Archives of Nethys

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Sandbox Adventures / Campaign Design

Deeper Secrets

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 137
In designing your setting, you’ve thought about the secrets of every important NPC, location, and object (page 134). Secrets are key to making your campaign come to life and feel like more than just a string of unrelated adventure locations. As the PCs travel from one region to the next, build relationships with NPCs at their home base and elsewhere, and investigate the world, they’ll uncover clues to these mysteries. As with NPCs, you really can’t predict ahead of time which clues the PCs will find compelling, but eventually your PCs will smell a mystery and begin a concentrated effort to unravel it—when they do, that’s when you really have a campaign. Each secret leads to more clues which leads to more secrets. Inevitably, the PCs will overlook clues, forget about them or lose interest in them. Other clues will reveal secrets simply too dangerous for the PCs at their current level. But as the PCs gain in power and ability, they will return to those secrets and pursue them again, slowly creating a story for themselves out of the sandbox you made for them.

Example: Alqet Campaigns

Source Galaxy Exploration Manual pg. 137
When Joan made the PCs’ home base an enormous starship with a mission in Alqet, she had initially assumed the PCs would be “assigned” to Alqet by commanding officers. But on reflection, Joan realizes this premise doesn’t necessarily give the PCs much latitude when it comes to deciding where they go and what they do. After all, their superior officers are right there on the starship, and would presumably be giving orders. She retools the campaign, making the PCs an archaeological research team. Now, as their own bosses, they can more easily explore any planet they want. They’re still brought to the system by an enormous starship, and they have quarters there if they want to use them, but Commander O’Brien doesn’t actually have any authority over them.
Of course, archaeological teams will want ruins to explore. Probably every world in the system should have at least one; this is an opportunity to create nested sandboxes that save Joan some initial preparation work. One way to plan out such a series of linked sites is with a simple map or diagram. Such a diagram is shown above, with arrows indicated how one adventure site leads to others.
She begins with a big archaeological site on Alqet V that the PCs can approach in multiple ways, preserving that sandbox feel. Clues in these ruins will reveal additional sites on Alqet IV, Alqet VI, and the moons of Alqet II, while clues there will direct the PCs to some of the other planets in the system that initially appeared uninteresting. When the PCs discover these clues, they can decide which of these sites they want to explore, and then Joan can prepare them.