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52

As with anything, usage varies, but usually when people say "sandbox" today they mean a campaign that does not have a specific prescribed storyline, but one where the GM sets up a world (or at least a small section of one) and the PCs are free to wander where they will and find adventure where they will. It's about freedom of player choice. Pure sandbox ...


51

The single-most overlooked, in my experience, is evidence of deaths. It's a dragon? What's it been eating? Few creatures actually eat EVERYTHING, so what's left by the dragon? Oh, there's an owlbear's beak and claws... there's mangled bits of what used to be +5 plate... (see those runes, there, there and there?) A broken longsword. Dead mind flayers. And ...


38

Thus far, the party has tended to follow up more on smaller leads, like interesting caves, a village with a plague, etc., rather than major leads, Why do those leads end up being minor? Can you turn an interesting cave into a major lead? Maybe the cave leads into the massive underground dungeon that was rediscovered. Or maybe the cave has a family ...


36

Make the players invested in the history of the world. This depends on the system you're using. However, generally, you want the players to come up with a backstory, yes? Well, nudge them to tie their character's backstory in with the rest of the world. That way, when something happens in the world, they'll be emotionally invested in its outcome. Hence, ...


33

I think it begins at the campaign level - nowadays, with many campaigns/GMs being of the "oh not character death, that would be unspeakable" ilk, you need to come out up front and tell people that "this campaign is an easy-death campaign - encounters will NOT be "scaled to your EL" and it will be up to you to determine what challenges you can pull off ...


33

Player 4 sounds like a pretty novice/young/both player. I'd try one or more of these: Explaining issue - I'd try to explain the player that there is a difference between kill-everything-that-moves Diablo and your average-rpg-with-some-battles-and-story. It might be that they are not familiar with how to play a table-top RPG, which generally is more about ...


31

Tell Them Your Goals If you haven't already, I would start by telling them essentially what you just said here. That there is no "one true plot". Tell them that introducing an evil person / problem does not make it the overriding campaign unless they want it to be. Tell them that you are willing to follow along with their character's background goals. ...


29

In Sandbox campaigns, what the players are doing is the centre of the campaign. If they do not investigate and stop the fire falling from the sky, then there is a consequence and you should play it out as if real history is unfolding before them. I find that the best way to do this, is to image what the major characters of the world are doing (in shells ...


28

I think a good question should be "why are they going off-map?". You're running a sandbox campaign, so you're generally waiting for the characters' own motivations to lead to the next adventure. These motivations can be one of several things: they can be hunger for adventure, gold or power - in which, case, you're in control, since you determine where these ...


24

Even though the players are the center of the campaign in a Sandbox, they are not the only cause of action in the world. They want to investigate the village with plague. Let them. Meanwhile the fire raining from the sky continues (and unlike videogames, does not go into a static point of no extra destruction until the players show up). Maybe the Fighter ...


21

First and foremost, a GM should always remember that the objective of a game is to have fun. The thing is that "fun" can mean different things to different people, and it sounds like what's fun for you to create isn't as fun for the players when it's executed - and the end result isn't all that fun for you either, since you're sharing this issue here. Here ...


19

Three basic techniques come to mind: keep a "Big Enough" map keep the edges really unpleasant keep the central areas really interesting A couple more are more "corny" but can work... a literal barrier at the edges Wrath of the Gods at the edges End of the world at the edges Have your players agree not to go off the map Some expansion on these ...


16

People sometimes claim to like pure sandbox play, but then they get bored or easily distracted for this exact reason, not knowing what to focus on. Really they want a little railroading. Some groups are self-aware enough to come out and say this, some aren't. But if you're starting to get that kind of feedback, it may be time to make some of those leads ...


16

I tend to use something like Tarot cards for things like this. One to three cards for a location, major npcs or sometimes even player characters. One just to give a general feel of what might happen. Different decks normally have slightly different pictures. Sometimes looking at the card will give me inspiration, sometime the reading of a card. The suit of ...


15

The answer about turning the small leads into bigger leads is great, but may not fit what you want to do with the game. I've dealt with this in several ways, usually escalating: Just have boring answers to the leads. "Sorry, the caves turn out to be not that interesting," or "the caves are frozen over and would require weeks or months of work to chisel ...


