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83

What you are trying to create in a sand box is player agency. My definition of this is: Players making informed decisions that have reasonable consequences It is important to remember that there is an inherent information imbalance in RPG: you have it, they don't. It is your job as DM to give them information that is relevant, reasonable and ...


56

Let them fail - miserably! But don't kill them... A lot of good stories start out like this: You have a bunch of over confident wanna-be heroes who want to kill the evil general with a stupid plan. So of course it is doomed to fail, they will never kill them and they will surely get caught. But why should they all be killed? The evil general probably has ...


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. ...


27

Let's simplify this scenario to what it amounts to: there's a button, and the players want to push it, and they're not sure what will happen, but you alone know that if they push it they die. Right now, you only see the option that they die. It is inescapable that character death tends to suck. You could explain they had no way of finding out — that ...


25

there was a spy present at the meeting where the plan was hatched and discussed If you want to warn the players off their plan in a plausible way, the existence of this spy offers some options to do that. Have the spy change allegiance and come to the players with a warning, for a price. "Get me/my family/and a sack of jewels out of the war zone and ...


19

My suggestion? Don't. When I run sandbox games, I tend to divide the world into regions of general power; I start the players off in a low threat zone, full of mudcrabs, rattata, and the occasional goblin. Then, in universe, I tell the players what areas are safe. Rumors in the bar that the road to Harborhead has been having some bandit troubles. The city ...


12

In very broad terms, the CR of a creature is based on three factors: Numbers. Attack bonuses and AC, save DCs and saving throws, etc. etc. Requirements. Magic weapons for overcoming DR/magic. Flight, or ways of dealing with others having it. Teleporting, or again ways of dealing with it. Protection from various status effects (e.g. those things that ...


12

I usually love to do this kind of stories. I could give you some ideas, so you choose from them and combine them as you feel. NPCs In my experience, interesting NPCs can be an amazing way to show the players how interesting the world can be. They will find NPCs during their adventures, that's for sure, and if you make them have an interesting past, you can ...


12

Some of my rules of running a sandbox: It is better to spoil surprises than to appear unfair. Do you best to ensure you have given them all the information they should have. When things do go wrong, provide opportunities for retreat. While you know more than the players, you also know more than the NPCs. The NPCs aren’t perfect, and their countermeasures ...


11

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 ...


10

D&D 5e is a finely-tuned machine for not caring in the least about keeping encounters static to the PCs' level. If you're coming from a game where keeping encounter difficulty matched to the PCs is critical, this might be somewhat alien, but it is true nonetheless. This is why there are no guidelines or rules for how to "level up" an encounter. (Well, I ...


9

Do not introduce hooks, introduce situations The main difference between a campaign and a sandbox is that campaigns have a well-defined plot, while sandboxes have a well-defined premise. Think of it as a ballistic approach to storytelling. You set up your guns, load, elevation etc. and you fire. Where the projectile will land is then in the hands of gods, ...


9

How to run this, procedurally Consider this - every week, the players show up and they manage to improvise and play, without having to preplan every "if this happens, then I'll do this". They simply look at their character sheet and improvise based on a basic understanding of their character, right? As a GM, you can do that too. Set up your characters, ...


9

I recently just built a sand-box world for my players, and I have decided to handle the problem this way. First: Same Page. I had a talk with all of my players individually and collectively detailing what sort of campaign I was building. I told them that they can do anything that they want to and go anywhere they want to go. They understand that they are ...


9

While life is a sandbox you can still inject direction What you're looking for here is a lifeline for your players so they don't all get themselves brutally murdered. What you also know the players need is more information about their enemy, in the great tradition of unknown unknowns what the players don't know is the most dangerous thing about a sandbox, ...


8

When I read this I thought: Just don't. In "the real world" there is so much more random stuff that happens than meaningful stuff towards some goal that its the decision of the people on place to decide which dungeon to crawl and which to ignore. If one wants to explore every single house in every street then in how many of that houses you will find ...


