D30 Sandbox Companion (OSR)
This massive gaming toolkit clocks in at 56 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC/SRD, 1 page inside of back cover, 1 page back cover, 1 page index, leaving us with 49 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Okay, the first thing you need to know, is that while this has been penned with an eye towards the 0e, 1e and B/X-rules in particular, the VAST MAJORITY of this book ultimately works for most games – whether they be 2e, another retro-clone, or even modern games; one could use the majority of this book just as well with e.g. 13th Age, PFRPG (1 or 2) or 5e.
To start off with an important thesis of mine: This is one of the most OCD, capital letters WORK supplements I have ever reviewed – and I mean that as a compliment. Making this book, if you’re even remotely familiar with how game design works, must have been a tremendous amount of WORK.
As before, in the D30 DM’s Companion, the supplement kicks off with an explanation of how to use the D30 in conjunction with the tables herein. To recap: There are essentially 3 rolling conventions: A single result can spring from a single d30 roll; two results can be sourced from a single roll, and thirdly, there is the convention where the d30 (almost) faithfully replicates a simultaneous rolling of a d3 and a d10. The tables sport 4-letter title codes for quick and precise referencing, the respective entries, if leading to other tables, reference the respective pages, and there are plenty of alternate tables – these are denoted by the same capital letter and number, plus a lower case letter.
After thus establishing how to use this toolkit in a concise and easy to grasp manner, we proceed to the sandboxing generators, which can roughly be categorized in three chapters: We have the means to generate material on a hexcrawl level; we have means to generate material on a settlement level, and we have the NPC-level. All three levels have their own helpful record sheets included, and the hexcrawl-level also sports glyphs for mines, mountains, mountain strongholds, different terrains and even floating strongholds (!!). Yep. There is a map glyph for floating strongholds. See what I meant by “OCD”? Who includes a separate map glyph for floating strongholds? Better yet – there are properly drawn glyphs, and there are abstract ones. And the abstract ones are so easy to draw that even ole’ me, with my hand-tremors, can use them without much hassle. Huge kudos for that. Anyhow, as in the D30 DM’s Companion, I would have loved to have the option to drag and drop the glyphs on hexmaps, but that may be me.
Of course, not all hexcrawls take place on an equal scale, and as such, the worksheet does include room for noting down the scale, entries for key locations and there is room for 4 d10 tables of wandering monsters – AND these sport lines to “check every…” While we’re on the subject of the worksheets included: The settlement worksheet establishes keys for vendors/shops: Magic supplies? MG; Fletcher? FL. Boatwright? BW. These are detailed, but focus on professions that, in some way, may be relevant to adventurers. In case you’re totally stumped regarding adventures, the next two pages provide a quick and dirty baseline: 10 tables, which include trigger, major goal, obstacle to goal, location, location feature, phenomena, villain goal/reason, artifact, theme and key NPC. Each of these has 30 entries, so you could for example get the following:
“The group is prompted by a trap (trigger) to root out spies (major goal); in order to do so, they need to race against the antagonists (obstacle) to an undercity (location), its access hidden by a well (location feature). Inside, strange vegetation (phenomena) exist, and the villains are actually motivated by honor (reason); a magical scarab may be found (artifact), and the general theme will be freedom. As for a key NPC involved, we have a pilgrim.” This is, obviously, not yet an adventure, but it most assuredly is a great little outline that nets a good skeleton you can flesh out.
After this, we receive something I very much adored: A massive weather generator organized by climate zone, season and month of the season, with two versions – the simple one has you just consult the table; the advanced method sports modifications for the median temperature of the day, and them are yet more mean temperature variations. It probably says a lot about me that I’ve smiled a lot while reading this one – it’s just so beautiful to me, and something I wouldn’t bother making myself, but certainly love having. One downside if you’re like me from a country using non-Imperial measurements and temperature scales: The book doesn’t designate them as such, but it’s in degrees Fahrenheit, which never made even the remotest bit of sense to me. I have a decent grasp of feet, inches and yards due to years of roleplaying. Degrees Fahrenheit, though? They make no sense (just look up how the system came to be…) to me. Even with all my immersion in American culture, I just can’t get wrap my head around it. I guess you have to be born into that. Anyhow, the point of my long digression: I’d really have appreciated a second value for degrees Celsius; as much as I adore the table, I won’t be using it due to the Fahrenheit measurement unit employed.
