Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Vampire sandbox

I listened to a podcast that discussed the first scenario for Vampire, in the back of the 2nd ed rulebook. I remember when Vampire was the hottest thing, and how I bought that book and pored over it. I tried to figure out how to make a "personal horror" game out of it, and even though we played it a bit it never really fulfilled its potential. Looking at that example scenario do provide some fairly good hints on how the creator, Mark Rein Hagen, really envisioned his game.

The scenario is very limited in its geographical location. There are no extensive secondary world to explore, there are no obvious fights and no obvious treasure. But, there are a crowd of NPCs.

While I never really came to appreciate the "super heroes with fangs" aspects of Vampire, I did find the idea of a NPC based scenario to be intriguing. I've found that it is a challenge to make them flow well, though. If the NPCs one after one come up to the PCs and talk, then walk away to make way to the next in line, it will feel like the players really are standing there with a line of people. To make it still feel like a place, like something is happening, was always a challenge to me.

If we take a look at some scenarios that look like that, which I've had more success with, I at once think of Call of Cthulhu. Many CoC scenarios have many people to talk to, but they also almost always have a strong plot element. Sometimes even so strong it can be considered railroaded. But, I've found that is one of the best ways to make the "crowd of people" scenario work. If you have some plot going on, with things happening no matter what, all that talk doesn't feel as much like it's happening in a vacuum.

Now, you know what I first thought when I listened to how the podcasters (I wish I remembered which podcast it was, but my mp3 player have crashed and I have no copy of the file anywhere and no recollection of how I found it) described the scenario? I thought, "this sounds like a sandbox"! But, often sandboxes are described as a setting, a place, where the players are free to create their own plot and explore freely. This is another kind of sandbox, that is almost not a place and not about exploration. It's a sandbox of people.

I've never thought about that before, and naturally it makes me wonder if anyone have thought of doing a sandbox like that for their game, their old school game of D&D and similar games? Has it been done, or have we not yet left the dungeon?
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