written about weapons & armor, and an equal amount has been recorded for the DM that needs to flesh out a random dungeon. Gems and jewels, a precious commodity that can lighten the load of the player, and draw the eye of a resourceful thief have just one and a half pages of information. Page 25 of the Dungeon Master's Guide presents a Gem Value Chart:

The base value of gems found in a treasure can be determined in whole or by lots of 5 or 10 stones by rolling percentile dice:

Dice Score
Base Value
(or Size)
10 gp each
Ornamental Stones
very small
50 gp each
Semi-precious Stones
100 gp each
Fancy Stones
500 gp each
Fancy Stones (Precious)
1,000 gp each
Gem Stones
Very large
5,000 gp each
Gem Stones (Precious)
Value of a gem depends upon its type, quality and weight. A huge semiprecious stone - carnelian, for example - is worth as much as an average gem stone, quality being equal. Size may vary from stone to stone, a 50 g.p. ornamental stone being of above average size, while a 50 g.p. gem stone would most likely be very small.

This is a quick and simple procedure and gives basic results. The one thing to stress here is that two rubies; one of huge quality and another of small quality can indeed be at the opposite end of the spectrum for value. As well, do not discount choosing a few stones for your campaign that are extremely rare, yet very small. Not every gem stone that is huge has as much value as say a Carbanado Diamond. Pyrite is one such example, wherein a huge chunk weighing several pounds might fetch a couple hundred gold pieces, while that same Diamond that weighs scant ounces fetches five hundred times that amount. Thus, page 26 details an additional chart that gives a DM the chance to roll a D10 for each gem he's created and see if it has gained or lost value.


Stone increases to next higher base value; roll again ignoring results above 8. Stones above 5,000 gold piece value progress as follows: 10,000 GP, 25,000 GP, 50,000 GP, 100,000 GP, 250,000 GP, 500,000 GP, and 1,000,000 GP - the absolute maximum. No stone may increase beyond 7 places from its initial base value.
Stone is double base value. Do not roll again.
Stone is 10% to 60% above base value. Roll d6 to find new value. Do not roll again on this table.
Base value shown is unchanged.
Stone is 10% to 40% below base value. Roll d4 to find new value. Do not roll again on this table.

Stone decreases to next lower base value; roll again on this table, ignoring any result below 2.
Stones below 10 gold piece value are: 5 GP, 1 GP, 10 SP, 5 SP, and 1 SP.
No stone may decrease beyond 5 places from its initial base value.
When base value only is known, use the table above, and roll for each stone. Stones for which a 1 or a 0 is rolled must be diced for again on the table, but all others are excluded from such rolls. If large numbers of stones are in question, it is suggested that they be diced for in groups in order to make the process less time-consuming.

Granted, these charts have more than enough detail for the average DM, and I myself have spent hundreds of hours using them to fill out more hoards and troves than I care to remember. To finish out this section, a list of four finished tables was presented. It's broken down for the DM to use as an example – or if he chooses – he may use them to quickly roll up what he needs.

Ornamental Stones
Fancy to Precious
Azurite: Opaque, mottled deep blue
Banded Agate: Brown, blue, red, and white stripes
Blue Quartz: Transparent pale blue
Eye Agate: Gray, white, brown, blue, and green circles
Hematite: Gray-black
Lapis Lazuli: Light or dark blue with yellow flecks
Malachite: Striated light and dark green
Moss Agate: Pink, yellow-white w/gray-green markings
Obsidian: Jet black
Rhodochrosite: Light pink
Tiger Eye Agate: Rich golden brown w/dark striping
Turquoise: Aqua w/darker mottling
Amber: Transparent golden (100 gp)
Alexandrite: Dark green (100 gp)
Amethyst: Purple crystal (100 gp)
Aquamarine: Pale blue green (500 gp)
Chrysoberyl: Green or yellow green (100 gp)
Coral: Pink to crimson (100 gp)
Garnet: Deep red to violet crystal (100-500 gp)
Jade: Light to dark green or white (100 gp)
Jet: Deep black (100 gp)
Pearl: Pure white, rose, to black (100-500 gp)
Peridot: Olive green (500 gp)
Spinel: Red, red-brown, green, or deep blue (100-500 gp)
Topaz: Golden yellow (500 gp)
Tourmaline: Pale green, blue, brown, or red (100 gp)
Semi-Precious Stones
Gems and Jewels
Bloodstone: Dark gray with red flecks
Carnelian: Orange to red-brown
Chalcedony: White
Chrysoprase: Translucent apple to emerald green
Citrine: Pale yellow brown
Jasper: Blue, black to brown
Moonstone: White w/pale blue hue
Onyx: Black, white, or bands of both
Rock Crystal: Clear, transparent
Sardonyx: Bands of red and white
Smoky Quartz: light gray, yellow, brown or blue
Star Rose Quartz: Smoky rose w/white star center
Zircon: Clear pale aqua
Black Opal: Dark green w/black mottling/golden flecks (1,000 gp)
Black Sapphire: Rich black w/highlights (5,000 gp)
Diamond: Clear blue-white, rich blue, yellow, or pink (5,000 gp)
Emerald: Brilliant green (5,000 gp)
Fire Opal: Fiery red (1,000 gp)
Jacinth: Fiery orange (5,000 gp)
Opal: Pale blue w/green and gold mottling (1,000 gp)
Oriental Amethyst: Deep purple (1,000 gp)
Oriental Emerald: Bright green (5,000 gp)
Oriental Topaz: Fiery yellow (1,000 gp)
Ruby: Clear to deep crimson red (5,000 gp)
Sapphire: Clear to medium blue (1,000 gp)
Star Ruby: Translucent ruby w/white star highlights (5,000 gp)
Star Sapphire: Translucent blue w/white star highlights (5,000 gp)

