Saturday, July 21, 2012

How make a Fantasy Sandbox PDF and status update

A while ago Patrick Walsh sent me a formatted PDF of the articles I written for How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox. He is a great job but I lagged on posting it because I thought I would be writing the book by now. I will eventually write it but to make it easier for everybody to use the Sandbox series. I am going to make Patrick's PDF available.

How to Make a Fantasy Sandbox by Robert Conley with layout by Patrick Walsh.

I do plan to finish the series on the blog among other things. I stalled out on coming up on interesting details on the buildings as I was writing virtually the same thing for Scourge of the Demon Wolf.  Now that I am done with that I am making a list to write up.

While I could just finish up the series and publish that, I think it will be doing sandbox campaigns a disservice. All the book would do it tell you is how to make the bits and pieces you need but nothing about how to manage the campaign once is started. What I currently doing in that area is organizing my notes and distilling it down to material that is useful. Basically it in two broad areas that work in conjunction with the material in the Sandbox series.

Bag of Stuff - the material the referee has in notes, write-up and most importantly in his head to create adventures on the fly. It what allows sandbox campaigns to be run with minimal prep.
World in Motion - techniques to have the setting evolve so that the players feel that they are in a living breathing place with people doing their thing.

Finally to wrap this up here some thoughts from a post on Google Plus and Stack Exchange.


The free form nature of role-playing games are difficult to manage. It is understandable why many choose to run their campaigns as a linear series of adventures. To allow for more freedom you need to get away from the idea that a campaign is a connected series of adventures.

To do this you need to develop a “Bag of Stuff.” The elements inside your “Bag of Stuff” are pulled out and combined during a session to form the adventure the players are experiencing. A campaign cease to be about prepping adventures but rather about managing and expanding what in your “Bag of Stuff”. The referee creativity becomes focused on judging the consequences of the player’s action.

What goes into a “Bag of Stuff? The broad categories are Items, NPCs, and Locales. Items are the physical object found in the setting both mundane and supernatural. NPCs are the characters including generic template that can be customized on the fly with a name and personality (Barkeep, guard, etc).

Locales are descriptions of sites both specific and generic. This part is the most like writing an adventure except the effort should be focused on description not plot. A Palace could be a setting for an audience with the king one session or the scene of a raid on the royal treasury the next. General locales are generally the most flexible. A typical church of the god of honor, a peasant hut, a manorhouse. The more well-read the referee is the more able they will be able to customize the generic elements into the specific items the PCs encounter.

Coupled with this is a “World in Motion”. Making a living breathing setting that exists outside of the player’s actions. To prepare the “World in Motion” for play, the referee draws up a timeline of what going to happen in the setting for the expected length of the campaign. It may be a year, two years, or a decade. This timeline is written has if the characters did not exist. It will guide the referee as to what specific items, NPCs, and Locales need to be added to the “Bag of Stuff”.

The “World in Motion” comes into play through the background color, news, and rumors the referee uses during play. Referee will focus a timeline on events that are of interest to himself and his players.

Managing the campaign is about deciding the consequence of player actions and their effect on future events. The referee will need to be prepared for drastic alterations if circumstances required it. Above all remember that the timeline is a plan not a script. Like a plan of battle it changes once put into action.

The creativity of the referee comes primarily in deciding the consequences of the player’s actions. Not just picking out the likely consequences but the one that are both probable and interesting This is because we are playing a game not writing a alternate history thesis.

By adopting the “Bag of Stuff” and the “World in Motion” as tools in managing a campaign you will find that you can allow players to have considerable freedom within the setting and the amount of prep work remains the same as a campaign comprised as a series of linked adventures. If you chose to retain the setting for subsequent campaigns you will find your prep work to be considerably reduced as much of the material is recycled into the new campaign’s “Bag of Stuff”.

3 comments:

Sean said...

Thanks to both of you for this. I consolidated your posts into a PDF for myself a long time ago, but it didn't look anything like this!

Lead Legion said...

Thankyou very much. I still think these are the best articles you;ve ever written. having them in one handy pdf makes them all the more valuable.

noisms said...

You deserve a medal for this - it's a great boon to DMs everywhere.