Saturday, 11 July 2020

WILDERNESS PART 1—What is a sandbox?

Like everyone else in the known universe I'm currently ti[p-tapping away at my keyboard in a vain attempt to create the definitive set of wilderness rules so that no-one need ever write a post about hexcrawls again... at least until the next genius comes along and subtly radically alters the Great Outdoors once last time.
I posted about this before, right? It's powered by GH's hexflower engine
Apologies for the flippant tone, it does a great disservice to our fine art, especially when one considers that retreading old ground is the very essence of old school gaming!

...and with that in mind, what is a sandbox?

A Serious Question

I'm not joking, I really want to know: I'm struggling to come up with anything pithy. Ideally, I want 3 bullet points instead of a rambling paragraph, something like:

  • ALIVE ...the world is not a series of static set pieces, it has its own ecology. There is randomness and chaos and violence, but it appears to have its own internal logic (maybe?)... it also means that the world is...
  • RESPONSIVE ...character actions have genuine consequence. Just because they are free to burn the forest down doesn't mean that they're free from the consequences of arson. While the world is the players' playground, it emphatically isn't their characters' playground...
  • RICH ...perhaps not in terms of economic development, but there's always new places to explore and new challenges to overcome.
Okay that's pretty rubbish, but what else would you add. Some other things I think are important:
  • Scarcity: this pushes the PCs to take risks and explore the sandbox in order to obtain resources, bringing me to...
  • Motivation: though there's no overarching plot, NPCs are constantly plotting. Even the milk maid has an agenda, and this keeps the PCs moving.
  • Randomness: have I said this before? Encounters, weather, reactions all at the mercy of the dice, but possibly weighted by circumstance. contributes to the sense of living world but also keeps everyone on their toes.
Over to you: can you define the concept of the old school sandbox in three bullet points?

Fuck me there's a subtext of self-hatred in these recent posts I sincerely hope you're not picking up.

Ness of Wilder

The wilderness "supplement" is a real thing: it came about because I did a kickstarter and the actual rules for wilderness generation were all too short, and the sandbox generation was non-existent. Anyway, I'll share what I cooked up here and hopefully put together a nice free pdf before August is upon us.


  1. As soon as one sits down to pen something about a “simple, self-evident” concept, one realizes how complicated the thing is!

    1. You know it. It's easier to write a chapter than a paragraph.

  2. Here's a thing I've said a few times: any sufficiently complicated system can be approximated by randomness. I think that is very useful when it comes to making things feel alive and responsive, you only need a little bit of weighting in order to make it feel like the world is reacting to the players antics!

    1. Yeah i think so, and that weighting can take many forms. Is GM flexibility a cornerstone of a good sandbox?