While these are good examples of what sorts of gems your campaign and players may encounter, they leave a lot to be desired when it comes to having a large list of gems and stones with enough information to choose from. To that end, I've compiled a set of tables that any DM can use to fill out their caches and hordes. The secret with these tables is they have been designed to be used by how much detail you the DM needs. You just want a quick Gem name to throw out for that pickpocket attempt? – done. You need a specific class of gem, perhaps a Garnet or Opal, and want to choose it from a categorized list? – done. You want to be able to roll a couple Percentile Dice and 2 D20's to randomly select a couple gems from a larger combined list of over two hundred different stones? – done.

While this does NOT include every type of stone – I have left off minerals like Feldspar – it should enhance any game wherein the DM or player needs more information about that gem they just found in that dead Orc's glove. Uploaded to my 4Shared account is a pdf detailing the Gem tables I've created.

Prior to the session beginning, you've rolled a 5 (3D8) on the Gems Sub Table. Then cross-indexing the Beryl Class chart, you rolled a D10 and rolled a 1. Wait a minute!, it says Emerald. Is that a typo? As I previously mentioned, no, but let's move on to the treasure portion of an example gaming session, wherein the player's have just defeated 6 Orc's and an Ogre. After searching the bodies, they find a glove that jingles when the thief moved it. He tips the contents into his hand and:

“You find 25 coppers, 4 silvers and a small green stone” the DM replies.

“Cool, we'll stash it for later and check it out back in town”, the Cleric surmises, thinking the gem might be used for a tithing to his church.

Later, at the local magic shop (substitute a Gem Store complete with Gemologist and/or Lapidary - if you'd like), the party has the gem appraised.

“Ah, you've found a very interesting stone my friends... (runs a few quick tests) ...this is a Beryl Emerald”.

“Whew-hew” cries the fighter, “drinks are on me!”.

“Not so fast my friend, this is a Beryl. It's very delicate, and certainly not as valuable as a true Emerald because of its small size, but the color and  ...”

“How much is it worth?” the Thief interrupts, a glint in his eyes.

“Well, fair market value – and maybe you'll find a better deal in Elise - but I'd say 130 Gold”.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 13

I decided to revisit the coins of the realm, and came up with a much more fitting design. It's evocative of Isolde-Delta, while also retaining the classic elements that made the original designs simple and effective.

The marbling in the background was included to show the imprecise process of smelting, while dropping the Runic/Harn font design, in favor of an easier to identify Latin motif. Silver and platinum were contrasted against each other by incorporating a cream base in the silver, while the platinum retained a white base.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 6

For completion, I'm including the product line information here for interested parties:

Main Series
8050 CZ1 Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh - by Gary Gygax (2005)
8060 CZA1 Castle Zagyg: Dark Chateau - by Rob Kuntz (2005)
8059 CZ9 Castle Zagyg: The East Mark Gazetteer - by Gary Gygax & Jeff Talanian (2007)
8051 CZ2 Castle Zagyg: The Upper Works - by Gary Gygax & Jeff Talanian (2008)

City Modules
8061 CZ10 Free Town of Yggsburgh: Town Halls - by Jeff Talanian (2007)
8062 CZ11 Free Town of Yggsburgh: Moat Gate - by Don Macvittie (2007)
8063 CZ12 Free Town of Yggsburgh: The Store House District - by Jeff Talanian (2008)
8064 CZ13 Free Town of Yggsburgh: The East Corner - by Joe Damiani (2008--PDF only)

PDF Excerpts from CZ1
Castle Zagyg: Yggsburgh Preview - table of contents, pp. 4-7 (free)
CZ PDF1 Castle Zagyg: Class Options & Skills - multi-classing & secondary skills rules for C&C (free)
CZ PDF1 Castle Zagyg: Class Options & Skills - Talanian edit (free)
CZ PDF2 Castle Zagyg: Player’s Maps - unkeyed city & environs maps drawn by Darlene
CZ PDF3 Castle Zagyg: The Outs Inn - pp. 92-101

PDF Excerpt from CZA1
Castle Zagyg: Dark Chateau Preview - basically just p. 3 (free)

PDF Exerpt from CZ9
Free Town of Yggsburgh: Town Map - city map keyed by district, drawn by Peter Bradley

To round out what would be considered the final piece of the existing info on Castle Zygag, we must turn to Jeffrey Talanian, whom co-wrote with Gary the Upper Works. In Issues 9-12 of The Crusader Journal - a magazine by Troll Lord Games there was additional information written. I'm including Mr. Talanian's  reply herein:

I wrote the first one as an historical perspective of the project. Gary edited it for me. Two weeks later, Gary passed away, so I wrote the next piece all about the man I knew, my friend Gary. The next two issues were pure adventuring material, expansions to the whole and worthy of inclusion in any Castle Zagyg game, IMO.

Finally, Jeff made available a work called: Castles & Crusades Castle Zagyg The Workhouse of Yggsburgh Town - a 3 page write-up on one small encounter within Yggsburgh. It is here that Jeff shows his genius, and I for one wish he would have continued on with the series after Gary's untimely passing.

