Generic: Sandboxiness

A post inspired by

which crystallized some thoughts for me.


The standard RPG format for a long time has been a GM creates an adventure and the players play through it.

Later there came the idea of more shared narrative / sandbox games where players and GM collaborate on the story or even no GM at all.

I’m okay with the first option personally as I’m the type who likes world creation as a thing and I’m not really into the second as 1) I like creating settings and 2) I like playing in settings that feel like they have history, depth and a life of their own rather than made up on the fly however what I do like about the newer indie games is their emphasis on player freedom.

So my ideal would be some kind of hybrid where there is a constructed setting but no plot – the GM doesn’t feed the players a plot hook and they dutifully follow it – instead the players can be plonked down anywhere in the world and there should be enough setting meat for them to construct their own quests.

So how can that be achieved? Using traditional “prep” there’s no way a GM could produce enough prepared content for the players to just choose whatever direction they want to go and any goal so how can winging it be made easier while keeping the setting feeling like a consistent world?

I think one answer is:

1. Theme
2. Random Tables
3. Appropriate Status Quo


1. Theme

The stronger the theme of the world or region the easier to make stuff up on the fly.

So say for example it is a fantasy setting and you have a world map with a bunch of regions you could specify the theme for each region by picking out a few images for example

leading to a short region description:
– dense, dark forest region
– infested with packs of [creature name]
– original population of [type] abandoned villages, forced to live in lake settlements
– travel except by boat is very dangerous.


2. Random Tables

If the world has a life and logic of its own then there’s no reason the GM should know what’s going to happen any more than the players and if each region has a strong theme then each region and border zone can have its own random tables that reinforces the theme.

Tailored random tables ~ procedural content.


3. Appropriate Status Quo

This is where we come back to the point identified in the linked blog post

Conflict is naturally generated when the party is at odds with the status quo. So if you want sandboxy play then the party should naturally be at odds with the status quo. His example of a naturally rogue-ish party operating within a standard law-abiding status quo makes perfect sense in this regard as they are tempted to steal horses, rob banks, seduce the Queen etc. Another example of this way round would be a vampire game where the vampire players are of course naturally at odds with the status quo.

So how could you set up a more goodie type party in natural conflict with the status quo?

You could have something like a human realm almost completley conquered by a big sauron type baddie who was killed at the last moment by a big hero however the invader’s armies didn’t disappear they just split up into numerous factions under their own leaders so now there’s a reconquest afoot where the surviving human (or whatever) free towns and strongholds now exist in a sea of monsters with endless shifting alliances and wars between the human factions and the monster factions.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: