Some aspects of game prep just require using your imagination to come up with rumors and stories to tie things together, like dungeons, treasures, and monsters. The hard part is coming up with all the pieces that need to be tied together with a story.
That is why random tables are so popular with DMs & GMs.
I was doing sandbox game preparation, before I knew it had that name. However, it was not a well organized way of doing it. After getting online a few years ago and stumbling across a ton of sites dedicated to the OSR and reading about sandbox vs. railroad, did I know there could be a better way to do things.
I have taken my “grand scheme” model of planning everything on a western Europe sized scale and reduced the focus to a single peninsula with a walled town, Larenda, at the upper portion of the peninsula, and an ancient abandoned city at the tip, Karbana. Larenda is the base of operations. I have used NPCs to urge the players to avoid Karbana as it is too dangerous. It is, but I don’t have enough planned for the ruined city yet.
Instead, I have tombs and monsters and other things going on closer to Larenda.
I have slowly been adding things to stay ahead of the players. Long weekends like this, I am using to fill in all kinds of gaps, and random tables are the way to go.
I used the d30 A to Z Treasure Map Generator to generate the properties of a list of treasure maps that a treasure map vendor, named Condor, has. Condor has sold the party maps to some ancient tombs they discovered, proving that they were tombs not yet known, as the forest has grown over them since the ancient city fell. Condor has cautioned them that the maps are genuine, but he can’t guarantee that any treasure is still there. One of the party started a riot by going to the tavern Condor was known to frequent and offering a reward for anyone who knew where he was. This was one session. The next session the other players kept their heads down in the tavern they frequented and observed a man sneaking in and keeping to himself. They rightly surmised that this was Condor. He told them to meet him at his shop the next day once things calmed down. This resulted in great laughter when they realized the one player did not ask if he had a shop, and started looking for him in the middle of the day at his favorite tavern.
So Condor has a lot more maps. I rolled and determined the quality of the cartography, the type of material, its size, and its condition, the language, if the treasure was still there, etc. If the treasure was not there I rolled on the 1st Edition DMG treasure map table to determine if it was a genuine map or a false one. Next I used Grimm’s all the dice treasure map generator to determine where each map leads. I then used Dyson’s d12 treasure map generator to determine the location of treasures that were in dungeons or structures. One treasure that was not there on the d30 table I rolled was buried outside, so then I rolled up a new treasure using the DMG and I rolled that it was a monetary treasure and then rolled a 20. This means it is a hoard so huge that it automatically explains why it was buried outside. A previous, maybe ancient group of adventurers found it and buried what they could not transport for later. I did not take everything as rolled. I moved up or down the charts for something that made sense so that there was some variety to each piece and they all weren’t located next to a whirlpool in a marsh.
I was easily able to come of with stories for the provenance and so forth for the maps. The hard part is actually locating where the maps lead on my campaign map.
As far as dungeons, I can just use a dozen of the hundreds of One Page Dungeons created over the past few years. I just have to place them on the map.
I have also collected other PDFs and tables for all kinds of generators. The d30 Sandbox Companion is great. I have multiple tables from various sources for ruins generation and city generation to flesh out Larenda, and the ancient city of Karbana.
Megadungeon resources come in handy with huge ancient cities. I plan to make Karbana the surface area to a megadungeon. I don’t know if I will ever get enough play time to do more than develop it much. However, some of the maps lead here. I had even generated a map that is hidden in a location on the peninsula the player’s have yet to find that leads to Karbana. I had not filled it in until last night when I was finishing the descriptions of Condor’s treasure maps. The key is can a masterful job of cartography with major holes and stains still lead the players to the treasure? The one problem with all this prep is will I just have a bunch of MacGuffins that will never be realized?
What is funny are players who go to ancient tombs without any tools other than a wagon to haul loot. They find one of the tombs and the entrance is blocked by a massive stone, and they don’t have shovels, picks, pry bars, or rope to try and move it, so they have to look for another tomb and come back later.
Another tomb had some piercers in it and it freaked out the party, so they left that tomb alone after one hireling nearly died from a small one near the entrance. After they messed around with some other tombs, when they were back in town they asked the sage and learned that they were just normal creatures. They were hoping to find an easy way to get rid of them, but the wizard in town is too busy to even talk to them, lowly first, second, and third level characters. So now they either come up with a plan to do something about them, or forget that tomb.
Now that they came back with a minotaur and treasure, others know about the tombs. Now to see what is going to happen.
A few tables to generate a structure, and a story to tie the structure together, then what happens when the players encounter it, it becomes a living breathing adventure full of fun and excitement.
There is something about this than you can’t learn without doing. Generate an adventure scenario and make up a story to tie it together, then unleash the players on it.
As a DM one must get used to the idea that some of the things that we think are so cool will be skipped over by the players, unless we railroad them.
My only railroading is strong hints or suggestions from NPCs to avoid certain areas so I can have more time to work on them. If I planned more of the basic adventure stuff and didn’t mention the grand idea stuff until it is ready, I could avoid railroads all together.
Now back to game prep! Monday’s session is going to be awesome!