Monday, May 23, 2011

Sandbox Preparation: Home (or All Your Base Are Belong To Us)...

Good Morning, All:

As I resume my series on Sandbox Preparation, my next point of attention is the player-character's Home, their base of operations at the beginning of the campaign. Using a random generator to create several Egyptian place names to peruse, I finally decided on Ashaba. As for how much detail I would need in order to start gaming in my Egyptian Great Plains setting, I turn back to my original overview on sandbox prep to see what the extremes are.

On the overly minimalist side, I simply need to know the name of the township (per Zack S, of course), and maybe some NPCs (per ChicagoWiz). On the other end of the scale (per Rob C), I need a map, 3-5 encounters, 6-12 important locations, a roster of NPCs and/or notable monsters in the area (with stats, if needed), and a list of rumors. Looking at the Settlement template I used for Hammersong's Legacy, I would need a brief description, notes on the population, government details, defense details, notes on businesses, and important groups in the city. That's a lot of options, so to determine what I need at a minimum to run a good game in Ashaba.

Taking a moment to evaluate each element listed above in turn, I feel that I absolutely need the following items, and consider the rest to be all gravy, worthy of note but not necessary to actually run a game using the data we're creating:

  • Name: Obviously, even settlement needs a name, so you know where you are.
  • Roster: I like having a small roster of important people, and maybe a little bit about them. At most, we're talking Seven Sentence NPCs, nothing more. In fact, it might be better to use Gnome Stew's Wireframe Prep Lite approach, if you are comfortable with it. As for me, I can get away with one basic sentence, so long as it gives me enough detail to work with.
  • Locales: I'd like to have three or four places of importance identified within the city, simply to give goals, add flavor and provide background.
  • Character Roles: How does each major character role within the city? By taking a moment to make some notes about that, you come up with enough background to address your basic gaming needs for a beginning campaign.

Okay, so let's put this short list to work for us in regards to the campaign's initial base of operations.

First, we need a name. As I mentioned before, using a random name generator, I came up with Ashaba. Step One is done.

Second, we need a roster of NPCs. That requires a little thought about Ashaba. Looks like we need a trip to Wikipedia, to research how the society of Ancient Egyptian cities were structured. Based on some quick reading, Ashaba is the seat of an isolated and relatively backwater "nome" or administrative region, who is governed by a "nomarch" that answers to the Pharaoh's Vizier. Temples form the backbone of the economy, so we will likely need a High Priest among our roster. Social structure in Ancient Egypt was fairly stratified, which means that most players will likely have characters that are mercenaries that come to Abasha looking for work. From my reading, I can see that I'd like to create a noble family aside from the nomarch and the High Priest mentioned earlier, who is probably into the slave trade. I may need to come up with a few more as I go through Steps Three and Four, but for the moment, I see the following:

People of Ashaba
  • Nekhba, Nomarch of Ashaba: Appointed by the Vizier of the Badari Pharoah to serve as the provincial governess of the region, Nekhba is a beautiful yet arrogant noblewoman with grandiose political aspirations.
  • Renotep, High Priest of Meritesh (Meritus): A devout follower of the Great Lord, the elderly, pious High Priest Renotep attempts to keep Nekhba's extravagances in check.
  • Gahemun, Master Slaver: Once a gladiator in the arena that had won his freedom, Gahemun is now an obese, greedy slave merchant that has bought his way into nobility with gifts and bribes to the Pharoah and Vizier.

And with five minutes of work, Step Two is through.

Third, we need to create a short list of 3-4 locales within the city. These are selected simply to create an Egyptian flavor. We already know that there's a palace or palacial estate for the nomarch, at least one temple for our High Priest and perhaps an arena. To bring in more Egyptian flavor, I think I'd like to see a pyramid as a tomb for the first nomarch (who is said to have died from poison, but it is only rumored that it was at Nekhba's hand), and a second one (reserved for Nekhba) is being built by slaves. Of course, there's always the need for market places, and Ashaba should have several, but one is more of a hot bed for adventurers and adventure potential than the rest.

