Sandbox RPG: help me understand

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
And the word exists in some sort of unqualified ideal Aristotelian state otherwise? I would submit that mostly is=t doesn't, but then again this is the meat and potatoes of the argument at hand I think. I don't think 'sandbox' without qualifications, describes much of anything in terms of what people actually play. Nice use of bold font btw. :thumbsup:
Well, again, the point is...External vs. Meta qualifications.

"Historical Earth 1683 in the Caribbean" isn't a Meta Concern, it's just a required definition.

"We're doing a "Pirate" campaign" means you're attaching a Genre, an invisible wall, constraining character action in a way artificial to the setting.

It's not some "Ideal Aristotelian State" FFS, it's simply playing without a Meta concern. Happens every time many of us play, going on 40+ years now.

Do you really not see the difference?
If you're not specifically trying to be a dick and pissing on how people play then we're just proving my point again that some of us really are playing a different game, even using the same rules.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
Well fuck. I'm not certain I understand your lack of understanding. :grin: I completely agree that the salient point is player agency though, completely. What I was getting at is that player agency needs to be filtered through character appropriateness somehow. I'm really not advocating for denying player agency in any form, so long as those players are also adhering to the (in fiction) premise(s) they agreed to initially.
That right there is the crux of the issue.
When we hear "a Pirates of the Caribbean Campaign" we think of two completely different things.

That's because we look at Roleplaying through two completely different lenses, stand on two different foundations, whatever you want to call it.
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
Well fuck. I'm not certain I understand your lack of understanding. :grin: I completely agree that the salient point is player agency though, completely. What I was getting at is that player agency needs to be filtered through character appropriateness somehow. I'm really not advocating for denying player agency in any form, so long as those players are also adhering to the (in fiction) premise(s) they agreed to initially.
I tend to find that at the sandbox end of campaigns character appropriateness is at least partly resolved by dropping the unspoken social contract that the group will work together for meta reasons.

So yeah, you can make your PC a complete dick. But the likely outcome is the rest of the PCs will choose to kick you out the party.
 

BedrockBrendan

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2017
Messages
1,036
Reaction score
2,440
TristramEvans TristramEvans Without any qualifiers, “sandbox game” is incomplete as a description, no?

“I’m going to run a sandbox” is not much more specific than “I’m going to run a game.”

I imagine that if a sandbox game is proposed…just a sandbox without any further description….then the responses are likely going to be along the lines of “Okay cool….what setting?” Or “Sci-fi or fantasy?” Or “What system?” And so on.

Sure, the word on its own may give folks some ideas of what the game may be like, or how it’ll work. But it won’t be complete in and of itself.

I do think it is more than just having a simple descriptor, it is about is this a true full sandbox or a more limited sandbox in scope. In my mind those are different things. Saying this is a forgotten realms sandbox, is just a sandbox. Saying this is a pirate sandbox set in the realms, suggests a more limited scope. But ultimately it is in the running of the campaign that matters. If the pirates are just a starting point, but the players are free to disengage from that premise, I think you are then probably in a pure sandbox. If you are only allowed to remain pirates, or if you are supposed to remain within the pirate isles, then that is a more limited sandbox I think (or a qualified sandbox or whatever term you prefer). And again, I think there is nothing wrong with the limited option here. It gives you a focus that can be lots of fun, and it is probably what I might prefer these days. But it is different in the important way that the players understand they aren't supposed to set sail and try to find Drizzt Du'urden so they can give him an atomic wedgie and steal his scimitars (I suppose that is still vaguely within the realm of piracy but I think you get my point).

I don't think there is concrete language around this yet as people use a lot of their own terminology. But I do think default meaning of sandbox isn't the more limited pirate campaign. I think it is the one where the players are free to go after other things and leave the pirate isles if they want to.

Here is how I usually describe it in my own books or to my players. I am not advocating for this language to be used broadly, it is just the language I use when I am talking about sandboxes:

Sandbox/Pure sandbox: this is how I describe regular sandbox play (I like to say pure so the players understand everything is on the table and the are no limits, but Sandbox works too for me.

Limited Sandbox: This would be more like that pirate campaign, or more like my constables campaign or the campaign I set in the prefecture. Free to sandbox within the bounds of X

Contained Sandbox: This is pretty specific to me. I use it to describe a discrete scenario or adventure that has a very open structure. There is going to be an adventure. Within the scope of that adventure you can do whatever the hell you want, go wherever you want within its parameters. This is a pretty unorthodox usage of sandbox I think, but I find it helpful to put players in the right mindset for approaching adventures in a more open way. I used this in strange tales for my monster of the week approach. It was monster of the week, but each monster adventure was open like a very small sandbox

X+Sandbox: I use this when I am throwing in very unorthodox techniques, or playstyle approaches in a sandbox. For example, Drama and Sandbox.

I think many of us are on the same page we are just using different language to describe it. For me, sandbox, as a default, still retains its original meaning (and I think this is largely true across the hobby). But I also think as sandbox has become more known and popular, people are blending it with different things, using it in different ways, and you are getting subcategories of sandbox. Identifying those subcategories isn't meant to put a stop to them or accuse them of 'not being sandbox enough'. It is just for clarity. If anything, I think it helps them, because it is useful for conveying a concept that then can become more popular. Like I said, I don't usually want to do a pure sandbox. That is probably about 10-20% of my gaming. The rest of my gaming tends to be more these other approaches or completely unsandbox approaches (depends on what I am running)
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
I think many of us are on the same page we are just using different language to describe it. For me, sandbox, as a default, still retains its original meaning (and I think this is largely true across the hobby). But I also think as sandbox has become more known and popular, people are blending it with different things, using it in different ways, and you are getting subcategories of sandbox. Identifying those subcategories isn't meant to put a stop to them or accuse them of 'not being sandbox enough'. It is just for clarity. If anything, I think it helps them, because it is useful for conveying a concept that then can become more popular. Like I said, I don't usually want to do a pure sandbox. That is probably about 10-20% of my gaming. The rest of my gaming tends to be more these other approaches or completely unsandbox approaches (depends on what I am running)

I do less than that.

