Tuesday, April 07, 2009

It Ain't The Size That Matters, Baby...

...it's the trouble you can get into with it.

I'm not talking about weiners -- I'm talking about campaign settings! Ha ha, I gotcha! You thought I was...uh...talking about...

...yeah, it's not that funny at all. Let's start over, OK?

So, I Waste The Buddha reader Forge sent me an e-mail recently, stating that he read about my C&C sandbox game and that now, he wants to develop his own sandbox setting for his Labyrinth Lord game. Good for you, Forge! Not only that you're having fun with the notion, but that you even made sense of my disjointed ramblings in the first place.

Anyway, what he really wanted to know was this -- how big was my sandbox? I replied as soon as I read the e-mail, by which I mean I totally got on my sandbox and started preaching at the poor guy. I completed my masterpiece, THE definitive word on how big a map should be, and declared it the greatest thing anybody ever said about the subject, even you.

No, seriously. What I did was to mull over some ideas and type them out, and after clicking "Send", I thought -- "Hey, this would totally not suck as a blog post."

So if Mr Forge does not mind, I'd like to share my response to him, with you. Here it is, with a few tweaks to correct spelling.

Okay, lemme pontificate on the size of a sandbox. My first advice is as follows: Don't sweat it overmuch. I did and believe me, it ain't worth it; the sandbox's size, in my opinion, is less important than the shenanigans available therein.

Yes, you'll need a map. Maps have scales. Really only two things matter in determining the size of your sandbox: how much stuff there is to do, and what scope you want for doing it -- and even that one needn't matter so much.

Still, some kind of logical framework is handy for sketching out the sandbox, therefore it's not a bad idea to toy with verisimilitude a bit. I wanted my scope to start out small; local stuff, daytrips to adventure, but with no shortage of danger. So I said to myself: Figure the average party can travel...what? 20-30 miles a day over clear terrain? That's a 20-30 mile radius in which to contain adventuring shenanigans. A little math says that's an area of 1256.63708 sq. mi. to 2827.43343 sq. mi.


Now, I don't know about you, but I don't know dingus about how big that really is. I found it easier to translate all of this into real-world terms by looking at a map of my state and seeing what's in a 30 mi. radius from my house. Easier still -- I know it's a 10-mile drive from my house to the mall. I know what THAT looks like first-person.

A-HA! NOW! Now it's real to me.

What kind of trouble can lie in wait on that route? That depends on your setting. Is it wilderness? Is it settled? Is it just kinda settled? Desert? Coastline? Islands?

At this point, I said, "Screw it. This is too much thinking."

In the end, I wound up running those games with my wife within the confines of three contiguous five-mile hexes. I figured a 5-mile-wide hex could hold plenty of stuffs, and so I got some hex sheets from the Judges' Guild website and went to town. I placed home base and an adventure location in one, a town and castle in another, and another town in the third. I dreamed up reasons to go to these places and called it a day. Anything else I came up with could be appended modular-like.

Of course, you may be dreaming of a wider scope. You may want stories wherein the PCs have to travel for days on end across haunted plains and through scorpion-infested mountains just to get to the Dungeon of the Ill-Fitting Princess. Make that map big, then. Maybe the adventures will be low-key and can occur within the confines of, like, Hazzard County. Really, any area in which the PCs can poke stuff with the proverbial stick is go.

Like I say, don't sweat it. Throw some stuff on paper and start playing.

However, if you want a little insight as to what distances really mean, click on this link see what's within 30 miles (or 5 or whatever) of you. Just don't get all obsessive about it like I used to...