horus
 member, 440 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Sat 24 Mar 2018
at 09:38
Sandbox?
Occasionally, I see folks who talk about games as "Adult Sandbox Western" or as "Adult Sandbox and Scenario-based superhuman RP" or "Sandbox GURPS fantasy".

What does the word "sandbox" mean in these contexts?

For me, a sandbox is somewhere you can play around and experiment without worries about breaking things.  For example, I have a game (which I won't mention by name) which I use to experiment with RPoL features.

Would these other sandboxen be similar in concept?
NowhereMan
 member, 187 posts
Sat 24 Mar 2018
at 10:00
Sandbox?
In RPG context, a sandbox is a game with a loose (or nonexistent) overarching plotline in which the player-characters are expected to pursue their own goals.

Video games like the Elder Scrolls series and Bethesda's offerings to the Fallout series are decent examples of the concept in cRPGs.
nauthiz
 member, 561 posts
Sat 24 Mar 2018
at 10:02
Sandbox?
Sandbox traditionally means there's no set plotline.  If you think about a traditional old school adventure module, it's usually a series of mostly linear events the group is expected to move through sequentially until they arrive at the end, having told and experienced a particular story.

A "sandbox game" is usually one where the GM provides an environment of some sort, maybe whole cloth, maybe just a rough outline with the intention of the players helping shape it, and then expects the players to pick and choose what they want to pursue, and what stories they want to tell.  Sometimes this is done individually, with everyone doing their own thing, sometimes the expectation is that the player characters will still be a group, but again they'll be deciding what they want to do.

For instance, in a "Sandbox Western", where everyone is able to do what they want, and the GM is just there to help run NPCs and present options and problems to be addressed, one player might decide they want to run the general store.  So maybe they decide they're new and they're going to be going through the process of getting a store built, and getting the word out they're open for business.  Maybe they decide with the GM that the other sole proprietor of such goods in town isn't too keen on the competition, and then the GM starts tossing in events related to that rival business relationship.


So in this case, the term "sandbox" as a metaphor, refers to the possibilities to go anywhere within the confines of that box, and use that raw material (the sand) to build whatever you want, whether it's dunes, or castles, or holes, with the goal of making, or helping the GM make, whatever you think you'll have fun with.
horus
 member, 441 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Sat 24 Mar 2018
at 11:11
Sandbox?
Thanks.  Well, that clears that one up.
NowhereMan
 member, 188 posts
Sat 24 Mar 2018
at 13:12
Sandbox?
I think it's worth noting, especially after seeing a particular post about sandboxes on Google+, that playing in a sandbox doesn't mean doing away with plot or adventure hooks entirely. In fact, if that were the case, sandboxes would be quite boring. Rather, a sandbox game gives players the option of choosing to not follow the first plot hook handed to them.

I run sandbox games almost exclusively, and I don't think I'd run many games at all if that weren't the case.
praguepride
 member, 1245 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Mon 26 Mar 2018
at 18:43
Sandbox?
I use the term to mean that I am not running a specific adventure and there is considerable opportunities for players to help drive the story.

For example, a non-sandbox game I ran I had specific set pieces in mind for the entire game. Yes they could do little side deviations but the overall game was pretty set in stone.

Meanwhile the sanbox games I run are much more fluid. I don't have a single bad guy but a whole stable of them that the PCs interact with and through their interactions I bubble up the bad guy and bad guy plots that feel best for the situation.

Again, there are fixed plots and a fixed cast of characters but it is much more reactive to players actions and a good sandbox game NEEDS players who take the initiative and can make bold decisions without waiting for the GM to hand them the next quest and a big pointer to where to complete that quest.
horus
 member, 449 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Tue 27 Mar 2018
at 20:52
Re: Sandbox?
praguepride:
Again, there are fixed plots and a fixed cast of characters but it is much more reactive to players actions and a good sandbox game NEEDS players who take the initiative and can make bold decisions without waiting for the GM to hand them the next quest and a big pointer to where to complete that quest.


By that definition, all the games I run are sort of sandbox-y.  I do have scenarios laid out, but they have all sorts of branches that, depending on the players' decisions, can take them in all sorts of directions.

