Are there non-trad, non-d&d sandbox games?

edited May 15 in Story Games
2097’s game sounds interesting to me, in large part because one of the small things I've missed by switching to pbta Powered by the Apocalypse Games, is the consistent living world. When I played D&D we always played in our custom world, a thing that grew over years of playing and discussion.

Now 2097's is even more than that, her style to me almost seems akin to a video game but with a human computer*.

But the question remains. Are there 'story game' sandboxes? Or are the concepts antithetical?
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Comments

  • I think it depends exactly how you define “sandbox” and “story game” or “non-trad”.

    Here are two that come to mind:

    Apocalypse World

    Mutant Year Zero
  • edited May 14
    I think it's very possible to run many, many different kinds of game this way!

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but I feel like what you're enamored by is way that game structure and commitment to using prep, procedure, and random tables before resorting to improv make the game feel concrete, real, solid?

    The structure, prep, procedure, and tables don't have to be about overland and dungeon exploration.

    Say you want a moody vampire game.

    Structure could be based around the sleep/wake/feed cycle.

    Prep could be centered on high-level territory maps of a city, and relationship maps between the vampires and major mortals in the city.

    Procedure could be built around the hunting process, and the court etiquette of vampire-kind.

    Tables could generate prey, hunting events, and disruptions to the uneasy truce between the vampires in the city.

    And we can run it all with the same fanatical devotion to objectivity.

    EDIT: I also think you've probably missed some important details if her style seems to you like a video game with a human computer. That phrasing makes it seem like, Idunno, the players only engage with the world through the game mechanics. That's probably pretty far off base! The point is to ensure that, as much as possible, important facts about the world are not chosen arbitrarily by the GM during play. Which is pretty orthogonal to the means by which players address the world and situation.
  • Blades in the dark is a very sandboxy game with story game elements. But that might not be story game enough for you?
  • I think anything can be approached in a sandboxy way if you have enough setting material. That material could be pre-written, like an established setting from literature or a published world atlas/sourcebook, or it could be procedural, like a big mess of Arduin tables or Vornheim. Or a mixture of the two, like the city of Sanctuary.

    Some games are designed to accommodate whole existing settings from other media: I believe Questlandia and Archipelago both explicitly talk about this (and they are both examples of very "storygamey" games). Narrative-oriented games may often tend toward an arc that suggests closure at the end of a session or series of sessions, but you can always think of a clever way to pick up those characters (or related ones) and continue. What you end up with tends to be "episodic" (in the TV sense), and "campaigns" are like "seasons," which is pretty cool. :-)
  • Forbidden Lands, by Fria Ligan games, may be very much what you seek, OP. It's not "trad" in any meaningful sense of the word I know: there's a GM, but they are very much bound by the rules, and there is some story-gamey flagging stuff. There's a very definite setting, one that the PCs learn about along with their characters.

    It *is* traditional in its content: the PCs are adventurers (not necessarily heroes; the game is sort of... agnostic on that point in a way that reminds me of Apocalypse World*), it's a fantasy game, there are swords and monsters and spells and demons and etc.

    Exploration is put front and center with this whole map thing: you put stickers on it to denote areas your PCs have explored, and it sounds like that will really create a living world feel to it. I've even been told that if I run a one-shot or whatever, to just drop the stickers on the map anyway, and then if I get a full campaign going, what happened in the one-shot is still canon. In a sense it lets you create a one-(or more!)-GM, many players kind of living world.

    I dropped $100 on the very pretty boxed set and am itching to try it out, which I believe I will be doing soon!

    ***

    My friend @StoneTharp ran Mythras (RuneQuest 6) in what we called a "relationship sandbox" style; the game was also "anthropological roleplaying." There was a somewhat predefined setting, but we deepened the in-game cultures through portraying and exploring them, and while exploring the physical setting mattered (a ton!), there was a reason we called it a relationship sandbox. Navigating through the various lines of family, clan, religion, alliances, etc. was just as important as the physical orienteering through the wilderness. The game rules did somewhat facilitate this, though if you end up going with RQ6 / Mythras I'd recommend talking to me about the house-rules we used...
  • @Paul_T He was specifically talking in comparison to PbtA :bawling:

    Forbidden Lands (disclaimer I’m friends with several people who work at Fria Ligan):
    I’m pretty frustrated with Forbidden Lands so far; I bought two books for it (one book was an anthology of four modules, and one was a campaign) but those modules had stuff like “Here are some suggestions of events to subject the adventurers to”. “Subject to”…? Uh? Does Forbidden Land has rules for when such events are triggered? Maybe I just don’t get it.

    I wanted to get the PDFs for the core books hoping to convert the modules to 2097e, but the PDFs were almost as expensive as the real box and it’s a super nice box except that I just wanted these particular modules and I wanted to read the PDFs before I got the main game (or instead of getting the main game).

    Kenny_J said:

    Now 2097’s is even more than that, her style to me almost seems akin to a video game but with a human computer.

    ja tvoi sluga

    Note that I have the players helping me with a lot of it. “You get, uh… what’s 700 divided by three? That’s how many XP you get”

    Kenny_J said:

    But the question remains. Are there ‘story game’ sandboxs? Or are the concepts atithetical?

    With the life-changing magic of semantics, the seven letters “sandbox” can mean almost anything♥

    When talking about my style of sandbox specifically, I mean

    1. something prepared & explorable & mutable
    2. with problems & goals

    Good old Porte-Monstre-Trésor♥
    Place-Problem-Goal

    For the first thing, a location is awesome. It can be a keyed map but it’s great to have a second tier of truth to fall back on for those nooks & crannys you forgot: random tables. Other generative rules also count as this type of second tier prep. (“When you try to pay with glitched coin, roll here to see how the shopkeeper reacts”.)

    As others have pointed out, a relationship map is also something that can be made to be prepared & explorable & mutable, and can make for great sandbox play.

    Sandbox game (again, if I’m, at least for this particular post, sticking to my definition) don’t have to have 12 classes and 400 spells and 7 types of dice. Instead, it’s all about the prep.

    For which see the three tiers of truth.

    If you don’t have prep, you’re not doing the thing. You know, the thing. The thing that I have chosen to call “sandbox”. Other completely different “things” are also welcome to call themselves sandbox, I don’t own those seven letters.

  • 2097 said:

    @Paul_T He was specifically talking in comparison to PbtA :bawling:

    There are lots of PbtA games. Some might be “sandbox” and some might not.

    The way I’ve seen AW run, it often starts as “we come up with the world together as a group” (using all the techniques described in the book), and then sometimes transitions into a fairly “sandbox”-like format. (Except the threats are typically more proactive than in a “there’s an adventure over here”-style D&D game.)

  • FWIW, the core FL books are quite anti-railroady, very explicitly so.
  • AW is a game I often enjoy playing but that I'm not satisfied with in this regard. While it has prep, both keyed map and generative rules, engaging with either is teetering just on the border between gloracular and subjective
  • Games with player-facing sandbox systems:

    Blades in the Dark: the players can choose scores off a Claims sheet. ("Oh, if we nab this piece of turf, we could do another heist and seize a drug den.") The scores they choose can have emergent consequences (depending on which neighborhood they hit, they will lose status with a faction and risk going to war).

    Undying: the R-map establishes a sandbox. The players can take sides, collaborate, compete, etc. This is more a drama sandbox than the exploration sandbox other games focus on.

    Torchbearer: The ability to research and adventuring sites and listen to rumors lets players invest their success from one adventure into leverage in another. The sandbox relies on the GM having multiple adventures prepped, so that PC investment in research/leads/rumors is well spent. The game also supports sandbox play in that dungeons have an ecosystem rather than a set quest; sometimes a weary party just needs to tap out an move on.
  • edited May 15
    Kenny_J said:

    But the question remains. Are there 'story game' sandboxs? Or are the concepts atithetical?

    The short answer: no. People do their damnedest to dance around it, but you'll note that those who actually play full-blown sandboxes don't join the chorus.

    I will freely admit that many games are not actively opposed to sandboxing, and that some games have some minor sandbox features. However, I feel that calling them sandbox games without qualification is completely disingenious.

    However, regarding your next question: the only definition of the idea of story game that is outright antithetical to sandboxing is "drama game" - as in, a game that replicates dramatic storytelling. You probably understand the term in a sense that is much wider than that, though, and in general there is no contradiction: it is very much possible to develop a sandbox for something that you would probably call a story game.

