Mod Sandbox Discussion & Resource Thread II

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TristramEvans

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Note: This thread has been excised , curated, and combined with several threads from long ago in the Pub's history to reinvigorate it, remove the useless bits, and refocus it towards it's original intention. As such, some f it might read a bit choppy, but overall it's a comprehensive collection of advice and resources for running Sandboxes, bereft of the tedious arguments over definitions.


Just as in the previous Mod+ thread, a few extra rules will be in place in this thread, and it will be more heavily moderated than the rest of the forum. In fact, I put off starting this thread until I knew I had the free time to devote to monitoring it. Also, as the last thread was a bit of a "dry run" experiment, we gave a lot of leeway even with the stricter rules in place, but that won't be the case here. If you want to join in the conversation, you need to keep up with the standard of discourse. In this way, we can debate in a way that's meaningful and productive.

So, the rules. They aren't going to be exactly the same as the last thread (with one BIG change I'll discuss forwith), but the spirit is the same

1. Responses, criticisms, and counterpoints should start with an assumption of good faith. What was said elsewhere online or on other threads is irrelevant to the conversation in this thread; if you believe the poster you are responding to is disengenuous, dishonest, or speaking with double meanings, no productive interactions can take place. The assumption of good faith is the bare minimum for a worthwhile discussion. If you can't do that with a poster, then do not interact with them. If you do reply to someone, take their words at face value without inferrences.

2. No generalizations about groups or what you think those groups believe. Everyone here is an individual with their own point of view, and no one here can, or shuld be expected to, answer for the opinions expressed by people elsewhere online. If you have a response to an individual's points then address them directly.

3. Avoid obvious logical fallacies, including but not limited to:

  • ad-hominem (attacking the character of the poster rather than the statement or argument they've made)
  • strawmanning (inventing an argument no one made and arguing against that instead of an actual point made by a poster in this thread)
  • appealing to emotion (pleading personal feelings in place of a valid or logical argument)
  • see also special pleading, anecdotal arguments, tu quoque, etc. If you're not familiar with logical fallacies, google it, there's tons of sources online.

IV. By that same token, if you believe another poster is engaging in a logical fallacy, or, for that matter, breaking any rules of the thread, do not call them out, but report it to the mods. The moderators will have the final say on interpreting rules violations and acting on them (meaning if the Mods chose not to act, that shouldn't be an interpreted as a free pass to go after any perceived injustice). And, as always, issues with moderation specifically should be taken up in the Site Discussion forum only.

5. The default assumption is always that whatever a person states is their own opinion, and/or an expression of their own preferrences. No one should need to caveat their posts with this obvious fact, nor should anyone expect anyone else to validate their own opinions or preferences.

The most significant change in rules with this thread as opposed to the prior thread is that we are not, in this case, going to start from the assumption that everyone has their own, equally valid definition of the subject matter. While the last debate was focused around conflicting definitions, in this case we are discussing concepts that are extant and already defined. As such, this thread is going to start with several established definitions of terms to foster communication and allow us to move beyond debates over personal meanings or usage. Several definitions, starting with "Sandbox Campaign", were discussed in-depth prior to this thread being created and reached in consensus.

As new terms are introduced into the conversation and defined, they will be added to this first post.

***

DEFINITIONS

SANDBOX

An approach to playing RPGs, defined by how players and referee behave instead the details of a given system, wherein the players are granted complete freedom to do anything within the setting as their character, limited only by common sense restrictions. The players have the ability to "trash the campaign", their actions not limited to staying within the bounds of a preconcieved premise, while the GM acts as a neutral arbiter of events in the gameworld and the manner in which the gameworld responds to the players, without an objective or steering the action in any particular direction.

QUALIFIED SANDBOX
Anything that a person in that setting can do, PCs can do, with several pre-agreed upon exceptions.

WORLD IN MOTION
A specific form of Sandbox, coined by Vreeg in 2010, wherein the gameworld "lives and breathes" outside the PCs' scope; events occur which they may not even be aware of, or became aware some time after they actually occured. The inhabitants of the world have a will, motivations, goals of their which they will act upon, regardless of the PCs' own motivations, unless they are in direct relation to each other. "World in Motion" applies both to this approach to gamemastering a Sandbox, and the various Tools used to support and enable that playstyle.

SCHRODINGER'S SANDBOX
The opposite of a World-in-Motion campaign, a Sandbox where the content in the setting is developed randomly or by improvisation in response to the player's choices.

ARBITRARY RESTRICTION
the restriction would not exist if the gameworld was a real place and the characters were real people living in that gameworld. In other words, it cannot be rationalized "in game".

