D&D 5E Do You Prefer Sandbox or Party Level Areas In Your Game World?

Sandbox or party?

  • Sandbox

    Votes: 152 67.0%
  • Party

    Votes: 75 33.0%

So these are two approaches that campaigns can (and do) use. They have various names, but I'm using these names. I've used both approaches in the past.

Obviously there is more nuance than the definitions below, but these are two possible extreme ends of the poll when voting feel free to choose whichever end you tend towards, or embellish in the comments.

40651CFE-C7E4-45D5-863C-6F54A9B05F25.jpeg


Sandbox -- each area on the world map has a set difficulty, and if you're a low level party and wander into a dangerous area, you're in trouble. The Shire is low level, Moria is high level. Those are 'absolute' values and aren't dependent on who's traveling through.

Party -- adventurers encounter challenges appropriate to their level wherever they are on the map. A low level party in Moria just meets a few goblins. A high level party meets a balrog!

Which do you prefer?
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Emerikol

Adventurer
I don't know what work is being done here by the phrase the right. All you're saying is that someone who wants to GM a game (they don't become "the GM" until they actually start GMing) can offer up x, and that others may or may not want to play x. But it's not as if we're talking about blind declarations, or a formal auction, or something of that sort. Just like I can talk to my friends about where to go for dinner, so I can talk to my friends about what RPG we want to play together.
What I mean is that I give the DM a lot of leeway in running the game he wants to run. His investment is far higher especially with my style of play. If though what is offered is totally unappealing to someone then they don't have to join that particular campaign. I guess I am not in the situation where I have exactly five friends that I would always game with no matter what. In that situation, you may approach it differently.

I have more people who might play and most of the time they all want to play and often I turn people away. Sometimes I've ran two campaigns but as I've aged and gotten more work responsibility I just don't have the time or energy to run two games. I've ran single games with 9 players before and it was not ideal. So I shy away from too large a group. 4 or 5 is fine.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Vitally important advice if you're going to run a sandbox campaign where most of what happens in the game is driven by player ambition.

For context, if you read the 1e DMG, Gygax stresses over and over again that letting players easily acquire whatever they may purport to want leads inevitably to bored players and dull campaigns. Something he knew well in 1979 that some DMs still don't grok.

The very same DMing advice restated in friendly, non-threatening, story-centric, modern-day terms would be: find out what your players want, then make their characters go through hell to get whatever it is.

Dismissing this idea as "adversarial" completely misses the point, which is to maintain healthy long-term interest in the campaign.
You’re giving him/it too much credit. What the advice actually says is obviously and unavoidably a statement that the DM has to be the Boss, and that the DMs world and story are more important than the PCs.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
You’re giving him/it too much credit. What the advice actually says is obviously and unavoidably a statement that the DM has to be the Boss, and that the DMs world and story are more important than the PCs.
I wouldn't put it that the DM's world and story are more important than the PCs, but I certainly stand behind the idea that the campaign itself is and must be* bigger than any one PC within it. Characters come and go. Hell, players come and go. But the campaign continues, notwithstanding; and that's what I think Gygax was trying to get at.

* - with one outlier exception, that being a single-player campaign that aims specifically and only to tell the story of one PC.
 


Jack Daniel

dice-universe.blogspot.com
You’re giving him/it too much credit. What the advice actually says is obviously and unavoidably a statement that the DM has to be the Boss, and that the DMs world and story are more important than the PCs.

And you appear to be missing the context, the particulars of which Lanefan and S'mon have already pointed out. (I can only assume so, since you initially expressed surprise at what was written in the 1e DMG.)

Would a lot of Gary Gygax's advice be downright terrible for an epic fantasy game involving five friends around a kitchen table, where one of them is the DM leading his friends through his story, and the other four are each playing one special character who will form part of a boon fellowship that will inevitably go from zeros to heroes as they work to thwart a supervillain and save the world? Yeah, probably. But OAD&D isn't that kind of game, so you shouldn't expect advice in support of that.

But what about a 1970s Midwestern Gygaxian wargamey persistent sandbox camapign, where there are more players involved in the campaign than could ever all sit down together around one table, some of them regulars and some not, and each player has at least five or six characters to draw from when deciding which character they'll take on a given evening's adventure? Damn good advice. Of course the DM has to be the boss with a setup like that, and of course the DM's milieu is more important than any one PC or any group of PCs. It very nearly has to be that way for the game to function at all.

But there you sit, rendering judgement, absent the proper context.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Gygaxian D&D doesn't have a concept of 'story' - you can see this in his adventure and campaign advice. He does prioritise the 'milieu'.
Nitpicking. DnD is better off having moved away from the early Gygaxian model of play.
But there you sit, rendering judgement, absent the proper context.
Oh get off your high horse. No one is impressed.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
Gary Gygax employed a degree of 'Schrodinger's GMing' in his games.

