Friday, October 24, 2014

I'm Realizing we did Very Little "Sandboxing" Back in The Day

Now, when I say "we did very little sandboxing back in the day" I'm referring to the groups I played with back in junior high school, high school and college. Heck, when we first started playing, we didn't even have a setting - just dungeon crawl to dungeon crawl. I guess we would call his "episodic gaming" these days (thank God for Dungeon magazine.)

Heck, even when we had the World of Greyhawk folio and adventures like Temple of Elemental Evil, it's not like the players roamed around looking for adventure. The DM either had a dungeon he'd mapped out or a module he bought, and that was the adventure for the night. The world map was just to point out where it took place;.

The few times the wilderness became part of the adventure, it was usually because it WAS part of the adventure.

I didn't start to try and sandbox (not that we called it that) until the first Forgotten Realms boxed set, as that was full of hooks and locations. Even at that, it was more like story arcs than a sandbox. Sure, the party could go where they wanted, but they were well trained and pretty much stuck to the beaten path.

It wasn't until my group was down to three players for a while in the early 90's that we fully embraced sandboxing. Spacemaster was the ruleset, and my two players found adventure or adventure found them, with little more than some plot hooks and a desire to get into trouble. We had a blast, and when our full group returned, it was to play Rifts and Battlelords. Now, somebody else was running the sandboxes.

I'm going to guess for my first 10 years of gaming, it was mostly episodic play.

Was sandbox gaming really that big a thing in the early days, or is it something that found it's place in later years, with the advent of numerous published campaign settings?

Just idle curiosity on my part...


  1. Nope, we played the modules and used Greyhawk when it came out. But it was much more what did the DM have ready rather than where do you want to go today.

  2. Yeah. My experience pre 1993 was pretty much the same. "Episodic Gaming" for us it reached its peak with what I feel was the first published adventure path—Dragonlance. 

  3. I was thinking about this the other day and I am almost certain that outside of games like Traveller, sandboxing didn't happen much. It seems to be a result more of 30 years of gaming experience and then looking at the books and going "you know what we should have been doing all along?"

  4. I don't think sandboxing comes first; you have to build up some content, a feel for what you like to run (and play), and basically build the foundations out of which sandboxing later evolves. My games from 1980 to 1989 were mostly episodic with a gradual increase in player freedoms to roam (and interest) toward the tail end; true sandbox games spun out of that and became the norm for me around 1992 and onward.

  5. Episodic yes, modules? nope. Mostly home grown and whatever came out the latest magazine.

  6. Interestingly enough, my experience was the opposite. For our group, running around the landscape and happening across adventure was the natural mode of play. Then again, we got started in the late 90s, so perhaps there are different cultural influences at play? We never really used boxed campaign sets of any sort, but we may have been emulating cRPGs in one way or another, as that was about the time we started playing those as well.

  7. AD&D on Hreyhawk was episodic. RuneQuest on Harn was bery sandbox awesome.

  8. When we started, we started playing what would now be called "sandboxes" (with a liberal dose of improvisation on the part of the DM, I think). It was natural, given the tools in the DMG. Then Dragonlance happened and people started trying to play "stories" instead. I argued at the time, just as I still do, that roleplaying will never reach its potential by trying to imitate the methods of some other medium, but rather it will do best by playing to its own strengths, but people said that was just crazy, that "stories" were the future of gaming, that playing an open game was "too hard".

  9. Did quite a bit with Dragonquest, too.

  10. Castle Amber was the first time it got sandbox-ey for my gaming group. The DM started running the module without having read it through beforehand , so when the party reached Averoigne everything got crazy sandbox-ey in a hurry.

    Gentle reader, I was that DM. I can't say I ran a particularly consistent game, but I hope everyone at the table had fun.

  11. B2, where we started, was basically sandboxing for us. We never had a clue why we were doing it, and the referee didn't enlighten us. Once we grew out of B2 we went more episodic, though.

    Traveller, now, that's what taught me to sandbox as a referee. Characters always got their hands on starships somehow, as a ref you just had to fly by the seat of your pants.

  12. Whoa, old names thrown around: RuneQuest, Harnmaster, Warhammer 1st only worthy edition, and maybe even Rolemaster? Rhetorical Question. My theory is; It is not about what we HAD it is about that nowadays we NEED so much more, as we all are proverbially a notch more the oversatiated, media-bombarded, stupefied-buy-it-for-I-hype-it mortals growing older. 25 years ago some Character Sheets, a crude raw idea, and a handful of dice were all we needed to have fun and enjoy. Nowadays we need to be carried to our cars, our drivers bringing us there, we make our eyes wander across all the luxury demanded to honor the group with one more visit, and if anyone else out there is honest: We are much better in creating & editing, but few of us are still able to be good roleplayers & simply enjoy it. Reminds me of the song "Now that drugs don't work..."

  13. First game session ever was in the fall of 1979 in college. An upper classman got three of us together and offered to show us this "new game." Since that was back in the days when the DM's material was sacred, it wasn't until later that I figured out it was B1/In Search of the Unknown. The idea of a wider world beyond the "background" and "legends" sections of B1 never occurred to us. Unfortunately, that was the only session of that game. In the spring, 1980, semester I found another group running B2/Keep on the Borderlands and again, there was little attention given to the wider world. This was also in those heady days when it took weeks, if not months, to gain a single level. When the World of Greyhawk Folio came out, we immediately adopted it and began the secondary game of "where in the world is this module?" We remained in the WoG from then on, with only occasional forays into City State when that player decided to DM.

  14. This is back 30 years ago now but we picked on Restenford and Saltmarsh as (what I suppose we now call) sandbox locales. We had no idea what Greyhawk was (couldn't afford it) and like Bergquist cited above, there was plenty of time to "roam" between adventures. Some players are more investigative while others just want to spike heads. The investigators - their pc's - could bump around town, do some militia or farm work to keep the muscles conditioned, and maybe pick up an adventure-worthy rumor along the way. Other players - and their pc's - only showed up when it was time to roast a half-dead goblin.

    The sandbox allowed the more active-minded players to enjoy role-playing without the bloody knuckles and burned flesh of adventuring.

    I DM'd a lot of those Build a Barn for Room & Board sessions and it was extremely gratifying. A lot less arguing over combat rules, too.

    What shoppes are around Tenkar's Tavern, anyway?

    The Lapser's Guild

    1. Quoting your "What shoppes are around Tenkar's Tavern, anyway? " - The best ones of course!

  15. I have never owned a D&D module or bothered to write down much in advance, so my experience was te exact opposite: all sandbox, all the time wandering around following after rumors/clues/money/revenge/etc.

    Still haven't seen a module I didn't think sucked.

  16. From what I can recall, my main 1e AD&D high school campaign was mostly homebrew, with a few published adventures, but wasn't really sandboxing; the stuff-to-do was pretty clearly laid out.
    I seem to recall that my very early Fighting Fantasy campaigns were a lot more free-roaming sandboxy, partly thanks to Out of the Pit and its great monster & treasure tables.


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