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D&D General Let's Talk About How to "Fix" D&D

This discussion is being position as black and white. Any control points in an adventure is railroad. Only an adventure without any constraints is a sandbox. This is a false choice that doesn’t take account of how adventures have adopted the Sandbox format and improved adventure design with it. While still maintaining a fully fleshed out practical campaign product.

No, what makes it "not a sandbox" is when noodling about it in it and filling in blank spaces isn't particularly meaningful, because the optimal choice is always to hit objectives quickly and move on.
 

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No, what makes it "not a sandbox" is when noodling about it in it and filling in blank spaces isn't particularly meaningful, because the optimal choice is always to hit objectives quickly and move on.
Isn't it safe to say that even in a sandbox campaign that there is some plot going on in the background whether the players get involved in it or not is a different story? I think so and can say from the games I've run yes.
 

TheSword

Legend
No, what makes it "not a sandbox" is when noodling about it in it and filling in blank spaces isn't particularly meaningful, because the optimal choice is always to hit objectives quickly and move on.
How does that relate to the examples I gave or contradict any of the other examples I gave? Slumbering, Night Below, Curse of Strahd, Rime of the Frost Maiden?

Not sure what noodling about means... do you mean interacting with the stuff the GM has designated lives there? Not sure what you mean by hit objectives quickly. Have you played or read any of the examples I’ve given?
 

Isn't it safe to say that even in a sandbox campaign that there is some plot going on in the background whether the players get involved in it or not is a different story? I think so and can say from the games I've run yes.

Not necessarily. Maybe. Maybe not. Keep on the Borderlands doesn't give a background plot. The distinction I like to draw is less "railroad vs sandbox" (especially since people hear "railroad" as "bad") and more "story vs scenario." A story focuses mainly on the advance through time and how to get players through it, while a scenario mostly provides information about the space and how to fill it in. Neither approach is "right" or "wrong," and there is a spectrum between the two, not a bright line.
 

Reynard

Legend
Isn't it safe to say that even in a sandbox campaign that there is some plot going on in the background whether the players get involved in it or not is a different story? I think so and can say from the games I've run yes.
IMO this is exactly the way a sandbox should work: there are things in place and things happening completely independently of the PCs. The GM should have a good idea of what is where, who relates to who, and what would happen if the PCs never got involved. That way, when the PCs do get involved, their choices matter. Who they align with, what locations they visit, which monsters they defeat and treasures they loot all inform what happens next and how the world responds to the PCs' actions.

This of course requires a lot of prep on the GM's part, and a lot of self motivation on the players'. A lot of players don't like sandbox campaigns because they don't like being proactive. There's nothing wrong with that but if there isn't clear communication between GM and players on the subject it can be a bad experience.
 

How does that relate to the examples I gave or contradict any of the other examples I gave? Slumbering, Night Below, Curse of Strahd, Rime of the Frost Maiden?

The example you gave of Rime is of some number of objectives the players can complete before advancing the story. Strahd is more sandboxy from what I've heard, but as I haven't played it, I don't have an opinion. I'm entirely unfamiliar with the other two examples.

Not sure what noodling about means... do you mean interacting with the stuff the GM has designated lives there?

I mean doing whatever, the difference between playing through the latest Call of Duty campaign and playing with a box of GI Joes.

Not sure what you mean by hit objectives quickly. Have you played or read any of the examples I’ve given?
By "hit the objectives quickly," I mean, "get to the next waypoint with alacrity, not delaying, in a little time as possible and with minimal resource expenditure."
 

There's nothing wrong with that but if there isn't clear communication between GM and players on the subject it can be a bad experience
I think theres also something to be said for the difference between a linear adventure, a sandbox adventure and a sandbox campaign. The former two usually have a predetermined objective as to where a sandbox campaign lets the players determine and pursue their own objective.
 

TheSword

Legend
The example you gave of Rime is of some number of objectives the players can complete before advancing the story. Strahd is more sandboxy from what I've heard, but as I haven't played it, I don't have an opinion. I'm entirely unfamiliar with the other two examples.
No, Rime doesn’t have to advance unless the DM/Players want it to. The events/locations seen as higher level are controlled by flow of information. However it is more than possible that PCs will have access to this info beforehand through player secrets. For instance the Dark Duchess is a icebound pirate ship, but one of the player secrets is that they came from this ship. Several of the later areas are accessed as a result of PCs discoveries in other areas. It’s still a sandbox if the PCs discover the key to the forgotten fortress in another area. Not every area has to be unlocked from Day 1. By the same token the book acknowledges that if the players want to settle in one of the starting towns and become its ruler they can do this.

I mean doing whatever, the difference between playing through the latest Call of Duty campaign and playing with a box of GI Joes.
Yeah. When you say ‘do whatever’, what you describe is actually interacting with pre-determined creatures and locations set by a DM. Please let’s not pretend there isn’t a certain amount of pre-planning with these areas.
By "hit the objectives quickly," I mean, "get to the next waypoint with alacrity, not delaying, in a little time as possible and with minimal resource expenditure."
You’re making the assumption that the whole area is linked with waypoints. In the example I gave of Night Below, there are two... one third and two thirds through. If players rush through, they won’t have the experience, or items needed to be successful in later areas.

This is the difficulty when people pass judgement on written campaigns without being familiar on written campaigns.
 

TheSword

Legend
What Rime actually does is advance the timeline independent of the PCs so that the first five quests the complete result in fame (and levelling up) and the incomplete quests result in resentment from their quest givers and the people in the remaining towns. Players make a choice as to which threats they want to deal with and which they leave... and pay the consequences. This seems perfectly acceptable in a sandbox to me.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think theres also something to be said for the difference between a linear adventure, a sandbox adventure and a sandbox campaign. The former two usually have a predetermined objective as to where a sandbox campaign lets the players determine and pursue their own objective.
I think it is important to note that you can include a linear adventure in a sandbox. It's actually a really good way to populate a sandbox: find some adventures you really like and put there in places throughout your sandbox. It's better, of course, if you make sure the elements in these disparate adventures tie together with the sandbox setting and its other elements, but it isn't strictly necessary. There is no reason not to place The Sunless Citadel (which is a fun but pretty linear dungeon crawl) in a sandbox, for example.
 

I think it is important to note that you can include a linear adventure in a sandbox. It's actually a really good way to populate a sandbox: find some adventures you really like and put there in places throughout your sandbox. It's better, of course, if you make sure the elements in these disparate adventures tie together with the sandbox setting and its other elements, but it isn't strictly necessary. There is no reason not to place The Sunless Citadel (which is a fun but pretty linear dungeon crawl) in a sandbox, for example.
Absolutely. Think I might even design a sandbox campaign with an adventure that can be run piecemeal or linear into it. The players know of its existence and If they want to explore the location great, if not thats fine to.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Yeah, I mean the term's been around for a while, I just get why some people don't like it. The main difference between a sandbox and a path is there are no "waypoints" or "branches" in the sandbox.
Slight nitpick: the difference is that there's no predetermined waypoints or branches.

Every time the players make a decision on what to do next they've just generated another waypoint with many potential branches and then chosen one.
What I am picturing is something more like having One Big Thing the party needs to do (e.g., slay a Big Bad, discover what is at the bottom of the mine, etc), and, rather than providing the DM with the list of things to do first, the DM is given a map of the surrounding area, with some things filled in, other things only sketched out, some guidelines for filling in blank spots a few hooks, and no real "gate" to the endpoint other than them getting their butts handed to them if they're underleveled or their plan is stupid.
For experienced players this is fine. For new ones, some (many?) wouldn't have a clue what to do next until the DM gave them a gentle shove in the right direction.
The DM might also be given suggestions of what players might do in the sandbox to facilitate their access to the One Big Thing, rather than the typical, "Once the players have secured the alliance of at least three cities, Little Lord Fauntleroy announces that the assault on the Giant King's Keep will commence." This would by necessity be an advanced adventure that a novice DM would have some difficulty running, the purpose of suggestions being largely to introduce newbies to the wonderful world of just wingin' it.
My own preference is that the first adventure a new party does actually be something of a railroad, as least in terms of getting them to it and started on it, just to get them going. Once they've done that adventure (and found the 97 hooks you've put in that each lead to a different further adventure!), open up the sandbox to player/PC choice.
 

