May 25, 2010

4E + Sandbox + Plotted Campaign

4E + Sandbox + Plotted Campaign. Can it happen? Is it possible?

My wife wrapped up one of her Gamma World campaigns this past week (it ran for about 3 years). She still has the other Gamma World campaign going and said she felt slightly burnt out preparing for two games, so I’ll be GMing the next game. I’ve had a few ideas for a campaign kicking around my head for a bit now.


There’s the dynastic campaign ( I have in mind where they fight the oppressive ruling government. There is also the superhero idea that’s been around for a while now, but Gamma World was about a lot of powers as well. Land of the Lost is another idea, but I don’t think this group would like the low tech/survival outlook, especially since it’s similar in theme to the Gamma World campaign that just ended. I could continue the Blake’s 7 campaign, but they would want me to keep running it using the Shadowrun rules, which I simply can’t bring myself to do. Stargate with the Spacemaster rules is another good idea.

However, as of right now I am leaning toward a 4E sandbox plotted campaign that sprang into my head a few weeks ago. Basically I would start the game by handing them a blank hex sheet and tell them to explore. A true sandbox, wherein they can go anywhere and do anything.

And now the question is…can there be such a thing as a 4E sandbox plotted campaign? The more I think about this idea the more it sounds incongruous, and yet I think it can work.

4E has a reputation for being rigid. Encounters are tailored for the level of the characters. However, there is some flexibility in level comparisons as characters can easily handle encounters higher and lower than their level as long as the pacing is appropriate (i.e. the expenditure of resources). With a sandbox, the players can dictate when they press on as time limits are scarcer than within a scripted campaign (i.e. no save the sacrificial victims before midnight adventures). There is also nothing that says the characters can not run into something too high for them. Just like in earlier editions the characters can simply run away.

4E has a rigid structure with leveling. However, I would deemphasize the leveling process and simply create the world and let them explore it at their own pace. It would be less about leveling and more about exploration. There would be sections that are tailored for certain levels and these sections would be of higher level as the characters move further into the world, but again, what the characters encounter will be up to the players.

Most sandboxes tend to rely heavily on the random encounter. In 4E this can continue but I would use them slightly less often, perhaps no more than once a day of travel. 4E combats take longer than previous editions so bogging the game down in random encounters would be counterproductive. However, the frequency of random encounters is up to me to dictate and if I use them less often, it should maintain the randomness of a sandbox while still maintaining a brisk pacing.

Sandboxes tend not to run a plot campaign within them. A heavy plot can take away from the openness of a sandbox. However, I plan adding a light to heavy plot. The basic plot is that the region the characters are exploring was once a battleground between the naga and chaos creatures. As the characters explore the region they will discover tidbits of information about this. How they react to this information is completely up to them. They can ignore it if they so choose, but as they level higher and higher the plot will become more pervasive and will be harder to ignore. They will begin to run into strongholds of one side or the other and the untamed wilds will become tamed; by one of the two sides.

Eventually the conflict will reach a head and will doubtless bring the characters into its wake. How the characters react will continue to be the choice of the players, but events will continue with or without them and the characters will have to deal with the consequences of what is happening.

Is a 4E sandbox plotted campaign possible? I believe it is and am eager to see how it all works out.
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