Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sandbox Choices

I wrote a post asking where the beginner sandbox was.  And I'm still interested in the ideas in that post.  But I realized it assumes players of low level characters will want to make choices.  Do they?

I realized, with my players, that they know and I know that there will never be a walk-in-the-dungeon-and-pick-up-the-money with no struggle situation.  The whole point of the evening's entertainment is the risky delve.  So why would it matter if they go to risky dungeon A versus risky dungeon B?  Here are some thoughts:

  • With my dwarven outpost type dungeon they can choose the devil they know.  The dungeon will still be dangerous but knowing what locations they are looking for can make things less dangerous.
  • They might want to obtain certain items.  I made an offhand comment about a location having ash shields (I think) they could be splintered to prevent magical damage and was surprised at how that became the focal goal of the group.
  • They might want to learn certain abilities.  I think it was Zak who had the idea of letting feats be learned in different places in the world.  So if you want to walk across water the guy that knows that is near location A.
 And I realize the choice is not so much a choice between dungeons but things in the world the players might want that happen to be near the dungeons. So that could be gear or animals, for example.  I remember Chgowiz had a campaign where there was a tin shortage and players attacked a band of orcs to get their lantern.
  • Regions might be known for particular livestock like hardy horses, camels, fighting dogs, or trained apes.  And if you want them you need to go there to get them.
  • Maybe particular types of hirelings.  Though, it seems a stretch that low level parties would make travel decisions based on that.
  • I feel like I posted this, but maybe I just thought about, locations players might want to visit and revisit because of an immovable service-- libraries to test rumors, magical anvils, or pools that give fairly predictable and positive results.  Also, locations to get rid of curses and identify magic items.
  • Guild membership, if it has benefits attractive enough, might be a draw to the location where they can join.
  • Geographic or climactic flavor might be a factor.  Maybe several sessions in a swamp and anywhere dry will look better.
  • I suppose this could apply to dungeon flavor too.  If the party is sick of battling undead, orcs might look like easy targets for a change.  But this and the last assumes some experience, and how much will low level parties have?
  • Roleplaying could be a key for some, though probably not my crew who sort of play avatars of themselves.  I mean if your character has a background visiting the family lands might be a reason to go somewhere.
  • A big urban area could be a draw because of the services only found there, like selling magic items.  Or if you are using carousing of any sort that pays off better for bigger cities.
  • I suppose treasure maps and keys found in dungeon A could lead to relatively easy loot in location B.  But that seems less a choice between A and B and me as DM funneling them from one area to another.
  • I suppose the choice could involve the lesser of two evils.  If their current location is going to be overrun or winter is coming, for example, they might want to move somewhere safer even if it isn't safe.
I'm sure there are more, let me know them in the comments.

Another problem is that for them to make these decisions they have to have a whole lot of information up front.  For example, I'm thinking now, if you had a domain-level endgame planned, experienced players might start maneuvering for allies from the start.  Or familiarizing themselves with various regions ripe for a new warlord or wizard.

Trying to convey information quickly is one reason I started making silhouettes.  I can put dogs and horses and such on the map so they see quickly what different regions offer.  Also a pointcrawl with picture insets would probably work better than the typical stew of fantasy names and a gazetteer.  But how would you show that, guy-who-teaches-water-walking is up north?  I'm not sure.  It could always come up in conversation with an NPC, but it also might not.

I think a common bit of advice might be to ask my players where they would want to go.  It sounds obvious.  But, heck people don't even know where they want to eat in the real world, or what they want for Christmas.  And, again, it is about knowledge.  My players don't know what's even possible in the fantasy world burbling in my head.  So I feel I need to make choices of my own and then communicate them to the players.

This isn't all just noodling.  My player's B-Team have reached the point where they need a map and I need to make something for Friday.


  1. My approach is to provide a small list of hooks (between 2 and 6), no more than a few words or a sentence each just to provide a default choice set, and then let players choose or color outside the lines. Also, I like to make those choices living so that not picking one has setting consequences just like picking one does. So things don't just wait forever on PCs.

  2. Rumors, resources, and raiders can help players navigate the sandbox. Rumors are of course an old stand-by and serve as an easy means to pump info into the campaign. Resources no matter the kind can get the PCs travelling. Raiders can drive away and attarct PCs;heroic PCs will see an evil to defeat, schemers a weakness to exploit, villains a power base to join, and thieves a pile of fresh loot.
    Just because an encounter is in hex 1114 that doesn't mean awareness of it stays in hex 1114.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I think my question is the same to both of you. Are these hooks and rumors to non-location based adventures? I mean, things like "you can guard this caravan for x gold," or "this village needs protection from goblin raids"?

    Because I'm really thinking about dungeons. And my second question is, if these adventures hooks/rumors are all dungeon destinations, what distinguishes them?

    JDJarvis, your idea of raiders is cool because it could be interesting for multiple reasons, but is this a raider camp location? Or are you just talking about a faction that can be encountered and interacted with?

    That's the overall thing I'm trying to learn now, as a low level player, why would I Choose location A in the sandbox over location B.

    The two obvious reasons are 1) one choice is more lucrative or 2) one choice is safer.

    I've got some ideas to diversify that a bit but it would be nice to know what other folks are doing. If you've got a post where you've talked about how chose your hooks/rumors that would be cool to.

    I'm a little leery of both of them to be honest. From my research old school rumors were more about obfuscation and making things harder for players. And hooks are a way of the DM saying, here are adventures I have ready for you (a caravan ambush, or a village seige) and I right now I'm trying to be more about what the player might choose than funneling them into adventures I have planned.