6 Examples Of Published Sandbox Campaigns You Might Run
Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0868
What are some different configurations of sandbox campaigns you might run? Here are a half-dozen approaches based on what I’ve GM’d or have put on my bucket list to game master someday.
I have many fond memories of B2: Keep On The Borderlands [$5 DTRPG, also a cool Hackmaster version I’ve run]. It was the first published adventure I played and, later, GM’d. My character lasted 0 rounds against a carrion crawler – he was hit, paralyzed, and chewed up.
B2 offers a keep, a wilderness region, and a valley of caves.
Players choose what caves to enter and where to explore in the wild.
I’ve also sometimes added intrigue in the keep to provide additional sandboxy storylines. If the players decided to stay at home base (or in one case camped outside because they were exiled from the Keep) and chat with NPCs, then they could pursue plot threads they turn up.
Another great sandbox example is Barrowmaze by Greg Gillespie. [$30 OSR or $35 5E DTRPG. Author’s blog.] I played a little of this on Roll20 and have read the book.
It’s a megadungeon with several entrances via barrows the PCs can loot. The players get a map of the Barrow Lands with several barrows marked. The party decides which barrow to tackle next and explore.
Eventually, the players learn a great dungeon lies beneath the barrows and that evil factions are up to no good.
Sigil City of Doors
I’ve only run this Planescape location once. I hope to return someday. [$10 DTRPG. Fan site.]
In the D&D Planescape setting, all the planes are connected and full of interesting and amazing things to explore and discover. The city of Sigil has doors, portals, and gates to all of these planes.
The players just need to find the right key to unlock passage.
While you could treat this location as just one act of a grand adventure, you could also treat it as a sandbox. The PCs have keys, they pick a door, and they walk through to see what’s on the other side.
I ran this D&D setting as a sandbox-ish campaign last decade. [DTRPG. Fan site.]
The core concept has the PCs running kingdoms or fiefdoms while competing against rivals and several monstrous villains. The game adds resource management, war, diplomacy, and mass battles to your standard D&D campaign.
I went bottom-up with my version. The PCs started at first level in the village of Myste Cryk. There was wilderness to explore, a few dungeons to discover, and rival villages to tangle with.
My intention was to get the party to 10th level. At that point, hopefully as heroes, they would have earned the attention of the King and been given Domains to manage as the monstrous evils start throwing their weight around.
Alas, the campaign ended before we got there.
I’d love to run a Serenity [Cortex RPG, DTRPG] meets Spelljammer [DTRPG. Fan site.] campaign someday. The PCs get a vessel and roam the astral plane, doing missions to pay for ship upgrades, fuel, and personal quests while getting involved with various factions, and tangling with the terrifying dangers that lunge out of the darkness.
You could also give the party a boat and have them sail the seas or even the shores of a massive lake. The party chooses what port to hit next, which part of the waters to explore to find sunken treasures and submerged dungeons, or what bay to anchor in and head inland to see what the wild has to offer.
Take the concept of valley-of-caves from Keep On The Borderlands and go vertical.
I’ve been playing Warlock On Firetop Mountain recently, the newest version from the Apple Store, and it’s pretty awesome. It’s still Choose Your Own Adventure, but with an enhanced combat system and some expansion content.
And it struck me that I could take rings of caves and weave them around the sides of a mountain. The higher caves would have greater dangers. Cave systems could connect. And the Warlock or whatever you place in the mountain offers a cool villain story.
What’s Been In Your Sandbox?
Don’t say cats.
Have you run or played in a sandbox campaign? How did it go? Hit reply as I’d love to hear about it!