What does make sense, though, would be the next table, which has my unconditional appreciation. How can you get more OCD than the median daily temperature? What about a precipitation generator? No, I am NOT kidding you! The generator differentiates between non-severe and severe cells of storms, with the tables providing entries for rain, wind, hail and sleet and hook chances to determine tornadoes. The weather thus generated can be pretty extreme for European sensibilities, but if you’re from the American continent or some rougher climates/the tropics etc., this’ll feel right for you. Heck, even as a European, I can get behind the harsh clime generated here – it feels fantastic in both depth and severity. The book goes farther, though: We have a whole page determined to three degrees of getting off course, using the d30 to an absolute perfect extent – even if you’re using another game, the visual representations of being lost and randomly determining the direction, is absolutely awesome.
The book also presents a very simple foraging/hunting engine by season and terrain, with chances based on d30 rolls, including a non-specific game type generator and an optional hunting success table – this lets you determine number of missiles used and number of animals killed. While I personally prefer my own foraging/hunting engine (which you’ll see one day), I can get behind and genuinely appreciate the simplicity and elegance of the system provided here. After this, we have tables of natural phenomena by terrain type, including lava tubes, blowouts, cuestas, cypress domes, pseudocraters, etc. – it may sound weird, but these actually added to my dressing table array as easy modifiers/replacements for more commonly featured things such as groves, glades, etc.
Okay, so, what about settlements and the content of the individual hexes? Oh boy: The settlement generators differentiate between 5 different inhabitation levels by population density, with habitation types noted and some further instructions; you see, the generators include a subtable of special inhabitation types by terrain, as well as inhabitation types by population density. Unsettled land? You can find hermits and monasteries, for example. Are you beginning to see the attention to detail? This extends beyond the settlements themselves – types of ruin, degrees of decay and inhabitants + rough numbers…there is a lot here, though the suggested inhabitant table seems like an afterthought. It should also be noted that this supplement is not about detailed dressing; the book and its generators are there to present frameworks to work in, to provide a baseline to expand upon. So yeah, you still will want e.g. Raging Swan Press’s Wilderness and Dungeon Dressing files to fill out the details, but as a metastructuring element? Gold.
The book does not stop there: D30 tables to generate temples with brief types and descriptions included; add to that the cult generator, and you can have pretty easy means to provide baselines for cults out there – interestingly, the 5-tables cult generator can provide more interesting results than quite a few modules out there. “The partnership of the sun follows a rakshasa, wants to destroy libraries/books and its weird practice is zoösadism, i.e. animal cruelty.” – immediate framework to elaborate upon. There also is a magical place generator, with each entry sporting a boon that can be achieved at the location. These are obviously one of the components that are ruleset-specific; minor component here: Formatting of magic items/spells isn’t implemented in that table. The book also contains a massive pilgrim generator (!!).
The pdf then provides road encounter generators – not ones for individually distinct components, but ones that focus on the general structure: Marker, ambush, etc.; the respective NPCs are focusing on classic humanoid races, and a quick and brief treasure generator for these is included, alongside an attitude/reaction component. Once more – this is a structural baseline – add dressing, and you’re good to go.
The book then proceeds to provide a pretty massive castle/keep/stronghold generator – you can roll to determine owners, patrol sizes and makeups, castle types and sizes (yes, including halfling shires and tree strongholds) and optional construction tables. With 2d30s, you can generate a huge array of heraldic crests, with the division and charges all coming with their sample icons – I loved that! Once more, a drag and drop/color book style-version would have been awesome, but that is me complaining at a high level, particularly since there are 7 additional tables to further expand the heraldic crests.
Need a general background? You can determine the government, reaction to outsiders, economic background, settlement issues and nearby threats for a settlement. Need more adventuring fodder? Unprovoked attacks, annoying encounters, propositions to PCs to engage in illicit activities and celebrations/events allow for further modifications here. Need a detailed generator for city guard, city watch and border patrols and their armament? Included.
