The many types of Sandboxes and Open-World Campaigns

kenada

Legend
Supporter
What I’ve done is told my players they can go off the side of the map if they really want, but they need to tell me that ahead of time, so I can prepare a new map, and nothing will ever take them in that direction. I also find the conversations about goal-setting useful. The result of those can then act as a constraint without my having to impose one.
 

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dragoner

solisrpg.com
World building is neutral I feel, a rough frame to stretch the story over, the theme should be decided before, talking with the players. No sense prepping for one type, if everyone wants something different.
 

Yora

Legend
I'm not so much talking about the map but more about the focus and the framing of the campaign. What it is about and what elements of the world are relevant to the campaign or not.
That can always be adjusted when it becomes clear that certain things become much more interesting than initially planned. But there should still be a plan before you get to the point of making changes to it. Discovering the focus and structure of the campaign over the course of playing it may sound attractive on paper, but I think that's mostly blind hope to find a good campaign before everyone gets bored.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
Usually I let the players go, and it has run for years, sometimes not though, sometimes things fall apart. Still focus and structure seem to me better decided before the game starts. Part of this is that I like game to start in the middle, and not "in the tavern".
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I'm not so much talking about the map but more about the focus and the framing of the campaign. What it is about and what elements of the world are relevant to the campaign or not.
That can always be adjusted when it becomes clear that certain things become much more interesting than initially planned. But there should still be a plan before you get to the point of making changes to it. Discovering the focus and structure of the campaign over the course of playing it may sound attractive on paper, but I think that's mostly blind hope to find a good campaign before everyone gets bored.
That’s the goal-setting conversation. When we first started my campaign, I showed the players a map, and they pointed out something they were interested in doing that they couldn’t do right from the start. Every session, we talk about and set goals. If they stop completing them, or if their goals take them away from the thing we established at the beginning (the campaign’s stakes question, so to speak), then it’s time to confirm whether that’s intentional (and the answer to the question becomes a firm “no, they did not do it”) or accidental. We can decide next steps based on how that conversation goes (start a new campaign, readjust, etc).
 

Yora

Legend
I had not actually been thinking about continuous worldbuilding as the campaign progresses. I somehow had it mentally filed away as something that belongs firmly into the Setup category, not the Progression category.

Of course you can expanding the worldbuilding of the setting to provide more support for the shifting focus of play. And perhaps even reduce barriers simply by adding material, without the need to contradict previously established facts.
 


Thomas Shey

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.

I don't think this follows. Just because everything can be done does not mean everything has to be equally attractive. I suspect that's not what you mean from the rest of your post, though.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I had not actually been thinking about continuous worldbuilding as the campaign progresses. I somehow had it mentally filed away as something that belongs firmly into the Setup category, not the Progression category.

In practice, you can still find yourself doing that unless you vastly overprepare here; the scope you imagine and the scope the players will force may not be the same thing.
 

Yora

Legend
I don't think this follows. Just because everything can be done does not mean everything has to be equally attractive.
Yes. That's what I was getting at. Reward systems and worldbuilding should be set up to make certain ways of play particularly attractive, while making the rest comperatively less so.
Anything can be done, but a good setup has the players gravitate towards certain things that are meant to be the focus of the campaign. Without the GM having to force any of their actions.
 

dragoner

solisrpg.com
A lot of these concepts such as an open world are difficult to quantify because to quote Captain Picard:

"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life".

Things fall apart, something can work nine times out of ten, then not; or something that works for someone else, then does not work at all for another person. Part of this is that RPG's have an enormous amount of variables which is simultaneously a strong, and a weak point of the game.
 


dragoner

solisrpg.com
That whatever one does, it can fall apart for reasons beyond your control. It is like keeping yourself happy as GM is going to mean the most to the game, as I find that the GM leaving is what kills a game the most. Open worlds are just another tool, to help inform what the options are.
 

Yora

Legend
A question that I always have been wondering about: When beginning the creation of a sandbox, how big should it be to have enough in it, and at what point does it become too big to be useful?

Obviously, this is super subjective. What is "big"? What is "enough"? What is"too big"? Would you measure in distances or area, or in number of fixed sites?
And in this case, when talking about "sandbox", I am talking about a wilderness to explore.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
A question that I always have been wondering about: When beginning the creation of a sandbox, how big should it be to have enough in it, and at what point does it become too big to be useful?

Obviously, this is super subjective. What is "big"? What is "enough"? What is"too big"? Would you measure in distances or area, or in number of fixed sites?
And in this case, when talking about "sandbox", I am talking about a wilderness to explore.
It all depends on the context. For a D&D-style open-world game, anything from a region 100x100 miles would be enough for years of play on up to an entire planet. For sci-fi games like Traveller, a sector of space 8x10 is the norm, where each hex might contain a planetary system. On up to franchise’s whole universe, like Star Trek or Star Wars.

I start with a map generator or pick a map if I know the setting I want to use. Pick the starting location and generate a few points-of-interest. A handful will do. Once play starts you can generate new POI as needed, as the PCs move around the map. I err on the side of a bigger map than I need, something like Azgaar’s is great. My current West Marches game uses a map about the size of Texas. The PCs have only explored a few POI within a 2-3 day journey. I’ve only generated POI for an area about another 1-2 days of travel in most directions.

