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D&D 5E DM'ing again after a LONG absence

doseyclwn

First Post
Hey Everyone,

I've been pretty much out of gaming since 4e came out. I've played in a few games and have read the rules, getting ready to run my first game in a long time. I have a world that I've created and I want to sandbox it. Anyone have experience running this type of game? Any general tips or advice would be appreciated.
 

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Slit518

Explorer
I have my players running around a sandbox island. So far they have terrorized a town, forged an alliance with some Dwarves, killed a clan of giants, infiltrated a cult and taken it over, started their own boat/cart in one vehicle business, followed an army of orcs to determine their plans, and did a bunch of other things.

I have several or more key elements around the map/area. I keep track of things in my head (or in a notebook or whatever). So if the players do A and not B or C or D around the map, B, C, and D will progress if they are progressible. An example is a dragon terrorizing a local town, if the players are taking too long doing other things, the dragon files away to conquer new lands, and probably ages up. So for example, while the players were fighting giants, the orcs were amassing an army, the dragon flew away to age up and gain resources elsewhere, the cultists grew in numbers, and the Dwarves increased production of their goods, such as crossbow bolts, potions, town defenses, etc...
 

Quickleaf

Legend
[MENTION=10906]doseyclwn[/MENTION]
There are a LOT of resources out there for sandbox gaming. And lots of ways individual DMs interpret "sandbox" for their gaming group. So I'll just share 5 of my favorite resources:

  1. 5e Dungeon Master's Guide & 1e DMG tables galore and some fantastic ideas for sandbox gaming
  2. AEG's Ultimate Toolbox more tables than you will ever use
  3. Beyond the Wall OSR game fantastic ideas for starting small with a village, integrating PCs to each other and the setting/adventure, and collaborative setting design
  4. Hexographer free mapping program virtually no-learning curve
  5. Donjon website awesome random generators for generic fantasy and for 5e specifically
 

Hey Everyone,
I've been pretty much out of gaming since 4e came out. I've played in a few games and have read the rules, getting ready to run my first game in a long time. I have a world that I've created and I want to sandbox it. Anyone have experience running this type of game? Any general tips or advice would be appreciated.

I have plenty of experience running a 3.5 sandbox for my pirate campaign, which is probably not all that different from running a sandbox in 4th edition, apart from the rules. What I did was make a simple world map that highlights important places and cities that are commonly known. But I left everything else open. There could be plenty of stuff that isn't on any of the official maps (or on my map for that matter). But as the players would discover new things, I would update the map accordingly.

I then created multiple random encounter tables. Random encounters for on land, near the coast, at sea, underwater, in the city etc. These are my backup. I roll for a random encounter for every hour of travel (or when I want something exciting to happen), and most of these encounters are not combat encounters. In fact, some of them allow the party to make discoveries, such as a hidden weapon cache, a swamp, a castle, or even rare discoveries, such as a lost city. Other encounters are flavor encounters that just set the mood, or include obstacles, that require a skill check or an important choice.

I kept the plot very open. I made sure I had the names for plenty of characters, with short descriptions of their appearance and personality. I made sure there were always multiple plot threads going on, along with minor side quests mixed in. I then left it entirely up to the players to choose their adventure. The main plot was never bound to any specific location, so I could simply move important events to wherever the players happened to be going. For each city, I made a list of all the characters and stores in it, and also the names of the stores, and the names of the people that owned them. I would never be caught off guard. If the players were looking for a tavern, I always knew the name, and the names of the owners.

To emphasize the exploration aspect of my sandbox game, I made a map for each major landmass. These maps were not much more than a grid, with a rough silhouette of the land. Then as the players explored the land, and I rolled random encounters, I filled in the details.

I also worked out various cultures for my campaign. I didn't want the cliche races of elves, dwarves and halflings. So instead I worked out entire cultures, and made custom weapon lists for each race. Basically, each culture had their own specialty, and this was reflected in their weaponry. This made it extra exciting for the players to visit new lands, because that meant more equipment to spend money on.

