Running a Sandbox Campaign, Part 2- Prep is for Suckers.

In last week’s post, we talked about a good system for prepping your fantasy sandbox campaign. This week, we’re talking about a good system to avoid any prep what so ever.

Mutant Year Zero

While not as easy to port over to other games, Mutant: Year Zero has some great systems focusing on sandbox style play. Set on a post apocalyptic Earth, MYZ is all about exploration. You play a group of mutants who, until recently, have never had much reason to travel far from the safety of home, referred to as the Ark. Now, you are presented with a blank map. It’s your job to see what is out there and find things to ensure the survival of your colony.

The map is an all important part of this system. Aside from the squares you have explored, it is completely blank. That means that each time the players move to a new area, it has to be filled in. This might seem like the GM has to know everything. If you never know where the players are going to go, you have to be prepared for them to go everywhere, right?

Mutant year zero says, “Poppy cock! We’ll make it up as we go along, in true RPG fashion.”

Or I imagine it says that. Don’t quote me on that.

Mutant year zero is all about the charts. Players go into a new section and the GM rolls to see what is there. With just a little bit of thought, it gets woven into its own sort of story. The players find enemies, structures, and important artifacts from the before “boom boom time.” It feels like you’re exploring a deadly post apocalyptic waste land. That is to say, it feels great.

For instance, in the last session I played in, the GM had a hell of a zone. He rolled up a battery as an artifact, giant mutant slugs as a threat, and an abandoned bunker. He quickly put them all together into a memorable encounter. It felt like a story that had been planned all along, when in reality it came into being moments before.

We were pulling our cart along a mountain pass when we saw something strange in the rocks. Upon exploration, it was a metal door that was built into the side of the mountain that had been torn open. Obviously, we had to go inside and check it out. What if there were survivors in there?

We found some dead zone ghouls first. These bestial humans had been a big problem for us, so no tears were shed. Their bodies were floating in this flooded cavern. It wasn’t too long before we found out why they were dead…

Giant gross leeches dropping from the ceiling. Everything was bad. It was disgusting. We nearly died because leeches.

After almost burning down the entire place, (because how do you deal with leeches?) we went back inside to loot whatever was left. Our characters were starting to feel sick, a good sign that this place was crawling with radiation. Delving deeper into the cavern, we found why. A flooded generator was leaking into all the nearby water. We quickly left, but not before snagging a battery, which is like the equivalent of a vorpal sword in this game.

We’re simple mutants. We don’t ask for much.

It was a great encounter. It felt super dangerous and mysterious. In reality, it was just a collection of elements rolled off of tables in the book. The GM mixed it all together for us on the fly and made something great. All of this happened with no prep.

Another great aspect of this system is its community building. You’re doing more than just exploring the wasteland and hoping you have enough water. Between sessions, the players get to build up the Ark, their home base. The book has an extensive list of projects to choose from, each one raising one of the Ark’s four stats: Food Supply, Technology, Security, Culture. Not paying attention to any one of them could be disastrous.

The Ark is subject to attacks, famine, and all sorts of other maladies. You can defend against these things with those aforementioned stats. If you’re lucky, you can mitigate some of the damage and less mutants die. If your compound shrinks to zero, your game is done. Did I mention that the mutants have lost the ability to reproduce?

Building a wall or farm land might help. Its really satisfying to watch the Ark grow over time and it is completely in the player’s hands how. All the players have to act as a team as well. They all get to decide on what gets built.

Somehow, despite how complex everything I just wrote seems, the system is simple and eloquent. It’s all based on different colored d6’s. If you are familiar with Tales From The Loop, it is basically the same thing.

Again, these mechanics are not as easy to port over to your favorite d20 games as some others. When it comes to running a zero prep sandbox, however, Mutant: Year Zero really has itself together. This is definitely a game you should be playing. A new core book for the system, Mutant: Mecatron is coming later this year.

If you are interested, click on any of the book images to purchase the PDFs. Enjoy your sandbox!


Buy the Books Here!

Mutant: Year Zero


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Digging in the Sand

Bones. So many bones. How many people have been buried here?

You find a rusty long sword and a small, golden vulture head worth 250 gp.

Red Sand

The sand here on the edge of the sacrificial ground is loose and looks recently churned.

Vulture Priest

The Vulture Priests are the enemy of knowledge and enlightenment. They seek to bring the eternal silence, the end of all things. Decay and obedience is their only god.

Armor Class 6 [13]
Hit Dice 1 (4hp)
Attacks 1 × Beak (1d4 or by weapon)
THAC0 19 [0]
Movement 120’ (40’)
Saving Throws D12 W13 P14 B15 S16 (1)
Morale 8 (11 when at their temple)
Alignment Lawful
XP 10 
Number Appearing 2d4 (1d6 × 10)
Treasure Type D
Immune to the Divine: The spells and powers of clerics and paladins have no effect on them.
Weapons: They frequently use wickedly curved daggers, which they use for sacrificial purposes.
Soul Clouders: There is a 10% chance that any Vulture Priest can use the sleep spell once per day. The targets are still awake, but they are beset by such a deep depression that it has the same effect as sleep. They may only watch what unfurls around them.