I'd say around 30% of my games are some kind of more linear campaign, 69% are limited sandboxes and only 1% are actual pure sandboxes.

Partly because my definition subtly differs from Rob's; if there's a campaign premise to trash in the first place (rather than just a setting) I wouldn't consider it a pure sandbox. And generally I prefer to start with a specific premise; you're all beggars etc.

The closest I've actually come to pure sandboxing is the aforementioned Hollow Earth Expedition and Tales from the Floating Vagabond campaigns, where the PCs were pretty much just put in the setting and left to their own devices. And with HEX, I correctly assumed that a significant number of the PCs would take escaping from the Hollow Earth as a major objective.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
I don't think there is concrete language around this yet as people use a lot of their own terminology. But I do think default meaning of sandbox isn't the more limited pirate campaign. I think it is the one where the players are free to go after other things and leave the pirate isles if they want to.
This, This, a Thousand Times This.
 

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
3,422
Reaction score
6,953
Moreover, I don't think anyone else says that either, which is the core of my objection this this line of thought.
(raises hand) I do (for quite a while).




Back to the mater at hand though, I don't expect anyone to 'remain pirates' like it's a commandment or something. However, what I do expect is for them to play their characters honestly and forthrightly, and the characters are pirates.
My view is that they are people who happen to be pirates at the start of the campaign. Whether they remain pirates is up to them.

Is there some wioggle room there? Sure there is. Lots actually. But that's not the same as me saying "let's play pirates of the Caribbean!" and my players saying "yeah, that sounds cool" only to have the first thing they do is move to Colorado to be potato farmers.
It would be nice to support one thesis with actual play examples. What far more likely in the first session is that the players make a decisions of a much narrower scope that makes the referee unhappy. Like deciding to work with the British commander as privateers during the first session rather remaining as independent pirates. Something the referee thought they were going to remain as based on the pre-game banter.

What I'm getting at is that the premise of a campaign, the thing that is agreed upon before hand, acts a limiter to what kind of sandbox decisions are reasonable within the fiction as framed.
If the premise of the campaign is a problem then don't have a premise. It is completely optional. As I said in a previous post, sandbox campaigns start out with a setting pitch followed by working out the circumstances of where the players start out at. Sometimes I am the driver on this, sometimes the players are. But with me there is no premise.

The idea that we're going to play pirates sets some soft boundaries on where play is likely to go. That doesn't take anything away from the sandbox-ness of the thing, it just means people are treating the fiction like it matters.
Like anything if there some particular reason to have some boundaries then sure. Like BedrockBrendan BedrockBrendan request that the players stay within a region for the purpose of playtesting. Or more commonly a referee doesn't have the time or interest to deal with all the possibilities so works out some boundaries.

However they are not needed. Why? Because of self-interest. I am critical of your moving to Colorado to take up potato farming on the first session example because it nonsensical. If you are running a sandbox in the 18th century Caribbean and the player start out as pirate, then they already have an investment in being pirates as a result of character generation. Their skills will be those suitable for pirates, their material resources, like a ship, will be suitable for pirates. To take up potato farming in Colorado they would have to throw all all that.

My counter thesis is that if a referee having problem with players skip out being pirates on the first session, then the problem is that the initial circumstances are not interesting enough. Sure three weeks ago when the campaign was pitched it sounded good, but after going through everything and experience the first few hour of play most of the group is now thinking meh. But they like how the referee handles things and there were enough other interesting possibilities that they wanted to stick to these characters.

They are NOT going to switch to potato farming but they may do make a less radical but still substantial change in that first session. A change that leverage what they have coming out of character generation and the initial setup.

A metagame premise throws a wrench in this process. Instead of focusing on what they find fun in the setting. Now the players also worry are they sticking with the premise. Because they are finding the premise a bit meh, the campaign experience that much poorer. Sandbox campaign are self-correcting in this regard. The group by their choices create the circumstances they find fun and interesting within the setting of the campaign.

And if they find the setting itself meh regardless of what they can do within it. Then yeah it time to have a discussion about a different campaign.
 
Last edited:

robertsconley

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2018
Messages
3,422
Reaction score
6,953
I don't think there is concrete language around this yet as people use a lot of their own terminology. But I do think default meaning of sandbox isn't the more limited pirate campaign. I think it is the one where the players are free to go after other things and leave the pirate isles if they want to.
That what me and the other Necromancer/Wilderlands folks meant we started talking about sandbox campaigns. Alongside acknowledging that for most RPG campaigns are a kitbash of different things folks like. That running a sandbox can be daunting, uninteresting, or that life circumstances are such that running with a more narrow scope is called for.

Then there the fact that as the decades pile up the hobby has gained experience on how to make things work. So it not surprising that the ideas we popularized (but didn't originate) got kitbashed with other things that were going on to produce the experiences that many people are relating in this threat. Like a campaign where the group agrees out of game that they will roleplay as pirates in the Caribbean and it open ended within that premise.

