Sandbox RPG: help me understand

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TristramEvans

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What was the story with that loss for newbies? It seems to be an issue that gets posters riled.

 

BedrockBrendan

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So if a sandbox game comes to a point where they can join the military or not, and 4 out of 5 say sure, and 1 says no....what happens? Unless the answer is that we split time and essentially run two different games, then it would seem the game is no longer a sandbox for at least 1 person.

I think in that instance, if the group says look this is what we want to do, and the group doesn't have the bandwidth to split the party, then it is still a sandbox, but the other player simply got outvoted. That is a problem potentially in any campaign. Is the 'most sandbox' answer to split the party? I don't know, perhaps. I think it is definitely in the spirit of sandbox to want to keep going and see how far you can push that, but if you are effectively running two unrelated campaigns because of a split like that, it may simply not be practical for the GM, or for the players, to keep going in that direction.
 

TristramEvans

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I think it was correctly pointed out that "splitting the party" is an inconvenience to which there are numerous solutions in ANY playstyle, so it's irrelevant to the definition of a Sandbox.
 

BedrockBrendan

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I think it was correctly pointed out that "splitting the party" is an inconvenience to which there are numerous solutions in ANY playstyle, so it's irrelevant to the definition of a Sandbox.

I think it is much more about the social dynamics at the table. And I think it usually is less of an issue as people get older (I know for me it has been less of a matter to worry about the older I get, the older my players get). The last time I remember it happening was in a sandbox, venture all over, where've the players want to go and what they want to pursue. At one point, there was a player, who is really into playing his character fully, who felt his player wouldn't join them in what they had decided to pursue. So he simply bid them goodbye and made another character.
 

ffilz

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Sure, I don't disagree with any of that. But my issue is that you're assuming the players and/or characters are always acting in unison.

So if a sandbox game comes to a point where they can join the military or not, and 4 out of 5 say sure, and 1 says no....what happens? Unless the answer is that we split time and essentially run two different games, then it would seem the game is no longer a sandbox for at least 1 person.
So I had some more thoughts on this.

With a sandbox, the GM is likely to try and accommodate the one player who doesn't go along, though Robert has always said that there is always a constraint of what the GM can manage. The players and GM always have to buy into any RPG campaign. Some GMs will run the lone PC solo, and then some of the other players might even create new PCs to run with the hold out PC, and then the player of the hold out PC might create a new PC to join the military, or at least have a role that allows the character to be engaged with the military adventures.

This all immediately reminds me of Paul Gazis's Eight Worlds Traveller campaign as it existed at MIT in the 1980s. There were at least two main PC groups, one in which Glenn Blacow had a PC who was captain of a ship and even that split into multiple groups as his captains wealth grew, she wound up with multiple ships each of which would be run separately. Another group ran a pirate ship, and Glenn had a PC on that ship also. I think, but am not certain, there was at least one more PC ship. BTW, this was pretty much "West Marches in space" long before Ben Robbin's campaign. I never played in the open campaign, but I did play in a convention scenario with pregens (ship name for said scenario was the Karman Snow - a dig at Mark Swanson the other editor of The Wild Hunt who had run a convention scenario with a character Ensign Pazis deGaul which annoyed Paul Gazis...). Oh, and Glenn ran his own campaign in the Eight Worlds with at least two or three PC groups. In any case, if a player didn't like a particular "ship", they could join a different one, or try and start their own. I don't know if any play groups ran without an owned ship. Paul didn't use pure Traveller chargen so he may have structured it so it was easier to actually target getting a ship.

MOST of the gaming I have participated in since leaving the Boston area and the ability to play at MIT has been GMs running one PC group at a time, and mostly a completely new campaign for each group. The long running OD&D play by post I played in DID spawn off two other play groups, and at the height of my Wine Dark Rift Traveller campaign I had 3 play by post groups going and one VTT group though they mostly didn't interact other than the VTT group picking off one of the rumors from the play by post group that launched the campaign.
 

TristramEvans

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I think it is much more about the social dynamics at the table. And I think it usually is less of an issue as people get older (I know for me it has been less of a matter to worry about the older I get, the older my players get). The last time I remember it happening was in a sandbox, venture all over, where've the players want to go and what they want to pursue. At one point, there was a player, who is really into playing his character fully, who felt his player wouldn't join them in what they had decided to pursue. So he simply bid them goodbye and made another character.

Yeah, it's really a super rare edge case in my experience.

Myself, I personally don't mind splitting the party, and have done so in the past. It's always been temporary though.
 

Black Leaf

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In a sandbox, at any point the players can decide the campaign is no longer about a mercenary company. Of course there can be in game implications and consequences of that choice. In a not sandbox, if the players suddenly decided not to be a mercenary company, the GM can pitch a fit and blow up the campaign. Somewhere between those two end points are qualified sandboxes where the GM is open to the PCs no longer being mercenaries but the choices of how they change or what they change to will be constrained, and the implications and consequences might not follow logically.
I'd agree, as long as the choice to not be a mercenary company can happen from the pitch onwards and that the initial idea came from the players, rather than a GM dictate.
 

ffilz

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In one sense, the "split the party" can in theory push any sandbox to become a qualified sandbox, but I don't think that degeneration is useful. Rather what makes more sense is to look at the intent. If the intent of the GM is to allow almost anything and only push back when "split the party" strains resources too far, then it's still a sandbox. If the GM starts a campaign with some constraints, but within those constraints, the players may do anything, then the qualified sandbox title is more appropriate.
 

ffilz

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I'd agree, as long as the choice to not be a mercenary company can happen from the pitch onwards and that the initial idea came from the players, rather than a GM dictate.
I think the GM can actually pitch "In this campaign, you will start as members of a mercenary company, but you have the freedom to make choices subsequently" as a sandbox. Robert could easily say "Hey, I'd like to explore the idea of a PC mercenary company in the Wilderlands" and still run a sandbox. Again, that's really nothing different than the GM pitching "I want to run a fantasy campaign using D&D and it's implied setting."

