Yesterday's post mentioned that I like to have things happening to the rest of the world while the party is focused on the megadungeon, creating events that could affect the local situation, complicate the player character's lives, or send the game in another direction. Events help shake up the status quo. Most of the action in a sandbox is player-driven, but it's fun from time to time to give them situations that require them to react rather than initiate.
Here's a list of campaign events for the island of Thule and the Black City. Eventually I'll put together a loose map of the rest of the world (including the various Northman kingdoms back home) and the references to things outside of Thule will be more concrete.
Northmen explore Thule during the summer months, returning home before the extreme cold. I'd probably have a few events prepared each season, or whenever the DM feels like introducing a new element. These are not fully detailed ideas; it's up to the DM to turn them into side adventures, role playing opportunities, or use as background material if the party doesn't engage with the plot hook.
Campaign Events (roll d100 or pick)
1-2 Astral Conjunction
3-4 Bad Weather
5-6 Beached Whale
7-8 Bear Attack
9-11 Blood Feud
12-14 Bragging Rights
15-16 Dire Omens
19-20 Favor of the Gods
21-23 False Identity
27-28 Food Shortage
31-32 Gold Rush
33-34 Great Weather
35-36 Herd of Caribou
40-41 It Came from the Ice
42-43 Long Live the King
44-46 Marvel Team-Up
53-54 New Sub Level
55-56 New Trade Route
57-58 New Trade Town
59-60 Pod of Whales
61-62 Population Change
63-64 Prize Fishing
65-66 Rampaging Monster Back Home
67-69 Rescue Mission
70-71 Rival Wizard
75-76 Ship Lost at Sea
79-80 Skilled Laborer
81-82 Stolen Map
83-84 Stormy Seas
85-86 Supply Problems
87-88 The Enemy Among Us
91-92 Visiting Ship
93-94 Wandering Monster
95-96 Wars and Rumors of Wars
97-98 Where's the Wizard
A celestial alignment lasting 1-3 days empowers the spirit world. No undead can be turned during the conjunction and summoning spells draw more powerful entities from beyond.
3-8 days of unseasonable downpours create deep mud and limit excavation in the ruins. Tempers run hot around Trade Town and reaction rolls are -1 through this period. If it's spring or fall, the rains could be heavy snow instead.
A whale is beached 2-5 miles from Trade Town. It's up to the DM to determine the type of whale; suggested issues that could arise - the group that finds it might claim it, creating conflict; a whale is a valuable food source for Trade Town, provides valuable oil, attract predators, and might attract an unusual wandering monster.
The camps are on alert after a sentry is mauled by a polar bear. Is the bear a rogue animal, just passing through, or controlled by magic?
Violence erupts into a full scale blood feud between two ship crews at the camps. How does it affect the PCs? Perhaps a brawl happens when they're in town and they get sucked into the melee. A respected PC could be asked to mediate. The feud might escalate and require a Thing to be called. Or perhaps it's agreed to be settled at a spectacular duel.
An NPC group gets farther into the dungeons than the PCs and starts bragging about their exploits. This is a chance to foreshadow some of the deeper dungeon areas and create a rivalry.
The Odin Priest, Falki One-Eye, comes down from the hills bearing dire news that ill luck hangs over the camps after seeing a terrible omen. (The superstitious might suffer saving throws at -1 until the omen is resolved).
Someone goes missing from the camp. Roll a d6
The inhabitants of the Tower of Pain, who wish to learn about the camp, have carried off a subject for experimentation.
An appropriate wandering monster (either from the city or the wilds) has come hunting and mauled a Northman.
A body is found murdered and dumped, setting off an inquiry or investigation.
Perhaps a drunken raider falls in the ocean, passes out in the cold, or otherwise suffers a normal accident (the body may never be found).
Favor of the Gods
Opposite of dire omens, Falki pronounces a period of divine favor due to favorable omens; good luck is experienced by all the believers (+1 to saving throws during the favorable period).
The players are falsely accused by an NPC group - this could trigger a blood feud, require mediation, lead to a duel or a Thing. Sample accusations could be robbery, an ambush in the ruins, or a murder.
Fire is a deadly hazard; roll d6
1 Affects the players directly (their camp or ship)
2-4 Affects an NPC camp or ship
5-6 Affects a building in Trade Town
Food scarcity, roll a d6: 1-4 affects Trade Town, 5-6 affects the camps. Causes might include unusual vermin destroying supplies, a period of bad hunting or scarcity exhausts the stores, too much damp air creates mold that infects grains and dried fruit. (This will probably force most groups to go foraging - use your system's forage rules to govern things like fishing, whaling, or hunting caribou and seal.)