On the more grisly side of things: What about a d30-table of methods of execution and/or torture? Yes, I liked these, considering that punitive judiciary measures were very much the norm during medieval and early modern periods.
Don’t want to choose be hand which shops are present? Guess what_ A massive settlement supplier generator by size is featured alongside shop stock, interior and keeper being covered. The availability and pricing modifications and bartering information? All part of the deal. The book also features a massive tavern name generator as well as a means to determine available accommodations, rooms and beddings, physical features, reputation and food available.
On the more rules-specific side, we have 0e/1e & B/X-relevant classed NPC generators that determine class, race, sex, and level as well as quick ability score generators. The book also features quick NPC character inventory generators (including class specific ones) and similarly, a magic item generator. The latter might be mighty, but it’s easily the weakest thing in the book – it’s frankly boring and pretty vanilla.
More interesting would be the massive NPC occupation generator that yields almost 2.5 million different combinations of freeman occupations. A similarly mighty generator is provided for nobles and their household personnel, and there also is a ginormous sage specialty generator. NPC physical traits and persona/behavior generators can also help providing a base line, with e.g. bad habits, burdens and quirky behaviors included…and you can quickly expand on that: You can determine NPC parents, additional family information, personal life, eccentricities and talents, and end up with surprisingly well-rounded base personalities that only need some dressing to become full-fledged characters. Oh, did I mention the massive table to determine NPC languages?
And of course, there is a massive henchman/hireling recruitment generator, which includes reactions to offers of employment, recruitment modifiers and a brief retainer loyalty modifier table.
Editing and formatting are top-notch on a formal level; on a rules-language level, magic components often are not formatted as something that stands out, but otherwise, the book is precise. Layout adheres usually to a landscape standard to account for the plethora of tables; the book is b/w, easy to parse, and a massive amount of content is on every page. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience, and I can’t yet comment on the merits of the print version, since I do not YET own it; I will buy it sooner, rather than later, though – the book is, frankly, too useful, and I love having this type of book in print.
Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr.’s second D30-companion manages to do the almost impossible: It outdoes its predecessor.
This is, once more, NOT a setting supplement; it is a TOOLKIT. This is not a book you’d usually READ. It’s a book you flip open when you stare at the blank page and have no ideas; it’s a book you open when you’re as obsessive as I am regarding the details, have your main adventure planned out, and want to simply fill in the blank bits. You know, all the tedious work that goes a long way making your world seem plausible and organic? The type of WORK that makes even the remotest off-the-rails region feel organic? Well, this book VASTLY speeds up the process, allowing you to focus on the stuff you actually WANT to focus on. Combine this with e.g. Raging Swan Press’ Dungeon Dressing and Wilderness Dressing books, and you can create vast stretches of lavishly-detailed lands in a few hours. I’d be willing to bet that I can use these books to craft an entire continent in lavish detail in a single afternoon – and have a bunch of details that can spawn adventures ready. all good to go to see which hooks the PCs will engage with.
In case you haven’t realized it: This is a TOOL. And I genuinely love it as much as my grandpa’s carving and carpentry knives; this is a genuine tool of the highest caliber, a book that not only is a HUGE time-saver, it also is fully cognizant of what it is. And it retains its relevance even beyond the old-school systems that it has been written for; just modify the respective system-specific entries with the equivalents for your system of choice, et viola!
This is a phenomenal resource, one that I can recommend unanimously to pretty much any GM out there who really likes their fantasy to be detailed and structured. 5 stars + seal of approval, and as an all-time favorite, this does get my EZG-Essentials tag, as a supplement that truly makes the GM’s job so much easier and rewarding.
You can get this brilliant, exceedingly helpful toolkit here on OBS!
The print version can be found here!
The D30 DM’s Companion, should you have missed it, can be found here!
Raging Swan Press’ genius Dungeon Dressing can be found here!
Raging Swan Press’ genius Wilderness Dressing can be found here!
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