BAG OF STUFF
Term coined by @robertsconely meaning material that the human referee has internalized and can draw on to create elements of the campaign on the fly such as locales, characters, and plans.

INITIAL CONTEXT
Term coined by @robertsconely meaning the situation at the beginning of the campaign that the players are aware of as their characters, intended to give players the information needed to make informed choices from the start.
 
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Ladybird

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Absolutely. Sandbox sort of play requires frequent and regular sessions, for the slow build towards goals, and so the group can stay on track as to what they're doing and what they want to do next. Too much time between sessions, and you can easily lose that momentum.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Would you, as a GM, adopt a more focused approach (say, a mission-based game) if scheduling was a factor?

Whether it has to do with scheduling or just lack of interest on the part of players, if your group isn't digging the sandbox structure, then it makes sense to change things up. I do think scheduling can be a factor because the more distance between sessions, the easier it is to forget details that can be important in keeping a sandbox game flowing.

I've been running a bunch of sandbox campaigns over the last two to three years. I wouldn't say my approach is pure sandbox. For the most part they have been very rewarding, but you sometimes have players that don't like the structure, or who lose interest in it. I occasionally throw in more focused adventures to keep things fresh. But I also am happy to shift permanently to a more focused approach if that is what is going to work for the group in question. On my saturday game, I realized a change was needed, so I shifted to a more monster of the week structure. It may just be temporary, allowing us to do something else for a while, or it may be permanent. That game is every other week, so perhaps the space between sessions is a factor. My Sunday sandbox, which meets weekly, is flowing just fine. And there I find the better my notes, the better my record keeping, the better the sessions. My Tuesday game is happy to do either, and that one meets weekly. But they are less of a pure sandbox crowd and more into other elements, so I bring those to the table.

I think at the end of the day though, sandbox is just one structure among many. If it isn't working for you, experiment till it works, or just shift to an approach that does. No reason to torture yourself because people online say this way or that way is the best. Sometimes going to the more mission-based type session can work, especially if you only meet every so often and if there is any sense that each session really needs to hit certain notes.
 

Shipyard Locked

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You know those episodic Sam & Max games from Tell Tale games? I kind of like that as a structure: smaller sand-boxes divided into separate arcs that reference each other so the players don't have to remember too much at one time over infrequent sessions. Also makes breaks for "real life complications" easier to deal with.
 

Nick J

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You need a few hooks, a dozen NPCs or so with their own plans and motivations, a crisis to kick things off and enough flexibility to improvise and let the players guide the action, wherever that leads. That also means you need some players who want the agency to set their own path.

I'd recommend the Midkemia Press Cities book for urban/town random encounters and some decent random encounter tables with pre-statted critters or archetypal people (bandits, mercs, whatever) to help fill in the blanks when you need something in a hurry to riff off of, or even fill out an area ahead of time with seeds that give you just enough stuff to get your imagination going.
 
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Black Leaf

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I generally come up with a starting point, some random rumours/story seeds and some NPCs who may or may not end up being used.

From there I just improv it.

It's not so much that I don't prep as that I prep weekly rather than at the start of the campaign.
 

Edgewise

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I agree that you don't want to overdo it. I'd also advocate starting the sandbox with at least one "obligatory" adventure i.e. starting the campaign just after they accepted the quest. In my experience, it takes an adventure or two before the players develop any investment in the setting world, so it's hard to start session one by handing the players a fact sheet and asking "so...what do you do?" In fact, I'll just keep feeding players adventures until they start to show their own agency i.e. turning down a quest or pursuing their own objectives.
 

Ronnie Sanford

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I second all the above recommendations but I would also suggest detailing out the immediate area the party is starting in. For example in the Magic World sandbox I am running I detailed the tavern & inn as well as all the businesses on that street with their NPCs. Note I didn't create detailed NPCs. I just wrote down each NPC's name, their location and a one line sentence describing their personality (example arrogant, conversational, formal, polite). I also wrote down any "information" that the NPC would know should it come up (example is forming a caravan to investigate nearby ruins). No need to prep the whole area as you can prep more after the session is over and you know where the party is going. Just build out the setting little by little as the party investigates it.
 

xanther

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Was having a chat on a wfrp FB channel about campaign design with some dude who advocated sandbox play. This is nothing new obviously, though I've never really done it. He advocated coming up with a bunch of people places and problems etc to throw at the pc's, instead of rigorous plotting and prepping. Now as there are people here who play that way (I'm sure), I'd like to ask: just how much do you need to get going? After all the PC's can only focus on one or two problems at once, they can't meet everyone and they can't go everywhere. At least not initially. So presumably there are going to be limits, if not for your own sanity as you try writing up every planet in the Known Universe, or every city on the Fantasy Continent

No need to go that detailed, in fact Sandbox play to me is the lazy GM (in a very good way) approach. It also keeps one from taking away player agency by railroading them down the "story" you created.