Here is all the items recommended in order to run WG13 Castle of the Mad Archmage!

S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks
EX1 Dungeonland
EX2 The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror
Oriental Adventures
WG6 Isle of the Ape
Garden of the Plantmaster
MC10 Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium
Hacklopedia of Beasts
The Living Room
Bottle City
Adventures in Oz

To be continued when the party begins to explore the Mouths of Madness...

Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 5

Background Continued:

To say I'm excited and elated is an understatement. This has Gary's fingerprints all over it and it shows. So, Yggsburgh and Dark Chateau are on their way - all that is left to do is track down a copy of East Market Gazetteer and I have the kit and caboodle.

Oh yeah, the dungeons, I forgot about them. Well thankfully, Joseph Bloch over at has created The Castle of the Arch Mage and its been made available to download at his site. It connects perfectly to the Upper Works and is amazing. I took it to Staples, and had it printed in a set of spiral bound booklets single page so I could keep/make notes on each page. I even had the maps bound separately to make my life easier.

Outside of booklets - note custom cover with MAPS written on it:


Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 4

Background on Castle Greyhawk/Zagyg:

This was originally posted over at Dragonsfoot forums (in the 1E section) one of my favorite places to hang out, as both a tribute to Gary Gygaz, and as a way to reintroduce my campaign plans.

Like many and for more years than I care to admit, I wanted to run/play the real Castle Greyhawk, its dungeons and all the goodness it offered. Of course, things didn't work out the way we envisioned with the passing of Gary long before this project could be finished and shared with the gaming world.

Jump back in time to 1974 when I was 11. I was introduced to Chainmail by my Uncle - whom was a historical war gamer and I dug the whole miniature thing right away. The next year my world was changed when D&D came out and my Grandfather bought it for me. My mom then married a real piece of work - my stepfather. He was one of those men whom was a pathetic excuse and dominated my mother and I emotionally, physically - the whole gambit. In any case, D&D, and then AD&D saved my life quite literally. It kept me from spending most of my adult life in prison by focusing on a way to escape for a short time from him and the troubles I faced on a daily basis. I'm sure my story isn't unique, and it may seem quite sappy to some, but there is an epilogue to it I'd like to pass on:

While attending a convention in the early 80's I had the opportunity to meet Gary for the 3rd time - and even saw a bit of one of the dungeon levels from Castle Greyhawk (which one I don't remember - wish I did). During a break between sessions, I saw him again and wanted to share this story with him. As I finished, he smiled, grasped my hand ever so firmly and got a twinkle in his eye. Then he said "Thank You!".

So jump back to this year, and I still longed for Greyhawk. I set my sights on the Upper Works - heck everything I could get my hands on that Troll Lords had done for this setting. After reading a ton of reviews about it online and coming into it with the mindset that it didn't have the dungeons that some wanted, I decided to track down a copy. I spent way more than I wanted, but it arrived yesterday.

Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 3

"Rats!...or how one cleric almost roused the worm at worlds end..."

The basement of the Dark Chateau held many secrets, some of which our brave party were want to find. The curtain to the NE/NW held a couple clues, but a wondering Hook Horror (which almost slayed one of the Midnight Green clothed monks) started the nights gaming session in style. Then, one of the clerics in the party decided to examine the golden pentagram to the North, and decided to sprinkle some of the black salt laying on the floor. Instantly, a swarm of ravenous rats popped into being, wisps of black smoke rolling off their boil-covered, larvae encased bodies. The party was quickly covered by the small sharp-toothed vermin, and 5 (five) members of the party were diseased in the ensuing combat.

Then, they discovered not 1, but 3 serpent wrapped, silver filigree mirrors hidden in a secret alcove. 1 mirror turned out to be empty, a second contained a goblin, while the third held a elven warrior. 2 of the mirrors faced each other, while the 3rd faced outward - and the party was smart enough to use the decapitated head of the hook horror to see what would happen when its reflection was seen in all 3 mirrors at once.

Saxon, a fighter of epic mutton-eating proportion decided to solve the issue by swinging with a downward strike into the mirror holding the elf. His blade stuck in the mirror for a moment, then a fine hairline crack began to expand outward. In an instant the mirror exploded with hundreds of tiny shards, and the elf - Lorien Otolui lay at the party's feet. When the party looked back up, the mirror was once again intact.

The same tactic was used on the goblin-holding mirror, the promise being big treasure for the goblin chief's rescue. The chief kept his promise, tossing a alembic into the air and yelling catch at the same time while running away. The party has yet to fully investigate the alembic which was caught by the alchemist, Azcalaban. After solving a riddle with the crypts to the NE, each with its own color scheme, and matching votive candles - the party was rewarded with a heart shaped pendant - found in the tomb of one of the ex-owners of the chateau.

From there, one not-so-smart elf decided to take off down the southern passageway - only to come face to face with the illusion of a hydra. The 9 heads all spoke at once - warning that only family or one whom has been granted access may pass. Never has an elf turned and hightailed it back through an archway faster in the annuls of Isolde-Delta history. The chosen one (wearing pendant) was able to search the room that contained 9 alembics in a perfect circle (each with it's own color liquid) that surrounded a wooden inlaid sarcophagus.