The definition of sandbox is not in the pitch, or who agrees to play in the game pitched, but what happens once chargen is done and the game is on.
 

Winterblight

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I think it is much more about the social dynamics at the table. And I think it usually is less of an issue as people get older (I know for me it has been less of a matter to worry about the older I get, the older my players get). The last time I remember it happening was in a sandbox, venture all over, where've the players want to go and what they want to pursue. At one point, there was a player, who is really into playing his character fully, who felt his player wouldn't join them in what they had decided to pursue. So he simply bid them goodbye and made another character.
My group is opposite to this. That is, splitting the party more, not getting younger. When I say more, I mean almost every single gaming session. I think it's a result of playing more sandbox-style gaming than running published adventures. They have greater choice and often can't agree on an approach, and do their own thing.

I've actually got used to it, expect it, and have realised there is nothing smarter the opposition can do than divide and conquer.
 

robertsconley

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I’m not saying this type of game is not a sandbox, because I think it very well may be, whether the decision is made by the players beforehand or during the game as their characters.

But isn’t it a bit problematic if one of the PCs opts to not join the military during game? What if one player says “sorry, I just can’t see my PC agreeing to join the military”?
It a problem of having a single human being as a referee that relevant to any style of campaign. There are a variety of ways of handling each with their own nuances and consequences. Like most problems of this type is handled by brushing up on "Small group interactions 101" and hashing out a solution that fits the interest of the group, and the interest and skills of the referee.

Personally the techniques I use depend on whether this is a long term change in direction for the group and the character in question or a short term. If it long term most cases wind up with the player making a new character that fits the new circumstances better with a similar amount of experience as the old character. If it short term then I will either use a round robin technique to handle the separate adventures of the character leaving or temporally schedule a different night (this is rare).

Either way or something else, we hash it out as part of the normal out of game banter every session has.

If this happens, do you literally split time between the military PCs going on missions, and the solo adventures of the other PC? Or does that solo PC’s story come to an end for now and the game focuses on the military PCs? Does the player of the solo guy either join the military despite it being what the character would do? Or does he make a new character who’s a member of the military so they can all proceed together?
See above. If you have questions about the details I will be happy to answer. I am pretty comfortable of handling a 4-way splits (four individual or four group) using a round robin technique.


The game’s status as a sandbox would seem to potentially change based on the answers to these questions.
I disagree the question you pose are limitations inherent to tabletop roleplaying itself. No different than the fact that discrete time periods like combat round are an imperfect emulation of reality or fiction. The key thing is that at the end of the day I am willing to let the players trash my setting. I am not worrying whether I can handle nTH way split in the party. If its get to the point that it not going to work, then we will talk about it.

So is a game either a sandbox or not, or can it change from sandbox to not sandbox during the course of play? Or can it be a sandbox for some participants, but not others?
It only changes from being a sandbox if the referee decide they are no longer willing to let the player trash their setting.

This is why I find some of the “requirements” to achieve sandbox status as odd.
Since day one I said there is only one requirement. Of course early around (2008ish) my explanation was more convoluted until I hit on "letting players trash the setting". The rest of my advice is about how to make players trashing your setting, interesting, fun, and manageable within the time one has for a hobby. I use to word trash deliberately is because one key thing in learning to run sandbox well is letting go of preconceptions of how players should act in game. There are no wrong choices a players can make. Only consequences that follow from how the setting work (a fall from a cliff) or how a character is defined (a NPC with a specific backstory and personality)
 

robertsconley

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In a sandbox, at any point the players can decide the campaign is no longer about a mercenary company. Of course there can be in game implications and consequences of that choice. In a not sandbox, if the players suddenly decided not to be a mercenary company, the GM can pitch a fit and blow up the campaign. Somewhere between those two end points are qualified sandboxes where the GM is open to the PCs no longer being mercenaries but the choices of how they change or what they change to will be constrained, and the implications and consequences might not follow logically.
In my last GURPS campaign, that situation came up and the players were smart enough to pay off their employer, a feudal baron, with half the dungeon treasure so they didn't make an enemy. Of course it still inconvenienced the Baron who was counting on the service he paid for but since the party never returned to the area, it didn't come up again.

Nomar Campaign Part 1
Nomar Campaign Part 2
and yes I am guilty of not writing Part 3 but the party were successful in building their inn at N

Tried to keep a detailed journal
Update #1

However a player in a later campaign kept a very detailed journal for a 5e campaign.
Majestic Wilderlands campaign
 

robertsconley

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I think the GM can actually pitch "In this campaign, you will start as members of a mercenary company, but you have the freedom to make choices subsequently" as a sandbox. Robert could easily say "Hey, I'd like to explore the idea of a PC mercenary company in the Wilderlands" and still run a sandbox. Again, that's really nothing different than the GM pitching "I want to run a fantasy campaign using D&D and it's implied setting."

