In every player pack I created for one of my Realms campaigns, I included “current clack”—news and rumors characters would hear locally (including from caravans passing through their locale) as play began. This is…how it all begins, every time—because if you, the players, are going to choose where your characters go and what they explore, I must dangle an array of possibilities before you. You have to feel the world is no lifeless backdrop, but a gigantic flood of many lives constantly unfolding.
Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms, p. 45
That’s Ed demonstrating his old school roots (as if there was ever any question). From that one quote, you see that Ed’s Realms campaigns were “sandbox” affairs, even if he didn’t use—or even know—the now-common term. And although 2nd edition AD&D somehow got the reputation for being the version that eschewed the sandbox for the railroad, there’s nothing in the actual rules that says it has to be played that way. Deneir knows I wasn’t going to run my campaign that way.
Taking a page from Ed’s book, I created a list of rumors the PCs would know at the start of the campaign and then did some minor preparations to cover my ass should they choose to pursue them. I specifically didn’t flesh out every possible avenue of adventure, cribbing from the old Dungeoncraft articles the adage “Never create more than you have to,” but sketched out an encounter or two related to each rumor. I figured once the players chose a direction to pursue I could add more details to the scenario they wanted to explore. That method has worked well for me in the past and it continues to do so now.
After character creation in the first session, the players got a single page of rumors. Here’s what it contained:
Current Clack for the 9th of Mirtul—Year of the Shadows (1358 DR)
- Rumors are flying that a trade coster (caravan) traveling from Loudwater up along the Dawn Pass Trail was attacked and looted by brigands of uncertain origin. The ambush occurred a half-day’s travel west of the Nighthunt Inn. Common opinion holds Zhentarim raiders are responsible for the attack, but no definitive evidence links the Black Network to the brigands.
- In light of the recent ambush, a small caravan bound for Lonely Oak is seeking to strengthen its defenses. Polgan Dranthmir of the Thunderpine Trading Coster is looking to hire stout swordsmen and spell-hurlers for the roundtrip journey from Elf Water to Lonely Oak. The trip is expected to take two tendays. Dranthmir is offering 3 silvers per day for freeswords and 5 silvers a day for spell-masters.
- “Elf fire” was spotted late last tenday by travelers approaching the village. The mysterious green fire was sighted south of the western trail near the vicinity of Grumber’s Meadow. Elf fire is believed to appear in places were lost treasure is concealed or where ancient spell-casting once occurred.
- Heavy spring storms have uncovered a sealed portal set in the rocky walls of the Orc Trough, a deep gully located west of town. In addition to this recently unearthed door, the Trough contains a number of old catacombs believed to be of elven origin.
- Erig Wholodown of Wholodown Brewery has a standing offer to buy leathertop mushrooms. He is offering 2 silver per dozen toadstools. Leathertops are found throughout the Southwood, typically in moist earth between the northern roots of crumblebark trees.
- Fresh land urchin tracks have been spotted along the western river bank, indicating a “quill” of land urchins is hunting the area. These curious creatures often form pearls within their bodies, and some older urchins have been known to create up to two dozen pearls with each valued between a hundred and six hundred gold coins. Unfortunately, the bizarre creatures’ myriad spines are poisonous, so urchin hunters should take care.
In the end, the players seemed most interested in the hired caravan guards, the unearthed portal, and the land urchin hunt rumors. They would do a little rumor-mongering of their own in the first session before deciding on which one to pursue. Their choice and the subsequent events will be covered in the next series of posts.
As an aside, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about these Realms posts. I hope you’re enjoying my return to Faerûn and maybe are inspired to make your own visit, either for the first time or to reacquaint yourself with old ground.