D&D General Sandbox Campaigns should have a Default Action.

Reynard

Legend
One thing I am contemplating right now is a small, contained sandbox for a short campaign/long adventure. By some definitions, that isn't a sandbox because it is bounded both in space and time, but I think the definition still works at least well enough not to have to create a whole new term for it. In the precise example I am talking about I am thinking a barony suffering under the depredations of a dragon and the party comes in at the behest of the Baroness to kill it (the reward being the hoard). Everything else is up to them. they could conceivably just roll up on its lair but that would likely end in a TPK, so they can explore the area, talk to the people, delve the dungeons, etc... in hopes of finding tools that will help them kill it and take its stuff.

For those that care about strict definitions: is that still a sandbox? And does going in with a goal in mind count as a "railroad"?
 

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payn

Legend
One thing I am contemplating right now is a small, contained sandbox for a short campaign/long adventure. By some definitions, that isn't a sandbox because it is bounded both in space and time, but I think the definition still works at least well enough not to have to create a whole new term for it. In the precise example I am talking about I am thinking a barony suffering under the depredations of a dragon and the party comes in at the behest of the Baroness to kill it (the reward being the hoard). Everything else is up to them. they could conceivably just roll up on its lair but that would likely end in a TPK, so they can explore the area, talk to the people, delve the dungeons, etc... in hopes of finding tools that will help them kill it and take its stuff.

For those that care about strict definitions: is that still a sandbox? And does going in with a goal in mind count as a "railroad"?
Sounds like a sandbox to me. There is an end goal and players are free to prepare for it and head in when they see fit.
 

One thing I am contemplating right now is a small, contained sandbox for a short campaign/long adventure. By some definitions, that isn't a sandbox because it is bounded both in space and time, but I think the definition still works at least well enough not to have to create a whole new term for it. In the precise example I am talking about I am thinking a barony suffering under the depredations of a dragon and the party comes in at the behest of the Baroness to kill it (the reward being the hoard). Everything else is up to them. they could conceivably just roll up on its lair but that would likely end in a TPK, so they can explore the area, talk to the people, delve the dungeons, etc... in hopes of finding tools that will help them kill it and take its stuff.

For those that care about strict definitions: is that still a sandbox? And does going in with a goal in mind count as a "railroad"?
I can say as a player, I really enjoy overarching motives, especially if the smaller stuff gets tied in - even if it is just a little. For example, one of the dungeon delves results in ancient calligraphy that shows when the dragon was born, and some of the elves or dwarves have a memory before the dragon carried so much weight, and some ruins might have been destroyed by the dragon long ago, but are now encamped by giant spiders. The side quests don't have to be about the dragon, but they could have reminders. Maybe even clues on how to stop the beast?

I have no idea what to call it, but it seems like it will be a lot of fun for your players. (y)
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Im totally good with linear as the good, and railroad as the bad. Most folks are actually.
I might suggest that "linear" is a value-neutral descriptor, "Railroad" is a negative term, indicating the DM actively blocking alternative player choices and solutions, and "sandbox" is a form of non-linear campaign structure in which players can choose their own directions and goals.

One thing I am contemplating right now is a small, contained sandbox for a short campaign/long adventure. By some definitions, that isn't a sandbox because it is bounded both in space and time, but I think the definition still works at least well enough not to have to create a whole new term for it. In the precise example I am talking about I am thinking a barony suffering under the depredations of a dragon and the party comes in at the behest of the Baroness to kill it (the reward being the hoard). Everything else is up to them. they could conceivably just roll up on its lair but that would likely end in a TPK, so they can explore the area, talk to the people, delve the dungeons, etc... in hopes of finding tools that will help them kill it and take its stuff.

For those that care about strict definitions: is that still a sandbox? And does going in with a goal in mind count as a "railroad"?
Good question. It sounds like it falls somewhere in the middle, as I guess a lot of adventures/campaigns do.

You've got a strong starting hook which it sounds like the players will need to be on board with- "You've been recruited by the Baroness to kill this dragon", but there's no required approach or forced timeframe. I think for it to be fully sandbox you'd present that as one option within the setting but not pre-define that they've already accepted this job. It'd be one option in the milieu.

(BTW I don't think being bounded in space negates a sandbox; I think most sandboxes have boundaries, though a DM who's really focused on player choice will usually be willing to expand those boundaries)
 

so last night I had (more or less) scripted events happening... is that a railroad?

The City the PCs have been in was going to get a visit from a character I have foreshadowed... a dwarven artificer that is powerful and influenceable not in dwarven lands but human ones. I knew he was bringing a tank (a horseless carriage with a radiant gun on top), but the PCs had no way to know that before game. The PCs are aligned with and sometimes work for the local thieves guild... and the guy in charge there was pre scripted to want all the info he could on the tank. I knew when he saw it he was going to ask the PCs to get a look inside it and find out what they can. I also knew it was coming with a handful of guards and a weird human kid that travels with the dwarf... but also a Knight (a human knight serving a dwarven king) just happened upon this and is traveling now with them... this knight is a JERK. He is also WELL more powerful then the PCs... like if i simulate a combat I could see him if he gets lucky TPKing the party, and since they hang out in a gambling hall (that is a front for the thieves guild) I planed on having him come in, be a bit jerky to some NPCs gamble a bit, then call a local bard NPC out for cheating... I even took a song lyric as some pre written dialog when a town guard (or maybe a PC) tried to stop him from getting aggressive (You better check your ego, you don't want your lip to react, you don't want to see my hand where my hilt is at...)

I also had notes incase they went a few diffrent ways out of town even though last week we all said we were staying in town a bit... maybe they would only hear about all this when they got back?

knowing I had all of this planed, the Dwarf artificer the 13 year old girl(at least looks like) that travels with him, 1 of his 4 guards, the knight, the head of the theives guild, the local alchimist/apothacary, and the town mayor (that no one in game like) all have there own goals and I have an outline of what they will try to do for the 3 days the dwarf is there...

is that railroading?
 

Reynard

Legend
so last night I had (more or less) scripted events happening... is that a railroad?

The City the PCs have been in was going to get a visit from a character I have foreshadowed... a dwarven artificer that is powerful and influenceable not in dwarven lands but human ones. I knew he was bringing a tank (a horseless carriage with a radiant gun on top), but the PCs had no way to know that before game. The PCs are aligned with and sometimes work for the local thieves guild... and the guy in charge there was pre scripted to want all the info he could on the tank. I knew when he saw it he was going to ask the PCs to get a look inside it and find out what they can. I also knew it was coming with a handful of guards and a weird human kid that travels with the dwarf... but also a Knight (a human knight serving a dwarven king) just happened upon this and is traveling now with them... this knight is a JERK. He is also WELL more powerful then the PCs... like if i simulate a combat I could see him if he gets lucky TPKing the party, and since they hang out in a gambling hall (that is a front for the thieves guild) I planed on having him come in, be a bit jerky to some NPCs gamble a bit, then call a local bard NPC out for cheating... I even took a song lyric as some pre written dialog when a town guard (or maybe a PC) tried to stop him from getting aggressive (You better check your ego, you don't want your lip to react, you don't want to see my hand where my hilt is at...)

I also had notes incase they went a few diffrent ways out of town even though last week we all said we were staying in town a bit... maybe they would only hear about all this when they got back?

knowing I had all of this planed, the Dwarf artificer the 13 year old girl(at least looks like) that travels with him, 1 of his 4 guards, the knight, the head of the theives guild, the local alchimist/apothacary, and the town mayor (that no one in game like) all have there own goals and I have an outline of what they will try to do for the 3 days the dwarf is there...

is that railroading?
I don't know if it is railroading but it is definitely more "scripted" than I would generally do. The NPC wants a look inside the "tank" is all I would "script" beforehand. Everything else would be based on what the PCs did, the questions the players asked, and some random die rolls.
 

jgsugden

Legend
Not sure how I overlooked this thread until now, but:

My 'usual' campaign design is a railroad to level 5, then sandbox to ~level 17, then a railroad to completion of the campaign. When I do this, I've usually dropped about 20 adventure hooks into those first four levels, and implemented ways to remind the PCs of the hooks (both in, and out, of character). In one campaign I'm running for 6th level PCs, I have a running tally of adventure hooks that they could explore and it is at 45 right now. Some involve lengthy travel, others might be resolved with a single conversation.

When I start a true sandbox from level 1, which is rare, but something I would do for a West Marches situation, I'd just drop in a bunch of hooks into the Session 0 and then a few more into Session1, and then track the hooks on a communal message board.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
....
I also had notes incase they went a few diffrent ways out of town even though last week we all said we were staying in town a bit... maybe they would only hear about all this when they got back?

knowing I had all of this planed, the Dwarf artificer the 13 year old girl(at least looks like) that travels with him, 1 of his 4 guards, the knight, the head of the theives guild, the local alchimist/apothacary, and the town mayor (that no one in game like) all have there own goals and I have an outline of what they will try to do for the 3 days the dwarf is there...

is that railroading?
Not IMO. Having events which are going to happen in the game world is not the same as having events that must happen to the PCs no matter what they do, and which you have pre-determined how the PCs must react to or deal with.

