View Full Version : Sandbox PbP Games: Viable?

Claudius Maximus
2011-04-09, 11:23 PM
So. I've been considering finally running a real PbP campaign one of these days, probably on these boards. I am having some concerns, though, about whether my idea is realistic or viable.

Now then, the idea is that since I am so terrible at writing and improvising and a few other aspects of GMing, I'm going to make a game more or less focused around them, and since I have this habit of trying in these things, I would therefore force myself to become better in these areas. Now this part isn't the part that's the real problem though, since I think something similar would have to happen to some extent no matter what kind of game I chose to run. It's the method I'm considering that I'm a bit worried about.

Basically, I'm considering running a sandbox game. Over PbP. One where I only have the world sketched out in broad strokes, and no set plot, deliberately at this point. And I expect to run hooks off of player backstories and goals, and to see how things evolve.

So my questions are:

Do you think it will be possible for me to get the kind of players necessary to make this work? Assuming that I announce from the start the nature of the game?
Do you think this is a good idea in any way in the first place?

Assume that I would personally not drop out or give up, and that I would be trying my level best (whatever that's worth) the whole time to engage everyone. So is this reasonable? Should I do something else instead? What do you think, playground?

2011-04-09, 11:58 PM
*glances at games*

Well, I'd put a couple other hooks in there as the world doesn't need to revolve around the PCs. And having NPC goals they never knew about that never had to become relevant except for a couple random, possibly hilarious, background events suddenly becoming all kinds of relevant is always amusing.

A quasi-sandbox (that is, plot lines are loose, but in existence, and entirely optional) should have no more or less chance of failure than any other PbP. Which still is pretty damn high, but I think if you can make it past ~15-20 pages of IC without having to give the thread more than 5 kicks in the rear, it will live. The problem with true sandboxes is that players might not know when to stop talking and start acting. So the game might end up screeching to a halt.

Finding players...can't help you there. I have over 50 pages of IC game, a ginger ale from a stalker, a very good track record with regards to Intimidate and Bluff checks, and I still have no clue how I got that far. 'Find awesome players' isn't exactly helpful advice, because you really can't screen for awesomeness before accepting.

But provided you get the right sort of characters (ambitious ones) and the right sort of players (the sort who stick to games), then yes, this should work. Should be pretty cool too. I encourage you to try.

Claudius Maximus
2011-04-10, 12:35 AM
I'll have more objective hooks lying around, of course. At some point I'll have to fill in the information about their surroundings that the PCs didn't provide, and at that point all the usual problems and plots should pop into existence. The big question is whether I should keep it mostly sandbox or make it more primarily plot-based.

That's an interesting point about ambitious characters. I do think that sounds like it might work best in a sandbox. Would it be okay, or overly imposing to require a character goal (even if it's something broad)?

As for player participation I will poke and shake inactive players until they either get back into the game, officially quit (hopefully with a reason given that I can learn from), or fall off the face of the Earth. I'll try to keep it from dying if it is at all possible.

2011-04-10, 10:01 AM
The best advice I can give you is to not play this game on the GitP forum but over at Myth-Weavers. There you can easily create sub-fora for your game to give each PC or group of PCs their own thread.

Here (http://www.myth-weavers.com/forumdisplay.php?f=328&g=4544) is an example of a (now defunct) sandbox game. Just take a peek at how the DM used the Myth-Weaver tools to accommodate multiple parallel plots.


2011-04-10, 11:13 AM
Sandbox is something I dearly love, but doing it via pbp is challenging. An actual forum for it would be fantastic, as any thread is likely to appear fairly scattered. Id be interested in such a thing, depending on setting.

Claudius Maximus
2011-04-10, 11:27 AM
Would I still be able to advertise here if I planned on hosting the game on Myth-Weavers? The reason I was doing it here was that I would potentially be more familiar with some of the applying players.

As for the setting:

I am so terrible at writing
I'll try my best but I offer no guarantees. Just yesterday I noticed some disturbing and major parallels that nobody will ever believe were coincidental. :smallsigh:

2011-04-10, 01:57 PM
What always makes a PbP game grind down to a halt is a situation where the players are unsure what to do next and are starting to brainstorm to come up with an idea. Such situations happen all the time in sandbox game. Ergo, sandbox PbP games are an extremely challenging idea.

Would I still be able to advertise here if I planned on hosting the game on Myth-Weavers? The reason I was doing it here was that I would potentially be more familiar with some of the applying players.

Sure, why not. I do that all the time, even though almost all my games are on MW or Plothook.