8

Whose plan is this, really? Do the characters have a plan that will get them killed? Or do your players have a plan that will get their characters killed? There's a subtle difference, and your response should hinge on which of the two it is. The players made a terrible plan Players only have fairly limited information about the world and are often not as ...


7

There are a variety of ways to do this: Focus on the prophesy itself. If you cast doubts on the validity of the prophesy, the players may be more likely to leave it alone. For example, well-respected representatives for the forces of good declare that some of the named parties in the prophesy couldn't possibly be involved in something nefarious like that. ...


7

I'm a little bit surprised to see so many answers to this question without what I thought was the obvious one, so I'm going to put it out here. What you have here is an obvious disconnect between what the player thought the situation was, and what you, the GM thought the situation was. Very seldom do players actually do things that they believe are ...


7

The biggest and most important part of this advice is the following: Talk to your players! If nothing else about this answer helps, remember that. Before you begin springing improvisation on your players, sit them down- all at the table before you begin your next session- and pose the question. "Hey guys, I think we're all pretty good roleplayers, and ...


7

Broadly speaking, don't plan the sandboxes encounters by level, plan them by the internal logic of the setting. Put the responsibility on finding a level-appropriate path through it on the players. Then just roll with it. If they're 6th level then let them enjoy being 6th level and steamrollering some 4th level opponents. If they encounter 10th level ...


6

The magic item effect on CR will become significant around level 7, when significant bonuses would be expected out of weapons/stat buff items and a wide variety of wondrous items are affordable. Below level 7, there is an effect (especially with taken-for-granted utility items like the CLW wand used to top everyone up between combats) but it's not magic ...


5

One option would be to back the "crunch" level down a notch. Even if flight is central to the characters and campaign (S&R, bush flying, or similar, I'd presume, if a C172 is in play as opposed to a T-38 Talon or similar), it should be reasonable to presume that icing conditions, IFR vs. VFR, and other considerations that affect real-life flight would ...


5

You don't need to change the world, you just need to change the outcome. Depending on your players just letting them all die might be a valuable lesson. For many groups though that would not go down well, so a better approach is to give them advance warning that their plan is flawed through in-game agency. In fact you have the perfect case here. There was ...


5

Capture them alive, rather than killing them. The assassination fails, but the target has a reason to want to keep the PCs around. They wake up in prison. Of course, the daily logistics of prison life does not make for a very fun RPG, so you need to offer the PCs some opportunities to get out. The simplest option is to just have their captor use them in a ...


5

When the players come up with a bad plan, I would look at their character sheets, and see if the bad plan is in character or not. I'd start by looking for relevant special talents. Any character who is supposedly a talented spy or tactician would detect any clear problems, and have a chance (I'd roll) to detect less obvious problems. I'd pass a note (or ...


4

The essence of sandbox play is following where the players lead, and it sounds like you're already doing that. What adding randomness does is make the world feel more alive and larger than the thread that the PCs are pursuing/creating, allowing the players to make informed decisions about where they want to drive the game. You don't need to be constantly ...


4

First, I will echo the comments left: Electronic Communication during the week if possible, and Keep it Interesting. That said, session length need not have a major effect on the quality of play. Each session can build right where the last left off, with perhaps a minute of recap. Questions and clarifications could ideally be done over email/instant messages ...


4

Character generation, world creation I read this on a series of sandbox articles, but don't remember where. Don't create all the world before the characters. Let empty space to be filled later. Then, when creating the characters, allow them to create part of the world. Example: A player creates a character who was raised by a cult who worship a powerful ...


4

The way I did it was by showing the world map, but also by presenting a series of options. Essentially there were notice boards that various people had posted things they wanted doing on. Initially there were 5 or 6 missions for different important people. Doing those missions let the players explore the world and see what was there, gave them contacts, ...



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