First, I love to build a world or make a map and think of the terrain and people in it. No need to write much of it down, notes are enough. You are not looking to whip out box text when players encounter something but rather explicate it and have it react in a "living" and internally consistent way with the setting you have woven.

As to adventure locations I'll adapt commercial products to my needs. WotC used to (may still have) 100s of free modules up. I got those and a collection of things I've bought and made over the decades, so no worries. I only use the maps and loosely the monsters etc. in them. I have no problem winging things or "stocking" a location by just naming what's there. The systems I use make it easy to just reference a source book, no need for stat blocks, and unique stuff easy to add.

The goal is the large amount of stuff that is "ready" is minimalist and easily adapted.

I also weave in NPC plots and have certain locations more "hard coded" together. For example I always have G1-G3 in my worlds (with a few extra "dungeons" thrown in, to make a thread of interconnected adventures. kind of like a quest line but I try to make it so you can come in from any angle.

I typically have 6-12 threads each with 5-10 "dungeons." Then I might make points of contact between threads and some locations point to or be "side quests" of others. It's not that complicated. One page of notes for each thread, place all the "dungeons" in a thread in the same folder, done.

Frankly the above approach creates far richer adventure paths that don't presuppose anything or plot protect anything.

That's just the location based stuff. Existing alongside and "over" that is the social-political machinations of peoples and the powerful, deities and world forces. This drives the day-to-day and presents hooks or opportunities for adventure to aid or hinder such machinations. I do the same at a smaller scale when making notes on town inhabitants, friends, loves, hates, vices, dreams, etc.

For me the key is not to plot a story, but to put the elements in place and create a game/world environment where genre inspired stories will arise and emerge naturally from player action. What the players do makes a difference and writes the story, both theirs and upon the world. These stories are always better than what I could write.

Heck if I could write such amazing stories that my players would gladly jump on the train, lock the doors and ride the railroad then I should be writing for a living. Also if I plot something I know how it will end (pretty much) where is the fun in that?

I'd say let games like Skyrim and Fallout inspire you.
 

xanther

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I agree that you don't want to overdo it. I'd also advocate starting the sandbox with at least one "obligatory" adventure i.e. starting the campaign just after they accepted the quest. In my experience, it takes an adventure or two before the players develop any investment in the setting world, so it's hard to start session one by handing the players a fact sheet and asking "so...what do you do?" In fact, I'll just keep feeding players adventures until they start to show their own agency i.e. turning down a quest or pursuing their own objectives.
Agree. I give my players a choice of two or three but the idea is to get into a location based adventure to get one's feet wet. Not required, but people like it.
 

Dumarest

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I just sketch a rough map with at least one town at or near the center and decide what its livelihood is, add in some roads/paths and/or waterways, throw in some physical features like hills, forests, swamps, toss in a few interesting sites like a reputedly haunted tower, an abandoned mine, spooky caverns, an ancient stone circle, whatever, decide if any other creatures or people reside anywhere, populate the environs with a handful of likely NPCs and add more if needed, hand out a few rumors and job opportunities, and let the players determine when and where I need to expand from there. Takes about thirty minutes to an hour. I also try to leave lots of blank space to be filled in as needed. If the players ask, "Is there a granary nearby?" I can give an answer that makes sense or roll a die if it could go either way, then place it in a suitable location like near the riverside with a waterwheel mill to grind the grain.
 

Edgewise

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I second all the above recommendations but I would also suggest detailing out the immediate area the party is starting in.
I complete agree with this. Anything that gives local character to the world is really going to help the players give a damn about anything besides your hand-fed hooks.
 

xanther

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Here's an example of how I present 3 important NPCs; succinct is the key. This is a high level of detail for what I do as these are NPCs in a operating base area. See attached/
 

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finarvyn

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One of my favorite sandbox tricks is to throw together a fake newspaper with some teasers. Gives the players some ideas of what they might try to do without forcing them to follow a linear plotline. If they have a half dozen or so possible ways to go, or come up with another one of their own, this gives them a lot of freedom.
 

Edgewise

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One of my favorite sandbox tricks is to throw together a fake newspaper with some teasers. Gives the players some ideas of what they might try to do without forcing them to follow a linear plotline.
I always find it charming when a GM puts in the effort of something like this. I don't know if it's more "immersive"...it's just cool.
 

TJS

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I usually find the key is to have a at least three clearly defined factions and to know what they want and are likely do if the PCs do nothing.

