D&D General Not Railroad, Not Sandbox ... What else is there?

Okay. I'll accept that definition for the sake of argument.

That means that unless the DM puts high level monsters in that area with the intent of altering or limiting their choices, it's still a sandbox.

One way a DM might do this is through organic world creation. Some areas have ecosystems that have a higher average CR than others. For example, a kingdom of the giants. No intent to limit the players is involved, but rather the DM considers what makes sense in a giant kingdom (giants, dire animals, etc). This may limit the players in effect, but not because the DM intended to do so, hence it does not violate the definition of sandbox that you quoted.

Personally, though, I think you can absolutely design a sandbox to be gated. That might involve making certain areas higher CR, or simply involving barriers that a low level party cannot overcome (exploring the sunken city of Atlantis is largely impossible until you have some means of water breathing). I don't think that intentional gating means that a game isn't a sandbox. IMO, it's only truly linear if the players come up with a clever solution to bypass the gate, but the DM heavy-handedly prevents them from passing the gate anyway.

One of my favorite styles of sandbox is what I think of as Linear Sandboxes. This consists of a number of relatively small sandboxes (perhaps around 100 square miles each). There's an overarching goal of progression, but otherwise the players are completely free to do as they desire.

In one example of this style of campaign, our world had died. The cycle of rebirth required heroes to undergo a trial which involved traveling through the memories of the planet and collect the souls of unborn gods. Collecting all of the souls in a memory would allow passage to the next memory. Ultimately, if the heroes were able to overcome the trial, the gods would be born and renew the world (and also grant each hero a boon). It's very linear in one sense (the arc of the campaign), yet each memory was completely non-linear. We even threw the DM for a loop when we caused a temporal paradox that he completely didn't expect (but he handled it with aplomb and didn't try to railroad us at all).
Gating choices is exactly what I described in my post.
 

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the Jester

Legend
A choice that has no legitimate chance of success is not a choice.
It seems like you're defining a choice as a prescribed approach to a situation. "There's an ancient red dragon there at the pass, and we're only 1st level!" is not presenting the choice of "fight the dragon or run away", it's presenting the choice of "how do we deal with this foe?"

Being able to choose your risk and reward level is a fundamental part of hardcore sandbox play.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Gating choices is exactly what I described in my post.
And? I showed how a sandbox could be designed to meet the OP's definition of sandbox (organically). You were the one to quote that definition to me.

Then I went on to discuss that I don't actually agree with that definition of sandbox, and discussed how gating can certainly be part of a legitimate sandbox.
 


BINGO CARD: The DM prepares a series of challenges and the players can choose which of the options they wish to pursue, but they are not free to go "off the menu" and pursue a goal not prepared for them by the DM. In these situations, the DM tends to start preparing several places the PCs might explore, and then tweaks them as the PCs advance so that they are an appropriate challenge when the PCs arrive there. The PCs have choice, but it is a multi-choice option.
Where this basically becomes a sandbox is when the cards are not all discrete options but mere threads of an entagled web that can be pulled on.

Eg.
  • A merchant wants to hire some adventurers to rescue his daughter that was kidnapped by bandits.
  • Some Inquisitors are wandering around town asking questions about an escaped rebel leader who was seen in these parts.
  • An Owlbear is menacing some farms on the edge of the forest.
  • There are rumours that are locally abandoned tower has recently been occupied by some very dangerous men.
  • Spider people from the forest have been seen peering into people's windows at night.
  • The local alchemist will pay good money for any exotic creatures you might bring to him alive.
  • The town mine has recently been closed after they broke through into some old ruins.

Next rather than think of them as separate missions you consider how they might be related to each other.
  • The spider men are ettercaps who are looking for a lost family member. The missing ettercap is locked in the alchemist basement where he plans to run some experiments.
  • The Merchant's daughter has not been kidnapped she has run off willingly with the lieutenant of the bandit leader (who is the escaped rebel the inquisitors are looking for).
  • Three nasty smugglers have occupied the tower. They are sneaking into the forest to steal Owlbear eggs (a delicacy for nobles) and this is the reason the Owlbear is leaving the forest.

Even better if some of these things have interactions with emergent elements too. The alchemist being willing to pay for exotic creatures alive means a random encounter can suddenly turn into something much more interesting than a random combat to the death.

The thread with the rebel leader and the inquisitors also has potential to expand into geopolitics over a larger area.
 
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S'mon

Legend
The 1e Dungeoneer's Survival Guide divides campaign types into Linear (railroad, in the non-pejorative sense), Open (ie sandbox), and Matrix:

The Matrix Campaign
The matrix campaign allows the DM to create a detailed story
with a developed plot, while still allowing the players to choose
where they go and how they deal with their challenges.
The key to a matrix campaign design is to create a goal or
series of goals that the PCs are motivated to accomplish. The
matrix campaign is a very effective style of design for creating an
epic or a string of connecting stories. In many ways it represents
a compromise between the linear and open campaign styles of
The PCs in a matrix campaign start out at a location chosen
either by you or by the players. You then provide them with a short
exposition and some clues that open a number of different
options. For example, the characters may discover that a sect of
evil clerics has been gradually gaining control of the land. They
may witness peasants being arrested by the clerics, or see
places of worship for good-aligned deities suffer raids and vandalism.
The next move is up to the players, with a little bit of guidance
from you. Perhaps one PC remembers seeing a temple to the
north, emblazoned with the evil sect’s sign. To the east, recalls
another, is a great temple of good where the PCs could go for
information. Meanwhile, a group of peasants are hauled off into
slavery to the south, and one begs the characters for aid. All the
time, you know that the headquarters of the sect lies to the west,
but you bide yourtime in revealing this information to the players.
With this technique, the players become involved in the story,
yet are not railroaded into a specific task chosen by the DM. You
are prepared for a few courses of PC action: a raid on the temple
to the north, an interview with the sage to the east, or a prisoner
rescue mission to the south.
Depending on the length of the story you wish to create, you
might have clues in each of the three locations point directly
toward the heart of the problem (the evil sect’s headquarters to
the west), or you might continue to expand the matrix. The players
who rescue the prisoners might lead them as an army to
reclaim their homeland. If they visit the good temple, perhaps
they are sent on a quest to gain some item of great power from
the evil temple to the north. If that evil temple was their original
goal, they might gain the magical item on their own initiative.
The matrix can continue to expand for as long as you wish. All
of the different branches eventually steer the PCs toward the
headquarters of the sect, where the climax of the story takes
place. If you wish to move the plot along more quickly, you can
schedule events that occur wherever the PCs are. Events can be
encounters with significant NPCs, visions and dreams, social or
political changes, or quick scenes designed to show the PCs a
pertinent fact.
A matrix campaign must eventually meet a border, beyond
which the PCs are discouraged from passing. Borders can be
designed as either soft or hard.
A soft border is one that turns the PCs back into the story
through their own motivations. Players who resist any pursuit of
the evil sect, for example, might encounter a group of hapless
waifs whose parents are held prisoner. The children appeal to the
players’ sense of decency. In cases where this appeal is fruitless
(many DMs can predict this ahead of time), a mysterious stranger
might offer a reward of valuable gems for evidence of the sect’s
destruction. Judge your players carefully to decide what type of
persuasion motivates them best.
Players who fail to yield to any kind of motivation can be
allowed to occupy the story’s setting for as long as they like, even
if they don’t take part in it. If they attempt to leave the area, however,
they must encounter a hard boundary. This can be a physical
obstacle, such as a high cliff, stormy sea, or trackless desert.
Alternatively, it might be something like a huge army camped in
the PCs path, with a continually increasing series of encounters
with more and more troops. Quest or geas spells serve as hard
borders, but should be used only as a last resort.
The story matrix should contain several ways for the PCs to
approach the final encounter, and several means of dealing with
the challenge created there. Not all of these means must create
the same likelihood of success, but the PCs should not be
doomed to failure in the final encounter simply because they
made a wrong choice at some point in the adventure.
You should also prepare for the possibility that your players
may not have gained enough information about your story line to
figure out the next course of action. Despite a DM’s thorough and
detailed descriptions, an amazing number of players seem to
have no idea of what’s going on. If this happens in your campaign,
you need to gently but firmly show them the path.
Non-player characters can be particularly useful at such times.
Perhaps a henchman speaks up as all the PCs stand around
scratching their heads, and indicates your preferred course of
action. Or the party might encounter someone very wise, such as
an old sage, magic-user, or hermit. This NPC could provide
details on the next step of the adventure in language so plain that
all players should be able to understand it.
Foreshadowing can be effectively employed to show characters
whether or not they are on the right track. Ill omens and portents
of great danger do not always discourage players-after all,
these are some of the ingredients of good adventure-but they
can be presented in such a way that the PCs are able to figure out
whether they are going the right way or not.
 