Interlopers from a foreign country have shown up on Thule. Options might include a ship anchoring in the fjord not far from the city and sending longboats; a competing camp is being established across the bay; foreigners start exploring the city (replacing some of the human encounters with foreigners instead of Northmen). In the default setting of the Black City, this would likely be an exotic looking ship from one of the decadent city-states of the Inner Sea, like Karkhedon (part of North Africa and the faux-Islamic world).
A trader group returns to town with stories of a mother lode roll d6: 1-2 gold 3-4 gems 5-6 crystals - in a ruined building. Conflict ensues as other groups rush to "jump the claim".
The weather becomes unseasonably sunny and warm (reaching the 40's). Excavation might be difficult if too much melting snow and ice creates mud.
Herd of Caribou
A herd wanders within a few miles of camp, creating an opportunity for hunting and laying in supplies.
As summer wears on, success in the ruins creates wealth with the raider and prices in the Trade Town begin to cycle higher.
It Came from the Ice
A group hunting in the hills or mountains nearby finds something of general interest.
1 Entrance to a lost Hyperborean temple
2 Cave lair of a monster
3 Standing stones of the hidden people
4 Crater with a chunk of meteorite (star rock)
5 Crater with a fragment from deep space (satellite, probe, or ship fragment)
6 Encampment of berserkers
Long Live the King
The king is dead. News reaches the islands via ship that a king back home has died, and the various jarls are competing for the succession and choosing a new king. 20-30% of the ship crews make ready to sail home early (there will be like 4-5 distinct Northmen kingdoms).
An NPC party approaches the group to team-up for equal shares. It could be because (roll a d6:)
1-2 They want to help the party explore their current area
3-4 They want the player's help exploring the NPC party's current area
5-6 The NPC's want to ambush the group in the ruins
Stories drift back to town about a prominent NPC group being massacred in the ruins or dungeons; some kinsmen of the group offer a reward for justice. Based on the PC's current activities, the DM will need to select an appropriate location that moves the game forward if the players get involved.
A meteor, drawn by the Beacon (see letter F - Central Command), streaks towards the island and crashes somewhere in the mountains near the city. Was it just a star rock, or did it bring a space devil with it to menace the earth?
A foreign priest from the continent arrives on one of the longships - perhaps the captain is a convert to the new religion. The priest spends time preaching to the 'pagan' Northmen and demonstrating miracles (spells) as a show of faith. Do some of the Vikings convert? Does this create conflict with the Odin Priest? What happens after the missionary is found murdered?
New Sub Level
An NPC party returns to town with news that they've discovered a new sub level in the dungeons in an area that's previously been well-worn ground. Perhaps a new excavation opened the way, or a secret door was found. (It's a chance for the DM to slide in their own creation into the Black City.)
New Trade Route
The Northmen have discovered a habitable island to the south and west of Thule and a colony is being established there. This will provide an alternate place for groups to spend the winter and will lead to more trade opportunities (and perhaps a bit more piracy on the open seas).
New Trade Town
A competing Jarl from another kingdom sends a force of Northmen to create a second beach head on Thule. Do men from the existing Trade Town 'defect'?
Pod of Whales
A small pod of whales is seen off the coast, or perhaps in a nearby fjord, bay or estuary. Time for some whaling!
There's an equal chance that the camp gains or loses a handful of ships, either straining the resources in the camps or making the place feel empty. A reason for a flood of new arrivals might be misinformation back home - a returning ship oversold the opportunity on the island. Reasons for a mass departure could be any number of things - food scarcity, bad omens, disease, etc.
One of the groups that does a lot of fishing comes back with a prize catch - cheap food for all.
Rampaging Monster Back Home
A ship arrives bringing news of trouble back home - a rampaging monster(s). Examples of newsworthy monsters might be the awakening of a dragon in the mountains, stirrings of the Jotuns (giants), or a giant sea beast (a sea serpent, kraken or dragon turtle) beginning to hunt in some popular fishing grounds. Brave captains (and possibly the PCs) might leave to tackle the threat.
Survivors stumble back to camp with stories of how the rest of their group was captured in the ruins. A reward is offered for someone to mount a rescue mission. Likely abductors in the city include the Ape-Men of the Hippodrome, the inhabitants of the Tower of Pain, and Bonecracker (from the Field of Mists). In the dungeons, they could be captured on level 2 by glass spiders, Morlocks, or taken to level 3 by servants of the Overmind.
A rival wizard arrives on Thule, begins staying in Trade Town and organizing expeditions into the Black City. Unlike Shafat, this wizard might accompany some parties personally and see the city firsthand. Roll a d6 for the wizard's homeland: 1-2, the decadent south, 3-4, academic from the continent, 5-6, a warlock from the wilds of Rus.