Then all you need to do is add chaos - which the PCs can pretty much always be relied on to do.
 

opaopajr

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"Break things down before you attempt the Essay."

Flesh out Location -- make interesting noun (person, place, or thing) phrases (describes noun).

Imbue Nouns with Volition -- Give them verbs & objects to do stuff. Goals. Now you have NPC sentences.

Take Concrete Detail NPC Sentences and Give (at least) Two Lines of Commentary -- This is the feelings: atmosphere, personality, mood, contrast, context to goals, etc. This may create an/pro-tagonists.

These paragraphs are your NPC intros. They may develop into adventures, with or without PC influence.

Make a Bunch of These and Let PCs Choose their Interests. Your Spotlight Time Follows Them.

Take a Few of These and Make Them Your NPC-Location Movers & Shakers. You Process Their Agendas or Consequences (often uninterrupted) -- They Change, and May Cross Your PCs' Spotlight Later.

Imagine you made several Index Cards of NPC Intro Paragraphs. You select a few beforehand. Your players select a card or two during play, and emphasize their favorite at the close of session. These selected cards are what you prepare, at least to the first "Crisis, Keys/Clues, Likely Solutions" grouping (some call these "Acts," "Mysteries," "Adventures," "Challenge, Focus, Strike," etc.).

So you can still do what you are used to, but now you do much less overhead because you make small paragraphs and then let the players drive the spotlight focus. Sure you do a little with your selected small paragraphs, but since there's little intteruption, imagine their agendas mostly go without issue -- so they don't need immediate attention or full write up prep.

e.g.

Fountain of Doves - A fountain with alabaster dove statues, rumored to be 200 years old and attached to this town's survival. Has given off a warm, welcoming vibe until last year -- it now leaves people scared and anxious. Some say the waters lowering to a trickle last year portends another orc horde war, while others say their foothill source is being tampered by deep cave evil.

Hector Junior, palisades sector smithy -- Wiry olive skinned man with laughing eyes, busy with cavalry shoeing, yet pushes to sell his javelins & spears. Wants to practice spear weaponsmithing so as to get a better military contract. Looks for a few bravos to carry his experimental side work weapons so as to build up his reputation. Collects a few fight-prone adventure rumors so as to gather bravos, sell his wares, and spread his name.

Leather Folio -- A suede folio left in a shadowy backalley, filled with precision drawings of a strange horsecart. Title is in (Foreign Language), and a big label underneath written in (2x Foreign Language, 1x Local Language) saying "Top Secret." The ownership name is partially smeared, yet suggests a hostile country who has an embassy here.

... and each suggests their own adventures. Whatever players latch onto, that takes first priority for you to elaborate. Whatever interests you, regardless of player interest, you develop its agenda or consequences behind the scenes when you have free time. Then play moves along and sometimes PCs spot a change in the world. See? Not so hard. :thumbsup:
 
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Edgewise

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I have a general rule when it comes to devising descriptions. I try to focus on one (or two, at most) detail that sticks out. Larding too many details into a description never works out for me. Players seem to lose focus if you make everything really florid. I've given up trying to reproduce the image that I have in the heads of the players.

The important thing is that they have some kind of picture in their heads, and those pictures are interesting and accurately describe the important aspects of the situation. I rely heavily on the imagination of my players to fill in the gaps of what I don't describe. My theory is that one or two strong details will activate their imaginations, and they'll do the rest of the work on their own. Ideally, they won't even realize that I didn't describe most of what they're imagining. Lazy GM magic tricks!
 

TheophilusCarter

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Did someone ask for names?

Crow: Slab Bulkhead!
Servo: Fridge Largemeat!
Mike: Punt Speedchunk!
Crow: Butch Deadlift!
Crow: Bold Bigflank!
Mike: Splint Chesthair!
Mike: Flint Ironstag!
Crow: Bolt Vanderhuge!
Mike: Thick McRunfast!
Mike: Blast Hardcheese!
Crow: Buff Drinklots!
Servo: Trunk Slamchest!
Crow: Fist Rockbone!
Mike: Stump Beefknob!
Servo: Smash Lampjaw!
Crow: Punch Rockgroin!
Mike: Buck Plankchest!
Crow: Stump Chunkmen!
Servo: Dirk Hardpec!
Mike: Rip Steakface!
Crow: Slate Slabrock!
Servo: Crud Bonemeal!
Mike: Brick HardMeat!
Crow: Rip Slagcheek!
Servo: Punch Sideiron!
Mike: Gristle McThornbody!
Crow: Slate Fistcrunch!
Mike: Buff Hardback!
Servo: Bob Johnson! Oh, wait...
Servo: Blast Thickneck!
Crow: Crunch Buttsteak!
Mike: Slab Squatthrust!
Servo: Lump Beefbroth!
Crow: Touch Rustrod!
Mike: Reef Blastbody!
Mike: Big McLargeHuge!
Mike: Smoke ManMuscle!
Servo: Eat Punchbeef!
Mike: Hack Blowfist!
Mike: Roll Fizzlebeef!

