Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sandboxing: Giving Clues In Prose

One of the toughest things for a Game Master new to sandboxing is giving the players some sense of purpose, some reason to strike out. Of course, you ultimately rely on player action to determine course in large part, but you also want to provide some motive to get out in the wilds in the first place.

Also, in my case, I wanted to give them whispers and bits and pieces of the wilderness. One of the ways to do this is to give them a rough player's map, with only here and there marked (with some of those markings possibly wrong).

I wanted something a little bit more for my upcoming sandbox campaign. The players will be discovering a large island settled by refugees of a great Elf/Man war a millenium in the past. One of the items they will receive at the start of the campaign is a short excerpt from a rare tome, purported to be from this unexplored haven in the Far West. I loaded it with hints, vague geographical locations, and descriptions of the 13 Cities of Man.

I think there's something terribly appealing of scholars vainly trying to puzzle out an archaic, ancient form of their tongue, trying to decide if the way ahead contains riches or doom. I kept it short, about two pages in Word, and I'll be doing some further formatting to make it more "ancient". As well as being an example of what I'm after here, I'd also love any constructive feedback. For now, here it is:

This is the story of our past.

Every child is taught we were once Kings, far across the Waters of the East. Then came the Great War, when the High Elves and Greenskins sought to destroy all mankind. For decades we fought them. Our far-eastern lands fell. Our mighty defenses, the Ringforts, could not hold. And finally, as the sky blackened under the horror of war, the City of Man, with its gleaming white palaces and great lighthouse, fell.

The last king, known to us as Curse-King for being doomed as the Last King of the East, did not wish all of his people to perish vainly. He had saved his fleet, the greatest gathering of ships the world had ever seen. Some went east, to oblivion. Others went south and north, and we know nothing of them. But the majority were entrusted to his son and heir, Prince Elechor, second of that name.

Giving Elechor the crown to signify he was to be heir, the Curse-King, he bade him take the fleet over the long water, to the lands rumored to be far beyond the horizon. He also sent his second son, the proud and arrogant Prince Lexo, to aid him. And then the Curse-King perished in battle, for it was his fate not to outlive his great city.

And so, a tenth of the soldiery, a tenth of the priests and clergy, a tenth of the common folk, a tenth of the goodly vassal wood elves and dwarves, a tenth of the clerks, a tenth of the nobles, and a tenth of all other peoples joined the fleet. And with them went much of the Great Treasury, and many weapons both blessed and arcane. And so went with them as much of our collected knowledge as could be fit, though much could not go.

When they had sailed for nearly half a year, they happened upon this land we now call home. There were savage Men here, the Wild Sparrow Tribe, and the Stone Cougar Tribe, and others, both friendly and foelike. And they still are among us today, though their numbers are much reduced.

Here we found plentiful game, good earth, and places to remind us of what was lost. But also here were the Troll, the High Orcs, the Goblin, and the beasts in the dark. And we found the Hells had followed us.

Upon landing, Elechor named the first city Sidon, City of Sails, in honor of the ships that had borne them true across the sea.

And the Remnant of Man found strife among each other, and quarreled, and came to blows quickly.

So it was that Elechor decided to explore the mainland, giving leave to all peoples to leave and find their own way in the wild, appointing their own leaders. He was wise in this, for it was in this way that Man blossomed and multiplied across this land.

And so did the sailors and mariners among us elect to stay in Sidon, on the Sea that touched our home on the other side of the world.

And so did many of the prideful mages quarrel that those who controlled the essence of magic should rule as lords. And so did they and their followers found Morsten, City of the Tower, on the Great River Rhiannon.

And so did the Generals and Marshals of our Army decide that they should rule with a martial fist. And they and those who followed them founded the fortress of Kellan, City of Shields, overlooking the Plains of Tarsis and the roving tribes who dwelt there.

And so did the High Church decide that the ArchPriest would be the wisest ruler, and they and their acolytes and flock founded Brial, far down the Great River Rhiannon. It was named the City of Martyrs, for did they not fight 100 days and 100 nights against the High Orcs, still their mortal enemy to this day?

And so did six Brother-Knights journey to a fruitful island far to the South, named Vartuun, City of the Six. And though they ruled together in peace for a time, they fell to infighting, and the rare crops and natural wonders of that isle know strife until this day.

And so did the zealots among the people, those who hated all not of Man, said, “judgment remains among us, so long as those not of Mannish blood are in our midst”. And so did they found Ciplos, City of Humanity, closed to those not of Mannish race. And they keep watch still among the ancient coastal caves of the Gray Coast.

And so did the Druids and Elves among them say, “We will never be welcome by this people. Better to stay in the harmony of blessed Nature”. They built Tallis, City of Green, amongst the trees and quiet flow of the Mosswash.

And so did those who were deceived by the Great Wyrms of this place, who slyly promised them power and safety if they would only revere these dragons as gods on earth. And the deceived ones brought many priceless pieces of craftwork to their new gods, who reign still, near-ageless, in their cruel mountains in the North and West, in Drakarym, City of Scales.

And so did those who loved the earth, Man and Dwarf alike, say “Let us find the treasures in the ground of this new place”. And they braved the strange calls hidden within the Mistwall, far to the South and West, and built Haftholm, City of Granite. And part of the city was built above the earth, and part below.

It was then the Mad ArchMage visited us, timeless and true. Even then, his Castle was here. He saved us, and warned us of the Crimson Doom, great power though it was. But Lexo mocked his gray hairs, and secretly plotted to control this great power for himself.

And so did depart those who had private counsel with the Mad ArchMage--the Gnomes, and those Men who loved the High Places. And in the Starpeaks, they built Aeolus, the City of the Winds. And their marvels and wonders remain.

And so did the Traitors, those who worshipped Evil, the Not-God Sercar, steal away with much of the riches and wealth with them. They had hidden themselves among the refugees, and now stole away. They built the black abode Darakkis, City of Demons, and to this day control the Fellbarrens, which scar the center of this land.

And so did Lexo take his people to the Gnarled Isle, far to the North, where the Crimson Doom was held. And for a time his people flourished, and built a great city, Kair Lexo, City of Pride, as arrogant and as proud as their founder Prince. But in the end, did not the Crimson Doom claim them all? The Gnarled Isle still sits, Kair Lexo’s rich ruins a lure into damnation.

And did not others depart, to find lesser realms? And where are they today? Who has touched even a part of the Five Hundred Isles beyond this place? The Wilderness is Wilderness, they say, and there are places where no man-hewn stone may mark the earth for long without being overturned. And many are the ruins between the great cities.

Elechor II, taking only the wisest and most loyal remnant, wandered for many years over the width and breadth of the land. And finally, he founded the great city Waeros, City of Kings. And it is from this haven I write this. Elechor, 23rd of that name, reigns supreme. Our white towers and great walls return to the glory of the past. Our treasury is full, and our people do not want.

All seek out the untold glory of the City of Kings. Few succeed. Seek us if you will, O Reader, in the lands southwest of the Titans.

And the years passed, and time and the wilderness separated and grew distant these nations of Men. But their cities remain, even as our relics and treasure lie in a hundred places in this new realm.

May Blessed Elechor and the Most High Always Guard Your Path.

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