Mod+ Sandbox Discussion & Resource Thread II

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ffilz

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I really hope you write a good book on running Sandbox Campaigns with a nice set of tools and maybe some random tables (where such can be presented in a useful but generic way). I think you really do have a good handle on how to run this kind of campaign that many of us would benefit from a more complete understanding of.

I think one of the things that often gets lost in discussion of running sandboxes is that not only do the players have to be able to trust that the GM is doing his best to present the setting in an unbiased way, but ALSO the GM has to be able to trust that the players want to play in the setting the GM has prepared. Players who immediately head for the edge, or decide to ignite a nuclear blast in the middle of the campaign city, or any other "trashing the setting" the GM is worried about aren't being authentic players and respecting their GM.

Maybe this "trash the setting" deserves a good blog post... I suspect that when you share some of the bigger trashings that have happened to you, people will come to appreciate that it's not ruining the setting, it's creating awesomeness.
 

robertsconley

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I really hope you write a good book on running Sandbox Campaigns with a nice set of tools and maybe some random tables (where such can be presented in a useful but generic way). I think you really do have a good handle on how to run this kind of campaign that many of us would benefit from a more complete understanding of.
I am working on it .. slowly. I may be being too much of a perfectionist on what I want it to be and include. Unlike my rules, adventure, and setting material, it not like I will have a lot of opportunity to playtest teaching folks. The feedback on the blog is helpful but also in bits and pieces. Different from sitting across a player around a table and see how they respond to something I do.

Currently my approach is terse overview, a whole bunch if if you want to do X here what I found worked structured on what I outlined in the overview, then a few specific tools that stand on their own.

The overview is pretty solid as I used a version of it for my Majestic Fantasy RPG Basic Rules. I think I posted parts of it in this thread. The other chapter was a how to on how to use the nuts and bolts of classic editions to make rulings. And of course an edited version of my how to make a fantasy sandbox.

As far as random tables and more specific aids, that what part of what the Majestic Fantasy RPG is about. But instead providing it in isolation like Finich's Tome of Adventure Design, I opted to place is in the context of a working system.

For example in the Basic Rules I have this about Treasure Assortments

1617210935864.png

When it comes to writing the full system. I will present the random tables that generated the above. And explain why these tables are different than assortments. I define an assortment as a simple single level random table that consist of results from a more complex set of random tables. That when it comes to rolling a important treasure hoard then use the full set of tables for the greatest variety of treasure. But if you need something that incidental then use the assortment table. And generate a new set of assortments every few months.

This stuff could be in a Sandbox book, it not strongly tied to a fantasy setting. But I think it makes more sense when presented as part of a system of rules.



I think one of the things that often gets lost in discussion of running sandboxes is that not only do the players have to be able to trust that the GM is doing his best to present the setting in an unbiased way,
Yes that is an issue I encounter a lot. However it generally manifest in a nice way where the group tries to go along with the what the referee has prepared. The attitude I have to contend with most often is that "OK Rob did all this work let's not trash it and see what happens." Second to that is a belief that I would flounder if they go off map. Not that I will fail exactly but it will feel rushed and unprepared. Then after that is simple disbelief I won't react negativity to somebody trashing the setting.

Players reacting as if I am the adversary and have to win their trust is pretty much at the bottom of the list. Not it doesn't happen and it happen more in the 80s when I getting my feet with this stuff. But over the years what I found that first person roleplaying doing the funny voices largely defuses the issue. Also learning to be more generous with situational awareness prior to an encounter happening. Things just don't exist in a vacuum. Playing a LARP for a decade helped really develop a good perspective on this. The result is that it is rare that the players are totally blind to what happening.


but ALSO the GM has to be able to trust that the players want to play in the setting the GM has prepared. Players who immediately head for the edge, or decide to ignite a nuclear blast in the middle of the campaign city, or any other "trashing the setting" the GM is worried about aren't being authentic players and respecting their GM.
Hence why I have an extensive pre-game. The trick is not to make it formal. The basic process is simply making sure that I talk to each player and as group over "what they want to do". Get a sense of what the consensus is and guide everybody to making compatible characters. It not about making everybody fit with the consensus but something that consistent and relevant to whatever it is.

For example say you want to run an all thief (really all criminal) campaign, and one player just refuses to make a thief type. So through talking with the player and the group, I developed this culture of street mages consistent with the background I had on criminal in CSIO. It made my take on CSIO that much richer and the rest got their all-thief campaign and the player got to play a magic-user.


