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HidesHisEyes
2018-01-27, 07:56 PM
I am planning to start running a sandbox-style adventure, and I wonder if anyone has any tips. To be more specific, I mean I plan to give the player (it's a solo game, incidentally) a map of a region, with one town and a handful of adventure hooks, and some dungeons and other locations scattered around the map. But I also want a overarching story in place too, a "main quest".

General sandbox tips are welcome, but I have one specific question that is really bugging me and making the whole thing difficult: how do you square an overall story with the sandbox game format? I mean how do you stop a sandbox game from "collapsing" into a totally linear one? If the main quest has any amount of urgency to it, aren't the players just going to move from one main quest adventure to the next the same way they would in a linear adventure path? Either that or the story goes on hold while the PCs wander around doing whatever, which requires a suspension of disbelief that might work for an Elder Scrolls game but feels like a cop-out in a D&D game that's meant to be a "living breathing world".

Any advice? Am I just trying to have my cake and eat it?

jayem
2018-01-27, 08:21 PM
Have gaps where the pressure isn't so urgent.
Have bits where the pressure isn't directional.
Have different bits of the sandbox provide different costs/benefits.

Even if the PC's have a week to get ready for an attack and (maybe) recruit the most and best people, there's lots of approaches to that, they might consider trying.

Perhaps the PC's have to run from the town but it doesn't mean that there has to be a clear 'right' direction for them to run in. It will have different consequences if they run away to sea, into the forests or to the city or try to hide in the town.

Honest Tiefling
2018-01-27, 08:36 PM
Consequences.

As for your plot, I'd have it come to the player. Maybe the BBEG wants to kill their mentor and isn't too happy their student got a bit more powerful. Maybe they have a powerful talking artifact (since this is a solo-game) that keeps barking out orders and advice that the BBEG wants. Maybe the BBEG is a huge jerk and just wants to enslave a race, of which the PC is. Maybe the BBEG is a really bad parent and is trying to pit their children against each other to find the best heir. There will be times where the BBEG will be off tackling other things, but they'll get around to dealing with the PC if they rock the boat too much. Hence consequences, as trouble WILL find the player character. Sometimes that means a few villages get razed if the PC runs off for a bit, but well, that's being an adventurer for you.

And never forget the power of bribery! The PC will probably need a place to stop, sell and resupply. They'll have to get a good reputation in such a place and might be called on to fix a few problems here and abroad...But the NPCs will still celebrate their return. Some people like it when NPCs look up to them.

And last of all, the greatest reason: Ask the darn player. The lazy route is often the best. Ask the player, what is it that your character DOES? What do you want to do? Explore ruins? Save people? Build a kingdom?

Florian
2018-01-28, 05:55 AM
Am I just trying to have my cake and eat it?

Basically yes.

In a sandbox, your player(s) must become active and formulate their own goals. As gm, you provide some "hooks" or "quests" to provide the initial directions to get them going, but beyond that, you only provide the world to explore (and maybe more hooks and pointers for when things bog down).

You can and should integrate some plot elements into your sandbox, but they should be part of the setting, the overall background, giving meaning and context to what happens during the whole exploration. (Ex: The Frozen North is the domain of the Winter Lich and the Black Guard defend the wall between the civilized lands and the undead. The Red and Blue kingdom are locked in a state of cold war. The city of Honeybees is on the verge of open rebellion.).

"Plot" will have to form on a personal level. Actions have consequences. If the initial plot hooks are "There´re some yak riding hobgoblin samurai to the north" and "Ghoul bandits have been spotted in the southern forest", then go with that, simulate a world based on the choices made and plot will emerge by itself. if not stopped, the ghoulocalypse starts right there.

Edit: Be a bit carefull with that technique. You will want avoid having your player(s) feel punished for having made a choice in the first place. If you can, take a look at the opening scenario of the Ironing Invasion AP to get a feeling for this - there're six locations under attack and you only have the time to deal with five of them, only the last one is lost.

Yora
2018-01-28, 06:25 AM
Sandbox is often used to simply mean open world, but the two are not the same thing. In the more narrow sense, sandbox games are games in which players can do whatever they want. An open world is simply a game in which the players can take whatever paths they want. Open world games can be very focused on a specific goal with highly active antagonists, while a lot of talk about sandbox campaign very strongly rejects any such things. (And from what I've read over the years, when people talk about sandbox campaigns, it almost always seems to "the players can look for dungeons to loot wherever they want".)

An Open World Quest is a great approach to a campaign, but I think for that one needs to disregard a great deal of conventional wisdom that is regularly written about sandboxes. When people write about sandboxes, they usually mean something else.

I think they main key to preparing and running such a campaign is to not plan any specific events and outcomes in advance. The players are presented with a central problem and there should be a general agreement among everyone that the PCs are going to deal with it. How they want to deal with it should be up to the players. Whether they will succeed at dealing with it the way they plan to should be up to the players. The GM's job is to set the stage and populate it with antagonists, potential allies, and their various minions. The job of the players is to find information about how the big problem could be dealt with, who might be trying to stop them, and who is around who could potentially help them. And it's their job to come up with a plan to use the resources and allies they have to deal with the problem.

What lots of people agree on to always work is to populate the campaign region with multiple factions that each have some conflict or rivalry with other factions. If the players ally with one faction, they make enemies of others. And if they start to fight a faction, this makes other factions regard them as potential allies. At the very least you need to have three such factions, but I would go with five or even more. They don't all have to be equal. You can have some factions that are basically large armies and others that are secret societies of only half a dozen people. Give them each a goal, one ore more bases, and make some notes on the rough number of troups and other resources they have.

I would start the whole process with deciding on what overall problem the players will have to deal with. Could be an invading dark lord, but you could also have an ancient hidden city that has been rediscovered and could be full of magic stuff that lots of people want, or a magical volcano that is releasing toxic smoke that turns the creatures living near it into monsters. Based on that you can quite easily come up with a number of decent ideas for factions who are trying to use the situation for their own gain.

Florian
2018-01-28, 08:12 AM
@Yora:

A "pure" sandbox is a though construct that is simply not possible. We're only humans so we lack the means to simulate an entire fictional world in real time, no matter our claims to "brilliance".

Still, there´s a difference to an "Open World Game". It doesn't matter how you go there, as long as you go there in the first place, which is dealing with a certain kind of "Illusion". CRPGs are actually a good example for this - you can´t advance beyond a certain point unless you did A, B, and C, in Morrowind taking down the barrier, in Fallout III entering the virtual reality.

Darth Ultron
2018-01-28, 10:12 AM
A Pure Sandbox is a random mess. It's not much of a ''game'' as just random stuff happens randomly, but it does count as Barley a Game. A slight bit more then that is what I call the Second Life Game: nothing eventful happens as the character just ''lives a daily life'', doing nothing of consequence. Again, this is Barley a game. Not that both above games can't be fun, if that is the type of game you want.

Most often a ''sandbox game'' is just a ''normal game'', so there is not much point in even saying ''sandbox''.

A good, normal game needs a Story, Plot and Structure: this is basically what is happening in the world. The best way to do this is to simply talk to the player(s) before the game and ask them what they want out of the game. Sadly, it's not that easy though as a great many players will give answers like ''I don't care'', ''whatever'', ''a fun game'' or ''I'm fine with anything''. The best you can hope for is some vague things like ''I want to fight a dragon'' or ''solve a mystery''. But then, for a normal game the players don't want to ''know everything about the game and control it'', they just want to play a character in the game, so that vague bit is just fine.

The not so good way is to start the game...and do nothing. Just have the Prue Sandbox. Let the player(s) aimlessly and randomly do nothing of any consequence as they move their characters around the world. And as DM you can loosely dangle plot hooks, and wait to see if the player(s) pick one. Though you will often need like 25 plot hooks for the players to pick from, specifically if they are picky. Eventually, maybe after hours and hours of Barley GamePlay, the players might finally pick a plot hook and say ''lets do that''.

In any case, you as the DM need to make the Story, Plot and Structure...so you might as well just do it. You do want a Linear Game...because that is how Reality works. The only other option is, after all, the Random Mess. So you make a Story and Plot with a linear structure: A Normal Game.

The part of the Normal Game, where people get all loopy and say ''Sandbox'' is giving the player(s) choices. Now, first you have to admit that in order to have a Story and Plot and Game that makes sense, that the player(s) can NOT just utterly do whatever they want with utter total freedom. The players are limited by a great many things like the game reality, common sense, game rules, the character's abilities, and so forth; and have to be or there is no game. So, this means there will also be set things in the game the players can't change, and some things they can; some things will take only a small amount of time and effort...and some will take a large amount of time and effort. And there is no guarantee that anything the character tries to do will be successful.

As DM, you should in general, think of at least three ways to solve any problem the characters might encounter in the game and make them part of the game. And maybe three solution hooks that you don't really make out in detail. They are there for the player(s) to find and use, if they want too. In a vague sense, you should let a player(s) try anything. But just as they try does not mean it works, somethings will always fail and some will always succeed...but most will be more in the middle. It's best that if the player(s) do try something really wacky that will never work that you just nip it in the bud quickly and move on. You don't want to waste six hours of game play on an utterly stupid player(s) idea that will never, ever work. Never be afraid to say 'no'.

Now there are three vague ways to give player(s) choices:

1)The DM makes choices to be picked from and lets the player(s) pick and choose them. This has the advantage that the DM can weave the choices into the story, backstory, plot and adventure, making it a very good thing. Some people again go loopy here as they don't want to pick from choices offered....but this is another Reality thing that some people just have to get over and accept: You can't pick and choose from 'nothing'. There has to be 'something' to pick from...and that something(s) are things made by the DM. Note this is also a hard one to do.

2)The player(s) make a choice from the Setting, Story, or other DM created and controlled construct that is not one specifically made by the DM. This is a VERY tricky middle ground and can ruin a game, so it needs to be done carefully. A DM, can not think of and create everything, so every game will have vagueness, holes and blank spots. And it's possible that a player(s) might see one of them as a choice to do or try something. And in a normal game that is just fine. The player asks the DM about a certain thing that the DM has not made specifically before hand, and the DM then improves a response. And then it becomes a Type one, above. The tricky part here is that the DM must agree with whatever the player(s) think up for this to work at all. So it's best if the player(s) do try to immerse themselves in the games Story and Plot when they dream up a choice...and they don't make up something out of the blue, like a Side Table DM Player.

3)The player(s) are Side Table DM's and can just ''make wishes'' and ''alter the reality of the game'' at a whim. And the Dm just rolls over and lets the players do whatever they want. Really, this goes back to Barley a Game. When the players can just sit back and say things happen in the game, it's not a game, and they are not players. (Though yes there are great ''and then'' games like this, for this type of gamer.)

To stop the player(s) from wandering around too much, you only need a focused game. Having a time frame of urgency works, but you can also have things like having the player(s) want to run through the adventure.

jayem
2018-01-28, 10:46 AM
...
The part of the Normal Game, where people get all loopy and say ''Sandbox'' is giving the player(s) choices. Now, first you have to admit that in order to have a Story and Plot and Game that makes sense, that the player(s) can NOT just utterly do whatever they want with utter total freedom. The players are limited by a great many things like the game reality, common sense, game rules, the character's abilities, and so forth; and have to be or there is no game. So, this means there will also be set things in the game the players can't change, and some things they can; some things will take only a small amount of time and effort...and some will take a large amount of time and effort. And there is no guarantee that anything the character tries to do will be successful.
...
To stop the player(s) from wandering around too much, you only need a focused game. Having a time frame of urgency works, but you can also have things like having the player(s) want to run through the adventure.

Do we need to set up a search party for the real Darth Ultron?

That said, while you don't want the players wandering round doing whatever. If the players are wandering round doing something specific, that is a different matter.
And if for your game you can come at problems from different angles and adapt them (I.E follow through the consequences), then you don't have to doubly force them.
Basically doing what DU says but also at the scale bigger.



[ETA (and related to the last point and other things), you are cleverer than Morrowind, you don't have to wait till the player arrives before the next event occurs (though Q Ogreing it a bit for interest isn't the end of the world either). If the player arrives early, then he gets to fight the battle of Kvatch from the start, if the player went gaining experience then he has to deal with a world where Martin's dead.]

HidesHisEyes
2018-01-28, 11:30 AM
Thanks everyone, those are all very helpful responses (including the ever-controversial Darth Ultron).

I’m going to go forward viewing this game as a plot-driven adventure with a sandbox format - ie a definite goal but no definite way to attain it, and a relatively large area in which to play.

Once the story is resolved I may ask the player “where are you going next?”, start again in a new region and continue my own quest for the “true sandbox”.

Yora
2018-01-28, 11:55 AM
1)The DM makes choices to be picked from and lets the player(s) pick and choose them. This has the advantage that the DM can weave the choices into the story, backstory, plot and adventure, making it a very good thing. Some people again go loopy here as they don't want to pick from choices offered....but this is another Reality thing that some people just have to get over and accept: You can't pick and choose from 'nothing'. There has to be 'something' to pick from...and that something(s) are things made by the DM.

If the players come up with something you did not think of, great. They are completely free to try and see how this will work out. But there need to be at least two or three things that the GM knows would be possible working approaches. If the players really can't figure out any of them, there can always be an NPC to suggest one or two options to them.
The big difference to a scripted game of "Take scripted Path A or scripted Path B" is that at any point the players can decide to modify or completely abandon the suggested path and do something they've come up with. As GM, you don't steer them back on the path you assumed they would take (the precise meaning of railroading) but make events and NPC reactions adjust to the new path the players have taken.
But there's always the chance that the players find themselves in a dead end and have no clue how to possibly progress, and for that situation you always need to be able to give them a hint of what they could do. Preferably two or three, because you always want to have the players make choices and don't create the impression that there's one invisible path they need to find and follow.

Thrudd
2018-01-28, 10:12 PM
The game needs defined parameters for who the characters should be and what they're trying to do. "In this game, you will play treasure hunters raiding ancient tombs to become rich and powerful." or "You will play a team of special agents assigned to go on secret missions by the government" or "you are inquisitors for the holy church who must hunt down reports of monsters and demons and take care of them", etc. The players know their goals, you give them an idea where to go to accomplish those goals and they figure out what to do and how to do it.

In general you should have designed locations, and the people/creatures that are there will have certain behaviors and motives, and you improvise what happens depending on what the players do. Often you'll have some things planned, like "if the players go through the front gate, a lookout in the tower will set off an alarm and five guys from the tower will run out to confront them. Until an alarm goes off, the guards sit in the tower cleaning their weapons and playing card games, and take turns standing watch." "There is a patrol of four guards that circle the building every hour, it takes them fifteen minutes to make a complete circuit, and then they sit in the guard house until it is time for the next patrol. When characters arrive, roll a d8 to determine where the patrol is at that moment." etc.

HidesHisEyes
2018-01-29, 03:17 AM
The game needs defined parameters for who the characters should be and what they're trying to do. "In this game, you will play treasure hunters raiding ancient tombs to become rich and powerful." or "You will play a team of special agents assigned to go on secret missions by the government" or "you are inquisitors for the holy church who must hunt down reports of monsters and demons and take care of them", etc. The players know their goals, you give them an idea where to go to accomplish those goals and they figure out what to do and how to do it.

In general you should have designed locations, and the people/creatures that are there will have certain behaviors and motives, and you improvise what happens depending on what the players do. Often you'll have some things planned, like "if the players go through the front gate, a lookout in the tower will set off an alarm and five guys from the tower will run out to confront them. Until an alarm goes off, the guards sit in the tower cleaning their weapons and playing card games, and take turns standing watch." "There is a patrol of four guards that circle the building every hour, it takes them fifteen minutes to make a complete circuit, and then they sit in the guard house until it is time for the next patrol. When characters arrive, roll a d8 to determine where the patrol is at that moment." etc.

Yeah, this is the way I want to DM. Or rather this is the way I always have DMd on the level of individual self contained adventures. Now I want to try it on a larger scale, which I think will be fantastically rewarding and fun.

Really, my problem is that this is both a new campaign and a continuation of an earlier one. Player wanted to continue the same character’s story, I wanted to run a new type of campaign, we’re gonna try and do both. So it’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s campaign, but hey I’ll see how it goes.

Darth Ultron
2018-01-29, 08:05 AM
If the players come up with something you did not think of, great. They are completely free to try and see how this will work out. .

The tricky thing here is to not waste too much time. Sure you can let the players ''try'' something, but don't let them waste hours on something that will never work or has only a small chance of working. And you want to be careful not to give the players tyrant control of the game, unless you do what to play that type of game.



The big difference to a scripted game of "Take scripted Path A or scripted Path B" is that at any point the players can decide to modify or completely abandon the suggested path and do something they've come up with. As GM, you don't steer them back on the path you assumed they would take (the precise meaning of railroading) but make events and NPC reactions adjust to the new path the players have taken..

Except, again, you don't want to have tyrant players in control of the non game..unless that is your idea of fun. Assuming you have a game that makes sense, players can't ''abandon'' everything on a whim. A lot of things in the game/plot/story *have* to be done, and players just need to accept this as part of Reality(and game reality).



But there's always the chance that the players find themselves in a dead end and have no clue how to possibly progress, and for that situation you always need to be able to give them a hint of what they could do. Preferably two or three, because you always want to have the players make choices and don't create the impression that there's one invisible path they need to find and follow.

Depending on the players, it's often best to simply have the 'one path'. A lot of players don't really like the style where the DM just sits back and says ''do something players''. Some do, but there is a pretty good chance they will be playing an ''and then'' Storytelling game anyway. So giving the players a path to take is a good thing.

Yora
2018-01-29, 09:24 AM
Depending on the players, it's often best to simply have the 'one path'. A lot of players don't really like the style where the DM just sits back and says ''do something players''. Some do, but there is a pretty good chance they will be playing an ''and then'' Storytelling game anyway. So giving the players a path to take is a good thing.
Easy paths to follow are good. But the whole point of this entire exercise here is to get the players to make choices and explore options. Which is why there should be at least three paths that you can present to the players as options if they find themselves feeling stuck in a dead end. If they always only see way to progress, they will assume that there is only one possible way to progress that the GM wants them to take. If for some reason a group of players is completely unable to take any initiative and want to be pulled through a pre-fixed story, then you just can't have an open world campaign. In which case any discussion here is superflous.

Thrudd
2018-01-29, 12:06 PM
Yeah, this is the way I want to DM. Or rather this is the way I always have DMd on the level of individual self contained adventures. Now I want to try it on a larger scale, which I think will be fantastically rewarding and fun.

Really, my problem is that this is both a new campaign and a continuation of an earlier one. Player wanted to continue the same character’s story, I wanted to run a new type of campaign, we’re gonna try and do both. So it’s a bit of a Frankenstein’s campaign, but hey I’ll see how it goes.

So for the continuing character, you'll need to get the player to agree to the campaign's premise. IE, If you want the players searching out the demon temples around the world, that's the thing this character (and all the characters) must want to do above all else- if a character decides they'd rather not do that any more, they would be put aside and a new character brought in that wants to find temples. This should be understood by the players - their characters have that one requirement, they must possess this goal/desire. If it does not make sense for a character to do that, then they are not a character that belongs in the campaign.
This is an example of restrictions that result in greater overall freedom.

ComaVision
2018-01-29, 04:39 PM
So for the continuing character, you'll need to get the player to agree to the campaign's premise. IE, If you want the players searching out the demon temples around the world, that's the thing this character (and all the characters) must want to do above all else- if a character decides they'd rather not do that any more, they would be put aside and a new character brought in that wants to find temples. This should be understood by the players - their characters have that one requirement, they must possess this goal/desire. If it does not make sense for a character to do that, then they are not a character that belongs in the campaign.
This is an example of restrictions that result in greater overall freedom.

For me, that advice is very much in contrast with what a sandbox game should be like. In the game I've been running for nearly a year now, I just set up a bunch of factions/landmarks and I let the players do as they please. They have a variety of motivations and interests, and I run separate games for different subgroups when those interests diverge.

Florian
2018-01-29, 04:49 PM
For me, that advice is very much in contrast with what a sandbox game should be like. In the game I've been running for nearly a year now, I just set up a bunch of factions/landmarks and I let the players do as they please. They have a variety of motivations and interests, and I run separate games for different subgroups when those interests diverge.

In this case, it´s more about the scope of the "hooks". If it´s pre-established that you go up against the "evil empire" as part of the "rebellion", then that is already stablished and there's no need to break that down into individual components to make it manageable.

Mark Hall
2018-01-29, 05:13 PM
Timelines.

Look at the various factions and what they're doing, short term and long term.

Where the players don't interfere, have those timelines progress. Did they ignore the "Go kill goblins" event? Eventually, either those goblins get killed by someone else, or the goblins do something that escalates the problem.

flond
2018-01-29, 05:15 PM
Except, again, you don't want to have tyrant players in control of the non game..unless that is your idea of fun. Assuming you have a game that makes sense, players can't ''abandon'' everything on a whim. A lot of things in the game/plot/story *have* to be done, and players just need to accept this as part of Reality(and game reality).


Why? Why do freebooters in a tumultuous boarder princes setting have to do anything? I mean sure, they might want to get on the Duke's good side, but if they think they can escape after taking his advance, well ,that's an adventure too.

Free traders? Even better, you have a jump drive. Yes, you'll probably need to bite on a hook at some point, but you can certainly afford to be choosy.

The key thing for a sandbox game is more is more. Hooks can be episodic, they don't need to be gigantic sprawling epics (and probably shouldn't start that way in any case...until reason or decisions make them blow up)

Thrudd
2018-01-29, 10:28 PM
For me, that advice is very much in contrast with what a sandbox game should be like. In the game I've been running for nearly a year now, I just set up a bunch of factions/landmarks and I let the players do as they please. They have a variety of motivations and interests, and I run separate games for different subgroups when those interests diverge.

That is fine if you have the time to run multiple groups and your players don't mind splitting session time with each of them doing their own things separately. But even in this case, it seems there must be some unifying factor for all the characters, or else how do you even populate your world? How to design adventures unless the characters each have motive to engage in them? Even if the players decide to get together and embrace a common goal for the party, the setting and the adventures must be prepared well before the first session when the players sit down and create their characters - unless you have them make characters one day, and then make them wait a couple weeks (or more) while you design a setting and adventures to match their chosen goals. I am really not a fan of "we just spent four hours making characters and thinking up backstories - time to go home now." My gaming time is precious, I expect to actually play at the first session, even if it is only for, say, three of the four hours allotted.

Maybe the common goal is simply "find stuff to kill and loot to get XP" and the characters connected by "we're all PCs so I guess we belong together" rather than any in-world justification- although that isn't really sufficient imo.

A completely true and open world where you have no conditions on the characters' direction and relationships (to one another and the setting) doesn't work great when you want to make sure the characters both stay together and will be motivated to engage in the limited number of adventures that you have time to prepare for them. I mean - you can only create so many dungeons in a week. And it becomes terribly and obviously contrived (verisimilitude fails) when you've got five characters each with divergent motives and interests that somehow all always find something that interests them on every mission/expedition.

Trying to let the PCs organically meet each other, hoping that all the players will decide that it makes sense for them to form a party, and then hoping they will all be interested in going to the same places without any contrivances forcing them together - it is just too much uncertainty for a coherent game. I much prefer having the party formed and their relationship established before the game starts, and have everyone on the same page at the beginning of the game so they can get right into it. We're dungeon delvers - we all want what's in the dungeons (even if it's for different reasons), so we're going to go looking for them together. Or we're all interested in defending the realm (each for our own reasons), so when monsters arise, we go after them. The guy who stops wanting to fight monsters and decides he'd rather go try to work his way into the court of the king with political intrigue? Well, I'm not running a solo game for him. "Ain't nobody got time fer that."

Yes, yours is a more open form of "sandbox" with the most freedom for the players - but it is impractical to me in terms of prep-time commitment and most efficient use of limited playing time. Players pursuing divergent goals and splitting up into different parties doing completely different things is a no-go - each half of the group getting to play for 2 hours, or four players each getting 1 hour of play time, instead of everyone getting to play for 4 hours is not acceptable to me as a player or GM.

Satinavian
2018-01-30, 03:47 AM
how do you square an overall story with the sandbox game format? I mean how do you stop a sandbox game from "collapsing" into a totally linear one? If the main quest has any amount of urgency to it, aren't the players just going to move from one main quest adventure to the next the same way they would in a linear adventure path? Either that or the story goes on hold while the PCs wander around doing whatever, which requires a suspension of disbelief that might work for an Elder Scrolls game but feels like a cop-out in a D&D game that's meant to be a "living breathing world".
That is simple.

Don't let the main plot move at the speed of the PCs. The ritual needs a certain constellation. The superweapon needs time to be build. The allies the players have won, will come, but only after harvest season is over ...

There are other actors with their own time constraints and priorities in a proper sandbox. And stuff does not simply happen when the PCs are ready if it goes beyond sole PC initiatives.
There will be times when players simply can't move the main plot arc. The PCs have to organize their time and their activities to use those gaps in a productive way. And they have to make sure themself that they don't miss something important.

