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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, ...


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

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 ...


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 ...


9

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 ...


7

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, ...


7

An underused approach is applying character expertise. When I GM, I give different information based on who's doing the asking and what they can see/observe. The fighters can make better judgments of how strong something is, and how well organized a group is in combat. The wizards can estimate levels of magic being thrown and whether something probably ...


6

Make Building Motivation Part of Campaign Setup The easiest way to make sure the PCs have things to do in the setting is to create the characters and the setting together. That way you know there'll be relevant stuff for the PCs to do, since you are creating both elements together with the express purpose of making them interlock. A great time to do this ...


5

One of the problems tabletop rpgs wrestle with all the time is the divide between decorative description vs. functional description. You describe the tower and broadly describe the city: the players know for sure the tower is where they have to go, but they don't know if the city has any value at all - so they skip it. Just as much as in videogames where ...


5

Even a sandbox needs railroads. I've just answered a related question here; basically, I feel that you need to apply 'the railroad' when the players are stuck or not self-motivated. It's much easier for humans to improvise when there are some constraints. What do you want to do now? is really hard to answer for the players when they are stuck, or ...


4

You don't need to give the players direction. You need to take the direction they provide and give them the chance to run with it. I do this in two ways. The first is with backstory. I've long ago given up on requiring backstory, but I do strongly encourage it. When the players give me their character's history I read over it with a highlighter and ...


4

First of all, know your players. Know what excites them in the game. Some players love the thrill of combat, others enjoy exploring, others like tinkering with rules and min/maxing equipment to making their character more powerful. Others prefer interactive roleplaying, some like problem solving, and still others could be characterized as builders. Many ...


4

You're trying to give them options by withholding options. You want them to explore the verisimilitude of the world by not describing the world. I can understand this makes sense in your head, but it doesn't at the table. Particularly with new players. They're new players, so they need to get their bearings. They may have no idea what kind of options there ...


3

Having written a number of hexcrawls you should go with a hex grid 30 hex columns by 20 hex rows. When you export it with hexographer choose resize and export as png and go with 3 hexes per inch. The 600 odd hexes will allow you place between 50 to 100 entries. At 5 miles per hex this will create a region large enough to contain the initial adventures. The ...


3

Present them with options I have a city where a major distinguishing feature is a huge tower, which is also my party's quest target. I didn't give the party a list of other locations inside the city, instead hoping for them to explore themselves and find the potion shop being sacked and the wretched dabbler necromancer in the ruined basement. In the ...


2

Some of these are contentious points with some people, but work for me. Listen Find out what they are interested in. Look at what they pay attention to in a session. Work out ways to either connect those things to the plot you have, or write some new stuff. Talk to them after a session, too, find out what they're planning. If they won't say for fear of ...


2

First, as many other folks have mentioned, it's probably a good idea to have a good conversation with the group about what kind of game you run and what you're looking for. "I like to have an open world with a lot of stuff going on, but it's up to you pick your goals and directions within it." If that's not what the players want, there's nothing to do ...


2

It sounds to me like your PCs (and therefore your players) are basically suffering from ennui: en·nui /änˈwē/ noun a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. Essentially, you've given your players a world where they can do anything they want, but where they have no particular reason ...


2

Some games makes it really easy to get your hands on someone without him suspecting anything and the advantage is always on the offense. I've been playing D&D 3.x for quite some time now and apart from the infamous "teleport in, silence, coup-de-grace, teleport out" techinque, even in plain duels the one that decides to kill a target that's willing to ...


1

How much prep is too much is something that's going to vary from GM to GM. You say you're terrible at it, but there are parts of the game you'll find you can get away with improvising. I don't need maps. They don't add much to my games and it doesn't make a difference if I draw them on the spot or in advance. But I can't do description. I'll imagine a ...


1

My group loves an open-world, sandbox kind of game, so many of the games I run to them tend to be very open world, but they do, like you said, get bored just running about aimlessly. I tend to do one of two things. The first is that I'd prepare a short list of very broad plots based on what I think each one of my players will enjoy. Then I'd introduce ...


1

All DMs railroad at first. If you have to do it a bit, do it a bit. That said... the NPCs are your information dissemination tools. Roleplayers like interactions. Put a over-comical fellow in a tavern who's clearly drowning his sorrows, or a pretty young girl drying her eyes in the woods alone, or a very obvious priest attempting to break into a building ...


1

First, set up a Conflict Web. Start by setting up your factions that are involved, and why they are competing/conflicting. This is more to give you a set of motivations for any given group, leaders, etc. and allow you to simply improvise based on the group's needs/ambitions. The Conflict Web is not static, it's a starting point. So you may easily see ...


1

I did a game several years back where the PC's were the targets; after they reached the general level of 10, they were considered heroic, legends, etc. Sure, Lord so-and-so, impressed with their rep, sends out a courier for a dirty laundry run (please kill the cave filled with bandits)... but don't you think the bad guys want them gone? Did a huge campaign ...


1

There shouldn't be 'major' or 'minor' plot points in a sandbox campaign, in my experience. Spread as much interesting information around as you can (keep a list somewhere) and then try to improvise something for whatever the players decide. You can make all the leads only point to a handful of major causes, which makes it easier to keep an overview of the ...



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