15

In the current example text, Player 4 seems not to be warned by the GM nor his own common sense that this will result in a hostile reaction. That aside, if the player is set upon his character suiciding, it's best IMO to confirm their knowledge of the risk, then to let them, then ask why after session. Sometimes, it's a character that's not what the ...


14

Here's a pen-and-paper take on it. It's going to be hard to balance determinism with ease of use (read: huge tables). This is my best attempt. Use two small tables. Table #1 1 Sunny and comfortable 2 Cool but comfortable 3 Too Cold 4 Too Hot 5 Blistering 6 Frigid 7 Snowy 8 Rainy 9 Dry 10 Humid Roll on this table for the general ...


14

Sandbox - to - Railroad is a spectrum, not either or. Games are not either sandbox or railroaded, rather they exist on a spectrum between heavily railroaded where players mostly handle tactics and the GM handles the story over to wide open sandboxes where players drive most of the story and (especially in narrativists games) perhaps even create large ...


13

The term originated in computer games and it's meant to describe a game where its playing field is wide open for the player to do what they want. Around 2005 with the release of Necromancer Game's Wilderlands of High Fantasy Boxed Set, its authors—I am one of them—used it to describe to people what made the Wilderlands different from other settings. It was ...


13

You have a variety of choices. Tell the party which areas you have stuff prepared for, and let them pick from those; if you have more than 3-4 choices, this generally won't feel like rail-roading. Come up with a story about an ancient blessing on the kingdom keeping out the more ferocious monsters. If the party wanders out of the area, hit them with ...


13

Either they simply don't like sandboxes, or they have trained themselves to wait for GM Plot to railroad them. Consequently, you either give up on playing sandboxes with this group, or (in the case they do like sandboxes) you help them by training them out of their inertia. Giving up is easy, but sad-making. Training is harder, but provides the hope it'll ...


13

You could present the game in a more reactive fashion. If the players do not appear to be making any kind of indications of the sort of actions that they would like to take then you could simply present low-importance information back to them and again prompt them for action. For instance: The players would like a means of entering a city and have their ...


12

It may be that the types of characters that your players have created are not suited to this style of adventuring. Zak wrote an excellent blog post about this: Sandboxes And The Roguish Work Ethic A hook isn't automatically a hook for a bunch of lovable rakes: "A cleric has been found dead in the town square." "Well why should we care?" ...


12

Let them, so long as it makes coherent sense in the world. In a sandbox game, the players are just one group in a larger world. Your job is to run the world, which means you're going to be fairly reactive to what the players are doing. If they want to hunt dire boars, let them. Stopping them would require a good reason here. Maybe at some point you throw a ...


11

I just read Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World RPGGeek, and like all of his games it contains more than one brilliant thing. But for this case, the brilliant thing I'm going to suggest that you take a look at is the Countdown Clocks he created. Without directly stealing the clocks (which I intend to do for my own games, even outside Apocalypse World), you ...


11

If it's an inexperienced or an immature player, it's most likely a communication issue. I would definitely give them an idea of just how many enemies there are. Also, for younger players, I advise suggesting information the character knows that the player might not, like any ditches or brush piles that might be near by. Even if there is no cover it's not ...


10

The key to a sandbox is to give the players the choice in what challenges they tackle. "Adventure module" isn't the opposite of "sandbox", either. It's completely possible to use purchased adventure modules in sandbox play. In fact, purchased modules make things a lot easier, since they provide a lot of focused material to populate a sandbox quickly and you ...


10

Descriptions Provide Focus and Options If you never describe what is in your world, your players will never know what's in it. Whatever you present in the world will also be the focus of their attention. The blog post by the Angry DM here goes into more detail about it. Basically, you'll rarely get players who go off exploring when an objective is obviously ...


10

Make them stumble upon and want to bite the hook. Expecially in a homebrew campaign, players will want to get their bearings: take a look around, see what the locals are like etc. This is where you come in: They hit the tavern? Have the innkeeper talk about how it's not been going well lately because for some reason less visitors drop by for drinks and ...



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