The definition of sandbox is not in the pitch, or who agrees to play in the game pitched, but what happens once chargen is done and the game is on.
When I run something either I have multiple pitches or a player who familiar what I like to run pitches something they want to do.

Recent examples
Me pitching something
Me: I would like to run a playtest of my Deceits of the Russet Lord (a one shot adventure that is a sandbox) followed by a campaign in the Expanse using the Expanse RPG (I will be running this as a sandbox campaign).
Players: Sounds great let's do it.

The players pitching something
Player: Rob I would like to play a Paladin in Lenap (a feudal realm where the church and society is known for their corruption)
Me: OK, just curious why?
Player: I really like that visit we had in Lenap in the last campaign and want explore it. I want to play a Paladin and I think it would be challenging to do so in Lenap. Finally I want to try out your 5e rules.
Me: OK, let's see what the other players say.
Other Player: OK sounds good (one new, and the other an old friend).
 

hawkeyefan

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I think this is kind of an edge case. But that possibility of 1 player not going along with the rest, is always a possibility in any play structure or style. Whether that edge case makes it not a sandbox...I don't know. I don't think we need to redefine the term though. I think it is just something that, each group is going to handle differently. At its core, with sandbox, I think you are trying to honor the player's ability to make choices and set goals for themselves in the game world.

I agree with you that splitting the party can be a problem for any style of game. But let's say the game in question is like a D&D adventure path and one player says "I don't care about this cult of the dragon business". Okay, either the player leaves or makes a character who is invested and plays along. This instance doesn't contradict the style of play. This style of play is about the path, so if you leave the path, that's that.

This is also why I don't see having a preconceived group concept of some sort, or even geographical bounds, as being against the idea of a sandbox. Like, a Pirates of the Caribbean campaign can absolutely be a sandbox. We're all pirates and we're sailing the Caribbean.... I don't know if such needs a qualifier, really, as long as the game works to allow players to make choices and to engage with the setting how they'd like, and that the GM makes an effort to allow maximum choice and adapt accordingly.


How far apart those goals can be, how much tension can exist between a group of 4 players who want to join the military, and 1 player who doesn't, that is pretty individual. However, I have had things like this crop up in a sandbox. I had one group for example who started out just wandering around making a name for themselves, then they joined a sect together, which they eventually took over. Two of the players wanted to go on adventures, the others wanted to manage their sect and grow its reputation. Because the exploits of the players who wanted to adventure would give some glory to the sect, they decided to split for bit. Each session I would spend going back and forth between the players at sect headquarters, and the players going off on adventures. Occasionally they would return and do things together, but for a large chunk of time, they were apart. I made it clear to them, I could manage this, but they also understood there would be a point where splitting of the party into more and more groups would probably not be workable.

Oh sure, a split party need not be a problem. And although what I described may be an edge case, I think very often when such a decision does come up, it's only an edge case because one or more players is willing to go along rather than force such a split. And that's not the total freedom that's been cited. There are always going to be limits.

The party split isn't the issue, ultimately. In the games I run and play in, the party splits up quite a bit, though such splits are almost always temporary.

I think this is a crucial distinction. I had a campaign where the players were all constables. And I was trying to take a sandbox approach within that framework. At a certain point the players decided to become corrupt constables, and build up and underworld empire around prohibited goods (they basically became drug lords). So they steered it into more breaking bad territory. Which was fine. I think what a sandbox GM does is not thwart those kinds of changes of direction.

Right, I think a shift from constables to criminals or heroes to outlaws or anything similar is an important element. Is that allowed to happen? How is it handled by the GM? And so on.

I think in that instance, if the group says look this is what we want to do, and the group doesn't have the bandwidth to split the party, then it is still a sandbox, but the other player simply got outvoted. That is a problem potentially in any campaign. Is the 'most sandbox' answer to split the party? I don't know, perhaps. I think it is definitely in the spirit of sandbox to want to keep going and see how far you can push that, but if you are effectively running two unrelated campaigns because of a split like that, it may simply not be practical for the GM, or for the players, to keep going in that direction.

Yeah, I don't disagree with you that's how it should be handled. I just think the idea of group consensus is a bit against "complete freedom to do anything within the setting as a character".
 

BedrockBrendan

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I agree with you that splitting the party can be a problem for any style of game. But let's say the game in question is like a D&D adventure path and one player says "I don't care about this cult of the dragon business". Okay, either the player leaves or makes a character who is invested and plays along. This instance doesn't contradict the style of play. This style of play is about the path, so if you leave the path, that's that.

This is also why I don't see having a preconceived group concept of some sort, or even geographical bounds, as being against the idea of a sandbox. Like, a Pirates of the Caribbean campaign can absolutely be a sandbox. We're all pirates and we're sailing the Caribbean.... I don't know if such needs a qualifier, really, as long as the game works to allow players to make choices and to engage with the setting how they'd like, and that the GM makes an effort to allow maximum choice and adapt accordingly.

