The many types of Sandboxes and Open-World Campaigns

Yora

Legend
In sci-fi and Star Wars, you don't generally deal with planets. You're really only dealing with towns. The other 99.999% of the planet remain unexplored and undefined.
 

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Aldarc

Legend
In sci-fi and Star Wars, you don't generally deal with planets. You're really only dealing with towns. The other 99.999% of the planet remain unexplored and undefined.
Maybe someday will see planets other than Tatooine for the umteenth billion time.
 

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.

I see that last part as a feature not a bug. Roll on a random table or come up with things as the players get there, or just before the players get there. This will allow the dm to be surprised by what happens. The other benefit of a smaller geography is that the players establish connections through their actions between different parts of the setting that the dm might not have expected.
 



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.

Eh. I can only partly go there; travel times and difficulty will at some point function as braking mechanism on how far people are willing to go, too. Unless there's absolutely nothing to do in shorter areas, most people aren't going to be in a big hurry to travel six months and deal with a bunch of portage and travel management issues just to get to theoretically more interesting ones. You can, of course, make that moot by your setup, but unless you actively do so, that sort of thing will kick in at some point.
 

In sci-fi and Star Wars, you don't generally deal with planets. You're really only dealing with towns. The other 99.999% of the planet remain unexplored and undefined.

There's plenty of SF that deals with a lot of outdoor locations, expecially in exploratory SF.
 

Yora

Legend
When I am not working on setting up my Classic Dungeon Crawling fantasy sandbox, I am exploring ideas for a Scoundrels with a Space Ship campaign. Stars Without Number and Scum and Villainy are both popular systems for these kinds of campaigns (though Traveller also still gets mentioned, but I don't know anything about it), and while they are on very different ends of the spectrum as game mechanics are concerned, I think they both aim for pretty similar styles of campaigns and adventures. Travel the galaxy and see what happens. I guess most Star Wars games should also work decently well with that premise, but they also very much promote scripted stories as a campaign format.

I think a big thing about open world campaigns in a space setting is that you don't need maps. Even a relatively small section of space has hundreds of stars with thousands of planets, and almost all of them will be of absolutely no interest to the players or any NPCs. The stars themselves don't matter either, it's only a few planets, and these planets are too big to map comprehensively. Travel around a planet is usually by air or the very least by fast cars, and in the few occasions that it is not, the players are most likely trying to get out of the wilderness as fast as possible with no time to roam around and explore. Significant ground travel will usually be in basically a straight line.
The one situation in which maps for space become meaningful is when the ships have limited range and must take stops for refuling if they go for longer distances. In that case it does become relevant for the game to have the players decide which planets and stations they want to stop at, because things might happen while the players refuel their ship or wait for repairs. In a setting where any ship can go from any planet to any planet in one go, like in Star Wars, there is no practical use for space maps at all.

The only maps that really matter in such a campaign a person scale maps used to determine cover and plan tactics in gunfights. For some campaigns, it might actually be useful to have a couple of generic maps prepared for military bases, criminal hideouts, sections of spaceports, warehouses, or bars. Any kind of place where the PCs might run into their enemies.

The question that I have is, how do you set up a sandbox like this?

I guess the big points to consider even more so than in other open world campaigns are developing factions and creating conflicts between them. Creating some influential NPCs in advance might also help to some degree, but I think it would be difficult to determine who really might make appearances during actual play as the campaign is developing. Faction leaders and their preferred people to send out to other planets to deal with trouble hurting their interests would be the most useful. The later are quite likely to come to the PCs, and the former have some chance to have the PCs come to them. Some generic faction members could also come useful at some point, but I wouldn't assign them to any specific location or position. They would make for good quantum ogers that the players could encounter anywhere and whose home is only determined when the players actually meet them.
 

Aldarc

Legend
The question that I have is, how do you set up a sandbox like this?

I guess the big points to consider even more so than in other open world campaigns are developing factions and creating conflicts between them. Creating some influential NPCs in advance might also help to some degree, but I think it would be difficult to determine who really might make appearances during actual play as the campaign is developing. Faction leaders and their preferred people to send out to other planets to deal with trouble hurting their interests would be the most useful. The later are quite likely to come to the PCs, and the former have some chance to have the PCs come to them. Some generic faction members could also come useful at some point, but I wouldn't assign them to any specific location or position. They would make for good quantum ogers that the players could encounter anywhere and whose home is only determined when the players actually meet them.
Star Without Numbers has guidelines for creating and using factions. These guidelines were direct inspirations, and explicitly cited as such, for John Harper when creating Blades in the Dark.

