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Building a Sandbox

painandgreed

First Post
Jorunkun said:
So how does one weave a deep plot like this, and how do you organise your output? Is there some kind of ... I dunno ... flowchart or pattern language for setting up scenarios with multiple plotlines, matrix elements, triggers etc.?

I have a timeline. The length of time I think the next session will go on for is planned out fairly detailed. In some cases, it may even list when and where certain NPCs go places, who they talk to and what is said. From there, it grows more general with the times or dates that certain events will happen. If the PCs aren't doing anything, and they've done nothing to change the events, then time passes till one of those events and I wait for the PCs reaction to it. ("Three weeks pass and then news of fighting the previous night reaches you that can only mean war.")

What I plot out, how detailed, and for how long goes a long way on what information I get from the players. At the end of a session, I'll generally ask the players what they plan on doing next, and then plot everything out accordingly. Sometimes they decide to do something else or they otherwise venture into unknown territory. From that point, you just wing it or refer to notes you have developed at other times. Seems sandboxes are good for world builders, and given enough time, they will eventually detail the entire world and enough things to use in such cases. In most cases though, the PCs will be fairly happy to march along with whatever the DM presents to them. The glory of the sandbox for both player and the DM is that the players can do things the DM would have never thought about and get to reap the benefits (or punishments) of their actions. If the players are the type that they have their own ideas that go wide of what the DM is presenting, they will usually also be willing to fill in the DM on their planned actions and desired end goals so that he can prepare for it.
 

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S'mon

Legend
Dannyalcatraz said:
FWIW: I'm a big fan of the "Caravan" method of running a sandbox.

If the PCs can't leave the caravan, I wouldn't call that a sandbox/open campaign. It seems more like a linear campaign, going wherever the caravan goes.
 

Reynard

Legend
Supporter
Dannyalcatraz said:
In addition, the caravan moves through the campaign world at a pace you, the DM, set. As the caravan camps for a while to trade or restock, your players may wander here and there, but they also are within a certain area that you (should) have prepped.

I think this is the exact opposite of the sandbox -- it is a campaign level railroad that the players agree to. "Sandbox" doesn't just mean that the PCs have lots of different options, it means that they determine where they go and when, how they get there and what they do upon arrival. A "sandbox" is a game where the DM can sit back and riff off the players, instead of having to direct them around.
 

Melan

Explorer
S'mon said:
Um, Melan, IME the chances of a PC group surrendering to the orcs, no matter how big the force discrepancy, is no more than 10-20%. Most would far rather fight to the death.
Well, okay. And that's Darwin in action. :D
 

S'mon

Legend
Melan said:
Well, okay. And that's Darwin in action. :D

Hm, it's not like realism _requires_ encounters with 200 orcs. In fact IRL for hunter-gatherer groups, group size tops out around 120, less in less fertile areas, including females & young. If your orcs are primarily hunters then it's not plausible to meet more than 30-40 male warriors at once.
 

I assume that the hunters and gatherers who provided your data didn't have access to healing and curative magic.... I expect that you could easily make a case for increasing those numbers in a fantasy world, if you chose.

Ken
 

JDJblatherings

First Post
S'mon said:
Hm, it's not like realism _requires_ encounters with 200 orcs. In fact IRL for hunter-gatherer groups, group size tops out around 120, less in less fertile areas, including females & young. If your orcs are primarily hunters then it's not plausible to meet more than 30-40 male warriors at once.


Throw in some raiding, a little slaving and a bit of farming and you get more orc warriors.

A little more then simple hunter/gathering and you can have huge populations in small areas. The Balim Valley in the highlands of Western New Guinea, is occupied by the Dani people, a traditionally stone age civilization. The valley is about 80 km in length by 20 km in width and lies at an altitude of about 1000 m, with a population of 100,000. Not exactly sparsely populated. about 62 people per square kilometer, that's more density then half the nations of the modern world (the u.s. has a density of 32 per square kilometer).
 

bento

Explorer
Dannyalcatraz said:
FWIW: I'm a big fan of the "Caravan" method of running a sandbox- it has many advantages.
That's how my players have been getting around. I'm running a desert setting, so having caravans travelling from destination to destination, makes it very easy for my characters to feel like they can easily find where the adventures are. Caravans also provides excellent sources for buying and selling goods, gathering information and locating experts. When an adventure presents itself, the heroes "hop off the train," go through the encounters, and be back for dinner time.

I disagree with the railroadiness. My players can choose when and to where the caravan travels. If they want to get to the city, they wait at the oasis or caravanasari for the next caravan to pull in and ask them where they are heading. If anything, a caravan provides players with goods and experts they wouldn't usually be able to access unless they were in a large city.

My pitch for a good source material for a desert setting sandbox is Necromancer's Mesopotamia book. About half the book is devoted to six site-based encounters and one larger city / dungeon crawl. The encounters can be introduced in any order, and they all range between EL7 to EL11. I'm relying on this book as well as the Sandstorm supplement for most of the adventures in this arc.

Speaking about dealing with a variety of challenges, I have an idea for running a higher-level encounters for my players. I'm planning an EL14 for my 7th level party. My plan is to introduce the encounter with some CR9 NPCs asking the players for help. I'll give the players the NPCs to run during the melee portion of the encounter, with the idea that the NPCs are expendable. Has anyone ever done this - run a "special guest-star" NPC for a high-level encounter in order to help the party avoid a TPK? Does it work out like you expected?
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
I think this is the exact opposite of the sandbox -- it is a campaign level railroad that the players agree to. "Sandbox" doesn't just mean that the PCs have lots of different options, it means that they determine where they go and when, how they get there and what they do upon arrival.

Think of the caravan more as a mobile base of action that the DM has provided.

The players can get their earned pay and leave the caravan at any time. If they leave, they can rejoin it at any time- assuming they didn't "burn bridges" when they left.

Everywhere they go, they get a whole new set of NPCs with regional rumors & legends to stimulate their imagination. While the caravan settles in for some trading, they may leave for an adventure, and return "just in time" to join up with the caravan as it leaves...or not. If they choose to stay in the region, they may.

And, after all, there will be another caravan along at some point...
 

Melan

Explorer
S'mon said:
Hm, it's not like realism _requires_ encounters with 200 orcs. In fact IRL for hunter-gatherer groups, group size tops out around 120, less in less fertile areas, including females & young. If your orcs are primarily hunters then it's not plausible to meet more than 30-40 male warriors at once.
I don't know, are orcs hunter-gatherers? And should we care about it? ;)
 

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