But the original use of the term remains, and for most of us mean a rejection of any premise in favor of focusing on presenting an interesting setting, and characters that fit within that setting. That the initial circumstances are discussed and detailed, and the player are free to forge their own path within the setting afterward.

If they wind up being potato farmers in Colorado instead of remaining pirates then so be it. If that was to happen my experience is that it would have been the result of a interesting and fun series event. Just as a campaign about bunch of hard-boiled mercenaries patrolling a disputed frontier turning into one about owning and operating a crossroads inn also was a result of a fun and interesting series of events.
 

Lychee of the Exchequer

Look into my eyes, mortals, and despair !
Joined
Oct 15, 2019
Messages
114
Reaction score
297
[...]

Compare the standard Quantum Ogre to the Quantum Armourer.

In the first, it doesn't matter what door you go through, there's an ogre there.

In the second, it doesn't matter which armourer's shop you visit, the same armourer will be there the first time.

The two are structurally very similar.

Note: I don't consider illusionism a bad thing per se, depending on how it's used.
This got me thinking.

The term "Quantum Ogre" got me thinking, and not for the first time.

It can mean, I think, that whatever the players choose to do, they will be forced to face a very specific enemy during the adventure - in that case, an Ogre. They will ineluctably face that particular Ogre during this adventure, because the Game Master has taken a liking to it (or for whatever reason), and he (or she) will impose it upon the players.

It can futhermore mean - but not necessarily - that this Ogre will vary in dangerousness to the PCs (its hit points go up if it's in danger of being killed "too easily" ; its Armor Class varies if the PCs manage to hit it "too much", etc.).

All of the above is a consequence of the Game Master wanting to force a particular outcome on the players. And this intent is looked upon as "bad GMing" - an evaluation that I won't dispute.

But for me, this is completely different from improvisation - which AsenRG mentioned in response to Black Leaf.

I improvise all the time, when GMing, as do most GMs, I think.

If the PCs are wandering through a city, there's a good chance that I envision this city more in terms of what the place feels like
- hostile, friendly, whatever in between,
and what opportunities it affords the wandering adventurers
- this is the city of the famous Ikshtar bordello ; the Duke of Parnesh rules the place in name only, the Great Priest is the real power here, and he's the head of the religion one of the PCs devoutly adheres to
and less in terms of concrete facts - like what armourer lives in what street, and even where is the armourers' street.

So, when the PCs get into a particular armourer's shop, I've no idea what that particular NPC is like, but it's no problem because the instant they see him (or her) a description will pop into my head, and he will reveal all the quirks that makes a good and interesting NPC (if I'm in my GMing Zone).
The only think that I miss, generally, is that particular NPC's name, which is the reason I have a handy list of NPCs names (which is linguistically correlated to the region the PCs are travelling in).

So, for me, the term "Quantum Armourer" defines that NPC - in a good way ! That means he was in a indeterminate state before the PCs met him but AFTERWARDS he will remain the same - the PCs meeting him have made his wavefonction collapse.

Perhaps that is illusionism - I'm not really sure what that means - but for me it's an essential part of roleplaying games, and a frequent occurence at my table.

I would even dare to say that I couldn't envision to master a sandbox game* without such "illusionism".

* not that I have ever mastered one
 
Last edited:

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
I'd say Improvisation is the GM reacting to the players, Illusionism is forcing the players to react to the GM
I like DM David's definition:

"You offer the players a choice that seems to matter, and then rearrange the game world so all the options lead to the same outcome."
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
25,865
Reaction score
68,292
I like DM David's definition:

"You offer the players a choice that seems to matter, and then rearrange the game world so all the options lead to the same outcome."

As a definition of Illusionism yes, it's spot on.

But it doesn't present a contrast between it and improvisation, which is what I was doing.
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
1,024
Reaction score
2,132
That right there is the crux of the issue.
When we hear "a Pirates of the Caribbean Campaign" we think of two completely different things.

That's because we look at Roleplaying through two completely different lenses, stand on two different foundations, whatever you want to call it.

That’s possible.

But to clarify a bit, from my point of view at least, I mentioned the pirates campaign as an example. And I have since posted that shifting from pirates to whatever else may come from play would be perfectly fine. Games have a starting point and I think starting off as pirates is perfectly fine. I wouldn’t expect that to run contra to anyone’s expectations about sandbox play.

When robertsconley robertsconley brought up the example of leaving the pirate life to go off and fight in the French-Indian War, he initially didn’t share any additional context about this. Just that it was an historical event that coincided with piracy in the Caribbean.

If the game goes that route and such a shift is a natural outgrowth of play, then I think that’s one thing. The players collectively deciding out of the blue “we want to go fight in the French-Indian War” is something else.

Such an example is an edge case. When I brought up the idea that, per the definition of sandbox linked in the other thread, one player wanting to go a different route than the others based on his character’s goals/wants, and such a party split may end that character’s story…it was sited as an edge case that had no bearing on the definition. Okay then.

So then I’d say that if a GM comes up with a campaign that revolves around piracy as its starting point, and the players buy in and make characters accordingly, only to then out of the blue decide they want to do something else entirely….that’s an edge case that can be disregarded.

If there is a natural progression of play that leads toward leaving behind a life of puracy and starting some other venture, or of leaving one region in favor of another, and the GM somehow denies that, then yeah, that’s going against the idea of a sandbox.

But barring such a development as an outgrowth of play, the idea of being able to go anywhere and do anything is not absolute. Your post with the examples about Hawaii make that clear. Such abilities are constrained by the elements of the fictional world.

Hence why the need to put in that absolute right as a foundation of sandbox play seems off. For me, of course.
 