Seafaring, and ship upgrading, also became an important aspect of the game. Wherever the players went, they could find and buy new upgrades for their ship. These upgrades would become more and more important, as the ships of their enemies would also improve, and they would face greater challenges.

Lastly, I threw in a random weather table (for which I rolled each day), and also kept track of the movements of legendary sea monsters. And now you have one big sandbox that lives and breathes.

All this is a lot of preparation. But totally worth it.
 
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Hey Everyone,

I've been pretty much out of gaming since 4e came out. I've played in a few games and have read the rules, getting ready to run my first game in a long time. I have a world that I've created and I want to sandbox it. Anyone have experience running this type of game? Any general tips or advice would be appreciated.

How experienced are you running sandbox campaigns in older editions?

In order to not be overwhelmed with too much prep, you can keep your initial sandbox area kind of small, such as a duchy or small kingdom. Make sure there is enough going on in that area to keep the PCs engaged for a while. You can make notes about what kind of stuff might be beyond that as the players explore using things that come up in actual play to flesh it out a bit at a time.

Trying to detail an entire world prior to play is a massive undertaking. Its best to make sure your players enjoy what parts that you do end up playing in first.
 

Uller

Adventurer
This just came up in one of my games...if you want travelling the wilderness areas over the course of days to feel at all dangerous without having to always use deadly encounters (i.e, you want the party to have to worry about supplies and hitpoint attrition, etc. over the course of several fights, etc) then consider modifying the rest rules so that you only get the benefits of a long rest once per week unless you are in a civilized area or a very well equipped camp. Otherwise, the even a low level party can generally use magic to come up with enough food and water most of the time and it requires seriously challenging encounters to force them to spend all their spell slots.

I'd go with something like: Long rests require 24 hours and no more than 2 short rests in a 24 hour period while traveling. So if the party is travelling overland and have lots of time, then it just doesn't matter that much. If your sandbox includes some time limited adventures then they might have to make choices between pressing on or getting back spells and hitpoints (the way the rest rules work out now, that decision only ever happens in dungeon and similar site based adventures where there are 4+ encounters...the fighter is down to 1/4 his max HP, but if we stop to rest, the monsters will learn we are here and will beef up their defenses or maybe even come after us!).
 

I've been pretty much out of gaming since 4e came out.
You missed out. ;) But, that's really not that long. At the FLGS we routinely get people returning the D&D who've been away since the 90s or 80s! :)

Welcome back!

I've played in a few games and have read the rules, getting ready to run my first game in a long time. I have a world that I've created and I want to sandbox it. Anyone have experience running this type of game? Any general tips or advice would be appreciated.
Did you create the world in a broad general way, or did you stat out all sorts of new monsters/NPCs/custom items/etc? Was it under 3.x or AD&D or one of the other earlier editions? If you don't have a ton of stats to translate, or if they were done for AD&D, you shouldn't have a problem. 5e runs very naturally with minimal prep and lots of improvisations and off the cuff rulings. If you have AD&D stats, especially at low level, you can often convert on the fly. At higher levels, hps have to be adjusted upwards, and saves should probably be nailed down, among other things. If a monster or NPC will be doing anything but simple combat, you'll want to have a general idea of its stats, as checks may come up. But for hp-denominated functions, and numeric bonuses (which you should pull into the +1 to +3 bounded-accuracy-friendly range), items can often work more or less as written.

5e can be a real blast to run, as long as you're comfortable with making rulings on the spot, and running from behind a DM screen. The natural flow of the game lends itself to players exploring the DM-created (or mediated, in the case of published adventures) world. Just about ideal for sandboxing, really.
 

I recommend what I call "dartboard design".
Picture your world like a dartboard, with numerous rings radiating outward from a key location. Plan the most details for the starting area: the middle ring or bullseye. The next ring out gets less. So if each major location gets a page of notes and details, locations in the next ring get half a page maximum. The next ring out gets a quarter page. The next ring has locations with a short paragraph. Beyond that, things get a sentence.
As the campaign moves, the dartboard's bullseye changes and you can add more detail.

