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101

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 ...


65

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 ...


32

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 ...


30

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 ...


24

I have experience playing the low levels. I can briefly summarise the impact as follows: It will make encounters much harder. With many characters dying in combat, and possibly a few total party kills as well. This can be demoralising, but some players might be up for it. But something perhaps easily overlooked is that it removes a wonderful suspense ...


13

At 1st level, a single critical hit from all but the weakest monster can reduce a PC to 0 HP. For example, kobolds (CR 1/8) do 1d4+2; that's a maximum of 10 on a critical, fighter types should survive - most others are at 0. Hobgoblins (CR 1/2) do 1d8+1 plus 2d6 if an ally is within 5 feet of the target, an average of 25 and a maximum of 41 on a critical; ...


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 ...


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 ...


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, ...


9

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 ...


8

Borrow Icons from 13th Age Here's what Icons are and here's how they're used. The actual 13th Age rulebook goes into a bit more detail. A summary: Icons are entities powerful enough to influence the world (like the patriarch you mention). Characters start out with 3 points of relationships with any of them, positive, negative or conflicted. At the start of ...


5

Create a Wiki Being a webdesigner and programmer myself, a MediaWiki solution comes to mind. The general concept is that it allows you to set up documents for each individual object (city, character, timeline event, item) and connect them together. Setting up a Wiki for your campaign can be as easy as signing up for a free Obsidian Portal account. OP is ...


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 ...


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

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 ...


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, ...


3

Depends Every DM is different. If you are good on your feet and take naturally to story creation, minimal prep is necessary and you pull almost everything out of the air. I learned I need prep, but too much prep for me leads to me wanting to railroad. So, sketches of what might be rather than what the players will do. For instance, when I was brand new ...


3

There's an overall balance factor between HP and death saves. Removing the death saves really makes the PCs HP quite low. Monsters tend to get a higher relative HP because we don't really expect them to use Hit Dice on short rests. When a player gets to zero HP, we expect to have a round or two to heal them or just finish the fight and let them spend Hit ...


3

Focus your preparation on what you expect them to do, but have contingencies ready so that they can do other things if they choose. I run my current 4E Neverwinter campaign as a bit of a sandbox. I say "a bit" because everything is very time sensitive. This means that I don't have to worry about my party showing up and saying "hey, we've had a month to ...


3

I've run across this problem a number of time while playing as part of a group in an open ended game and it tends to come down to not really having a plan. The way to deal with this is to help your players put a plan together of what they are going to do, because they in all likelihood are being vague because they don't know their options. Questions that ...


3

Presenting the global map and history of their world is a good start. Have more in-depth descriptions of your world readily available in a notebook so you're prepared when your players do something unexpected or ask questions. Once players detect you're making up the world on the fly, suspension of disbelief may fade. The DM doesn't want to look like a hack ...


2

I use timed challenges and consequence maps. The players know it is a sandbox, but I also provide a time element along with the main plot. Nothing too restrictive, but something to keep them mindful of their actions. I also craft the main story in such a way that the players can approach it from multiple different angles. They have a set of things to ...


2

It sounds like your players are inexperienced with sandboxing. Instead of letting them march to their deaths, divert them. A terrible rain comes up, and a nearby river goes out of its banks. The Evil General moves his camp a half-mile to higher ground. "Well, if you can start your plan, but first you'll have to wade 200' through mud up to your hips while ...


1

Level difference is a dangerously big factor. It's been a few years1 since I played Basic and Expert D&D (We never reached Companion/Expert level in our games) but similarly to most other versions of (A)D&D a few levels difference can bring a massive power change. The Magic User and Cleric classes especially have some fearsome spells by character ...


1

You might enjoy the concept of Fronts from Dungeon World. It will likely fit your criteria for speed and ease of use during the session. Boiled down to its essence, pick 2-3 short plotlines, then put 2-3 bullet points underneath that indicate gradual steps that will occur. Set the world in motion, dangle the hooks and let the PCs go where they will. ...


1

Remember, you are playing a game - you may be trying to make it "realistic", but that doesn't mean it has to be completely true to life! So, there's a simple solution to your problem: Let the players die. Then resurrect them. Maybe they make it to the banks of the styx, where they are met by [god of the dead] who offers to bring them back to life if they ...


1

This is gonna be a very short answer: use The Witcher's style. I was dealing with a similar problem an The Witcher 3 helped me solve it. Especially the Monster's contract quests Use corpses, smells, markings, sounds, the vague descriptions of the witnesses, and this is important, give them a monster Pokédex. One that is incomplete and sometimes wrong; one ...


1

Maintain a consistent world and let players worry about getting the information Many of the dangerous threats are automatically hinted at - you only need to consider what kind of impact does the creature or trap have on its environments. For example, if most dungeons are inhabited by wild animals or goblin tribes, then the one that is completely empty must ...



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