About Me

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


It is a mistake to think that Sandboxes and Railroads are opposing styles of play or mutually exclusive. The two styles are separate levels of play, and the difference between the two is that at times, players in a Sandbox campaign will end up in a hot pursuit, whether of their own choosing, or being chased by the setting itself, in which case the adventure will cease being two-dimensional and will become linear. In the linear campaign players are characters in the DM's story and the segments of the game that are sandbox exist in the story telling and negotiation between the DM and the players.

When I talk about the levels of play, I mean that there is a simple level of the Dungeon Crawl - stay at the inn, catch rumors at the tavern, go to store, outfit your party, go to the Dungeon, kill the monster, get the treasure, buy more stuff, back to the Dungeon. So goes the Dungeon cycle. As the players advance in level, they can Hex Crawl and go to other places in the fantasy world, and find other taverns, chase more rumors, and find another dungeon whilst exploring hexes. The DM's world expanded as the players advanced in level. The level of the Sandbox occurs in the story space between the adventures, and the gaming that takes place involves the players interacting with the setting, while spending gold and skill points to develop their characters. Let's say that your 5th Level Fighter wants to step up to the next level of his weapon specialization. Through role play, the player realizes that he has surpassed his current fencing instructor, but the Master tells the player of HIS teacher, and now the players must journey a long way on a quest for the Fighter to find his new teacher. This kind of gaming was not provided for in the vanilla editions of D&D, everyone sort of levels up automatically and acquires new abilities. This is the Sandbox, it helps the D&D cvampaign side-step what Dave Arneson criticized about D&D - get treasure buy bigger sword to get even more treaisre to buy even a greater sword.

The biggest fallacy of the OSR is that there is no story in traditional D&D - Dungeon Crawls and Hex Crawls. After all, a DM draws a map of the labyrinth, keys the areas in it, makes notes as to what Monsters, Traps, and Treasures the labyrinth contains. DM then creates a small towm to serve as the base for the players cum adventurers. Simple world, then as the players advance in levels, the DM craws the map of the adjoining areas and the players engage in hex crawls or wilderness exploration. This creates an illusion that there is no story in an old school D&D game, but it is wrong. This is a form of story-telling - where the rooms provide critical incidents and the corridors connect the incidents with each other. It might be a non-linear, non traditional story, but it is still a story. It becomes even more of a story, when a DM desides to flesh out a theme or a back-story for a dungeon, when DM creates an adventure for the players that gives them a reason to enter thr labyrinth, and defeat what is there. DM doesn't even think of how he or she is telling the story within the parameters of the Dungeon Adventure. The unique format of the Dungeon Crawl and the way it formalizes and processes the DM-player storytelling interaction is the reasom behind the remarkable success of the Dungeon design/Dungeon Adveture format. The further we move away towards representing more complex adventures and situations, the harder it becomes and the weaker the game mechnics of adventure design become. Gygax and Moldway did not write anything as good for Wilderness design as they did for the Dungeon Adventure, and the Second Edition folks and beyond did even less for the non-linear non-tactical adventure design, ot the node-based adventure design, that represntes the schematics of an Event-based as opposed to the site based adventure design.

Brooser's Sandbox partly consists of fleshing out the setting in which event based adventures and character development can take place, and then forcing the players to traverse the wilderness between points where critical encounters in the adventure take place in accordance with the traditional rules for D&D travel.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


To pull off a Sandbox, you need a world that lives outside the players. Your D&D setting must flow through time like the river from the beginning of your campaign to the end. You need to set those boundaries. It could be a War, it could be an Age of Exploration or a historical period. It doesn't have to be precise. Maybe at the beginning of your campaign, the players are living through the Late Period of the Renaissance, and by the end of the campaign, the Renaissance Kingdom will collapse, unless your players will change history and Save The King. Literally. But this is where the Sandbox and Railroad part ways. Typically, the DM may design a string of adventures from the humblest beginnings to the Epic conclusion, much like running the AD&D players through the Against The Slave Lords A-series of D&D Modules, then Against the Giants, G-series of Modules, the Against the Drow, the D-series until finally against the Queen of the Demonweb Pits, 11 or 12 Adventures later.

