What game/system would you suggest for a fantasy sandbox?

edited September 2010 in Story Games
And why? What makes it good for sandboxing?

I've been pondering a lot about this lately, reward cycles and whatnot. D&D for example has the advantage for bribing you to seek treasure and kill monsters (depending on the edition), but what else can strengthen the structure of an "open-world" Step on Up game? Like, "here's your playground, full of challenges I wonder what you're going to do about." What games already support that out of the box, in your opinion, and what could be done better.

Be warned: I probably won't end up running anything you suggest, I just want to see what's on the table.

Comments

  • Rolemaster

    I really liked how characters changed thru violence. I thought that was neat. That characters can loose ears, arms, organs whatever and it effects play later on. I'm not sure of another role playing game that does this?

    I'm sure it'd be a bear to run though. Those tables could cause hysterical blindness in lesser men.
  • I think Reign, especially the Enchiridion version is the one for me. The company rules provide a way to make the sandbox alive through their conflicts. Company moves can suggest new development inside the sandbox ("the Funzabar merchant guild is trying to absorb our allies. We have to do something!") But also scenes can be framed in order to make the group company more successful ("let's have our characters be part of the spying effort. If we succeed it will give a bonus to the company roll")
  • Making it easy to stat block NPC's and adjust their challenge levels would be something I'd look for, which would rule D&D out for me.

    But we're about to start playing the Pathfinder "Kingmaker" campaign in a week or two, which apparently is intended to be a D&D sandbox, so maybe somebody made it work.

    I'd go for something bone simple, if I was GMing. Something like this. (Which I yet to have the chance to playtest.) Even Burning Wheel is too complex for my tastes. And it would be okay if it broke down/became unbalanced after several sessions because that's probably all we'd play it for.
  • If you haven't check out
    West Marches I'd start there.

    As for game system I'll post about that in a minute or two.
  • edited September 2010
    Burning Wheel
    Your map becomes a map for creating situations to play with/in and well it's Burning Wheel.
    Burning Wheel

    Lamenations of the Flame Princess
    A neat take on D&D. It's a clone with a purpose. Lots of cool stuff going on in the fiction.
    Website

    Traveller
    Shift the color to fantasy or low tech. All the rewards are in the fiction. Also known as Low Tech Traveller, Wanderer, umm there are a few others. Lifepath for characters, assumes your characters are wandering around
    Far Future

    Dictionary of Mu style
    Replace the Dictionary with your map
    Dictionary of Mu - Interview

    Dungeoneer (Advanced Fighting Fantasy) or Lone Wolf
    Fairly stripped down rules. Quick stat block creation. Needs to be hacked to be fun.

    Apocalypse World
    Using Apocalypse D&D or Dungeonworld hacks
    Apocalypse World
  • Maybe just because I'm reading and prepping it: Donjon.

    Players can define Abilities any way they want (within reasonable efficacy) and, as a result, define the sort of challenges they will face.
    Character success can be translated to game world facts, about nearly anything. This applies in combat and in use of skills like Find Secret Doors or Know Someone Nearby.
    The concept of a "Town" and "Donjon" is amorphous--they are more functional roles (info, gear; challenge locations) than necessarily a literal village with a literal dungeon nearby. (E.G., City and Sewers; Fasthold and Wastelands; Safe House and On The Streets.)

    The world is, thus, up to the whole play group; how they engage it is, thus, up to their Abilities and use of successes; and there's no limit to advancement through the reward mechanic (and challenges scale, too).

    And it's readily available: http://crngames.wikidot.com/donjon
    HTH;
    David
  • Burning Wheel; your characters' BITs lighthouse all the sandboxing for you, lowering the stress of GMing an expansive fantasy sandbox. Moreover, it's got character-driven world-building mechanics like Circles and Wises.
  • edited September 2010
    I'd go for Reign. Mainly because it's easy though and I don't have to think much about it. That makes a sandbox easy in my mind, particularly with how I go about it. I'd rather not have to think about rules too much.
  • Reign is a good one. You can also use the Company rules to give do sandbox at the political level as well.