    I have some examples of games that are both powerfully sandboxing and probably story games - narrativist games with structural rules, for instance - but none that I can think of have been actually published.

    For example, my friend Petteri has this game in development called The Varangian Way. Here is how it fulfills the requirement:

    Sandbox: The game begins with a player character party of Swedish vikings who explore the Eastern European waterways in hopes of trade and glory. Individual characters are relatively cheap, you are expected to develop a character stable. The party can and will split up, with some starting their own tradeposts alongside important waterways, or seizing thrones among the local peoples, or going back home to claim their birthright in Scandinavia. The game content is tracked on maps the players develop as play progresses; content is pushed by individual players (the game is GM-less) utilizing randomization procedures and arbitrary inspiration. Individual characters and parties are followed in parallel, as players please, as they delve into the landmass and perhaps discover the fabled Constantinople at some point.

    Story game: The overall goal of the game is to tell compacted slice of life stories about a varied ensemble cast of characters who live and die in the world of Ruthenian waterways, forests and steppe. Much of the lives of the characters is dealt with on a highly abstract level, time passes quickly and whole human lifetimes are potentially in play in terms of dramatic stakes. The core exploration activity in the game reveals a randomized, potentially fantastical and ahistorical Eastern Europe for interaction with civilized Europe; it is essentially a Western genre setup, except in 8th century European east. Furthermore, the heroically decisive actions of the main characters impact the socio-economic development of the entire Ruthenian region in the early medieval period, ultimately determining how state formation and political compromise between the local tribes works to create "a Russia" (in the sense of not necessarily being the Russian world we know).

    So yeah, the idea is possible, it's just that I'm not aware of published game products that would really have the rubber hit the road in terms of sandboxing technique meeting story game artistic goals. The very least I'd expect for a game to be called a "sandbox" would be for the players, not the GM, to be in ultimate control of what content gets played and what is left as mere tantalizing potential. Ideally you'll have maps and stuff, too, of course, as part of an expansive world simulation.
  • Oh, also, I just realized that the history of roleplaying actually knows of a few sandbox story games. It's just that they're so old that they slipped my mind just now. There are probably a few more, too, once you start thinking in these terms.

    Both Pendragon and Ars Magica are clearly sandbox games (which I am willing to argue about, if somebody disagrees). They are also probably story games, unless your definition disqualifies 20th century games as a matter of course. Food for thought.
  • Yeah, I agree with both Sandra and Eero here:

    That’s why I said “depends on your definition”. I wouldn’t consider AW to be a sandbox game, but some would (many people play with maps and threats placed on the map, which the players can interact with however they like; they see the Fronts/Threats as enabling sandboxing). (I could write about why I don’t consider AW to work in this fashion, but that’s probably best left to another conversation - one aspect, though, is what Sandra said: the prep is not rigorous enough and impartial adjudication is very very difficult, at best.)

    Similarly, Mutant Year Zero appears to be fairly clearly a sandbox game, but is it a story game? It’s somewhere in the middle ground. So it depends on your criteria.

    In theory, I see no reason why a story gam couldn’t be a sandbox game. It just looks like no one’s really done that, at least not a rigorous fashion.

    The implied question is: what does adding sandbox features to a story game add to the game? How does it improve things?

    It looks like, so far, designers haven’t thought of any interesting answers to that question.
  • edited May 17
    Sandbox as an amusement park
    Ben Robbins' games
    A Thousand Years Under the Sun
    The Coyotes of Chicago

    Sandbox as a relationship map (fish tank)
    Svart av kval, vit av lust
    Dogs in the Vineyard
    The Murder of Mr. Crow
    Unknown Armies (if story game)
    Spirit of the Century (if story game)
  • edited May 15
    I'm hoping to fashion WARG into a D20+PbtA+The-West-Marches game. Playtested last week and it successfully produced "old school" gameplay driven by PbtA-style mechanisms. Hoping to add more tools and advice for sandboxing.
  • In Svart av kval, vit av lust the map is created as part of play; I don't count it as prepped.
  • edited May 15
    2097 said:

    In Svart av kval, vit av lust the map is created as part of play; I don't count it as prepped.

