Pathfinder RPG Sandboxes? Forked from Paizo reinvents hexcrawling
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  1. #1
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    Sandboxes? Forked from Paizo reinvents hexcrawling

    As a guy who's been participating in online discussions about roleplaying games for close to 15 years now, it's come to my attention that at various times fads have come and gone; certain playstyles come into vogue and then fall back out again, etc. One that I find very curious, and which seems to be one I sure hear an awful lot about lately is the concept of the sandbox.

    As many could rightly point out, the basic idea of the sandbox is an old one, and arguably, in many respects, the first format and playstyle associated with the genre. For many years, however, it's been "conventional wisdom" that some element of "sandbox" is fun, but that a "pure" sandbox is merely an endpoint on a spectrum of playstyles. A theoretical end point that no game could (or should) actually attempt to emulate.

    Lately, however, I see an awful lot of people toss out "sandbox" as if it were the Holy Grail of gaming. I'm trying to understand where this view came from, why it's become so suddenly very popular and ubiquitous on the internet, and... well, whatever else is going on with the idea of the sandbox.

    Not necessarily interested in a bunch of anecdotes about how you've always played a sandboxy game, or whatever. I'm sure plenty of you have. I got it. I'm talking big picture general trends as percieved (by me at least) in the online RPG discussion community.

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    My theory is that it's (A) a response to the popularity of Adventure Paths, and (B) related to the "Old School Renaissance."

    A) Beginning with Shackled City and moving forward, Adventure Paths have been increasing popular and increasingly promoted. A certain backlash is inevitable. Folks grow tired of the more or less linear, scripted nature of the AP's and start looking for something more freeform and player driven. The sandbox is it.

    B) As you say, sandbox gaming has a lot of old school cred. Its not surprising to see it rise in popularity along with the various OSR games.

    I also note that a bunch of bigtime sandbox videogames have launched in the last three or four years. I'm thinking particularly about GTA IV and Fallout 3. I suspect that the popularity of those games and the hype around them helped bring the actual word "sandbox" into the conversation.

  3. #3
    I suspect the surge in conversation about the style & concept can be tied to the OSR. Ben Robbins' posts about his group's West Marches game may also be fairly important; it gets mentioned fairly often.

    I think the term itself migrated (back?) from games like GTA, Fallout, and the later Elder Scrolls games.

    (Hmm, does that make sandbox play videogamey? )

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    I think there's an internet discussion snowball effect. The topic comes up, a few people notice it and join the discussion, they start new threads on related topics, more people notice the threads, more discussion ensues. I think the same thing happens with "edition war" threads. One gets going, more threads pop up as tangents that attract attention when the original thread did not, more tangents spin off, and so on. But all the tangents are related enough that it seems like hardly anybody is talking about anything else.

    On top of that, discussion sometimes inspires action as well. People give the ideas a try, that generates more even more discussion.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stoat View Post
    My theory is that it's (A) a response to the popularity of Adventure Paths, and (B) related to the "Old School Renaissance."

    A) Beginning with Shackled City and moving forward, Adventure Paths have been increasing popular and increasingly promoted. A certain backlash is inevitable. Folks grow tired of the more or less linear, scripted nature of the AP's and start looking for something more freeform and player driven. The sandbox is it.
    This is exactly how I rationalize the surge as well in the thread next door.

    Don't forget that Paizo as a company has been doing for years what WotC' Rodney Thompson & company have finally turned to this month: solicit customer input directly on internet forums.

    While I'm bound to be prejudiced in calling it a 'singularly useful' discussion, I say: watch the reactions we got from Erik Mona and James Jacobs in this discussion I kicked off on Paizo last May. Kingmaker was into development by then, but I like to think that the collective responses in that thread helped to put certain things into even starker perspective. It will also help to put a definite image to the people I called "a small if vocal minority in Paizo's fanbase" in the aforementioned Enworld thread.

    Other than Paizo, I haven't been following the 'fad' development on sandboxes, including stuff produced by the OSR. I have one favourite author, Rob Conley, who produces edition-neutral awesome sandboxes in his "Points of Light" books. I loosely follow his work and posting, and draw on that, but beyond that I'm totally uninformed.

