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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.


  1. Sandbox vs. Story. I hear this a lot, but I just can't agree with it. Modules are one thing, but while writing, you find that you can't predict where the story will go, so you write little bits at a time. You structure what you can, but the story itself is still organic. You may have an ending in mind for the campaign, and you might not! It doesn't hurt to know where you are going in the grand scheme of things, but even this should be flexible. If you want a major villain to be a vampire king, there will be a period where the players are no longer anonymous to him, once he knows that they are there, he is going to be more proactively involved in their fate. Is this a story, or a sandbox? Just because the powerful vampire knows who the players are, and is actively seeking to destroy them, that doesn't mean that the adventure has turned into a railroad, it simply means that a game of chess has begun, and the vampire is going to do his very best TO railroad the players right to their doom. If he can trick them into doing his will, all the better. When we play chess, we seek to control the actions of our opponent, the more we can keep them reacting to our moves, the better our chances are of winning the game. To use your monsters to the very best of your ability, that is what players want, and even though the DM is going to manipulate the game, the players still have free will. If, at 1st level, they can come up with a logical plan to sneak into the King's castle, avoid all of his minions and stake him, they now have to deal with a kingdom thrown into anarchy and chaos, because as evil and as tyrannical as the vampire was, he was still the law and what the people were used to. That is still written into the game, yet it is a sandbox. Ultimately, they beat the vampire, but they lost the game because they weren't strong enough to take his kingdom away. Life there is now worse than it was before because all of the warlords are now fighting for control. This is logical.

    The best players are unpredictable, resourceful, and intelligent. The entire game can be a logic puzzle. How do you beat the vampire King, and still save the nation? As DM we obviously see that first the Warlords must be dealt with and we have to win the hearts of the people. If we don't want to rule the kingdom ourselves, we need to find somebody who is capable of taking the thrown that is compatible with our political alignment. If this ever happens or not is still up to the players, they'll probably have their own ideas, but we just wrote an entire campaign that isn't railroading, yet it kind of is, but only as far as the reality that we are creating dictates. Prior to play we have to first see if the people who are going to play these characters are interested in the story. Do you want to see if you can take down the most powerful source of evil in the milieu? If the answer is yes, did you railroad the game?

    I suppose that this really isn't directed at you, Brooser, it is more directed to Pundit who claims that story should play no roll in a game, but talking to him is pointless.

  2. Don't write story, write setting! In the setting there will be plenty of threads, tangents, that you can develop into a story. The thing that you are not getting is that a country, a war, a historic period can have a beginning, middle, or an end, that will come to pass, regardless of the players' actions. Think of a role playing game, where the players are cops and firefighters responding to the 9/11 World Trade Center bombing. They have about two hours to do what they do, before the towers fall. Will they be inside or out when that happens? Can you think of anything that the players can do, to prevent the towers from falling? I can't. That is the essence of the sandbox.

    Okay, you have a villain NPC coming out of the sandbox and it is trying to trap the players so as to kill them. Is this Sandbox or a Railroad? It depends on player choice. If you creare a linear series of encounters, that will eventually leads them to the evil NPC, then it is a railroad. If you genuinely give the players a choice to go to the Vampire Castle or not, and they keep m,aking a decision after decision to get to the Castle, that it is a Sandbox. If you give players no real option, but to go, then it is a Railroad. If you create a set of encounters that leads to the Catle, but no real option NOT to get to the Castle, then it is a railroad.

    The difference bdetween the Sandbox and the Railroad is this: You the DM, are engaged in a game of chess with the players from behind the mask of a vampire king. If there is nothing else, but this dangerous game, then it is a railroad. If you are a Referee, running a setting, where an NPC Vampire King is engaged in a game of chess with the players, then it is a Sandbox. The difference? If they are in your Story, and all the rtoads lead to the confrontation, then it is a Railroad. If the players have trhe option of escape, say of leaving the Kingdom and avoiding the game of chess, then it is a Sandbox. I undrerstand that the Vampire King wants them dead. He may send a posse of the undead after players, assassins and NPC servants, but if you are actually run the game - the hex crawl of players attenpoting to leave the area and of the NPC's and baddies chasing them, and the run the combat encounters, when they occur, then you are running a Sandbox. Do you see the difference?

    What I am laying out here is way over Pundit's head. Pundit is a pathetic and a dishonest customer, also neither too bright nor educated. Do you realize, that claims to be into occult? His latest game, Dark Albion, features this fascination of his. But if you are into magic, what must drive you to betray your own values and write a game, where the Medieval Inquisition are the good guys, and the magicians are evil witches? He is not living under the Inquisition, nobody is forcing him to betray his ideals, like they did Galileo, so what gives? He is simply about money and about making it as a rog game writer.

    There is a pretty revealing interview, that lays him out in all his pity, but he has sunk too low or he is too stupid to see it, and so, he approved it. Here it is.


    Also, he is incredibly shallow as a politival commentator. Another foreigner pouring his vitriol on American political life from abroad. Obama is very smart. Read the article here, you do not have to agree with him, but he comes across like Elrond to Pundit's Gollum:


    Happy Easter, Rip!

  3. I have tried true sandbox play and our table just didn't like it. I've got elements, but as far as my players are concerned, they really want the well thought out adventures. I don't tell them where anything is, you need to play the game to get any information from me. Prior to play, I decide on the motivations of key NPC groups, this may involve the PCs and it may not. I may seek to manipulate the actions of the PCs, but if they let me do this, then it won't go very well for them. If you spot the railroading, you best get off of the tracks.

    I don't think that I think fast enough for true sandbox, and my players hate it when they are just standing there with no input from me, we aren't having fun and we only get to play rarely so we want to have a fairly planed out game. The players want puzzles, they want traps, they want to figure stuff out for themselves, but they want me to know the answers. I suppose that the players love to play "Find the game".

    I never know how a game will end, I don't control the players, but at the end of the session we generally talk about where to go next so that I can properly prep it, but again, this is usually their decision.

  4. I usually stop the play, when I have to prepare. Eventually, the players will end up leaving the comfort of role playing encounters and will actually have to hex crawl or take the train to the dungeon site, where, there is a fully mapped and fleshed out dungeon. The whole reason that I have a Sandbox Timeline forcing itself on players is to avoid having players standing around with no input from the DM.