Be my Sandbox Swami?

Homebrew and House Rules

I couldn't think of a properly alliterative title involving guru in the twenty seconds I spent on the subject. :)

So here's the deal: I want to run a sandbox PBEM. (In FR and in the North, roughly as it stood in 1e but borrowing freely from later stuff, if it matters.) I think it could be fun and cool, but I have never done such a thing before. I usually run APs with varying levels of tweaking to best fir the party. Nor have I ever played in a true sandbox game. Neither have my usual crop of players. But this sandbox maidenhead is just full of itching and someone has got to get it out. May as well be me.

The basic setup would be something like this:

*The initial PCs are explorers/archaeologists/whatevers in the employ of a college. They get some neat perks (a free house to live in, free item identification, a mostly for flavor magic item, a small stipend) for it and the college has a liaison guy who takes sort of the traditional patron role by offering them missions, which they are free to refuse if they want, etc. They're a bit like Pathfinders. The patron will hopefully be a bit of a friendly presence but the college as a whole would have a more diverse range of relationships with the party.

*In addition to being free to refuse missions, the party is free to terminate their relationship with the patron, the college, or both. The main idea is that the missions give them something to keep the sits away until things get rolling. (Don't know what to do? Go pull the liaison's arm and watch a new mission light up in his eyes!) They do have to give up their in-game benefits if they do so, of course. There are in-game strings attached to being in the employ of the college which they could also slip by ending their relationship with the institution.

*There will be other parties in the employ of the college, who may or may not work with their same liaison, ideally some that become friendly rivals, some they could end up rescuing or finding the mutilated corpses of, some they'll probably come to be antagonistic with.

*Everything is an adventure hook, especially if I don't think it is. Whatever they take an interest in, I'll try to roll with and come up with stuff for.

*At least in theory, missions/adventures/whatever should be relatively small (no giant dungeon crawls) with some sort of defined beginning, muddle, and end. But each should also include at least one new hook in itself, preferably more than one. These new hooks don't have to be related to the plot of the past mission. They can just be stuff that's coincidentally there and attracts notice.

*For hooks I can mine the small mountain of ink that's been spilled on the region in various FR books. It's a big, wild frontier with lots of former empires around to supply endless ruins, mysterious sites, etc. And I can make stuff up. But it's easier to lean on the setting a bit since I'll want a lot of this stuff.

*There's no single overarching plot, but rather a plethora of potential plots on all manner of scales involving various NPCs and groups of NPCs, not all of whom are traditionally villainous, which can through their actions and interactions spawn hooks all their own.

*There's no single, set way that a mission has to be done or a story has to be resolved. At least some of the time I'll be presenting a scenario and then letting them write the lion's share of the adventure through their choices, just as they're doing for the campaign as a whole. Less potted dungeons and you can pick the order you take them in and more players as co-writers that I'm facilitating and along for the ride.

*There are semi-invisible walls around the region the game is in. It's a rugged region the size of mainland Alaska, roughly. The meat of the game is intended to happen there just to keep my sanity a bit and keep them from running too far away from old hooks and stuff they might then forget about meaning to come back to.

*The players would be told that this is the idea up front.

Have I got it about right? What else should I know/avoid/could be helpful? Help me, Paizo boards. It's you or I jam this post up the hind end of an astromech droid and hope some inbred, whiny dirt farmer finds it. :)

The Exchange

It does sound about right. One thing you might consider is a way for PC's and or replacement PC's to quickly reach the party wherever they maybe. you might also check out old Dragon/Dungeon magazines for a lot of the small articles with random charts. Be it for NPC or region or what ever. Players are known to go left even when every plot point shouts to go right so it is good to keep a few ideas ready for when something unique happens.

I also have at times in a sandbox game, changed the plot from what I planned to what the players thought was going on. Sometimes they just come up with cooler ideas or figure out the plot to easy and well, you have to give it the old twist.

Id said that without a BBEG its important that you make your NPCs really lifelike.

Have an idea of all the main NPCs motivations and goals so that you know how they will react no matter what the PCs do.

In that way the assassin wanting to kill the king out of vengeance doesn't wait for the PCs to enter the royal ball. If the PCs delays of chooses to go treasure hunting instead, the assassin kills the king and breaks the chain of being send all into chaos.

In that way you make the world alive and makes your PCs choices matter.

In other words make it seem like they are not the main characters.

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I want in on this game!

I think for this to work, like most things, you really need player buy in. If they just sit there like bumps on a log waiting for wandering monsters to kill so they can level up…epic fail awaits. If you can get players to write back stories that have at least one hook built in and the players play their characters like they are three dimensional people with their own hopes and ambitions…epic win awaits.

I know some people do not want to write lengthy back stories and that is perfectly cool. I would at least ask for one driving ambition and one person the character cares about from each player. The ambition should tell you what kinds of things the player wants to do in game. The NPC gives you at least one way to get the character involved and/or release information through.

Proactive players often create their own campaigns.

Liberty's Edge

I also want in on this game. It's rather reminiscent of the Kingmaker adventure path, but without the overarching BBEG. I may have to steal this idea for my own group. If you need people for this, I don't think I would hesitate for a second.

Thanks to everyone for the ideas. They're been very helpful and I'd have said so sooner if my internet had been cooperating.

The game is still a ways off. I'm writing up little primers for players to read to get a bit of setting background in a modular, as-much-as-interests-them way. It's labor-intensive, but I think my odds are better if I can hand a player one or two pages written in a semi-conversational tone that it'll actually get read instead of lost in a giant setting doc.

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