    In that regard, I'd appreciate it if the aforementioned "Ben Robbins' posts about his group's West Marches game" could get linked here. Cheers!

    Edit. My own theory, which I just remembered by re-reading the Paizo discussion is this: Hex-crawling brings wilderness adventures to the game table. 4E has been extremely poor at implementing this aspect. The wilderness skill challenge is fun maybe once or twice, but gets old soon - even when we factor in other exciting wilderness skill challenges (like the boat raft skill challenge in 'Journey through the the Silver Caves' which made it into DMG 2 - that's just brilliant all round).
    But on the whole, 4E especially with regard to official modules has been very very poor to cover the excitement of overland travel. I'm a huge fan of the Revenge of the Giants adventure, but still have a main beef with it: other than bargaining a gith' captain into steering the PCs on his vessel, the adventure delegates travel to cut-scenes, to cue the PCs to the next dungeon/combat locale. That's just down right boring. So the James Maliesz. quote I bring up in the aforementioned Paizo thread (linkified above) holds doubly so for 4th edition. It's ironic that 4E products don't cater to hexcrawling when the rules set could handle it so exceedingly well.

    So, it's not just Paizo fans who rejoice at Kingmaker - Kingmaker also draws enthusiastic responses from 4E fans who too think that this scratches an itch long overlooked by their favourite game. Cf. also the reactions I got when I put up my 4E FR hex map at Enworld (just bumped earlier today, as I uploaded new PDFs).
    Last edited by Windjammer; Tuesday, 16th March, 2010 at 08:47 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Windjammer View Post
    In that regard, I'd appreciate it if the aforementioned "Ben Robbins' posts about his group's West Marches game" could get linked here. Cheers!
    First post is here, the rest follow in links at the bottom of the first. It's a good read.

  7. #7
    I can't get to Ben's Ars Ludi site right now, but I will try to remember to check back and give you a link to the posts if someone doesn't beat me to it in the next five hours or so last minute.

    Thanks, Ethan.

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    Not to start an SNG food fight, but I think that sandboxes really appeal to Simulationist gamers. The idea of the world running on its own, not waiting on the PCs.

    But I don't see how that works; when folks here talk abotu sandboxes, it seems all the little things in the sandbox are just in a time stasis, their motives and goals just frozen until the PCs stumble across them. If it were a real world, all the things that happen would happen whether the PCs get involved or not, rather than just waiting for the PCs to walk up to them.

    And if they're not set pieces on the map, big neon signs that say "Come here", then the DM likely falls into the trap of throwing rocks in the PCs puddles.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stoat View Post
    B) As you say, sandbox gaming has a lot of old school cred. Its not surprising to see it rise in popularity along with the various OSR games.
    ESPECIALLY people who really like the idea of creating X that's at a certain level, and it stays that level regardless of the PCs arriving.

    Which is a nice segue to...
    I think the term itself migrated (back?) from games like GTA, Fallout, and the later Elder Scrolls games.
    The funny thing about video game Sandboxes is that they are very "level" dependant. You have to unlock certain quests/gain a ceratin level before you can even access the next "area" of the sandbox. You couldn't do a helicopter mission unless you get access to a helicopter. This is different from a "true" sandbox where you could initiate a "quest" or hook that you are just not prepared for, not capable of doing, etc.

    My theory is that it's likely a response to 4e's very scripted, level appropriate, etc etc driven focus.
    Last edited by Rechan; Tuesday, 16th March, 2010 at 09:00 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Barastrondo View Post
    First post is here, the rest follow in links at the bottom of the first. It's a good read.
    Wow, thanks for that!

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    What's amazing to me is how foreign the "sandbox" concept seemingly is to so many people. Then I recall that it's been literally 25 years since anyone in the mainstream of rpg publishing has promoted/supported sandbox play. The "story" has been the fundamental design goal in published materials for so long that many either never knew or have forgotten that the "sandbox" is what we used to just call our "D&D campaign."

    I really think it's just the fact that some in the Internet community have called attention to the fact that one of the fundamental styles of rpg support (not necessarily the rules, but adventure/scenario design) has been completely forgotten over the years, and that it's time to re-examine it and play with it again.

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