    Personally, though, it's Barbarians of Lemuria that really gives me the feeling of taking my sandaled feet and trodding all over the jewels and bones of lost empires.
  • Dungeon World's already been mentioned, and while right now it doesn't really help with the sandbox stuff, AW does, and you can port over the concepts yourself. Eventually we'll get around to porting the idea of Fronts, hopefully melding them with typical D&D. In fact, I'm thinking about it now...
  • What exactly are we talking about when we say "sandbox" play? Is that a game where the GM has a really good handle on all sorts of possible challenges and directions, and the players just decide what interests them at the top of every game session?

    If so, I don't think Burning Wheel is a good choice. I think a good BW game depends on the GM driving the action toward the player's beliefs; presenting specific challenges, rather than just waiting to see what they do.
  • Besides not pre-plotting things, when I think "sandbox" I think of the lonely fun of creating a world as a GM, so I want a game where it's fun to hack and build things but you can also run on fly.

    From that angle my mind drifts to Solar System or Lady Hackbirds (creating new Secrets & Keys for people to take, etc) or Dungeon/Apocalypse World (creating new custom moves and gear).

    I agree with you about Burning Wheel, Brian. sandbox game <> character driven
  • Burning Wheel works just fine for sandbox games but we can kick that to a different thread if needed to expand on how it works in play.
  • What I like about using Burning Wheel is that the players have a mechanism for letting the GM know which part of the sandbox interests them. The orc game we played was a map with lots of cool names and me asking the players what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to go.

    The campaign we are playing now, set in the Forgotten Realms gray boxed set, has ranged up and down the Sword Coast.

    But as noted above, we could start a different thread if this is too much bee dubya in one thread.
  • Wilderlands of High Fantasy was the big sandbox setting of recent memory, one that strongly appealed to the "every hex on the map has something to do" school of olde tyme D&D gaming.
  • I'd suggest Lamentations of the Flame Princess or original Red Box D&D. These are good because there's very little emphasis on character -- instead, the fictional world that the DM has created is emphasized as the main constant throughout the fiction.

    Burning Wheel and Sorcerer are flat-out wrong for the kind of game you're suggesting, Gregor. Apocalypse World or Dungeon World or Apocalypse D&D could possibly work, if you're envisioning a different style of challenges (ie fronts).
  • I have always been fascinated by Ron's proto-game Black Fire that he wrote as an example for his Step On Up essay.

    http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/22/

    Sure, it has some pretty rough holes that need to be filled by the individual group, but hey, it's a proto-game. It has sandboxy world construction built right in.

    Jesse
  • Not because I've tried it, but because I'm considering it myself right now: Legends of Anglerre.
  • edited September 2010
    Good stuff everyone.
    Posted By: Brian MinterWhat exactly are we talking about when we say "sandbox" play?
    The danger of not defining muddy terms in a conversation. The way I see it, a sandbox primarily has a map, mostly blank, with a few cool-sounding names written on it. Every time (perhaps in the very session, or perhaps a few days before) the players decide "I want to go there!" or "I want to see what's that thing!". The GM need not have the whole map filled out, but he should have enough prepared dungeons, NPCs and locales that he's prepared for every eventuality of "going there". Everywhere you go there should be cool stuff to find and stuff to fight. So...
    1. There should always be the feeling that the world is always bigger, that there is always something still left unexplored, something you missed. The world is NOT tailored to the PCs. There should be many times you have to run only to come back another day. Which brings me to...
    2. There is no baked-in situation. The world is passive and uncaring. There can be certain countdowns and threats, for example "If no-one goes into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, the goblins move back in and fortify them." (I guess in AW terms we could call them Fronts)

    Which makes me agree with Brian and Johnstone, BW and Sorcerer are wrong. BW is all about characters in a situation. But that's for the other thread now.

