Favorite Tools for Sandbox/Player Driven Campaigns

Xeviat

Explorer
Hi everyone. I'm very interested in starting an open/sandboxy campaign for my next D&D game. I'd like my players to get to discover a world and make their own direction. Different from my usual posts about mechanics (though I am thinking of a variant rest where short rests will be 8 hours, long rests will be 2 days in a settlement, and long rest classes will be converted to being more short rest oriented), I'd like to know what your resources are for running sandboxy games.

I've got a good handle on encounter creation, so I think I can put things together quick for that. But there's far more to an open game.

What's your advice?
 
A few pieces of advice I've seen that I think are useful:

1) Avoid 'end the world' plots because they force the PCs to take immediate action.
2) NPC power groups have limited reach. There are no continent spanning empires.
3) NPCs and locations are connected to others. This is so the PCs can find these connections and they'll lead to further adventures. Frex the Dungeons of Diablerie were once occupied by the Purple Dragon, Chunterclasp, who was driven out by the High Priest of Malevolax and now lives in Castle Ghastly (along with the ghasts ofc). Chunterclasp is working with the Festering Coast Thieves Guild who have been infiltrated by the Sisterhood of the Serpent and on and on and on.
 
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S'mon

Legend
The Xanathar's encounter tables are great for sandboxing, I definitely recommend them.

I'm currently running a sandbox with the very good Primeval Thule Campaign Setting; previously I used the 3e Wilderlands of High Fantasy, both are on drivethru. Rob Conley's stuff like Blackmarsh (free) also good for smaller sandboxes. I definitely find adding to an existing box is much easier than starting from scratch. The Forgotten Realms Phandalin/Dessarin region also has tons of published
material and I plan to do a Phandalin sandbox next year.
 
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77IM

Explorer!!!
I use Campaign Logger to take notes and it works well, by making it very easy to cross-link entries and view them chronologically. I've found it works better for sandbox campaigns because players tend to bounce around a lot. In a plot-driven campaign, I usually only need to think about the next session or two, but in a sandbox campaign I constantly need to refer back to past sessions.

I think my #1 piece of advice is to have a solid handle on the setting, locations, and NPCs so that you can improvise quickly when the players go in an unexpected direction, which they will do constantly.
 

aco175

Adventurer
Matt Collville had a good video on YouTude on sandbox games. He liked to take a fe low-level modules from older editions and place them around a few towns in the local area. The PCs are given several options along the way to make their own choices on where to go and what threat to deal with. If the PCs deal with The Keep on the Shadowfell and not another threat, that's great for that one problem, but all the other bad guys are one step closer to completing their plans. And the bad guys get tougher and gain levels themselves.

I try to give options and have lots of ideas floating around for the group to explore. I may throw in some other NPC groups that go to deal with some of the threats to eliminate options, or compete with the PCs. There can even be times where the groups need to team up or rescue one another. A good notice board and good NPCs are well worth the time.

Also, you only need to be a week or two ahead of the PCs. Once they decide to tackle one objective you have a good idea where they are going and what is there. Some basic notes are only needed when planning the whole region. Look for ways to overlap quests and gad guy plans. Also have some of the bad guys at odds with each other and one may even help the PCs at one time if it hurts the other bad guy.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I find the Oldskull Adventure Generator to be a very useful tool for generating ideas. Lots of extensive random tables for adventure creation.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/213592/CASTLE-OLDSKULL--Oldskull-Adventure-Generator

The Oldskull Dungeon Tools are also very useful. It's basically a long list of different tables that can produce a variety of results. The only (potential) downside is that it's intended for use with Microsoft Excel, so if you use a different spreadsheet program it may not work. That said, I was able to make it work with LibreOffice. The upside is that, unlike with a PDF/book, there's no flipping back and forth to cross reference tables. If you don't like a result, just refresh the Excel sheet.
https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/242284/CASTLE-OLDSKULL--Oldskull-Dungeon-Tools

Edit: the shortcut to refresh in LibreOffice is Shift+Ctrl+F9.
 
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Hi everyone. I'm very interested in starting an open/sandboxy campaign for my next D&D game. I'd like my players to get to discover a world and make their own direction. Different from my usual posts about mechanics (though I am thinking of a variant rest where short rests will be 8 hours, long rests will be 2 days in a settlement, and long rest classes will be converted to being more short rest oriented), I'd like to know what your resources are for running sandboxy games.

I've got a good handle on encounter creation, so I think I can put things together quick for that. But there's far more to an open game.

What's your advice?
Lots and lots of random tables. Actually every book ToC is a random table.

Use them also in a negative fashion such roll randomly for what does NOT exist in the world.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Moderator
Staff member
For my best campaign ever, I set up the gameworld and designed certain adventures that forwarded the main plot, but I also made a “newsletter” that was essentially the in-house newspaper for the agency the PCs were connected to. I printed out a copy to post on our host’s cork board for all to see.

In it, the major storylines described the campaign’s biggest news, centered on the main plot and the PCs’ actions. But a goodly portion had blurbs about things from PC backstories and player table talk. If the players showed more interest in the blurbs, that info might get fleshed out into a major story, and from there, into an adventure if the interest seemed strong.

IOW, I always had several lures in the water, and I could pick and choose which “fish” to try to land.

In a fantasy game, this role could be filled by a broadsheet, town crier, or well-maintained rumor mill.
 

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