2011-04-10, 02:12 PM
Yes, you can still recruit on here (at least on our side of the rules, I'm not sure how Myth-Weavers feels about bringing an existing group in). It depends on what you want to do with the game, though....I'm in the game Ajadea was referring to, and we've made good use of spoilers and both the IC and OOC thread without needing an entire forum dedicated to the game.

I think the biggest thing in a sandbox pbp is going to be lots of stuff happening that the players can follow up on or not. Without that, the players are going to have trouble deciding what to do, and the game is likely to die.

Claudius Maximus
2011-04-10, 02:44 PM
Well this is at least partially about me learning how to keep that from happening. Hopefully it will be successful.

The current plan is shaping up to be a sandbox by default, but with a safety net of hooks and plots I can fall back on if things ever threaten to lose momentum. I think I'll define a bunch of "default" areas and things for this reason, and include enough references and stuff that they can pop in whenever to fill gaps. Hopefully I can tie it all together into a nice narrative, whatever happens.

How do you feel about me potentially letting the players define the basic starting premise of the game? I.e. leaving it open to them to decide that they want it to be about e.g. a good prince and his close advisers trying to usurp the throne from a horrible tyrant, or a group of the epicest mofos around trying to take down the gods themselves? A lot is open really.

I like the idea of providing the players the campaign they want, but I'm wary here because such a discussion could take place before even the PC backgrounds are constructed, and so I fear we could lose direction right off the bat since there's no momentum to fall back on at that point. So should I open with a premise or should I leave room for player input?

2011-04-10, 02:53 PM
I like the idea of providing the players the campaign they want, but I'm wary here because such a discussion could take place before even the PC backgrounds are constructed, and so I fear we could lose direction right off the bat since there's no momentum to fall back on at that point. So should I open with a premise or should I leave room for player input?

I'd say both. Maybe ask for character's concepts first, and then extrapolate a premise you think it suits? Then, once you have a premise, the characters can be refined to be more grounded in the setting that's shaping up, and so on.

A kind of positive-feedback loop, really. :smalltongue::smallbiggrin:

2011-04-10, 03:00 PM
I'd be careful of that for a couple of reasons:
1) When are you doing this? If it's before you pick players, you risk having the players that are most interested in the idea not make it into the game. if you do it after you pick players, that leads to another problem....
2) How long is it going to take from the players defining this to you being ready to play? In my experience, more than a week or so (assuming you're doing this after you've picked players) is going to cost you players as they start to get interested in other games. And if you've got it as broad as you're talking about, that's a lot to do in a week.
3) Honestly, a lot of players don't really know what they want. I've heard complaints from a number of DMs who say that when they ask their players for this sort of input, they get "Dunno. Whatever you want."

If you really want to do this, I'd suggest coming up with 3-5 possible ideas and having the players vote on them. You can include the option of "other" if you want, I suppose.

Another option might be to include a number of plotlines in the same setting (in a city, you could get involved in the court politics and side with any of 3 factions, or you could get involved in the gang wars in the slums, you could track down a slaving ring and either join up with them or disband them, or you could investigate the rumors of a cult to [x] and either join them or disband them, etc, etc, etc). That way you can work out the plots and the NPCs in advance, then when they get into the game, the players can do whatever they want and shape the game that way. Anything they don't investigate will continue without them, and might resolve itself or become critically important (sorry to interrupt your politics, but there's an aspect of Demogorgon summoned by his cult rampaging through the streets....).

Claudius Maximus
2011-04-11, 11:48 PM
Sounds like this is going to be some delicate balancing act. I can only hope I can pull it off.

I think the plan right now is to provide universal setting information and ask for opinions on premise (perhaps with a few examples/defaults), then accept basic character concepts, which will be collaboratively worked out into something concrete/detailed over a short timespan.

I'm still a bit worried about this stage, because while it can be feasibly and smoothly gone though in like an hour around a tabletop it could potentially become a nightmare on a forum. I'm not sure there's a better way to incorporate character creation into such a flexible game model though. Should I compromise into something more practical? I kind of feel that if I open with a single set mission/premise then I'm not working with a sandbox anymore.

In any case it looks like I should do much more defining of the setting off the bat, so I have plenty of material to fall back on if nothing else.

2011-04-12, 12:00 AM
Either ask the players to chain backgrounds well enough that someone could have pulled strings and gathered them together to adventure, or just flat out tell them 'it's a sandbox, but the metaphorical gate to enter is [event/place X], so explain how you got there'

2011-04-12, 12:16 AM
I'd said it's perfectly fair, even in sandbox games, to say "The game starts [in this location/with this event]. Explain how you're there/involved in your backstory."