The next thing is that side plots and actors that are not connected to the main plot don't necessarily care about if the player are working at something bigger, more important. So they might and will become relevant even if players rather want to concentrate on the big one. Especcially if they have been ignored before.


One of the biggest mistakes in someones first sandbox games is to think of all setting elements only in the form of interaction with the PCs. Leading to a sandbox that seems passive and asleep with NPCs not doing anything whenever the players are not around or don't get involved. In a good sandbox that seems alive, it is important to think about what happens if the PCs don't act.

Florian
2018-01-30, 04:28 AM
A completely true and open world where you have no conditions on the characters' direction and relationships (to one another and the setting) doesn't work great when you want to make sure the characters both stay together and will be motivated to engage in the limited number of adventures that you have time to prepare for them. I mean - you can only create so many dungeons in a week. And it becomes terribly and obviously contrived (verisimilitude fails) when you've got five characters each with divergent motives and interests that somehow all always find something that interests them on every mission/expedition.

I think it´s very important to have a firm grip on what size and scope of a sandbox you can realistically handle as a gm. It´s fine to say "This is the edge of the map, nothing beyond that" or admitting that you cannot prepare sufficient in-depth content to cater to any possible taste at the same time.

Personally, I prefer "city as sandbox" for this reason.

Jay R
2018-01-30, 10:28 AM
how do you square an overall story with the sandbox game format? I mean how do you stop a sandbox game from "collapsing" into a totally linear one? If the main quest has any amount of urgency to it, aren't the players just going to move from one main quest adventure to the next the same way they would in a linear adventure path?

If you don't want a railroad, take the railroad out. Don't have a main quest at all.

A sandbox isn't a novel; it's a bunch of short stories.

If there are gnolls west of town, kobolds east of town, a dragon to the north and an evil priest to the south, and they go west, then they encounter gnolls, and the other threads simply aren't picked up.

A railroad is a main quest. A sandbox is a world to explore.

Railroad: "The evil god Sredni Vashtar has begun a reign of terror. To stop him, you must travel to Yarkand to steal Pincini 's greatest work "The Fall of Icarus," free the soul of Laploshka, and find the lost Sanjak."
Sandbox: "There are adventures out there. Go find them."

Thrudd
2018-01-30, 11:41 AM
That is simple.

Don't let the main plot move at the speed of the PCs. The ritual needs a certain constellation. The superweapon needs time to be build. The allies the players have won, will come, but only after harvest season is over ...

There are other actors with their own time constraints and priorities in a proper sandbox. And stuff does not simply happen when the PCs are ready if it goes beyond sole PC initiatives.
There will be times when players simply can't move the main plot arc. The PCs have to organize their time and their activities to use those gaps in a productive way. And they have to make sure themself that they don't miss something important.

The next thing is that side plots and actors that are not connected to the main plot don't necessarily care about if the player are working at something bigger, more important. So they might and will become relevant even if players rather want to concentrate on the big one. Especcially if they have been ignored before.


One of the biggest mistakes in someones first sandbox games is to think of all setting elements only in the form of interaction with the PCs. Leading to a sandbox that seems passive and asleep with NPCs not doing anything whenever the players are not around or don't get involved. In a good sandbox that seems alive, it is important to think about what happens if the PCs don't act.

I think "main quests" and "side quests" is the wrong way to think of the "sandbox" for an RPG. That may be the structure of a lot of so-called sandbox adventure video games like Assassins Creed, etc. But the TTRPG doesn't need that.

It may be more helpful to think of the "main story", if you must think of the game as a story, as "a group of adventurers looking for magic treasures." Or whatever premise you choose.

The real "story" is how they interact with the world you've created. They are the active element in a fantasy world that exists in a state of relative equilibrium. That doesn't mean nothing is happening when they aren't there, but it does mean that you don't have a lot of "the demon army is invading right now! You have two weeks to save the world! "

If you have a "end of world event" set up as the focus of a sandbox, it implies there is a definite time limit on the campaign. Players are given their goal to save the world, by whatever means like "gather the parts of the thing in seven different dungeons and complete the ritual in the volcano". The players can ignore the task and get sidetracked at their own peril, because in exactly two months of game time it's going to be over, succeed or fail. But you don't force them anywhere, you just keep track of the progress of the doomsday clock.

ComaVision
2018-01-30, 02:18 PM
Yes, yours is a more open form of "sandbox" with the most freedom for the players - but it is impractical to me in terms of prep-time commitment and most efficient use of limited playing time. Players pursuing divergent goals and splitting up into different parties doing completely different things is a no-go - each half of the group getting to play for 2 hours, or four players each getting 1 hour of play time, instead of everyone getting to play for 4 hours is not acceptable to me as a player or GM.

That's definitely not how I run sessions. If two characters are interested in investigating a disappearance, I run a game with those two characters. I don't know if the prep time is that much worse than a narrative-focused campaign, I save a lot of time by not having encounters that are catered towards specific classes/levels.

Maybe it's worth mentioning that I don't restrict players to one character either. When the bulk of the player group wants to go explore some ruins, there's usually a fair amount of characters that would be interested in that without my intervention.