Locales of Ashaba
  • Great Temple of Meritesh: The Great Temple of Meritesh is one of the largest structures in Ashaba, where High Priest Renotep and his fellow clergy minister to the needs of the Ashaban people.
  • Pyramids of the Dawn: Although this small pyramid complex only contains one completed tomb (the Pyramid of Amenses), the Nomarch has slaves hard at work building a second pyramid to be reserved for her. The rest of the grounds are laid out in accordance with traditions dictated by the priests of Thanatos.
  • Guidid Iteru Souk: Located along the banks of the great Guidid Iteru ("new big river"), this open-air market place offers native Ashabans and mercenaries the opportunity to trade with native Plainsmen and Wolfriders.

I found Google and particularly helpful in coming up with names and flavorful elements. With that, Step Three is behind me.

For Step Four, I need to consider Character Roles. In some gaming systems, that would equate to character classes. From my perspective, I agree, although I try to stick with general categories instead of specific classes, because I may use this material with a classless system such as Savage Worlds. For the most part, though, we should consider the role of the following in our newly formed city of Ashaba: Warriors, Rogues, Mages, Priests, Aristocrats and Outlanders.

Character Roles in Ashaba
  • Warriors: Several opportunities for warriors present themselves immediately within the concept of Ashaba as we've created it here. The bulk of adventurers would likely be mercenaries that have come up the Guidid Iteru in search of employment against the local natives. Fighting types could also be holy warriors (temple guards, divine champions and the like) or soldiers (Ashaban militia or personal guards for nobility). Finally, warrior characters could come from either of the two predominant native cultures, the Plainsmen or the Wolfriders.
  • Rogues: Every market place has its thieves, and the souks of Ashaba are no different. Slavers imply that there's a need for thugs. The possibility of political in-fighting indicates that assassins would be interesting. Escaped slaves and possibly freedom fighters may also make good rogue concepts, as well as explorers and tomb robbers.
  • Mages: Obviously, there's no strong precedence for mages in either Native American or Ancient Egyptian cultures, but we can easily fall back on our Sword & Sorcery roots, such as the Conan stories. Sorcerers, ritualists and necromancers would all have a place in the arcane shadows of an Ancient Egyptian setting, while spiritualists and trickster-types might be good candidates for a more native inspiration.
  • Priests: Spirituality and religion have very strong roles in both of our inspirational sources. For me, it is easy to picture priests, oracles and diviners in the great halls of Nekhba's palace, while shamans and healers wander among the tribes of the Great Plains. Secret cultists may also be found, hiding among the stones of the half-built temples or the wilderness beyond the city's reach.
  • Aristocrats: Given the role of the aristocracy in Ancient Egyptian culture, there's plenty of opportunity for political adventuring. Thus, noble characters would be welcome, as would sages and scribes, who also hold significant social positions. Retainers and slaves are much lower on the social ladder, but fit within those elements. Among the natives, the tribal chiefs and war leaders make for another avenue that aristocratic characters might pursue.
  • Outlanders: Many of the outlander concepts based on Native American tribesmen have already been mentioned. However, there's also room for lone explorers, hunters, crazy hermits, exiled oracles, bandits and others that live on the fringe of civilization or beyond. As the campaign grows, I'd likely add a few of these to the general roster, but other than making that note, I'm not developing any conceptually beyond this consideration.

Thinking about these character role concepts, I can go through my list of locales and my roster of NPCs, seeing how these match up. Of course, this is usually the point where my imagination starts to run wild and I develop more than the minimum I need. With that in mind, I'll stick with the above, despite the fact that I really want to put a few more items down on each list.

Within this particular post, I've intentionally explored the concept of a Home Base with a minimal level of development. While much more is possible, I think I could easily run a campaign using the above notes, and really flesh out Ashaba in play. So, what are your thoughts here? Would you need something more in terms of city details to empower you as a GM to run a game set in Ashaba and the surrounding area? Would you leave anything out? What would you do differently?

Next post, I'll focus on Adventure Material, saving the Regional Map for last. I find that it's easier to build a map that lends itself to your goals if you already have material gathered before you create the map and lock everything in place. Once that's done, we should have a sandbox created with minimal preparation that lends itself to play.


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