You're welcome.
 

TJS

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If you want to centre the game around a plot by an evil cult - I'd be asking who else besides the PCs and the Cult has a stake?

ie
- A local potentate who wants the cult to at least partially succeed so that he can claim the credit for stopping them and increase his own power by paying agitators to denounce the local authorities as weak for letting chaos get as far as it did.
- Who currently has the sword the cultists want - if it gets stolen (whether by PCs or someone else) what are they going to do about it? Would they hire the PCs to get it back. (potentially the PCs could be hired to both steal the sword and then to retrieve it again)
Perhaps another secretive chaos cult among the local authorities who actually don't want the first cult to succeed - because they are afraid too much visible chaos action will interfere with their own plans.
- A group of apparently incompetent fanatical witchhunters who arrive at some point to deal with chaos activity but start burning the wrong people (potentially fake witchhunters acting as part of someone else's poltical ploy.)
- If things slow down then assassinate the local Mayor - now there's a murder investigation and possibly an election. (Maybe PCs can make a power-play?)
- If events are getting out of control and it feels like there's no room to breathe have an outbreak of the plague force the plotters to cool their heels while everyone deals with mere survival.


I think of this more as a kind of temporal sandbox - rather than a true sandbox. It's usually how I approach urban based games. It has the disadvantage compared to the more traditional geographically oriented sandbox in that the PCs tend to be more reactive - but that's also an advantage as it's more fast paced. It roughly follows the kind of setup of the classic WFRP adventure - "Rough Night at the Four Feathers". It required very little prep other than the set initial set up - as, if you know what everyone wants, it's easy to improvise.
 

dokel

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I think that evoking a 'sense of place' is as much about capturing the right tone as it is about portraying the visual aesthetic. One thing that occurs to me is that grimdark is big on moral ambivalence and pcs vs evil cult seems a little black and white. Having two or more factions going after the macguffin, each with their own reasons for wanting to acquire it, and dropping the pcs into the middle seems more sandbox-y. The pcs can pick a side, play sides off against each other, plan to keep the macguffin for themselves...
 

robertsconley

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I wrote a lot of blog post on running sandbox campaigns. A good one that summarize things is My Axioms of Sandbox Campaigns

I loosely sort what I do for my campaigns into several categories, the Initial Context, the Bag of Stuff, and a World in Motion.

Initial Context
Most sandbox campaigns fail. Why? Because of the lack of a good initial context. Many mock character histories and background but if you going to get a sandbox campaign you are going to need a least a half page of specifics for each players and a half page of general information for the group as a whole.

Players who enjoy being plunked down in the middle of a blank map and told "Go forth and explore" are few and far between. About as common as players who enjoy playing GURPS with all the options in play at once. Most players want to feel their choices have meaning. Picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not a choice with meaning. So work on the initial situation so that it is interesting and give the players enough information to make some valid decision of what to do.

The Bag of Stuff
This is where I do world building. For me, the three main items I need are geography, NPCs, and locales. Of the three locales wind up looking like a traditional adventure after it written. I have two broad grouping of the stuff; the specific (for example the City State of the Invincible Overlord), the generic (random castle town of 500 to 1000 people). For NPCs specific (Llewellyn the Blue, wizard of City-State), or generic (Tharian Horselord 6th level fight equivalent to a knight socially).

When I use something generic and it something that the players will continue to interact with then I will make notes , copy and paste the generic writeup and make something specific out of it.

In general I have a lot more generic material than I do specific. In addition I use material from other setting constantly notably Harn and Ars Magica altering to what I need. If players keep interacting with the place I will gradually replace it with something similar that my own original work. Although I usually do this between campaigns not during a campaign.

World in Motion
This is about what you do during the sandbox campaign to bring it to life. For me there are several things I try to do.

First I view the current situation from the PCs perspective, I visualize in my mind what they would be seeing if they actually were standing there. Then I use what I know about their interests, goals, and motivation to filter that into something that hopefully fun and interesting. I also rely heavily on stereotypes and assumptions to cut down on the verbal bandwidth needed.