Kevin Crawford recommends only bothering with running a max of six factions. Others can exist, but trying to operate all of them at once is usually not worth the effort. Also while factions can be as large or small as you need them to be, I find that localized factions work better, particularly for introducing the game world and contexualizing larger issues/conflicts. So I suggest starting with local NPCs or factions that the PCs are likely to encounter (or you may want to encounter) in the vicinity where the action starts or the home base area. Build from there based on PC engagement. Start small. Start immediate. Start in the faces of the PCs and the slice of the faction that they can see.

If we are talking Star Wars, for example, what the criminal Pyke Syndicate wants on the macro-level may differ from what the Pyke Syndicate wants at the local level of Tatooine or even Anchorage. This may be because the head of the local faction wants to rise through the ranks or represents a rival to the top.
 

Yora

Legend
I think actually you could take that statement even further and say that the factions are the "environment" of the setting in place of geography. Through the selection of factions you pick, and the choice which ones you don't pick, you are defining the theme and tone of the campaign. Even though the players would have the potential option to go everywhere and talk with everyone to do anything, the main factions make up the pool from which both trouble and help will come to them. As GM, you have complete freedom in take a character from anywhere if you're in need for an NPC for a specific situation. If you keep drawing a majority of such NPCs from the factions then you're automatically steering the players back into the network of faction conflicts. The players have complete freedom to go anywhere they want in physical space, but almost everyone they know who can provide assistance and advice that could meaningfully help them exists in that network and they don't have anywhere else to turn to. And in turn, any favor or service they are asked for in return will further draw them into that net.

Potentially, this net could even exist over a large part of the galaxy, but it might also be just a single star system. Since distances are illusionary in settings with arbitrarily fast hyperspace speed, it is the size of actors in the network that determines scale, not distance. Especially when using a system where time tracking is highly abstracted or nonexistent.

Six major factions that define the setting for the current campaign (though not necessarily the whole of the fictional world) seems like a good maximum number. That gives you a good breadth of different factions and also different types of factions and a total of 15 relationships between them (if my math doesn't fail me).
 


Aldarc

Legend
I think actually you could take that statement even further and say that the factions are the "environment" of the setting in place of geography. Through the selection of factions you pick, and the choice which ones you don't pick, you are defining the theme and tone of the campaign. Even though the players would have the potential option to go everywhere and talk with everyone to do anything, the main factions make up the pool from which both trouble and help will come to them. As GM, you have complete freedom in take a character from anywhere if you're in need for an NPC for a specific situation. If you keep drawing a majority of such NPCs from the factions then you're automatically steering the players back into the network of faction conflicts. The players have complete freedom to go anywhere they want in physical space, but almost everyone they know who can provide assistance and advice that could meaningfully help them exists in that network and they don't have anywhere else to turn to. And in turn, any favor or service they are asked for in return will further draw them into that net.

Potentially, this net could even exist over a large part of the galaxy, but it might also be just a single star system. Since distances are illusionary in settings with arbitrarily fast hyperspace speed, it is the size of actors in the network that determines scale, not distance. Especially when using a system where time tracking is highly abstracted or nonexistent.

Six major factions that define the setting for the current campaign (though not necessarily the whole of the fictional world) seems like a good maximum number. That gives you a good breadth of different factions and also different types of factions and a total of 15 relationships between them (if my math doesn't fail me).
I occasionally use the MtG Color Pie as a way to set up factions, as it gives a broad-stroke sense of values (e.g., Morality/Order, Freedom/Chaos, Nature/Balance, etc.) with two opposed factions and two aligned factions for each color/faction at the basic five color level. It's obviously not applicable for every faction one may conceive, but it sometimes provides a helpful starting framework if one is out of ideas or just want some generic factions.

Edit: Alternatively, you could build factions using the ten factions of Ravnica as a loose basis, but then only pick about 4-6 that the PCs may encounter in a given area. As you suggest, it's about picking your themes.
 
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Yora

Legend
My current idea is for a frontier star sector in which all the planets with easily accessible high value resources have already been mined and the industrial fleets of the great mining clans migrated on to new systems. On several of the planets that the mining clans have considered depleted, there are still substential amounts of resources to be found, but extraction is hard and not worth their time when they can just move their whole fleet to mine somewhere else. These depleted planets still have hundreds of thousands of people living on them whose contracts didn't get renewed or who used to sell services to miners after their shifts, who now make a meager living scraping away at the leftovers.

