Thursday, March 20, 2014

My Sandbox Failure - Not a Good Fit For a "Once a Month Drop in / Drop Out" Campaign

I've learned a few things about "sandbox" campaigns, at least from my side of the table.

First, they work better when players have a few levels (and history of the campaign) behind them. That isn't much of a surprise, as sandboxes are largely player / character driven, and there has to be some history and investment before the desire to spread one's wings with an actual direction takes place. The Saturday night group is about to hit this.

It also requires frequent play and a steady roster. My Friday night group is, by it's intentional design, the exact opposite of this. Once a month more or less, with a changing roster (but pretty much a set core), it is not made for a sandbox. Maybe layer it will evolve into one, but with the slower leveling and the "drop in / drop out" nature of the campaign, I suspect not.

I'm beginning to see how something like Barrowmaze is an ideal adventure location for the "drop in / drop out" style of gaming.

Idle post breakfast thoughts on a rainy Thursday morning...


  1. Barrowmaze feels perfect. I really like having some kind of actual in-game reason for the comings and goings - like an "explorer's guild" or some such which puts together expeditions (like say, into the Barrowmaze) and which picks participants from its roster. Any newcomers simply create a guild member, and they're aboard without the need for a lengthy introduction.

  2. I think that's true of megadungeons in general. Because of their nature, they work well with a group that might not consist of the same faces week after week. I ran Castle of the Mad Archmage exactly that way and it worked fine (although eventually the group became a more stable roster, and it still worked).

    1. What Joseph said. My own game is a megadungeon game, and only a "sandbox" in the sense of a real sandbox ("You can play any way you want, within reason, in this very small bounded area.") It's generally the same core but with players who drop in when their schedule permits. We start and end in town so people can swap in and out without explanation beyond "I'm here and ready to go delving."

      Hmm. I have some more thoughts on drop-in gaming and I'll go blog them later if I have time. But a notionally pure sandbox isn't one of the things I've gotten going. Rails are better, and a small bounded sandbox works great too.

      It should go without saying that we're really enjoying the Friday night games. It's solid fun from beginning to end, and part of it is because we get to just start at the adventure and not have to go looking around for it. Sticking the Friday night guys in front of a megadungeon would be fine. Maybe not Barrowmaze, though - I like it, but if it's (nearly) all undead all the time, it'll get to be a bit of a slog. Plus I read the whole thing a couple times, which won't help my sensawonda at all. :)

  3. Agreed, as far as the level of consistency required to run a good sandbox game. I ran into the same issues a couple of years ago with wanting to run a wide-open sandbox. We had a handful of semi-regular players, but most sessions would be almost half new players, and often those would be new to the game in general. For close to two years now I've used Barrowmaze for those kinds of games- casual games with a motley group of players- and it's worked great. Easy to play at the local bar, and the new players get to be introduced to the dungeon by old players who've made their marks in the past- literally! There's a fair amount of PC-created graffiti in our Barrowmaze and players get really into recognizing the effects of their past actions.

  4. My experience mirrors your at my local game store, Gold Star Anime in Edinboro, PA. I am willing to handle what ever the group decides to do, however with people dropping in and out gaming every two to three weeks, it works better when focused on a tentpole locale, like a forest, megadungeon,etc.

  5. There is a reason why so many of the original sandbox campaigns included a tentpole location for casual play. The widest of wide-open sandboxes still benefits from having one or more places that the players know they can simply go exploring without too much thinking about where to go.

    Within those areas, you can then seed hints and clues about what else can be uncovered, leading players to explore additional locations as their desire leads them.

    Also, Barrowmaze (! & 2) are excellent products.

  6. At least they made D&D look fun, as opposed to last time. And what group of players would ever allow the DM to make all of the die rolls?

    Jeff: "Abed, you're not helping."
    Abed: "What kind of Dungeon Master would I be if I helped?"

    On topic, what about a modified sandbox where all of the characters were part of society that had a general goal, so that players could come in and out? Example: How about a rebellion and the characters are all part of it, picking up on possible missions based on whomever is available to do them?

  7. We had a game going once that we decided we wanted to run as a sandbox. The shared world knowledge was identified as an issue so we all collaborated and used the Microscope rules to create our own campaign setting. Worked pretty well as a frame for the blank canvas our characters played on.


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