A character leaving doesn't contradict sandbox either. It is about letting the players pursue what they want to in the setting. But obviously you are speaking about the players as a group. At some point there may be disagreement within the group, and they are going to have to figure out a way to decide how they want to proceed. They are still the ones deciding how to pursue the setting. And like I said, splitting is totally feasible here as an option, but it is going to be a question of bandwidth for the players and GM.

I think there is some gray when it comes to scope and scale and at what point you label that a qualified sandbox. I don't think we need to worry too much about dissecting it. This is basically common sense social stuff among the players and GM like Tristam said. If I say to my group we are about to do a sandbox, and then I pop them in an area of play telling them 'don't leave this kingdom though', I think my players would have wanted me to qualify what I meant by sandbox from the get-go. This is why I often say things like limited, focused or contained sandbox. This is important because the more you focus the less freedom to explore you are potentially creating. For instance, you may want to run a very specific scenario in a small geographic region. I think you can run that as a small sandbox, but you definitely want to say to the players something like "This is a contained sandbox scenario: you can go anywhere within these boundaries)". The normal expectation with sandbox is they have free run of the game world. Now that does get gray when the area in question is especially large (like the Caribbean or like a vast cultural sphere or continent). At what point you qualify is, I think, about you and your players, or about your audience (if you are publishing for instance).
 

hawkeyefan

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In one sense, the "split the party" can in theory push any sandbox to become a qualified sandbox, but I don't think that degeneration is useful. Rather what makes more sense is to look at the intent. If the intent of the GM is to allow almost anything and only push back when "split the party" strains resources too far, then it's still a sandbox. If the GM starts a campaign with some constraints, but within those constraints, the players may do anything, then the qualified sandbox title is more appropriate.

This is very much my point.... the intent is what's essential, I think.

To lean on videogames as an example again, I don't like any definition of sandbox that says Minecraft is a sandbox, but Grand Theft Auto is not.

So likewise, in a TTRPG, I don't like a definition that says a game that may have a theme or premise (which can change, depending on how play goes) or even a regional limitation of some kind is not a sandbox. The intent to let the players set their own agenda and move about how they wish is what's important.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Oh sure, a split party need not be a problem. And although what I described may be an edge case, I think very often when such a decision does come up, it's only an edge case because one or more players is willing to go along rather than force such a split. And that's not the total freedom that's been cited. There are always going to be limits.

The party split isn't the issue, ultimately. In the games I run and play in, the party splits up quite a bit, though such splits are almost always temporary.

I don't think this is all that important really. I mean, when we say you have total freedom to explore (and that isn't the language everyone uses), it just means the GM won't stop you. But obviously if you want to do something wildly different from everyone else at the table, and there isn't bandwidth to accommodate that, then you are probably going to need to figure out a way to work your character into what the other players want to do. Ideally the split is permissible but there isn't always going to be an ability to accommodate. I don't really think that is a loss of freedom (especially since we are largely talking about restrictions imposed on you by the GM, not by other players). It is also like Rob pointed out earlier, there are going to be limits imposed on the players by their own choices too. It is about operating within the setting. In a setting with a military, it may be impossible for 1 party member who doesn't want to join to tag along with them without joining, or remain a functional part of the group by going off on his own (maybe not, it depends on the game). But this honestly doesn't strike me as a critique that anyone who is interested in sandbox worries about.
 

robertsconley

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This is also why I don't see having a preconceived group concept of some sort, or even geographical bounds, as being against the idea of a sandbox. Like, a Pirates of the Caribbean campaign can absolutely be a sandbox. We're all pirates and we're sailing the Caribbean.... I don't know if such needs a qualifier, really, as long as the game works to allow players to make choices and to engage with the setting how they'd like, and that the GM makes an effort to allow maximum choice and adapt accordingly.
What you are missing that the decision to start out in the Caribbean as pirate is only relevant to how the campaign starts. The players can decide instead that they rather go north and fight in the French and Indian War.

The problem you are raising as far as a sandbox campaign are involving a playing deciding as their character that they don't want to go along with a group's decision. It is a in-game conflict born of the fact this is how people work regardless if it is life, fiction, or character being roleplaying.

Whereas what I quote from you is a metagame constraints. A decision by the group and/or the referee that the campaign shall not venture beyond the Caribbean. It will shade all the subsequent decisions of the players as their character. So even if it would make sense for the group to decide to go fight in the French and Indian War they will not consider because it been decided out of game that this is a Pirate of Caribbean campaign.


Right, I think a shift from constables to criminals or heroes to outlaws or anything similar is an important element. Is that allowed to happen? How is it handled by the GM? And so on.
I can't speak to BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan campaign, but in mine, it would happen exactly how it would happen in life. The group as their characters deciding to do something illegal. With the shift occurring as a result of the group repeated successes at being criminals. What you are confusing is are out-of-game decisions about what a campaign is about to a in-game decision by players in a sandbox campaign. The out of game decisions at play in a sandbox campaign are what setting will be used, what rules will be used to adjudicate things, and where the characters will be starting out. The campaign isn't about anything beyond living within the setting as those character starting out in specific circumstances.