A small niche was discovered - opened only when the stone was placed in the recess of the properly-colored alembic. In this case, a ancient magical parchment that needed to be covered with wisps of smoke from the matching color led to deciphering it - and a treasure was discovered, a word of safe passage, written on the parchment also showed in vibrant detail a cave entrance at the Mouths of Madness.

The Dark Chateau, written by Rob Kuntz is one adventure that really draws the player into the mystery. Troll Lord Games had originally published this module as part of the Castle Zagyg line, then lost the license after the passing of E. Gary Gygax. One thing that should be made clear is there are plenty of places within the module that a DM may expand descriptions, and even add in his own nuances/encounters. In my case, the single mirror with filigrees became 3, while the sarcophagus room was a perfect spot to add a hidden niche, which contained the parchment.


When last our party saw daylight, they had left the Dark Chateau, traveled North-West to the Castle of Zagyg, and found the opening that matched the gnome illusionists memories. The doors swung wide when the command word was spoken, and into the darkness they traversed.

More to come as they begin their descent into the Storeroom levels - and deeper (if they are found to be fortunate and lucky) into the Castle of the Mad Archmage's dungeon levels.

Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 2

The next days were spent investigating the last of the leads, and it was decided a trip back into the swamps to a local resting ground. The party made their way without much difficulty to the Tomb, but hilarity ensued when they entered the steep, mud/water slicked main entrance. Players were beset by Swamp Gargun, smaller sized orcs with a mean disposition, and in the melee each player save two slipped and fell. Down the passage creature and player slid, knocking over their comrades as they went. Players were diving on creature and vice-versa, but somehow in the din of battle they emerged, muddied, battered but alive. Later, after making a trip via portal back to Corvis, they returned for what they hoped would be a final time and fortune smiled on them when they discovered the secrets of the Tomb.

Returning with information, they discovered the festival was underway, and masses of undead had encircled the city, preparing for decimation. In the midst, the players faced off against a young lass, and a new player to the intrigue - one whom had escaped their original inquiries. They wound up giving a cherished ancient blade to the lass, while attempting to keep the new arrival from escaping through a portal.

So, they decided at this juncture to ignore going to Jo'sRun, and focus instead on making the journey West through Grand Lynne and Coppice, and then onto Yggsburgh. After a bit of respite in Grand Lynn, the party weaved their way through Coppice, and down into Garroting Deep. While camping there the 2nd night, they encountered an old man.

Music played as he approached them, powerful and majestic in his coming, and each player fell under the spell of the Forestal. After a brief meeting, which some of the players took as a sign, they hurried out of the Deep and onto their final destination...Yggsburgh.

Below is included the path that the players took, along with a key to encounters/places of interest.

Once they were settled in The Outs Inn, early the next morning they started up the path that would lead them to Castle Zagyg. Only when the players got to the fork in the road did they see what lay ahead. Jutting above them the Castle loomed in the distance, foreboding and menacing. To their left and down in a valley lay another mystery, The Dark Chateau, rumored to be the original home of the Mad Archmage himself.

It was at this point the players threw a wrench in their own desires, wasting a ton of energy to make it to the City of Legends, and planning to explore the Castle fully, they instead decided with a name like "Dark Chateau", the place had to be explored.

They have explored the first floor, and found the basement entrance. From there they discovered an animated Guardian glove, that gave open slaps that paralyzed it's prey. A couple players had single HP remaining after the battle.

Isolde-Delta and Castle Zagyg Part 1

This set of articles details my original 1977 Isolde-Delta Campaign reloaded to the present. It will include details of The Foaming Flagons, which began at The Bloated Blowfish, located at Troyen, Elise Hundred.

For information on the Micro Sandbox Design process that was used in 1977, and updated for our current group, I draw your attention to my set of articles on Sandbox Design located in the Storage section on the left side of this blog.

Our host had some particle board in a corner of the basement, and prior to the adventure starting, I placed multiple help/wanted signs on the board. During the session, the players each took the time to go over and look things over, then each player had a vote to decide on a plan of action.

While the band Blind Guardian (5 bards) was playing on stage, one of the elves in the party struck up a conversation with a fellow mage, whom it turned out was looking for work himself. Hence the party had acquired their first NPC associate. They decided to take the job of guarding wagons on their way to Corvis, and then onto Jo'sRun.

Chaos ensued as they reached the hilltop swamp before Corvis, as they were set upon by Swamp Gobbers, kin of goblin, but smart and tactful. The heavy fog made fighting difficult (created by the small bellow driven devices the creatures used to gain surprise), and through the hail of bolts and solid rolls the heroes in training won the day.

Once arriving in Corvis, the party walked into a mystery, bodies were disappearing and with a large day of celebration only a week away, plans were quickly formulated to investigate. Multiple sites had to be checked/questions asked and answers only led the company deeper into the puzzle. It was a few days later when a respite came in the form of a tournament for the monks in the party.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 12

23: Player Character Sheet (if applicable)

Well, its been a heckofa ride to share my creation method for micro-sandbox design with you. For those that have followed this process from the beginning, this will be the last article in this series, but I did wish to include a design of a player character sheet I came up with.

Naturally many people won't use it, preferring their own layout, but for me this is an extremely useful design because A) I have never liked sheets that have portraits on them, B) I always wanted a sheet that had a minimalist design and C) combining elements on the secondary (back) sheet makes for a cleaner presentation.

Thanks for reading, and if you have any ideas for a series of articles, please don't hesitate to leave a comment.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 11

22: Continue creation of basic maps of towns/villages

As I've progressed throughout this series, I've given only quick examples of details in my world, while leaving the major items to your imagination. This article take a very brief look at Coppis, a city with a waterfall  running through the middle of it.

I envisioned a city that had layers of rock facades, jutting out from the around the falls, and baskets of some such that would be used to transport supplies to the bottom and continue their journey towards Yggsburgh.

In this case, a party arriving by land from the upstream side of the falls could wind their way down through the city, and come out below, where they would pass through a short tunnel and into Garroting Deep.

Thus, a finished view of the bottom side of The Falls at Coppice:

Friday, April 15, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 10

21: Create basic map of towns/villages

Next I create a basic layout of the towns that I've created in previous steps.

For Jo'sRun, I needed a simple frontier town (population of 109) that had a simplistic walled fortification. This could be used as either a base camp, or jump off location to other areas in the region. For this layout, I used RPG CityMap Generator and after adjusting all the settings, it produced a solid layout I envisioned on the 2nd try. I dropped in the 3 main shops in town, and called it complete.

Herein is the finished city sheet:

22: Devise basic monster backgrounds for regions

Next I developed a group of monsters for each region of the original map. Some have just a very basic framework, while others have complete stats and background.

For the Corvis Swamp region, I created the following information:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 9

20: Finish Monthly Calendar (if applicable)

The Monthly Calendar is next on our list. First I decide on the amount of days per month, the length of special seasonal events, if a leap year would be used, and how many moons there are. If moons exist, I set their rotational period.

I lean towards a traditional 30 day calendar for ease of use, but then thought this would be an opportunity to use 28 days and extend each of the 4 major seasonal events to a 6 day period. As an additional bonus, I went with a Leap year, once every 4 years that would be added onto the Summer Solstice.

I employ WeatherMaster, and create a custom world, with all of my info, including the two moons of Isolde; Bast and Nephthys, and their rotational cycles of 29.5 and 20.5 days respectively. By offsetting these cycles, I come up with some very interesting phenomena. A couple are noted here:

On Savor 28 there is a double full moon, known as "The Eyes of Osiris".
On Nuzyael 15 there is a double dark of the moon, known as "Set's Reprieve".

Prior to a session, I'll generate 1 or 2 months worth of weather, moon phases, and any other data I may need.

Herein is the finished Isolde Calendar - Top:
 Herein is the finished Isolde Calendar - Bottom:

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 8

18: Create Guilds and Organizations in the Campaign

At this point its time to create the guilds and organizations that will be central in your campaign. The guilds are really just a way to present new ideas/concepts to your world, and by creating them as a guild, if they prove to be unbalanced during play, its easy enough to explain their change and/or disappearance due to other Guild's reactions to their inner workings.

The Organizations on the other hand may have minor, or major impact on the extended play in your world, so careful thought is needed not to overpower the proceedings early on. Within these organizations you may well find a truly nefarious character or organization that becomes the parties nemesis. I will stress at this point, unless you have a nemesis already fully designed, its best to see where the players go, and not "force" them onto a path where they meet this particular NPC - let the PC's lead the way and plan accordingly.

For this step, I created 4 guilds (in addition to existing ones) that might prove to be of aid to the party. Since my campaign uses gem stones in a more magical sense, introducing the Paragon Guild into the campaign was a consideration I leaned towards early on.

I initially created 6 organizations, of which most have some religious tie. Others are much more benign in their design at the onset, and may be developed further down the road.

Herein is the finished Guild/Organization sheet:

19: Lay out detailed notes for special events (if applicable)

This section is for some detailed notes on special events, tournaments or places the PC's may encounter/travel to.

In my case, 3 of the players wanted to create 1st level Monks, yet all three were not sure how long they would survive in the new campaign. Once they were on their way, one idea I had was to create a tournament to entertain and give them a chance to do battle in non-lethal combat while presenting them with a chance to role-play specific attacks. So on the fly I designed a round robin style tournament, and created a quick and dirty combat system. When they arrived at Corvis and spent the night, the next morn they awoke to flyers all around town that spoke of this tournamnet.

1 of the players named each of his attacks, so before the die was rolled for initiative, he would scream out "Flying Tiger Claw" then we'd roll for the advantage. The other 2 quickly picked up on this and hammed it up, coming up with phrases suited to their players style.

I created a 16 monk bracket, and rolled for the NPC matchups. All in all, the final pitted 2 of the players against each other, and everyone had a grand time. The 4th player at the table was so enamored with the fighting styles, he created a monk during the session, and got him in on the action.

This is but one example of a detailed notes section, so herein is the finished sheet:

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 7

16: Fill out Campaign Events, Holidays, and Specifics for Banking (if applicable)

Next was to pull many of the pieces together from previous steps. Plot points that were originally designed to aid the players were added to the Campaign Events, along with notes where needed. The major Holidays were added including notes for clarity, and the coin names were dropped in, while I finished out the banking section.

Herein is the finished Campaign Events sheet:

17: Create Taverns and Shops of interest, to drive Plot Points

One of my favorite steps is laying out the general details of each Tavern/Inn - i.e., it's name, location, and owner. Along with this I created a few noteworthy general shops that would also fuel the central plots I had created in previous steps.