There is nothing wrong with this, this is how Gygax intended D&D to be run, minus the story and the context. D&D Second edition made it more of a story game where Gygax kept it at the level of military style hack and slash raids. But this is where a true Sandbox goes deep beyond AD&D First or Second Editions and beyond the OSR, where any story is stripped and the game is purely an old style so-called site-based adventures and Hex Crawls. Sandbox goes beyond all this by offering the players a world without the storyline. This is not the world of the tavern, the adventure supply store and a dungeon awaiting the players, James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount and Gygax's Cstle Zagyg being the apex of that. Unlike the previous two, the Sandbox has the potential to sweep the players off their feet and drag them towards oblivion like an avalanche. An example of this would be the players charcaters cast as Jews in Poland just before the Nazi Germany invades it. Unless the players act and act proactively, they will end up in a death camp by the end of the campaign. Your Sandbox should be set up in such a way, that if players keep on doing what they normally do, the world will swallow them. Players as Mayans greeting Cortez. Players as Elves on the verge of men taking over their ancestral lands. This is but one theme, players can be adventurers clearing the frontier of monsters and treasure, but eventually the land will be cleared and the King and Ruling elite will seek to enslave the adventurers and take away their wealth and power. Players can be on the edges of the conflict between the Wizards and Priests for dominance over the Sandbox.

What I am saying is that if the players don't deal with the Sandbox, the Sandbox will deal with players. What you need for your Sandbox to successfully engage with players is Conflict, and you need a historic timeline for that conflict engulfing your campaign setting, as well as some consideration how the players' actions can alter that timeline by successful adventuring, if the players pick up on the clue and take appropriate actions. The need for the players to act should be made more and more clear as the campaign draws closer to its end, but the later it gets, the harder it should be to turn the tide of the adverse events. In the beginning, the threat is vague and barely perceptible, but their chance to thwart history gets better the earlier the players get involved in the conflict. It is not true that there no winners or loosers in a Sandbox D&D Campaign. When the campaign ends, the players are bound to arrive at its conclusion, however many dead player characters later. The ending for them will be anywhere between the two poles - On one side the timeline of the conflict did not change and the players had no impact on it. On the other, the players were able to thward the march of history and save themselves and their world. Most likely the players will have some impact and how far they got or didn't get, is the ultimate degree of their victory or defeat.


By now it should be clear, that the only way your players will interact with your Sandbox is by the Event & Encounter. The difference between the two is that players face typically living and active opponents in Encounters, while Events are incidents involving mishaps, weather, and obstacles that are passive and non-living in nature. Every role playing game is presented to played via encounters. It is the depth and quality of Events and Encounters in your game that determines how good your game is! Most games feature generic number of goblins who will attack, be killed, and will have on them x amount of coin and possibly a magic item or two, that the players can identify, use, or sell in the proverbial Adventurers Mart that carries a complete selection of bull's eye lanterns and ten foot poles listed in the Player's Handbook. Same encounter can give the self same goblins a context in your world, a mission, a set of skills, and some tactics and an agenda to better challenge the players. Same goblins can also be willing to communicate with the players under the right circumstances, offer useful or interesting information, their possession can offer the players useful clues about where these goblins come from, as well as revealing something to players about the world. This depth, detail and texture of the Encounters is even more critical to a non-linear Sandbox campaign, because this is the only way that players can explore your world. For it is only by exploring your Sandbox, that players will find goals to pursue in your world and bring to life the adventures of your Sandbox. In the real world, we are immersed in our world with all our senses and we learn about our environment all the time. In a game, the only chance that players get to contact your Sandbox is through the Encounters that the DM throws at them. Of course, there is also the DM's narration and story of the DM's campaign setting, but in this instance, the players are passive listeners and there is a greater chance that they will miss the crucial clues about the campaign that DM offers them, then if the same crucial clues are made part of the encounter, and the players are required to ROLE-PLAY through it, coming across the important information. Role-Playing to D&D is the same as the "Show Not Tell" in creative writing.