Maybe this "trash the setting" deserves a good blog post... I suspect that when you share some of the bigger trashings that have happened to you, people will come to appreciate that it's not ruining the setting, it's creating awesomeness.
I may just turn this reply into one. Thanks for the comments and questions.
 

AsenRG

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Since sandbox has come up a bit, thought it might be useful for people to put their minds together to establish some of the best write-ups of how to do a sandbox (and maybe map out some of the different points of view more clearly). Thinking in terms of what are the best blog entries, the best threads, the best chapters in RPG books on the topic.

Just to start things off. Here is one from our own Rob Conley (Rob hope you won't mind me including this as the lead): https://batintheattic.blogspot.com/2009/08/how-to-make-fantasy-sandbox.html

Justin Alexander has a video exploring the topic of running sandboxes: advanced-gamemastery-running-the-sandbox

Here is a fairly recent and simple breakdown of prepping for a sandbox: https://www.roleplayingtips.com/adventure-building-campaigns/creating-a-sandbox-campaign-7-steps/
I need to add some stuff...:thumbsup:
 

Ravenswing

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I wrote a six-part series on how to start a campaign from scratch, titled (not unusually) Starting From Scratch. While I didn't write it as a tutorial on how to do sandbox, it's effectively my take on Ground Zero for a sandbox campaign. The other installments are linked at the end of the first post.
 

SavAce

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The first thing I remember reading that got me excited about the idea of a sandbox campaign is the Referee's Companion for MegaTraveller. On page 80 it starts in with some advice for running a Large-Scale Campaign. It also has some tips on mapping worlds, charts for generating words in other languages, etc. One tip in particular about bookkeeping I remember liking was keeping a campaign notebook in a 3 ring binder, and having an NPC on a page, and you maybe add a line summary to log in brief what was up with them, and physically move the page for them to the entry for whichever system they traveled to, creating this living directory of the state of your world. Since then, I've read some better stuff on blogs, etc., but this was me back in '91 or '92 reading about it for the first time and I remember it sparking my imagination.
 

Tulpa Girl

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Because people view superhero sandboxes as something that would be especially difficult to pull off, I'm going to drop the link to a blog post at the My Blarg-edy-Blarg-Blarg O' Blarging blog that not only has useful advice, but also a bunch of other links on the topic that people might find useful - I know I found them educational when running my supervillain sandbox game.
 

SavAce

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Because people view superhero sandboxes as something that would be especially difficult to pull off, I'm going to drop the link to a blog post at the My Blarg-edy-Blarg-Blarg O' Blarging blog that not only has useful advice, but also a bunch of other links on the topic that people might find useful - I know I found them educational when running my supervillain sandbox game.
Yeah, I loved a lot of the articles linked at the bottom of that and was inspired by the whole collection of them when I was setting up a DC Heroes campaign 2 years back. The 3 part Sandbox Super Hero Campaigns article series on the "Alien Shores" blog in particular was groovy.
 

Black Vulmea

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There is no volumetric limit to a sandbox because a sandbox is limited to the bubble that surrounds the players and who they interact with. The larger world can be handled with terse notes. And when the PC and their bubble start interacting new regions, then from those notes I extrapolate the specifics buttressed by judicious use of random tables to minimize my bias. Most of my work over forty years is to make this process seamless, plausible, and consistent. Mainly I don't have the damn time to detail everything to the nth degree.
giphy.gif


I can't even remotely begin to detail tens of billions of inhabitants, of a dozen different species, and the hundreds of star systems in which they live, in a Traveller sector,, but what I cam do is prep to make improvising easier and more consistent - to give it all a framework from which to hang - as we play.

. . . [T]he direction the PCs go isn't messing up the story- it is the story. Once I got that through my head and just started reacting and having consequences and benefits for the PCs actions, the game was a lot more enjoyable to me. (emphasis added - BV)

I'm Black Vulmea Black Vulmea and I approve of this product or service. :thumbsup:
 

robertsconley

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I think this is the root of one disagreement. I vociferously disagree with this statement. Unless the sandbox is totally PC driven and not a completely living world, then in the particular case that I listed above, how close the wizard is to retrieving the MacGuffin that will make him all powerful is a point that affects the players.
Until that Wizard activates the MacGuffin and affects the PCs none of the details of how that accomplished will ever be seen by the PCs or impact them.

