The debate around Special Snowflakery has taken some interesting turns. For one Courtney counterposes what I think is an over-narrow definition of the Special Snowflake setting (and lumps in the heavy-handed/railroady elements that I also dislike) to what he may think is my over-broad and likely murky definition. The principled disagreement is all fine and good, I learned things and got a chance to clarify my own thoughts.
Strangely, a number of people both on these posts and on Google Plus seem to raise counter-points that I not only agree with whole-heartedly but have been central features of the six-plus years of the Hill Cantons campaign—and a re-occuring thread in the posts here about that play. Small is beautiful, less is more, and that play should drive what is vital in a setting world are all things that I have written about—not as abstract principle—but as part of my own observations about where the players and I where taking the sandbox campaign over the years.
Further the discussion made me think hard about whether or not my campaign world was itself a special snowflake. I mean sure in many ways its a very traditional D&D game: the mechanical baseline is a mostly untouched B/X clone and most all play revolves around micro-site underground exploration. All roads lead to the dungeon is a running and not inaccurate (and terribly funny) joke in the Hill Cantons.
But it has had any number of grand experiments (pointcrawls of all stripes, domain-level play, stupid player classes, etc) and it has grown up with a steady accumulation of highly personalized setting details—up to and including the hubris of actually inflicting that hubris on the world through publishing the Slumbering Ursine Dunes. It's hard to not admit in the end that it has very much evolved into the most special of snowflakes.
How a simple barebones sandbox grows into that whole other thing is an interesting open question and one tied to the zig-zagging actions of the players. Tazrun, a PC thief, dies and the party wants to raise him from the dead so they decide to break out of what has been the geographic delimited campaign zone and go to the big city. Then that big city, half-ruined Kezmarok in my case, becomes a whole new arena for the players—and then itself gets dropped for a wilderness clearing new phase. The world and its details start accreting.
I would hazard a guess that it mirrors other folks sure but steady building up from the ground floor (and yes this is your place to chime in about that experience).
Obviously I speak best to my own experience. Fortunately for me that experience rather well documented over the years here. Doubling back to my indexing project I can kill two birds with one stone.
The Road to Snowflake Perdition
I am tempted to skip right over this as vaguely embarrassing but it all started here, my very first post for a blog that was intended just to be a campaign clearinghouse. The campaign was nothing but a few terse setting dress lines. A skippable but relevant post.
Five sessions and a month in and I am already pushing at the limits of what I had intended to be a plotless West Marches. Still I apologize for worldbuilding impulses. The links here are wonderful, some classics in the thinking of sandbox campaigning in neo-old school circles of the time.
I try to have my West Marches cake and other quasi-plotted elements too by introducing hare-brained and baroque mechanics to keep me supposedly grounded. Some ideas I have kept with me, like the general dynamic of creating just-in-time mystery but most dropped.
Musing on the campaign “stages of evolution” and wondering if it is part of a generalized pattern for all long-running sandbox campaigns. The comments are interesting (and a shame that the Google Plus side vibrant discussion is lost to the ether.)
Kicks off a series of articles about Top Secret networks and character-based sandboxes. The attempts to do this as part of a espionage part of the campaign were not found to be all that fun by several players (and it took the campaign too much away from site exploration for my own tastes) so it was quietly killed in the night.
I finally recognize that the WM like features of the campaign are long abandoned and wonder why the many other “West Marches” have disappeared.
One of my favorite posts, I evoke the final season of Lost and a high-falutin' literary concept to return to talking about how mystery and worldbuilding are evolving in the campaign.
Taking a cue from Morrowind I talk about how to introduce info dump as an optional experience. (Note I have been way too overwhelmed to do anything like this over the last year of the campaign).