    The map creation is the prep. It's just that everyone is in on it.
  • That means that it doesn't qualify for "2097 style 'prepped&explorable&mutable'".

    I love the game, it's just definitely not a "2097 style sandbox". In case that's what @Kenny_J was asking for. AW is more iffy (leaning towards "not") but Svart av kval, vit av lust is definitely not. A key technique in "2097 style sandbox" is to precommit to facts that the other participants can try to deduce, discover, explore etc.

    (The fact that it's an r-map instead of a location map isn't the problem.)

    We often do Svart av kval, vit av lust style communal r-maps too but that part of the game isn't the sandboxy part.

    Maybe I was dumb using a common word such as "sandbox". If only I had called it… "blorb".

    Svart av kval, vit av lust doesn't qualify as blorb. Neither does Spirit of the Century.

    Dogs in the Vineyard does.
  • I like the idea of sandbox as an approach rather than a type. That makes sense to me.
    2097 said:
    @Paul_T He was specifically talking in comparison to PbtA :bawling:
    I wasn't meaning them as a comparison, just that I have switched play styles as of late, from playing and building in one world (how I played D&D) to keeping the world un-prepped until we begin play (Apocalypse World and other Powered by the Apocalypse games).

    Frankly I do this because I think it speaks equity of everyone's input. If I come to the table with my own ideas before anyone else gets a chance to input, then I am saying my ideas are more important than yours. If I did want to have a setting I would clear it with my fellow players beforehand.

    As for MY definition of a "sandbox" or "story game," i deliberately kept it open to foster discussion (as I do). I mean I wasn't looking for a list of recommendations Per se, not that I am apposed to them either mind you.

    To take a crack at the definitions though. I think Sandbox to me means a world players can explore. It shouldn't be made up on the spot, or at least not entirely. (I think there is room here for improvisation within the framework of pre-established material). It should feel like players can go anywhere. To me I was thinking location but I suppose a relationship map works the same. It should feel more like a simulation (I know that's a loaded term, but I mean it should feel real and consistent with limited pre-set outcomes) I struggling here to find the exact language I'm thinking.

    (I love the term fish tank by the way @Rickard and thats a list I will have to check out.)

    For Story game I go loose; Narrativist, drama game, tv show emulating, collaborative, somewhat broad to very broad player authorial input (both GM'd and GMless or full), generally get at my idea.
  • That is fine of course. I just don't want to be misrepresented (always thinking about those future archeaologists after I'm dead)
  • Kenny_J said:

    If I come to the table with my own ideas before anyone else gets a chance to input, then I am saying my ideas are more important than yours.

    The idea is to not choose Paper after you've seen them choose Rock. Or not choose Scissors either for that matter.

  • I do think I agree with @Rickard here though (if I am reading him right) that prep is still prep if its done by everyone. It might make the world a little less mysterious, i.e. the other players wont be "Discovering" new uncharted lands if they helped come up with them. But that may not be a bad thing. You can always role play like you've never been. I guess that one depends on the group and their desired play style.
  • 2097 said:


    The idea is to not choose Paper after you've seen them choose Rock. Or not choose Scissors either for that matter.

    Fundamental fairness, I get it. But I take it even broader. I'm don't want to decide our Apocalypse world has deserts if you were thinking water world and everyone likes that better.

    I dunno maybe we are saying the same thing @2097, did you come up with your world collaboratively or did you make the world and they just play in it? (or some combination).
  • edited May 15
    Jeph said:

    EDIT: I also think you've probably missed some important details if her style seems to you like a video game with a human computer. That phrasing makes it seem like, Idunno, the players only engage with the world through the game mechanics. That's probably pretty far off base! The point is to ensure that, as much as possible, important facts about the world are not chosen arbitrarily by the GM during play. Which is pretty orthogonal to the means by which players address the world and situation.

    I was definitely thinking of items from this post that makes it seem this way to me, but I take your point about her intended emphasis.
  • edited May 16
    I always thought of a sandbox as a style of gaming where we pretend that the world exists independent of the player characters and there is no specified story or quest that they're going on; if they don't like the situation they encounter in location A, they're free to ride down the road to location B, although there's no guarantee that things are better there. If they poke around, there are lots of interesting situations to get mixed up in, but no overriding story like "the Gnoll King is gathering forces and you must find his hidden weakness before he overruns the lands of man". So hexcrawls and West Marches type games are sandboxes, straight up dungeon delves are not, nor is something like Dragonlance.