Gygax looked into the real world research, when he created Character Ability scores. The clue is in his mention in DMG of STR being measured by the amount of weight the character can lift in a Military Press exercise. That is straight from the Human Performance research of his day. It moved on since then, and got MORE interesting. You picture of the Gymnast's strength is the perfect example.
Human abilities are grouped into two distinct categories, which behave differently: Physical Abilities and the five forms of measurable Human Intelligence. Human abilities can all be improved by training and exercise and can all be brought up to be "All 18's". Human Intelligence consists largely of latent talent, influenced by one's genes, and also required constant practice for improvement, but presence of latent talent makes a quantum leap in how much the intelligence ability can be developed, and also, Human Intelligence is more of a Zero Sum structure - you CAN NOT get "All 18's" with the Human Intelligence abilities, though fully developed Renaissance Men have existed and were clearly exceptional in two or three areas. The abilities themselves are as follows:
Physical abilities are STRENGTH, FLEXIBILITY, and ENDURANCE. STR is the amount of weight one can dead lift off the ground and over one's head. Men can get stronger in this than Women. FLEX is the ability to do splits and to contort one's body. Women are can be superior to men in this and there are male dancers who take female hormones to match women in FLEX. END is how heavy a burden one can carry on the back and for how long, also how long one can run or stay in a physical fight before getting winded and exhausted.
Human Intelligence abilities are as follows: Verbal/Arithmetic Intelligence, measured by the IQ test; Artistic Intelligence, ability to draw a 3D picture and correctly maintain the proportions of the objects in the drawing; Mechanical Intelligence - Manual Dexterity, ability to take apart an engine or a watch mechanism, and put it back together again without relying on schematics; Tumbling Intelligence, Agility - awareness of one's body in 3D, allowing one to do complex choreography in dance, gymnastics, and acrobatics; and Emotional Intelligence - allowing the person to read facial expression, pick on non-verbal behavioral cues, and successfully interact with people. So, ART, DEX, INT, CHA and all forms of Intelligence. AGILITY is the most complex of human abilities. It is a function of human intelligence, but requires high physical development in the areas of STR and FLEX to be developed. The minimal requirement for gymnastics is the STR to lift one's own weight, and women need less of it since they are typically smaller and lighter than men, and exceed them in FLEX.
This leaves two other abilities, Constitution and Wisdom. WIS is Gary Gygax own brilliant design. He defines it as the inherent discipline to do what is good for that person. Not smoking on the emotional level, because it is not good for you. This would be crucial for survival among various Saddam Husseins and other fanatic tyrants, as well as in the universe where exist many fickle and cruel gods. There is a large amount of literature written in Philosophy, and Gygax's contribution in on the level.
Constitution is in a class by itself. Human Endurance is not really the CON as defined by Gygax. However, there is a Genetic Trait called HARDINESS. A while back Cattell proposed that human behavior is the expression of people's psychological traits, and later it was proposed that some traits are learned while other traits are genetically inherited. Later still, some psychologists set out to find and define Genetic Traits, most were too abstract and too removed from everyday life to be readily thrown into a game or a self improvement book, but one such trait is called Hardiness. HRD is the ability to resist infection and how fast one recovers from injury. That sounds like CON to me. As a side note, people with exceptional Hardiness tend to be optimists, with a sense of humor, and they can not hold their alcohol. They suffer more acutely from hangovers, and they start feeling it sooner than the rest of us. For that reason, they typically are non-drinkers. My father ones said that they are extremely healthy individuals. Another side-note is that aspirin is the chemical agent that boosts Hardiness, speeding up certain metabolic processes, that produce high Hardiness, The Anti-Aspirin is the ARACHIDONIC ACID (AA), an Omega-6 fatty acid typically found in meat and egg yolks. For it to be bad, you have to mix it with the frying oil or grease, in which case the AA is bad for you, promoting inflammation. Moral of the story - Eggs are healthy, but fried eggs in excess are bad for you, especially if you got arthritis, asthma, allergies, or other inflammation based diseases.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


By now you should have a little world that is all your own. You have a nice setting with bits of geography, bits of backstory, some story hooks, and key NPC's. You could write a story, but that is a different creative process. You can also write an adventure for your players, but they may choose not to ride your railroad. How to proceed? You must build a Sandbox, of course! There are several ways that you do not want to build a sandbox. You do not want to have some hills with the B2 Keep on the Borderlands in them, then a Forest that has B1 Exploring the Unknown in it, and a desert, which holds the I-series of modules. This is commonly done, but what you have done is instead of a Sandbox, you've built a large railway hub.

What you need to realize, is that just like in writing, your campaign setting needs exposition (literary descriptive process) to your players. Your setting consists of different types of the wilderness on your world map, settlements of various sizes, dungeons (loose term denoting actual dungeons, potential adventure sites (bandit camps, temples, Wizards Towers), and man-made and natural terrain features - Rivers, Roads, Trails, etc. Scattered across your map are various NPC's, whom your players can encounter. NPC's can be friends or enemies, long term and short term, but they all have a story to tell about your world. Some are tales and confessions made to your players, even if at sword-point, but the NPC's themselves, what they do and what they say, how the look and act, tells as much about your world as your description of the place, which the players are exploring.

Note that any D&D adventure module starts at some safe place, where a role-playing encounter takes place with a friendly NPC, who will sink the adventure hook into the players. I see nothing wrong with the DM bringing the players up to speed on what's going on, but I prefer that most information be revealed to players through role playing encounters with NPC's. Role playing also includes social encounters, where the NPC's will swap stories with the players. Now, this is more than just rolling a random rumor and reading it to the players, you can tell all kinds of stories about your world to players via the NPC's. You can filter it by role playing through the NPC's level of knowledge and personality, but if you just built your own world from scratch, there is plenty you want to tell your players about your world, much more, than your players can absorb and retain.