That said, I do tend to deal in really detailed settings, with overarching political, economic, and social influences operating at the grand strategic level.
praguepride
 member, 1247 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Tue 27 Mar 2018
at 21:58
Re: Sandbox?
Think of an adventure module. Rise of the Runelords. If the players say "nahh...we're leaving sandpoint" and never come back then the entire module is thrown away, basically.

I mean you could lift dungeon set pieces and plunk them down in front of the players with new context and while the players can take multiple avenues to get from A to B, if they are following the story then they will always end up at B.

In my opinion there are two kinds of sandboxes:

1) The cornucopia of choices. So instead of going from A to B, the players are also presented with C, D, E, F, and G. All of those are completely independent of one another. While B is fighting goblins, C is joining up with the goblins, D is pissing off to become pirates, E turns into a graveyard crawl and will lead them all across the land while F is about helping some nobleman woo the love of his life and G is the start of a path to god hood.

It doesn't really count if you are always taking them from A to B but just giving them a lot of different choices along the way. This is a big problem I have with the Telltale Games adventure games. They give you a thousand different choices but it's always taking you to the same spots. It's more like do you go from A to B via C, D, or E. You have those options but you will always veer back to B.


2) The open-ended (aka the GM has no plans). The players start at A. Either through random dice or waiting for players to do something they generate their own B, C, and D's but you might also end up with RED and 5 as options too. This happens a lot in "social" games where the NPCs aren't the main antagonists and where the players are being proactive and the GM is just being reactive.
horus
 member, 450 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Wed 28 Mar 2018
at 01:29
Re: Sandbox?
praguepride:
Think of an adventure module. Rise of the Runelords. If the players say "nahh...we're leaving sandpoint" and never come back then the entire module is thrown away, basically.


Yeah, I get this.  In an old AD&D campaign I used to run, there was enough detail that going down the Old Camptown Road would sooner or later take you through a forest which then modulated into a tropical jungle, and ultimately debouched on the site of a large and very ancient pyramid.  Along the way, one could visit many other places in the world with significance to the setting.

If players decided to turn around at any point, all the data concerning that pyramid just sat there waiting, but I wouldn't say it was wasted.  I would say I felt like the work I did creating that portion of the setting felt wasted for a very long while... so, like I said, I get it.

quote:
I mean you could lift dungeon set pieces and plunk them down in front of the players with new context and while the players can take multiple avenues to get from A to B, if they are following the story then they will always end up at B.


"You are in a maze of dark twisting passages all alike"?

Personally, I always feel something like this is a cheap trick that robs players of their agency.

quote:
In my opinion there are two kinds of sandboxes:

1) The cornucopia of choices. So instead of going from A to B, the players are also presented with C, D, E, F, and G. All of those are completely independent of one another. While B is fighting goblins, C is joining up with the goblins, D is pissing off to become pirates, E turns into a graveyard crawl and will lead them all across the land while F is about helping some nobleman woo the love of his life and G is the start of a path to god hood.

It doesn't really count if you are always taking them from A to B but just giving them a lot of different choices along the way. This is a big problem I have with the Telltale Games adventure games. They give you a thousand different choices but it's always taking you to the same spots. It's more like do you go from A to B via C, D, or E. You have those options but you will always veer back to B.


I think we're in agreement here. In the example I gave above about the pyramid, even though said pyramid is waiting at the ultimate end of the Old Camptown Road, nothing says the players have to ever go far enough down that road to visit it.

Now I will admit to having certain NPCs go missing while hunting treasure down that road, and of circulating rumors in Camptown to the effect that some of the survivors of those expeditions came back very wealthy survivors... but I never twisted anyone's arms or plunked that part of the world in front of them and made them go explore a centuries old pyramid filled with traps, mummies, and other ancient horrors.

My players eventually did go visit that pyramid (greed got the better of them, I think), and most of them managed to survive the trip because they did their best to think their way through that adventure.  They came back insanely wealthy because they had waited until they were of high enough level and had the resources to survive.

Incidentally, the really well-buried hook in this setting was that the players were in a post-apocalyptic Earth many centuries removed from a global catastrophe.  Camptown was located close to where Houston, Texas lies in our present day.

