It has been a while since I ran a good sandbox fantasy campaign. I like the adventure paths and enjoy going through them, but they are linear and it can be tough to really have the feeling of go anywhere and try to do anything. Even though I haven’t run that kind of campaign lately I still hold on to and seek out books that aid in that kind of campaign. There are not a lot out there that are easily adaptable and portable into different fantasy games and worlds. This week I am going to look at three books of the En Route series by Atlas Games for their Penumbra line. These books offer a variety of different encounters that can easily be dropped into almost any fantasy campaign.
The En Route series of books boasts some impressive writers. We have author credits by Keith Baker, Brannon Hollingsworth, Chris Aylott, Spike Jones, Justin Achilli, and many other familiar names. The first two are written for 3e and the third is written for 3.5 ed D&D using the OGL, but these are very mechanics light products making them very easy to port into any other fantasy game. Since the books are older it should be easy to find them relatively cheap. A quick look on Amazon.com shows they can be purchased for around $5 a piece.
The En Route series are books featuring simple encounters designed to be used when the PCs are traveling from one place to another. Some are for on the road, in a city, a tavern, in a forest, on the sea, and other places. There is a variety of different locations with some unusual ones like in a goblin encampment or whenever the party teleports. Each encounter is a bit more in depth with great plot ideas that a DM can carry forward. This is one of the great things I like about the books, the encounters can be throw away encounters the PCs run into and then can forget about. But I like encounters that might originally feel like that but a DM can cleverly use something established there and showcase it later in the campaign. I think it helps tie different adventures together and helps the players remember what is happening in the campaign because they know something that is happening now can come back and help or hinder them in the future.
Between the three books there are approximately 50 different encounters. Each covers about four to eight pages. There are simple ones like the Door. It is designed for second level characters and while wandering a road they encounter signs that say something like “Are you Worthy?” and “Do you think you have what it takes?”. Ahead off to the side of the road is a small trail that leads to a door in the side of a rock facing covered in mystical runes and animal carvings. The door is locked and trapped. What lies behind the door will be remembered by the party.
There is the Haunting Place, which says it is for level 10 but I would reduce it to lower level. The magic of a level 10 party could easily make this encounter too easy or they could kill the creature they are trying to help. It is built on the idea of a summoned monster trying to get home but there is a communication problem between it and anyone it tries to get to help it. It can really set the scene for a spooky encounter as the players are trying to figure out exactly what is going on.
Many of the encounters are not combat encounters. Some use illusions or tricks to set up situations that are not quite apparent to the players at first. One of my favorites is the Glass House by Keith Baker. It is a simple situation in which a magical experiment inside in Inn turns the place and everyone inside invisible. The PCs are assumed to be outside and witness the Inn and everyone vanish. There is a mystery of what happened and how to undo it all but it sets up for some fun and different kind of encounter.
The En Route series is perfect for DMs looking for something a little extra to help out a gaming session or serve as a small distraction. None of them will take a full session or even a half of session but all of them could if the DM wants to put in a little work to add additional levels of complexity. I like these for a sandbox campaign as it would be easy to just have the books handy and grab them when needed. There are a few that could be used in Adventure Paths to just put in something different and not directly connected to the AP. Most of them are for lower level groups and any of these that say they are for higher ones like level 10 and up I would pay close attention to, as most of them I feel would work better for lower level characters. There is a lot of creativity and cleverness in these books coming from authors who were not as well-known as they are today.
Chris Gath. I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then. In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6. My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game. On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out. I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times. Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.