Home » Making sense of random rolls in sandbox RPG – A Tomb-plunder to Pay Your Bills

Making sense of random rolls in sandbox RPG – A Tomb-plunder to Pay Your Bills

 If you assume that the random rolls make sense, you'll find even the wildest ones to make sense in your sandbox RPG. Just practice your improvisation skill.
If you assume that the random rolls make sense, you’ll find even the wildest ones to make sense in your sandbox RPG. Just practice your improvisation skill. | Photo by Pineapple Supply Co. on Unsplash

Bruni – the dwarven lush and fencer, Mara – an itinerary tradeswoman, and Hrod – a golden-hearted goblin scoundrel – are on their way. From? Where to? I asked myself the same questions as we sat at the table for our first session. But in our sandbox game, it wasn’t me to answer them – I just had to make sense of what the random dice rolls would say. What was it?

It may seem that the sandbox world, generated through random rolls may sometimes make no sense at all. Some may even say that this fact undermines the very core of RPG which is player-agency. And that when the outcome of every action and the structure of the world is determined randomly, it’s hard to talk about the players making decisions based on some information. I see it as a very chaotic picture of the clueless characters wandering about in the mist. They’ll never know what they’ll find. They just move through a pool of locations disconnected from one another. Or do they?

It’s GM’s role of making sense of what random rolls indicate

As a Game Master, I was quite intimidated by the responsibility of transforming a randomly created world of sandbox into the actual, consistent narrative. But I discovered it to be the exact opposite – employing random dice rolls to make up an RPG plot became one of my favorite tools. It only takes a little bit of exercise to learn it.

How do you VERY QUICKLY exercise your improv skills by adopting random dice rolls

Assuming you’ve chosen your system and/or module you want to run as a sandbox, let’s see how you may hone your expertise with its random rolls. And how to make it in just 15 minutes!

First, find your game’s random generator tables. Those that you will use for generating anything from traits of encountered NPCs to whole settlements and local lord’s agenda. If you lack one (because, e.g. you’d like to play a system that doesn’t come with a sandbox package by default), take a look at the tables I’ve put together for my campaign. Now that you have any of such tables before you, try to think of any situation that you predict to take place during the game you want to run. Let’s say that the party arrives at… What came first to your mind? Got it? Write it down in as few words as you can manage.

When you have your initial context now try to develop what proceeds next in-game. What details is your location/encounter/rumor lacking? Choose a table to roll on – an exploration of a new area, name of the inn, race/profession of NPC(s) – you name it. Try to decide intuitively at this stage. And roll as many dice as you need.

What to do with the random roll?

Finally, when you have your result – probably a couple of words – it’s your turn to interpret them. What it could mean in the context you’ve started with? In my game, I rolled a group of slave traders may camp in the middle of a desolate mountain ridge. Why they’re there? Well, probably there’s someone they want to catch in the area. Now if that someone is… [another roll] a tribe of orcs my players are in for a nice dilemma of who to support. Eventually, they just took advantage of a campfire and bid the slavers farewell. They didn’t bother to warn the nearby orc camp neither.

Or in a completely different game, I rolled a name of a tavern and get head and monster. A quick roll on the monsters’ list yielded a manticore. So, there’s a nice backstory of a village right away – a manticore was plaguing the place until the chief braved the swamp and killed the thing, hanging its head above the hearth fire. But the area now feels way more dangerous than when the players were crossing it on the way to the inn.

The secret of inspiration and improvisation

What’s essential here, however, is to try to make sense of what you have rolled and not what you think you should have rolled. That’s a big difference. If you do the latter, you’ll end up with a very narrow plot, following your imagined perfect scenario. But that’s not much of a sandbox – rather your vision of a pre-scripted story. If you, on the other hand, let even the most seemingly absurd random rolls inspire you, your imagination will start to run full steam, feeling like you’re discovering the world of your sandbox game rather than trying to make sense of it.

That’s the way our minds work. If you assume that the random rolls make sense, your mind we’ll find the way to connect that to the rest of what’s already established in-game. The confidence in your improvisation skill comes with a little practice, but you can see how you feel different in just as little as 3-5 repetitions of what I’ve described in the paragraphs above. First, the results may seem weird but shortly, you’ll start to easily come up with an explanation of the wildest coincidences.

Back in the Forbidden Lands

So, the trio just started off into the unknown. How did they meet anyway? The dice say that they’ve found a treasure together. Great, so they’re set up for their lives now and there’s no motivation for them to continue the adventure? No! How did I make sense of the random result here?

They’ve just spent the last bits of silver they found and now look for another place to deliver from too much treasure. A quick roll on the legend’s table suggests a tomb that’s mentioned in an old tale of betrayal. The place is told to hold a great amount of valuables but is hidden and guarded but some restless spirits. The tomb of the Hollows came to my mind and I decided to turn to the pre-made module at the beginning. After all, I’ve already had enough of juggling random rolls. And to add a bit of a plot hook on my own, I’ve stated that they’ve heard the tale from an old Rust Brother named Ferabald. Given that, they followed the direction specified by the old monk to look for the village. But that’s the story for another post.

One last thing: Please, let me know how you find my posts? Would you like more narrative of the campaign? More details of the actual play on the session? Or maybe more tips for the GM? I’ll be more than happy to hear how I could help you find something useful for yourself here. 😉

1 thought on “Making sense of random rolls in sandbox RPG – A Tomb-plunder to Pay Your Bills”

  1. Pingback: How to Integrate Pre-made Module into Sandbox? - Dramatist of Mind

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *