Saturday, 24 May 2008

Sandbox Weddings

Realism and D&D make for uncomfortable bedfellows, as we all know. We probably shouldn't devote too much time to trying to make the game emulate reality. Even so, I've occasionally wondered why more DM's don't include the sort of background flavour events - weddings, festivals, religious ceremonies - that can really add to the feeling that the players actually are in a world, not just in a crudely drawn dungeon map.

I'm not sure why, but this idea for a short vignette as part of a sandbox campaign popped into my head last night:

The Hillfern Wedding

As the players approach the town (Hillfern, population 750, swollen to over 1,000), they realise that something is going on - they can hear the distant noise of laughter, music, and merrymaking. Finally they arrive and discover that most of the population of the town and the surrounding countryside is celebrating a wedding. (If they ask around, they'll find out that it is between the son of the mayor and the daughter of a prominent merchant, whose fathers have put on a feast for the entire town in a show of magnanimity.) It's mid-afternoon, so the population is in an advanced stage of drunkenness, as they've been reveling since morning. There are stalls everywhere hawking wares, ribbons and pennants festooning the houses, young couples getting up to who-knows-what in the alleyways, and vomit in the gutters.

Roll a d20 on the following table every so often while the players are in the town:

1-2: The players come across two men having a fight that has gone too far, as one of the combatants is just about to draw a knife...
3-5: One or more of the players spot a pickpocket stealing from a middle-aged woman's purse.
6-8: Passing a narrow alleyway, one or more of the players notice that somebody has dropped a pouch a few yards into the entrance, out of which a few gold coins have spilled. This is a trap: Two cutpurses (1+1 HD, Club) are waiting in the shadows to ambush anybody who tries to pick up the gold.
9-12: A pickpocket targets a random party member.
13-16: Close by, a horse takes fright, suddenly cantering off down the street while the panicked young noblewoman who was riding it clings on for dear life.
17-19: Somebody tries to assassinate the father of either the bride or the groom.
20: The party run across an old enemy.

Of course, this has limited mileage. Probably you could only make one roll on the chart as it stands before the players start to think, "Just what kind of a wedding is this?" - and a roll of 17+ will obviously lead to something bigger than just a vignette. The chart could do with expanding, too; I jotted it down roughly in the space of five minutes. But you get the idea, I think.


  1. background flavour events ... that can really add to the feeling that the players really are in a world, not just in a crudely drawn dungeon map.

    That's a good point, and one I would be well served to remember when I get around to fleshing out my sandbox campaign. Oh, and another idea I will likely 'borrow' for that map.


  2. A random roll or two definitely sustains the sandbox feel.

    If your players were interested in a session favoring roleplaying over action you could get more mileage out of your wandering event table if you added more mundane but notable events: A player is mistaken for an old flame of the bride. A wench locked in a streetside embrace is mistaken for an old flame of a player! The groom's drunken uncle insists on expounding about local politics. A young squire races a borrowed horse through the market, toppling fruit stalls. And so forth.

  3. I was in an Arcana Evolved campaign, and since the beginning of the campaign the DM had a few events set for dates in the future, one of which was a wedding similar to yours. We didn't really pay much attention to it at first, and neither did the DM.

    I honestly think it was because we found a bit of a lull in the game, but the wedding got closer so my character (the pirate/unofficial leader) decided that we should attend this wedding and kidnap the bride and groom.

    We got in as guards (we had contact with the captain of the city guard) even though we probably shouldn't have, but the DM thought it would be fun. Of course, the main villain is also at this wedding, and so our Justice Champion goes after her, and I start to kidnap the bride and groom.

    We utterly fail. the villain escapes with the bride, and our team is separated and we're very angry with each other.

    It was fun.

    A flip side to that could be having a funeral. Especially as a way of getting the group together. simply replace tavern with funeral, and viola.

  4. Heh. I was just about to chime in with how one of the best sessions I ever ran involved an off the cuff comment about a wedding ("adding some color") that a couple of my players picked up and ran with . . . but I see Qwerty's already taken care of that.

  5. Having the party get together at a funeral is a fantastic way to start a campaign. I think I've found my next campaign beginning, in fact...