Col_Pladoh said:
Monster encounters looked like this: 12 ORCS, 4 with crossbows, 7-12 gp each, POTION OF HEROISM in hole under water barrel. Will fight until death.

Depending on the party entering their area, the HPs would be set high, or rolled, or set low. Likewise, the orcs might have a spy hole, detect the approaching party, fire through loopholes in the door and wall, or else be sitting around and possibly surprised.
Source

By "depending on the party" I think Gygax means that more powerful parties would have more difficult encounters.
 



the_redbeard

Explorer
As for the OP, I'm definitely in the Sandbox style as a DM, albeit there should be foreshadowing, or the opportunity for foreknowledge, so that the players get a general idea of what they are up against. There's a line of advice that I like in the somewhat hyperbolic "Quick Primer for Old School D&D" that goes something like:
'If you haven't quizzed the one-armed former adventurer in the tavern, consider it a failure on your part as a player'
The point: if where you're going is completely unknown, then you have no warning of what is out there. It behooves you to do some pep to find out what is out there. I'd be a bad DM if there weren't means to do that, meaningful improvisiation to creative player investigation, or at least piles of burnt bones in front of the dragon's lair.

I'm fairly comfortable knowing that the playstyle I run limits how many players are interested. I do try to be up front about what I'm throwing to see if they want to catch it, with a 1 page bullet point description of my intended DMing style.

What surprises me is that sandbox is winning the poll. That is NOT what I expect from the majority of players who appear to me to be all about 'character story and destiny', single villain worlds and the like; the standard assumptions of the adventure path. There's a reason those things sell: lots of people play that way. I'm glad they have fun, but that's not the kind of fun we have at my tables.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Even allowing for the context of Gygax's advice, I don't see any reason to prioritise the game above the campaign.
And even in a game with rotating cast, which I’ve played in and enjoyed but get bored trying to run, the game is better when the PCs are prioritized over the world. 🤷‍♂️
 

pemerton

Legend
And even in a game with rotating cast, which I’ve played in and enjoyed but get bored trying to run, the game is better when the PCs are prioritized over the world. 🤷‍♂️
I think when Gygax prioritises the campaign over the participants - which on its face I agree looks terrible! - he must mean the campaign as a whole over any particular participant. So I wouldn't see it as world over players but the overall collective project which is intended to serve the interests of many participants over the immediate desires of any one participant.

I think this must always have been a minority approach to D&D play, and frankly an extreme minority approach. The hundreds of thousands of people who played using Moldvay Basic and then AD&D in the 80s, and the hundreds of thousands playing today using 5e, were not taking part in club-style games with stable settings and rotating casts of players and PCs. They were, and are, predominantly playing in small(-ish) groups of friends, from campaign to campaign with some continuity of characters and perhaps some continuity of broad maps/geography but nothing like the intersecting hex-crawling, dungeon-crawling and politicking in the fashion that Gygax seems to envision (but never fully explain).
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I think when Gygax prioritises the campaign over the participants - which on its face I agree looks terrible! - he must mean the campaign as a whole over any particular participant. So I wouldn't see it as world over players but the overall collective project which is intended to serve the interests of many participants over the immediate desires of any one participant.
That's how I read that particular portion of it. The shared fiction is most important, the DM's fiction(game world/setting) is second, and the players' fictions(characters) are third. That makes sense given the amount of prep Gygax assumes for the game.
 

pemerton

Legend
That's how I read that particular portion of it. The shared fiction is most important, the DM's fiction(game world/setting) is second, and the players' fictions(characters) are third. That makes sense given the amount of prep Gygax assumes for the game.
Just to be clear: what you say here is quite different from what I said. We are not reading it the same. I don't think Gygax really has much concern for the fiction as a discrete thing at all!
 


doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think when Gygax prioritises the campaign over the participants - which on its face I agree looks terrible! - he must mean the campaign as a whole over any particular participant. So I wouldn't see it as world over players but the overall collective project which is intended to serve the interests of many participants over the immediate desires of any one participant.

I think this must always have been a minority approach to D&D play, and frankly an extreme minority approach. The hundreds of thousands of people who played using Moldvay Basic and then AD&D in the 80s, and the hundreds of thousands playing today using 5e, were not taking part in club-style games with stable settings and rotating casts of players and PCs. They were, and are, predominantly playing in small(-ish) groups of friends, from campaign to campaign with some continuity of characters and perhaps some continuity of broad maps/geography but nothing like the intersecting hex-crawling, dungeon-crawling and politicking in the fashion that Gygax seems to envision (but never fully explain).
That may be, but what the advise communicates is that the DM’s ideas are more important, and must dominate the ideas of the PCs. That is straight up bad advise. Even in a Westmarches style campaign, the PCs, or more accurately the ideas of the players, should be what drives the world. Otherwise, might as well just play an MMO.

