View Full Version : Running my first sandbox game [3.5]

2008-12-14, 02:29 PM
I've never run a sandbox-type game before, but knowing my players, it would be the best option. I'm thinking I'm just gonna have a bunch of different hooks lying around and wait for them to bite one. Does anybody have any advice?

Level 1 games are usually the longest lasting nd most fun games for us, so we're probably gonna go with that and stick to mostly core.

2008-12-14, 02:58 PM
I just finished running a campaign like this, and it really helps if you have something like a Google or Yahoo group to organize it. Since exploration is a key part of sandbox campaigns, it's helpful to be able to upload world maps and quest hooks to the site, and that also lets players just look on the site to choose and schedule their next game.

Also do a Google search for West Marches. That was a really well laid out sandbox campaign.

2008-12-15, 02:50 AM
I find the best way to run a Sandbox is to have brief write ups for some factions and NPCs they might encounter in the area before hand. This way when they're interrogating you about the city they just entered you can start feeding them some information. Hopefully, if you've done your homework, they'll decide one looks interesting for whatever reason and the game will take off from there, the players finding employers and enemies early on.

2008-12-15, 04:36 PM
Advice (http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/78/grand-experiments-west-marches/) from Ben's West Marches sandbox campaign (link to article 1 of 4), and a cautionary tale (http://advancedgaming-theory.blogspot.com/2008/11/adventure-notes-9-10.html) from the always excellent Ripper X.

You have downloaded the free preview (http://www.goodman-games.com/4380preview.html) of Goodman Games' "Points of Light", right? Tis excellent! :smallcool:

2008-12-15, 05:18 PM
Pay attention to the PCs' builds and backgrounds. Both can give you clues to what the players are interested in.

2008-12-15, 06:51 PM
The real secret to running a successful sandbox game imo is loving the world you're creating so much, it doesn't matter if the players get to see it all or not.

From my experience you need to have the following created and ready to go before the players even roll up character sheets.

1) A continuous world. A sandbox game is about the world itself, it is not about the Players. Things are going on around them and it's their job to stick their nose in. You need to choose the scale of your world (a tiny village, a city, a continent...) and be comfortable filling that world with as many people living their lives as you see fit to make that world believable. I've spent countless days just drafting small town lives, and knowing what's happening in those lives this season, and the next - and keep updating it as time in the game moves on.

2) A big deal. This is the overarching most important thing happening currently whether the players have anything to do with it or not. You need to know what happens when along a timeline, and keep that timeline moving forward. Know who the major NPCs are pushing that plot, what their goals and motivations are, and what they're trying to accomplish.

If you're lucky, the players will get involved in it. If not, they'll see it happening around them and just let it play out. You have to be comfortable with them ignoring it for months, and then suddenly caring enough to jump in - thus the timeline.

3) A basic conception of all the major areas the players might choose to visit. Plan out one game's worth of content for all the likely places they might go, and people they might run into.

4) About a dozen side adventures that could happen at any time. Again: just one night's worth of content.

The reason for one night's worth of content in various different directions is that once you get them doing something, it's easy to keep writing between sessions. You just have to give the illusion that you're never running out of material, but you desperately need to be able just to pick up your journal or open a different file on the laptop and immediately go on to whatever they decide to do.

It's a lot of upfront work, but it makes for a helluva game when done right.

The most important thing to remember is that the world is moving along without them - and make it clear the style of game you're running. A lot of players inexperienced with sandbox games will wait for you to create the action, and that's not your job. You provide content, they provide direction - but if they lose faith that you have content there for them, it'll all fall to pieces.

2008-12-15, 07:36 PM
I advise taking hints from things like the Fallout Series, or Elder Scrolls games. Have a number of premade fortresses that you can map out ahead of time and let them decide where to go. When building a sandbox, having the map of the overworld is absolutely vital. If you don't have that, you're screwed. Start them in one corner, rather than the middle. This way they get too choose which way to go. Don't forget to use the random encounter table. A lot.

