When I found out about the sandbox campaign style, I became very interested in creating one of my own. Why? Two key reasons, both having to do with time.

  1. The DM needs a lot of free time to do this. Right now, I have a lot of free time since I cannot work.
  2. Players these days generally do not have a lot of free time. This style allows for scheduling whenever a few people have some time to get together.

[Edit: This has changed a lot. I have less time now because of school and because the same thing that keeps me unable to work makes everything I do take longer. Other changes have happened for a variety of reasons. I’ll just be changing them here instead of showing the edit.]

So here are the main things you need to know for the campaign:

Setting:

  1. All adventuring starts from a safe town at the edge of the wilderness.
  2. The wilderness is unknown for the most part except for some rumors.
  3. This wilderness is the ‘sandbox’. Nothing happens or is discovered unless the players decide to explore it.
  4. The players are the only adventures of any note.

Game Elements:

  1. I’m using the Pathfinder rules. Ownership of the rules is not required. Here is the Pathfinder SRD.
  2. I’m using some modifications from Trailblazer. You can find these in the ‘wiki’ tab.
  3. Because of these modifications, you probably don’t want to use an interactive character sheet. You can find a good simple one here.
  4. Since I don’t expect to be able to meet everyone for character generation, character ability scores will use the purchase method. I like a high fantasy flavor, so use 20 points. If you need help with this, email or call me.
  5. There are restrictions on what Traits you can have.
  6. There are restrictions on what Drawbacks you can have.
  7. All die rolls will be out in the open for everyone to see.

Other Responsibilities:

  1. The players will be responsible for writing up game summaries and sending them out on the list. This should keep everyone up to date and thirsty for adventure.
  2. Caution is rewarded. Not every encounter will be level appropriate. Come back later with a couple more levels under your belt and try again.
  3. Ideally, each session ends with the players back in town.

Additional notes on the creation of characters and campaign style:

I’d like players to come up with some reason for their character to be adventuring.

The Southern Kingdoms are the only place around to do this, so the reason can’t be something like “Find an ancient plant that is the only cure for the plague that is sweeping through my homeland”, because that would mean there are other areas for adventure. Something like “Discover a relic for the bragging rights” is more like it.

Feel free to make things up. If you need a particular ancient culture to have fallen 3000 years ago for your idea, go for it. If you need an old cult dedicated to a Cthulhu knockoff, no problem. There’s a lot of room and a lot of history to discover.

The idea can be from as simple as “I’m bored” to as elaborate as “I’m a collector of daggers, and I’m looking for 10 different styles from each of 12 rumored civilizations.” Use your imagination.

I’ll gladly create clues and maps to go along with your idea, or use ones you create to plan out adventures. Pretty much go wild.

Some things to keep in mind:

  1. This is a temperate region, and has been beyond living memory. There are high mountains available though.
  2. While adventures have gone in and out of the Southern Kingdoms, nobody from the Southern Kingdoms has come out in at least 300 years. This includes any kind of raiding parties; there haven’t been any.
  3. While the adventuring area is large, it is also finite. Try to keep distances used in the hundreds of miles.

Now, some details about player contribution. This isn’t to make my job easier; on the contrary, I expect this to make my job much more interesting.

Let me give you an example of what I’m thinking. In a campaign I ran many years ago, the adventure I wanted to run required that one of the players knew of a distant relative. Then when the players see a notice that mentions this particular relative, the start of the adventure is all there.

But think how much more interesting, how much more invested in the game world the players would be, if instead of setting that up ahead of time, I simply announced such a notice with someone’s name and a mention about needing a relative of that person. Then one of the player’s speaks up and says, “Hey, I recognize that name. He’s a distant uncle of mine.”

Now the players have created the connection. Now the players are creating details of the game world.

So if the party enters a room and I say it looks like an abandoned library, feel free to say things like, “Dust covers everything, but there is a line of footprints that enter and then leave.” Or maybe someone says, “I go over to one of the overturned bookcases and see that the shelf is labelled ‘Elven History’,” because the character has an interest in that. Then I can respond with things like, “Only a burned fragment of a page is left on the shelf,” or “One slim volume seems to have survived the years of decay,” or even “All that’s there is a receipt saying that the collection has been moved to long term storage.”

This will require me to take lots of notes. Some of the things you create might contradict things I’ve planned but not revealed. That’s fine. If you enter the tavern and talk to the waitress named Janis when I already have the detail ready that her name is Gwendolyn, well her name is Janis now, and I change that. If you say Janis has a surly manner when I had written that Gwendolyn is always chipper, well now she’s surly.

Naturally, you can’t go too wild with this. No finding random Rods of Lordly Might in hidden caches or anything. Although, to that I could say, “Too bad it’s obviously been hit with Mage’s Disjunction.” But please, try not to strain believability too much.

For those not interested in adding detail like that, that’s okay. Not everyone is comfortable doing this, and it’s new to me as well. I’ll provide detail to whatever level you want. If ‘an empty room with a door on the opposite side and another door to the right’ is sufficient, that’s fine. I can go deeper if needed, right down to the rust on the nail heads of the iron reinforcement of the doors. Really what I’m trying to convey with this is that if I don’t provide detail, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing important. If I do provide detail, that doesn’t mean there is something important. Many an old time adventure only detailed the rooms that had plot going on, so players familiar with that knew to skip plain rooms.

Anyway, the point is to have fun and make the world yours, not to restrict what you can do.

P.S.: If you’d like to see an example of a campaign that lets the players add details like this to the world, check out the webcomic Darths & Droids. Don’t feel obligated to treat the NPCs the same way though…