I'm also an avid post-apocalypse roleplaing fan since the 1st Edition Gamma World era, so I've been in love with Goblinoid's OSR post-apocalyptic Mutant Future game for years. When I first read through Apes Victorious, I immediately wanted to mix it with Mutant Future into some far-flung, post-apocalyptic earth, much like what you can find in Mutant Future, with the Apes from Apes Victorious running the show as the dominant intelligent species.
I haven't been able to find much of a local gaming scene where I live, and a medical condition makes driving unsafe for everyone involved, so I took to Goggle+ to hunt down players for Expedition to the Forbidden Zone, an online play-by-post style game mashing up Apes Victorious and Mutant Future. The response was so quick that my poor group had to wait patiently as I played catch up to give this adventure the prep and excitement it deserves,
I have been known to enjoy a good dungeon crawl, especially over cold beer or decent bourbon, and some themes and genres lend themselves exceptionally well to a mission or assignment style format. By far, though, my favorite - as both player and GM is a sandbox, explored or otherwise, full of exciting locations and opportunities fir adventure. In the past, one trouble I've had with sandbox style scenarios like this (granted you have some objectives and a limited selection of routes) is not coming up with enough detail before it gets underway. I know it sounds nuts... a sandbox should be the easiest to improvise, right?
As it turned out, I was still trying to find the right balance of information. Not having enough prepped, or using only the broadest strokes to define setting elements, always made for exciting and liberating GMing, but it was also causing me some problems. In the past, I have usually waited until the characters engage with these locations and creatures before giving them more than the briefest descriptions and/or maps and stats in my GM notes. This is usually a good way for me to prep tabletop games. It eliminates too much unnecessary prep and won't tempt me to railroad my players to some extent so they don't miss whatever amazing things I've prepared. This also helps to slay the "quantum ogres". The problem I have had over the years is that I am never fully prepared for these encounters, and the game slows to a crawl or just stalls out forever while I prep the specifics of the situation.
For Expedition to the Forbidden Zone, the initial map the PCs have access to , along with its description, took very little time, aside from some trouble with my map making program (which persists still - apologies for that. I would have preferred a nice old school hex map, or even something artistic and hand drawn, but the vagueness of the one the PCs have now is fitting for the adventure). So I have my adventure intro and concept, a sparsely annotated and potentially inaccurate map, and a handful of locations, creatures, and other elements
I wanted to exist.
The locations listed on the characters' map have all been detailed. Not to the extent of a published module, but I have maps, notes, NPCs, and more all ready to go as soon as the group hits those locations. I have also, in my own GM map, made note of many other locations the group can find ruins, geographic oddities, strange tribes, lairs of deadly beasts, etc..
I've always been more partial to larger and more well explored sandbox locales, but the smaller size and the incredible amount of biological and geological diversity within the area has enabled me to pack quite a lot into this setting.
The smaller number of known locations has enabled me to do more prep for those key spots, and in less time than if I were giving less attention to three times as many locations. My GM notes contain enough information about the other hidden locations, lairs, and encounters that I can run those encounters without having to do much more than roll for some variables.
Also, for the first time in far too long, I have been writing random encounter tables. I have a general encounter table that can apply to pretty much the entire map, and I also have random encounter for specific locales. On these tables are animals and plants (more on that in a moment) but strange weather activity, NPCs whose primary goal is not to kill the PCs, potentially lethal natural hazards, and more.
Lastly, I would like to discuss monsters. Running a mashup of Apes Victorious and Mutant Future means that I have a basically unending supply of monsters, dangerous plants, sentient species, telepathic beings, or whatever else I might want. The Mutant Future and Apes Victorious books have some great, evocative monsters. I like to create setting specific monsters as well. If the old imagination fails me, I can lift and re-skin pretty much anything from any OSR game meant to emulate BECMI mechanically, which in turn means I can hack up stat blocks from d20, 3.5, 5th edition, Mutants and Masterminds, and so much more. Yesterday, I needed Apes Victorious stats for a creature I ended up finding in a Pathfinder book. The Pathfinder version is a lot less twisted than what I wound up turning it into, but it took less than five minutes to pare down the Pathfinder stats and make the changes to unleash something terrifically horrid into my world.
So what's my point? What am I yammering on about?
I think I may have discovered - if only for this one campaign - the perfect amount of sandbox prep. Granted, prepping this still took longer than I wanted, but I think I've discovered a new workflow and some new creativity tricks.
Creating this area of the Forbidden Zone has been and continues to be insane, ridiculous fun. If my players have half as much fun on their expeditions, I will consider my efforts successful!