Shadow's Apex Part 5: Sandbox or No?

Reading How to Set Up a Sandbox Campaign over at The Hydra's Grotto made me think about which direction I wanted Shadow's Apex to take. I have run campaigns that I would call plot driven (Age of Worms springs to mind) and I have also run campaigns that needed player-driven plots because I came up with the setting and then improvised everything else. I think I want something in between my previous extremes for Shadow's Apex.

This is the campaign hook:
The world is getting darker. Corruption is spreading subtly, unnoticed by any but the most scrutinizing observer, and those who do notice are typically shunned and dismissed as doomsayers and madmen. Telltale signs of the coming storm have been dismissed as coincidence or as the work of the necromancers whose presence has been known for centuries. What the world doesn't know is that the shadows have come alive in ways that they will soon understand all too well...

This concept lends itself to a great plot-driven campaign and in my mind, I pictured the campaign coming to a climax late in the epic tier. However, I believe this sandbox concept has given me a better idea. It might be a more engaging campaign if these events still happen, but the planar merging happens around the end of the paragon tier or the beginning of the epic tier and I don't do anything to push the players toward stopping it. If they do, its fine. If they don't, the new world that emerges when the Shadowfell merges with the Prime Material will be a great place for epic level adventure...

So here goes... we're keeping the original concept but changing our focus so that the hook affects the campaign setting without driving the plot of the campaign itself unless the players choose to let it.

But back to our regularly scheduled design, we need a place to begin the campaign, and for this I'm going to reuse some elements from Verge, the small town where the initial run of the campaign started. Because the campaign is going to take such a dark turn later on, I want to make sure that the opening is bright and light-hearted for maximum contrast, similar to the way Lorwyn and Shadowmoor contrast.

Verge is a small town that was once on the outskirts of civilization (hence the name). However, the wilderness nearby has since become quite civilized in the last few decades and the name is now more than a little ironic. Verge is now a center for the trade of specialty items that are not profitable enough to warrant a permanent shop but sell well if only offered on a limited basis.
Population: 2000
Government: The official leader of the town is the mayor, but a trio of wealthy families have more political clout than he can realistically claim.
Defense: Verge has no standing army. The Guardsmen of Verge serve as the local police force but are more for show than anything else. (I am intentionally making Verge's defenses weak to emphasize the relative safety of the town. We'll talk about the consequences of this decision later.)
Inns: The only inn in town is the Lodge of Merchants. Verge gets very few visitors, and those who do visit are usually in town to sell their wares in the marketplace.
Taverns: The Ale Grove and The Soup Keep (to be detailed later... I'm thinking former will be seedier and the latter a little more toned down)
Supplies: Trader's Court (instead of a general store, I'm thinking maybe a giant flea market would be interesting... mostly empty except for one day of the week but with a few specialty shops that stay open regularly)
Temples: Selune and Azuth have temples in Verge. Paladine, Araleth, and the Raven Queen all have small shrines.

Note: All of the business names used in this post about the Shadow's Apex campaign were borrowed from's Random Fantasy Business Names generator, and it isn't the only cool feature of the site. If you haven't checked it out yet, you should.

Much of what I've said already about Verge makes it sound like a rather dull environment for adventure... a relatively safe and peaceful town with trading partners in all directions that serve as a buffer between the town and the "real" wilderness.

Next time: Setting up the sandbox.
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