BedrockBrendan

Legendary Member
Joined
May 3, 2017
Messages
1,036
Reaction score
2,440
Compare the standard Quantum Ogre to the Quantum Armourer.

In the first, it doesn't matter what door you go through, there's an ogre there.

In the second, it doesn't matter which armourer's shop you visit, the same armourer will be there the first time.

The two are structurally very similar.

Note: I don't consider illusionism a bad thing per se, depending on how it's used.

I didn't follow this all the way to the genesis of this point, but the quantum armourer piqued my interest, as it comes up often in discussions about improvisation in railroad. I don't think everyone will agree on this, which is fine, at certain junctures in these conversations, people look at the same thing and see something different or reach a different conclusion and that is fair (and this pivots around getting in a theoretical GM's head which makes it tricky). But my two cents on the quantum armorer

One, I like to improvise a lot. Even in a sandbox I like improvising. But on both sides of the screen, I can't stand illusionism. When I feel I am on the receiving end of it, it takes the magic out of play for me, and engaging in it, just deflates my interest in the game (I feel like if the players choices don't matter, it sucks). Now, with armorer specifically, I think this sort of detail being improvised often is going to be quantum, because a lot of times, no one really cares about the armorers personality: they just are there to get a sword (like we often don't care who is behind the counter when we pick something up at the convenience store randomly). So in those instances, I think it is less of a concern. There are going to be moments in a campaign that don't matter enough to people that either side of the screen cares one way or another.

But when I was running my wuxia sandboxes, I cared very much about armorers. I didn't stat them all in advance. In some cities I had no information pre-written about armorers, so they were often improvised, but I also didn't want to engage in illusionism with them. And the reason was really a simple genre convention: in wuxia going to an armorer is often really significant, and happening upon a particular individual armorer, frequently important. In Return of Condor Heroes for example, they hire an armorer to help build a giant scissor's like weapon so they can contend with a specific technique, and it just so happens that the armorer is Feng Mofeng, an ex-disciple of Huang Yaoshi (I won't get into it here but this detail matters a lot in the story and in the moment, believe this chapter is the one that deals with it: https://wuxiasociety.com/return-condor-heroes-chapter-15/).

Now you can use illusionism to make sure they run into the 'feng mofeng' armorer every time, and you would still be in genre, but I wanted to do the sandbox way, with their choices being meaningful. I didn't necessarily want the most dramatic or helpful result to be the outcome, and I wanted it to be a genuine choice. So what I tended to do when they went to town and looked for an armorer (or something similar I felt needed meaningful choice), is I would quickly jot down the number of armorer's in my notes I felt should be in the city---let's say three. Then I would make quick notes on each one (what sect they might be affiliated with, what grudges they have, what motives, what types they hate, they like, name, talent level or specialty etc). It is a very quick and dirty way, but this does mean if they say we go to the black smith in this area of town, or if I tell them there are three black smith shops: x, y and z; then that choice has an impact. It isn't just me making up one result that automatically happens: they are choosing between three different armorers. This is how I tended to handle a lot of improv, I think of it as placing little stakes it he ground in the setting on the fly to make sure there are distinct choices in play.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Joined
Jul 9, 2020
Messages
5,973
Reaction score
13,231
The potato farming example was, by design, somewhat hyperbolic. I was trying to index the difference between natural outgrowths of the fiction (as you describe quite well robertsconley robertsconley ) and some need to cater to every possible instance of player caprice and whimsy. We all agree, I think, that natural evolution of the fiction in play is fine, no matter where it leads. It's possible that my immense distaste for entitled players has poked its nose in here and mudded the waters. Mea culpa.
 

Lychee of the Exchequer

Look into my eyes, mortals, and despair !
Joined
Oct 15, 2019
Messages
114
Reaction score
297
I'd like to say that improvisation is a way to add an interesting dose of randomness to a session of RPG . That randomness, which stems from the GM or from the players, is for me an essential element of the RPG medium, and one which makes it distinct from others.

A RPG session could be described in part as a fictional construct in which players around the table make significant and meaningful choices when confronted to the randomness of events in game. I think a good GM is a GM who can induce players to make meaningful choices, without pre-ordaining these choices (if he does, those choices are therefore illusory and thus not meaningful).

It seems to me sandbox games highlight the meaningfulness of players' choices.
But the way I master, and the way I like to play (though not exclusively), I try to emphasize the significance of players' choices.

For example, if I master a game in the Rokugan setting of the L5R rpg, I impress upon my players that they are playing samourais, and as such they are supposed to obey the dictates of their daymio. This is plainly stated during "session 0", with examples of what I mean by that.

So if the daymio is telling one of his samourais to go dueling - and thus kill - his paramour of the opposite clan (this is justified but the meanders of the campaign, and not a whim on the part of the daymio), it's not intented to be a dick move of a sadist GM, but me proposing a significant choice in the (admittedly extraordinary) constraints of a samourai campaig

Edit : this is a real choice ; as a GM I don't want my player to kill or not to kill his paramour. The choice is his, and either way - or any other approach - is fine with me.

The tricky part, in this sort of genre-constrained narration, is not to antagonize the player, but to offer him the opportunity of having a good time around my table. For this, I must be able to sense what the player is interested in during the course of the campaign - which is a good GM skill to have in any situation.

In fact, what I do in such a campaign, is to ask each player at the beginning (session #-1 ? ;-) : what's a thing you would like to happen to your character during that campaign ?
If the character says : "I would like to live a tale of tragic love", I will endeavour to make it happen, in the scope of my campaign, and while respecting the internal consistency of the game world, without appraising the player of the specifics beforehand.

