Sunday, 24 October 2010

It's like a zen thing, man

If a tree falls in the forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a sound? And, Tigerlilly, if a GM relocates NPCs, locations or encounters from one part of a hex map that he has a good idea the PCs will never go to, to one they will, is his sandbox really a sandbox, or is it merely a railroad in disguise?

These are the thoughts occupying my mind this Sunday.


  1. I've wrestled with this one myself. On one hand, it feels wrong to waste good ideas just because the players never went there, but on the other, it feels wrong to simply transpose those ideas to another location, because you're robbing the players of true choice.

    If you find an answer, let us know.

  2. If 1 is a complete Railroad and 10 is a complete sandbox, I'd give it a 7.

    On one hand, you are giving players choices over their destiny and meeting the interesting PC was something they had no clue would happen, so you didn't hurt their choice.

    On the other hand, a campaign where even these little details are determined by player whim rather than the DM's machinations does feel more sandboxy i.e. the DM has less control.

    I do this occasionally in my PBP campaign because those great ideas don't turn up every day and I think it ultimately adds to the fun of the game. But the game is still a sandbox because the players decide which places to go and what leads to pursue and as a result, I really DON'T know which way the game is going to go: they spent a couple days exploring the Necropolis of the Damned--then suddenly decided they needed a change of pace and went on a 3 week journey to pursue the much rumored Treasure of the Smarmyton Ruins. Most of my ideas for the Necropolis just went in the bin!

  3. It's a railroad. But if the players don't know, who gives a shit?

    I've never had a group of players who didn't assume I was doing this. Which pretty much belies the point of even bothering to sandbox for them in the first place.

  4. If you're able to move something without the player's noticing then they must not have known enough about those things to make a choice to interact with them.

    If you have cool content somewhere are there no hooks, rumors, or npcs coming from that area? If there are and pcs choose not to interact with those things and then you move them so that they have to, then yes, that by definition is railroading.

    If it's just the contents of some secret tomb player's have no way of knowing anything about, then sure move it all around. But that seems kind of boring for you. Even though it takes more work, seems like it would be more interesting to place several of these secret locations and see what mess the pcs stumble into.

  5. There is no railroad and there is no true sandbox. By your very act of creation, you are placing your style, preference and worldview on the table, in a sense forcing the players to deal with what comes from your headspace. They are already on a predetermined course, in a sense, in that your vision is predetermined by the sum of your experiences in life and gaming.

    The NPC and adventures that you might might move from hex to hex never existed, really, until the PCs encountered them, so moving them isn't really a move at all.

  6. If you make the choice beforehand (so investigative PCs could reasonably have heard rumors of it, etc.) it is still part of the design process. It might also be argued that since it had not been used and the PCs had no idea it was even in the original location once, you are just "thinking on your feet" as all good sandbox DMs are encouraged to do, when you "move" it somewhere useful.

    If nobody but you knew it was originally located somewhere else, did it really move?

    A better idea than pondering this after the fact might be following some simple advice - don't tie encounters to certain places if they are so generic they could be moved. Keep them free-floating so you can include them wherever it makes sense to, then leave them there. If you design something for a particular spot because it could only happen there, then of course, don't move it.

  7. If the same sand must stay in the same place it was set down and never move, then that's not a sandbox, that's concrete.

  8. It's a railroad only if PC decisions are invalidated, or if info they (correctly) knew about place A ceases to be true in place B. Like: they decided to go south because they heard there was less monkeys there and then you move them to a place where there's monkeys all over again.

  9. another Example: If they had no idea Murvin the Weaselfaced would be in place A OR place B and you move Murvin so they meet him, you aren't railroading.

  10. Isn't the point of a sandbox that you can move the sand around? why else did I have a Tonka dozer and dump truck?

  11. Interesting comments all. The only reason I'm pondering it is that I'm running a game at the moment and am both too lazy and too busy to just waste creativity on stuff that might never be used, yet at the same time too principled to merely transpose.

  12. Gwarh a.k.a. Chris McNeil26 October 2010 at 21:40

    Does the encounter really exist if the Adventuring Party isn't there to hack through it.

    It's Schrodinger's Dungeon.


    On a serious note I don't think it's that big of a deal. Making an campaing for players in a Sandbox setting is like hearding cats. Those lil bastichez will always go and do what you least expect.

    As long as it's probably and doesn't "hurt" the sandbox/story line, then I think it's fine to move encounters and place them under the feet of the players.

  13. So if I have a single series of events I want the adventurers to experience in strict order A, B and C, it's not a railroad so long as I don' tell them about the order of events, and let them think they got to them by accident?

    It's still a railroad. If you as a player have no option but to do adventure X, because the GM is just changing the outcome of all your decisions to make you do X, that's a railroad, whether it happens in a fully-mapped world or a railway tunnel.

  14. Faustus, it's not a question of having a series of events or making the players complete "adventures" in a certain order. Everybody knows that's railroading in whatever context. The question is whether moving around locations and NPCs is justified.

  15. surely in a sandbox location and npc are the adventure... and you wouldn't be moving them around if they weren't. Similarly you wouldn't be moving them around unless the PCs' movement and actions had given you cause to ... which in a great many cases is going to create a railroad, whether the PCs know it or not.

    Unless your original post simply refers to a case of wanting to change the terrain of your campaign after further thought about its development? In which case it's not a railroad, I would assume.

  16. surely in a sandbox location and npc are the adventure... and you wouldn't be moving them around if they weren't. Similarly you wouldn't be moving them around unless the PCs' movement and actions had given you cause to

    Well, you would if you didn't want to waste them because of time constraints on thinking up new ones.

    But why are locations and NPCs "the adventure"? There is no adventure except for what the PCs create.

  17. I'm thoroughly in favour of that noisms, but it's still a railroad (though a trivial one).

  18. I don’t think that it’s any different than moving a skipped encounter from one dungeon to another. You aren’t forcing them to do any particular thing when they encounter those NPCs, you’re just increasing the likelihood that they will have the encounter, however it develops.