Yeah, I don't disagree with you that's how it should be handled. I just think the idea of group consensus is a bit against "complete freedom to do anything within the setting as a character".
Again there is no conflict for a sandbox campaign because any group consensus occurs in-game as decisions of the players acting as their character. The out of game decisions are about the logistics of making what the players decided happen. And sometimes it works out with the time everybody has, and sometime it doesn't. If it doesn't then it can handled in a number of ways.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Right, I think a shift from constables to criminals or heroes to outlaws or anything similar is an important element. Is that allowed to happen? How is it handled by the GM? And so on.

I allowed it. I think in a sandbox style campaign you would allow it as a GM. Where it might become an issue is if there is disagreement among the players. But even there, I have had games where the players became enemies over this sort of thing (and that in itself became the campaign). It is like Rob says a lot. A key to sandbox is a willingness to let the players bust up the setting or campaign. If you are overly worried about preserving parameters or framework, I think that is where qualified terms become handy. And there is nothing wrong with a qualified sandbox. Mostly, I have been running qualified sandboxes in the past year or two, and I am enjoying myself a lot. And I am also implementing a lot of techniques that would be unorthodox in a typical sandbox campaign. There is nothing inherently bad, or 'freedom hating' about any of these things. They just don't fit the usual sandbox expectations so I use more precise language for these styles of campaigns.
 

robertsconley

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So likewise, in a TTRPG, I don't like a definition that says a game that may have a theme or premise (which can change, depending on how play goes) or even a regional limitation of some kind is not a sandbox. The intent to let the players set their own agenda and move about how they wish is what's important.
(shrug) Most of the definitions of sandbox I seen are variations of "It OK to trash the setting however you like". My opinion is that stuff like qualified sandox is mostly about people fears that the setting may be trashed in ways they don't personally like. Like the group deciding to leave the Caribbean and being pirates to fight the French and Indian War.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Yeah, I don't disagree with you that's how it should be handled. I just think the idea of group consensus is a bit against "complete freedom to do anything within the setting as a character".

I don't think it is. Because what is happening is you are playing your character, to the point that he gets booted from the party if that happens. It is simply about how manageable that sort of thing is, and how long you can sustain that kind of lack of consensus about direction and still have a functional group. I think in a sandbox you make the attempt to allow as much as possible, but the other players, can overrule another. If that player has the freedom to do anything in setting, including not wanting to join the military, the other players also have the freedom to join and insist their friend join or depart somewhere else. Sometimes a character may choose to go off in a direction the group simply can't accommodate.
 

BedrockBrendan

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I can't speak to BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan campaign, but in mine, it would happen exactly how it would happen in life. The group as their characters deciding to do something illegal. With the shift occurring as a result of the group repeated successes at being criminals. What you are confusing is are out-of-game decisions about what a campaign is about to a in-game decision by players in a sandbox campaign. The out of game decisions at play in a sandbox campaign are what setting will be used, what rules will be used to adjudicate things, and where the characters will be starting out. The campaign isn't about anything beyond living within the setting as those character starting out in specific circumstances.

In the constable campaign, it all happened (the shift)in game and the consequences were all in game. They managed to remain constables (albeit extremely corrupt ones) but were making wealth by producing a new powerful variation of a drug and establishing a network of sellers. One of the players even married a dancer who helped manage all of their fronts. The decision to start as constables was made before play (and part of my campaign pitch to them). The reason for the campaign pitch in this case was play testing.

I am pretty flexible on this point. It depends on what game and what type of campaign I want to run. In this case I was play testing a region book, so I specifically told the players it was a limited sandbox (limited to the region the book was for). This was out of practical need: if I ran it as open as my other campaigns tended to be, I wouldn't get as much focused play testing of the entries in the book. I also ran it within my full campaigns too, so I got it from both angles.

When I do horror, I tend to run much more focused scenarios. They still have some sandbox sensibilities but the point is the horror, and often a particular scenario (but within that scenario they can do what they want). I usually call this a contained sandbox.
 

AsenRG

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A character leaving doesn't contradict sandbox either.
Yeah, otherwise you couldn't play games that have a meaningful combat system:thumbsup:.

In the constable campaign, it all happened in game and the consequences were all in game. They managed to remain constables (albeit extremely corrupt ones) but were making wealth by producing a new powerful variation of a drug and establishing a network of sellers. One of the players even married a dancer who helped manage all of their fronts.
I am glad that your games go quite similarly to my games:shade:!

(Then again, my parties usually make judicious use of concubines as well, and those are cheaper to buy than wives:tongue:).
 

BedrockBrendan

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I am glad that your games go quite similarly to my games:shade:!

I like when players go in directions I am not expecting. I feel like it helps me think through setting material more and expand in more places. Them doing that, forced me to think more about the celestial plume (the drug in question), network. And it led to some fun setting elements because I found myself taking inspiration from sources like the Chuck Norris movie Delta Force (I had a similar front and organization to the one that was operating out of the shop in that movie), and movies about Drug lords). Also it just makes the game more suprising for the GM when the players get their hands on a celestial plume shipment they've just intercepted and are like "hey we could sell this".
 

BedrockBrendan

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So likewise, in a TTRPG, I don't like a definition that says a game that may have a theme or premise (which can change, depending on how play goes) or even a regional limitation of some kind is not a sandbox. The intent to let the players set their own agenda and move about how they wish is what's important.

