Monday, May 9, 2011

My thoughts on sandboxing

A few days ago I read some reviews of old Swedish modules, the shared heritage kind of thing, if you like. I noticed that one module was described as a "fishtank", and the way it was described it was clear that some kind of sandbox was what the author was describing. That made me look at what was provided, and how that stack up.

I guess anyone interested in the subject have seen Rob Conley's major series of posts on how to create a sandbox? I have a suggestion. Don't read it. Yet.

That series, while informative and exhaustive, is way too much. To start a sandbox you need far less. This module that ignited the fire fuelling the this train of thought provided far less.

  • A sketchy map, with some atmospheric names, is great for inspiring wonder and creating ideas for adventure.
  • Some NPCs who move about this area, with clear motives and plans for players getting involved in, helping or thwarting.
  • Pro active players who can look at that map and run with the ideas generated from it.
  • Player characters with ambitions and short and long term goals.
  • A few McGuffins.
I'm pretty sure that is all there is to it.

Note that I have never successfully ran a sandbox campaign, so what do I know?


  1. Hi, interesting post. We do a lot of discussion of sandbox methods in the Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester on Yahoo Groups, so I cross posted your blog post there:


  2. Glad you liked it!

    Feel free to direct and feedback here.

    I see now that I took the metaphor train a bit far and added a word that wasn't supposed to be there...

  3. This is exactly how I create sandboxes. I've been preaching that approach for a long time. Did workshops on it even - a sandbox in 2 hours for 2 years of gaming. :)

  4. Good to hear that I'm not totally talking out of my behind then, Mike! :)

  5. Andreas, this is how I sandbox too, the setting feels alive, rather than just dead prose.

    All you need is 'enough' :)

  6. This is pretty much my preference, too. I lean heavily towards letting everything develop in play, with just the barest details on movers and shakers or macguffins drawn up beforehand. Since Rob Conley and others have expressed disagreement about calling low-prep, high-improv open-ended campaigns "sandbox play", I've started calling the style "sketchbox", a term someone else coined when I mentioned the lack of a name for it.

  7. @Talysman - I hereby proclaim you a sandboxer. Go forth and do as you do - dammit! I know I'm a sandboxer and there's no way I prep a quarter of what Rob does. :)

  8. (Not that my proclamation gives you a damn thing other than a brief moment of amusement... ;> )

  9. I'm the opposite. I have about a half-dozen plots and locations fully fleshed before I feel comfortable running a sandbox style game. I do adapt on the fly, but I prefer to have a sound concrete base to work from.
    Both approaches seem to work. The most important thing (and I know I'm stating the obvious here) is to go with what works best for you. For me, that just happens to fall more in line with Rob's way of doing things.

  10. Andreas, What you've laid out is pretty much the starting point for a game of Sorcerer & Sword, by the book. In S&S, the idea is to create the setting through play-- after each session, you have more setting than when you started.


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