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.


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?

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey


I can run 5e so it feels like BX to me.
I can't run 4e so it feels like BX to me.
I think those are (a) pretty reasonable statements and (b) probably not uncommonn, for those who've tried.

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Even when I'm running Moldvay Basic or Labyrinth Lord, it isn't nearly as process-based as what you're talking about. I feel supported by BX, not constrained. Moldvay gives me tools, not a straitjacket. It's not a board game or some crazy hipster Indie 'System Matters' game. :D

The whole point of playing Moldvay is to be stuck in a hipster indie straightjacket with all the board-gamey zippers! :cool:


Victoria Rules
I know "such a broad range" is qualitative, but I feel like this is really up for debate. To my mind, there are the 5 identifiable forms of D&D.

1) Classic Moldvay Basic Dungeon Crawling as Skilled Play.

2) AD&D and ECMI/RC Objective-Setting-Centered Hexcrawl or Sandbox.

3) AD&D 2e/3.x GM as Storyteller, Metaplot/AP via Force + Spotlight Rotation + Setting Tourism + Exposition Dump.

4) AD&D and 3.x AP/Module as Skilled Play.

5) 4e Story Now, Mythic-Troped Protagonist Play w/ Thematically/Tactically Deep Combat.
I think you do 3.x a disservice by not giving it the same "Tactically Deep Combat" tag you give 4e. Your bias otherwise shines through in your choice of wordings for the various types... :)

Also, there's a few other common and very identifiable forms of D&D which are almost edition-agnostic:

6) Beer-and-pretzels hack'n'slash/murderhobo, DM as Referee, setting and-or story almost irrelevant as long as there's monsters to kill. This is different from 1) in that it covers all editions and doesn't imply much if any player skill.

7) Troupe-style play, same consistent DM-campaign-setting but different or rotating players and-or PCs session to session; story, if any, unimportant except maybe to the DM

5e can handle both of these just fine, though one could argue the early more-lethal editions are better for 6).


PHB 182 says nothing about dungeons.
DMG 242 gives walking speeds & distance at different map scales, the lowest scale being 'dungeon'. This is how fast you walk through a dungeon - not searching it!
There is a commercially available B/X-ification of 5e called "Into the Unknown". The author distinguishes between "travel pace" and "exploration pace", which is 1200/ft per 10 minute segment, allowing mapping, passive perception, no penalty on perception vs stealth checks for surprise, etc. You'll note the 5e-isms inherent in that B/X procedure structure. Reaction rolls, morale, wandering monsters (a very good section, the author uses the concept of the Overloaded Encounter die) are all present.
Other intersections between B/X and 5e in "Into the Unknown" mentioned in this thread:
- XP for adventure earned/recovered gold spent frivolously.
- There is an optional rule to limit cantrips (I use it)
- Max HP at 1st level

I use Into the Unknown as the starting point for my 5e-ish game (which I keep threatening to restart... f'ing covid). I have house rules for a simplified encumbrance system (which uses slots so is easily visually calculated), tie consumption of food and water for rests (tinkering with the ratio tho). I also created a new rest category - Unsafe Long Rest, which is taking a long rest in a dungeon like environment. In an Unsafe Long Rest, characters choose between getting their long rest benefits to hit dice or to abilities, but not both.

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