Reynard

Legend
Slight nitpick: the difference is that there's no predetermined waypoints or branches.

Every time the players make a decision on what to do next they've just generated another waypoint with many potential branches and then chosen one.

For experienced players this is fine. For new ones, some (many?) wouldn't have a clue what to do next until the DM gave them a gentle shove in the right direction.

My own preference is that the first adventure a new party does actually be something of a railroad, as least in terms of getting them to it and started on it, just to get them going. Once they've done that adventure (and found the 97 hooks you've put in that each lead to a different further adventure!), open up the sandbox to player/PC choice.
I think you can put experienced players in a sandbox zone with an explanation and let them develop a party with reasons for existing and motivations to adventure together. This part is important: the players need to work together to create complimentary characters with complimentary goals. Too often a party of Lone Wanderers ends up bringing things to an early and inexorable halt.

For this to work the GM needs to be up front: "This region is like Gold Rush California with opportunity and danger everywhere as "dungeon prospectors" try and make claims and not die. There's fame and fortune to be had. Where do you fit in?"

And by the same token the GM needs to be ready to accept an answer of "We're not dungeon delvers. We're going to con all of those idiots out of their last silvers!" An open world is open for the players, too.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Correct. The most extreme example is something you see brought up on message boards sometimes where GMs suggest it doesn't matter whether the PCs go right or left at the fork in the road because the adventure the GM prepared is going to be wherever they went. Other examples include a dungeon where any doors not leading to the BBEG lead nowhere, or when the PCs are given an opportunity to form a plan of attack that ultimately doesn't change the outcome of the GM or designers predetermined events. Players are meant to feel like they are making meaningful decisions but because the next step in the adventure is already determined, those choices are irrelevant.

It's how you put it togather. Each time my PCs finish a chapter I ask them what they want to do next based on plot hooks I have already dropped.

I few encounters are fixed unless the PCs go above and beyond to avoid them. Eg assassin's or bounty hunters are on to them and they make no effort to shake them.
 

Reynard

Legend
It's how you put it togather. Each time my PCs finish a chapter I ask them what they want to do next based on plot hooks I have already dropped.

I few encounters are fixed unless the PCs go above and beyond to avoid them. Eg assassin's or bounty hunters are on to them and they make no effort to shake them.
Sure, creating things as the campaign progresses is fine. It's a reality. Even in a super well developed open sandbox a GM still needs to do that for the PCs choices to matter. We all have limited time.

The thing that would make it illusion of choice would be if you asked them and then dressed up whatever you had planned to look like it matched their choice.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Sure, creating things as the campaign progresses is fine. It's a reality. Even in a super well developed open sandbox a GM still needs to do that for the PCs choices to matter. We all have limited time.

The thing that would make it illusion of choice would be if you asked them and then dressed up whatever you had planned to look like it matched their choice.

It's why I design week to week and don't plot anything out. Or I can wing it if need be.


That weeks session notes is usually a typed A4 page.

I do use prepublished on occasion and work it in but it's no an AP at least in total.
 

Asisreo

Fiendish Attorney
Sure, creating things as the campaign progresses is fine. It's a reality. Even in a super well developed open sandbox a GM still needs to do that for the PCs choices to matter. We all have limited time.

The thing that would make it illusion of choice would be if you asked them and then dressed up whatever you had planned to look like it matched their choice.
It's why I design week to week and don't plot anything out. Or I can wing it if need be.