Again, I agree with the Colville definition that it's not railroading in any way to present PCs with a situation. Or to have determined ahead of time how a given NPC will react to a given occurence. It's railroading when you force the PCs to deal with a situation the way you pre-planned, and unreasonably block any alternate solutions or actions they come up with and want to try.
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
My 'usual' campaign design is a railroad to level 5, then sandbox to ~level 17, then a railroad to completion of the campaign. When I do this, I've usually dropped about 20 adventure hooks into those first four levels, and implemented ways to remind the PCs of the hooks (both in, and out, of character). In one campaign I'm running for 6th level PCs, I have a running tally of adventure hooks that they could explore and it is at 45 right now. Some involve lengthy travel, others might be resolved with a single conversation.
Is it really a Railroad, or is it what we've talked about in this thread as a Rollercoaster?

Do you give them a linear plot and then force them to solve it in a way you've pre-determined, even if they choose some other course of action?
 

Reynard

Legend
Not sure how I overlooked this thread until now, but:

My 'usual' campaign design is a railroad to level 5, then sandbox to ~level 17, then a railroad to completion of the campaign. When I do this, I've usually dropped about 20 adventure hooks into those first four levels, and implemented ways to remind the PCs of the hooks (both in, and out, of character). In one campaign I'm running for 6th level PCs, I have a running tally of adventure hooks that they could explore and it is at 45 right now. Some involve lengthy travel, others might be resolved with a single conversation.

When I start a true sandbox from level 1, which is rare, but something I would do for a West Marches situation, I'd just drop in a bunch of hooks into the Session 0 and then a few more into Session1, and then track the hooks on a communal message board.
Do you have that level 17+ "railroad" (read: rollercoaster) in mind at level 5?
 

jgsugden

Legend
Do you have that level 17+ "railroad" (read: rollercoaster) in mind at level 5?
Yes (actually, from long before level 1 - I plan out the basic structure of a cmapaign years in advance - I have three 20 level campaigns outlined for future use right now - 2 revised versions of something I've run before and one new one) and no.

I have a primary plan, and I lay seeds for it. As the PCs go through the first 17 levels the pieces can become more clear - and usually the railroad at level 17 is triggered by an event that is inevitable and can't be stopped ...

Except players and PCs can sometimes come up with real good plans. Or, they just say, "Not my problem" and let a disaster that only they could stop happen. Either way, my 17+ railroad can end up falling apart.

So, if the players come up with a way to avoid the seemingly inevitable, I let them do it and then move on to a plan B. To be honest, this is very rare. When it does come up, I have tools built in - not tools specifically designed for this circumstance, but ones I can pull on to make it work.

For example, I borrow from future campaign setup. I lay groundwork in one campaign for the next campaign. I can use that future facing groundwork to insitute a backup plan. For example, in one campaign, one low level PC found a piece of the Rod of 7 Parts. The pieces become exponentially more powerful when you combine them, so one piece, by itself, is a good uncommon magic item. The original idea was that in a subsequent campaign, the PCs would spend a considerable amount of time hunting down the pieces and would run into the retired NPC (or their descendant) ... but if the PCs, at level 15, crash and wreck my plans for a level 17+ railroad in the campaign where one of the PCs has that piece of the Rod, I might instead have an NPC force gathering the rest of the pieces in the background and then have them come after the PC that had the one piece right around level 17 ... kicking off a different way to wrap up the campaign - but still built upon elements that were there throughout the campaign.

It is always a bit of an adjustment at higher levels as I tailor the game for the players and PCs at my table. My sandbox technique begins to thin the available options that I intentionally create for PCs as they get higher in level. This achieves a few goals, one of which is them feeling like they actually made a difference in the world. However, it does leave it so that they have a narrowed obvious set of DM provided options. I used to expect this to be a problem area where the players would feel squeezed after having so much freedom ...

But I find that by these levels, if the players are invested in your world, this is typically not a problem because the players will create more adventure hooks than they can close through their interest in something you mention casually. At times, the players that maintain a list of hooks can have hundreds of additional hooks they want to investigate that I just considered background lore ... but could be fun to build upon if they want to put their interest in that direction. The players tend to realize you were not necessarily 'building that for them', but I do make it clear that they can pursue anything they want in my setting.
 
