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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Big Should the Sandbox Be?

I've written about this on the blog before, but the forthcoming "Tenkar's Landing" crowdsourced project has got me thinking about it again - how big does your sandbox need to be?

What I like about the island that Tenkar's Landing rests upon is that it is limited in scope - about 65 miles long and 15 miles wide on average. Assuming 6 miles from center to center of each hex it puts the total land mass at just under 1000 square miles. That's a lot of exploring.

Can the party leave the island? Sure. Tenkar's Landing is a trading port after all. I do have much of the surrounding area mapped too (but have few if any plans to detail just yet). Hopefully the players and their characters will find enough excitement on the island to occupy themselves for a good long time.

Crowdsourcing the sandbox of Tenkar's Landing should be an interesting experiment. An island with the ruins of an extinct advanced civilization colonized by a now failing empire to be detailed by a dozen or two creative types from the OSR community. I may want to be a player in the resulting sandbox...

So, how large a sandbox do you like for your campaigns and why?

* note - this will be a crowdsourced project, not a crowdfunded project. By the community, for the community.


  1. The one I'm working on now, my Gnarley Forest campaign, is about 300x100 miles.

  2. The size of a sandbox depends on how big you want the characters to become and how rich the sandbox is.
    If the sandbox offers few or no opportunities for growth after a certain point it's too small. Making a sandbox too large at the offset however can result in no focus from the payers as they bounce from one seemingly unrelated encounter to another over a wide but effectively meaningless landscape.
    You need seeds in the sandbox to tempt all sorts of players and actions and if all the seeds keep the players in the sandbox it's the right size.

  3. I like keeping it just large enough that travel and time becomes a meaningful tradeoff, but not tedious. Do they go try and get tools to fight the dragon in the mountains even if it means ignoring rumors of raiders to the north? As long as my sandbox lets the players define themselves by their choices, it's big enough for me.

    As a side benefit, I find that it gives them more places to spend gold. Faster mounts, more sturdy carts, and paved roads can help them accomplish more against other factions and agents in the world. Their meddling seems to increase faster than their ability to resolve things though...

  4. At least the size of Disney Land =)

    Personally I would think of modules like Tenkar's Landing as a small chunk of one corner of the big sandbox, since by definition a true sandbox campaign needs to let players go anywhere they desire....so having modules like this ready for the weird corners of the world is a useful tool to flesh out untrod territory.

  5. I like "published" material, and here I'd include the crowdsourced Tenkar's Landing, to be small-enough to easily drop into whatever world I'm running.

    When I'm homebrewing, I start with a town or village, a few ruins, and some caves. It expands as they explore or need the resources of larger settlements. There's always a big, imperial city somewhere distant.

    Right now, I'm trying my hand at running a Greyhawk campaign so I set the Keep on the Borderlands between Celene and the Wild Coast in the Welkwood and I'm expanding as necessary to keep up with the parties, ignoring most of the "canon" outside of the 1978(?) Folio and the few published modules I'm incorporating.

    I don't have hard and fast dimensions.

  6. I just start with the immediate environs and sketchy details of what lies beyond, then fill it in as they proceed in whatever direction they choose.

  7. Size is less important than it being full of interesting stuff and modular so you can plug it into your current campaign...

  8. I personally never "plug in" anything without making huge changes; otherwise it's jarring as other sensibilities in AD&D generally do not correspond to my own. Too much magic, too many assumptions about the presence of "demihumans," and worst of all "funhouse" elements.