So, you go into tavern and you meet an NPC. But what if the players are bushwhacking and there are no NPC's, or your players are knee deep in slaughtered NPC's? You can still tell your story through Encounters. One thing that I like about the Post Second Editions of D&D, is that they moved away from the Wandering Monster Table and replaced them with the Encounter Tables. A Wandering Monster Table is essentially a Combat Encounter Table, but there are many other types of encounters you can come up with. There are Skill Encounters, where you do skill checks, Exploration Encounters (like exploring a room in the dungeon, but a locale in the Wilderness), Adventure Encounters - encounters that have story hooks to draw the players into an adventure - anything from an NPC with a mission to the players, to murdered loved ones, slaughtered caravans, treasure maps, incidents out of the blue - mistaken identity or deliberate malice - any events to draw the players into an adventure. There are Role Playing and Social Encounters, and there are Encounters peculiar to wilderness exploration - Exploration Encounters, Monster/Animal (Combat Encounters (a Bear in the woods is a Combat Encounter, but whether or not it will lead to fighting remains to be seen), and also Expedition, Terrain and Weather Events. This is how the DM shows his world to the players during the wilderness adventure. Expedition events are sprained ankles, cabin fever and conflicts between the players and NPC's, small incidents of discovery and revelation between the players and NPC's, running out of food, gear breaking, etc. Terrain events - the sights and obstacles of your world. Within the bigger forests, there are bogs, thickets, Oak Groves and Pine forests, stands of trees. In the real world, these might shelter beaver dams, deer and wolf dens, old human camp sites, ruined buildings. In Your World, these too have significance - whether Druid Groves, Elven hideouts, Giant Spider lairs and old villages wiped out by the Undead - these all are really Adventure/Combat encounters, but what the Terrain Events do, are offer a descriptive variety and Exploration Encounters, which MAY lead to Adventure Encounters, but what they really do, is that they offer you a chance to describe your world, and provide you a useful narrative randomizer, that will prevent you from running out of ideas, describing the 100 hexes on your map classified as "Forest". In addition, Terrain Events provide Obstacles for the players to overcome - Deadly Crevasses and Rivers that need to be crossed, impenetrable brush and thickets, where players can be lost, iced over rock fields, where players can slip and fall and break legs, swamps, tall grass hiding svakes and other hazards, forest fires after lightning. Weather Events test players survival skills, slow them down, and drain their resources. Weather adds description to your world - Mostly sunny days, windy days, hot and cold days, rainy days, which will require players to obtain comfortable and weather appropriate clothing, of course, there will also be extreme Weather Events - blizzards, lightning storms, heat waves, extreme wind, unique events of your choosing creating special hazards. Lightining can set off forest fires, blizzards can frost-bite and kill unprepared characters, in my world I have special events, which will animate any unburied corpses in the area, and will wreck the flying ships with monsters peculiar to Midlands. And what is in your world?

100 EVENTS: When my players do wilderness travel, I come up with 100 various events, some only happening if the players are in the right location,a nd if the special conditions occur. All different events and encounters are mixed together, and I use the Gygax table for the Wilderness encounters. If the random event misses the players, then nothing happens.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


If you finished putting it on the map, you have something that is truly your own stuff that haunts your dreams. You have a tableau that can be used to develop an adventure computer game, you know, the exploration themed genre. It will require more work to make it into a story or a role-playing game campaign setting. To make it into a story is easy - you string the concepts and clusters into a linear outline as you will write it. To make it into a sandbox will require additional steps.

The first thing that you have to realize, is that in a sandbox there is no such thing as "flavor text". You just pulled out original content from your imagination and everything in it has meaning in your world. Anything in it can become actionable information in the game that can be subjected to the game mechanics. For instance, a dusty red sofa in a littered empty dungeon room, can theoretically be traced down to the original manufacturer and tell us something about the original owners and how it got in the dungeon, telling the players something about the dungeon. More important is the so called flavor text that players generate about their character's background. If they say that they come from a family of circus performers, than there is a circus out there somewhere in the sandbox, where the player character's family is prominent, and if the player can get there, the family's shelter and resources can be available to them. Imagine the in-game consequences of the player character being the Son of Merlin. This will blow the economics of traditional D&D game of 3d6 gold pieces times ten to smithereens, but imagine the possibility for some high stakes gaming that this presents to a imaginative DM.

But I digress. There are three things that you can do immediately with your campaign setting tableau: (1) You can take the actual geographic places, and place them on the map. You can put your map on some existing campaign setting, say, Forgotten Realms, or you can build your own world. (2) You take the key NPC's that you came up with and give them places, taverns, guild halls, towers, castles, highways and byways, where these NPC's can be encountered. (3) You can take your story hooks, and also place them on the map via the Encounter tables, but mote on that later.

Now you have a tangible map for your campaign setting. You can Key it, generate descriptive text, and make encounter table, to make it playable in D&D. What makes OSR and D&D unique when compared to the other rpg's is that wilderness travel, Outdoor Adventure, is the big part of the game play, and even though you might be running a node network social encounter type of an adventure, you still crawl from one hex to another and roll for encounters when players travel from one location to another.