Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to make a Fantasy Sandbox

Unlike a Traveller Sandbox making a Fantasy Sandbox is less straightforward. This is because Traveller at the stellar level has a uniform geography while a fantasy setting can have any type of geography imaginable including the fantastic like lands floating on shards of a shattered world.

If talking a fantasy setting I would do the following

  1. Using one page sketch a world or continent map
  2. Label important regions
  3. Write one page of background giving no more than a handful of sentences to each region.
  4. Pick an area roughly 200 miles by 150 miles
  5. Grab a 8.5 by 11 sheet of hex paper.
  6. The scale should be so that it represents a 200 by 150 mile region
  7. Draw in mountains
  8. Draw in rivers
  9. Draw in hills using them to divide the region into distinct river valley
  10. Draw in vegetation (swamps, forests, desert, etc)
  11. Decide to place Population Locales note their race this includes social monsters
  12. Decide to place Lairs (locales tht revolves around a home of monsters)
  13. Decide to place Ruins (locales that revolves around a site)
  14. Decide to place miscellaneous locales. (anything that doesn't fit a above.
  15. Name your geography (don't forget islands)
  16. Write a Half Page background describing the region and it's history.
  17. Write a paragraph describing each named geography
  18. Write a paragraph describing each Population Locale
  19. Write a paragraph describing each Lair (you could get away with a stat block)
  20. Write a paragraph describing each Ruin
  21. Look at your notes and come up with two to four plots that ties one or more locales together. Write a paragraph or two on each.
  22. For each population locale come up with three to five encounters. They should be a sentence each.
  23. Come up with 6 to 12 general encounter for the region as a whole. Should usable in any area of the region. They are a sentence or two each.
  24. Pick the 4 or 6 most important Population locales and draw a quarter page sketch map of the settlement.
  25. Pick the starting population locale and draw a full page map of the settlement. This is the "Home Base"
  26. Use Medieval Demographics to get an a idea of how many shops are in the town.
  27. Pick or create 6 or 12 important buildings. Write a paragraph each.
  28. Scan your descriptions for NPCs or noted monsters. Write a two sentence about each. The first a one line with minimal stats the second one sentence. This is your roster.
  29. Pick the 12 most important NPC or Monsters
  30. Write a paragraph describing each and fully stat them.
  31. Pick the most six common encounter type. (City Guard, Border Warders, Bloody Hand, Orcs) Write a paragraph and fully stat them.
  32. Scan your description for any regional organization and write a paragraph on them. Fully stat the most common encounters involved with them.
  33. Make up a rumor chart with 10 to 20 items that feeds the players into the encounter and plots you created in above.
  34. Identify major regions and create a random encounter chart for each (monsters, wildlife and NPCs) [Thanks Jeff I just plumb forgot]

This will probably run to about 10,000 words. You can do this in about 2 weeks spending about 2 hours an evening at a 1,000 words a evening and time drawing maps. Or consider it about 24 hours of work.

This is being expanded in the following posts.

A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part I covers Step 1
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part II covers Step 2,3, and 4
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part III covers Step 5,6,7,8,9, and 10
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part IV covers Step 11, 12, and 13.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part V covers Step 14, and 15.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VI covers Step 16.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VII covers Step 17.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VIII covers Step 18, 19, and 20.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part IX covers Step 21
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part X covers Step 22
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XI covers Step 23
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XII covers part of Step 24
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XIII covers part of Step 24
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XIV covers part of Step 24
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XV covers part of Step 24
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVI covers part of Step 24
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVII covers Step 25
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVIII covers Step 26
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XIX covers part of Step 27
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XX covers part of Step 27
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XXI covers part of Step 27 including a map.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XXII covers step 28 using the Swords and Wizardry rules
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XXIII cover steps 29, 30, 31, and 32 using the Swords and Wizardry rules.
A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XXIV covers steps 33, and 34 including a set of travel rules for the Majestic Fantasy RPG.

How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox by Robert Conley with layout by Patrick Walsh. (Bugbears for Breakfast)
collects the previous steps into a single PDF.