I have to stress if you want to use stereotypes and assumptions, then you have to make sure they are true MOST of the time. For example a common issue I see that many players won't interact with NPCs because they all got plots and plans that at the very least complicate the PCs lives if not directly hinder what they are trying to do. I make sure that I roleplay most of my NPCs as people just trying to get on with their lives. That by and large they will be somewhat friendly and helpful if there no other reason to dislike the PCs. Especially for merchants. Keep a running count on a notepad if you have trouble with this.

Next the setting has a life of it own and doesn't give two shits about what the players want to do. To handle this I list out goal and motivations of the NPCs most likely to effect the PCs' circumstances. It can range from the King to the local barkeeper. Then I construct a time line of what will happen as if the PCs didn't exist. This timeline is used as a Plan of Battle. A plan of battle is useful because it provided a military force a framework in order to achieve its objective. However history is full of example of generals who lost because they were rigid about executing their plan. A good general will change and adapt as the circumstance of the war changes. So it is with this timeline.

The timeline is a framework which is meant to be changed after and during a session in light of the PCs did or did not do as their characters. In a sandbox campaign this where most of the referee creativity will be focused. When the PCs do something there will be a lot of possible consequences. With one or two being most plausible. You do not have to pick the most plausible outcome. Rather pick the outcome that is both plausible and interesting to you and the players.

Like with the example of the NPCs above, be aware of your bias. At first keep a running count of how you decide things and if you are bias to a particular type of outcome then make a chart to roll on to change things up. Most people can spot consistent patterns especially in social interactions.
 

robertsconley

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robertsconley robertsconley offers a good middle ground, though I've read descriptions by sandbox GMs who prepare a lot more.

My view is there the level where you have to do what it takes in order to run a campaign. Then there is the level where what you do is because you (and your players) find it run and you have the time for it.

For example I spend several hours on Sunday making detailed deck plans for my Traveller Campaign. Not because I had too (there are plenty to be had via google search) but because I like doing it and had the time.

Seeker.jpg

My recommendation of a half page of general info and a half page of character info is based on my opinion of what most would find tolerable and have the time for. I personally do a page of each. And limit it to a page each to force me to be brief as possible.
 

Panzerkraken

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Since I didn't notice it brought up (although the myriad methods above are great), if you want something published to work with, Sine Nomine's books are generally fully based around sandbox play, and the concepts presented in them would work just fine as a guide to developing your sandbox for use with WFRP. I recommend Red Tide as a baseline for Fantasy stuff, although you could work with Godbound, as his most recent. Pretty much all of them are free .pdfs on DTRPG (he makes most of his money from the KS's).
 

AsenRG

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Since I didn't notice it brought up (although the myriad methods above are great), if you want something published to work with, Sine Nomine's books are generally fully based around sandbox play, and the concepts presented in them would work just fine as a guide to developing your sandbox for use with WFRP. I recommend Red Tide as a baseline for Fantasy stuff, although you could work with Godbound, as his most recent. Pretty much all of them are free .pdfs on DTRPG (he makes most of his money from the KS's).
Agreed, including on Red Tide, though I'd actually recommend getting Scarlet Heroes as the baseline. Still, it's a good idea:smile:.

Technically, Sine Nomine also offer paid versions of the same books with some additional content, but basically all the GM-facing stuff in the corebooks can be found in the free versions as well. OTOH, only corebooks have free versions:wink:.
 

robertsconley

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The players being part of the city guard can be just as much of a sandbox campaign as players being freebooters who goal is to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their sandalled feet.

It about the initial context. Some groups need more structure in-game than other groups to have fun. Other setups can be the group having a patron. What makes a campaign a sandbox is the referee willingness to let the players set the direction of the campaign.

Say after ten session of the player being part of the city guard they decide to desert. Now the campaign will be in part about a group of adventurers who are deserters from the city guard. The referee job is to figure out among the plausible consequences of desertion which are the most fun and adventurous and that are fair in light of what the party does or does not do.

So for the fore-mention group that doesn't pull their thumbs out of their ass, something motivates them to show up and play character going on adventures. Earlier I mention that a choice of picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not very interesting to many players. That is an obvious example, there are many non-obvious example and corner cases as well. Luckily it not hard to pick up on if a referee playing attention.

The key is to imagine the players are there in the setting as their character and you are watching. Imagine that and ask you why are they not exhibiting more motivation to do things. One could berate them in or out of game but that will work as often as real life which to say not very often unless you understand what going on with the individual.
 

Skywalker

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WFRP2e had a book called Renegade Crowns which had tools to create provinces in the Border Kingdoms and rules for governing them. Seems like it would be a good tool for someone wanting to do a WFRP sandbox campaign.

