Picking up from the last “S is for Sandbox” column, we are looking at the creation of a sample minor adventure site. In this column, we are looking at the first of three maps, the outdoor map. I drew a quick map, using a scale of 1 hex = 1 mile.
You will notice that I used hex paper with numbered hexes. This is because I want to be able to create additional encounters by using the hex numbers, and I know that over the course of a sandbox campaign, the encounters in an area may well change.
I have located the hermitage on a rocky hill along the road leading from a large village (campaign starting area, to the north) and somewhere more coastal (to the southeast), with the thought that carts sent by the Thieves’ Guild to receive stolen goods could come along this road. The pirates could use this road to bring treasure up from the coast, and closeness to the road would make visitors seem less suspicious. It would also allow the players to easily locate this site.
The temple is on a bit of a hill so that the hermit can use smoke signals to alert the Guild when there are sufficient materials to warrant sending a cart. The outbuildings are where the hermitage is located, the temple is ruined, and the goblin cave is where goblins who bring materials to fence stay. Belmar’s Seat is the name of another rocky upcrop, named for a hero of old (and which can tie into the area history, and other adventure sites).
In addition to the noted road and trails, there will be numerous, non-permanent game trails. In addition to the two small lakes shown on the map, there will be numerous small rills and streams which appear after a rain or seasonally.
Because the area is close to the village, I know that there are unlikely to be any truly dangerous monsters in the area, but also that I will want to include some other minor lairs. Why? Because it makes things interesting for the players, and rewards exploration of the area. And I want to reward exploration, because exploration may eventually lead them to the goblin cave, wherein clues to unravel what is actually happening at the hermitage are most likely to come to light.
(I am not in a rush for this to happen, mind you. It will happen in its own time, or not, as game play dictates.)
I also know that the PCs are most likely to follow roads and trails, at least initially, in their exploration of any area, so I will want to set most encounters along these roadways and paths. I therefore come up with a provisional list of hexes to flesh out:
0203: Verminous Caverns: This area is the least likely for the players to locate, so I am going to put something interesting, deadly, and rewarding here. I am then going to sprinkle links to it in other areas of the sandbox (or I would be doing so if actually developing this area for play).
This area contains a hidden cave system, more vertical than horizontal, which was once the lair of a green dragon. Much of the dragon’s treasure is still hidden below, although moved now by flowing water from a single location to a plethora of areas throughout the caves. In addition, the caves are now home to many giant spiders, flies, ants, and scorpions. There is a rich haul here, for those capable of retrieving it…and sudden death for everyone else.
For fun, I’m going to say that the dragon’s bones are still in the caverns, where they may be found by adventurers. They might be sold to a sage or collector, or they might be used for some form of magical ritual.
Finally, within this hex, there is a 50% chance that any encounter will be with giant vermin of some sort. Within a 1-hex radius around this hex, there is a 1 in 6 chance that any encounter will be with giant vermin. I will have to develop a separate encounter table to determine what is encountered.
0207: Spider!: A giant black widow spider has stretched its web across the trail in this hex. Some of the husks from its victims, if found, have treasure.
0211: Foundations: Alongside the trail here, the group may discover the foundations of a ruined farmhouse, which can help to offers some shelter from the elements. There is nothing of value here.
0509: Belmar’s Cup: This lake is known as Belmar’s Cup, after the folkhero-king who once ruled in this region. It is relatively shallow and weedy, but offers some fishing. Recently, a forester drowned in the lake, and now haunts this region each night as a ghoul.
0602: Broken Cart: An overturned cart with a broken wheel lies along side the roadway here, quietly going back to the earth. If investigated during the summer months, there is a 1 in 6 chance that a snake takes advantage of the shade it offers…but the snake is non-venomous, and quickly slithers away.
0607: Lake Lugres: This lake is extremely deep, being formed in a narrow fissure not unlike those in Hex 0203. It is fed by rainwater, snow melt, and an underground spring. There is good fishing here the year round, although would-be fishermen must cut a hole in the ice during the winter. Legend and rumour claim that a hungry spirit dwells within the lake’s depths, but this is not so.
0911 Belmar’s Seat: An outcrop of rock named for the hero-king Belmar. A flat-topped boulder at the apex of the hill is known as Belmar’s Chair. It is said that those who sit at Midsummer’s Even on Belmar’s Chair are driven mad, or become poets – if there is any difference between the two.
1005: Outbuildings: This is the site of the Hermitage. The outbuildings include the hermit’s quarters, a common area for guests (including a stable as part of the common area). The cellar beneath the hermit’s quarters includes a secret area wherein treasure from bandits, goblins, and pirates may be hidden.
The hermit is a 6th level thief. This level was chosen so as to allow interaction with starting PCs, where the hermit will not be instantly overwhelmed, while at the same time making it possible for the PCs to defeat him later. Besides which, living alone in the (near) wilds as he does, the hermit will need some class level “oomph”!
1204: Temple: This is the ruined temple, beneath which the dungeon lies. We might as well start calling this the Dungeon of the Skull, because that will be its most important feature. Within the temple, there is an area that allows our hermit to mimic a cleric, effectively giving him access to a limited amount of curative magic each day.
In fact, let us make this a temple of Hermes (as the patron of thieves, healers, and magic, it seems appropriate).
1309: Farmstead: There is a small farmstead located in this hex.
1404: Goblin Cave: When goblins visit the hermitage, they stay here. As a result, there is goblin graffiti on the walls, carvings on the table, etc., that hints at what the hermit really is. Unknown to the hermit, the goblins have begun mining here, trying to break into the Dungeon of the Skull.
1406: Tailings Pile: The tailings pile from the goblin mining – as well as some broken mining equipment of obvious goblin manufacture – is hidden just off the trail here.