I have been sitting on this plot point for more than a year ... literally, since I began arranging the reveal, which just happened, with a post I wrote on February 25, 2009. In that post, I included a quite common bit of description (spelling corrected):
”And above that, a third notice, which reads, “The Lord Mayor’s election is to take place on the 24 May 1650. The following citizens have been nominated to date: The competant Lord Mayor Martin Folkes. The competant Councillor Erich Kinski. The competant Patrician Eduard Johannsen. The experienced Patrician Eberhardt Hornung.”Therein began the tale. All four of the gentlemen have been accounted for, and the party has been adroitly moved into the political sphere of one of them. When I ran this campaign, with other people, last spring, I dropped bits and hints from time to time … but it would have been very hard to see just what I was doing behind the scenes, just from those hints. If the party had seriously chosen to investigate, there would have been stronger clues. But it never happened that way.
If the one character in the campaign, Delfig, had not returned to Dachau, chances are that I would never have revealed any of this, EVER. That is the thing about a sandbox campaign:
Sometimes, you never get to know.
As a writer, I am mentally sitting on a number of plots that I have never written, for novels that I plan to write someday, and even for novels which I have given up on and which I will never write. I think about what a particular character will do, and how points A and B will come together … and as a novelist, it is my work, my art, to carefully install the various complicated clues into a work in order that when the reveal comes in chapter 17, the reader will think, “Ahhhhhh!”
Where D&D is mainly different is that, most of the time in my sandbox campaign, I’m not able to make the reveal. I set the clues, I add the various descriptions here and there - they are in turn ignored or forgotten by the party - and I am all ready to show that the small insignificant scribbling on the third floor of the house where three goblins were killed was really a sign that will lead the way directly to …
When the party changes its mind, loads up and leaves town, and never finds out what that scribbling was all about.
This would, I imagine, drive most people to drink. I find, however, I am enormously comfortable with it.
I simply put that little piece of information on the shelf, where one day I may get to use it again somewhere else, or where I may forget about entirely. Or I may, like the books I have conceived of but which I will never write, take the thing down again while I’m sitting at a bus stop or waiting for a film to start. I’ll roll it over in my mind and wonder if it was really as good as it could have been. I’ll investigate the angles and try to improve on them. And when I’m satisfied that it’s taught me something, I’ll put it back and move on.
Nothing worthwhile is ever wasted. Even if I am the only one who will see it.
There are other combinations of clues and connections which I have in mind, both for my online parties and for my offline. Some of these I will carry right to my grave. Some of these I will think about explaining to someone, somewhere - because I like them that much. Most of the time that I do that, however, I find myself a bit dissapointed with the response. I think they’re good reveals. Within the framework of an adventure, I’m sure the party would find them good reveals. But outside that framework -
Well, they are just plot points. No big deal. Just another bit of another story, where the listener has nothing invested.
Just now, if the gentle reader has not been following the campaign, very little will be thought of in terms of the emotional effect that Delfig is undergoing, right now.
But to Delfig - that “Ahhhhh” moment was everything.
I am wondering how it will come out.
I had wanted to emphasize more upon how it is that a DM must keep hidden many of the twists, turns and so on that are in his or her brain when running a sandbox campaign rather than a single-shot adventure - how keeping mum can last for months, even years ... but I suppose I concentrated too much on the event at hand. Overall, I had wanted to start a discussion on why its best to keep our mouths shut. Even when that's hard to do.