Alternatively, Sine Nomine do great toolkit books that allow you to create detailed setting as you go, which I find really helps sandbox play. Sixteen Sorrows is a great adventure generator and Silent Legions has a good cult and conspiracy generator, though for modern day Lovecraftian games.
 

AsenRG

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The players being part of the city guard can be just as much of a sandbox campaign as players being freebooters who goal is to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under their sandalled feet.

It about the initial context. Some groups need more structure in-game than other groups to have fun. Other setups can be the group having a patron. What makes a campaign a sandbox is the referee willingness to let the players set the direction of the campaign.

Say after ten session of the player being part of the city guard they decide to desert. Now the campaign will be in part about a group of adventurers who are deserters from the city guard. The referee job is to figure out among the plausible consequences of desertion which are the most fun and adventurous and that are fair in light of what the party does or does not do.

So for the fore-mention group that doesn't pull their thumbs out of their ass, something motivates them to show up and play character going on adventures. Earlier I mention that a choice of picking one of the six surrounding blank hexes is not very interesting to many players. That is an obvious example, there are many non-obvious example and corner cases as well. Luckily it not hard to pick up on if a referee playing attention.

The key is to imagine the players are there in the setting as their character and you are watching. Imagine that and ask you why are they not exhibiting more motivation to do things. One could berate them in or out of game but that will work as often as real life which to say not very often unless you understand what going on with the individual.
I would only add that they don't need to desert, and the game is going to be no less sandboxy. If, say, one of them like the other NPCs he's serving with and thus wants to keep the order and protect his mates, one likes being respected as a figure of authority and plans to live up to it, one decides to court the daughter of the guard's chief*, and the fourth player just wants to bring down the biggest city gang for revenge...
Well, that's the PCs having their own goals and chasing them, too, so there's no changes in the conclusion:smile:! "The referee job is to figure out among the plausible consequences of desertion which are the most fun and adventurous and that are fair in light of what the party does or does not do".
But for some reason, some people tend to assume a sandbox game has to be about wandering mercenaries, potentially murderhoboish. This ain't so, but I felt it needs to be clarified:wink:.
 

robertsconley

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A sandbox campaign is mostly an attitude and technique adopted by the referee. It works whether you follow all the steps of my How to make a Fantasy Sandbox or you have a town and dungeon setup both on one page.

For individual hobbyist is hard to create analysis paralysis if you deliberately limit yourself to a half page of background info of 10 point font.

As for the group, it always been a issue with any type of RPG campaign that in large part what makes it work is the players willing to go along with a common activity in-game whatever form it takes. Unlike a MMORPG there is a limit to how many character can be physically apart because of the human referee.

I will say it is not as difficult as what people think it is. For me, I have no trouble with handle groups of 4 to 5 players each doing their own thing. Doing it a way that nobody is sitting doing nothing for too long. But beyond that I start running into issues and it is far easier with 2 to 3 players in the group.

Finally you are not just a referee but a coach as well. If a players struggles then coach them.

There is nothing wrong with a good Adventure Path. They can be a fun ride for all concerned. However they suffer from the issue that in order to work you have to do the RPG equivalent of writing a good novel, film, or play. While somewhat more active than the forementioned, adventure path rely on the appeal of the situation they depict and their plot. If their plot sucks then the whole campaign will suck irregardless of the skill of the referee running it.

In contrast all that a sandbox campaign requires is interesting people and places to explore. Just as all interesting trip requires is a good company and an interesting destination. It may be that a particular group of players are not a bunch of go-getters. The campaign may center on them being royal agents getting missions for her majesty from the Lord High Chamberlain. The different between that in and an adventure path is that the players being free to choose when and where to go is always there in the background. Like in AsenRG example of what PC Guards could be doing, likewise our erstwhile "Royal Agents" will have similair scale stuff going on while the broader picture is focused on dealing with the missions they are given.

Eventually what I found is that after few sessions that players develop their individual and collective agendas that prep becomes very straight forward. Especially if one goes to each players and the group and ask what are you thinking of doing next in regards to X, Y, Z. Where and X and Y are related to various party and individual goals, and Z is something part of what they are dealing in larger world.

In the end the idea of sandbox campaign is about the answer to the following.

You put out clues for the Labyrinth of Leng and the players get a map to the Labyrinth of Leng. And you prepared the Labyrinth of Leng with maps, keys, and notes. However at the beginning of the session they annouce they don't want to explore the Labyrinth and instead head off to the city of Eastgate because an off-hand remark you made last session made it seem more interesting them than the dungeon.