jgsugden

Legend
You seem to have completely missed improvisational styles, and those in which the material is developed in response to player action.
I don't know if the distinction between improvisational and planned games fits into this discussion. While I think most enjoyable improvised games would be sandbox, you could also have one that follows another parameter - but the distinction of whether a DM has prepared material or is off the cuff doesn't impact how the story is laid out... just when it gets laid out.

However, I think that a game that has the DM respond to the players choices would generally be sandbox.

Are you seeing it differently?
 

Reynard

Legend
I don't know if the distinction between improvisational and planned games fits into this discussion. While I think most enjoyable improvised games would be sandbox, you could also have one that follows another parameter - but the distinction of whether a DM has prepared material or is off the cuff doesn't impact how the story is laid out... just when it gets laid out.

However, I think that a game that has the DM respond to the players choices would generally be sandbox.

Are you seeing it differently?
I run in a very improvisational style and yet ran Avernus which is railroady as all get out*. Improvisation meant weirdo NPCs and random encounters, but campaign stayed on the rails.

*I mean, the flowcharts in the modules are branchless lines!
 

I thought that Sandboxing also imply a precise determination of monsters, mapping, threats that the PC may encounter, and the DM has to stick hardly to those predetermined information. Or maybe I misunderstood?
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I thought that Sandboxing also imply a precise determination of monsters, mapping, threats that the PC may encounter, and the DM has to stick hardly to those predetermined information. Or maybe I misunderstood?
It's more about the lack of constraint on player decision making. The essence of sandbox play is to drop some characters into a setting and see what happens. Not plot, no GM direction force, blah blah. Some people get really worked up about that particular definition. I'm not that guy. I just count it as the other end of the spectrum from linear adventures.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I don't know if the distinction between improvisational and planned games fits into this discussion. While I think most enjoyable improvised games would be sandbox

They most definitely are not sandbox - a major identifier of a sandbox game is that the sandbox starts full of sand to play with. A sandbox is generally pre-populated with adventure material before play begins. The player is free to move about the world, and engage with the material, or not, as they wish.

In the games I'm talking about, there is little to no pre-population.
 

Laurefindel

Legend
The Guiding Star
Looks like a sandbox, especially at first, but with a focus point on the horizon. As the game progresses, the star becomes harder to ignore. Ultimately, the players will go toward the star, but the route is up to them.

The City Bus
The game is pretty linear, but the players can easily get off the bus at any time and board another one. Once the bus has passed however it’s almost impossible to catch up, and things happen. Things happen at the end of other bus lines too, and you can’t be on all the buses at once.
 

They most definitely are not sandbox - a major identifier of a sandbox game is that the sandbox starts full of sand to play with. A sandbox is generally pre-populated with adventure material before play begins. The player is free to move about the world, and engage with the material, or not, as they wish.

In the games I'm talking about, there is little to no pre-population.
I think a lot of people would consider an improvisational game a sandbox.

I can see the argument against it, in that it could be definitely be argued that if the GM is making stuff up then it's pretty hard not to be making up stuff appropriate to the characters, although some will swear blind that they are objectively playing the world.

There's a middle ground of course, where very little is populated but you mostly rely on randomisers with the occasional tweak to procedurally generate content.
 




Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Same. I really don't think that's a traditional definition.
Well, it's certainly a common feature of some sandboxes, especially the hex crawls that were really the first kind of map associated with the term (Majestic Wilderlands in about 2006 if memory serves). The term didn't refer to the map though, but to the lack of linear elements. The players were free to do what they liked and go where they liked. To paraphrase the words of the of an original user of the term for TTRPGs (Rob Conley) you set the players loose and let them trash the setting.
 

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