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Nice Myth, Ugly Truth: Sandbox Games Are Better
Posted By Patrick Benson On August 25, 2009 @ 9:25 am In GMing Advice | 49 Comments
I hear people brag about their sandbox games. About how the players can have their PCs interact with the world in an unrestricted manner. How the gameworld is not bogged down with a plot that railroads the players, but instead the PCs encounter unique self-contained events that the PCs may investigate further or walk away from at any time.
Every time I have played in a campaign advertised as a sandbox game the game itself was as boring as plain oatmeal. Yeah the PCs could do anything, but it sure would have been nice to have the gameworld offer something for the PCs to do and then apply a little pressure as incentive to do so.
I am not saying that a sandbox game cannot be fun. I am sure that there are such sandbox games. If the definition of a sandbox game is that the PCs may go anywhere within the gameworld then my own games are sandbox games. The problem is not that a sandbox game cannot be an amazing and fun game.
The problem is that some GMs believe that just by running a sandbox game that the sessions are going to be amazing fun.
Just because the PCs can go anywhere in the gameworld, and interact with anything that they encounter does not make the game fun. You still need to provide incentive to the PCs to have a fun game. You have to offer a key component of any game: opposition.
A game just is not a game without some form of a challenge. You need an opposing force for the PCs to encounter and overcome (or even lose to). If my PC can easily board a ship and sail anywhere in the world in your sandbox game, but in GM X’s gameworld the plot requires that I sneak onto a pirate ship in order to infiltrate the Dark Overlord’s kingdom I am ditching the sandbox for the plot. One is a road trip, the other is an adventure!
I like the idea of a completely interactive gameworld. I appreciate not having to move from room to room in order to complete an adventure. But do not label the guy running a dungeon crawl adventure module as being an inferior GM for not running a sandbox game (yes, I witnessed this recently). Having a sandbox game does not guarantee that the game will be fun, and having a linear plot does not mean it cannot be fun.
That is what I think about the matter. What about you? Leave your comments below to share with myself and others. And remember that the GM is a player too, so have fun with it!
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