Unless of course it does at which point you flesh it out in a way that is consistent with the setting and established details.

For example the Majestic Wilderlands with the expanded scale I use.

1617291686102.png


Players adventuring in the Elphand Lands in one corner are standing about where Scotland is. In the opposite corner are the lands of Ghinor which sits just to the south of the Libyan Coast. If the wizard and MacGuffin are in Ghinor then there a near zero chance until it activated or achieved that PC's bubble in the Elephand Lands will intersect that of the Wizard's bubble.

In constrast if the said Wizard is a full blood Viridian who operate in the remnant of the Viridistan Empire just south of the Elphand Lands then the odds are not great that the PC's bubble will intersect the bubble around the Viridian but it higher than zero.

If the wizard is a rogue elf in the Elphand Land then their bubbles intersecting is even higher.

And to be clear the bubble I am talking about it is not geographical in nature (although impacted by geography) it is social bubble that surrounds all individuals. A modern reference is six degrees of Kevin Bacon. How many personal relationship you have to go through before you have a connection with the actor Kevin Bacon. It also degree of impact. Actions have consequences, those consequence have a bubble that impact other choices. Most disappear rapidly into the surrounding geography or PC's social network. Some don't.

Until the social bubbles or consequence bubble intersect then the rest of the world can unfold as notes and timelines. You do not need to track the Nth level details. What you need is to be able either update or create the details as needed in a way that consistent with what has been detailed. This way don't hit any kind of volumetric limits.

And it not PC driven because details flow from whatever the notes are about. Yeah most of the time I only bother when it about to impinge on a campaign. But I have folders and files full of documents that I worked on because I decided it would be fun to do so. Only to file them away for future use. In both cases my process and methodology are the same.

If you want an example of how this work outside of RPG then go to www.alternatehistory.com and look at some of the better alternate histories like Decades of Darkness or the Lands of Red & Gold.


Another good source for the type of organization I am talking about is the History of X World by Susan Bauer. With X being Ancient, Classical, Medieval, and Renaissance World.
 

chuckdee

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Until that Wizard activates the MacGuffin and affects the PCs none of the details of how that accomplished will ever be seen by the PCs or impact them.

I guess we approach this from a different angle.

If the Wizard has steps A B C D E to make- how the PCs tangentially or even peripherally affect each of these steps (or don't) become, in my mind great points for use, and the point in that progression where the PCs first become directly involved, and how they've affected the progression up to that point inform how that meeting goes. You might not need to track it, but I find it enriches the experience. And from a couple of long running plots that started out that way and created some great dramatic moments, my players have agreed.
 

tenbones

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I would add - new sandbox GM's need to overcome their fears of PC's smashing NPC Wizard's plans to do A, B, C, D, E and react accordingly and fearlessly to the results, even it means the PC's/Wizards utter failure. The dynamic between these two positions are what drives the sandbox. If you prep your sandbox right, it's as much about "letting go' as it is about "control". I'd argue that it's more about former than the latter if you've done good prep.

But the reality is there is always something you didn't account for, but that's a different skillset that needs to be developed.
 

ffilz

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I guess we approach this from a different angle.

If the Wizard has steps A B C D E to make- how the PCs tangentially or even peripherally affect each of these steps (or don't) become, in my mind great points for use, and the point in that progression where the PCs first become directly involved, and how they've affected the progression up to that point inform how that meeting goes. You might not need to track it, but I find it enriches the experience. And from a couple of long running plots that started out that way and created some great dramatic moments, my players have agreed.
Does Robert's thoughts at all preclude the GM keeping closer track to SOME "out of bubble" NPCs? Robert's bubble is primarily to keep the GM's workload manageable and addresses the "GM can't possibly track every NPC that exists in the world" problem. The GM tracks what is important to the PCs, which may well include some NPCs with big plans that haven't crossed paths yet with the PCs. The GM gets to decide the relevance of any particular NPC.
 

robertsconley

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I guess we approach this from a different angle.

If the Wizard has steps A B C D E to make- how the PCs tangentially or even peripherally affect each of these steps (or don't) become, in my mind great points for use, and the point in that progression where the PCs first become directly involved, and how they've affected the progression up to that point inform how that meeting goes. You might not need to track it, but I find it enriches the experience. And from a couple of long running plots that started out that way and created some great dramatic moments, my players have agreed.
I am talking about when it doesn't. When there is zero chance for that part of the campaign the PCs Elphand Lands to impact what going on in Ghinor. You don't need to track the same way you do the NPCs of the town or regions are in. Along with advice on how to determine that cutoff.