I think this depends on how that theme is getting set. When I as the GM say "Hey I want to run a game where you guys are all constables", I am putting down parameters that I think are worth noting. That doesn't mean it can't be run as a sandbox within that constraint, but it is a constraint. And since the expectations most players have going in, is there aren't any constraints like that one, I find it is very helpful to qualify the sandbox terminology. Keep in mind, I am still calling it a sandbox, I am just adding another descriptor so everyone is clear. In a game group, whether you need to do this will really be dependent on your players. But if you are putting out books or speaking in a forum, it is usually helpful I find to clarify if that clarification isn't obvious. Also I think it helps sidestep criticism. In one of my books I used the language "Drama and Sandbox" for how I was running the campaigns and how I expected people to run them. I could easily see it irking readers if I just called it sandbox but then included all the dramatic elements I was talking about (because I know how people use the term and I understand that the drama I was adding wasn't an expectation, was possibly even seen as contrary to the spirit of a normal sandbox). So it is just helpful to frame it so you can set expectations and be understood I think.
 

hawkeyefan

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What you are missing that the decision to start out in the Caribbean as pirate is only relevant to how the campaign starts. The players can decide instead that they rather go north and fight in the French and Indian War.

The problem you are raising as far as a sandbox campaign are involving a playing deciding as their character that they don't want to go along with a group's decision. It is a in-game conflict born of the fact this is how people work regardless if it is life, fiction, or character being roleplaying.

Whereas what I quote from you is a metagame constraints. A decision by the group and/or the referee that the campaign shall not venture beyond the Caribbean. It will shade all the subsequent decisions of the players as their character. So even if it would make sense for the group to decide to go fight in the French and Indian War they will not consider because it been decided out of game that this is a Pirate of Caribbean campaign.

No, I'm not missing it. I'm saying the distinction between player and character is not as meaningful in this regard.

The setting is established ahead of time. The group has agreed to it. They play as pirates scouring the Caribbean. If during play, they decide they don't want to be pirates in the Caribbean anymore, that may be absolutely fine. Maybe they decide to become pirate hunters, or freelancers of some sort. Maybe they settle in one of the port cities they've been to in order to set up a legit trading company.....whatever makes sense within the setting.

But to arbitrarily decide to leave to go fight in the French-Indian war? No, I think that's outside of the bounds of the setting. Just as the character who decides to go against joining the military, if one wants to go off and fight in the French-Indian war, they go, and then we continue on.

If the whole group decides to do that, then they're effectively saying we want to play a different campaign, and that's of course fine. Maybe the GM comes up with the material needed to run such a campaign. But this doesn't render the pirate campaign not a sandbox.

That's so very odd to me.

The French-Indian War is as beyond the established setting as going to Mars would be if we were playing a gritty WWII military campaign.
 

CRKrueger

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As far as splitting the party goes, it's a regular occurence. One starting group of PCs in my current campaign is now three. Usually that happens because of character goals, interparty conflicts, ancient cyclopean portals of greenish stone, whatever.

Once we get a split, the "main group" kind of defaults to the primary campaign focus or the majority group of PCs. However, once the party gets split up then "strict time records" do become kind of necessary if you want your campaign to have any form of consistency whatsoever. So I'll usually catch different groups up depending on what's happening. Sometimes a group is in a natural lull without a typical "PC-emergency" goal, so switching over to another group just makes sense.
 

BedrockBrendan

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"strict time records"

I think this is one of the most important parts of a healthy sandbox. My memory isn't what it used to be. Noting down anything important is crucial. I think the most important thing to keep track of, if you track nothing else, is a log of the dead. Because nothing kills immersion more than a dead person showing up because you forgot they were killed.
 

CRKrueger

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I'm saying the distinction between player and character is not as meaningful in this regard.
I am Jack's total lack of surprise.
The setting is established ahead of time. The group has agreed to it. They play as pirates scouring the Caribbean. If during play, they decide they don't want to be pirates in the Caribbean anymore, that may be absolutely fine. Maybe they decide to become pirate hunters, or freelancers of some sort. Maybe they settle in one of the port cities they've been to in order to set up a legit trading company.....whatever makes sense within the setting.

But to arbitrarily decide to leave to go fight in the French-Indian war? No, I think that's outside of the bounds of the setting. Just as the character who decides to go against joining the military, if one wants to go off and fight in the French-Indian war, they go, and then we continue on.

If the whole group decides to do that, then they're effectively saying we want to play a different campaign, and that's of course fine. Maybe the GM comes up with the material needed to run such a campaign. But this doesn't render the pirate campaign not a sandbox.

That's so very odd to me.

The French-Indian War is as beyond the established setting as going to Mars would be if we were playing a gritty WWII military campaign.
You're using a different view of Setting and Campaign than many of the people you're talking to. You say Pirates of the Carribean is outside the "setting" of the French and Indian War. The French and Indian war lasted from 1756 to 1763. It doesn't matter if your characters are Ainu from Japan, Inuit from the Arctic Circle, Argentinian Gauchos from the Pampas, or Iroquois. If your campaign is taking place in the setting of Historical Earth from 1756 to 1763, then the characters ending up joining the French and Indian War is not a separate campaign, or a different setting as many of us define the terms.
 

robertsconley

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No, I'm not missing it. I'm saying the distinction between player and character is not as meaningful in this regard.
I disagree, deciding to remain in the Caribbean in-game is a completely different decision than deciding out of game that the campaign will be only in the caribbean. Player will make different choices as a result and this something I have observed for decades of running both types of games.

