Making Sandboxing Relevant

Friday, 21. January 2011

We can all play in here right? (Flickr, Katmere)

Christian makes a very good point over at Destination unknown, regarding sandbox play.  A truly unattached style of sandbox play can be very distant feeling and is difficult to make work well unless your players are very motivated to get out and do their thing. (This varies a lot with me, sometimes it does and doesn’t work well.)  As gaming is hopefully about entertainment, in order to keep people interesting your game play styles need to vary.  I typically use a semi sandbox style when playing and it usually has pretty good results.

Have general knowledge of areas and NPC’s – The idea here isn’t to setup a hard plot line, it’s knowing what the feeling of each area is and how major NPCs and even minor ones are going to react.  This gives you a lot of working points for adventure hooks without having to be “on the tracks” per say,

Know your players – Each player typically has a style of play they most enjoy.  If they’re all new to you, you’ll have to watch carefully and try and establish this.  If not, you need to play to your players interests,  at least a little bit.  Running a romance story would be terrible if nobody was interested into it.. but if they were.. then it would be important to at least include a little bit of such and tie it into whats happening.

Know your characters – Likewise hard at the beginning, but by watching how they respond and knowing their backgrounds (since you hopefully helped in the building of them) you can have  a pretty good idea of where the characters interests lie as well.  This is helpful in throwing out adventure “hooks” as well.

Keep it Relevant – Assuming you know the above 2, keeping the game play relevant and interesting is pretty easy.  In addition to simply throwing out hooks, you can also begin to throw the occasional hook “into” the player to give them and adventure that is “strongly suggested” to be followed. Which leads me into the next point..

A little bit of railroading is ok – I hate being “on the tracks” as much as anyone, but as soon as the gameplay becomes truely important to both the character and the player it’s ok to railroad a little bit. Often, it will be self imposed at that point if the mission or adventure in question involves a family member, loved one or other friend.  The key is not to do that all the time or make it a long chain of events in some grandiose arc.

 With these strategies, it’s a pretty good opportunity to expand your normal gameplay style, or focus your style in if it’s a bit too distant. 

Thoughts?

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3 Responses to “Making Sandboxing Relevant”



  1. christian Says:

    “If not, you need to play to your players interests, at least a little bit.”

    I like this part. I don’t want my GM to make the game all about /me/, but my personality, goals and character motivation should somehow be reflected in the adventure design. I think that connects a player more deeply to the game because there is now an emotional attachment.



  2. Grey Says:

    That right there is the difference between interesting and indifferent play. Obviously, you’ve got 4-6+ interests to play to at that point and it becomes something of a compromise, but the more elements you can include at once or at least rotate through, the better. Maybe someone may find they like another interest better than their current one, so it’s a good learning experience for everyone~



  3. runjikol Says:

    I agree with what you’ve written Grey. To expand on it: sandboxing seems to work better for groups that have high level of trust and a good working relationship in making games concordant with what they enjoy. It seems to me that kicking of a brand new group into a sandbox game has risks: mainly because of the lack of knowledge of the players.

    Overall I feel that making sandboxing games enjoyable is about all those involved wanting to enjoy the game. Some kind of investment, to offset Grey’s mention of indifference, is a good idea. There’s an idea my current group are going to try out: fate points as rewards for out-of-play investment; such as pictures, journals, reports, summaries, extended backgrounds, etc. In a DnD based game these are pretty sweet rewards. :-)

    Nice article, Grey.

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