Now one may ask "Rob, then why is that Wizard is in Ghinor in the first place if you running in the Elphand Lands?"

Because I been running the setting for 40 years and thus have notes on just about every region on that map. And most of those notes have details as are result of past campaign. So as my setting developed campaign by campaign, I update everything periodically. Mostly with a sentence or two. Sometime I just update the age of the character.

The Majestic Wilderlands started in 4433 BCCC in 1980. Now in 2021, it is up to 4475 BCCC. And no I don't always update one campaign year to one in-game year. So far the pattern has been a decade of play hovers around a few years within a decade of the MW. So the 1980s were mostly the 4430's of MW. The 1990s were mostly the 4440s starting with a jump from 4438 to 4442. The 2000s and the 2010s were mostly the 4450s. And now I jumped ahead 20 years to the 4470s for the last two campaigns.

But if this is the first time you ever run a sandbox or its setting then likely everything you prep will be relevant to the PCs. If you use a published setting like Forgotten Realms then you will have the situation I have. That adventures in the Dales are not likely to impact what going on Baldur's Gate except for specific circumstances.

So in that context your advice makes sense. Now imagine you take that setting you just created it is now two decades later. Even if it a single kingdom what PCs do in various campaign is not always going to impact a entire kingdom. And you back to what I am describing. Tracking what in the bubble of the PCs for that campaign and updating notes for everything else for a future campaign but not going into the Nth detail.
 

hawkeyefan

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Yeah, there has to be some sense of hierarchy about which NPCs/factions/elements need the most attention from the GM. There are going to be ones that are immediately in the PCs orbit, there are going to be ones that aren't even in play yet, and then a bunch that are somewhere between those two.

Now, a lot of his can be handled by scope....maybe a campaign only has 10 such things to worry about. If so, then it may likely be easier to track all of them than it would be for a campaign with 30. And so on.

It's more about what's most relevant to play should receieve the most effort or focus from the GM. If the GM has the time or inclination to progress the machinations of his 100 factions and enjoys doing so, then more power to him.

But if it's a question of priority, or as a general best practice, focus most on the things that are more immediate.
 

robiswrong

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I had to get past that and remember that the direction the PCs go isn't messing up the story- it is the story. Once I got that through my head and just started reacting and having consequences and benefits for the PCs actions, the game was a lot more enjoyable to me.
this.
I am talking about when it doesn't. When there is zero chance for that part of the campaign the PCs Elphand Lands to impact what going on in Ghinor. You don't need to track the same way you do the NPCs of the town or regions are in. Along with advice on how to determine that cutoff.
Exactly. The closer the "action" is to where the PCs are (including multiple groups) the more detail you need in the tracking.

But it's still useful to keep the world "in motion".

Also a lot of far-off stuff can be handled more with randomization..... if it's far enough away that the PCs can't interfere and wouldn't know, I'm okay with a faction having some internal conflict and replacing their leader just as a single result without tracking that all the way to the end - presuming there's no real way for the PCs to have had insight into that in the first place.

I mean it's fine if you want to track things more granularly too.
 

Stevethulhu

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I guess we approach this from a different angle.

If the Wizard has steps A B C D E to make- how the PCs tangentially or even peripherally affect each of these steps (or don't) become, in my mind great points for use, and the point in that progression where the PCs first become directly involved, and how they've affected the progression up to that point inform how that meeting goes. You might not need to track it, but I find it enriches the experience. And from a couple of long running plots that started out that way and created some great dramatic moments, my players have agreed.
I ran a Cyberpunk campaign based around a squabble between two posergangs. A Star Wars and a Star Trek one. At first, they were hired to act as middlemen and negotiators between the gangs, while a developer worked behind the scenes to make sure the conflict escalated, reducing property values in the district to the point where a consortium could buy up huge swathes and redevelop it.

Yes, I ripped off RoboCop 3. Sue me.

Anyway, at some point the Trekkers started to lose, so they went for he hail mary gambit and made a Borg behaviour chip.

And that was when the PCs, who didn't follow up the clues, screwed the pooch. They didn't manage to pick up on anything until it was too late.

