Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Building a Sandbox Campaign Part Two: Selecting a Game System

In the previous sandbox building article I closely adhered to Rich Burlew's article on establishing Purpose and Style for a campaign world. As I begin to bring the concept of my campaign world, The Fells, to fruition I shall continue to follow his steps, though not in a linear fashion. In the fourth article in his series The New World, The Right Tool for the Right Job, Rich Burlew rationalises the adoption of D20 Modern as his preferred gaming system for his dark ages campaign, as it fits in with his low-magic tone of his world. What follows is a (very brief) outline of why I've opted for Dark Dungeons as the preferred system for the theoretical campaign...

The D&D Rules Cyclopedia
In my post Memoir of a Failed Campaign I I alluded to my first foray into campaigning using the D&D Expert Set and, later, the Rules Cyclopedia. Call it nostalgia, but for me this represented the definitive D&D experience: the rules were easy to grasp without being simplistic, and like all systems could be augmented with house rules and. Most importantly, the entire game was contained in one volume, a far cry from the splat-book bonanza of 2nd edition and beyond. 

Dark Dungeons- Downloadable at gratis games

Sadly, my copy of the Rules Cyclopedia disappeared (along with pretty much everything I'd accumulated in my short life) at some point in my early twenties. Reading around the OSR online community, however, has exposed me to a whole host of free-to-download retor-clones, including Dark Dungeons, pictured above. This volume faithfully replicates the mechanics of Cyclopedia-era D&D whilst containing all the spells, monsters and rules needed to run a sandbox campaign up to 36th (!) level.

One of the attractions of this ruleset is the limited range of available classes and the limitation of demi-human races to a single, racial class. This later feature is somewhat mystifying to anyone unfamiliar with "basic" editions of D&D, but for me this dovetails nicely with my desire to restore a bit of the magic and mystery to a campaign. Demi-humans and humanoids aren't simply analogues of humans, happily (or unhappily) rubbing shoulders with their human cousins. Instead, they're enchanted creatures with unique abilities, advantages and limitations.

I am a fan of 3rd edition D&D (despite the complexities of organising combat, especially at higher levels), and from what I've read I think I'd enjoy WotC's 5th edition, too. However, from a sandbox point of you, the simplified mechanics make it much easier to knock out encounters and NPCs on the fly, something that should be integral to a sandbox campaign.

With an established rules system I'm now given a framework within which the mechanics of the game can breathe life into this burgeoning world. In the next two articles I'll be picking up Burlew's baton once more and having a look at character classes and races in The Fells respectively.

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