Tag Archive: sandbox campaign


To any faithful readers out there, I owe you an explanation. Over the past twenty days or so, I’ve been preoccupied with graduation as well as finding a job. Unfortunately, that whole finding a job thing hasn’t quite worked out yet. But I’m doing my damnedest! Below is a photograph of my buddy Mike on the day of graduation… Actually its Mike’s character Dorin, drawn by Alexander Swenson (see more of his drawings in the last post). I’ll never forget Dorin. Mike was going for a space dwarf motif, but what really solidified this concept for me is the quaff cannon. What is a quaff cannon you ask? Mike invented it – essentially it’s an axe launcher. Absurd? O yes, and in the best way. To Mike, Rich, Matt, Alex, Alex, & Alex its been a good RPG run, boys. Keep rolling high!

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Ordinarily when I introduce a home-brew monster into a session, I try to limit its description to only a few words. My hope is that the players will come to define the creature on their own terms, filling in the blanks as needed. As referee I abstain entirely from offering any input into the appearance or mannerisms of the player characters (protagonist descriptions are something the other players should enjoy). But having artists around to game with is always a good thing. As fun as it is to think of the game-world as an amorphous reality, art lends the game stability. Being able to physically look at a thing, rather than to simply grasp at it in minds eye, lends permanency and thus believability to the campaign. I can thank Alexander Swenson for adding a layer of vividness to our sandbox campaign by letting me post his drawings. Make sure to check out more of his art here.

Here’s an image of Azi:

Azi is just as likely to pull out a med-kit as he is a space sword. Neigh.

Below are two images of O’Reny:

Four words: steam punk & mole man.

Below is an image of Moxu fighting one of my unnamed monsters (Moxu is attacking from behind… the sneaky fella). This monster was once a sentient avian alien from a dark region of space (thats a mouthful). As you can see, once mutated these creatures don’t look much like birds anymore. Exposed to an aquatic parasite, the spacefaring birds were transformed as the minds of host and parasite enmeshed to create a singular abominable intelligence. I’d love to get a name for these things if I could. What do you think? Bird + coral + crab = ??

Is it just me, or is there a face underneath the beak? I can make out an eye, nose, ear, and I think the mouth is a coral polyp.

Science-fantasy demands a certain strangeness. Perhaps my inspiration comes from all of the memento mori I’ve been exposed to recently, but the best dungeons I’ve created over the past few months have all been bodies. In an earlier post I talked about one of these dungeons, enmeshed with both machine and soil. But the last “dungeon” I ran, was actually a living spaceship. Now this is hardly something new, there’s plenty of Sci-fi out there with living bio-tech machines. But the tone I hope to project is particularly Lovecraftian. Over at Sword and Sanity I read an article – or rather, I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” in which he states “Conflict with time seems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.” [The sculpture below is “Le Transi de Rene de Chalon” by Ligier Richier.]

Time is a constant reminder to man of his mortality, his relative insignificance. So it is time which winds the very cogs of weird fiction, because it so adequately defines the human experience (and frailty). The goal of my living dungeons, and particularly those composed of pulsing flesh has been to hint towards a very specific tone of unease. This is an unease derived from a sense of corporeal impermanence.

As dungeon crawling adventurers, player characters entering a living dungeon must not be led to think they are entering a neutered or sterile treasure trove. But rather, a living dungeon is a foreign entity, to which the presence of plundering adventurers is like a disease besetting the body. The hope is that these dungeon environments will seem like an ever present malevolence which reacts to the players with white-blood-cell defense. The monsters in these dungeons should behave like extensions of the environment, rather than individuals capable of agency.

The deeper the players go, so to speak, the more aware they should become of their affect on the environment. There should be a direct correlation between the success of the players, and the death of the dungeon. Eventually players should be concerned about doing too much damage to the dungeon, lest it die and come crashing down upon them.

However I’m doing something a little different than what I usually do. Because the players managed to capture the living ship during our last session, I’ve decided that the ship will gradually change (mutate, evolve, acclimate, transform) to reflect whoever is the crew. Before, the ship was a tentacled dreadnought (inspired by equal parts bird and coral reef… no seriously). I’m not sure exactly how these transformations will play out yet – but thats the beauty of sandbox games.

Our Sandbox Campaign

The start of our campaign was dizzying, eerie, and pulpy as all hell. Once we got a firm grasp of the rules, it turned out be a really great first session. “Humanspace Empires” has such a great feel right now. It’s hard to describe exactly, but gamemastering these sessions is exhilarating. Go download this FREE game, and read my review of it in the previous post.

[This is Peter Mullen’s “mantoid” (http://mullenart.webs.com/index.htm). His work is really quite inspiring.]

In our campaign – this is a Pei Choi (read up on them in “Humanspace Empires” if you have the PDF). The Pei Choi are the original benefactors of the player characters.

Two major factions have appeared thus far:

The first is the Esperdyne Corporation. Through Esperdyne the Pei Choi have managed to secure their colonial efforts across humanspace. Largely, their operations have gone on protected by desperate but war-born casteless from across the stars, particularly humans. These men at arms are little more than pawns, but they have proven to be an efficient investment for the Pei Choi. The player characters start the game as Esperdyne mercenaries, on a routine low atmosphere carrier flight on an unnamed moon. This is a very important job, because the Pei Choi haven’t been able to expand without making some enemies. But when the the player’s ship crashes inexplicably, the heroes are left to find out the source of this invisible threat.

The second is the Zodiac Dog; a shadowy corporation with an elusive leader. The corporation has links to insurrectionist groups working against the Pei Choi expansion across the stars. The player characters recently stumbled across one of the ZD’s hidden compounds. Inside they found subservient robotic drones maintaining the facilities enormous energy output. The output from this very base, sent the energy waves that scrambled the carrier the PC’s had been flying in. Delving deeper into the base, the PC’s watched as the very halls became a myriad of flesh and beating-organs. After cutting through some monstrous enforcers for the ZD, the PC’s managed to shut down the base and escape to the surface, only to see that they were too late. The ZD managed to pull the Esperdyne satellite orbiting the moon right out of the sky. We ended the session with the heroes stranded from their employers… Or are they finally free?

I plan to write more Sandbox Campaign entries so keep an eye out for more in the future!

P.S. I also promised R. that I would write up a prestigious “courtesan guild” because his character has a background in that skill (see “Humanspace Empires”). He told me to think “Firefly.” So look out for that too. Because R. is a gladiator/courtesan, I think the guild could have a very interesting militant edge.