Wednesday 27 February 2013

Night's Dark Terror, the Aspiring Sandbox

Module B10, Night's Dark Terror, bills itself as a "Special Basic/Expert Transition Module for Levels 2-4".  In the module's introductions, it explains what this means:

That's right.  Basic Play is playing a module with a plotted "Adventure Path" while Expert Play is open-ended "Sandbox-Play".  This module is meant to teach DMs to run a sandbox game.  To do this, NDT provides extensive maps, weather tables, settlement descriptions, and many NPCs.


By setting the goal of Sandbox Play right off the bat, NDT has already won me over.  But I do have a problem with it's layout.  Ultimately, you have to get through 40 pages of material to reach the open-ended part.  I may be wrong, maybe it really takes that long to ease novice DMs into sandbox play.  I think it's too long.  If anything, you are accustoming them to an Adventure Path style of play.

Additionally, if the goal is that NDT will eventually be run as a sandbox, then the structure is all wrong.  I want to be able to easily look-up settlement descriptions, not have to go back and page through the Adventure Path Plot to find them.  I would rather NDT had put all the setting info in the back in reference form, and refer to it in a much shorter adventure-path section.  This might be a little bit harder for novice DMs, but it would be much more instructive in showing how a sandbox is run.

Other Details

That said, I like Night's Dark Terror, to the point that it's one of my favourite TSR modules, up there with B2 Keep on the Borderlands.  Here are some other things I like about it:
  • Goblin Tribes- there are multiple goblin tribes, with tenuous alliances and distinguishing characteristics
  • There are different human groups, with very different cultures
  • There are new monsters, so ultimately this is a setting with it's own feel, while at the same time not being so far from classic DnD
  • There's a nasty, Lovecraftian "Boss Monster" known as the "Thing in the Pit"
  • The PCs are often confronted by adversaries who aren't absolute "bad guys" so it makes for interesting encounters--do they try and pacify them, if they kill them who get's mad, etc.
  • The players start during an upheaval, almost all the Eastern settlements are overrun by Goblins, leaving only about 4 or 5 civilized settlements to discover, each very different from the others
  • Overall, the module has very nice production values.  It is well-organized and quite readable/playable, and has some great maps
  • NDT seems to take some inspiration from X1 The Isle of Dread, both in terms of setting and in terms of style.  Maybe I'll talk about that in a future post

Things I don't like about NDT:
  • I already mentioned that I'd like it to organized more as a reference than as a story
  • There's a paragraph about how it's OK to fudge die-rolls if it increases the fun
  • The whole magically hidden valley thing seems a bit contrived.  Just make it remote and dangerous and that should be sufficient
  • The numbering system can be a bit confusing.  I think this could have been done in a more intuitive way
  • The area just seems a little small to me for the DM to continue running an open-ended sandbox after the party has completed the adventure-path
Anyway, I've heard that WotC is once again selling classic DnD modules like B2.  I wonder if B10 is also on the list...


  1. Another problem is that the hook into the adventure is a bit weak, which undermines the 'sandboxiness'.

    Player: So, what's going on in the world?

    DM: Well, [among other things] this guy wants to pay you 100GP (or whatever) to help take some horses to market.

    Player: Escorting some horses... pah! we're 3rd level adventurers, heroes even, why would we take a job as a drover? Can't we go and fight a dragon, or a mad wizard, or something? We'll do [one of the 'among other things']

    DM: But if you take the job a wonderful sandbox campaign opens up. I'll tell you what, the session will begin with you agreeing to take some horses to market, BUT...

    1. Oh, that's a good point.

    2. That said, I do quite like the opening chapter--the siege at the homestead. Very dark.