I mention that to put in perspective the interest of constrained narration, and to highlight that "constrained" does not mean "railroady" - to mark the difference with this bugbear of the RPG sphere.

I would also remark that "I want my character to live this [pre-ordained fate]" seems to me at odd with the definition of a sandboxgame, and aspirations (I have nothing against sandbox games, of course, I'm just trying to illuminate the different possibilities of RPG playstyles).
 
Last edited:

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
For me, "you are all pirates on a pirate ship" is self-evidentially a more restrictive sandbox then "it is 1683 in the Caribbean. Who are the PCs?"

But that isn't a bad thing.

Realistically, while I don't think a pure sandbox is some kind of utopian idea (it can be done), very few players actually want that.

I'm reminded of the debate between "player led plot" and "story led plot" in LRP. That was a big one in British LRP circles back in the early 00's.

To try and head off visceral reactions to the word "story", the definitions were essentially "player generated plot" versus "ref generated plot".

And you had a lot of people who argued loudly on the popular British LRP forums that they massively preferred player led plot and that it was the superior kind of play.

And then you got to the actual events where it was dominant. At which point there were a small minority of players who did actually generate their own plot. And generally always had done regardless of the event's approach. Then you had a larger minority who didn't care because they turned up to see their mates and get stoned and laid and generally were more interested in meta social considerations. But then you had everyone else. And lots and lots of complaints about how the event was slow and there was nothing to do.

It turns out that what most players meant by the term is that they didn't like being railroaded and they wanted to feel like their PCs had a real and genuine influence on the gameworld. They didn't want things like uberpowerful NPCs dominating everyone. (This period is just past the 90s Vampire LRP boom and it shows).

What they apparently didn't really mean is that they wanted to be given sole responsibility for finding things to do in game.

These days, there's more player created plot in some games then others, but I don't think anybody is running solely player led plot events.

I think something similar happens with pure sandboxes. Sure, players will praise them on paper. But when they're actually expected to create all activity in the game themselves it's a different story.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
For me, "you are all pirates on a pirate ship" is self-evidentially a more restrictive sandbox then "it is 1683 in the Caribbean. Who are the PCs?"

But that isn't a bad thing.

Realistically, while I don't think a pure sandbox is some kind of utopian idea (it can be done), very few players actually want that.

I'm reminded of the debate between "player led plot" and "story led plot" in LRP. That was a big one in British LRP circles back in the early 00's.

To try and head off visceral reactions to the word "story", the definitions were essentially "player generated plot" versus "ref generated plot".

And you had a lot of people who argued loudly on the popular British LRP forums that they massively preferred player led plot and that it was the superior kind of play.

And then you got to the actual events where it was dominant. At which point there were a small minority of players who did actually generate their own plot. And generally always had done regardless of the event's approach. Then you had a larger minority who didn't care because they turned up to see their mates and get stoned and laid and generally were more interested in meta social considerations. But then you had everyone else. And lots and lots of complaints about how the event was slow and there was nothing to do.

It turns out that what most players meant by the term is that they didn't like being railroaded and they wanted to feel like their PCs had a real and genuine influence on the gameworld. They didn't want things like uberpowerful NPCs dominating everyone. (This period is just past the 90s Vampire LRP boom and it shows).

What they apparently didn't really mean is that they wanted to be given sole responsibility for finding things to do in game.

These days, there's more player created plot in some games then others, but I don't think anybody is running solely player led plot events.

I think something similar happens with pure sandboxes. Sure, players will praise them on paper. But when they're actually expected to create all activity in the game themselves it's a different story.
That's what people who have a liking for Narrative Games keep telling us...it still isn't true. No one has accurate polling data, so worrying about which side has more uber-casuals than the other doesn't tell us anything. It's certainly possible to run a wide open, pure sandbox type of campaign where the players are choosing their goals and paths. For a lot of us, that's pretty much what we always run.
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
That's what people who have a liking for Narrative Games keep telling us...it still isn't true. No one has accurate polling data, so worrying about which side has more uber-casuals than the other doesn't tell us anything. It's certainly possible to run a wide open, pure sandbox type of campaign where the players are choosing their goals and paths. For a lot of us, that's pretty much what we always run.
Apart from I've neither said that it's not possible or that there are no pure sandboxes. I've said they're a minority taste.

And that's actually pretty easy to get at least rough polling date for.

You obviously can't really poll local face to face groups, but look at the list of games on roll20. Look at the local groups on Meetup. For that matter, look at the list of advertised games on RPGSite (that well known hive of storygamers).

There are no or almost no pure sandboxes. I don't suggest that you don't run pure sandboxes. I merely suggest that your playstyle being a minority taste is more likely than there's lots of you and yet almost nobody who GMs in that style ever needs to advertise for players.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
Apart from I've neither said that it's not possible or that there are no pure sandboxes. I've said they're a minority taste.

And that's actually pretty easy to get at least rough polling date for.

You obviously can't really poll local face to face groups, but look at the list of games on roll20. Look at the local groups on Meetup. For that matter, look at the list of advertised games on RPGSite (that well known hive of storygamers).

There are no or almost no pure sandboxes. I don't suggest that you don't run pure sandboxes. I merely suggest that your playstyle being a minority taste is more likely than there's lots of you and yet almost nobody who GMs in that style ever needs to advertise for players.
Whatever gets you to sleep at night. I know if I was looking for a campaign to join, the absolute last fucking thing I would do is search Roll20.