Basically, sanboxing in Night City led to the campaign ending.
 

chuckdee

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Does Robert's thoughts at all preclude the GM keeping closer track to SOME "out of bubble" NPCs? Robert's bubble is primarily to keep the GM's workload manageable and addresses the "GM can't possibly track every NPC that exists in the world" problem. The GM tracks what is important to the PCs, which may well include some NPCs with big plans that haven't crossed paths yet with the PCs. The GM gets to decide the relevance of any particular NPC.

Agreed. But if I stat up or think up an NPC, by doing so, I decide it's possible that it is relevant. Yes, that puts a lot of work that might not be relevant, but I take care of that by building outward initially. But once I get to the edge- I keep going. And once I have passed a point, I keep track of it from that point forward, even if the PCs have expressed no intent in going that direction. It's something I enjoy. I see your view on the subject- it just doesn't track with mine or what I like to do.

And I think that comes to what should be a root understanding- both ways are valid, it's just a different way of looking at it.
 

chuckdee

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Does Robert's thoughts at all preclude the GM keeping closer track to SOME "out of bubble" NPCs? Robert's bubble is primarily to keep the GM's workload manageable and addresses the "GM can't possibly track every NPC that exists in the world" problem. The GM tracks what is important to the PCs, which may well include some NPCs with big plans that haven't crossed paths yet with the PCs. The GM gets to decide the relevance of any particular NPC.
I wasn't saying that at all. I was saying that I don't agree for my personal way I run sandboxes. There are as many different ways to do it as their are GMs that run sandboxes. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much as even if someone starts following another's methodology, it's likely they will make changes for their own style.
 

Black Vulmea

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I am not going post some stupid meme image . . .
tenor.gif


Basically, san[d]boxing in Night City led to the campaign ending.
Sounds more like the decision to introduce something setting-breaking - the Borg chip - led to the campaign ending.

There's a reason many sandbox referees don't go for save-the-setting stuff, and this is it. It goes back to the notion of 'trashing' the setting: the players and their characters can allow the setting to change - 'be destroyed' - by inaction as well as action, so as referee, part of my prep is thinking through the potential consequences not only of what the adventurers do, but most especially what they don't do.

For our Flashing Blades campaign, frex, I was fully prepared for Cardinal Richelieu, or King Louis the Just, to die in the course of play, due to action or inaction on the part of the adventurers. I knew who Richelieu's likely successor as minister of state would be, had an idea how the childless king's succession could go. The players were not constrained from changing history to preserve the setting status quo.

I just started soloing Traveller and I'm already, thanks to both my initial setting prep and the random news generator which is creating the living world as I play, faced with a hot war between two mainworlds over a balkanized colony. What if the Keremi decide to full out send their fleet against the Kailasans? That could have huge implications, some of which might even reach all the way down to my little free trader: privateering, mercenary charter, terrorism. More significantly, from my prep, there's a subsector duke who might try to use the conflict to his advantage, to feed a war in his rival duke's fief. How far will this conflict go? I've no idea - my setting has little to do with the canonical Third Imperium timeline, but could this become another pathway which leads to the Rebellion? or a K'kree fanatics' first strike against the Third Imperium? My peaceful little trading game could become very different if the dice send it down this path.

If I introduce a macguffin capable of creating a singularity big enough to swallow up most of sector, well, it's on me if it turns my campaign notes into relativistic jets, not 'sandboxing.'
 

CRKrueger

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I ran a Cyberpunk campaign based around a squabble between two posergangs. A Star Wars and a Star Trek one. At first, they were hired to act as middlemen and negotiators between the gangs, while a developer worked behind the scenes to make sure the conflict escalated, reducing property values in the district to the point where a consortium could buy up huge swathes and redevelop it.

Yes, I ripped off RoboCop 3. Sue me.

Anyway, at some point the Trekkers started to lose, so they went for he hail mary gambit and made a Borg behaviour chip.

And that was when the PCs, who didn't follow up the clues, screwed the pooch. They didn't manage to pick up on anything until it was too late.

Basically, sanboxing in Night City led to the campaign ending.
By Borg behavior chip, do you mean everyone who got one actively assimilated others by kidnapping them and subjecting them to surgery (or maybe they just had to plug it into a personafix or skill wires slot? ) Yeah, that can be like Zombie-spread level of problem provided they have enough chips.

