Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Rod of Seven Parts and the Sandbox Quest

A long, long time ago, I can still remember how used to make me smile. One post I remember in particular raised the idea of a kind of valedictory tour of the TSR universe in pursuit of the Rod of Seven Parts. Each of the seven parts would be found in a different published campaign setting (Al Qadim, Athas, the Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Aebrynis, Krynn, Greyhawk) and the PCs would be on a grand mission to find all the pieces and put it back together again. It would be a cheesy and cliche TSR novel in gaming form, in other words, but played as straight as possible.

I always liked this idea, and it's always stayed in my mind. Much as I may have moved beyond David Eddings/Weis & Hickman/Terry Brooks fiction, I still have a strong streak of nostalgia for epic fantasy quests. (I many not be alone in this - my friend Nate has been planning for the last 15 years to write "The Boy Who Finds A Sword In A Field Saga".) At the same time, however, it's rather hard to imagine such a campaign working without a heavy dose of rail roading.

Or would it? The campaign, in my mind, would work something like this. First, you would get all the players on the same page: their PCs have been chosen by the gods, for some reason, to gather the seven parts, and if ever one of their PCs dies, the replacement has to be "in on" the quest too.

Then, you would set up an ordinary hexmap and sandbox in, let's say, the Al Qadim campaign setting (because why not have brown people being the heroes of the quest for once?). Somewhere in that hexmap, somebody or something has one of the parts of the rod, but only the DM knows where.

Next, you sprinkle everything with rumours as you normally do when setting up a sandbox-type game, but the difference is, they are geared towards that part of the rod. They don't have to be too explicit ("The sheikh of Blahblahplace has this...special stick..."); they would probably be more like rumours leading the PCs to wise men, sages, archives, libraries, and the like where they can begin their investigations. Those investigations might equally be red herrings. The PCs might be sidetracked by other considerations. But the general idea would be for the PCs to have the finding of the rod-part their primary goal, and for the DM to set things up in such a way that this would be possible without leading them by the nose.

Then, once the rod-part in Al Qadim is found, the Gods say "Now find the next one!!!!1" and the PCs are magically transported to Athas. Rinse, repeat!


  1. Jeff had the same (exact?) idea:

    Only I think the idea was all 7 parts were equally findable

    1. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.

    2. I had a section of the rod in my campaign world. The problem is that we gave no rumors or leads for which campaigns the sections were hidden in, so Flailsnails players never looked!

  2. Ah, The Boy Who Finds A Sword In A Field Saga...

    The more I have thought about this over the years - and I have thought about it a lot, albeit in discrete chunks of time - the more I have come to the conclusion that it would have to be a bit knowing in the way it was presented. It would be almost a black hole of tropes.

    The Boy has to be an orphan.
    The Boy actually has to be a prince.
    The Boy's father, the King, has to have been murdered.
    The current regent, the Boy's uncle, was the murderer.

    And that's just for starters...

  3. You could open it up further by giving it a similar structure to Masks of Nyarlathotep; let the players know that there seven parts on seven worlds, then let them choose the order they tackle them.

    There may be some issues with the D&D power progression systems here, or perhaps not; I've got a blog post half-written along similar lines.

    1. Taking the Masks thing a little further (mild spoilers ahead), have the PCs find out halfway through that there's actually a rather strict time limit on the whole thing.

      Plus, I wouldn't even have the gods sponsoring any of this directly. Once the PCs have sandboxed their way into finding the first part, it's up to them to go after the remaining parts--and it's their damn job to figure out how to portal themselves between dimensions, I say!

  4. Gosh, the Rod of Seven Parts...or rather, "the Rod of Pesh," as we called it in our old campaign. Boy, that was a long (and never completed) quest in my old campaign.

    I dig your groove on this one...I'd just like a straight-up reason (cheesy or not) for WHY the gods need it. To save the world? To save the multi-verse? To act as the key to the Vault of All Knowledge that will allow man to finally take his rightful place amidst the celestial gods?

    Come on, it's got to be more than just "step-n-fetch."

    Maybe we should make a tournament-style, OSR-spanning quest to find the know, one group looking in a Labyrinth Lord campaign, one in S&W, one in Carcosa, another in Raggi's Weird New World, etc. One administrator would track successful quests (via email), adventure parties would compete against each other (sight unseen), prizes could be awarded, madness could ensue...that sounds kind of fun. You could even involve non-D&D settings like Mutant Future and SWN for total chaos.

    Just a thought.
    ; )

    1. The gods want the Rod because they're selfish, avaricious bastards.

  5. Wait! Don't transport them from setting to setting... use Spelljammer! You only truly need to use magical transport to Ravenloft.