However, when's the last time Tristram, Tenbones, Rob, etc. has talked about not being able to find players? You don't find it likely that a playstyle and GMstyle that encourages longterm, player-made goals and rewards a certain level of active commitment, tends to keep players longer, thus needing to advertise less and not in the worst places? Mmkay.

Anyone who doesn't play 5e from an OOC, ironic/culture reference viewpoint is in the vast minority, I'm sure.

I always find it amusing though, people who make a popularity fallacy argument always claim they're in the majority...why is that, you think?
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
Whatever gets you to sleep at night. I know if I was looking for a campaign to join, the absolute last fucking thing I would do is search Roll20.

However, when's the last time Tristram, Tenbones, Rob, etc. has talked about not being able to find players? You don't find it likely that a playstyle and GMstyle that encourages longterm, player-made goals and rewards a certain level of active commitment, tends to keep players longer, thus needing to advertise less and not in the worst places? Mmkay.
Either a) a small minority of players prefer a pure sandbox or b) it's more than that. This is a binary question. Everything else is obfuscation.
Anyone who doesn't play 5e from an OOC, ironic/culture reference viewpoint is in the vast minority, I'm sure.
Well, yeah, or at least those of us who play something other than D&D are in fact in a tiny minority compared to those that do. Or are you rejecting sales figures now as well? Look, if you just hate any kind of analysis based on data, just say so.
I always find it amusing though, people who make a popularity fallacy argument always claim they're in the majority...why is that, you think?
I find it amusing when people try to play the logical fallacy card without understanding the logical fallacy they're invoking.

The popularity fallacy argument doesn't say that any claim that something is more popular than another thing is a fallacy. Saying that The Beatles are more popular than Lawnmower Deth is not a popularity fallacy. (And most Lawnmower Deth fans would happily accept that).

The actual fallacy is saying that popularity and quality are linked. And I've made no such suggestion. If you think that saying something you like is a minority taste is an attack on that thing that's solely down to you and your values, not mine. I'm fine with accepting that I like plenty of stuff that's a minority taste.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
2,045
Reaction score
4,186
I tend to find that at the sandbox end of campaigns character appropriateness is at least partly resolved by dropping the unspoken social contract that the group will work together for meta reasons.

So yeah, you can make your PC a complete dick. But the likely outcome is the rest of the PCs will choose to kick you out the party.
I've tried in sandbox games to facilitate the split party. As in, "clearly there are different goals in this party, why don't we split the party in two for a while and everyone can make a second character, then we'll follow one group one week, and then the second the other week?"

As a player, I'd go for that in an instant, but I always find that a tough sell for players.
 
Last edited:

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
Either a) a small minority of players prefer a pure sandbox or b) it's more than that. This is a binary question. Everything else is obfuscation.
Binary question? Define small minority. Somehow poll people on their sandbox preferences, after you tell them the definitions of the terms you're using. Get back to me when you do that.
Well, yeah, or at least those of us who play something other than D&D are in fact in a tiny minority compared to those that do. Or are you rejecting sales figures now as well? Look, if you just hate any kind of analysis based on data, just say so.
What data would that be again? Last time I was on Roll20, I didn't see a space on the profile for "What's your definition of a Sandbox?" You want to put a single number down, anywhere?
I find it amusing when people try to play the logical fallacy card without understanding the logical fallacy they're invoking.

The popularity fallacy argument doesn't say that any claim that something is more popular than another thing is a fallacy. Saying that The Beatles are more popular than Lawnmower Deth is not a popularity fallacy. (And most Lawnmower Deth fans would happily accept that).

The actual fallacy is saying that popularity and quality are linked. And I've made no such suggestion. If you think that saying something you like is a minority taste is an attack on that thing that's solely down to you and your values, not mine. I'm fine with accepting that I like plenty of stuff that's a minority taste.
Yeah...as long as your definition of the terms in the current argument is the popular or majority one to facilitate the further hijacking of terms. :wink:

Oh and..."that saying something you like is a minority taste is an attack on that thing"...trying to turn that one around, that was rich.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
2,045
Reaction score
4,186
For me, "you are all pirates on a pirate ship" is self-evidentially a more restrictive sandbox then "it is 1683 in the Caribbean. Who are the PCs?"
I think if one were advertising for players, the first would be generally a lot more appealing.

The problem with a sandbox game with people I don't know is the freedom to do anything is a group freedom not really an individual freedom.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
I think if one were advertising for players, the first would be generally a lot more appealing.

The problem with a sandbox game with people I don't know is the freedom to do anything is a group freedom not really an individual freedom.
Online vs. Face to Face is a big difference too. Online tends to be more rigorously scheduled. If everyone is local, it's easier to split the party and do some side stuff here and there.
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
Binary question? Define small minority. Somehow poll people on their sandbox preferences, after you tell them the definitions of the terms you're using. Get back to me when you do that.
Or go by publicly advertised games. Use rpgsite if you think roll20 is skewed. Or if you want to look specifically at face to face games, there's meetup.

It all points in the same direction. The vast majority of advertised games do not fit into your definition of a sandbox.
What data would that be again? Last time I was on Roll20, I didn't see a space on the profile for "What's your definition of a Sandbox?" You want to put a single number down, anywhere?
First three pages, I can't see a single game either of us would consider a sandbox campaign. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that.
Yeah...as long as your definition of the terms in the current argument is the popular or majority one to facilitate the further hijacking of terms. :wink:
A term that we've already established was hijacked from video games and wargames?