You could have picked up the campaign with the PCs getting snapped up as “persons of interest” as Corps try to figure out just what the hell is going on. If the PCs were already dead/assimilated at that point, make up some Militech cyborgs part of the strike force to take back the city and roll out some Maximum Metal.

That’s the problem with potential Doomsday scenarios in a sandbox though, Doomsday can strike.
 

ffilz

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I wasn't saying that at all. I was saying that I don't agree for my personal way I run sandboxes. There are as many different ways to do it as their are GMs that run sandboxes. That may be an exaggeration, but not by much as even if someone starts following another's methodology, it's likely they will make changes for their own style.
So you agree, the GM determines the relevance of any NPC...
 

robiswrong

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There's possibly a difference between "relevance to the world" and "relevance to the PC's lives". I'd say the GM controls the former by necessity, the latter not necessarily
The GM can do both.

They can make an NPC directly relevant to the PCs lives pretty easily. They can also make it relevant to the world, and it's up to the players whether that impact is something that they'd actually care enough about to get involved in.
 

Stevethulhu

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By Borg behavior chip, do you mean everyone who got one actively assimilated others by kidnapping them and subjecting them to surgery (or maybe they just had to plug it into a personafix or skill wires slot? ) Yeah, that can be like Zombie-spread level of problem provided they have enough chips.

You could have picked up the campaign with the PCs getting snapped up as “persons of interest” as Corps try to figure out just what the hell is going on. If the PCs were already dead/assimilated at that point, make up some Militech cyborgs part of the strike force to take back the city and roll out some Maximum Metal.

That’s the problem with potential Doomsday scenarios in a sandbox though, Doomsday can strike.
He chip basically rewrote your personality onto that of a Borg drone. Add some cyber audio with a radio link and there was your Collective.

The original idea was, since the players told me they wanted a more investigative game, I would give them plenty of hooks to investigate.

Only they chose not to investigate, and instead to go doing random stuff like throwing bags of flour at cops.

By the time they did look I to the suddenly very serious Borg problem, thy kind of screwed up again.

The Borg behaviour chip had been designed by the same corp that wanted to buy up cheap land. So the PCs kill the exec in charge, then blow up the lab the chip was developed in. Followed by sneaking in to the on site control centre that was monitoring the Borg and fragging that, too.

Freedom to choose badly is important. But housing to destroy the tools you could use to resolve a situation is just weird if you ask me.
 

chuckdee

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So you agree, the GM determines the relevance of any NPC...
That was introduced after I responded earlier, and my response was never in negation of that fact. Of course the GM determines relevance. That was never in doubt. I certainly never introduced it, and I don't think that anyone else did either, did they? Or did I miss something that resulted in this tangent?
 

chuckdee

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The GM can do both.

They can make an NPC directly relevant to the PCs lives pretty easily. They can also make it relevant to the world, and it's up to the players whether that impact is something that they'd actually care enough about to get involved in.
They can try to do so. In the end, it comes down to the PCs whether they allow that to happen. I've seen willful ignorance on the part of the PCs just because they weren't interested, no matter how directly in their path certain things were. No plan survives contact with the PCs.
 

chuckdee

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He chip basically rewrote your personality onto that of a Borg drone. Add some cyber audio with a radio link and there was your Collective.

The original idea was, since the players told me they wanted a more investigative game, I would give them plenty of hooks to investigate.

Only they chose not to investigate, and instead to go doing random stuff like throwing bags of flour at cops.

By the time they did look I to the suddenly very serious Borg problem, thy kind of screwed up again.

The Borg behaviour chip had been designed by the same corp that wanted to buy up cheap land. So the PCs kill the exec in charge, then blow up the lab the chip was developed in. Followed by sneaking in to the on site control centre that was monitoring the Borg and fragging that, too.

Freedom to choose badly is important. But housing to destroy the tools you could use to resolve a situation is just weird if you ask me.

They sound like one of my groups. They found out that the shipment the terrorists were waiting for was coming into the docks, but they didn't know what pier. Their solution? They burned down the docks. And the warehouses, and that whole section of the city.

They destroyed part of the city to save the whole thing so... yay?
 

Ravenswing

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I would add - new sandbox GM's need to overcome their fears of PC's smashing NPC Wizard's plans to do A, B, C, D, E and react accordingly and fearlessly to the results, even it means the PC's/Wizards utter failure. The dynamic between these two positions are what drives the sandbox. If you prep your sandbox right, it's as much about "letting go' as it is about "control". I'd argue that it's more about former than the latter if you've done good prep.