    I feel a Sandbox is much closer to a Right to Dream agenda (primarily, the GM's Right to Dream, there's a world, and it's just like this and it doesn't conform to any notions of literary meaning or character advocacy) and mostly the Step on Up agenda (in that there's a million things to find and fight, you always have to push harder, go further. If there is story, it's Story After ("Wasn't it cool when we beat the dragon and then the gnolls moved into his caves and we set the troglodytes on them!").

    Now to the suggestions.


    Rolemaster is, I think a cool suggestion. I think character change is important. Not only the scars but also power tripping. Besides the promise of another treasue over yonder hill, a player also has the promise of that next cool sword move he'll get. But alas, I am a lesser man.

    Reign is interesting, the company rules would make for a particular kind of sandbox, but again, I think it would require a lot more situation. I think in Reign the GM hast to pit the PCs group versus NPC groups in a fairly balanced and story-driving manner. But would make an interesting game. However, my group doesn't like the ORE engine, and it doesn't really work for me either.

    Various iterations of D&D have, as I mentioned in my OP, the advantage of rewarding players for monsters and treasure. Also, I really really like how Lamentations of the Flame Princess looks and works. I think it would be a good choice in general. But I'm dead tired of running anything D&D-ish. LotFP might be just different enough, but I'm not cool with some of the basic assumptions of D&D mechanics and I dislike the system/play culture that our group has developed to deal with D&D.

    Traveller is another very interesting suggestion. Ara, I'd particularly like to hear more about "All the rewards are in the fiction." I've been thinking about fictional rewards, fictional consequences and fictional cues a lot lately. Another thread maybe? I haven't played Traveller but I can see how it would work. I'm pretty sure I once saw a full blown fantasy hack for it somewhere.

    Donjon is awesome but I think it's too lightweight and takes away a big chunk of "GM authored, uncaring world" which I think is essential for a sandbox.

    Last but not least, Apocalypse World. I love AW. I love it to bits. However, I believe it is, again, a game about situation. I haven't yet seen anyone do it the "let's go there today" mode. It's always about people and relationships and what's going on here, now. There is never an opportunity for the players to explore or take on challenges, because the shitstorm is already in your face when you wake up every day. I guess it could work, but I'm not sure how. It would blow all the GM's prep out of the water each time. There would be no NPC-PC-NPC triangles. Frankly, I feel it would fall apart as an AW game and turn into something else, which brings me to...
    Dungeon World/Apocalypse D&D I like these a lot, too. I think it could work great, my main problem with this suggestion is that I see it working well for small instances of play, where you're in a dungeon and you beat a dungeon and it's over. Perhaps I'm wrong and it is because it's getting a lot of Con play, but I see it as the kind of game where there are many isolated instances of a single dungeon adventure, but no persistent world to tie them all together. I suspect this is also because the game lacks a lot of AW's GM stuff like Fronts. Dungeon World should have MC moves like "migrate monsters" or "increase monster population" and custom moves like "When you don't go into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, roll +charisma. On 10+ a dude in the next village tells you the goblins are repopulating the caves en masse, on 7-9 someone mentions they've seen a few goblins around again. On a miss you're clueless."

    Jesse, I'm going to take a look at Black Fire now.
  • Ah, OK--not my idea of a sandbox. Donjon won't work for "come play in my world" GMing.
    ("Sandbox," in TT RPG, implies to me that we can do/build anything--emphasis on "we" and "anything"--much like when a group of kids meet up in a sandbox with their shovels, buckets, molds, and action figures. Seems like your definition only lets one kid bring shovels, buckets, molds, and action figures; and the rest only bring action figures. But this... is another [semantic] thread.)
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: Teataine
    1. There should always be the feeling that the world is always bigger, that there is always something still left unexplored, something you missed. The world is NOT tailored to the PCs. There should be many times you have to run only to come back another day. Which brings me to...
    2. There is no baked-in situation. The world is passive and uncaring. There can be certain countdowns and threats, for example "If no-one goes into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, the goblins move back in and fortify them." (I guess in AW terms we could call them Fronts)
    These--much more than trappings like maps and encounter tables--are what I would call the defining elements of a sandbox game. I think it's a very Right to Dream format, but probably less supportive of Step on Up play. The latter would seem to require more mechanical "fairness" (but I could be misunderstanding the Big Model).

