The elementals lay dead after a brutal fight that claimed the lives of half a dozen kobolds. Interpreter Ogro and Commander Snaks had regrouped, seeing who was left in their troop. But the fight was over. Ander and Elliot went over to the forge that the elementals were working, cooling but still hot with elemental fire. Not much of a smith, Ander plunged his sword directly into the hottest part of the fire…and had no sword left to speak of. Elliot, more accomplished at the forge and amused at his comrade’s fumbling, used the cooling embers to reforge the blade, more carefully this time. The new blade held an edge just as well as the old, and seemed to have a mild twinge of elemental magic.
The attention turned to an iron chest kept by the forge. After several attempts the lock came open, revealing pounds of coin and jewels. Elliot haggled with the kobolds, still willing to split the haul 50/50 but wanting to take the lightest 50% of the coins. Having more bodies and owing the party their lives for helping defeat the elementals, Ogro and Snaks agreed. The next priority was to investigate the ornamented door on the northern wall of the chamber.
The room was relatively plain, with a large circular bin in the middle filled with dull silver-grey stones. There was a primordial inscription on the bin’s lip, as well as a plaque with a short poem in primordial over the bin. While Ander was able to translate, the translations were almost as confusing as the original speech. The kobolds, however, were able to make something of it and excitedly put some of the stones in their packs. Elliot looked on confused, and Ogro explained just enough to pique his interest: there are apparently six different components hidden in six different shrines, one for each of the Gods. This was “Montral’s Mine” they were in, and apparently the stones were Montral’s Shale. The party each took some of the stones, but knew their next step would have to be investigating this legend in more detail.
While the party had discussed their next move, the treasure trove so far found on this bottom level couldn’t be ignored, so out they set into the labyrinths to see what else was there. After going through several maze-like passages and various dead-ends and traps they came upon a room with clear magical switches around the perimeter. Elliot tried to hop, skip and jump to one of the other doors, but his acrobatics wasn’t quite enough to avoid triggering the switches. A demonic mosaic in the middle of room spat gouts of lava, which turned out to be…mephits. More mephits. Learning from last time, the group stacked on the door and fought through the lava mephits in a deliberate fashion. As the lines began to broke Elliot, Ander, and Jethro charged in, finishing the fight but getting sprayed with lava as the creatures exploded. Injured and tired, the party decided their treasure hunting was done and returned to the surface.
At the surface, Sir Pierre’s retinue had almost entirely disappeared, except for Fallon the Bard. Fallon made a cryptic statement about coming in second, and himself wandered off, leaving the party with the monks running the comfort tent outside the mine’s entrance. The kobolds were nowhere to be seen, having already taken their quirky prize and headed off to wherever the next Trial of the Gods was located.
My other major hobbies besides RPGs are mechanical, namely maintaining and upgrading cars and bicycles. There’s a common visual gag about novice mechanics, which involves finishing a tough job, looking down, and finding that you somehow have two bolts left over. Luckily, planning an RPG campaign, especially a sandbox, does not work like this.
It’s not difficult to figure out that this session, though cut a bit short, contained some major plot hooks in it. Both the kobolds with their history and the ‘Challenge of the Gods’ that the party happened to start on are clearly supposed to be story hooks. A spoiler I will give is that as of today, when a good number of sessions past this one have been played, neither of these story hooks has reappeared.
When we’re talking about sandboxes, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! If you’re writing a sandbox, it’s up to you to make the whole sandbox interesting and engaging. That means that even if you build three sandcastles, you can only knock down one at a time. There are two important things to remember about dangling plot threads. First, don’t feel dismayed if your players don’t grab at it. While it may be that the thread didn’t give your players a clear path to follow (something that I think happened with the ‘Challenge of the Gods’), it’s also likely that you’ve simply presented something more interesting. As we’ll see in future Adventure Logs, the characters were following another, existing plot thread which they were interested enough in to see through to the end. Not everything you write can be the most interesting thing you’ve written, and you and your players may very well be of different minds about what is the most interesting.
Second, don’t abandon your plot threads if they lay fallow. Your sandbox is supposed to be a world that persists, being both reactive to your players’ participation but also existing in their absence. While the ‘Challenge of the Gods’ itself, an ancient riddle, is unlikely to change much while the players go do something else, there’s already implications that other groups are trying to solve the riddle. When the characters meet the kobolds again, who’s to say they haven’t found more pieces? Perhaps the party now has allies in the quest…or rivals in a race to complete it!
Chances are, your players are ignoring or dropping plot threads in favor of others they find more interesting. There is nothing wrong with this, and the time you have after a thread is dropped gives you both in and out of game time to make the plot more interesting if you so decide. If your players are wandering around and not picking up any of the plot hooks, though, then you need to ask a bigger question. Players may ignore plot threads because they aren’t interested, because they’re waiting for something specific to come along, or because they’re afraid their characters aren’t powerful enough. The latter two issues have relatively straightforward solutions if you know they’re the solution; listen to table talk and see if there are indications of those particular situations. For general disinterest, though, you need to know your group and what sort of storylines and activities they’re most interested in. No matter what your vision is for your world, it’s only going to be fun if your players are having fun, so consider who you’re writing for both before and during sandbox campaigns.
You never know when an element of your sandbox will become useful, so it’s important to track what’s happening in your game. While there are any number of strategies out there for tracking details and where and when they become relevant, my suggestion would be to start with taking notes and summarizing your game sessions after you run them. Writing the summary helps you figure out what events in the session were most important, and it gives you a written record of your campaign you can refer back to later. Who knows, maybe later you can turn them into an Adventure Log!