I recently realized that August 25, 2017 will mark 10 years of refereeing campaigns in the Wilderlands. I had run a Wilderlands adventure previously (a B/X one-shot of Jaquays’ “Night of the Walking Wet” from the Dungeoneer Compendium), but 8/25/07 marked my first attempt at running a game in more of the “sandbox” style then (and still) being discussed by OSR folks on blogs and forums. I had picked up the Necromancer Games’ Wilderlands stuff a few years earlier — the Wilderlands of High Fantasy box set, City State of the Invincible Overlord, and the Players Guide to the Wilderlands — and was itching to use it in play.
It was initially set in the Roglaroon region of the CSIO map, focused on a reskinned version of the classic module B2: The Keep on the Borderlands. For rules I used Castles & Crusades (of which I was a big fan before my attention shifted to OD&D), supplemented by the AD&D1e Dungeon Masters Guide and the Judges Guild Ready Ref Sheets. Here’s the writeup from the first session:
Player Characters (PCs)
Iona, female Elf Wizard 1
Meena of Dorn, female Human Assassin 1
Rocky, male Human Cleric 1
Xamot, male Altanian Ranger 1
Non-Player Characters (NPCs)
Kellen (Kel) and Kleegin (Klee) Barrelmaker, male Human mercenaries
Father Mychus, Temple Curate
Brother Minius, Temple Acolyte (missing)
Epano, Sergeant of the Guard
The story so far:
BCCC (Balozkinar’s Corrected Commoner’s Calendar) 10 Thistleburn 2294
The PCs met aboard a merchant ship sailing down the Roglaroon River from City State towards Modron. Shortly downriver from the caravan crossing at Bier, the ship was attacked by pirates; in a brief but bloody skirmish, they were driven off by the combined efforts of the PCs and the hardy crew. Iona the mage was knocked unconscious, several of the crew were killed or wounded; the ship was also damaged, which forced it to dock at the nearby outpost of Riverkeep– a base for pirate-hunting patrols and a point for brave traders heading into the Dearthwood– for repairs. After administering magical aid to Iona, Rocky took the still-unconscious but stabilized mage to the local temple for further healing; meanwhile, Meena and Xamot went to the tavern to gather information about the locale and current events.
Rocky and a fully-restored Iona learned from the aging Father Mychus that a valuable relic–a jade medallion blessed by Mitra, god of Justice–had gone missing along with Brother Minius, who left two weeks ago (with a guard detachment of two soldiers) to perform an exorcism in a nearby village in the Dearthwood. Nothing had been heard of the acolyte or the relic; in appreciation for Mychus’ aid, Iona offered her (and the party’s) assistance in tracking down the missing pair. Rocky and Iona then met up with Meena and Xamot in the tavern; the latter two had gleaned some similar information from the tavernkeeper, Johannes. Deciding to take the advice of Father Mychus, the group decided to seek some mercenary assistance before heading into the dangerous Dearthwood forest. Epano, the Sergeant of the Guard, introduced them to Kel, a sellsword who had some experience travelling in the wood; after some bargaining, the services of Kel and his brother Klee were secured for the fee of two gold per day plus ten percent of any treasure or reward.
Early the next morning (11 Thistleburn), the party set out on the forest trade path towards the village of Verris under a gloomy grey sky. After an hour or so of hiking, Xamot the ranger noticed that the party was being paced by several unidentified creatures. The party came into a small clearing, in the center of which stood a fifteen-foot-tall stone pillar. The ancient stone was weathered and pitted; carved on this in bas-relief were four armored, dragon-helmed humanoid figures, facing the four cardinal directions. Closer inspection showed evidence of some care and tending of the statues, as moss and vine growth had been cleared from the likenesses of the warriors; however, none of the party members were able to identify the style of the strange armor or the age of the pillar. Without further ado, the party continued down the path towards Verris.
A few minutes later, the creatures which had been pacing the party–four mountain lions–sprang from the undergrowth to attack. The party managed to slay the savage beasts, but not without injury; none but Iona escaped the melee unscathed, and Meena was knocked out in the lions’ fierce attack. The party of adventurers then decided to slaughter the lions for meat; after reviving Meena and eating some lion meat, the group made the last leg of the trek to Verris. Before reaching the village, they came across the site of some violence– a merchant caravan had been attacked, and the bodies of several dead hobgoblins were visible. Bloodstains led off the track into the forest; nearby was the corpse of a soldier wearing the uniform of a Riverkeep guardsman. The party opted to continue to Verris, where they could learn more about the fate of Brother Minius and the missing relic (and nurse their wounds a bit).
Inquiries of local persons (the mayor, the trading post merchant, and the smith) regarding Minius’ absence were less than helpful. Brother Minius had never arrived in the village; the events warranting exorcism–strange sounds and a sickness localized on a single household–seemed to have resolved themselves in a satisfactory, if strangely abrupt, manner. While in Verris, the party sold the lion meat to the innkeeper, after an unsuccessful attempt by Meena to pass it off as catoblepas meat to the grumpy dwarven trader. They also managed to secure some herbal healing from the local alchemist.
On their way out of the village, they were approached by a young boy, who claimed to have seen Brother Minius’ abduction by hobgoblins in a dream. He told the party that the hobgoblins took the acolyte and the relic to a nearby network of caves, known locally as the “Caves of Chaos”. The adventurers thanked him and made directly for the caves, which they reached as afternoon was fading into evening…
If memory serves, that first Wilderlands campaign ran for a year or so before scheduling difficulties caused it to grind to a halt. The players eventually made their way south to Zothay and had a bunch of adventures in Barbarian Altanis. I can’t recall all the particulars of the campaign, but we had a lot of fun. In retrospect I’d say it wasn’t a great success as a truly open “sandbox” experience, but it was my first time and I certainly learned a lot in the process.