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Building a Sandbox

Hussar

Legend
S'mon said:
That was my experience also, and I think is the reason why the linear Adventure Path is the dominant mode of play in 3e, when it barely existed in 1e/2e.

/tangent - Honest I'll get back to the main point.

Pardon? Umm, every module in 1e was an adventure path pretty much. GDQ? Dragonlance? "A" series? Temple of Elemental Evil? The AP has a very long tradition. I'll bet that just as many people have played the GDQ series as any Paizo AP.

/end tangent.

There is another way you can go about sandbox style without having to do scads of extra work. I'm a lazy bastard, so, I'm always looking for the shortcut.

Instead of using one very large sandbox, you can cut it up into a series of smaller sandboxes with some sort of passage from one box to the next. That way you can start with a more manageable scale and work from there.

An example of this is the World's Largest Dungeon. Essentially you have a 4x4 grid of 15 (one box is double sized) sandboxes. Each region of the WLD is more or less self contained, although there is some bleed over, and travel between regions is restricted to certain passages. So, from the first region in the bottom left corner, you can travel north or east, to regions E or B respectively.

That way you can design each region with an eye towards the expected level of the party by the time they reach that region.

Now, obviously that's easy to do with a dungeon setting. An outdoor campaign setting is a bit more difficult. But, not as much as you might think.

Start with a 4x4 grid. I like 16 because that covers the 1-20 level spread quite nicely. You initial region, for your first level PC's is in one of the corners. That right there means that you can expect them to travel one of two ways and can design the next regions for the expected level.

To move things along, you simply need an overarching plotline to move them from one region to the next. For example, say the campaign seed is that a couple of centuries ago, dragons went into a breeding frenzy and seeded eggs all over the kingdom. These eggs are hatching and areas are becoming inundated with dragons.

So, our first region, say a nice isolated village in a hilly region during the winter is facing a couple of hatchling white dragons that are causing all sorts of destruction. You can add in three or four subplots and maybe half a dozen lairs of various critters and you have a region.

After defeating the dragons, the PC's gain information that there is a doomsday cult associated with the hatching dragons. The cult has a base in the next region. Additionally, in another region (the other adjacent region) a larger town and/or city has a problem with a series of black dragons and their kobold worshippers in the sewers.

So on and so forth. You can seed the further regions with whatever and through various techniques, such as controlling information, open new regions as the PC's get strong enough to either poke their noses in and run away or actually deal with the region, depending on your own mood.

The point is, within each region, you have a sandbox. In the first region, the PC's have a number of things they can interact with - lairs, various groups, a town, and, of course, the dragons. In the city with the black dragons, the sewers become a sandbox, possibly with thieves guilds, cults and black dragons. Outside the sewers, the PC's can interact with the city and its inhabitants.

This is a more modest sandbox, of course. But, for me, its a more feasible possibility. I simply don't have the time or talent to construct a single massive sandbox.
 

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DestroyYouAlot

First Post
Hussar said:
/tangent - Honest I'll get back to the main point.

Pardon? Umm, every module in 1e was an adventure path pretty much. GDQ? Dragonlance? "A" series? Temple of Elemental Evil? The AP has a very long tradition. I'll bet that just as many people have played the GDQ series as any Paizo AP.

/end tangent.

FWIW, D1-14 is widely considered considered the nadir of 1e design, and the precursor to the 2e railroad. YMMV. ToEE, I don't see where it fits in your argument - other than having a vague "moathouse, then temple" structure. GDQ, arguably could fit the "adventure path" description, but mostly because they were separate (and separately playable) modules that could be fit together in a campaign.
 
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Hussar

Legend
You might consider D1-14 the nadir of 1e design, but, it outsold pretty much anything else at the time. And, Dragonlance has managed to survive for the past 30 years, when other settings have faded into the sunset.

ToEE runs from 1st to about 14th level. That's an adventure path. Everything is tied together.

GDQ directly ties into eachother. The end of each module ties directly to the next one. How is that not an adventure path?

My point is, the idea that AP is somehow a 3e thing is false. Loads and loads of people played adventure paths long before Paizo jumped on the concept.
 

DrunkonDuty

he/him
I think the sandbox style can easily work with an overarching plot. Doing it IMC at the moment.

I keep track by simply keeping a timeline. Two actually, one for me, one for the players. The plot goes its merry way and the characters are are free to interact with it or not. Currently it's not in the foreground but it keeps chugging along and I keep track of it in my timeline. Eventually the BBEG will do something that will let the heroes know something is up and they will get back on her case.
 

S'mon

Legend
Hussar said:
Pardon? Umm, every module in 1e was an adventure path pretty much. GDQ? Dragonlance? "A" series? Temple of Elemental Evil? The AP has a very long tradition. I'll bet that just as many people have played the GDQ series as any Paizo AP.

None of the ones I ever played were even in a series, since I never played GDQ, or U1-U3, far less an 'adventure path' of from 1st to nth level. I guess if you count several linked modules as an Adventure Path then you're right, but that's not how WotC/Paizo define it as I understand it. Part of being an AP is that the PCs enter play with the AP, and when it's done, they're done. Only Dragonlance resembles a modern AP; being designed to follow the book series closely.
 