    I just don't see how you can call a game like Dogs in the Vineyard a sandbox in any meaningful sense -- it's got a very strong frame, all the PC's are Dogs, they go from town to town doing Dog stuff. Sure, you could narrate a travelogue along the way or the player characters could abandon one town if it's too scary for them, but there's no sandbox there, they're either judging towns or they're not really playing the game. That's like an anti-sandbox in my book.
    EDIT: I'm not trying to start a fight about the definition of "sandbox", just trying to figure out what people mean here, maybe there's whole other way of using the term.

  • edited May 17

    I’m gonna use the word “blorb” to make it more clear… uh yeah like using a completly alien nonsensical word makes it more clear… but it does: it makes it more clear that I’m speaking of “the thing”. That I care about. “Mirror story”.

    Kenny_J said:

    I do think I agree with @Rickard here though (if I am reading him right) that prep is still prep if its done by everyone.

    It (speaking specifically about Svart av kval, vit av lust) just really, really breaks “mirror story” principle.
    Fiasco isn’t a blorb game either for the exact same reason; neither of those two games have 2097-style-prep.

    I know “appealing to authority” is a rhetorical fallacy & when the authority is yours truly, my line on of reasoning comes across with even more of a “nuh-uh” gauche vibe.

    I just really don’t want people after I’ve died to be like “Oh wow we’re playing Once Upon a Time, a typical blorb game just like 2097 intended it!” It’s not.

    Part of ‘explorable’ means discoverable.

    Kenny_J said:

    Fundamental fairness, I get it. But I take it even broader. I’m don’t want to decide our Apocalypse world has deserts if you were thinking water world and everyone likes that better.

    I dunno maybe we are saying the same thing @2097, did you come up with your world collaboratively or did you make the world and they just play in it? (or some combination).

    Yeah, maybe there’s like a macro level or micro level aspect to this.

    I’ll go “OK let’s do these two modules mashed up”, rn it’s Tomb of Annihilation and Fire on the Velvet Horizon and I also put in some stuff from Knights of the Dinner Table magazine, and they’ll go OK but I want there to be a dragon cult and I’ve stolen their book and they’re chasing me and I’m like :bawling: as they do this flagrant Czege-principle-violation to themselves [but their funeral, right?] and then I’ll add the cultists to the map [their exact stats & personalities not known to the players] to the encounter table and their temple to the map [its features & monsters not known to the players].

    (I’m not saying that me adding some player-requested stuff to the game is making it more of a blorb game; I’m saying the opposite, that I’ve made some concessions.)

    On the micro level the players go into a room and they don’t know what’s in there.

    Discussing if you want desert world or water world for a post-apocalyptic game is macro level.

    AW juuuust straddles the line between blorb and non-blorb for me. The threat map in 2e is cool but the game overall leads juuuust over the line away from gloracle into subjective-on-the-fly impro fodder.

    DannyK said:

    So hexcrawls and West Marches type games are sandboxes, straight up dungeon delves are not, nor is something like Dragonlance.

    B4 The Lost City and Barrowmaze both def qualify as blorb. I think most dungeons do. Except… like, that’s why the 5 Room Dungeon principle bugs me; it’s got such a non-blorb / pro-gnusto approach to dungeon design. Maybe it results in very blorby play but it’s got such a… “I want this to happen to them, then this…” attitude; that’s just a whole other philosophy.

    For me, interacting with objects qualify as blorb too, it doesn’t have to be people. One thing I’ve had a lot of fun with in a homebrew game I made was that I hid video cassette tapes all over the dungeon so they could learn the history of what had gone down there by playing them.

    DannyK said:

    I just don’t see how you can call a game like Dogs in the Vineyard a sandbox in any meaningful sense – it’s got a very strong frame, all the PC’s are Dogs, they go from town to town doing Dog stuff. Sure, you could narrate a travelogue along the way or the player characters could abandon one town if it’s too scary for them, but there’s no sandbox there, they’re either judging towns or they’re not really playing the game. That’s like an anti-sandbox in my book.

