View Full Version : Sandboxing

2010-02-22, 03:27 PM
So i was planning on running a sandbox campaign, anybody got any good advice? Anybody done/doing this? As always, thanks in advance :)

2010-02-22, 03:29 PM
So i was planning on running a sandbox campaign, anybody got any good advice? Anybody done/doing this? As always, thanks in advance :)

Real life or PbP?

2010-02-22, 03:30 PM
In sandbox, I'd go with a small group, and try to keep them physically together, because otherwise the energy and continuity is likely to fade pretty quickly.

2010-02-22, 03:31 PM
Real life or PbP?

Real life.

In sandbox, I'd go with a small group, and try to keep them physically together, because otherwise the energy and continuity is likely to fade pretty quickly.

How small is small? My usual group size is about 4, smaller than this?

2010-02-22, 03:38 PM
4 size is perfect.

tends to be harder with any more unless you have multiple groups going.

Also i would have a general idea of the world and or area pcs will be in.

Stat out monsters and areas that you think they may go to.

The key is to make locations have the appropriate CR that makes sense.

A goblin tride that has been at war for centries should have a higher CR then a goblin tribe thats been secluded and whos only opposition is a roc.

I've seen some great sandbox games that have a mutal agreement between player and GM that players need to stay within X region.

2010-02-22, 03:51 PM
This is my favorite kind of game to run. I love world creation, and I'll often have several plots running in the background of my campaign that the characters can find a number of ways to dig into.
For a nice sense if realism, and also to help you track what in the heck is going on. I strongly recommend keeping a calendar of the game. In addition to tracking things the PCs have done and when they did it, you can also track different events that are going on in your campaign world.
For example:
March 15, a cabal of conspirators assassinate the emperor of Centuria, throwing the nation into chaos.
April 21, the oracle of Nymph Mountain disappears (kidnapped by agents of the Green Hammer Guild). Her desperate followers are duped into thinking the dwarves of Bloodstone Hall are responsible and declare war.
May 2, the Fey of Nymph Mountain attack Bloodstone Hall and are slain almost to the last.
June 5, the Festival of Karnassa occurrs in Regions faithful to Pennala. As usual, STDs rise by 20% in this area, providing opportunities to unscrupulous clerics.
And so on. You can weave plots and their critical dates into your calendar, allowing PCs to get involved and perhaps disrupt events - maybe finding the Oracle and saving the fey from dwarven slaughter, for example.

2010-02-22, 03:52 PM
Motivation is much more important in a sandbox than a traditional game. You need the PCs to be ambitious go getters instead of drunks who sit in the tavern until an adventure comes their way. This burden is on the PCs as well as on you.

What makes a sandbox good IMO is having a real, living world. It needs to react to the PCs and it needs to carry on in the background even when the PCs aren't looking. The best way to do this IMO is from the POV of the NPCs. Define all your NPCs and make them ambitious. Give them things they want to do. If the PCs don't go along with it (or even show up), let the NPCs come up with alternate plans and follow through with those plans. After each session, go through each NPC and have them react to whatever they saw happen. When the PCs come back they'll find the world changed while they were gone. This is a good thing.

2010-02-22, 04:10 PM
You need to make the world big enough that they can't do everything, but not so big that they can't do anything, either. Make it clear that things still happen even when the PCs aren't looking, but don't put so much of the action in the background that they're left clueless as to what's going on. Some NPCs will have a vested interest in the player characters, for good or for ill, but that doesn't mean they can just walk into the barbarian lord's halls unbidden, either.

And I second the stuff about the players needing to involve themselves as well. PCs in a sandbox need to be proactive at least some of the time.

2010-02-22, 11:25 PM
So i was planning on running a sandbox campaign, anybody got any good advice? Anybody done/doing this? As always, thanks in advance :)Running a good 'sandbox' game takes planning. In some ways, just as much planning as running a scripted game. The real difference is your focus. In a scripted game you focus on actions or encounters and plan those. For sandbox play you focus on planning goals and agendas. With those planned out you can let actions and encounters simply occur naturally.

On to the details...
- Create a number of NPCs with differing goals - as many as you can easily remember. Ensure all goals are something you think the PCs may interact with. Never create goals that are entirely secret! (Doing so is a trap, sounds good but seldom works out.) Basically, if the PCs don't interact with them or don't hear about them they don't matter to the game.
- Ask players to tell you what their PC's goals are...and use them. This is extremely important, they've told you what is important to them and what they plan on doing.
- Ensure the players have compatible goals (unless you want PvP). One of the easier methods of ensuring this is to create characters as a group. Another is to simply ask them to tell you how they know the others and why they trust each other enough to adventure together as part of their character backgrounds.

Always remember there's a cycle to play. A character's Goals will drive his Actions which result in Consequences or new Circumstances...which may or may not change Goals. So you have: Goals --> Actions --> Consequences --> Goals.

Hope that helps!

2010-02-23, 12:46 AM
In addition to the good advice already given:

1. Start small and expand outward. Start your campaign in a small village or town with enough detail to keep the PC's interested - major NPC's, general layout of village/town and surround environment, local history, have several plot-hooks prepared. As the PCs level up and move around more, provide greater details of the outside world - specifics about larger towns and cities, the country they are in, neighbouring countries. Expand on the geography, politics, and history of the region.

2. Start low level. The players are less likely to pull a Surprise! on you if they can't spontaneously decide to teleport to a city on the other side of the continent. If you limit their mobility, you can better guide the locale and direction of the campaign. Note: Please be subtle! Avoid blatant railroading if the PC's suddenly decide they want to give up your current planned storyline mid-adventure. If you're set on that adventure, try to find ways to subtly guide your players back into it.