Alternatively, a rival wizard shows up and shuns Trade Town. Depending on how high magic is your game, a lonely tower of stone appears across the fjord overnight, a floating island in the air hovers menacingly over the bay, or perhaps a floating ship hovers instead. (In a low magic setting, a ship from the decadent south arrives and builds a competing camp with foreign mercenaries, similar to the 'Foreigners!' entry but led by the rival wizard-archaeologist).
A prominent robbery takes place - roll d6: 1-3 the players are targeted, 4-6 it happens to another group. It could involve food, supplies, magic items, or treasure. If the player group is leaving loot in the camp while they go on extended delves into the ruins, where are they keeping their stuff? Do henchmen stay back to guard?
Ship Lost at Sea
News of a missing ship reaches camp and could generate searches or rescues. Roll d6: 1-3, the ship was known to be scouting other islands around the archipelago, and never returned. 4-6, the ship was headed for a distant location and debris washed on shore (I'll eventually come up with that alternate earth fantasy map with better names, but for now, let's say debris washes up on the Orkneys, Scotland, Iceland or someplace similar).
It's up to the DM whether the group had friends, enemies, or another interest in the ship and it's cargo, and thus a reason to be concerned about the loss.
Disease spreads through the camps near Trade Town, or an acute illness strikes down a lot of men at once. Obvious choices might be dysentery or a gastro disease, severe flu, or something new and alien (brought out of the ruins). Ideas for an acute illness might be something like rampant food poisoning because of something served in Trade Town.
A new skilled craftsman arrives on an incoming ship and begins offering work in Trade Town:
1 Alchemist / Healer
3 Carpenter and Shipwright
5 Goldsmith and Jeweller
A jealous NPC group makes a concerted effort to steal the player's map(s) and learn what they've been doing in the dungeon. The DM gets to plan a heist!
Rough seas and bad winds make leaving the island impossible or extremely treacherous for a period of 3-10 days. There's a 50% the bad weather moves local and is accompanied by heavy rain (see Bad Weather listing) and there's a 1-in-6 chance that of a storm surge or other severe tidal effect threatens to wash some of the longships out to sea, or swamp parts of the camp.
Critical supplies in Trade Town or amongst the camps become rare, causing problems with daily life or making it harder to restock between expeditions. The shortage affects something like light sources (torches, tar and lamp oil), leather or rope, metal for weapon and armor repairs, or maybe mead, beer and spirits. (Food shortage is already it's own entry).
The Enemy Among Us
Trade Town represents an isolated outpost of humanity at the top of the world… ideal for a menacing anthrophage. Some kind of predator of men is discretely hunting amongst the camps. It could be something that stowed away on a recent ship, or an alien monster that came back from the ruins.
Examples might be a vampire or nosferatu (especially one that can survive in the weak northern daylight), a werewolf or lycanthrope, a doppleganger, something insidious like John Carpenter's 'The Thing', or perhaps a spiritual monster lurking in the shell of a man - demonic possession or the Wendigo.
The camps become infested with vermin - rats or mice brought on a ship eat food stores, chew backpacks and adventuring gear in the night, spread disease.
Unlike some of the entries that imply colonization and competition ( like New Trade Town or Foreigners!), this event involves a visiting merchant ship looking to trade directly with the Northmen; it could be merchants from one of the large, established Viking Trade Towns (looking to cut out the middle men) or a large, seaworthy vessel from the decadent south. Luxury goods and comfort might flood into the camps temporarily.
A massive wandering monster visits Southern Thule like a force of nature - identify an appropriate monster, something with 20 HD+, like a dragon turtle, ancient dragon, massive kraven or sea monster, or equivalent.
Wars and Rumors of Wars
News reaches Thule that two Northman kingdoms back home are at war. (Assuming there are 4-5 different loose nationalities represented in the crews of Thule, this could plunge 40% of the camp into immediate conflict). Fights might break out at the camps, while some patriotic captains may ready their ships for return. Piracy would also seem likely.
Where's the Wizard
One morning, the tower of Shafat at Trade Town is completely gone, with no trace of the wizard. Or perhaps, the tower stands, but there are no sounds of life or activity within and the assistant no longer answers the door. Groups returning from the city with satchels laden with artifacts can longer have them appraised by the wizard; they'll need to leave earlier at summer's end and point their ships to one of the other trading towns for bartering. Does Shafat return?
Real-world whirlpools often form in the confluence of estuaries and channels between islands; a large whirlpool forms somewhere in the archipelago. It presents a hazard to sailing and might lead to an undersea realm (or be caused by undersea entities…)