That weeks session notes is usually a typed A4 page.

I do use prepublished on occasion and work it in but it's no an AP at least in total.
I am somewhat similar in my approach. All the big stuff is already outlined. The kingdom, the towns, some of the important NPCs and their motivations, etc.

But I'll usually dig a bit deeper and have the player's backstory actually fill in some of the details I intentionally left blank.

The character has been an assassin before the game? Guess what the rival is getting revenge over. The hermit has been living amongst nature? Well, this dryad is going to have familiarity with them now.

I also don't have many actual waypoints or whatever. I give the players interesting lore and they'll eventually see something interesting and what to see and interact with it.
 

I think it is important to note that you can include a linear adventure in a sandbox. It's actually a really good way to populate a sandbox: find some adventures you really like and put there in places throughout your sandbox. It's better, of course, if you make sure the elements in these disparate adventures tie together with the sandbox setting and its other elements, but it isn't strictly necessary. There is no reason not to place The Sunless Citadel (which is a fun but pretty linear dungeon crawl) in a sandbox, for example.
Yeah. Key here is the overarching structure and social dynamic that lets the players go "Nope, actually we don't about rescuing the princess, but if you're offering that much money to rescue her you must have it stashed somewhere, so we'll help ourselves to that when we find it."
 
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Reynard

Legend
I really like Exhaustion as a mechanic and want to use it for more things, but it is really punishing. So, a potential fix:

Fatigue: anything that would give you a level of Exhaustion instead gives you a point of Fatigue. If you get 3 points of Fatigue, you gain a level of Exhaustion and your Fatigue points reset. You can eliminate a point of Fatigue with a short rest and may eliminate additional points of Fatigue during the short rest by spending Hit Dice (which don't heal you). Any activity that eliminates a level of Exhaustion clears all your Fatigue points as well.

More things in the game can give you Fatigue than things intended to give you Exhaustion. These include: being reduced to 0 HP, failing an Athletics check by 5 or more, some poisons, taking environmental damage from extreme weather. Stuff like that.

You can also voluntarily take points of Fatigue in order to heal a Hit Die or gain the use of a Short Rest ability.

Thoughts?
 

6ENow!

I don't debate opinions.
I really like Exhaustion as a mechanic and want to use it for more things, but it is really punishing. So, a potential fix:

Fatigue: anything that would give you a level of Exhaustion instead gives you a point of Fatigue. If you get 3 points of Fatigue, you gain a level of Exhaustion and your Fatigue points reset. You can eliminate a point of Fatigue with a short rest and may eliminate additional points of Fatigue during the short rest by spending Hit Dice (which don't heal you). Any activity that eliminates a level of Exhaustion clears all your Fatigue points as well.

More things in the game can give you Fatigue than things intended to give you Exhaustion. These include: being reduced to 0 HP, failing an Athletics check by 5 or more, some poisons, taking environmental damage from extreme weather. Stuff like that.

You can also voluntarily take points of Fatigue in order to heal a Hit Die or gain the use of a Short Rest ability.

Thoughts?
Sounds good, I think you should try it out for a couple sessions and see how it work.

I understand about what you mean about it being punishing. We did do a level of exhaustion when you went to 0 HP, but since changed to a pseudo-exhaustion instead. What happens is you start at 6 levels of temp exhaustion (not dead, unconscious) and this is reduced by your CON mod. So, CON 14 starts at 4 levels of temp exhaustion. At the end of each of your next turns, you reduce one level. The temp exhaustions carry all the same penalties as regular exhaustion.

So, with CON 14, when you are healed from 0 HP, your recovery takes 4 rounds:

Round 1: Half HP (and all lower penalties as well)
Round 2: Disadvantage on attacks and saves
Round 3: Speed half
Round 4: Disadvantage on ability checks
Round 5: fully recovered

This prevents whack-a-mole but doesn't make it so you have exhaustion until a long rest.
 

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