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I don't know if it is railroading but it is definitely more "scripted" than I would generally do. The NPC wants a look inside the "tank" is all I would "script" beforehand. Everything else would be based on what the PCs did, the questions the players asked, and some random die rolls.
yeah each individual part might appear in a campaign before but this is the most scripting I have done in years... and I was SUPER surprised when the PCs didn't throw any major curve balls... they did befriend the Dwarven Artificer before anyone said anything about the tank, and as such instead of asking them to 'break in' they instead just choose to find out what they could about it by asking (including asking to ride in it and see it fire) then they reported back to the thieves guild leader... they took initiative and did what I would have had him ask but better and more detailed (although they did flub some investigation and perception checks so they know it has a secondary weapon but not what it is).

They also figured out the 'human' '13 year old' 'girl' is really a super advanced flesh warforged and is something between his daughter and body guard... and they figured out he made her as the real weapon... the tank is a toy (although a really powerful expensive toy). And they did all this while 1 player advanced his personal goal of finding out the 'truth' behind the death of the elven queen, and another created his own new goal (he is a minor noble and wants to piss off the jerk knight to the max...)
 

Yes and no. I have a primary plan, and I lay seeds for it. As the PCs go through the first 17 levels the pieces can become more clear - and usually the railroad at level 17 is triggered by an event that is inevitable and can't be stopped ...

yeah I do this sometimes... like I will get a cool 'mindflayer and gith war spills over into the world and an elder brain dragon vs a red great wyrm seems inevitable' idea (and FYI i just made it up but that may get fleshed out for real later) but I don't want to start it off that way... so I will mention gith hunting flayers at least twice in the first 5ish levels of my game (I almost always start at 3rd so that is 3-8) but then plan on having something minor... maybe a Gith NPC or a mindflayer attack... somthing, but have it be easy.

Then at some point the sky will light up... Now every choice the players make will matter, but I can't imagine how they stop the war (not that I 100% put that past them) so even though that is a 13th+ level event that will change everything... who they ally with who they are enemies with what powers and items they have gotten in those levels leading to it will all matter going forward... but that moment is set for me.
Except players and PCs can sometimes come up with real good plans. Or, they just say, "Not my problem" and let a disaster that only they could stop happen.
Yup I already see in my head that if I do BOTH a friendly Gith and a mind flayer attack but the players don't like or attach themselves to the gith and the mind flayer fight goes south (say a power house PC gets mind controlled and a second is stunned) I could see that 'the sky light up and you see the war crashing to your world' could end up with "Screw it... we are moving to the city of brass"
So, if the players come up with a way to avoid the seemingly inevitable, I let them do it and then move on to a plan B. To be honest, this is very rare. When it does come up, I have tools built in - not tools specifically designed for this circumstance, but ones I can pull on to make it work.
react and adapt... know why things are happening and when PCs throw monkey wrenches just keep going figuring out what changing that gear means...

Real life example of something I had to think through "Um... they just pissed off and flipped off the king, and didn't save the prince, letting him die... and meaning there is no hair to the empire... but I planned on the kings bad heart to give out soon... what does that mean" and that just means now there is a new crisiss
For example, I borrow from future campaign setup. I lay groundwork in one campaign for the next campaign.
I envy you... it never works for me, my plans rarely work past a few sessions.
 

Reynard

Legend
I think there is a difference between an event that is going to occur regardless of the player invovlement -- small or large -- and an action the player smust take regardless of their choices. The illithid war spilling over into the prime is a situation that affects the environment that the PCs are in. It can happen 10 session in to the campaign, but it is fundamentally no different than the bandits in the woods at the start of the campaign. But it is another thing entirely if that inevitable even the requires something of the PCs in such a way that they are given no choice.
 


I think there is a difference between an event that is going to occur regardless of the player invovlement -- small or large -- and an action the player smust take regardless of their choices. The illithid war spilling over into the prime is a situation that affects the environment that the PCs are in. It can happen 10 session in to the campaign, but it is fundamentally no different than the bandits in the woods at the start of the campaign. But it is another thing entirely if that inevitable even the requires something of the PCs in such a way that they are given no choice.
yup 100% this

things happen and sometimes that makes the PCs react. PCs do things and DMs have to have the world react. that is the basics of the game
 

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