It was to have been a sandbox within a sandbox game with players and game master gradually building the world outside the starting area as characters eventually reached the levels at which they would be free to go anywhere else in the world they wanted. There were also some underlying plot lines to help give them a sense that the world was active, a living world.
While originally intended for 4th edition use, it was the old-school style that was actually a driving force behind it and the idea can easily be used with any edition.
The players guide was designed in Word and printed on bright white paper, the fonts and colors and images put there to set the mood and give the players something to sink their teeth into at the start. It began with two pieces of fiction. The first was a narration from someones point of view that was about to finally make his way out of Sky Reach (originally called High Reach until I remembered the name was of a city in the Mystara campaign setting). It hinted at what the characters might be dealing with while there. The second piece was in the section titled "Why Are You Here?". It begins with basic background information and the fiction then details the arrival of the characters, whoever they might be, and gives more information about things to expect.
The guide went on to describe permitted classes and races, other concepts important to the setting and then to provided a starting list of questions that the players would answer to begin creating the world outside of Sky Reach. Below is the majority of the guide, only slightly abbreviated. It will not include the permitted races and classes since those would be system specific.
My time in Sky Reach is almost finished. After years of toil, years of risking my life to uncover lost magic, I've finally collected nearly enough blood pips to pay for my release and trip back to civilization. The things I've seen here, the companions I've lost to the monsters and other hazards; cold though it sounds I won't miss them. I long for life in a city, any city other than this place.
There's some unfinished business before I can settle down and enjoy my hard earned freedom and wealth. I plan to use a small portion of my gains to make sure a certain magistrate gets a taste of real justice. Money changed hands to send me here, money can change hands for another ticket to Sky Reach, and I don't think the magistrate will be coming back. Then I'll marry his daughter.
Why are you here?
The Player Characters have all been brought to Sky Reach for Different reasons. Many are exiles whether for criminal, political, or other reasons. Others have been ordered here or volunteered on behalf of their liege lords. All are stuck here until they can gather the required price of a ticket home.
Everyone arrives the same way . . . divested of possessions, bound, and escorted aboard an airship run by metal automatons known as gear men. Once on board everyone is kept in a cabin isolated from the outside until arrival. The first sight of the outside happens at night while being escorted down a ramp from the airship to a wide stone plateau.
In good weather the stars and moon are clearly visible. The thin air is crisp ans wisps of cloud pass nearby. Below can barely be seen the dark silhouettes of squat square buildings. The only detectable activity is that of the automatons unloading crates and barrels in the gloom.
The snapping of small arcs of lightning from the keg shaped iron cages attached to the sides of the gondola briefly illuminates the airship lifting away from the ground. It becomes dark and silent again for what seems many minutes.
Shadowy robed figures seem to rise from the ground, soft footsteps giving away the stairs they climb. Bonds are removed and small cloth purses are placed into the palms of hands whose fingers are flexing away the stiffness of having been tightly shackled.
A whisper is followed by the ignition of a lantern, its glow muted to prevent hurting any one's eyes, but bright enough to reveal flesh and blood people.
Hello, you are at Sky Reach. In your hands you hold a small bag containing 20 blood pips each. This is the most prized form of currency here. All of us are trying to earn enough of these to buy our trips back home or anywhere away from here. You'll need food, clothing, lodging, and other goods. Precious metals, gemstones, and barter are all good here, but you'll find things more expensive unless you are paying in pips. You're going to need a few thousand of those to buy your way out of the Reach and they're the only thing accepted as payment for the trip.
Before anyone gets the idea of stealing other people's pips, think again. There aren't laws as such here, but thieves are quickly dealt with by everyone who wants to be sure they aren't the next victim of theft.
Ways to earn pips vary. Some people set up shops to sell skills or goods. Others try their luck in the wilds, searching the ruins for lost treasures. That is the quickest way out since those lucky enough to survive and bring back ancient magic can sell it to the gear men for a goodly number of blood pips.
Why are we giving you pips? Those aren't ours; we were paid to give those to you.
Now come on, you've got to be getting cold wearing loin cloths and light shifts, and there's warm food and straw sleeping mats waiting below. Don't worry about the crates; those will be taken care of.
Important Meta-game Concepts
In Sky Reach there are no magic shops. There may be people present that can sell consumable items such as scrolls and potions occasionally. Characters may also take time to make items for themselves. Magic items can be sold to other PCs and of course to the automatons.
New arrivals begin literally with nothing, but the 20 blood pips they have been handed and the light shift and loincloth they arrived wearing. There is equipment available to buy, however none of it is magical.
The World at Large
The world is an enormous, fantastical place, and so are the numbers of questions players likely have regarding it. Fear not, you already know the answers for many questions. You will be helping to build the world as you create characters and play them in the campaign.
Included here is a set of questions to answer about the character's city-state of origin. Answering these questions is a good first step in helping design the world and the future of play, especially once play expands beyond Sky Reach.
Other questions that might come up include things about divine entities. So tell us, player of a religious character, what type of god does your character worship?
When a question comes up about the world see if you can answer it. Most modern people know very little about the world we live in, even with such conveniences as television, the internet, and rapid international travel being available, so go ahead, it is okay it it turns out to be inaccurate.
To get started, here are some questions.
Name the city-state you came from or the nearest to your home:
Name and describe at least one special geographic feature from there:
Name the leader or leaders and give a guess of their age (young, middle, old, special):
Name two important factions that affect local society:
What is the primary economic framework like? Agrarian. manufacturing, mining, a mix, etc?
What are the top exports and imports?
Describe the racial demographics:
Is the city-state at war or peace? If at peace, when was the last war and was it a win, loss, inconclusive? If at war, is it against internal or external foes? Who? Is the city-state winning, losing, or inconclusive?
Where is the city-state located? Which hemisphere - North, South, East, West? Near a pole or the equator? Is it landlocked, coastal, an island, etc?
What is the climate like?
Are there any major/minor religions of importance? What are they like and how do they interact?
List two special laws that others might find interesting or worrisome:
Name some cultural habits or quirks a foreigner would notice:
That is the majority of the Players Guide for the campaign that never got off the ground. Hopefully this will inspire somebody somewhere to give something like this a try. If anyone does, please drop me a line so I can keep up with your game journals.