The setting is established ahead of time. The group has agreed to it. They play as pirates scouring the Caribbean.
Two part decision here for a sandbox campaign. First the decision to play in 18th century Earth. Second the decision to have the group start out as pirates in the Caribbean.

If during play, they decide they don't want to be pirates in the Caribbean anymore, that may be absolutely fine. Maybe they decide to become pirate hunters, or freelancers of some sort. Maybe they settle in one of the port cities they've been to in order to set up a legit trading company.....whatever makes sense within the setting.

But to arbitrarily decide to leave to go fight in the French-Indian war? No, I think that's outside of the bounds of the setting. Just as the character who decides to go against joining the military, if one wants to go off and fight in the French-Indian war, they go, and then we continue on.
I am not talking about one character going off to fight the French and Indian War. I am talking about the group deciding in-game that their character should go fight the French and Indian War.


If the whole group decides to do that, then they're effectively saying we want to play a different campaign, and that's of course fine. Maybe the GM comes up with the material needed to run such a campaign. But this doesn't render the pirate campaign not a sandbox.

That's so very odd to me.
Then you have not experienced the circumstance under which these type of decision are made.

I refer to the Nomar campaign I linked to previously There were two decision that radically altered the trajectory of the campaign.

The first came after the party successfully looted dungeon at D. One player persuaded as his character (Sir Cei) that the party should use the treasure to pay off their contract and head north to fight the Skandian Viking at I and J. I did not plan this, the players knew about the situation there from my initial pitch and the campaign handout. Their decision trashed nearly all the prep I did.


The second came after the event at I, J, K and L where the party managed to capture the Viking King. They sold the ransom and debated about what to do with the windfall. Their decision was to ask for a land grand at N and build a crossroad inn. The rest of the campaign was about them building that inn and clearing the nearby Plain of Cairns. Again trashing the prep I made about the Skandian Vikings and having come up with stuff about the area around N.

They felt free to make these decisions because I nor the group established the campaign was about the equivalent of being pirates limited to the Caribbean. Instead the campaign was about adventuring in the Majestic Wilderlands with the players starting as a mercenary company serving on the southern frontier of Nomar. I know it is a nuanced phrasing but it is critical in making the players comfortable enough to make choices.

If I said the campaign was about the group adventuring as a mercenary company serving on the southern frontier of Nomar than that would colored all their subsequent decision. They would have not considered leaving the Baron's service and moving to the northeast frontier as that would violate the premise. I intensely dislike influencing players in this way as the results are never as interesting as when they feel completely to make any decision their character would.

As a side note I consider the common idea that a campaign has to be about something other than adventuring in the setting a pain in the ass to deal with. I have to constantly reassure novices not to worry about what I may or may not have prepared. Just do what you think your character ought to be doing.

The French-Indian War is as beyond the established setting as going to Mars would be if we were playing a gritty WWII military campaign.
It was not a problem for the inhabitants of 18th century Earth therefore I see no problem if players decide to fight in the French and Indian War if the campaign started out in 18th century Caribbean region as pirate. I can see a referee not having the time to do the extra work and asking the players to stay within the bounds of the Caribbean. But that is a out of game decision to handle a legit out of game problem. I have no issues with that. BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan example is also another reasonable situation. He needs to playtest the region and asked out of game for help on that. It would be a dick move by the group after agreeing to this to decide to go over to the next province.

What I have a problem with is folks saying they are running a sandbox in the Caribbean and not permitting the group to go fight in the French and Indian if they want too. For no other reason because they don't think that what the group ought to be doing. "The campaign is about being pirates in the Carribbean dammit!". At point it ceases to be a sandbox.
 

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I think this is one of the most important parts of a healthy sandbox. My memory isn't what it used to be. Noting down anything important is crucial. I think the most important thing to keep track of, if you track nothing else, is a log of the dead. Because nothing kills immersion more than a dead person showing up because you forgot they were killed.
The Keep has worked well. Sufficiently free form enough to handle different kinds of setting and situation without learning a bunch of specific terms.

I am not a great note keeper but I generally make a campaign session log with the in-game time and date recorded. Like the last time we had a RPG Lab. ;)

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hawkeyefan

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(shrug) Most of the definitions of sandbox I seen are variations of "It OK to trash the setting however you like". My opinion is that stuff like qualified sandox is mostly about people fears that the setting may be trashed in ways they don't personally like. Like the group deciding to leave the Caribbean and being pirates to fight the French and Indian War.

I'm not against the idea of trashing the setting at all. I get what it means, and I'm all for it. I don't know if I agree with the idea that a campaign means that the entirety of knowable reality within the fiction must be available or else it's not a sandbox.

This is very much where I think the metaphorical box comes into play. There are boundaries of some sort.

I think folks wanting to move beyond those boundaries is either the same kind of edge case as one player not wanting to do what the group does, or the kind of group dynamic matter when the group decides "this campaign isn't for us, how about this other thing?"

I think this depends on how that theme is getting set. When I as the GM say "Hey I want to run a game where you guys are all constables", I am putting down parameters that I think are worth noting. That doesn't mean it can't be run as a sandbox within that constraint, but it is a constraint. And since the expectations most players have going in, is there aren't any constraints like that one, I find it is very helpful to qualify the sandbox terminology.