Tanarii
2018-01-30, 03:08 PM
Read some of Angry DMs advice, iirc you're cool with his blog. This sounds like you want to think about the shape of your campaign, and the glue:
http://theangrygm.com/the-italian-campaign/

Also, to me a primary component to think about for a multi-adventure-option campaign is if the world proceeds without the players, especially when it's only one group of players but multiple things need to get done. Mark_Hall's timeline suggestion is a good one, for any type of campaign. But for a sandbox campaign, you probably want one for each little zone or area or quest. Some may resolve themself and no longer be an issue, others may get worse if not addressed.

You can get away with having stuff change based on the Pcs actions, but it removes Time as a resource.

Yora
2018-01-30, 03:14 PM
This is one of the greatest charms of an unscripted campaign to me. Because players don't have to go to specific places at specific points in the plot, they don't have to be certain to defeat any enemies guarding those places. And if the plot does not demand that the players will defeat an enemy, then you can make the enemies at any strength.
This gives you the option to place enemies that would probably beat the party in a straight fight, but /which the players might be able to deal with if they approach them creatively. Or they might try and fail to win the fight, having to retreat with some losses or finding themselves in captivity.

In a scripted campaign, players have no reason to fear anything they encounter because they know that the campaign can not progress unless they win that fight. And if the campaign can't progress, then the GM will almost certainly make sure that they will win that fight. It's a very different experience for the players.

Mark Hall
2018-01-30, 04:17 PM
Another key? Communication. Ask your players what they're interested in pursuing, develop that when you can, and hope they're not jerks who say "Screw this, we're going to Undermountain."

Darth Ultron
2018-01-30, 05:33 PM
In a scripted campaign, players have no reason to fear anything they encounter because they know that the campaign can not progress unless they win that fight. And if the campaign can't progress, then the GM will almost certainly make sure that they will win that fight. It's a very different experience for the players.

This is a bit of a leap. How lethal or hard or serious a game is has nothing to do with if it has a script or not.

If the DM and players want a Safe Game with no real risk, you can have that no matter the game. Same way if the DM and players want an unsafe game with high risk, you can have that no matter the game.

jayem
2018-01-30, 05:44 PM
In a scripted campaign, players have no reason to fear anything they encounter because they know that the campaign can not progress unless they win that fight. And if the campaign can't progress, then the GM will almost certainly make sure that they will win that fight. It's a very different experience for the players.

And similarly, the group is normally trying to achieve their objective. The group (having more brains) is almost certainly going to be better at thinking than the DM (especially as they can parasite off his thinking), though also know less about the world.
The odds are almost certain that they'll come up with a better approach* than the one you were thinking, (they'll also come up with a lot that are worse). And find problems with the one you were thinking that you hadn't yet considered (sometimes false ones, they don't know that there isn't a ambush, [but that's the point they don't know] [and sometimes stupid ones]).

So don't be too precious about something having to be done your way, if their plan is bad then it will likely fail organically (and if it doesn't it clearly wasn't such a bad plan, just a bit reckless!). And if it's good why shouldn't it have a chance of working. And even if what you'd planned to succeed failed, it's now their problem!

Basically by default think of the situation rather than keeping a path. And (often) give them the opportunity to research it.

*This of course fails if:
They think their objective is to guess the DM's thoughts.
They think they can force a bad plan through by Meta means.
They've totally misread the situation.

Psikerlord
2018-01-30, 06:09 PM
I am planning to start running a sandbox-style adventure, and I wonder if anyone has any tips. To be more specific, I mean I plan to give the player (it's a solo game, incidentally) a map of a region, with one town and a handful of adventure hooks, and some dungeons and other locations scattered around the map. But I also want a overarching story in place too, a "main quest".


You might give the Midlands Low Magic Sandbox Setting a look. It is half sandbox setting, half DIY toolkit with a sh*tload of tables to help the GM improvise/generate content. It is easy to add more magic if you're after a high magic setting. Includes a region map, 6 city maps, 2 outposts and 50 adventure frameworks you can sprinkle around the sites for your player to investigate.

There is no overarching plot by design. I think with a sandbox that is something that happens organically - if at all - because your player will become interested in a certain theme, and you take that and run with it. Alternatively there are a number of built in hooks you could expand into an overarching plot - eg: removing the sorcerer lord of northgate, freeing the slaves of the Nydissian empire, thwarting the return of the serpentmen from the Suurat Jungle, resolving the imminent war between Melek and Crow's Keep, and so on. That sort of thing is already set up for the GM to use/players to investigate if desired.

Florian
2018-01-30, 06:11 PM
This is a bit of a leap. How lethal or hard or serious a game is has nothing to do with if it has a script or not.

If the DM and players want a Safe Game with no real risk, you can have that no matter the game. Same way if the DM and players want an unsafe game with high risk, you can have that no matter the game.

Nah, that's not really it. It´s more general a problem with "roadblock" encounter design, the like of "The door is magical and needs a pass phrase. The phrase is written on a piece of paper and hidden, search check DC is 20". or, also common, having to solve stupid riddles to advance. I think most people know what happens then, gm having the players keep repeating the search check or starting with making Intelligence checks to solve the riddle, and so on.

