Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Sandbox Within a Sandbox

I like sandbox styled campaigns, as they tend to feel more "alive" than a strictly plot driven "railroadie" styled campaign (although an occasional track with options running thru a sandbox isn't always a bad thing, so long as the players have a choice in getting on, and have a choice of getting off at any point)

The problem with a sandbox campaign is planting the proper amount of hooks, leads and rumors for the PCs. Too little, and the players have little freedom or choice. Too much, and it can be overwhelming. Too large a sandbox too early in the campaign can leave the party without any sense of direction.

ACKS is a system that is tiered, in the sense that it expects play style and goals will change as the players level.

My thought is to have the sandbox expand as the players level.

The initial sandbox will be centered on Christian's Hex 000 series. There's enough going on in the currently published hexes to keep the party occupied for a number of sessions, moreso if they decide to investigate one or more dungeons I plan on planting the rumor seeds for.

After that, the current plan is to pull back the focus a bit, and use Blackmarsh as the expanded sandbox.
If the party gives me enough advanced indiction as to where they might be heading, I can always whip up a sandbox within the sandbox for that area (if appropriate).

Now I just need to decide on where to plant Christian's Hex Series in Blackmarsh.

I'm open to suggestions...


  1. What is Christian's Hex Series?

  2. Check Loviatar Zine at:


  3. Eric.. one thing I love about your blog is always having 3 or 4 things to read.. even after only being gone a day. If you don't mind me asking, how do you as a DM react to what players are doing in a true sandbox? If you don't know where they are going, how do you have adventures ready? My group is younger so I don't mind a bit of railroading with them.

  4. I love it. I think this sounds like thoughtful while still gentle-on-the-dm way to get a sandbox game going. I actually used Blackmarsh as the a piece of my large sandbox map, interestingly, and it's worked great so far.
    On player information: what I've done is to create a d100 table of rumors about the setting. Many, maybe most of them are true. Many are basically "Stonehell's here, Barrowmaze is here, Spire of Iron and Crystal is here" type stuff, others set up institutions that PCs might interact with, and some are just weird little flavor things. I have players roll three times on the table when they enter the game or create a new character. So far that's worked well for me, since new players have information to act on and old players will have gathered that up while playing.
    If you're able to, I'd be curious to see your rumor tables. My table is getting just a little stale and could use some new entries.

  5. @the Dave - quick answer (I'll expand tomorrow) is to keep the hooks manageable. Early on, the party tends to pick up on the hooks. As play progresses, they often find their own agendas. If I have hooks that match or parallel their agendas, I run with that. Otherwise, improvise and slow them down - than prepare for the next session based on their direction.

    A sandbox offers players freedom of choice, it's the DM's job to present valid choices. Without valid choices, you have a directionless campaign (and likely a disaster)


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