To me, the essence of RPG world-building is the map, and I’ve come to like the 6-mile hex map (for ease of navigation). A map allows players to get their bearings, imagine their surroundings, and know quite precisely where their characters are. It gives them an idea of the economy of the game world, and when playing ACKS, it also lets them know just where the “borderlands” and “wilderness” are relative to their party and their starting city. It also provides me with a peg-board for inserting pre-generated modules. Consider the following maps:
Map #1: The Kingdom of Ervala
This is the regional map for the campaign, in 24-mile hexes. On the city side of the red line is civilization, with the hexes against the red line being the borderlands. Outside the red line are wilderness hexes. These three hex types are important in ACKS for determining various things regarding land-holdings and strongholds. At 17.35 you can see a unique icon: this is where I’ve placed the Temple of Elemental Evil in my campaign. 19.34 could easily be The Keep on the Borderlands, and Into the Unknown could be anywhere at all, really.
Map 2: The Radfell/Anda Region
And here’s a zoomed-in version of the above map, in 6-mile hexes, focusing on the area around Radfell (a Class III Market), and my slightly-modified Temple of Elemental Evil. I’ve changed the religious nature of the temple to be in line with my campaign pantheon, but it’s otherwise right out of the box.
So there are greater and lesser sandboxes here. The smaller, more detailed one, has the Temple in it, which should keep a party of level 1-2 characters occupied for many levels more. If they should desire to branch out or go to the big city, or even buy a ship, the region is there for them to do so. Idrana on the first map is a Class I market, and should have anything they might want to purchase.
Nothing prevents them from trying out the Temple, deciding it’s too tough, and seeking gentler pastures. I’ve included a mine outside of Grunfelt that might be beset by bandits or goblins (or PCs), and if they so desired they could go deal with that for some extra gold. I have made at least one competing group of NPC dungeon-delvers to shake things up for them if they get slow, but otherwise it’s just … a world. They can do what they want in it, and I add detail and polish as I have time.