    That said, I've been thinking a bit about how to use that most Step on Up game, Dungeons & Dragons 4e, for a great big explore-the-map-and-roll-for-wandering-monsters sandbox game. The idea of such an open world runs counter to 4e's rigorous ideals of game balance, and doesn't offer a lot of support for the kind of carefully-concocted set piece combat encounters that make 4e really sing, so it's probably a wrongheaded idea from the start. I think it could be a lot of fun, though, at least over a narrow spread of levels.

    The other system that immediately comes to mind is Legends of Anglerre, or some other Fate-derived fantasy game. The obvious benefit of Fate for a sandbox game is the ease of coming up with new content. Player characters can have some satisfying mechanical detail and growth, while the rest of the world gets by on "Weapons +4, Awareness +2, and he's got the aspect 'red rage of the Black Steppes'". LoA in particular also offers some rather nice--if a bit sketchy--ideas for treating crossing dangerous terrain like a conflict against a character.
  • To the original poster: to get what you are after in this thread, does it matter what's actually in the sandbox you're thinking about? That is, do you have a clear idea for the world, or is the point of the thread more generally theoretical? If the former, telling us about what's in the sandbox might lead somewhere surprising.
  • Gregor,

    I was doing the write-post-as-you-go thing and had a long post halfway written till I got to your long response. I'm glad you said it before I did. People were focusing too much on the sandbox aspect and ignoring the Step On Up aspect entirely. The fact is, there are very few games that do Step On Up well.

    I don't think Apocalypse World is going to work as a Step On Up game at all. There's not enough mechanical crunch for that kind of play. It's very Right To Dream in play, I'm finding, but I know, the plural of anecdote is not data.

    How about Christian Griffen's Beast Hunters?

    Is there any way to start with one of the open source D&D clones and hammer it into something you'd want to play?
  • Posted By: TeataineGood stuff everyone.Last but not least,Apocalypse World. I love AW. I love it to bits. However, I believe it is, again, a game about situation. I haven't yet seen anyone do it the "let's go there today" mode. It's always about people and relationships and what's going on here, now. There is never an opportunity for the players to explore or take on challenges, because the shitstorm is already in your face when you wake up every day. I guess it could work, but I'm not sure how. It would blow all the GM's prep out of the water each time. There would be no NPC-PC-NPC triangles. Frankly, I feel it would fall apart as an AW game and turn into something else, which brings me to...
    Dungeon World/Apocalypse D&DI like these a lot, too. I think it could work great, my main problem with this suggestion is that I see it working well for small instances of play, where you're in a dungeon and you beat a dungeon and it's over. Perhaps I'm wrong and it is because it's getting a lot of Con play, but I see it as the kind of game where there are many isolated instances of a single dungeon adventure, but no persistent world to tie them all together. I suspect this is also because the game lacks a lot of AW's GM stuff like Fronts. Dungeon World should have MC moves like "migrate monsters" or "increase monster population" and custom moves like "When you don't go into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, roll +charisma. On 10+ a dude in the next village tells you the goblins are repopulating the caves en masse, on 7-9 someone mentions they've seen a few goblins around again. On a miss you're clueless."
    I think to make AW work you would have to create a tiered front system. After laying out the map, you'd have to have macro-fronts that are sweeping, world-changing, events like nations at war. Under these, you could have a list of all the places where you could interact with the front (PCs could go to these places). Instead of having a clock with numbers for the front, I would make a micro-front for each number. The micro-fronts would work like normal fronts but when they came to a head you would mark it off on the macro-front. The micro-fronts would represent places the PCs could go to interact with the macro-front. In this way you have little things going on that drive the sweeping events (e.g. the macro front is the elves are going to attack the dwarfs -> a microfront is troops building up on the boarder [must happen before the macro-front goes critical] -> threats resulting from the troop buildup include local MPs hunting for spies, the leader of the citizenry demanding concessions from the massing troops, the strange disease that seems to be spreading in the camp, etc.). Wherever the players go, they can deal with local threats/micro-front and then you can just play with the macro-fronts to drive the world story.
  • Some kind of D&D is well suited to sandbox play. Much depends on the players; my players are not fond of anything less complex than D&D3E or Pathfinder. Our group have internalized much of 3E, so our games flow well i.e. all but the most intense combat situations can be handled in less than half an hour. But I do feel that - in general terms - less complex systems are more suited for sandbox play, as they give more leeway for easy improvisation. This is clearly a matter of personal preference, and YMM very well V.

