More than a year after I GMed my last multi-session RPG, I sat down with a group of friends last night to delve into Autumn Frontiers, my new fantasy sandbox campaign.
It’s difficult to express how much my gaming ethos has changed over the weeks and months that I’ve been brainstorming and sketching out this setting. In years past, I produced self-contained adventures that — while drenched in detail and very engrossing — offered little in terms of sandbox play. This was fine, because the players I gamed with were part of this paradigm as well. With few exceptions, they expected a “plot” and were only too happy to move along it.
Since then, though, my sentiments have changed. Starting with a chance encounter at Ars Ludi, I’ve voraciously sought out articles and blog posts from the likes of James Maliszewski, Jeff Rients, Ben Robbins, Rob Conley and Sham the Quixotic Referee. Their quirky return-to-yer-roots notions really set off a cavalcade of ideas in my head — made all the more relevant when you consider that I missed old-school D&D entirely, having started playing RPGs in 1994 with d6 Star Wars. The whole effort was made manifest when I picked up Goodman Games’ Points of Light supplement (co-authored by Rob Conley, btw). My game grew legs and took off, if only in my head. And even if the players barely scratch the surface of the world, it was certainly worth it.
And so, on a Thursday night in October, we met at Ben’s place in Chicago. Four players showed, including two I’ve never gamemastered for. With little more than character sheets, a rulebook and a blank hex map, we cranked up the heavy metal and got to gaming.
It ranks as one of the most singularly satisfying GM experiences of my life. Everyone was in-character and one the same level — namely, a semi-campy mashup of Conan-style swaggering, played out against the backdrop of a frightened, depopulated medieval frontier village. The “tavern” where the party met was just few rough-hewn benches tucked in the corner of the village blacksmith’s shop; Garron, the one-armed forgemaster, sold ale by the mug and kept his smithy ringing late into the night, helping weary travelers shake off the cold with beer and helpful gossip.
Each player had received a randomly generated rumor via email in the week prior to the session, and they eagerly presented these hints in-character as the PCs gathered in Garron’s workshop. There was a great moment when the highborn wizard harumphed about not wanting to go risk his skin exploring the ruins of Tora Norrith, but the spirit of adventure on out in the end. The PCs agreed to depart at sunrise, and we had a nice little scene where the characters bedded down in an abandoned barracks.
The overland trip to Tora Norrith (just a few hours' hike, given the topography) was an absolutely golden wilderness scene, festooned with Survival rolls, foraging attempts and even some discovery (the druid stumbled across an ancient quarry site carved with dwarven runes; the thief had the presence of mind to make a charcoal rubbing of these runes, which will help out immensely if they choose to investigate further).
We had a few stumbles with the Savage Worlds rules, including forgetting all about the soak roll when the druid took a crossbow bolt to the chest (he survived). And I’m still learning how to effectively run NPC enemies in Savage Worlds. But all in all, it was a great first adventure and — get this — our next session is scheduled for this Saturday! So soon — gotta go prep!