Friday, October 16, 2009

A Definition of Sandbox Gaming

During a forum discussion of sandbox gaming I refined my explanation of what sandbox gaming it. Hope you find it useful.

The term Sandbox was taken from computer gaming (not just Computer RPGs) and used to describe campaigns that featured players wandering around driven by goals they set. With the GM acting as a simulator of the setting.

Certain settings, notably Judges Guild's Wilderlands of High Fantasy were noted for their support of this type of play because of their format. The format being a variety of locales keyed to a numbered hex grid. Alternatives exist like the format of Keep on the Borderland or Mystara.

There no clear definite boundary between a Sandbox campaign and other type of campaigns because the classic examples of a sandbox campaign are a subset of non-linear gaming. Non-linear gaming means that in a setting there are more than one way of accomplishing a goal or overcoming a challenge.

One does not need a Wilderlands or Mystara to have non-linear play as part of a campaign. It just those type of settings makes it easier for the GM to manage sandbox play.

Many players like this style because it makes their choices mean more. Many GMs like it because the direction of their game can go off in unexpected directions.

Like any other type of campaign there are certain tricks and techniques one can use to make things easier. For example by having rich character backgrounds and players willing to roleplay one can cut down the preparation time down considerably. The character's background will suggest what you will need to prepare.

For example being a member of the mage's guild as opposed to a being a mage attached to the royal court. Both players can choose wherever they wish to go but if they are roleplaying then their choices will be shaped by the background they have written up. In the former example the Royal Court is a peripheral organization that can be summarized in one paragraph. In the latter the mage's guild is the peripheral organization.

A sandbox becomes easier to manage as the campaign progresses. At the beginning there is a wealth of choices for the players . Later the players past decisions have pushed the characters down certain paths. The consequences or future of these path can often be easily predicted by the GM and prepared for.

1 comment:

Erin Smale said...

Thanks, Rob, for the succinct description.

Looking back, all my campaigns have been the sandbox variety. In my experience, players like the freedom to "choose their own adventure," while GMs can flex their creativity more, and in different directions.

That said, each of those sandbox campaigns had long-term goals, so there was a "linear" aspect. But I think they worked because they were defined (knowingly and unknowingly) by the PCs, so pursuing them became *their* priority, not the GMs.

Thanks for the post.