There's only a single mining fleet still in the sector, strip mining their last planet before moving on as well. [Dresat Mining Clan]
There are two planets in the sector with quite pleasant environments, which two merchant houses have set up shop on. The provide goods from the core worlds or their own local factory to the colonists and miners of the sector in exchange for the resources they mine, and of course are demanding outragous prices since they have a monopoly on these trades. Their planets are effectively giant company towns. [Ordos Merchant Cartel and Lupai Merchant Cartel]
The independent mines in the sector are fed up with the lousy exchange rates of the cartels and many of them are trying to unite to have their own fleet of freighters taking their resources to markets in the core worlds. [Tornesh Miners Cooperative]
For added confusion, a military task force from a neighboring interstellar state has recently arrived in the independent sector, claiming that they are "fighting piracy and protecting interstellar commerce". Which is odd for a sector whose only major industry has already left. [Directory Fleet]

It's a start, but still somewhat lightweight.
The two cartels are obviously trying to get a full monopoly on what trade remains in the sector, since there's not enough profit to be made to be slip between them as before. And both of them want to keep the Miners Cooperative from gaining economic autonomy. Endless opportunity. Help the miners from defending against sabotage and blackmail from the cartels, and help the cartels harming each other. Or help the cartels sabotaging the miners. But that's really only a two-sided conflict with clear good guys and bad guys, even if some miner leaders may be ruthless backstabbing bastards.
Unfortunatly, I still have no idea what the Mining Clan could want other than depleting their last planet. They are the largest entity in the sector, but with no motivations they aren't a relevant faction yet. Also no clue what the Directory Fleet really is trying to accomplish while it's loitering in the area inspecting freighters and settlements for suspected pirate activity.

Do you have any ideas what kinds of questions to ask to expand on those rought outlines and develop them further?
 

That is why I think a sandbox game needs continuous resource depletion even when there's no obstacles. If the players are undecided and treading water trying to find new opportunities, tell them another month has passed and their purses are now considerably lighter.
Characters having no in-game motivation to leave safety and face danger is a big problem I used to struggle with for many years. Inaction must have a price.
I've had players in my West Marches game simply park it in the starting town and never leave. It's a safe place with zero adventure. And the player just wanted to be a shopkeeper. So I retired that character and asked the player to make an adventurer, they declined, so that was that. Kept the character around as an NPC and they occasionally pop up, but they're not out adventuring.
I've had this experience, too. A handful of times, thinking about it.

I have taken the person aside and asked them what they want. When they tell me that "my character has no motivation to adventure" I tell them "find one." I explain that we are getting together to play a social adventure game and that there is some basic amount of cooperation that's required.

Now, if the kind of adventure I am offering is unsatisfactory, tell me what you want and I'll provide it. If you want to play the reluctant hero, fine, but you need to tell me what would motivate the character. What is their desire, fear, or need that gets them off of the farm? Because I, and everyone else at the table, is tired of me guessing wrong. But if your motivation is being an anchor and make everyone else squirm I will have none of it and there is the door.

Your character doesn't need to like the other ones, you can pine for the shop, farm, spouse, children, whatever. You don't even need to play. Do you just want to socialize before, after, and during dinner (our usual break)? Fine, you are welcome to sit on the couch and observe, read, whatever. It's quite comfy. But, you will not be an anchor.

I don't like doing that, and am rather conflict-adverse. However, I and my friends are rather busy and we don't have many opportunities to get together for this pastime. Most of the time attitudes shift, but I have had to show two people the door over this. They were rather upset that I didn't "have the emotional maturity to accommodate their playstyle." Whatever.
 

Do you have any ideas what kinds of questions to ask to expand on those rought outlines and develop them further?
What could the Mining Clan find that would entice them to stay besides more ore? Some prestige for controlling the system? Notable societal or religious figure was born or trained here?

Would the coordinators of the two habitable planets be looking to make them food producers or pleasure destinations?

Why would a neighboring polity be interested in this system? Do you need plentiful hydrogen for ship fuel? Are there thalassic planets that can be harvested for their water or gas giants for their hydrogen? Is the system a nexus, or potential nexus, for warp lanes?

