Adventure Creation on the Fly: Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.’s D30 Sandbox Companion

With Peter R writing so much about Level 1 adventures, I’ve been reflecting on how published scenarios aren’t often that usable for me. I’ve run them, at conventions and in my home game, but—particularly in my home game—I find myself needing to “reskin” them to such an extent that I might as well just write my own stuff. I’m sure most people also have experienced how homebrewed adventures run with fewer unexpected hitches. We write them, specifically for our own campaigns, sometimes on the very day of the session; we know where all the pieces are without having to refer to someone else’s pages.

What I don’t always have are adventure ideas, though, and over the years I’ve found myself relying almost wholly on adventure creators. I have a number of generators now. I have some favorites. All of them have varying strengths and ideal uses.

I also have been thinking of doing a series, reviewing and demonstrating my favorites, so it is almost serendipitous that, at my last session, two of my four gamers suddenly couldn’t make it. A big pot of chicken curry and a cranberry coffee cake in front of those in attendance, we faced the option of breaking out a board game or entertaining a side adventure. My players opted for a side adventure. Therefore I reached for a product that seems designed precisely for just this sort of on-the-fly occasion.

The publication is the D30 Sandbox Companion by Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr. Another notable and complementary tool is the D30 DM Companion. This latter is specific to dungeon use, so, because of the nature of most of my scenarios, I find myself using the Sandbox Companion a lot more.

This book is basically 56 pages of tables. I use a lot of these (particularly settlement generators and tavern name creators), and it begins with two charts for adventure creation.

These are not the tables I turn to when I have time to prepare, but they seem perfect in a pinch. So, while my gamers ate curry and chatted, I rolled a d30 (no, I don’t own one; I make do with a d6 and a d10) ten times on ten different columns.

As with most generators, one doesn’t have to make all of the rolls nor stick to the results. The tables are designed to generate ideas, and often a result can suggest a seemingly unintended consideration. My imagination approached every result from the context of my ongoing campaign (this night was the second session of my new Against the Darkmaster campaign). The PCs currently were mid-journey in a prodigious, warm-weather forest.

Here are my results:

Next, of course, is the process of listening to your imagination and synthesizing these components. The adventure that revealed itself to me (presented here, unfortunately, out of order with my results) is as follows:

Some tree-goblins (first encountered last session), serving the Darkmaster, have torched a Great Tree all the way through its roots by using persistent, incendiary chemicals, a nasty composition of the Darkmaster’s. They were instructed to do this because this gets the Darkmaster revenge on a magic-using Elf who recently escaped his dungeons. The Elf’s imprisonment deeply and irrevocably scarred the Elf’s inner vitality; he needs the strength of Root and Stone to carry on, so he bonded his essence with an Awakened Tree friend named Heavenbough, the one that now is burned (and only just alive by the time the PCs arrive for the Animist to cast Speak with Plants). This setup makes itself known to the PCs, who have been traveling through the wood, when two (the ones whose players were absent) seem unaccountably and deeply damaged and incapacitated after a short rest. The conscious PCs likewise become aware of their own vitalities being magically sapped. They need to discover the Elf, who is sleeping in a cave and surrounded by glowing magic crystals. They need to give this insensate magic-user a potion to break his connection with Heavenbough, because now his latent, necromantic powers as inculcated within him by the Darkmaster, are sapping the life forces of humanoid creatures in the area in an unconscious attempt to heal his own inner wounds.

How did it go? I think it went fantastically, and now we have some new and interesting elements established within the campaign. As I said, normally I use much more intensive adventure generators, and I plan to introduce and demonstrate those as occasions arise for further adventure creation throughout my campaign.