    OK, I can yield on DitV. My experience with it was kinda unusual.
    We were playing a D&D/HF mashup for our main campaign and in the same gameworld, Zakhara during the al-Qadim era, I also had a smaller group (subset of main group) playing mamluks going from town to town; this smaller game used DitV. The list of laws&rules in al-Qadim was perfectly usable for DitV and it was a great way to become familiar with aQ better. The frame story (you go from town to town delivering mail & sort out sin) definitely wasn’t very sandboxy but then every town, made with the town creation rules in DitV straight up, had so much to explore.

    So I get that it doesn’t qualify for normal DitV since I placed the tiny li’l towns on a much bigger, & fully fleshed out, map, that was like a “safety net” if they bug out of their mission and want to go exploring the desert or w/e (I’d probably have them roll up their chars as D&D chars instead if that happened, abandoning DitV).

    DannyK said:

    the player characters could abandon one town

    Yeah, this, and they can go back and forth between towns right?

    I still want to give a nod to DitV because for me, DitV was one of the first games I heard of (this was before I caught wind of the OSR/TSR stuff) where it was like “Oh, there actually is something there, it’s not just the DM pulling everything out of her hat, no myth style”. DitV, Three Sixteen and Rune were kind of “proto-blorb” games (even though I didn’t get a chance to play DitV until much later). Then I found out about the entire old school thing which clicked even more w/ me. Not nec the themes but just the blorbiness of interacting with this world that’s really there.

  • Kenny_J said:

    Jeph said:

    EDIT: I also think you've probably missed some important details if her style seems to you like a video game with a human computer. That phrasing makes it seem like, Idunno, the players only engage with the world through the game mechanics. That's probably pretty far off base! The point is to ensure that, as much as possible, important facts about the world are not chosen arbitrarily by the GM during play. Which is pretty orthogonal to the means by which players address the world and situation.

    I was definitely thinking of items from this post that makes it seem this way to me, but I take your point about her intended emphasis.
    Thank you Jeph!♥ I'm always really glad when people back me up in these threads. (The reactionaries really had a stroke of genius the day they decided to start spreading the fear of so-called "white knighting" around so that people don't have each other's backs.)

    In this case, though, being an objective referee is definitely a goal of mine so I kinda was flattered even though being called "computer-like" definitely has had some negative connotation in the past.
    2097 said:

    Mood, immersion, description? What’s that? A good DM: “You smash the skeleton’s bones to shards, skipping across the floor. The top of the skull wobbling on the cold dungeon stone tiles.”. Me “You reduce the skeleton to 0 hp. You get 50 xp.”

    This entry has changed. But the way I went about changing that was so incredibly CS-based. I almost went and dug out Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs at several points during the design process of the new narration flow. @Paul_T helped too. I think studying CS and compiler design, and then going back and getting a linguistics bachelors has, uh, unlocked something in my brain that humanity Wasn't Supposed To Know™ #metalinguistics #brokenbrain2097
  • (Supersandra, the world welcomes you!)
  • edited May 16
    DannyK said:

    I always thought of a sandbox as a style of gaming where we pretend that the world exists independent of the player characters and there is no specified story or quest that they're going on; if they don't like the situation they encounter in location A, they're free to ride down the road to location B, although there's no guarantee that things are better there. If they poke around, there are lots of interesting situations to get mixed up in, but no overriding story like "the Gnoll King is gathering forces and you must find his hidden weakness before he overruns the lands of man". So hexcrawls and West Marches type games are sandboxes, straight up dungeon delves are not, nor is something like Dragonlance.

    Yep, that's what I meant with sandbox as an amusement park. There are a lot of rides, and the players can ride whatever seems interesting for them.

    However, when I presented the fish tank, some people have said "Well, that's just how I do my sandboxes" (not in the Gnome Stew articles though, elsewhere in forums).

    I can in some way come to a sense that "the sandbox" is an umbrella term for this type of structure, where you explore certain things. For the amusement park, it's places with everything on it, and for the fish tank, it's the relations between factions that you explore.