Initial Context, Bag of Stuff, World in Motion in essence all the advice I give about Sandbox Campaign is my answer. Which boils down to "I will roll with it and see where it leads". The consequences of which depends if I have anything detailed on Eastgate or not. If I don't then I have to wing it.

Other referee including yourself may have other answer with their own consequences.
 
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tenbones

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Sandboxes are a *style* of play. I will go on the record as saying they are the most sophisticated style of play and that comes with a lot of risks that people tend not to be honest about (especially myself).

Sandboxes are like symphonies. Compared to running straight up Adventure-modules, or scenarios and one-shot dungeoncrawls, there are a lot more moving parts that require techniques that you can pick up and learn, running those aforementioned types of games. But nothing is quite like running a Sandbox.

What a lot of the advice here, I see in this thread, is speaking to the *other half* of the issue of running a Sandbox: The GM skills and methods of making the Sandbox work. We've euphemistically call "The World In Motion". For a lot of GM's that don't like Sandbox style play, it's not necessary. For those that want more expansiveness, beyond what most players will likely even conceive of - Sandbox is the way to go. But it does require more skill, and a bit more work depending on the scale of the game.

The benefits are *extreme* immersion. And hopefully extreme epic fun and longevity. Plus I believe it makes you a better GM. A good Sandbox GM can run any other style of play *better* because all those other styles can fit in a sandbox which taxonomically requires more work. Those other styles are easier to run if you're used to running sandbox-style as your primary method. Sandboxes have this magical ability to transcend the normal Adventure-mode of play.

The downsides are - they're prone to dismal disaster. You can overprep. You can cause your players to glaze over with the minutiae of detail that would make a cultural anthropologist shit in their pants. You can scale your game incorrectly for your players. You can overscale your game beyond your GMing skills. Sandboxes are like conducting an orchestra. They run the highest risk of game-implosion but they also aim for the highest transcendent moments you can have at a table.

The GM is that conductor with the toolset to make those parts sing with the players in the lead. Those skills required are part of what needs to be illuminated alongside the ideas of what makes a Sandbox work. They go hand-in-hand.
 
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Edgewise

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To me, the big difference between a sandbox and a railroad is that the railroading GM won't let you go too far off-script. Just because you only hand the players a small number of hooks or use published adventures doesn't mean it's not a sandbox, as long as players have the freedom to ignore the hooks and create their own. And if the players don't avail themselves of that freedom, that's fine and I wouldn't call it a railroad. It might not strictly be a sandbox, but that's really on the players and not the GM, and I don't see a problem with it.

But when the GM enforces the borders to the planned adventure and wrestles the agency out of players' hands, I'll go so far as to say I think that's an indefensible approach. I mean, how could that possibly be a good thing?
 

tenbones

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This is what I call the "What's in the Crate? Issue" - where a PC can do/say/ask something "off script" and the GM has to extemporaneously decide how to handle the "issue".

If you're seasoned GM and know your Sandbox, it's a non-issue. If you're working strictly from a Script - it's an issue.

Somewhere between those two-poles is where most GM's sit. Running "sandboxes" develops those GMing skills and largely removes this issue because there is no script that you're not already aware of or not prepared to deal with. You don't need them.

This works in reverse to. When I DO run a Scripted adventure - because I'm so used to running Sandbox-style campaigns, any deviation from the script requires trivial effort to move PC's back onto it seamlessly. The contrivance of doing so is what makes scripted adventures largely less useful for me.
 

dokel

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This is what I call the "What's in the Crate? Issue" - where a PC can do/say/ask something "off script" and the GM has to extemporaneously decide how to handle the "issue".

IIRC there's a random crate contents generator in Tower of the Stargazer :smile:
 

Gronan of Simmerya

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The first Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story ever written was originally titled "Two Sought Adventure."

At the start of the story, Our Heroes stop for the night at a farmhouse.

OH: Say, farmer, what's that tower we saw poking up over the trees as we approached your humble farmstead?
FARMER: That's the evil cursed tower of towering cursed evilness! Nobody has ever gotten within a mile of it and lived!
OH: Cool, we'll go check it out first thing in the morning.

Sandbox requires players who want to explore.
 

Gronan of Simmerya

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Also, sandbox is a wonderful thing when you have different groups of players, which I heartily recommend. Don't run a dozen people at once, run three groups of four.
 

Moonglum

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Also, sandbox is a wonderful thing when you have different groups of players, which I heartily recommend. Don't run a dozen people at once, run three groups of four.
Agreed. And I think the very funnest sandboxes are those in which two or more people take turns DM'ing. It requires a bit of maturity to make sure you are always following the improv principle of 'yes...and!', but it both relieves the pressure on one DM and draws everyone in the group more into being actively engaged at the table.
 
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