JP On Gaming

Monday, December 18, 2017

[Old Pro Tricks] 10 points to a paranoid sandbox campaign

I have been talking and participating in a number of threads of recently, challenging myself to post valuable insight from the many, many years of DMing, writing and playing RPGs. Every so often, I write something there I think has a lot of value that should be re-posted here.

The other user asked a long-winded question about what he called a "Unstructured narrative", basically he wanted to create a sandbox "but not quite". His question was how to create such a setting and how to have his players suffer form paranoia and avoid choice paralysis. I was quite taken by the question because it is one I struggled with - and failed quite a lot - during my long career. He asked for methods to accomplish that.

Let's see...
Pathfinder RPG Check
Making my players paranoid of what was coming up next. Check
Providing them with a sandbox where they can drown to my heart's content. Check
Keep the PCs in one place for longer than possible. Check

So I had to reply.

The biggest problem you may have is that players simply do not know what to do and don't know where to start.

Things I would do before setting them completely loose.

   1- Present the NPC and feature interaction with them. Not just *"Hi! I'm Bob, I'm your cousin blacksmith, do you want a sword?"* But something more meaningful.

   2- Make sure the NPCs bring in some of the questions you want the PCs to ask themselves. Ideally, following the rule of three. They will figure it out and take it beyond what you thought.

   3- Your NPCs should also share some possible avenues of resolving conflict, "You should take care of those Hatfields... they are jerks". Again the rule of three is a good way to start.

   4- Avoid the whole thing depending on a Sense Motive check (made or failed). A single check should not unveil everything.

   5- Provide the PCs with visuals (or at least a list) of the major suspects. Since they come from town, they should not spend their time exploring and wondering who is who. They WOULD know that Tim sleeps with his neighbors' wife. They WOULD know that Mrs Buttons is the gossip queen. They WOULD know that Father Smitty sleeps in the church on warm afternoons. Etc. All these things are good to provide right off the bat.

   6- The NPCs should FEEL like they are doing something. For example, the guards does not sit at the gate all day waiting to charge gate tax. They get called upon for things of various importance: Mrs Buttons' cat in the tree, looking at a murder, fighting off marauding orcs/goblins, breaking up a brawl. This gives the PCs an added reason to talk to the NPCs: What happened today and what did you do about it?

   7- The death of such a campaign is when the players don't know what to do because they do not have enough things to do. Ideally, overwhelming them with hooks, stories, avenues of investigation. Why? Because if they can't handle everything, guess what the mayor/lord has to deal with? His hands are tied too.

   8- Make sure EVERY PC has some personal story/ plot to deal with. Even the orphan who knows nothing about his past should have something. This may not be immediately obvious, but perhaps the spinster Miss Kara looks longingly at the PC... Every character should have a thread or two that is related to HIM/HER.

   9- Split the party... Yes, I said it. There should be time when the party will split. If they do that and you run the two groups separately, that will create some paranoia. When you do that, this leads me to the big one:

   10- Make sure everyone has equal time with you. Not everyone is as interested in a total sandbox.

What you ask for is VERY possible and doable. In the early parts of the campaign, provide the PCs with a little guidance: offer a few possible missions and ideas, see if they want to take them.

No comments:

Post a Comment