    Of course, it's possible to combine the fish tank and amusement park; just to confuse things even further.
  • edited May 16
    Kenny_J said:

    I do think I agree with @Rickard here though (if I am reading him right) that prep is still prep if its done by everyone. It might make the world a little less mysterious, i.e. the other players wont be "Discovering" new uncharted lands if they helped come up with them. But that may not be a bad thing. You can always role play like you've never been. I guess that one depends on the group and their desired play style.

    Discovering/exploring comes up in play, where people interpret the relationship map in different ways (social contingency ftw!). Also, to kick things off, it's important to begin with a situation that removes the status quo. The exploration is then how the different characters with different agendas react to the new situation.

    Later on, these reactions with create conflicts as agendas starts to collide, and the interesting part is to see what these conflicts leads to.
  • Yeah I sometimes get asked why I have so much respect for you, Rickard (I hope that doesn't come across as backhanded), but they don't know just how long you've been doing this & how long the fish tank idea has been formulated, and how crappy the status quo of design was back then. Svart av kval, vit av lust is a great game, is fun to play, works well.

    I'm just being very diligent about safeguarding what's blorb and blorbiness, where something like B4 The Lost City definitely qualifies and Svart av kval, vit av lust doesn't. (Not to make this thread to be only about that or only about me.)
  • I'm very glad to see the fishtank idea brought up; although it could be viewed as a kind of sandbox design, frankly I think of things like that as a "third way" that's neither sandbox nor railroad nor anywhere along the linear spectrum between them. I've often called the most obvious third way "relationship drama" ("blood opera" is often appropriate, although the term could easily apply to something nonviolent like the Jane Austen game).

    There's this Burning Wheel scenario I co-designed a long time ago, that I've run like 15 times. It's a Three Musketeers thing, quite explicitly so, and the entire scenario is really just about the players' alliances and machinations with and against each other, often (but not always!) culminating in a swordfight between half-brothers. It would be impossible to characterize as either a railroad or a sandbox, and *much* of "indie RPGing" is similarly orthogonal to those concerns.

    That all said, prep a big enough fishtank, and you could probably sustain a whole campaign in what I think of as "relationship sandbox" style, though IME you can't rely on the GM's prep to supply all the important details. In our Mythras game, for example, the players did do a fair amount of authoring, particularly of cultural details. We could possibly have used random tables for that purpose, but it might have hurt the anthropological feel of the game.

    By the way, there's a cool trick from Beyond the Wall that's important to mention here. One of the historical problems in sandbox play is that the players may not be sufficiently invested in the world. (I know that, in theory, in OD&D they're motivated by treasure, but IME that's often not enough, particularly for good roleplayers. Where by "good" I just mean, "able to develop a character's personal complexity.") When the entire world is a blank (to you, the player), it can simply be tough to develop much emotional attachment to all this stuff you're discovering.

    In BtW, the players collaboratively add stuff to the map in Session Zero. But, the GM rolls secretly to see how accurate is their information about each location. This introduces some great uncertainty both in- and out-of-character. (The way the knowledge is framed, in-character, makes it clear to the characters as well as the players that it may be unreliable.) Really great way to thread the needle, in my opinion, between making an external, prepped world that feels real, and making sure the players have a sense of ownership of the campaign world.

    P.S. Sandra, a player inventing a dragon cult that's chasing them is not violating the Czege Principle! They're not saying what the *outcome* of the conflict is.

  • In BtW, the players collaboratively add stuff to the map in Session Zero. But, the GM rolls secretly to see how accurate is their information about each location. This introduces some great uncertainty both in- and out-of-character. (The way the knowledge is framed, in-character, makes it clear to the characters as well as the players that it may be unreliable.) Really great way to thread the needle, in my opinion, between making an external, prepped world that feels real, and making sure the players have a sense of ownership of the campaign world.
    .

    Oh, this is great. I’d written up a game system like this years back when Red Box Hack was Story Games’ favourite RPG to discuss for a while. I never got to play but I always thought it would be fun. Glad to see people are doing this!


    P.S. Sandra, a player inventing a dragon cult that's chasing them is not violating the Czege Principle! They're not saying what the *outcome* of the conflict is.

    Yeah, I was just going to say...
  • "Theme Park"

    I hate hate hate hate hate this metaphor for blorb formerly known as sandbox play. When you ride a roller coaster, what happens to it? Not a fucking thing.