I would like to stress this point here. The reason for NOT doing all this work is so you aren't bogged down by the idea of the size of the world on the front end. Again, we're not dealing with massive detail here, just a basic outline to focus our gaming session. Details, along with maps, layouts of each building can be created once the player's lean towards that plot point. IF they don't follow a particular path, then there is no reason to give yourself extra work, unless your really in love with a specific place/setting etc.

Herein is the finished Campaign Taverns/Shops sheet:

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 6

14: Fill out the Campaign Time line, including days/months of the year.

Here I fill out the base time line sheet, starting day, and writing down the months of the year and days of the week taken from step 13. The bottom section of this sheet I used to give origin dates for the coins of the realms, and their creators with a bit of info.

At this point I'm not worried about massive amounts of details, just trying to cover all my essential bases so that the world has a solid foundation. Later on I can go back and add in more details for various events during the gaming session.

Herein is the Campaign Time sheet:

15: Create Coins for the Realms, based on input from previous steps

I wanted ease of use over some detailed design, something that the players "could" use if they wished, and decided that 4 large points of interest in the map design process would fuel each coin's history. Hence, the Church of Sorakis claimed the Gold Sword, the Valley Dwarves the Silver Axe, the Monastery the Copper Lotus, and the Royal Family the Platinum Crown.

Once I decided on a design for each "head", I wanted Latin to be central on the coins, yet hidden under the guise of a Harnic Rune. Lastly I pondered what to use on the "tail" or reverse side of each coin. I could have 4 individual designs, front and back, but once I took another look at the Giant Trees at Grand Lynn, it was an easy choice to include a simple Grove of Trees as a single point of continuity for all the coins.

Herein are the finished coins of the realms:

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 5

13: Create Calendar, and holiday/events of note.

Each month has 30 days, with 5 special events throughout the year. Equinox, Solstice and Drawing are major days that the people look forward to throughout the year, and are known as markers for fairs, tournaments and feasts. Leap of the Faithful happens but once every 4 years, and is a day that the commoners may speak openly with their leaders/kings, and major tournaments are held on this day.

As for names of each month, I wanted to pay tribute to Harn by using their Month names, and adding in my own common names that the people of Isolde would use. The Gregorian references are only included here for clarity.

Drawing of The Moon

Janus: Ilvin: The Dark
Februs: Navek: The Claw
March: Morgat: The Reaping

Spring Equinox

Aprus: Nuzyael: The Weaping
May: Peonu: The Sowing
Junus: Kelen: The Seeking

Summer Solstice

Julus: Nolus: The Eye
Augus: Larane: The Tide
Septem: Agrazhar: Long Shadow

Fall Equinox

Octob: Azura: The Fall
Novem: Halane: The Silence
Decem: Savor: The Return

Winter Solstice
Leap of the Faithful (Once every 4 years)

I wanted to create a circular calendar, that would quickly associate each 3 month section with a color reminiscent of that season. Included herein is the finished Isolde Calendar:


Monday, April 11, 2011

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 4

11: Choose Plots (use Custom or Commercial modules as needed)
I had went through a large selection of modules, both home brew and existing commercial products, and found some that would fit the continent, and more importantly the levels of the players. Since we were starting with Level 1 characters, I leaned towards a few that would be considered campaign scenarios in their own right, i.e., covering a range of levels from 1 through 5 and 3 though 7. I also chose a few so called One Offs, being short enough to get the players feet wet if they chose that specific route as they explored the world. A few notables are listed here:

Castle Zagyg (City of Yggsburgh)
Witch-fire Trilogy (City of Corvis)

If your interested in short adventures to be included in your own sand box style game, I'd recommend searching various AD&D websites for adventures created and posted to the files/downloads section. There is a literal plethora of great adventures waiting to be used, and or added into any campaign. I've a folder on an external hard drive filled with such items - and they always serve as inspiration when needed.

12: Create a series of Adventure Hooks
Since the campaign would be starting at Troyen, the home of the Bloated Blowfish, I needed to devise a series of plots that would stand as possible paths to give the players a range of things to do. These were set up not as "must occur" events, but rather would stand if the party couldn't decide on a course of action.

Using a few of the module ideas I listed above in step 11, I started fleshing out where each module would be located, and fitting all the pieces together. I decided to focus on 12 initial adventure hooks and the breakdown was as follows:

6 Wanted Poster
2 Help Wanted Signs
3 NPC Interactions
1 Note

The Note would be given to one of the players as part of his background story, while the 3 NPC interactions would be spread out through the small town of Troyen and at the Bloated Blowfish. One of the Help Wanted signs was the traditional Guard the Caravan, while another was of the "Find My Missing Child" variety. The Wanted signs varied from "Dead or Alive" to "Reward for Capture". The posters and signs were displayed on a literal "Work Board" that was set up in the corner of the gaming room prior to the session beginning.

During our session, and over the course of an hour or so, the players ambled over to the board, looking at items and then conferring with each other. Each player had a vote, and after some very interesting discussions, they decided the caravan would be the best way to start. So the journey began, first stopping off at Corvis, and eventually arriving to Jo'sRun.

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 3

6: Have Players name important landmarks.
The entire map is 20 X 20 hexes, and each hex equals 2 miles. I took the county map and lightly marked it into 4 regions, each made up of a 10 X 10 hex segments. I quickly numbered these 1-10 both north and south so I'd have a quick grid to cross reference for this step.

