This post examines one particular moment of Sandbox Apophenia, a case study from our first campaign. It can be considered a companion to “You Unlock this Door with the Key of Imagination.”
Using the points previously discussed, I will go into more detail how these applied to an actual sandbox game; specifically what inspired “The Letters.”
History of the Labyrinth
Before they set out for the Tomb of Alaxis, the Patriarch had shared his understanding of history.
Alaxis’ downfall was vague. It seemed the necromancer sought to become a lich, but had failed. His attempts were sabotaged by the minotaurs, which led to their own destruction.
This came from taking the title of the module literally, Wrath of the Minotaur. As mentioned elsewhere, it was an excuse to name drop “Acererak”; part of their “D&D history” class.
Circe’s torch revealed a mural painted on the domed ceiling above them, depicting scenes of the past, the rise and fall of Alaxis the Minotaur Mage.
- Record Keepers
In the module, the murals established that Alaxis had dominated the minotaurs into constructing many towers for him. There were three chambers with murals, which allowed for three moments in history.
Using the murals, I presented minotaurs as a long extinct race from ancient times.
At the game store, I had flipped through Thunderspire Labyrinth. I used some of the ideas in that book to provide some more backstory.
Before they left for Wyvern Falls, Kay spent all night drinking with the dwarves and Rhen had told her that in the past the minotaurs had built an elaborate labyrinth in the Glorioles mountains underneath Thunderspire before Alaxis took to power and enslaved them.
Men had established a small Keep to the south on the Borderlands. The Keep was an effort to keep control over the bullywug attacks that poured out of the Vast Swamp every decade or so. This was more “D&D history” class coming out and I wanted to set up a one-shot on Thanksgiving.
During the time of Alaxis, the forces at the Keep gathered and marched north to defeat Alaxis. The men easily slaughtered the minotaurs and destroyed his many towers after the loss of their enslaver Alaxis.
No one had seen a minotaur since, but the labyrinth remained untouched by surface dwellers. Rumor had it that creatures from the underdark now inhabited sections of the labyrinth.
The module had the Patriarch willing to pay for books found in The Ruined Tower. When the Patriarch goes over the found books, he locates the Tomb of Alaxis and asks the players to explore it. Why? The module does not say.
Circe: That’s probably our way out. Let’s check it out, but we’re not done with the tomb yet.
Alina: Right. We still need books for the Patriarch.
- Starlight, Star Bright
You’ll notice the girls start saying they need to find more books for the Patriarch when they are exploring the tomb. Sounds good. More books it is.
But why does the Patriarch want these books? Books once owned by a necromancer? That is easy and will help me answer some questions that have been nagging me since we started. Like why he is such a jerk.
. . .because he was the one who sent Moonlight to investigate, now he’s gone missing and the Patriarch didn’t alert anyone?
The Patriarch had no idea the PCs were even going to show up, which would lead one to believe he could not care less about Moonlight’s disappearance.
What a dick.
Maybe I was just rusty?
He is a priest of Orcus disguised in robes of Pelor. He seeks to become a lich.
Where is he from? The City of Skulls built around the Tomb of Horrors.
Where did he get his corpse candle? The Inn of the Four Winds in Eastbrook is a cult. It is easy to murder travelers that no one would question their whereabouts.
I was not that rusty.
- Adessa – Big nose, polite
- Horeth – Thin, quiet
Mainly because I suck at names on the fly, so it was hardly a wasted effort.
Tess’ meta-gaming has been addressed before.
They did not seem trapped at all.
Circe: They’re trapped.
Starlight: How do you know?
Tess: Listen to him. The Dungeon Master over there used the word “seem.”
DM: Oh, come on.
- The 10 Foot Pole
Along with that, she also parses and dissects the words I choose. She would be the first to tell you that I could easily use this against her. I would argue that I am not against the players. Although, I am not for them either.
Patriarch: I can’t believe you found it! And it was really there!
Tess: What about the candle?
DM: What do you mean?
Tess: The wax spilled on the papers?
DM: Ya, he was just excited and knocked into his desk.
Tess: Is there anything funny about the candle?
DM: Uh, it looks like a lit white candle.
Tess: Why did you focus on the candle?
DM: If you want to ask the Patriarch about his candle, go for it. Right now he seems distracted by the book.
-The Magic Candle
It made sense that Tess asked about the candle. Everyone else wrote it off as flavor text. It is possible you did too.
If she had cast detect evil or questioned him about the candle, the ruse would have been up. But, she did not.
Based on a two-week old letter that Moonlight had written, the halfling placed her father’s last known location in the village of Eastbrook, where the Rieuwood met the foot of the Glorioles, a mountain range north of the Sunndi.
Moonlight’s disappearance was part of Kay’s background, that she came up with. The search for Moonlight was arguably the driving force for the characters from the beginning. So did the Patriarch kill Moonlight? What happened to him?
Moonlight had discovered what the Patriarch was up to. The Patriarch, one step ahead of the nosy halfling, hired the orc Irontooth and his slave traders to deal with Moonlight.
As an aside, the Patriarch uncovered a lot of secrets from the books and scrolls that were brought to him from The Ruined Tower. He offered more slaves (from the Four Winds) to Irontooth in exchange for recovering the Eye of the Wyvern.
Irontooth could not read. Someone was translating the letters on his behalf. He handed all the letters along with the Wyvern Falls map to his goblin shaman.
Get magic stone!
Greyhawk Does Not Revolve Around You
I made a brief timeline for Moonlight’s survival. Depending on what the girls decided to do, he could end up alive or dead. An obvious lead was Irontooth and his slavers. But, maybe they would decide to go after the Patriarch instead. Maybe they would say, “Screw this town!” and head to the Keep. Maybe they would choose “None of the above” like players always do. Who knows?
It is always up to them.
What you read on The Delvers are not tales carefully crafted by hand. I may fall back on modules, but what happens in actual play is up to the girls and our polyhedral dice. Yet, a story slowly emerges and comes to life, akin to that of Dwarf Fortress. This style of play makes The Delvers’ victories that much more satisfying.
- Emergent Death or Why Losing is Fun