Does Star Wars work well with Sandbox campaigns?

Yora

Legend
Every so often I'm coming back to an idea to run a Star Wars campaign. And the point where I usually don't make much progress is in deciding on a game structure to hold the campaign together.
In principle, I am a very outspoken proponent of sandbox campaigns in which the players roam around at their own volition. That's what RPGs are really made for as a medium. However, Star Wars is a setting created for narrative media. And the big Star Wars stories that constitute the primary references for what stories in Star Wars look like are pretty focused things with a somewhat clear mission to accomplish and events get more or less neatly tied up in a decisive fight against a main villain. (The Empire Strikes Back being the big strange exception that defines all conventional storytelling structure.)

So I am thinking, if the goal is to run a campaign that embodies and evokes the style of Star Wars stories, is a sandbox even a suitable structure to build it around?

Open world and unscripted stories does not have to mean PCs with no assigned goal. You can still assign the players a task that they have to pursue, for which many clues and hints are set out for them to discover, but not plot any path or plan for them to follow. Such a campaign structure would make the PCs more reactive than proactive but still provide them with a great degree of agency.

Thoughts on this?
 

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billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I think it would work as well as any other partially fleshed out setting in which you'd be doing a lot of the work of setting up situations that are encounterable and interesting for the players to do. Between the canonical movies and TV shows and the now non-canonical expanded universe, you've got a lot of material to work with that could all be things out there in the Star Wars universe that the players could have their PCs interact with. You'd probably just want to emphasize that while there is a narrative going on in the setting, their relationship with it is largely their own choice. Things may come up that are related to that narrative that may cross their paths, but their choices will matter about how they react when that happens.
 

jdrakeh

Front Range Warlock
It sure does! One of the best campaigns I've ever played in was a Star Wars EU campaign that drew in all kinds of crazy stuff from the Wookipedia and saw our heroes travelling all over the known universe (and some unknown parts, as well).
 


Yora

Legend
I think detail on the setting really isn't an issue.

But what I am thinking off are archetypical Star Wars elements. Like memorable big villains and heroes being under pressure to stop a plan before the villain can complete it. Such things are generally not present when the players can roam freely and dabble with whatever catches their attention that day. And I think that might be something that could be felt to be a missing element for a Star Wars story.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So I am thinking, if the goal is to run a campaign that embodies and evokes the style of Star Wars stories, is a sandbox even a suitable structure to build it around?
Absolutely.
Open world and unscripted stories does not have to mean PCs with no assigned goal. You can still assign the players a task that they have to pursue, for which many clues and hints are set out for them to discover, but not plot any path or plan for them to follow. Such a campaign structure would make the PCs more reactive than proactive but still provide them with a great degree of agency.

Thoughts on this?
Star Wars is a perfect open world/sandbox setting. Scatter the clues and resources necessary for the PCs to accomplish whatever their goal is, thereby forcing them to explore. You can also have antagonists actively hunting the PCs and/or searching for the same things/clues the PCs are after. This, I think, gets you the best of both worlds.
But what I am thinking off are archetypical Star Wars elements. Like memorable big villains and heroes being under pressure to stop a plan before the villain can complete it. Such things are generally not present when the players can roam freely and dabble with whatever catches their attention that day. And I think that might be something that could be felt to be a missing element for a Star Wars story.
The best bits of Star Wars gaming advice comes from the old WEG books. The 1E base book. All kinds of great advice. I've heard the early Expanded Universe authors used it as a guide. Depending on how you feel about the early EU novels...
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
Star Wars is great for a sandbox. You just have to move beyond the focus of the movies.

The Star Wars movies are epic with archetypical Star Wars elements like a big villain and saving the galaxy.

But, say....have you ever watched a Star Wars TV show? They have made a bunch and more are on the way. They don't always have archetypical Star Wars elements. And some work just fine without them.
 

MGibster

Legend
What does it mean to be a sandbox? Because the way the OP describes it, it sounds like there's no narrative structure. And I would think about campaign needs some sort of narrative structure.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Every so often I'm coming back to an idea to run a Star Wars campaign. And the point where I usually don't make much progress is in deciding on a game structure to hold the campaign together.
In principle, I am a very outspoken proponent of sandbox campaigns in which the players roam around at their own volition. That's what RPGs are really made for as a medium. However, Star Wars is a setting created for narrative media. And the big Star Wars stories that constitute the primary references for what stories in Star Wars look like are pretty focused things with a somewhat clear mission to accomplish and events get more or less neatly tied up in a decisive fight against a main villain. (The Empire Strikes Back being the big strange exception that defines all conventional storytelling structure.)

So I am thinking, if the goal is to run a campaign that embodies and evokes the style of Star Wars stories, is a sandbox even a suitable structure to build it around?

Open world and unscripted stories does not have to mean PCs with no assigned goal. You can still assign the players a task that they have to pursue, for which many clues and hints are set out for them to discover, but not plot any path or plan for them to follow. Such a campaign structure would make the PCs more reactive than proactive but still provide them with a great degree of agency.

Thoughts on this?
That’s generally been how my group has run Star Wars. IMO it’s a very good setting for it. Lots of factions, interesting places, interesting people, easy motivations that have nothing to do with empires and republics and Jedi, like “put cool things on my ship” or “start and develop a criminal/trade/force tradition organization”, etc.
 

Yora

Legend
What does it mean to be a sandbox? Because the way the OP describes it, it sounds like there's no narrative structure. And I would think about campaign needs some sort of narrative structure.
You need to have some structure, but it doesn't have to be a narrative one. Campaigns with procedual structures can also work very well, like Blades in the Dark or Classic Dungeon Crawling.
 

Aldarc

Legend
You need to have some structure, but it doesn't have to be a narrative one. Campaigns with procedual structures can also work very well, like Blades in the Dark or Classic Dungeon Crawling.
FitD: Scum & Villainy
OSR: Stars Without Number

Either way, but not limited to these two, should make a decent basis for a sandbox Star Wars game.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
FitD: Scum & Villainy
OSR: Stars Without Number

Either way, but not limited to these two, should make a decent basis for a sandbox Star Wars game.
Scum and Villainy isn't going to deliver anything resembling a Trad or Classic sandbox experience. Just as a heads up -- very different structure to play. I wouldn't call any Forged in the Dark game a sandbox (or PbtA, for that matter).

(and I know you know this @Aldarc, just mentioning it for the OP)
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Scores, engagement rolls, crew types, claims, downtime, that kind of things. It's a very structured game.
Structured doesn't mean procedural, though. Plenty of games have structure but are not procedural (in face, few are actually procedural at all).

Using the random dungeon creation charts in the 5e DMG creates a procedural game, for instance.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Every so often I'm coming back to an idea to run a Star Wars campaign. And the point where I usually don't make much progress is in deciding on a game structure to hold the campaign together. [snip]
So I am thinking, if the goal is to run a campaign that embodies and evokes the style of Star Wars stories, is a sandbox even a suitable structure to build it around?

Open world and unscripted stories does not have to mean PCs with no assigned goal. You can still assign the players a task that they have to pursue, for which many clues and hints are set out for them to discover, but not plot any path or plan for them to follow. Such a campaign structure would make the PCs more reactive than proactive but still provide them with a great degree of agency.

Thoughts on this?
Star Wars using current canon? No. It's too broad and with too high travel speeds to work well as an open world game.

Star Wars with OT only, restricted to a prepared cluster or 2? Yeah, it can work... noting that travel times were NOT explicit in the OT... but the sequel trilogy gives us some inanely fast hops....

The other issue is that it has news travelling faster than people... which is blithely ignored in the writer's room when it should result in main characters getting shot resisting arrest by a stormtrooper platoon.... but not when it would be to the main characters' advantage.
 

Committed Hero

Explorer
With the Star Wars setting I think you'd have to be as precise with time as with location. You have some pretty powerful NPCs who are making lots of changes, while other planets seem to not change at all regardless of the era.
 

Staffan

Legend
One of the most fun games I've run was a Star Wars semi-sandbox based on the material in the Age of Rebellion beginner game and associated web enhancement. The adventure in the Beginner Game is about taking over an off-the-books Imperial spy base, and the web enhancement is then about actually getting it up and running by making alliances with locals, acquiring equipment, while at the same time trying to stay under the Empire's radar so neither the Empire proper nor the Moff who commissioned it finds out and can take it back. It's a pretty small sandbox, there's a clear direction, and it does include some scripted events, but running it was one of the best times I've had.

For a more proper sandbox, I think Edge of the Empire would probably be the best fit out of FFG's offerings. But I think it works best if you have a clear overarching goal, even if PCs can have their own agendas on the side.
 

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