Elves, orcs, and the like were products of genetic mutations of humankind that managed to breed true.  Magic was a force that developed partly because of these mutations, and partly because the mind of man fell back to a primitive sort of existence that permitted shamans, sorcerers, and the like to delve into its mysteries again.

The players had some idea after a while, but never got to that "Aha!" moment of realizing exactly what I was doing.

quote:
2) The open-ended (aka the GM has no plans). The players start at A. Either through random dice or waiting for players to do something they generate their own B, C, and D's but you might also end up with RED and 5 as options too. This happens a lot in "social" games where the NPCs aren't the main antagonists and where the players are being proactive and the GM is just being reactive.


"What're we gonna do tonight, Brain?"

"The same thing we do every night, Pinky:  try to take over the world!"

I've played in games like this.  Some were fun and some were not so fun.  A lot depends on the genius behind the screen.  Playing of this sort can help a beginning GM acquire their "sea legs", but if the players are expecting a long campaign this mode of play will sooner or later fail to deliver on one level or another.
praguepride
 member, 1248 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Thu 29 Mar 2018
at 15:40
Re: Sandbox?
It is interesting as I've been reading different blogs about sandboxes vs. railroads and it seems, in my opinion, that both styles are VERY effective with the right players.


Players who have problems with consensus and decisions will flounder in a sandbox as they are paralyzed by choice and unable to get a good grasp on what their character motivations would be. For me, a well crafted fully realized character drives itself. I feel like I am less the driving force of the character and just their interpretor or translator. The character is automatically doing these actions and reactions, I am just transcribing them for everyone else.

I feel like sandboxes are best for experienced and seasoned players. Players who have no trouble with coming to terms with their characters and who might be getting a bit burnt out going through the same old motions over and over again.

Railroads are great for newer players because they are usually provided more information and fewer choices. Everything is tight and prepared to give a top notch experience and for newer players intimidated by their own imaginations being given a couple anchor points like THIS IS YOUR GOAL and THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOAL is great to help build out around it.

I think this helps explain why D&D in its early days was so focused on dungeons because everyone was a new player. The game was simple: get gold & level up. Heck back in the day gold & treasure were your primary sources of XP (original D&D you got XP = GP). Now there was still a lot of freedom because you could attack monsters & traps head on or try and break the maze and go straight for the treasure but the point was you were "heroes" and your goal was "treasure".

Looking at it another way, I think this is why classic and popular early video games were linear. In the old Atari days I just cannot see a game like Minecraft or The Sims being popular because people didn't even know what they were supposed to 'do' with video games. Early classics were all very linear, even "open world" games like Final Fantasy were very linear.
praguepride
 member, 1249 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Thu 29 Mar 2018
at 15:56
Re: Sandbox?
As a quick followup is the idea of "Illusionism" which is the term I've seen used for phantom railroading. If the GM prepares an ogre battle then the players might have a lot of choices available to them (i.e. go north, go south, go west, go back to town...) but if no matter what happens they encounter the ogres then that is Illusionism because it is actually a railroad but the players are given the illusion of choice.

I know a lot of GMs who do this thinking "no big deal" (i was one of them, definitely) but then I saw this in a blog and it was enlightening:

quote:
My favorite objection to illusionism, though, is to reverse the scenario: player illusionism!

Before the game, the players get together and plan out how they're going to render a pre-planned dynamic, like an intra-party conflict. Whatever the GM throws at them, they'll carefully neutralize as best they can, ideally without the GM noticing.  They'll converse with NPCs, but they'll be trying to ensure the GM has as little impact on their plans as possible - won't it be awesome?


Imagine the players pre-deciding beforehand how the game was going to go. Sure the GM might throw a monster encounter at them or an NPC but no matter what happens, the players decide that they are going to do X, period.

I think the fundamental problem with this is that it destroys the ability to collaboratively build a story without anyone truly knowing what will happen next. The GM can design the obstacles but the players role in this collaboration is to build the solutions. If one side completely shuts down the other then it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game, doesn't it?

