An Introduction to the Sandbox

The sandbox style of gaming gives your players greater agency over the world. Sometimes players feel like they are riding a train through their campaign with the DM as conductor. They feel powerless, which is sad, because we play RPG’s to feel powerful and to escape a world we feel unable to control.

I will be the first to admit that the sandbox style of gaming is more work upfront for the DM. You need have every angle covered in case your players go there, unlike a normal rail-style campaign were you know the players are going to the vampire’s castle and that is where you can focus your scheming for the week.

Here are a few tips for creating your first sandbox:

Don’t Scale Encounters

The idea of the sandbox is that players may get in over their head and be forced to run for their lives. I’m not saying but a dragon in the area next to the starting town, but don’t be afraid to place higher CR encounters in your area than you normally would. There should be a real sense of danger in the sandbox, the players should know that they run a real risk of death if they’re not careful.

Don’t Scale Treasure

This goes along with the last rule, if your players decide to take a big risk and attempt a challenge that is over their head, they should be rewarded with great treasure. Also, the sandbox is about going out into the wilds and the ruins and the dungeons, there won’t (shouldn’t be a lot of places to spend coin, so increase the items and decrease the coinage when rolling up your treasure)

Don’t Plan Every Hex

There shouldn’t be a monster every step of the way in your sand box, reason being, that isn’t a believable ecosystem and it will make travel sluggish and tedious. Try making encounter tables or use the existing ones in the DMG.

Not Too Small, Not Too Big

If you make your sandbox too small your players will explore it in no time, but if you make it too big you as the DM will have to plan for a million years to plot it all out.

I think every DM should try to run at least one sandbox. It stills allows you to flex your creative muscle but it also has a different feel to a standard game. In a rail style game the DM is seen as an adversary that the players must work against, while in the sandbox the DM takes on a new role entirely. The players choose their own path and this allows the DM to shrug some of the responsibility and just enjoy the ride. I find myself cheering for the players as they fight and I don’t feel like I have to win a battle. I have no investment in the npcs and monsters that I might feel in a rail-style campaign (I have read article by other DM that feel the same way, so I know I’m not alone on this).

Below are two links to other sand boxes, the first being the blog, ars ludi, where the author walks you through his sandbox campaign. The second link leads to Gabe’s (from Penny Arcade) sandbox game inspired by the West March campaign.

West Marches

Gabe’s Sandbox

3 Responses to “An Introduction to the Sandbox”

  1. Nice post,
    I think the game system dictates how much prep a GM has to do before a game. The prep time is roughly the same between a typical linear module and a sandbox; the difference being depth vs. range.

    How do you prep for a sandbox campaign?


  2. I think you’re right that the prep time is about the same, but the sandbox is all up front. I create a theme, then create a hex map, then I create a list of random monsters that fit the geographic locations, then I pepper in quests and some fixed locations. It is a marathon of creation, but then I get to sit back game with little to no prep time before sessions.

  3. You should note that recently the concept of sandbox games has evolved. Please see and

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: