Friday, May 6, 2011

Players in the Sandbox

There has been a lot of talk of sandbox campaigns lately and most of them have been written from the GM’s point of view. I thought I would write this one from a player’s point of view. Having been a player in a sandbox campaign for over 30 years I thought my experience may help GMs and players who are starting to explore the sandbox campaign.

The most important thing for a player in a sandbox setting is to communicate with the GM what you want to do. Ask the GM for as much information as you can get about his world. Learn it. So when you start playing you aren’t stumbling around or saying the infamous “Well if I knew that, I wouldn’t have done that”. If you know enough of the world’s background you’ll be able manipulate things more in your favor.

Communicate after the session, if your party is deciding what to do let the GM know you plan on exploring this area or dungeon “That Ghouls of a Diamond Mine adventure sounds cool. I’ll be heading there next session”. That way the GM can prepare. Even if the party doesn’t go directly to the adventure at least it’s ready to go. I found this very helpful for the GM.

Take notes. Have at least one party member keep notes because you are going to meet a cast of characters in your travels. The GM may forget or just made the NPC on the fly. As a player you may find the NPC more interesting and plan on using/interacting with them in the future.

Being a player in a sandbox campaign means you need to take an active part in the world and not just standing around waiting for things to happen. If your GM is halfway decent there will be plenty of options to choose from. Many beginning players get stuck because there are too many choices and they’re afraid to make the wrong choice. Just pick one you like and plow forward.

Sandbox style is not for everyone. Some groups like to roll dice and kill things. Module hopping is a blast. For a short term campaign than it’s good to have a story arc with a beginning and an ending. But if you have the right players and GM and a lot of time then with a sandbox you can shape worlds. But the cool part is not just that you’ve shaped the world, but the next set of characters get to go through that world you shaped and that is very cool.


  1. For some of my first-time gamers, once they understand that, unlike board games, they could go anywhere and do anything they became extremely excited. I think this (sandbox) philosophy is one of rpg's big draws. I write about it here:

  2. The Wednesday Night C&C game I'm playing in at All Things Fun! in South Jersey is pretty much sandbox goodness. Me and another player take copious notes, and bug the heck out of the GM for info. Then we plot and scheme and generally cause as much mayhem as possible. Waiting to be lead by the nose is horrible, in my opinion, if you are a player. I think I am a good player because I am usually a GM. When a GM becomes a player he generally becomes a good player, because he knows what he would want if he were the person behind the screen. GMs wish for players to take the initiative and explore the world to its fullest. I really hate, as GM, to give the players the old "wise NPC that tells them what to do" trick.

  3. I think being proactive as a player is critically important. It is just about "doing anything you want." It is about visually a person who is moving around in a virtual world and making decisions for that person. It means, as a player, to be proactive--continually rounding the character, asking questions, taking notes, and helping to shape the world.

  4. Very well outlined, thanks for posting this!