But it's a constraint the players are aware of and agree to at the start. It's an accepted constraint.

And absent such a decision, would you consider "being adventurers" as similarly constraining? Isn't the idea of all the characters being free of obligation and available and capable of traveling anywhere equally specific?

Keep in mind, I am still calling it a sandbox, I am just adding another descriptor so everyone is clear. In a game group, whether you need to do this will really be dependent on your players. But if you are putting out books or speaking in a forum, it is usually helpful I find to clarify if that clarification isn't obvious. Also I think it helps sidestep criticism. In one of my books I used the language "Drama and Sandbox" for how I was running the campaigns and how I expected people to run them. I could easily see it irking readers if I just called it sandbox but then included all the dramatic elements I was talking about (because I know how people use the term and I understand that the drama I was adding wasn't an expectation, was possibly even seen as contrary to the spirit of a normal sandbox). So it is just helpful to frame it so you can set expectations and be understood I think.

I think sandbox is best as a general term. To me, this concept of unlimited scope is more a qualifier.

But I don't disagree with you about being clear. I think folks have explained themselves in this thread, and I get what you guys are saying. I also get what the poster was saying when he described his use of the term (which largely matches you and robertsconley robertsconley) and got laughed at for it.
 

robertsconley

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I'm not against the idea of trashing the setting at all. I get what it means, and I'm all for it. I don't know if I agree with the idea that a campaign means that the entirety of knowable reality within the fiction must be available or else it's not a sandbox.

This is very much where I think the metaphorical box comes into play. There are boundaries of some sort.
The American Colonies during the Age of Sail in the 18th century are not a stretch of knowable reality. It the Age of Sail the shores of entire Earth have been opened up. It not trivial to travel to say to place like Japan but it not as you put it like going to Mars.

There nothing to be ashamed about not having the time or interest to prep anything outside of the Caribbean. Just don't expect the players to make the same kind of decision as they would if it was a sandbox. The know out of game not to stray beyond the set boundaries and that will color every decision they make from the start of the campaign.

And I seen this for myself in the sessions I run. I have run enough similar situations over the past four decades to see what the variations are when you have the choice to leave and when you don't. It makes a difference even if the group never decides to leave the Caribbean anyway.

What generally happens is that barring the rare major decision, the group tend to stick with the situation they initially start out with. They have a lot of time and energy invested in the connection they made, the reputation they established, and the things they acquired. However when they know they can leave at any point they will consider things like perhaps sailing to Boston to have a "chat" with that cheating New Englander. Deal with it and then sail back.

If they are constrained to the Caribbean then they will consider a inferior plan like trying nab the merchant the next season he sails through the Caribbean pursuing the Triangle Trade. Inferior because they have to wait next year to deal with the merchant and of what they want to do which is to immediately sail to Boston.

But wait, in past debate with people who made the points you are, the reply is "But of course the wise referee will allow the party to go to Boston. It is but a one off". OK now the Boston trip happens, but the fact it is a one off from the campaign's premise, that will now color how the party acts in Boston. Instead of treating the New England city as an adventure itself full of it own possibilities, they will instead focus on completing the mission, dealing with the merchant. Then return to their proper boundaries within the Carribbean.

In a sandbox, chance and luck opens up the possibilities that players like adventuring better in Boston than the Caribbean. Or more likely, they deal with the merchant, have some adventures, make some connection that opens up something on the African coast. So they go back the Caribbean and deal with their schemes there until they are ready to deal with the African opportunities and then set sail there.


I think folks wanting to move beyond those boundaries is either the same kind of edge case as one player not wanting to do what the group does, or the kind of group dynamic matter when the group decides "this campaign isn't for us, how about this other thing?"
That not an accurate description of the situation. What I have experienced is a much wider range of responses. With the average being the players having the occasional forays to other areas but generally sticking with what they know.
 

Fenris-77

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And that's why you're wrong.
I dunno man. If you fully apply the notion of truly unlimited scope I think you end with vanishingly few games that qualify. That seems suboptimal from a definition standpoint.

Thats not me agreeing or disagreeing with the general premise at hand.
 

robertsconley

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I dunno man. If you fully apply the notion of truly unlimited scope I think you end with vanishingly few games that qualify. That seems suboptimal from a definition standpoint.
I think unlimited scope within the setting of the campaign covers what you are addressing here. Just because campaign doesn't allow a space marine when the setting is the World of Greyhawk does not disqualify it from being a sandbox. I am also talking about settings with fictional genre conventions like Swords & Sorcery.
 

TristramEvans

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I dunno man. If you fully apply the notion of truly unlimited scope I think you end with vanishingly few games that qualify. That seems suboptimal from a definition standpoint.

lol, no one's carrying out a marketing campaign; it's not "suboptimal" just because it's uncommon.

He is literally saying that the actual definition of the term should just be a qualifier for the term, so that one person's preferred qualified version is accepted as the default version. This after multiple times making nonsensical false claims suggesting either they don't understand the simple definition of the word or they are deliberately being disingenuous.

The concept isn't hard to grasp. The definition is simple and intuitive. At this point literally all we're dealing with is someone blatantly trying to co-opt the term - for what motivation? I wouldn't like to guess.
 
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