And I don’t really have any desire to give him the benefit of the doubt, necessarily. I mean, any more than any other writer.
 

S'mon

Legend
That may be, but what the advise communicates is that the DM’s ideas are more important, and must dominate the ideas of the PCs.
You keep adding in words like 'DM's story' and 'DM's ideas' which are not there and are completely alien to Gygaxian play.

Here's excerpts from Territory Development by Player Characters DMG page 94 which gives a flavour of his actual approach:

Assume that the player in question decides that he will set up a stronghold
about 100 miles from a border town, choosing an area of wooded hills as the
general site. He then asks you if there is a place where he can build a small
concentric castle on a high bluff overlooking a river
. Unless this is totally foreign
to the area, you inform him that he can do so. You give him a map of the hex
where the location is, and of the six surrounding hexes. The player character
and his henchmen and various retainers must now go to the construction site,
explore and map it, and have construction commence.
...
Going back to the construction of the stronghold, when the player elects to
build he or she must be required to furnish you with a duplicate set of plans of
the castle grounds, its dungeons, and interiors as well. At the same time you
can give the player a free hand in drawing a small scale map of the area
immediately around his or her stronghold
— say, on a 1 hex to 30 yards basis,
so about a one-half mile area hex can be depicted on a normal sheet of small
hex paper, and a bit beyond shown as needed. With your copy of this map
you can plan sieges or other attacks as they occur.
If for any reason a player who has developed territory gives up the campaign,
or simply drops the character in favor of another, you can then take over these
areas and run them as you like to benefit your campaign. In all respects, then,
development of territory by player characters is a highly desirable aspect of the
campaign. It gives added purpose to play, and provides long periods where the

player can be actively involved in the actual direction of the campaign milieu,
which will eventually benefit things regardless of what transpires at a later date.
 
Last edited:

the_redbeard

Explorer
That may be, but what the advise communicates is that the DM’s ideas are more important, and must dominate the ideas of the PCs.
... dominate the ideas of the players? what?
They certainly aren't able to have narrative control over the world itself, beyond the powers of their characters.
I don't understand your interpretation.

That is straight up bad advise. Even in a Westmarches style campaign, the PCs, or more accurately the ideas of the players, should be what drives the world. Otherwise, might as well just play an MMO.
In a way, one DM running a community of players in the same world (ie, how Gary ran bitd) is not unlike an MMO in some ways. There is a common world that is shared and it should work the same for all players. That's a lot of what I get out of the original quote.

However, unlike an MMO I don't see that precluding the player characters making an impact in the world, as long as it is within the logic of the world. The DM is free to improvise how the world reacts instead of sticking with the programmed response. That's why D&D will always be the better experience for me.
 

pemerton

Legend
They certainly aren't able to have narrative control over the world itself, beyond the powers of their characters.
This isn't true: look at the extract quoted by @S'mon, where the player gets to specify details of the terrain provided they're not alien to what the GM has already established.

For Gygax, hidden maps are about challenges to skilled play, not the creative integrity of the GM's ideas. That's not to say that integrity is unimportant, but it shows up in completely different places like the guidelines on admitting novel magic item's into one's campaign. His focus really is quite resolutely on game play in my view, though the play he focuses on is not typical of most D&D play since the game became popular.
 

the_redbeard

Explorer
This isn't true: look at the extract quoted by @S'mon, where the player gets to specify details of the terrain provided they're not alien to what the GM has already established.
Yeah, he posted that while I was writing. I'd forgotten about that passage. However, I think a) this is a rare occurrence only available to high level characters and b) is the exception that proves the rule.
@S'mon's point about the lack of 'DM's Story' holds, though I think I disagree that the 'DM's ideas' do have very much to do with the world.

To me, the upthread preface DMG quote is about sand box world building, which is very much the DM's ideas for the initial layout of the sand. The whole point of the sandbox metaphor tho, is that the players have freedom to make a MESS inside it. That's the style I got from my reading of the books and my fairly low Gygax number I got from one of the foundational campaigns I played in back in the early 80s.

For Gygax, hidden maps are about challenges to skilled play, not the creative integrity of the GM's ideas. That's not to say that integrity is unimportant, but it shows up in completely different places like the guidelines on admitting novel magic item's into one's campaign.
It's been a while since I've read the 1E DMG - care to point out the those guidelines on admitting novel magic items?
His focus really is quite resolutely on game play in my view, though the play he focuses on is not typical of most D&D play since the game became popular.
This is what I was getting at when I said, "There is a common world that is shared and it should work the same for all players."
 

Visit Our Sponsor

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top