Included herein is a copy of my hex grid, with numbers and sections in place - for reference:


During our pregame session where a few players were rolling characters, I required each to come up with some landmarks that perhaps their character was familiar with (as part of their back story – or something they may have seen in their travels). Then, as each was named, I had them roll a D4, then 2 D10 to give me the exact spot on the map this special landmark fell. Landmarks listed below:

Arid Planes
Giant Tree

NOTE: During this creation phase, one player said Giant Trees, and rolled the placement. It dropped the trees directly onto Grand Lynn, and thus in a moment the Trees of Soaring Woodhelvin were born. (Covenant place of fame). Other interesting points – all rolled at random were the waterfall placed at Coppice, a point coming down out of the Crestfallen Mountains, a Tomb on island in the middle of a lake just South of Yggsburgh, and the Geysers of Sarangrave Flat (Covenant place of fame).

All told, I really enjoyed this, and later on the player whom had said Swamp stated in character during their first foray versus a tough collection of Swamp Gobbers “Why oh why did I mention swamp..Bleh!”. That made my day.

Included herein is a copy of the completed Trade Route, with features added by the players:


7: Add Mountain and Hill features.
I dropped in a range of mountains and hills wrapping them around and through the trade route, taking special care to leave room for other “special landmarks” not added by the players. I stuck with a basic layout here, using a D6 for each side of a standard hex when I needed to make a decision about the direction a feature would run.

8: Define Lakes (if applicable).
I rolled a set of D6 to help create the lake outline. In directions leading towards rivers I placed a 1 hex beginning line to aid in remembering to make connections (where needed).

9: Define River by random roll
Knowing that Yggsburgh and Corvis needed 3 rivers to properly exist, these two features were drawn one hex away from both cities. In addition, a major landmark, a waterfall at Coppice required a major river above and below it. Lastly, the lake river inlet was created.

From there, I had the players roll D6 to plot the rivers, ensuring they hooked up, although I was pleasantly surprised how easy and natural the river systems turned out.

10: Add traditional vegetation features.
Once the mountains, hills, river and lakes were added, the final step was to draw in traditional geographic features. These included forest, plain, grassland and ensuring that each feature blended well with the one near it.

Included herein is a finished copy of the Elise Hundred Map:


Non-Traditional Sandbox Design 2

Hundred Design (County for the uninitiated)
I had two pieces of the puzzle in place, but had decided from the onset that whatever campaign I ran, it would be based on an original sandbox design that I had used in 1978. I'll go into some detail here to address my creation and steps needed to accomplish those goals for yourself. Items I pulled together from existing sources to aid me in creating this continent are listed below:

Mystic Eye Games Campaign Planner Collection
Ronin Arts Fantasy Handouts Collection

In my version of the term “sandbox style game” – I create things from a micro scale outward. That is, all I start with is a rough outline of one county (hundred) on my continent, and a single point of interest – in this case the Bloated Blowfish Tavern. Because I'm working from the micro scale outward, I'm essentially discovering the world with my players as they adventure. It's a bit more back end work for me, but it also allows me to shape the fringes of the world, while giving the player more control over the world in which they live.

1: Create back story and rough outline of the county map.
I started with a region where my tavern, the Bloated Blowfish would be based. The Blowfish began on a small peninsula island off the coast of the continent of Isolde, near Lake Elise. Up on the hill above sits Crestop, a large castle that for 200 years stood as a home to many souls and a regent to the lands. Then Crestop's neighboring mountain collapsed, blocking off the salt and river routes and the entire region changed.

Once the arduous journey was made by the son of the King to the region of Crestfallen, Lord Reginald quickly decided something had to be done. In the early 6th century, a few of the old routes were reconnected, and with the help of the Valley Dwarves of Elden-Way, some semblance of normality returned to this region. It was decided that combining the existing castle and tavern into one large conglomerate might be able to take advantage of the regions restored status. From there, the tavern quickly gained notoriety for being a crossroads haven for adventures, and folks searching for a purpose in life.

2: Create a list of towns central to plot points (to be developed in future steps).
City: Yggsburgh - Northwest Corner
Town: Corvis - Eastern Central locale
Village: Coppice - closest town to Yggsburgh in this county
Village: Grand Lynn - central location, middle of map
Thorp: Troyen - Starting point, near Lake Elise – North East corner
Fife: Jo'sRun - Southwest corner

Note: The towns in bold already exist in print from other published sources.

3: Create a trade route and list its principle Start and End points.
A. The trade route runs from Yggsburgh to Jo'sRun.
B. There is a toll to be paid at Corvis -which sits as a central point on the route. Going North takes one to to Troyen, home of Crestfallen and the Bloated Blowfish.
C. South from Corvis leads to Jo'sRun.
D. West from Corvis leads to Grand Lynn, and further on to principalities of Coppice.
E. From Coppice the trail opens outward and down to the 3 rivers junction at Yggsburgh.

4: Place Towns on map.
I then placed each town on the map, in the positions I created in step 3.

5: Place Trade Route on map, connecting the principle locations from step 3.
I then created the Trade Route, connecting the principle towns along it as created in step 3.

NOTE: It's critical not to do anything else at this point – since the players will be directly involved in the creation of, and the playing in the world. Resistance, in this case, is not futile!