Start with lots of hooks and always add more. Every time the players finish off a plot line, there needs to be another brand new hook, if not two. There should always be a choice of new storyline.
On the same point, storylines go away. If players don't take the hook that storyline gets resolved. Maybe someone else solves the problem or it becomes worse/different. If the players don't take the "goblin bandits" hook then people stop travelling through that area, the goblins stop raiding, and it just becomes goblin territory with fortified villages.
Keep the world changing and evolving. It doesn't cease to exist when the players aren't watching.

Always ask your players what their next move is at the end of the game. Never just end a session with a firm ending; always have the next goal or move planned and decided on. That way you know what to plan next. Make sure your players know that changing their minds is discouraged and if they really decided to take a different route they need to give you lots of time.
 

Always ask your players what their next move is at the end of the game. Never just end a session with a firm ending; always have the next goal or move planned and decided on. That way you know what to plan next. Make sure your players know that changing their minds is discouraged and if they really decided to take a different route they need to give you lots of time.

^This.

I always end my sessions, while knowing where the players will be going next. And my players know that I need to know these things, in order to be able to prepare.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
^This.

I always end my sessions, while knowing where the players will be going next. And my players know that I need to know these things, in order to be able to prepare.

Yes...this is very important.

I also like to create and keep on hand 2-4 interesting encounters that I can drop in at nearly any time to force the players to action in case the players stall or lose motivation or in case I go blank.

I also listen really carefully to what my players say and I improvise a lot. Some of my best sessions happen when I listen to the players and have no particular plan. What they say gives me ideas to throw in and often, they feel really great because they feel as if their ideas are validated. For example, one time they were exploring a tomb and they found an well. I had planned to have a key at the bottom of the well, but when the wizard started to check the well wall for runes or glyphs, I decided to throw in a little puzzle that he could decipher. I had him reveal two hand prints in the side of the well. One hand print had a "u" above it and the other hand print had an "n". It was obviously magical and he had to decide which hand print to put his own hand into. I had him ponder it and make an arcana check. He decided to put his hand on the "u" print and that's when the well drained of water and revealed the key at the bottom. (Since he rolled well on his arcana and had a good reason for putting his hand on the "u" print, I let him succeed). If he had rolled poorly and didn't have a good explanation for why he chose one over the other, I would have had a wraith materialize and attack the party. When I improvise, I try not to have one "right way" to succeed and I let the players develop their plans and reward them to keep them excited. This method works especially well when running a sandbox sesson/adventure/campaign.
 

Yes, some of the best ideas often come from the players themselves. My sandbox campaign includes plenty of mysteries, and my players often discuss out loud what they think is going on. And sometimes they come up with better ideas than me. But while the campaign is still in progress, I can change it anyway I like.

Recently one of my players came up with a brilliant idea. I had informed the party that a dwarven pirate culture used ancient magical runes to allow certain buildings to be guarded against the big bad in my campaign. But not only that, it also allowed these buildings to materialize in the realm of the dead, which is like a creepy mirror version of the surface. So one of my players said out loud:

"Maybe if we can discover the secret of these dwarven runes, we can ward our own base, and materialize it in the realm of the dead as well. That way, we'll have an excellent safe haven to attack the big bad from, and we can take the fight to him!"

Now I had already planned some plot surrounding the original creator of these runes, but the idea that they could manifest their own base in another dimension, had not occurred to me. It was brilliant, and it is an idea that I will be taking into account as I develop the story further.
 

happyhermit

Adventurer
Not sure what I can add, good advice so far. Sandbox-y games are by far my favorite these days, but there are so many ways to run them.

I would need a really compelling reason to ever start a sandbox campaign in a city again :erm:. It is a lot easier to start somewhere more isolated to limit the initial choices for the players, and give all the characters some time to interact. On the same note, if you make travel daunting in the beginning, and obviously time consuming it makes the choice to simply head off in an opposite direction less likely. It also generally adds to realism because players typically are much more likely to simply send their characters off on a week long trek than they would be if they actually had to do it. Now, once things are all fleshed out and the character motivations are more clear, feel free to give them that airship that they can take to the Megalopolis, but not day 1 IMHO.
 

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