So, what do I have set up for my players? Having a world is fine and all, but what great challenge is going to face the players? Many Dungeons and Dragons campaigns have some epic story behind them. Perhaps a clue to a long lost Dwarven fortress has been discovered. The adventurers must race to find this fortress before another power claims them. Or perhaps a dragon cult is trying to resurrect their dragon god. The adventurers must foil these plans for the good of the world. Or perhaps the adventurers have been stranded in a dark realm ruled by a vampire king. They must unravel the mysteries of this place if they are to have any hope of survival. So what great story will my campaign entail?
The Basic Loop
At first there won’t be some epic quest. In essence they will be the fantasy version of contractors, exploring dungeons and returning with magic items. But, fairly quickly I will have the group come to the attention of those in charge of the settlement. This will get the group a bit more direction in what dungeons to explore, and possible side objectives.
The basic “gameplay loop” I am going for is this: players get assigned/chose a dungeon to explore. They travel to the dungeon and clear it. Upon returning to town the characters get a week “downtime” to have fun and get in trouble. Then repeat the loop.
But of course, nothing ever goes according to a smooth plan. Normally this would be where I would tell you what big twist awaits the players. But as of yet, no twist exists. Mostly this is because when I made this setting I was trying to make a giant “sandbox” for the players to play in. So how will I get my twist?
If I have no twist planned, how will I get one? One of three ways. I will go in order of most preferred to least.
This one is fairly simple. Each player will make a backstory for their character, and I can draw on those backstories to create new points of tension or conflicts for them to deal with.
For instance, a player may be searching for parts of an ancient, broken, magic item. Maybe the pieces have been discovered by another group. How will the player go about getting them? Will they even involve the rest of the party? Or maybe another player’s past catches up to them in the form of a competing adventure’s party. Or even more complicated quests could arise.
it is a sandbox
This one is the most organic. Put simply, given enough rope an adventure’s party with either: 1 hang themselves 2 accidently kidnap someone they shouldn’t have or 3 recreate the Gordian Knot. Any of these can turn into an interesting adventure, and basically only relies on me to react to what the party does with either “Yes, and…” or “No, but…” aka, the two most useful phrases in improv.
Kick the nest
The final one is the one I least want to use. If the players refuse to create problems (or solve problems too quickly) I can have the island throw a problem at them. One idea I had to this is as follows.
During one of the party’s down days the alarms begin to sound. A giant lumbering beast has been spotted approaching the settlement. Too large and fast to face head on they wait at the barricades to face the beast and turn it back. But as it grows closer, it looks… strange, not quite right. Until it gets close enough to realize it is fake, a “trojan horse” monster. It heaves itself over the walls, ignoring the punishment it is taking from the defenders, before disgorging a horde of goblins into the settlement. These goblins are not here to fight, but to steal everything they can get there hands on before running away.
How will the party react to this? Will they get something of theirs stolen too? Who built the mechanical monster that breached the walls? All things to kick off an adventure. The only question now being: Which adventure will they find/create in this sandbox.