I mean if the players and GMs are on board with one way or the other, then that's fine but to mislead your players for the sake of what is basically laziness or inflexibility seems a disastrous way to run a game that invokes a lot of risk of bad blood and fallout even with the best of intentions...
horus
 member, 454 posts
 Wayfarer of the
 Western Wastes
Thu 29 Mar 2018
at 19:38
Re: Sandbox?
praguepride:
...If the GM prepares an ogre battle then the players might have a lot of choices available to them (i.e. go north, go south, go west, go back to town...) but if no matter what happens they encounter the ogres then that is Illusionism because it is actually a railroad but the players are given the illusion of choice.


I'll buy that last bit for a quarter:  been there and done that, got the chainmail t-shirt.  I'm not keen to do it again, either.

{snip:  quote concerning reverse illusionism...}

quote:
...The GM can design the obstacles but the players role in this collaboration is to build the solutions. If one side completely shuts down the other then it kind of defeats the whole purpose of the game, doesn't it?


Been here, too.  Took all the fun out of the game, it did.  Felt like we were in that adversarial relationship with the GM that just made for a "rocks fall; everybody dies" kind of ending to the evening.

Yeah this whole thing seems like a recipe for a disastrous session.
swordchucks
 member, 1479 posts
Thu 29 Mar 2018
at 20:25
Re: Sandbox?
A lot of the reason by the illusionism is that many game systems require a lot of prep work from the GM.  When the GM can reasonably expect being prepared for combat to take a couple of hours of work on their end, it becomes very difficult to adapt to the players choosing to go in directions where your prep just isn't.  Being able to adapt to wild changes on the fly requires either a copious amount of prep work into the likely contingencies or a lot of experience as a GM in a given system.

This is actually one of the spots where PBP shines.  With days or weeks to restructure an adventure as players veer off course, a GM should be able to handle such deviations with little trouble.  In fact, because of the speed of PBP, it's often wise not to prepare combats in detail until you know they are going to happen.

Unfortunately, faster-paced gaming doesn't have that luxury and most GMs have both limited brain space and limited prep time available to them.  For me, this is part of the appeal of organized play groups where the railroad is expected and the players are there to enjoy the ride as part of the social contract of the game.
praguepride
 member, 1250 posts
 "Hugs for the Hugs God!"
 - Warhammer Fluffy-K
Fri 30 Mar 2018
at 13:45
Re: Sandbox?
I guess the question is, is it better for a GM to call a game session early so that he has time to prep for an unexpected twist or to remove the player's agency and just plow forward with what he had already prepared?

I agree that open form requires a lot more experience then the railroad however if the expectation and promise is a sandbox then illusionism is kind of a betrayal for the purpose of expediency.
DarkLightHitomi
 member, 1321 posts
Fri 30 Mar 2018
at 20:16
Re: Sandbox?
swordchucks:
A lot of the reason by the illusionism is that many game systems require a lot of prep work from the GM.  When the GM can reasonably expect being prepared for combat to take a couple of hours of work on their end, it becomes very difficult to adapt to the players choosing to go in directions where your prep just isn't.
...


I've never understood this. From the begining I've never had to do prep work to run a game. I've done entire campaigns without even a plan.

So the whole "gm has to do prep" thing never made sense to me.
swordchucks
 member, 1480 posts
Fri 30 Mar 2018
at 23:23
Re: Sandbox?
DarkLightHitomi:
So the whole "gm has to do prep" thing never made sense to me.

There's a bit of system dependency there.  If you're running a D&D 4e game, for instance, setting up the combats and not having it be a huge mess really does take some prep for the vast majority of DMs.

In a broader sense, though, it's a function of the GM's comfort level with improv, memory capacity, and plot aspirations.  If you're planning a plot of political intrigue with eight factions and a dozen moving pieces, that takes a lot more prep than "you meet in a bar" or the like.  I typically do a small amount of prep to figure out the major NPCs and get a rough feel for the plot elements plus any prep required to make the combat system work.  The actual amount of time will vary widely by game type and setup.

In general, I tend to avoid running a "true" sandbox.  A game I run that's claims to be a sandbox will usually be a "semi-sandbox" where there's a metaplot going on that the PCs can interact with or not.