Hell yes. I'm the only GM I've seen (and players have reported not seeing it either) who allows "walkovers." Sometimes the players do everything right, get a bit lucky, make all the right guesses, and with two hours left in the gaming session, the plot's solved and the scenario's over. What I've never done and will never do is pull a fast one to keep the corpse of the plot moving and fill that time, Just Because. Two hours left, huh? Maybe a silly, unrelated encounter in town. Or maybe it's time for shopping: alright, folks, on what are your characters spending your ill-gotten gains on? Or maybe -- because we're all friends sitting around the living room and having a good time -- we can whip up a meal and just enjoy one another's company.

In any event, I can think of few surer ways to earn, and keep, the players' trust than through putting a bright smile on one's face as you toss a few sheets of unused prepwork over your shoulder, and saying chirpily, "Well, so much for THAT. What do we do next?"
 

K_Peterson

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Cool thread.

I'd like to get more of a grip on running a fantasy sandbox, but the only inspirational source material I've read is the West Marches from more than a decade ago. (And I read it more than a decade ago).

I attempted to run a sandbox back around 2012 using B/X D&D and felt a little out of my league. I did some planning to setup a home base, a regional map, and then I used a mix of encounter areas that I created, and mixed in with some Castles & Crusades dungeons of varying difficulty levels. The players created their 1st level characters and then had a range of rumors-of-adventure to follow-up on. For some reason, they skipped over the lower-level-focused rumors and went straight for the "Spider-Haunted Woods" a day's journey away, which were significantly more dangerous. And there was some death...

These days, I'd use a different system and wouldn't put as much emphasis on dungeons. And, generally just learn more about how to run a sandbox effectively.
 

Fenris-77

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Cool thread.

I'd like to get more of a grip on running a fantasy sandbox, but the only inspirational source material I've read is the West Marches from more than a decade ago. (And I read it more than a decade ago).

I attempted to run a sandbox back around 2012 using B/X D&D and felt a little out of my league. I did some planning to setup a home base, a regional map, and then I used a mix of encounter areas that I created, and mixed in with some Castles & Crusades dungeons of varying difficulty levels. The players created their 1st level characters and then had a range of rumors-of-adventure to follow-up on. For some reason, they skipped over the lower-level-focused rumors and went straight for the "Spider-Haunted Woods" a day's journey away, which were significantly more dangerous. And there was some death...

These days, I'd use a different system and wouldn't put as much emphasis on dungeons. And, generally just learn more about how to run a sandbox effectively.
Something I do that actually helps a lot is that I don't really do dungeons. I do stuff about the size of the Trilemma adventure. Call it a little dungeon. Thoae are easy to repopulate and repurpose as needed and cause less unused prep.
 

K_Peterson

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How often have you been a player in a sandbox?
Very rarely, as a player. Over the past 20 years, I can think of one time:
  • A Classic Traveller campaign set in the Spinward Marches where we were the crew of a garbage, 100-ton Scout. Struggling to stay afloat financially, improve our ship and stay out of trouble. (We only succeeded in the first 2 goals). That was in the early 2000s.
Since then (and for 20 years before then), it's been either module-play, mission-play, or mystery-play. That holds true for whether I've been a player or a GM.
When I've run Fantasy or Scifi campaigns it's been with modules, or with a mission in mind.

I typically run Call of Cthulhu, which clearly uses more of a mystery structure. That allows the freedom for PCs to examine clues and follow leads in whatever order they desire, gradually solve the mystery, but incorporates a time constraint.
 
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K_Peterson

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Something I do that actually helps a lot is that I don't really do dungeons. I do stuff about the size of the Trilemma adventure. Call it a little dungeon. Thoae are easy to repopulate and repurpose as needed and cause less unused prep.
First I've heard of Trilemma. But, I'm generally out of touch with a lot of newer Rpg products, so that's not much of a surprise.

Looks like a great resource. I prefer adventure-sites over sprawling dungeons, or the contained 'megadungeon' environment.
 