3. Be prepared for your players to spontaneously decide to head for the "no details City W" instead of "highly planned and prepared City B". This may mean warning your players in advance that if they do decide to do something like this, they may need to wait until you have further details planned for "City W" before you can continue DMing.

The Demented One
2010-02-23, 01:10 AM
Be massively improvisational. No matter what the players do, it should lead to interesting things. Given that sandbox games are more likely to run down due to indecision than more linear plots, be willing to step in and randomly inject direction or plot if needed. And if it's a PbP, get on AIM and talk to all your players. Helps more than you could possibly imagine.

2010-02-23, 01:22 AM
I would keep a Microsoft Word Document list of NPC's, and their desires.


-Lord Garenod (Gnome Aristocrat 4, Wizard 2). Leader of the Gnomish Revolt. Camped with his guerilla army in the Telwood forest. Wants to bring down the Aristocracy of Thelium, and replace it with an elected council.

If the players show an interest in the Gnomish Revolt, then write in more detail. Say at the end of the last session, they explain that they want an audience with the revolutionary. I would write something like this.

The servant leads you past a pair of guards in full plate with hooked hammers, to a large crimson pavilion. Pulling away the cloth covering reveals a comfortable living space. There is a long wooden table situated in the center. Several more guards line the walls of the room. At the top of the table sits an elegantly dressed elderly gnome. His aged face is etched with lines, telling a long story of his consuming war. We welcomes you with a forced smile, but his eyes reveal his exhaustion. He has spent the better part of his adult life fighting a losing battle. His strands of grey show through his thick black hair. He nonchalantly waves a hand with two rings on his fingers. "Please, take a seat. I've had enough of the patrician formalities for a lifetime. Eh... servant!" The tent door is pushed aside, as a neatly, but humbly dressed peasant walks in. "Get us something to drink, will ya". The servant hesitates.
"What manner of drink would your grace prefer?"
Garenod rolls his eyes. "Anything will do, preferably strong".
"Whiskey, sir?"
"Eh... certainly"
The servant bows deeply, and leaves the pavillion.
The Gnome rebel faces you. He gently massages his small, weathered chin. "So... What do you all want from me?"

Also, keep statistics for misc. NPCs you characters might run across, such as guards, thieves, and the like.

2010-02-23, 01:24 AM
Run the game with a rhythm of some sort. Give the world a heartbeat. Have a list of names you can use, random characters for unexpected NPC interaction, etc.
Stealth nonsensical pun!

2010-02-23, 01:25 AM
Penny Arcade's Gabe had a post on this subject (http://www.penny-arcade.com/2010/1/20/) not too long ago that you may find helpful.

What I've noticed with sandbox games in the past (which are my favorite) is similar to those observations above. Specifically, here's some other tips:

1) A calendar is absolutely crucial, and it can't just be a static plot timer either. A calendar in a sandbox game must react and change based on what the PC's do, either a) speeding up or slowing down certain planned events or b) creating entirely new events. This is true in a story-heavy game as well, but there you tend to have tighter control over just what your players are doing than in a sandbox game.

2) The players need to be motivated and proactive, yes, but you have to provide motivation for them as well or they just won't know what to do. When you can do anything, but don't have any reason to, you're in effect paralyzed, and gameplay will reflect that. A recent campaign I took part in (DMed by a usually excellent DM, and a good friend) started out badly just because there was money, gold or economy of any sort for the players to seek (it's a d20 modern game, set in a hilarious yet, occasionally, frustrating environment). To an extent, we're still sort of flailing about in the dark for motivation, but the story has more or less taken over since then.

3) Make a map. I love sandboxes partially because they evoke a feeling of exploration and discovery, and the more you, the DM, know about the world, the more interesting you can make it for your players. Having a few pre-prepared sidequests/forbidden ruins helps tremendously. However...

4) Coordinate with your players exactly where they're going from one session to the next. Planning for a sandbox game can be difficult, but if you know where they're wanting to go next game session, you can be prepared without any trouble at all.

5) Have them make skill checks to find hidden items, crypts, or ruins. Incorporating skills into an overland-map style of play makes usually useless/neglected skills (ie survival) suddenly worthwhile, and it makes the players wonder what all they haven't discovered yet.

6) If this is 3.5, you'll have to do some houseruling on teleportation. Perhaps it's dangerous in this world to teleport; perhaps such action creates a rip in the arcane fabric of the world, or perhaps teleportation draws the attention of certain extraplanar monsters that the party would rather not face. This shouldn't always be the case--Greater Teleport should negate it, I think--but early on, you need to restrict teleportation somehow.

7) Definitely start low-level.

Hope that helps. Sandboxes are some of the most fun games you can have, in my personal opinion, and I wish you luck in this one.

2010-02-23, 02:11 AM
Biggest thing you can possibly do: make sure your players WANT a sandbox and are willing to actually put in some damn effort on their characters and backstories. A good level of player involvement is really crucial to getting a sandbox game to work well, and if the players just aren't on board, it's going to fail really quickly.

2010-02-23, 07:17 AM
Read up on the West Marches (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/) campaign, and maybe follow some of Rob Conley's advice (http://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-make-fantasy-sandbox.html) (he co-wrote Points of Light I & II, and thus knows of what he speaks).

2010-02-23, 08:08 AM
Read up on the West Marches (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/) campaign, and maybe follow some of Rob Conley's advice (http://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-make-fantasy-sandbox.html) (he co-wrote Points of Light I & II, and thus knows of what he speaks).

O god thats the link thank you... I was trying to remember the stupid name...

I highly recomend you reading the west marches game. Its awsome.
Thats one good way to run a sandbox.