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Thursday, March 24, 2016


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.


  1. This is really great advice! Not to mention that it is proof that we are on the same page. Cause and effect are vital to the game, the trick is describing this to our players in a way that sticks. Sometimes we can get so overwhelmed with everything that is going on behind the screen that we forget to do this, and then not know what is going on once the players make a decision that appears to us to be completely stupid, but in reality, we had failed to properly implant the information that they need to make a better one.

    As a writer, you learn that it is best to project important ideas through dialog between the characters, rather then just writing straight descriptions. Dialog allows us to look at the world through the perceptions of the characters who experience them; sometimes we agree with the character, and sometimes we don't, but we gain a better understanding of who they are.

    One of the greatest examples of taking this to the extreme is Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, it has virtually no action of any kind, but simply people talking about what had happened between themselves, yet the books are absolutely thrilling!

  2. I read one of the Foundation books, with the Mule. A lot happens in that book, but Asimov successfully uses the modern literary writing technique of narrative within narrative as stream of consciousness, the kind that is popular now in graduate writing programs and is how modern literary story is written.

    Cause and effect are necessary for designing and laying out a setting, but they don't necessarily exist in real life. Human mind has been called the Meaning Machine - because human consciousness is so amazing at extracting causes and meanings from random events. Post Modernism is partly about making literature realistic to the point, where there is nor cause and effect or no meaning. Umberto Eco, who is one of my favorite literary scholars, wrote a mystery novel precisely about this. If you hadn't done so, read (not watch the movie) one of his earlier novels - The Name of the Rose.