TristramEvans

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Hell yes. I'm the only GM I've seen (and players have reported not seeing it either) who allows "walkovers." Sometimes the players do everything right, get a bit lucky, make all the right guesses, and with two hours left in the gaming session, the plot's solved and the scenario's over. What I've never done and will never do is pull a fast one to keep the corpse of the plot moving and fill that time, Just Because. Two hours left, huh? Maybe a silly, unrelated encounter in town. Or maybe it's time for shopping: alright, folks, on what are your characters spending your ill-gotten gains on? Or maybe -- because we're all friends sitting around the living room and having a good time -- we can whip up a meal and just enjoy one another's company.

What is a "walkover" in that scenario? I've never heard that term before
 

CRKrueger

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I am working on it .. slowly. I may be being too much of a perfectionist on what I want it to be and include. Unlike my rules, adventure, and setting material, it not like I will have a lot of opportunity to playtest teaching folks. The feedback on the blog is helpful but also in bits and pieces. Different from sitting across a player around a table and see how they respond to something I do.

Currently my approach is terse overview, a whole bunch if if you want to do X here what I found worked structured on what I outlined in the overview, then a few specific tools that stand on their own.

The overview is pretty solid as I used a version of it for my Majestic Fantasy RPG Basic Rules. I think I posted parts of it in this thread. The other chapter was a how to on how to use the nuts and bolts of classic editions to make rulings. And of course an edited version of my how to make a fantasy sandbox.

As far as random tables and more specific aids, that what part of what the Majestic Fantasy RPG is about. But instead providing it in isolation like Finich's Tome of Adventure Design, I opted to place is in the context of a working system.

For example in the Basic Rules I have this about Treasure Assortments

View attachment 28964

When it comes to writing the full system. I will present the random tables that generated the above. And explain why these tables are different than assortments. I define an assortment as a simple single level random table that consist of results from a more complex set of random tables. That when it comes to rolling a important treasure hoard then use the full set of tables for the greatest variety of treasure. But if you need something that incidental then use the assortment table. And generate a new set of assortments every few months.

This stuff could be in a Sandbox book, it not strongly tied to a fantasy setting. But I think it makes more sense when presented as part of a system of rules.




Yes that is an issue I encounter a lot. However it generally manifest in a nice way where the group tries to go along with the what the referee has prepared. The attitude I have to contend with most often is that "OK Rob did all this work let's not trash it and see what happens." Second to that is a belief that I would flounder if they go off map. Not that I will fail exactly but it will feel rushed and unprepared. Then after that is simple disbelief I won't react negativity to somebody trashing the setting.

Players reacting as if I am the adversary and have to win their trust is pretty much at the bottom of the list. Not it doesn't happen and it happen more in the 80s when I getting my feet with this stuff. But over the years what I found that first person roleplaying doing the funny voices largely defuses the issue. Also learning to be more generous with situational awareness prior to an encounter happening. Things just don't exist in a vacuum. Playing a LARP for a decade helped really develop a good perspective on this. The result is that it is rare that the players are totally blind to what happening.



Hence why I have an extensive pre-game. The trick is not to make it formal. The basic process is simply making sure that I talk to each player and as group over "what they want to do". Get a sense of what the consensus is and guide everybody to making compatible characters. It not about making everybody fit with the consensus but something that consistent and relevant to whatever it is.

For example say you want to run an all thief (really all criminal) campaign, and one player just refuses to make a thief type. So through talking with the player and the group, I developed this culture of street mages consistent with the background I had on criminal in CSIO. It made my take on CSIO that much richer and the rest got their all-thief campaign and the player got to play a magic-user.



I may just turn this reply into one. Thanks for the comments and questions.
I did basically the same thing with my monster encounter tables. I used as a base, the Encounter Tables in MM2 that were broken down by Rarity and Geography and to those I added other monsters that weren’t on the list. Then from those Master Tables I created Intermediary tables based on general level of Civilization. Then, for a particular area the PCs were in, I’d create specific tables for that area, skewing things a little bit here and there to try and give some uniqueness to a particular area. Then that table would go in a Humonkulous Excel spreadsheet that had all the encounter tables for that campaign.
 

CRKrueger

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What is a "walkover" in that scenario? I've never heard that term before
Think he means like “walk all over” the adventure or opposition. So the party wipes the floor with the BBEG and finishes the night a few hours early as opposed to orchestrating and managing things so the party rides a carefully constructed crescendo of Drama that ends at just the right time.

“Walkovers” are like TPKs, can’t have a Living World without their possibility. At least, in my opinion.
 
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