2008-12-15, 08:42 PM
Wicker Nipple gives great advice. I ran a 4 year long sandbox campaign for my players, and it was one of their favorite games ever. They went from level one in a tiny farm town all the way to level 20, helping a fallen Paladin reclaim her honor and find her lost daughter, all the while helping restore a cursed forest and accidentally helping the lich emperor of the north pole, who the had squared off with unsuccessfully once before. It was a tremendously rewarding game, both for my players, and for me as well. I think the best part comes when you can get your players interested enough to want to start adding content to the world themselves - through their character's actions and their own interest in adding something to the whole.

As Wicker Nipple says, keeping a good calendar of events to track the various goings on of different independent factions is essential. If you know what the different kingdoms and factions are doing at what time you can predict how the characters might get involved or find more information to tie them to the background stories.

Leave hints, but don't be too blatant about it. If you make your stories interesting enough, your players will want to snoop into the backgrounds.

As was mentioned above, be sure to prepare all sorts of encounters, both random or predetermined. (On the Duke of Monashi's road, the red-pantsted bandits wait for the party; they've been paid to ambush them and kidnap their handsomest member by the Duke of Monashi's hideous Aunt Gert.)

Have fun with it, and don't be afraid to create content and stories that you'll probably never use. The more you know about the world you're telling stories in, the better stories you'll be able to tell. If you or a good friend are good at making maps or artwork, go nuts on that - draw up notable characters, map out various towns or wilderness areas. Don't be shy about giving the players too much to choose from. The illusion of infinite possibilities is a good one. I created whole mythologies for my world that the characters only barely touched upon once, but factored into the naming of various towns, inns, bard songs and names of rivers and roads. It all adds to the illusion of realism.

Mark Hall
2008-12-15, 08:57 PM
WickerNipple summed up what I was going to say.

Know the "bad guys" goals and timetable. What will happen if no one gets involved. I also suggest writing up their backgrounds and stats as if they were your PC, so you get into their heads enough to figure out how they will react to situations. You don't have to do it for every guard sergeant, but anyone important enough to have their own name & stat block in your notes should probably have them.

2008-12-15, 11:12 PM
Just make sure your world runs in the background even when the players aren't looking at it.

2008-12-15, 11:21 PM
The real secret to running a successful sandbox game imo is loving the world you're creating so much, it doesn't matter if the players get to see it all or not.
Very true!

2008-12-15, 11:53 PM
I have just ended/put on hold my first sandbox game (and first game ever), and the first pieces of advice that come to my head are as follows:

They are fun, and mine was worth all the work I put into it.
Be prepared for a lot more work than a "normal" campaign.
Take it easy. Do not try to make the whole world at once, just go at a speed which is fun for you. I tried to do too much at once, and got burned out for a bit.
Make a few binders with organizing tabs. My current four binders are broken down as follows: NPCs in my home world/sphere, Locations in my world/sphere, Dungeons in my world/sphere, and Misc. NPCs (for NPCs from other planes or other worlds). Inside each binder I divide the tabs into locations and kingdoms/domains. Whenever you get ideas for NPCs, locations, adventures, plothooks, etc write them down on a notecard or stickie, then stuff them into the appropriate binder. Then when you feel like you want to, open up a binder and organize your ideas while expanding on the ones you like.
Get a notebook or $0.75ish journal at Walmart and keep a journal of each gaming session. Simple quick notes like "Player C stole something he shouldn't from a local noble", "The party unknowingly helped the real BBEG in disguise, and gave him the second to last part of the ancient artifact he wants.", "I improvised a half-orc barbarian NPC, and the players like him. He can make for an interesting long-term NPC.", or "I had intended for the players to try to find the rightful owners of the loot from this hijacked caravan wagon, but now it seems the local king is going to think they were the bandits." work well.
If you have a laptop consider getting a world mapping program like Fractal Mapper or Campaign Cartographer.
Get used to thinking on your feet and improvising.
Since I like to daydream a lot, I often fade away to my homebrewed world/cosmology, and there I imagine what the NPCs are doing, and possible encounters/scenes between them and the PCs the players have created. It kills time, is fun, and helped me quite a bit in my sandbox world.

I hope some of this rambling helps.

I am sure you will feel a little overwhelmed at first like I did, but just hang in there until you get a hang of it!