    When you build a sand castle, there's a sandcastle there now. When you knock one down, there is no more sandcastle.

    World of Warcraft is a theme park. A theme park is Not Blorb. A theme park is a thin veneer of blorbliness for clueless rubes.

    Are Relationship Maps Blorb?

    Equivalent to asking, Are Dungeons Blorb?

    A one-scenario relationship map with like, 3-8 folks on it? Not Blorb. A 5-room dungeon? Not Blorb.

    A relationship map for the entire vampiric court of Chicago, with all the major power players, their main lieutenants, and the humans they most depend on for power and sustenance and maintaining the masquerade? Blorb. A 10-level megadungeon with multiple sub-levels and many routes? Blorb.
  • edited May 16
    @2097 ,

    I definitely meant the "like a computer" comment as positive, if not necessarily a compliment. :) More of an observation really.

    As in you are hardcore! ❤️ And you definitely play to your style. In this case that reminds me of CRPG but hey I've enjoyed many a great CRPG so that's definitely interesting that you've captured that at the table (again, based only on your posts, not having played with you)

    But most definitely not intended as a criticism!
  • I appreciate the Fish Bowl/ Sandbox distinction. I think that will be useful to me, as they are my two preferred modes of long-term play.
  • edited May 16
    Quick side note.
    @Kenny_J A r-map of factions you can easily fractal down into a sandbox. A r-map of persons can easily be grown faster than players explore it. To me the fish tank is sandboxy most of all thanks to its evolution. T0/T1/Tx are diverging ("Think offscreen" in PbtA speak). You can commit to ways things will evolve.
  • Thanx for clarifying about Czege
  • Absolutely. Since player choice drives the whole thing, scale is a factor. A sandbox with only one thing to do is no sandbox.
  • What's BtW? (I'm trying to stop acronyming myself)

    I like the sound of that a lot. It seems a great halfway point between collaborative and sandbox to me.
  • 2097: thanks for the clarification I get it now!
  • Kenny_J said:

    What's BtW? (I'm trying to stop acronyming myself)

    I like the sound of that a lot. It seems a great halfway point between collaborative and sandbox to me.

    Beyond the Wall, I believe.

  • Yeah, I only used the acronym because I had used the spelled out version in the same post!
  • Whoops, sorry! I'm just skimming too much.
  • I don’t see why a story game couldn’t be a sandbox, though. Here’s a simple example I think about sometimes:

    It’s a game about finding love and commitment, and the challenges of choosing the right partner.

    You create a character, and then proceed to “date” a lot of people.

    We generate a pool of love interests from
    a variety of random and non-random tools, and then the game is on. There are many individuals, all with different quirks and issues and appealing virtues. You must, in the end, choose whether to be with one of them or to be alone.

    How’s that? Is it a sandbox?

    What if we also add a variety of locations, which play into the dating scenarios? Would that make it more sandboxy, or is it unnecessary?
  • 2097 said:

    I just really don’t want people after I’ve died to be like “Oh wow we’re playing Once Upon a Time, a typical blorb game just like 2097 intended it!” It’s not.

    Part of ‘explorable’ means discoverable.

    I honestly don't see the point in differentiating between "An idea I came up with four days ago" and "An idea I came up with just now".
  • For me I negate the difference between "an idea I came up with before play" and "an idea I generated randomly".
    If you come up with the idea "just now", it is informed by the situation at hand. Insider trading.
  • But calling it insider trading implies there is an inherently antagonist relationship between players (in this case a DM and a regular player). Because insider trading is *cheating*.

    I mean one could argue modifying the idea after learning more could be a good thing depending on the desired playstyle.

    But I would guess here that it's about makeing as much as possible the world seem not just made up in response to the players for a blorb game. Akin to changing the rules of a board game after you've already started. At least that's my read on it

  • Exactly.
  • Rickard said:

    I honestly don't see the point in differentiating between "An idea I came up with four days ago" and "An idea I came up with just now".

    That's pretty close to the core of the difference between blorb and not blorb. Just so everyone knows. I'm not forcing everyone to play blorb games. I personally think they're awesome, and that that particular difference was an earth-shattering revelation.
    Kenny_J said:

    I mean one could argue modifying the idea after learning more could be a good thing depending on the desired playstyle.

    As discussed here.
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