The many types of Sandboxes and Open-World Campaigns


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Committed Hero

Explorer
Or, it's navel gazing that reinforces the GM's view of how the world should be and ultimately causes them to restrict player agency.

In other words: no individual take is likely to be true for every example of that thing.

The posted specifically mentions it's to allow player agency, but you do you. What interests me is that it allows for not even having a group, and at the same time argues to leave some things in the air for player input.
 


hawkeyefan

Legend
Yeah, worldbuilding is a tool that can be used well or poorly, depending on what you want it to do. I tend to think that it's most useful at its broadest... like have some ideas and elements in mind. Consider them before play and in between sessions. But don't commit too strongly to any of them until they're actually introduced in play.
 



Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
You have never heard about GMs that were too deeply interested in their world building and story design, such that they did not let the players have choice? You have never heard of railroading?
I suspect he means the opposite, maybe? The idea that worldbuilding can be a way to exercise the creative muscles one needs to run a player-responsive campaign.
 

Reynard

Legend
I suspect he means the opposite, maybe? The idea that worldbuilding can be a way to exercise the creative muscles one needs to run a player-responsive campaign.
I agree that is a possibility -- just not that it is an inevitable outcome. I have met too many frustrated novelist GMs to believe that.
 


Reynard

Legend
Sure. I think most of us have. It's a bit of a novel take, but I appreciate the positive idea that GMs can indulge in worldbuilding as a hobby while viewing it as useful practice to help them run player-responsive games.
World building is a great hobby and the right kind of world building can certainly make improvisation easier while GMing. I just think it is largely disconnected from whether a particular GM is pro-player agency or not.

And just to be clear: I think player agency is the single most important element in TTRPGS because it is the one element that separates it from any number of other kinds of nerdy elf games. World building is like a distant 5th for me.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Sure. I think most of us have. It's a bit of a novel take, but I appreciate the positive idea that GMs can indulge in worldbuilding as a hobby while viewing it as useful practice to help them run player-responsive games.
It all depends on how the referee approaches it. If they're railroady by nature, they're going to use their worldbuilding as a straight jacket for the PCs. If the referee is big on player agency, they're far less likely to use worldbuilding as a straight jacket. But the existence of frustrated novelists in no way precludes the existence of player-agency focused referees who like to worldbuild.

The premise makes perfect sense. The better a handle the referee has on the world the game is set in, the easier it will be for them to have answers for seemingly unrelated questions. I don't get the impression that Matt Mercer is a frustrated novelist, nor that he limits player agency, but I do get the sense that if you asked him about the crop rotations of some far-flung village only ever named on a map...he'd have the answer.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Sure. I think most of us have. It's a bit of a novel take, but I appreciate the positive idea that GMs can indulge in worldbuilding as a hobby while viewing it as useful practice to help them run player-responsive games.
On the flipside, much of the make as you go games, I find lack depth, and usually don't last beyond the adventure, if not a few sessions. I know for myself, I don't like having to curate a bunch of disparate elements.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
The premise makes perfect sense. The better a handle the referee has on the world the game is set in, the easier it will be for them to have answers for seemingly unrelated questions. I don't get the impression that Matt Mercer is a frustrated novelist, nor that he limits player agency, but I do get the sense that if you asked him about the crop rotations of some far-flung village only ever named on a map...he'd have the answer.
There's also room for the good kind of faking it here.

I remember Matt Colville talking in one of his videos about watching Mercer look for the name of a guard or an organization or something in his notes, in response to a player inquiry, not finding it but saying "It's here somewhere, I'll let you know later." Which indicates to the player that there's some objective reality to the world and assists in suspension of disbelief.

Whether you as DM REALLY did write a name ahead of time or are faking it, the player is supported in their immersion. Whereas if you say "I don't know, let's say 'blah'", it can undercut their participation on the reality of the world* and indicate that the detail is unimportant or irrelevant.

(*I note that there are also some groups who enjoy shared worldbuilding of little details like this)
 

Reynard

Legend
I note that there are also some groups who enjoy shared worldbuilding of little details like this)
Little things like "You have arrived in the village of Erstwhile. Lucy, go ahead and figure out who your character Archibald knows in town. And Gavin come up with a tavern name while I refill my beer." can go a long way to alleviating the extra work a GM has to do and investing the players in the world.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
There's also room for the good kind of faking it here.

I remember Matt Colville talking in one of his videos about watching Mercer look for the name of a guard or an organization or something in his notes, in response to a player inquiry, not finding it but saying "It's here somewhere, I'll let you know later." Which indicates to the player that there's some objective reality to the world and assists in suspension of disbelief.

Whether you as DM REALLY did write a name ahead of time or are faking it, the player is supported in their immersion. Whereas if you say "I don't know, let's say 'blah'", it can undercut their participation on the reality of the world* and indicate that the detail is unimportant or irrelevant.

(*I note that there are also some groups who enjoy shared worldbuilding of little details like this)
Right. And the good kind of faking it would be to simply say a name and write it down for later. This is why lists and random tables are awesome. I split the difference. I prep the world as much as it needs to be to exist in a semi-solid state at the point of player contact, but specifics exist in a weird kind of quantum flux the further from the PCs it is. I have a map with terrain. But I don't have place names for anything outside of where the PCs currently are or have been previously. So too with NPC names, organizations, etc. I don't need it until I need it. I know some vague stuff like here be dragons, orc tribes in the middle, the swamps are fanatasy @#$%ing Vietnam, etc. Lists and random generators to the rescue. "What's that guard's name?" I look on my list, find the first not crossed off name and say it, cross it off the list, and write it down in my notes. Guard at X location is named Y. It doesn't matter until it matters.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
No. That may describe your players, but it does not describe all players.

I can say that because I’ve been a player in games where XP rewards are decided by the players and I’ve not abused the system, and I’ve also run such games and never saw the system abused in such a way.

Honestly, I think you may need to examine how you approach your games and how you interact with players. The likelihood that all the players you’ve had have all been these untrustworthy, gonna-game-the-system types seems far less than the likelihood that you foster such a dynamic.

Seriously, you may want to examine that a bit.

This is one of those things where coincidences of clustering can give people wrong ideas in both directions. I've rarely had a game where all of the players would game the system--but I've rarely had one where some of them wouldn't, either. As such it seems entirely possible that some people will rarely see this sort of problem and some people see it all the time.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
The GM shouldn't have to motivate players in a strict West Marches game. The players are supposed to be deciding when to meet and who goes where.

"Shouldn't" and "doesn't" are not, however, the same thing automatically. Some people, even some that will claim to be good with an open-world sort of game will coast to a stop if not prodded.
 

Yora

Legend
I am of the opinion that both reward systems and worldbuilding should actively be designed to restrict player freedom. Complete freedom for player is not desirable and an active impediment to play. When everything can be done, then every option is equally valid and none any better than any other. In a sandbox, you need restrictions to enable the players to make choices.
Those restrictions don't have to be hard barriers, though some may be. But they should be repellant, pushing the players' paths back into the center space of the campaign when they start drifting towards the edges. People love picking from options much more than imagining completely new things in an empty space, and it leads to much more fluid play.

Or in another to put it, maybe overly poetically, the game structure and worldbuilding of the setting doesn't have to restrict the possible answers, but it should at least narrow down and specify the questions. Let the players freely choose their methods, but provide some structure for what goals are viable and what tools available.
 

aramis erak

Legend
I am of the opinion that both reward systems and worldbuilding should actively be designed to restrict player freedom. Complete freedom for player is not desirable and an active impediment to play. When everything can be done, then every option is equally valid and none any better than any other. In a sandbox, you need restrictions to enable the players to make choices.
Those restrictions don't have to be hard barriers, though some may be. But they should be repellant, pushing the players' paths back into the center space of the campaign when they start drifting towards the edges. People love picking from options much more than imagining completely new things in an empty space, and it leads to much more fluid play.

Or in another to put it, maybe overly poetically, the game structure and worldbuilding of the setting doesn't have to restrict the possible answers, but it should at least narrow down and specify the questions. Let the players freely choose their methods, but provide some structure for what goals are viable and what tools available.
In education, it's often taught to future teachers that it's much easier for the students to creative within a framework than without one. For free write, a prompt ensures the less creative have a topic.
 

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