Non-Traditional Sandbox Design

Campaign Background

Over the last few months I had been gathering steam on my own campaign setting, which would become a blend of existing information, maps, places, NPCs, from the last 35 years of playing and Dming 1st Edition AD&D. In that time, I investigated a slew of various options and systems, some of which sang in my ear for a short time, while others were quickly tossed to the side because they lacked ingenuity or anything I could use. Then, last summer I joined up with a local group of gamers known as the Foaming Flagons – who it turned out loved the classics of the genre; from Traveller and Call of Cthulhu to OD&D and the Forgotten Realms – these guys were like mirror images of myself.

Once it was determined I passed muster (and don't get me started on that whole “introduction to a new group/blending in phase – I could write a book) the question eventually came up as to what I wanted to run.

I had, and still consider MERP to be one of my favorite settings. As a certified geek of Tolkien, this system really contains everything one could want for the setting, and there is enough historical data (read – existing modules and published material) to give any confident DM and group a lifetime worth of imagination and excitement. The issue however came down to the character generation and the ideology that if I were going to run this the ring could not exist. So, MERP was pushed aside.

The Forgotten Realms. I'd be remiss not to mention my considerations for this setting, given it's legendary status at our table (1E) and how well known the land is. In many regards I know this world better than the one I live in, so Faerun will be used in part.

Next I turned to the most amazing setting that I've ever seen. Detail, maps to die for, a fevered group of fans whom create their own “fanon” and count them 2 companies developing material 28 years after the system's introduction. This means there is enough meat and (lack of potatoes) to fill any palette. (that is a pun for the unknowing – for somewhere in the annals of this world it became a fairy tale that potatoes don't exist)

Yes, I'm speaking of Harn. Most people talk about the maps, but for me its the little details in this world that absolutely slay me. From creating and running your own manor, to the misunderstanding that many have that Harn is a magic weak world. How inaccurate that is – for it is magic-rare. Odds are in your adventures you will encounter entire villages that have never seen an iota of magic in their entire life. The Shek-Pvar (the mages) tend to keep a stern eye on any outward displays of magic but the way I look at this system is that a PC is a hero, special in some regard, capable of retaining spell energy, or exceptional of heart. So, Harn's island has been dropped onto the globe – to sit alongside Faerun.

Lastly, I wanted to incorporate places and perhaps even NPCs from my favorite set of books and author; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson. This set of works has inspired me like no other, and I've had the great fortune to meet him on several occasions.

Campaign History: Coins of the Realms 2

~~Background 1978 - January 21 ~~

After careful thought, I had decided early on that any coin in the Realms would include the same back design, to represent Isolde and to cut down on production costs. Many designs were considered, but I kept coming back to the one feature that makes Isolde, well Isolde - the Giant Trees.

The Monks of Soaring Woodhelven have 2 huge specimens, and there are other locations throughout Isolde that have some smaller cousins, if 400 feet is small. A single tree seemed to sparse for my taste, while a grove of trees better represented the wildness and serenity that forests present.


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Campaign History: Coins of the Realms

~~Background 1978 - January 21 ~~

My next task was to create a set of coins that represented the various cardinal powers of Isolde, while also sharing my love for all things Latin. It would be 5 more years before Harn came along, but I was already envisioning a world that was based on Medieval Europe, and had a touch of Tolkien. I quickly decided to use Latin as my choice of slogan, and hid each under the guise of a Dwarven - later to be Harnic Rune.

Created by the Church of the White Lotus in 204 DF, the Copper Lotus represents the simple man in Isolde, and the realm of Nature. A classic Harnic font overlays the Latin phrase:

Consensio quod Pacis per Vis
Harmony and Peace with Nature

The Valley Dwarves of Isolde petitioned the Grand Council in 106 DF to have a coin that represented their stake in the affairs of the various Hundreds. The first minted Silver Axe included the Dwarve's favored Wood Axe encircled by the Latin phrase:

Pondera Plumbum ut Victoria
Balance Leads to Victory


The Church of Sorakis was tasked to create a representation of their creed, and in 203 DF they brought forth the Gold Sword. It includes a Reaper's Sword, encircled by the Latin phrase:

Ago per Mucro
Live by the Sword

Lord Prothall decreed in 101 DF that Isolde needed a coin that represented a shared vision of the country, and tasked many artisans. The Platinum Crown was chosen with the King's own slogan of Glory, Honor, Unity surrounded in Harnic Runes:

Palma , Veneratio , Iunctum
Glory, Honor, Unity

Saturday, April 9, 2011

DM Screen Collage and Player Handbook's Images

 Archived for 1979 - in reference to my original DM Screen

For some time I've been working on an upgrade to the central collage of the DM Screen from 1979. This latest effort was 35 hours of editing, matching up segments and attempting to capture the flavor of the original. Is it perfect?

Nah, probably won't ever be, but hopefully for those that wish to create their own DM screen, it'll be a nice upgrade. I've uploaded this in 2 parts. Left side: 

Right side:

Lastly, I've finished the editing of a larger Original Player's Handbook front cover.

DM Screen Source Images

Archived for 1979 - in reference to my original DM Screen

For some time, and like many DM's, I've been searching for the ultimate Dungeon Master Screen. The original 1979 version remains the de-facto version with enough information (and art for the player) to satisfy all my old school desires. So a while back I discovered a fantastic DM Screen that has everything the original had, and more. Over at Dragonsfoot, member

DM Screen

In any case, for those that actually follow this blog, I've recently edited all of the images found in his original thread's includeds images. Since they were not included in the pdf file I thought this might help finish this fantastic addition to your gaming table.