S'mon

Legend
Hussar said:
Start with a 4x4 grid. I like 16 because that covers the 1-20 level spread quite nicely. You initial region, for your first level PC's is in one of the corners. That right there means that you can expect them to travel one of two ways and can design the next regions for the expected level.

To move things along, you simply need an overarching plotline to move them from one region to the next. For example, say the campaign seed is that a couple of centuries ago, dragons went into a breeding frenzy and seeded eggs all over the kingdom. These eggs are hatching and areas are becoming inundated with dragons.

So, our first region, say a nice isolated village in a hilly region during the winter is facing a couple of hatchling white dragons that are causing all sorts of destruction. You can add in three or four subplots and maybe half a dozen lairs of various critters and you have a region.

After defeating the dragons, the PC's gain information that there is a doomsday cult associated with the hatching dragons. The cult has a base in the next region. Additionally, in another region (the other adjacent region) a larger town and/or city has a problem with a series of black dragons and their kobold worshippers in the sewers.

So on and so forth. You can seed the further regions with whatever and through various techniques, such as controlling information, open new regions as the PC's get strong enough to either poke their noses in and run away or actually deal with the region, depending on your own mood.

The point is, within each region, you have a sandbox. In the first region, the PC's have a number of things they can interact with - lairs, various groups, a town, and, of course, the dragons. In the city with the black dragons, the sewers become a sandbox, possibly with thieves guilds, cults and black dragons. Outside the sewers, the PC's can interact with the city and its inhabitants.

This is a more modest sandbox, of course. But, for me, its a more feasible possibility. I simply don't have the time or talent to construct a single massive sandbox.

So, lots of little sandboxes, but an overarching linear or matrix type plot structure?

As described your approach sounds too plot-driven and un-sandboxy for me; much like a bunch of site based adventures that need to be played in a certain order. However I do think there's a lot of merit in having different sandboxes for different levels of play. My preferred approach is more like BECM, of changing the campaign scale as PCs go up in levels, eg (C&C level distribution):

Level 1-4 (Low): Local area sandbox at ca 1 mile per hex
Level 5-8 (Medium): Expanded area sandbox at 10 miles per hex
Level 9-12 (High): Continental sandbox at 100 miles per hex
 

S'mon

Legend
Hussar said:
ToEE runs from 1st to about 14th level. That's an adventure path. Everything is tied together.

Isn't ToEE just two linked dungeons? If an AP is just "adventure A then adventure B", ok it meets your definition but it doesn't look much like the official 3e APs to me.
 

S'mon

Legend
Hussar said:
You might consider D1-14 the nadir of 1e design, but, it outsold pretty much anything else at the time. And, Dragonlance has managed to survive for the past 30 years, when other settings have faded into the sunset.

ToEE runs from 1st to about 14th level. That's an adventure path. Everything is tied together.

GDQ directly ties into eachother. The end of each module ties directly to the next one. How is that not an adventure path?

My point is, the idea that AP is somehow a 3e thing is false. Loads and loads of people played adventure paths long before Paizo jumped on the concept.

I think Dragonlance is clearly an AP, GDQ is marginal but can legitimately be regarded as such. I don't see how ToEE can credibly be called an AP; it's basically an intro adventure plus a mega-adventure.

Anyway, I take the point that Linear ("AP") campaigns did exist in 1e, alongside Open ("sandbox") and Matrix campaigns. What's striking, and what I was originally trying to say, is the dearth of open/sandbox campaigns in 3e, because of the different nature of the game:

1. Power level ramps up more rapidly, so PCs will rapidly outgrow their sandbox.
2. Preparation time is much greater, so it may not seem practical for the GM to run a sandbox.

These are not insuperable; I think Lost City of Barakus did a good job creating a smallish (5 miles per hex) sandbox, and with 1/2 XP designing it to be playable over 5-6 levels, around 35 sessions of play. The Wilderlands of High Fantasy boxed set is in some ways the ultimate sandbox, but it lacks a few things, notably random encounter tables, that would have made it truly playable out of the box. Better cross-referencing & an index would have helped, too.
 

Hussar

Legend
I'll agree with those two points S'mon. That's why I suggest going more with a series of mini-sandboxes, rather than one honking big one.
 

Raven Crowking

First Post
Another thing when designing a sandbox (or any campaign really):

Beg, borrow, or buy a copy of The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, if you don't already have one on your shelf. Flipping through that book, and just skimming entries ought to supply you with enough cool ideas that you can't decide what to work on first. This is a first-rate reference work, it has a lot of obscure entries, and it offers ideas on locations, characters, plots, encounters, treasures....the whole shebang. The imaginary places run the gamut from kingdoms to cities, from forests and deserts to individual buildings. There is a ton of excellent material in here. One of the best values for a DM's dollar out there.

I cannot recommend it enough.


RC
 

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