Is there a faction that needs a test population of a potential pharmaceutical on one of the Garden worlds?

What would people give to leave the system? What would they want that the Mining Guild would not want them to have? Can a ship be built here, however unrealistically? If not, what is missing that would need to be smuggled in?
 

payn

Legend
My current idea is for a frontier star sector in which all the planets with easily accessible high value resources have already been mined and the industrial fleets of the great mining clans migrated on to new systems. On several of the planets that the mining clans have considered depleted, there are still substential amounts of resources to be found, but extraction is hard and not worth their time when they can just move their whole fleet to mine somewhere else. These depleted planets still have hundreds of thousands of people living on them whose contracts didn't get renewed or who used to sell services to miners after their shifts, who now make a meager living scraping away at the leftovers.

There's only a single mining fleet still in the sector, strip mining their last planet before moving on as well. [Dresat Mining Clan]
There are two planets in the sector with quite pleasant environments, which two merchant houses have set up shop on. The provide goods from the core worlds or their own local factory to the colonists and miners of the sector in exchange for the resources they mine, and of course are demanding outragous prices since they have a monopoly on these trades. Their planets are effectively giant company towns. [Ordos Merchant Cartel and Lupai Merchant Cartel]
The independent mines in the sector are fed up with the lousy exchange rates of the cartels and many of them are trying to unite to have their own fleet of freighters taking their resources to markets in the core worlds. [Tornesh Miners Cooperative]
For added confusion, a military task force from a neighboring interstellar state has recently arrived in the independent sector, claiming that they are "fighting piracy and protecting interstellar commerce". Which is odd for a sector whose only major industry has already left. [Directory Fleet]

It's a start, but still somewhat lightweight.
The two cartels are obviously trying to get a full monopoly on what trade remains in the sector, since there's not enough profit to be made to be slip between them as before. And both of them want to keep the Miners Cooperative from gaining economic autonomy. Endless opportunity. Help the miners from defending against sabotage and blackmail from the cartels, and help the cartels harming each other. Or help the cartels sabotaging the miners. But that's really only a two-sided conflict with clear good guys and bad guys, even if some miner leaders may be ruthless backstabbing bastards.
Unfortunatly, I still have no idea what the Mining Clan could want other than depleting their last planet. They are the largest entity in the sector, but with no motivations they aren't a relevant faction yet. Also no clue what the Directory Fleet really is trying to accomplish while it's loitering in the area inspecting freighters and settlements for suspected pirate activity.

Do you have any ideas what kinds of questions to ask to expand on those rought outlines and develop them further?
I hope I get these names right...

What is the timing for the mining fleet "Dresat" to move on? Months, years, decades? Sounds pretty bleak for the independent mining colonies. Not sure what exactly could reverse their fortunes? Or is there just enough here for them to eke out a meager economic existence? If the latter, I'd probably just skip the Dresat mining fleet completely. Dont see the purpose they serve?

What are the stakes for "Directory Fleet"? Are they there for political reasons? Maybe some Duke has investment in the system and the pull to have a fleet protect their interests? Perhaps there really is a pirate problem in the system? What a cool extra faction that would be! On a less cool, but still nasty level, maybe Directory fleet is there to union bust and maintain the status quo... or both.

The most obvious of all this are the merchant guilds. Their stakes seem pretty clear.
 

Yora

Legend
Mostly I want to have a big dirty industrial planet in the setting. It being controlled by a giant company that makes up a substential fraction of the sector's entire economy seemed a natural fit.
One thing that comes to mind is that many of the other factions have an interest for them to stick around. Particularly the merchant houses.

Perhaps the mining clan does not actually have good reasons to stay around much longer, but some of the people in charge of the planet have a personal interest in extending the whole opperation a few more decades. Because they have personally lucrative arangements with other local factions, which they would lose if the mine is relocated somewhere else. Forging numbers to make their superiors think this planet is more profitable than it really is. Some work teams might be captured slaves bought from local pirates, which make productivity look higher because they are not officially on the employment list.
Not quite a goal yet, but it does start giving them some character.
 


Yora

Legend
Okay, not to be contrary about this at all. Lot's of people are amazed by it.

But I don't get it. :confused:

Random tables to create random planets are nice and all if you need a random planet quickly. But I've never seen anything really helpful in either games to create a world.
I actually think the tables in Red Tide are my favorite ones. They seem pretty straightforward to use.
 

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