That aside, haven't we already worked out that we have the same definition of a pure sandbox anyway? A RPG campaign which only has a setting with the players determining everything else, with the GM reacting to that rather than pushing plot on the players? Or are you walking that back?
Oh and..."that saying something you like is a minority taste is an attack on that thing"...trying to turn that one around, that was rich.
That's what the appeal to popularity is.

For someone who talks about terms being hijacked, you're weirdly prone to making up your own idiosyncratic definitions of already existing terms.
 

CRKrueger

Eläytyminatör
Joined
Apr 25, 2017
Messages
6,288
Reaction score
12,152
Or go by publicly advertised games. Use rpgsite if you think roll20 is skewed. Or if you want to look specifically at face to face games, there's meetup.

It all points in the same direction. The vast majority of advertised games do not fit into your definition of a sandbox.
When you get all the advertisements from every FLGS in the world (or even a city), let me know. Until then, your "data" being confined to essentially online pick-up games is less than worthless.
First three pages, I can't see a single game either of us would consider a sandbox campaign. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong on that.

A term that we've already established was hijacked from video games and wargames?

That aside, haven't we already worked out that we have the same definition of a pure sandbox anyway? A RPG campaign which only has a setting with the players determining everything else, with the GM reacting to that rather than pushing plot on the players? Or are you walking that back?
No, but the GM not planning or thrusting any plot onto the players doesn't mean NPCs in the world don't have their own goals and do things whether or not the PCs get involved.
That's what the appeal to popularity is.

For someone who talks about terms being hijacked, you're weirdly prone to making up your own idiosyncratic definitions of already existing terms.
Pretty sure most people wouldn't be able to tell me the proper definition of ambivalent either, and I don't look to Twitter for how to spell things.

Existing terms - so I guess you're going to pretend "sandbox" originally meant "When we play a Pirate campaign, that's Pirates only, you can't become a Privateer, or attack each other, or otherwise defy Genre tropes?"
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
Existing terms - so I guess you're going to pretend "sandbox" originally meant "When we play a Pirate campaign, that's Pirates only, you can't become a Privateer, or attack each other, or otherwise defy Genre tropes?"
The opposite. If we say we're playing a "pirate campaign" we're already moving away from a sandbox by enforcing ooc considerations on the character's starting point. If we start in a costal city and the players decide to become pirates of their own free will, that's a pure sandbox.
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
1,024
Reaction score
2,132
Jeez don’t you guys say things like that? “Pirate campaign” in like the flavor and or setting….a quick phrase to give a sense of how or where the game will start and not a statement of what it will and must always be?

No one says “sandbox” without more information. That’s why I think the word is better used as a descriptor of the general approach toward play instead of some idealized version that’s like an RPG black swan.

Don’t even these pure sandbox campaigns start in a specific area or with some specific situation or some similar starting point? How else can the game begin?
 

Tommy Brownell

Endless' Favorite Poster (for some reason)
Joined
Apr 30, 2017
Messages
3,198
Reaction score
7,881
Jeez don’t you guys say things like that? “Pirate campaign” in like the flavor and or setting….a quick phrase to give a sense of how or where the game will start and not a statement of what it will and must always be?

No one says “sandbox” without more information. That’s why I think the word is better used as a descriptor of the general approach toward play instead of some idealized version that’s like an RPG black swan.

Don’t even these pure sandbox campaigns start in a specific area or with some specific situation or some similar starting point? How else can the game begin?

In my current campaign, as noted above, I'm totally just winging it, with "fantasy" as my only qualifier.

I allowed anything in 5e for race or class, randomly generated the map with Hexroll, and didn't even make up the starting point for the PCs until they made their characters. Plains Minotaurs living on the surface and acting as a part of society wasn't a thing that existed in this world until one of my players rolled up a Minotaur and said his merchant parents were killed, so I went "sure, okay".

So I'm not saying it's necessarily the *best* approach to an RPG campaign...but it's literally what I'm doing right now.

Even the specific situation that started their adventuring careers came after they finished their characters, molded out of the backstories they came up with.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
2,045
Reaction score
4,186
In my current campaign, as noted above, I'm totally just winging it, with "fantasy" as my only qualifier.

I allowed anything in 5e for race or class, randomly generated the map with Hexroll, and didn't even make up the starting point for the PCs until they made their characters. Plains Minotaurs living on the surface and acting as a part of society wasn't a thing that existed in this world until one of my players rolled up a Minotaur and said his merchant parents were killed, so I went "sure, okay".

So I'm not saying it's necessarily the *best* approach to an RPG campaign...but it's literally what I'm doing right now.

Even the specific situation that started their adventuring careers came after they finished their characters, molded out of the backstories they came up with.
Of course, because it's D&D there's an implied premise.
 

TJS

Legendary Member
Joined
May 5, 2018
Messages
2,045
Reaction score
4,186
Is there? The most recent Dungeons & Dragons book I bought was about wacky magic school hijinx.
You said adventuring careers, so it would seem so.

Is there an expectation that the players are going to try and look for a kind of stable employment as labourers and clerks?
 

hawkeyefan

Legendary Member
Joined
Nov 1, 2020
Messages
1,024
Reaction score
2,132
In my current campaign, as noted above, I'm totally just winging it, with "fantasy" as my only qualifier.

I allowed anything in 5e for race or class, randomly generated the map with Hexroll, and didn't even make up the starting point for the PCs until they made their characters. Plains Minotaurs living on the surface and acting as a part of society wasn't a thing that existed in this world until one of my players rolled up a Minotaur and said his merchant parents were killed, so I went "sure, okay".

So I'm not saying it's necessarily the *best* approach to an RPG campaign...but it's literally what I'm doing right now.