How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox Book

Now that I finished this series, I collected and edited the 24 posts into a single book. Along with consolidating the setting examples I used into its own Isle of Pyade (a name change from Piall) setting book. 

If you like this series please join my Kickstarter to fund the art, layout, and editing starting on October 13th, 2023. 


Al said...

This is a very cool, thorough writeup, thanks!

jdebetolaza said...

This is really helpful and organized. I’m planning on starting a campaign with a modified Keep on the Borderlands… I should give the sandbox experiment a chance :)

Jeff Rients said...

Very cool, but I'm surprised no mention is made of putting together custom wandering monster charts.

Robert Conley said...

@Jeff- Done

Akrasia said...

Very helpful. Thanks!

I think that I may have a project for this autumn (as I'll be away from my regular gaming group for a couple of months).

Gothridge Manor said...

Where do you create the religion in this?

Anonymous said...

Yes, very handy thanks Rob.

Anonymous said...


First we'd have to decide what spheres of influence The Great Conley would preside over.

And then design the priestesses' vestments.

Alexander said...

Since you have no other way of getting a message to you, I'll just leave it here.

I just ran into this post, and loved the 'in detail' posts as well. I was wondering why you stopped at XI, leaving 24-34 behind?

jdebetolaza said...

@Slatz: I've been wondering the same thing... This series of advice is really useful for my sandbox!!! :)

Robert Conley said...

Just got caught in print project I will try to pick it up again soon. The main issue is the next post involves drawing maps which is a bit time consuming.

Alexander said...

I do look forward to the continuation of that series.

Sean said...

I may have missed you discussing this - when in this process do you think about things that affect your entire setting (or at least large parts of it)? I'm thinking of things like special laws of nature (viz or ley lines, etc), religious orders, Magic guilds, gypsies, and so on.

Robert Conley said...

@Sean - Steps 2 and 3.

Logan said...

Great List! Thx! :D

Anonymous said...

Hi - thanks for this resource! - the hyperlinks in the pdf document aren't working.

David Big Mac Shepheard said...

I really enjoyed all of these tutorials.

I've written a thread about using your tutorials to create planet outlines for Spelljammer games over at the Spelljammer forum at The Piazza.

I would love to see these completed, so that I could go through your entire process.

I would also love you to make a How to make a Fantasy Sandbox book (maybe Print on Demand) so I could buy a copy. Maybe you could add a few more details and examples if you did that.

Unknown said...

Great outline on making a fantasy Sandbox game. I myself have created one and I discuss it in my blog, though I was going by another bloggers directions. This seems to cover everything in more detail though. Good stuff!

Johnny F. Normal said...

Very tasty. I will be chewing on this for many days to come. Cheers!

Doc Savage said...

I am finding this series very interesting and useful. Some bits better than others but very good overall and I will be referring to this for my next game.

Also, bought your Wilderlands book on and wow, what a bargain, less than a penny a page, not many roleplaying products are such a deal these days! Plus I got free shipping so I can't wait for it to print and arrive. Got anything for Traveller?

Unknown said...

Thanks for writing this up! I'm currently using this to make my own fantasy sandbox over at my blog. I'm going for a high level of detail and realism, which your guide is great for. Glad to have found it!

KingAlbert said...

Just saw this (a little late :) ). Loved it, really interesting.

Charles Saeger said...

Are the last items (28-34) ever going to be finished?

O Escriba said...

Would like to know that too.

SabrinaOil said...

Are the last items (28-34) ever going to be finished? Please?

HypthtcllySpkng said...

This is very useful. If the posts keep coming I'll seed this around the net a bit.

Dwayne Hicks said...

Hello Rob, this is really a terrific resource that I would like to transale and share within the Spanish OSR community. I’m wondering if you would mind if I do so with the PDF and what would be the correct attribution/license to put there. In any case, thanks in the first place for sharing this information with us.

Robert Conley said...

@Dwayne Hicks, I have to no problem with this. Consider it licensed under CC-BY 4.0 with the following attribution

How to make Fantasy Sandbox, Robert Conley, Bat in the Attic Games.

Good luck and hope it works out!