    So I'd suggest...:
    One of the early D&Ds or one of their clones - Labyrinth Lord would be a good one.
    Chaosiums Basic Roleplaying with the Classic Fantasy supp would be another good one.
    QUERP is a good and simple game, well suited for sandbox play
    And so is Warrior, Rogue & Mage . This one is fairly new, but in many ways kinda old-fashioned too...
  • I'd like to point again to Traveller and, specifically, Ara's Wanderer hack.
  • There is a new version of the Wanderer hack I just haven't put it up yet. All three books are finished and are undergoing playtesting.
  • Am I wrong to think that a sandbox, being based on the idea of player initiative in reacting to a very loose set of cues, needs:

    - a low-prep game from GM perspective - the GM should not have to create elaborate tactical environments and tailored critters, traps and gizmos off the cuff, viable NPCs must be quick to create. To meet this rules D&D 4e or Rolemaster out in my view (donning my asbestos suit now).

    - weave into mechanics Player goals, ambitions, keys etc. to avoid the "generic sets of stats sitting there waiting for someone to walk into tavern with a job/quest/rumour/arrow in their back and bloody map". This favours a Solar System/The Shadow of Yesterday style game. Burning Wheel qualifies on the weaves in front though requires skilled handler to use sandboxy, Mouseguard might be a slightly better choice if you accept a mouse-sized sandbox.
  • Rob

    It Depends who is using the term sandbox. In some circles it's become tied to the old school usage and the way that many of the early D&D games were played. In that style huge dungeons were detailed ahead of time and the elaborate tactical setups were the norm. Half of the fun for the DM was creating the dungeons ahead of time and the sandbox was more related to players being free to wander around to whatever location interested them.

    I think that usage of the term is a bit limited and restricts the usefulness. A sandbox is a space where kids play and make up things based on what they have and what they find. I think your ideas match that concept quite well but someone who is looking to the old scholl usage of the term wont see it.
  • edited September 2010
    I would go for Basic Fantasy RPG. It is very old school D&D but with a few hacks that make it better suited for modern day (ascending AC, races not as classes, easily ignorable class restrictions). Monsters are easy to generate so that isn't a concern.
    http://www.basicfantasy.org/main.html
    I would probably tack on a few personal house rules to enhance the game a little... the only other thing that might be fun to have is something akin to The Shadow of Yesterday's Keys or FATE Aspects. The great thing about old school gaming is that it is easy to bolt on pieces that you will actually use. :)

    Beyond system, I think it is the setting that really makes sandbox games shine. I like to create setting depth during the game so something with a strong outline would be good for me. :D
  • Gregor,

    You're welcome to use the system I use for sandbox support in my thus far unpublished game Delve:
    - Imperial Govt has local "missions to do" lists for adventurers, including the Empire's best guess at difficulty
    - PCs have the ability to have prophetic dreams about stuff that interests them; the dreams point to locations connected to these interests (in Delve, the dreams expend a resource, and "interests" = supernatural encounters that give you nightmares, but I bet you can hack that for whatever you want)
    - play cycle = play a mission; players discuss options, have dreams, pick what to do next; GM preps that

    Thus, the GM only needs a small number of vague hooks to get a campaign rolling; after that, he just works from player interests. In Delve, I organize the interests and mission hooks into a pyramid of secret knowledge, so discovery A nicely stacks with discovery B to give the PCs cool new ability C. That's not too much more work for the GM.

    I have a separate procedure that I use to create individual adventures. Not sure if that's germane here.

    Ps,
    -David
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