Even the specific situation that started their adventuring careers came after they finished their characters, molded out of the backstories they came up with.

That all sounds cool to me. I feel like fantasy is a qualifier although one that’s wide open, but using a D&D system likely narrows it down a bit.

If you don’t mind sharing more, how did things begin? Were the PCs all in the same town? Same job or organization? Again, if you don’t mind sharing. It’d probably be good to have some specific examples instead of everyone waving hypotheticals around and going booga booga!

The 5e game I’m currently in is one I’d classify as a sandbox. The PCs were all living in the same town at the start of the game. Two are natives of that town, one’s a military deserter hiding out there, and one was a new arrival, looking to set up some trade for her father.

We’re approaching a year of play in February and the characters are about to hit level 8. They’ve spent most of the campaign in the surrounding area of the main town. The farthest we’ve traveled is the capital city which is about a week or so away.
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
25,865
Reaction score
68,292
Just to reiterate the definitions of Sandbox and related terms, specially as there's been some misinformation presented in this thread:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
25,865
Reaction score
68,292
But barring such a development as an outgrowth of play, the idea of being able to go anywhere and do anything is not absolute. Your post with the examples about Hawaii make that clear. Such abilities are constrained by the elements of the fictional world.

Hence why the need to put in that absolute right as a foundation of sandbox play seems off. For me, of course.

Which is already addressed in the definition itself.

"An approach to playing RPGs, defined by how players and referee behave instead the details of a given system, wherein the players are granted complete freedom to do anything within the setting as their character, limited only by common sense restrictions."


The character that a person is playing is able to do anything, go anywhere in the gameworld as if they were a real person living in a real world that exists. Not "whatever the player feels like and a GM can never say no".
 

Black Leaf

We're living in a powder keg and giving off sparks
Moderator
Joined
Aug 20, 2017
Messages
3,966
Reaction score
10,183
Jeez don’t you guys say things like that? “Pirate campaign” in like the flavor and or setting….a quick phrase to give a sense of how or where the game will start and not a statement of what it will and must always be?

No one says “sandbox” without more information. That’s why I think the word is better used as a descriptor of the general approach toward play instead of some idealized version that’s like an RPG black swan.

Don’t even these pure sandbox campaigns start in a specific area or with some specific situation or some similar starting point? How else can the game begin?
"Pirate campaign" is more than a starting point, it's a specific intention to how the PCs will operate in the setting. I do say stuff like that, but I don't claim that it's a full sandbox.
Just to reiterate the definitions of Sandbox and related terms, specially as there's been some misinformation presented in this thread:


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

QUALIFIED SANDBOX
Anything that a person in that setting can do, PCs can do, with several pre-agreed upon exceptions.
But what the definitions don't qualify (and what needs teasing out) is exactly when the "campaign" can said to have started.

If you don't start it from germination, you end up with large numbers of linear dungeon crawls being sandboxes because technically the PCs could go anywhere, there's just an unspoken assumption they'll stick to the GM's prepped material.

The other big lynchpin is character generation. Can the players choose to "trash the campaign" at that stage by rejecting the original premise? Or is a campaign where "you are all in the King's army and given missions. You can refuse them, but the reality of the setting is you'll be outlawed and hunted down if you do" a sandbox?

As my examples show, I'm of the view that if you take anything other than an absolutely hardline view on what a sandbox is you quickly run into absurdities. Which is why most sandboxes are actually qualified sandboxes. (But not all. Tommy's sounds like an actual sandbox to me, because the freedom starts at character gen).
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
25,865
Reaction score
68,292
But what the definitions don't qualify (and what needs teasing out) is exactly when the "campaign" can said to have started.
Uh, the campaign starts when the game starts. I actually assume I must not know what you're asking, because if I'm reading that correctly, it's so axiomatic that it seems like an absurd question.

Why does a definition of a playstyle need to tell you when an RPG has started?


If you don't start it from germination, you end up with large numbers of linear dungeon crawls being sandboxes because technically the PCs could go anywhere, there's just an unspoken assumption they'll stick to the GM's prepped material.

If they can, then they can. The definition has nothing to do with if they do or do not.


The other big lynchpin is character generation. Can the players choose to "trash the campaign" at that stage by rejecting the original premise?

What "original premise"? And no, character creation does not take place "in the game", no one is role-playing yet.


Or is a campaign where "you are all in the King's army and given missions. You can refuse them, but the reality of the setting is you'll be outlawed and hunted down if you do" a sandbox?

Why wouldn't it be?

As my examples show...

...you didn't read the definition?

OK, that's me being flippant. But your questions all seem to be either self-evidently answered by the definition, or completely unrelated to it
 

SJB

Well-Known Member
Joined
Sep 14, 2021
Messages
44
Reaction score
100
Just to reiterate the definitions of Sandbox and related terms, specially as there's been some misinformation presented in this thread:


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

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

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

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

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

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

INITIAL CONTEXT
Term coined by @robertsconely meaning the situation at the beginning of the campaign that the players are aware of as their characters, intended to give players the information needed to make informed choices from the start.
“defined by how players and referee behave instead the details of a given system”? Should that read ”inside”?

All this seems to be heading back to Fred T. Jane’s “general rule” of 1912: “Nothing may be done contrary to what could or would be done in actual war.”
 

TristramEvans

The Right Hand of Doom
Moderator
Joined
Apr 24, 2017
Messages
25,865
Reaction score
68,292
“defined by how players and referee behave instead the details of a given system”? Should that read ”inside”?

“defined by how players and referee behave instead of the details of a given system”
 
Cthulhu Mythos - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com
Top