5% of All Sales go to Support The Tavern

Friday, May 29, 2015

Dungeon Crawl or Sandbox Styled Adventure for a Con - What Say You?

I plan to run a session or two of Far Away Land at NTRPG Con next week. I'm currently running the Temple of Zoko for my Saturday Night group. We do a lot of BSing during our game sessions, so it should take about 2 sessions to play and it's fairly sandboxie. I estimate at a con that would convert to 3 hrs or a tad more of game play. Well, depending on number of beers, that may significantly increase the time to complete.

Or I could run Isle of the Rat Wizard. Sure, it's in the quickstart, but I can always leave it out of the copies I print for the con. It's a bit of a sandbox and a bit of a dungeon crawl.


Either will okay quick enough to generate characters and run the adventure.

In general, I suspect a dungeon crawl workds better than a sandbox in a convention environment. It's also probably the only time most players won't violently rebel a railroad.

What are your thoughts?


  1. Go sandbox. If most people are running a dungeon railroad, be the one who runs a open sandbox.

  2. For a con I prefer dungeon crawl since it is more contained. You might have new(er) players and sometimes the choices in a sandbox are too much.

  3. I find the best choice for a con game is to ensure that there is a actual win condition for the game, and that the player know what it is from the very start. For example recover the Mask of Oolay from the Necropolis of Moray for your wizardly patron. This substitute for the lack of experience/continuity (the normal "win" condition for roleplaying being able to continue playing, often with a better character), and helps you immediately dive into the adventure when you have a limited time to actually play the session. And gives the party a unified goal which helps keep things moving.

    This does tend to require a dungeon crawl though (even if the adventure is overland), rather than a sandbox. However there should be plenty of room for improvisation and different approaches to solving problems (and that is where a lot of fun in gamemastering for others at a con comes about - a different group of players will come up with different solutions to problems. Remember there is nothing wrong with a railroad (it's an effective form of transportation), just of being railroaded.

  4. While I have never run a game for a con, I have played a few, and in general I found that sandbox type games tend to be of a more varied quality, even with the same person as a master. I don't have that much experience with it, but it seemed to depend on how tired the players (including myself) were. (A good example of a sandbox con game with me in it was when the party were much too tired, and we sort of ended up ignoring/avoiding all the hooks the GM kept throwing at us, and just rolled through the countryside stealing barnyard animals and torching villages. Because goats.)

    So yeah, I'd say if it's the first day, or your players are there for just that day, then sandbox sounds fine. Otherwise, dungeon crawl sounds like a safer bet.

  5. Sandbox just seems like more of a campaign sort of style. It's not just that sandbox is ill-suited for cons, but that cons are ill-suited for sandbox. You wouldn't be doing the form justice like you could a dungeoncrawl

  6. I've played in both types at the cons, and to some degree, agree with RP. However, I don't think the win condition has to be that simple, and I think there's a great potential for sandbox style gaming.

    For example, I've been a con player in the BX module Night's Dark Terror. It's fairly sandboxy, but the "win" conditions change as the adventure goes on. When you start, you're really just trying to get some horses from point A to point B. By the time your done, you're wrapped up in a huge conspiracy that covers 20,000 square miles of territory. But even in two gaming sessions, with a lot of handwaving of some encounters, we still only got about halfway through it. Regardless, it was a great time with some folks with whom I'd never played. Based on this experience, I'm agreeing with Prof. Oats that with sandbox style play in a con setting, there really just isn't time to do justice to that style of play.

    By comparison, I played in a Mentzer "the way we played in the old days" dungeon crawl. The goal was really generic at first ("explore"), but then found ourselves confronted with an enemy we knew needed to be destroyed. It was a rather small dungeon complex, but allowed us a lot of options in terms of how we explored, what we did/didn't learn on the way to the final confrontation.

    Both experiences were great. And neither (to me) was "better" than the other. I think there's a more important question about playing at a con... "Who's running the game, and how well do they run that type of game?" E.g., how many of you have signed up for a game at a con because of who's running the game, regardless of what the description said? How many of us have died stupidly at the hands of Jim Ward and had a blast doing it, regardless of how railroad-y the adventure was?

    I also think this is a discussion worth picking up at Wednesday night's Tavern Chat live from the NTRPGCon.

    1. P.S. How many people have seen Matt Finch standing on a chair while he's running his sessions, and thought, "I gotta get into one of his games!"

  7. Sandbox games at conventions drive me crazy. It usually indicates a GM has not prepped for his game, and it shows when we try to play. Ditto if the GM doesn't have pre-gens.