This is a thread for posting about how you run and prepare for sandbox games, what style GMing you bring to the table, etc. If you have experience and thoughts on sandbox campaigns, post away!
This is my general method as well. As long as I know what needs preparing for the next session or two then the players can choose to do almost whatever they want.This was pretty much covered recently by this thread, but it depends on your definition of sandbox. I do sort-of-sandbox in that the PCs are always free to do whatever they want. On the other hand, I always give them a set of options before they move on to the next arc (at the end of a session) on what they want to do next so that I can prepare those scenarios.
However, I keep the scenarios pretty open. I know who the actors are, what their goal are, what the high level conflicts are and so on. Then if the PCs go off the rails I just improvise and either add a new actor or pull one in the PCs may or may not know.
So at the end of session, I let them know they have choices A, B, C and mystery bag whatever they want to do that I didn't think to include. So I prep for that. If, during session where they tell me they wanted to do B and then they go off the rails completely, I'll revise pre-planned encounters (I always do high level prep on an extra encounter or two) and go with it.
For example, I had the PCs travelling from one city to another and they had stopped in kind of a shady town, reputedly run by criminals bandits. I hadn't really fleshed out the town because they were just supposed to be there overnight, the description came from some general notes that I just threw in for flavor. Well, the rogue decided to try to make a bit of profit in town without telling anyone else, the entire party was soon involve due to some bad rolls. The next thing I know it's a battle in the streets with burning warehouses, breaking down the walls into a brothel to escape the flames and the group is taking on one of the crime bosses. Totally unplanned.
I handled it by changing the fluff on some of the monsters so they were human, using my handy list of randomly pre-generated names I always have handy and a lot of improv. Then I added the criminal organization to my "actors" log with a note of enmity to the group.
So that's how I handle it. Most of the time I ask what direction they want to go next with enough time for me to do prep work but I'm also willing to improvise and make things up on the fly. More difficult to do online than in person, but the same concept applies.
*Actors is general. Could be an individual, an organization, a political faction or even a nation. Human or monster, doesn't matter.
I would agree that these are import. I call them plot threads. So and so is up to no good and here is what he is doing. Here is how he operates. Here is what he is planning. I develops tons of NPCs who are up to no good and others who are trying to do good.I love sandbox-style campaigns. I can't imagine running a hack & slash railroad campaign again. No thanks.
That said, the best lesson I learned about running a sandbox campaign is that the "sand" is just as much about clues, hooks, leads, and rumors as it is locations. Actually, I'd argue that they are more important than the locations themselves. Whereas a traditional hexcrawl is solely location-based, I like to run mystery sandboxes, where the players have to choose which clue to follow, not which point on a map.
Great post, I entirely agree. I wanted to emphasize that it's the clues and hooks that get the players to the locations, not the locations themselves. I mean you can run a simple hex-to-hex sandbox but I find the breadcrumb style way more interesting.I call them plot threads.