Players who had that happen to them quite a lot, start relying on the gm handing them the solution "for free" after a while, just to keep the action going.

Tanarii
2018-01-30, 06:21 PM
Another key? Communication. Ask your players what they're interested in pursuing, develop that when you can, and hope they're not jerks who say "Screw this, we're going to Undermountain."
Lol this reminds me how easy it is for a Sandbox Campaign to become a Main Adventure campaign. Especially for a single party campaigns.

Of course, with the Undermountain, it's probably more accurate to call it a Constrained Sandbox rather than a Main Adventure. But it still triggered the thought.

Mark Hall
2018-01-30, 08:24 PM
Lol this reminds me how easy it is for a Sandbox Campaign to become a Main Adventure campaign. Especially for a single party campaigns.

Of course, with the Undermountain, it's probably more accurate to call it a Constrained Sandbox rather than a Main Adventure. But it still triggered the thought.

Back in High School/College, our parties had a bad habit of, if we were sick of the story the DM was telling, we'd just say "**** it, we're going to Undermountain" and abandon whatever we were doing to dungeon crawl.

Tanarii
2018-01-30, 09:25 PM
Back in High School/College, our parties had a bad habit of, if we were sick of the story the DM was telling, we'd just say "**** it, we're going to Undermountain" and abandon whatever we were doing to dungeon crawl.
Hahaha yeah that's more or less the opposite of what I'm talking about. Plus pure genius.

Darth Ultron
2018-01-31, 08:20 AM
Nah, that's not really it. It´s more general a problem with "roadblock" encounter design, the like of "The door is magical and needs a pass phrase. The phrase is written on a piece of paper and hidden, search check DC is 20". or, also common, having to solve stupid riddles to advance. I think most people know what happens then, gm having the players keep repeating the search check or starting with making Intelligence checks to solve the riddle, and so on.

Players who had that happen to them quite a lot, start relying on the gm handing them the solution "for free" after a while, just to keep the action going.

This is just a Bad DM, and has nothing to do with the type of game. And then the other actions are just Bad Players. Just lots of Bad to go around.

You either have a game: the players must play the game and figure things out as part of the game or you just have a pointless sandbox mess of randomness non-game(though yes, there are ''non game'' type games, the storytelling ''and then'' games). So the players play a game, or any time they encounter anything that just ''and then, say what happens'' and alter the game reality.


The Storytelling DM that won't let anything happen to the Super Special Storytelling PCs is a different matter. There are Bad DM's that want to tell a story, and need the PCs to play their part...so they will automatically keep them alive and unharmed.

But you also have the Very Common Cartoon Game or Video Game with things like max hit points, lots of free healing, and a weak DM that does not even really ''try''. So in this game a combat encounter is just...Yawn, how will the PC's automatically win this time. Very dull and boring stuff, but it's popular and lots of people like it.

And the Cartoon Game is very popular in Sandbox games.

redwizard007
2018-01-31, 08:52 AM
A single player sandbox is just about as easy as it gets, conceptually. You start with something loose based on the character's capabilities or stated motivations and follow where they lead. I'm not sure what's actually difficult there. Evil PCs make this easier, since they seem to revel in plotting, but good characters can be just as driven. As long as you know who the major players in the area are and what they want, everything else should be easy to wing, as long as you have reams of NPC personalities ready to go.

Combats should be scaled back, obviously, to weaker and fewer opponents. Social interactions and personality will be more important than in a larger group. After all, there is no one else to share the spotlight with. Though it can be tempting in a solo campaign, I highly discourage DMPCs. First because the player should be driving their own story, and second, because you will be busier than you have ever been as a DM. The sheer number of persons that you need to breathe life into in a solo campaign will stagger you. There are no other PCs or players for the solo character to interact with, that means you are always 💯 on the spot. If you can deal with that, this will be great.

Yora
2018-01-31, 03:34 PM
Lol this reminds me how easy it is for a Sandbox Campaign to become a Main Adventure campaign. Especially for a single party campaigns.

I would go so far to say that this is actually the most desired outcome. The whole point of a sandbox is that the players decide what they want to do, where they want to do it, and make changes within the game world as they want it. The aimless mucking around at the start of an open world campaign is the least fun part that is the chore that everyone has to go through to find what they want to do, where to do it, and how they want to change things. It's the stage where campaigns are most likely to sputter out because there is nothing meaningful to do. Once the players have defined the Main Adventure, that's where the real fun begins.

Tanarii
2018-01-31, 03:54 PM
I would go so far to say that this is actually the most desired outcome. The whole point of a sandbox is that the players decide what they want to do, where they want to do it, and make changes within the game world as they want it. The aimless mucking around at the start of an open world campaign is the least fun part that is the chore that everyone has to go through to find what they want to do, where to do it, and how they want to change things. It's the stage where campaigns are most likely to sputter out because there is nothing meaningful to do. Once the players have defined the Main Adventure, that's where the real fun begins.
This is pretty dependent on it being a single party that sticks together campaign.

In a multiparty campaign, especially in ones where parties form specifically for single adventures or a few in a row, it may not be true at all.

In fact, I don't really even think of single unchanging party campaigns as being capable of being real "sandbox" campaigns.