Sandbox events are important to some D&D games. In the last few weeks, I have been doing this:
Running a sandbox adventure requires to be aware of a lot of ‘fronts‘ (to borrow a term from Dungeon World): threats, factions, and other moving parts in the world. The archmage who escaped and is now looking for revenge, the bandit queen recruiting her army to march on the town, the Great Astral Conjunction.
In my office team building games, I can’t afford to be too subtle or elaborate with that stuff. Lunchtime Dungeons uses ‘session events’ to make sure something fun happens in the first 20 minutes of every hour-long session. But this requires having a random table handy for each area, or making up a specific event from a roll on my generic table:
So I’ve been experimenting with what I call the Sticky Notes Actions Procedure (or SNAP – I just came up with the name and acronym so it might not stick 😉
I divide a page of my campaign notebook, I create four areas: Here, There, Soon, and Later. The first two are for stuff happening now, the others are for stuff that is still brewing (but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have consequences in the present). This is your SNAP boar (hey actually, it’s quite catchy!).
Then, on a sticky note, I write an idea for each possible event, troublesome NPC, warring faction, environmental hazard, magical phenomenon, etc. Depending on time and inspiration, it can just be a name or short sentence, or something more detailed like a random table. Each note goes to one of the four areas.
At the table, when it’s time to check for an event, I roll d4 and look at the events in the given area. I choose or randomly determine one of these to move up in the general direction of the PCs. I interpret this move as NPC actions and other happenings in the world. The event gets closer, and I think of some warning sign or consequence to include in my session.
- Later (4) is for sandbox events brewing that will take place in a while. If I get this result, I move an event to Soon and think about what ripples reach the characters. All out factions war in my photo above would probably show up as dangerous tension on the streets or a bloody skirmish close by.
- Soon (3) is for things about to happen. If I get a 3 on the d4, I move the sticky note to either Here or There — whatever is more logical — and I describe how things are getting close. With Barbarians get in trouble, I’d have these NPCs act up in the background, or I’d just describe the consequences of past rowdiness. Maybe the party encounters someone with a black eye they got from a tavern brawl with the barbarians the night before.
- There (2), I used for events happening now, but away from the player characters. I move the event to Here and describe how it reaches the characters. For example, the food riot that was taking place in another district is spreading and makes the PCs’ life more difficult.
- Here (1) is for events exploding in the characters’ faces. I use this for stuff that has few or no warning signs: landslides, weather, monster encounters and the like.
Between sessions, you can take 5 minutes to review your SNAP board, detailing events according to what happened during the last game, adding or removing notes, etc. Of course, the notes under Here and There may be reorganised when the party changes locations. You might also want to create an entirely new board if the players decide to step through a portal or something. This way you can keep a trace of what was happening in the initial location when they left.
I realise it’s all a bit loosey-goosey, and that it relies on some improv chops. It’s the right amount of prep for me, but I guess you can detail each event in more detail if you need to — just get bigger sticky notes!