And since I treat the world like a living place, creatures move around, factions have goals and pursue them, etc, I can re-use POI that have already been explored. Yes, you did clear out the dungeon and leave the bodies to rot…which is why the necromancers came in and had a field day. Now they’re using it as a base...and causing problems.


I use various lists and generators like r/d100, Worlds Without Number, Stars Without Number, and Traveller. Various OSR blogs and products are incredibly helpful for this stuff as it’s a staple of that style.
 
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dragoner

solisrpg.com
Personally I like to have the other side of the hill mapped, so I know what to put on this side, or at least what is going to influence what goes in front of the characters. Some might not, either way I look at it as a rough frame work until the characters interact with it, then it becomes solidified.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
A question that I always have been wondering about: When beginning the creation of a sandbox, how big should it be to have enough in it, and at what point does it become too big to be useful?

Obviously, this is super subjective. What is "big"? What is "enough"? What is"too big"? Would you measure in distances or area, or in number of fixed sites?
And in this case, when talking about "sandbox", I am talking about a wilderness to explore.

Geography is an illusion; I’ve played in a sandbox game that was set in one city that felt enormous, and I’ve played in a galaxy spanning sandbox that felt small.

I’d say it’s more about content and how it’s generated. If you want to do a wilderness exploration game, then you need to come up with some content for the characters to bounce off of, and you need to decide how this content is introduced. You need to determine the characters motivations for exploring the wilderness so that you can use that to help direct play.

What I would likely do is come up with some elements that would serve as obstacles to the characters’ motives. Hostile factions, natural hazards, dangerous locations, and so on. Introduce some of these to get things going. Ideally, hint at these elements before they’re actually encountered. So if you have a hostile band of mercenaries in the area, maybe some homesteaders tell the characters about it. Or maybe the characters find a burned out homestead that’s been ransacked, and a black claw symbol has been painted onto the wall. That kind of thing.

I would say to keep the scope of it relatively contained. Only introduce what you need. Slowly expand as the players have the characters go in new directions or as they interact/deal with the elements you’ve introduced. Use these elements as steps to new ones. So the mercenary band is discovered to be employed by a ruthless merchant back in capital city. The ruins near the volcano are actually an old temple to Imix, and there are supposedly other temples nearby.

Don’t over commit; keep things loose enough before introduced to play so that you can adapt to the players and what they seem to enjoy. If they show a lot of interest in the mercenaries and the merchant, then you can build that out more… other merchant rivals, perhaps the area is rife for exploitation of resources and so many parties are becoming interested in it. If they don’t seem to care too much about a fire cult, then you can downplay that and not introduce more fire temples.

The physical space of this area depends on your preferences and how you want to handle things like travel and resource management and the like. You can have this all be one valley or you can expand it to a frontier or even to the size of a continent. It depends on how much of a factor you want all that to be. The more involved the exploration elements and resource management, the smaller I’d try to keep things.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
Possibly related to what a couple posters above have said, how much is "sufficient" and "insufficient" can have more to do with the density of interesting places/situations than any direct spatial issues. People are more likely to push at any practical borders you have if they haven't found things they're interested in engaging with within those borders.
 

Yora

Legend
Geography is an illusion; I’ve played in a sandbox game that was set in one city that felt enormous, and I’ve played in a galaxy spanning sandbox that felt small.
That's what I also concluded. The size of a sandbox is defined by the number of marked sites and the amount of random encounter checks between the sites.
Distances and geography are window dressing.

I guess one way one could approach filling out the sites roster would be to consider the amount of XP that characters could reasonably get from exploring a site, and the average party level to which each site is calibrated.
If there were only one dungeon aimed at 1st level parties and that dungeon doesn't have enough XP in total to get 1st level characters to 2nd level, that would be a good definition of "too small". In fact, I think there should be at least double as many XP in level 1 dungeons as the PCs would need to get to 2nd level, simply because they players won't accomplish anything they could and some characters might be lost throughout the course of the campaign. And we also want the players to have real options what they want to check out.
Since it's completely impractical to fully create all the dungeons that the players might or might not get to see in advance for the campaign, there is always room to adjust as you go. You can simply make dungeons larger with more opportunities to get XP, or you can adjust a yet unvisited dungeon to be for a level lower than originally planned. But this does have its limits. You can't really go straight from small goblin holes to the Black Fortress of Doom where dragons circle the spires and demons prowl the street. You need some sense of progression with the players going into slowly but increasingly more dangerous looking places and work their way up to the big nasty ones.
You can always add more sites to unvisted areas of the wilderness when it becomes neccessary, but then you'll not be having any forshadowing for those places, which in some context might appear a bit random and disconnected if the other sites are integrated really well.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
Possibly related to what a couple posters above have said, how much is "sufficient" and "insufficient" can have more to do with the density of interesting places/situations than any direct spatial issues. People are more likely to push at any practical borders you have if they haven't found things they're interested in engaging with within those borders.

Totally this. As evidenced by planets in most space operas. Desert Planet. Ice Planet. Criminal Planet.
 

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