Building a Sandbox

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Rallek said:
EDIT: I once had a group become titled landowners who started an organization that later became the dominant alchemical guild in the region. They later played "Robin Hood" types dedicated to the overthrow of the "repressive" guild structure that their former characters had put in place earlier... they actually met their former characters as antagonists several times. That was a fun series of games.
Aw, hell, that is completely badass. I think you've got an extremely cool bunch of players, there.


First Post
Well, GDQ can be run as a sandbox. While the G series are fairly linear, there are various ways the players can go about it in a sandbox. Do they go for the frontal assault, do they sneak in and assassinate people, do they camp out side and kill off giants as they leave over the course of several weeks until attrition takes it's toll? The D series is pretty much a sandbox. You have a large map with a group of individual encounters for locations on the map, and only about 5% of the map is even detailed with encounters. D1&2 could be mostly avoided if the players desired. The Q module is just there if the players decide to actually take on Lolth and even then, the various portals to the other worlds in her ship could make for many adventures.


First Post
Raven Crowking said:
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.

DiamondB said:
I completely agree, this book is great!

Here's an Amazon link for any interested The Dictionary of Imaginary Places

EMPHATICALLY thirded; my fiance's sisters teamed up and got me this for Christmas one year, and it's made of 110% pure inspiration.


I have not read that book in years. Many many years. But I still remember it a a fantastic resource. Sparked my 12 year old imagination something crazy. Although there were places like Yoknapatawpha (s?) County that confused me until older. It wasn't fantasy so why was it in this book? ;)

I must get me a copy of Dictionary of Imaginary Places as well.


First Post
This thread is yielding a pretty good collection of links and titles offering bits and pieces for the aspiring sandbox builder - but frankly, I have yet to see a campaign setting / mega-module that truly, fully delivers on the concept. What would that look like?

My ideal product would contain ...

- a high level setting overview, broken out into player's guide and DM section
- a rules/mechanics-revamp to offer more interesting choices wrt outdoor adventuring (movement, exploration, sustenance etc)
- a poster-size, detailed map at 1 to 5 miles per hex, densely seeded with special locations
- detailed descriptive for every location on that map, for actual use during play, including an atmospheric read-out, plus background info for the GM, much ike a dungeon-room entry
- extensive regional random encounter tables (day/night), including noncombat encounters
- a "Book of Lairs" style collection of embellished encounters, including small maps
- a collection of small to mid-size static adventure locations (dungeon magazine calibre)
- a dozen or so interconnected, module-sized adventure locations of various levels
- a few small but detailed towns, complete with map, shops/services, key NPCs
- all tied together by a dynamic matrix plot with NPC villains and heroes that the players can get involved with in many ways, and to many effects.

... and then the drugs wore off. :) But seriously - isn't it baffling that after 30 years of roleplaying game design, the number of supplements/modules that actually offer the open, dynamic, player-driven plots that are made possible by the format can be counted on one hand?

Question then: Why is that?
My suspicion is that they are actually very hard to think up, organise and playtest, but I'm curious what you think about this.
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Well, Jorunkun, I think the main reason is cost. What you've just outlined there, in a single product, could easily cost a few hundred bucks. Heck, Ptolus is probably the closest thing to what you're talking about and that's a single city.

Plus, it would be extremely difficult, IMHO, to have a single set like that that would also have broad appeal. It's size would be the biggest problem.

Heck, if you think about it, Forgotten Realms looks an awful lot like what you've described.


First Post
Hussar said:
(...) Ptolus is probably the closest thing to what you're talking about and that's a single city. (...) Forgotten Realms looks an awful lot like what you've described.

If it does, I haven't described it right. I'm not looking for another megalomaniac muppet show . I don't need a whole world, continent or even country described at this level of detail. A region one thousandth the size of FR would do, but I'm looking for density, not breadth (which is why I'm not all that excited about Wilderlands either, btw). And while Ptolus is close conceptually, I don't care much for a city with tens of thousands of people either. I'm fine if there are just three blacksmiths for the PCs to buy weapons and armour from in the entire setting, and if they know all the local clerics by name.

What I mean is: Take Ptolus, divide scope by ten and spread it out over a thinly populated area, a post-cataclysmic wasteland littered with the usual ruins and monsters and treasure.

Or: Take ten or so regular size modules, break them up into small encoutner/mini-dungeon sized bits and interlink the different plot strands so that they can be played in a number of different sequences and give rise to different stories dependent on player choices.

Or: Take Ultima 4 or 5 with its dozens of parallel plot strands and towns and dungeons and turn it into a pen and paper type thing.

Or: Take five Keeps on the borderlands and add a dynamic plot that weaves them all together, (theoretically) playable in any order.

Or: Take that brilliant old OD&D D something expert set module (the one where you had to escort this caravan, only to find your destination under siege, the caravan abducted and your sponsor held for ransom) and multiply by ten ...

I mean a detailed but not necessarily large setting that the PCs can just play around in, and find leads into multithreaded, densely woven yet open, dynamic plots at every turn.

Hussar said:
Plus, it would be extremely difficult, IMHO, to have a single set like that that would also have broad appeal.

And here I may be mistaken, but I believe that if you take a fairly standard, euro-medieval fantasy, with fairly low power/ low magic ... and actually set up clever challenges and well-crafted stories within these restrictions, you'd have a winner. Because imho there's far too many products with exotic fluff covering up the umpteenth rehash of another railroad plotline. AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT HUSSAR !!!

... erm, not. Sorry for venting. ;)




Actually, I was considering doing roughly what you are talking about using Dungeon Mag. I've got about 2 years worth of Dungeons, minus the 12 AP modules, that gives me 60 modules to work with, 20 at each level (low, middle high). So, basically, I can drop three serious hooks at any given time for the PC's to follow with other hooks scattered around.

I believe it's referred to as a matrix campaign. Although, I might have my terminology wrong. As the PC's go along, they can do pretty much whatever they want because I have such a large amount of material to draw from.


In a Matrix campaign per the 1e Dungeoneers Survival Guide there are lots of different adventure sites, PCs choose where they go, but the adventures are interlinked by plot strands tying them together; so PCs may be guided to eg a climax adventure against the behind the scenes BBEG. Lost City of Barakus has some fairly weak matrix elements. A true Open campaign like the WoHF box has few or no built in connections, although some may emerge in-play.

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