Monday, 22 August 2011

The Cyberpunk Sandbox

Trollsmyth has been doing a series of hexmap-related blog entries lately, and what can I say? I have a case of sandboxitis going on.

There are a million and one blog entries about making sandboxes "out there" in the blogosphere. (I recommend these three in particular: by Rob Conley, Chgowiz, and of course ars ludi). It's as you would expect - the OSR has sandbox play as its totem, its modus operandi, its raison d'etre, and a whole lot of other words in Latin and French.

But these sandbox articles are all to do with fantasy, and D&D in particular, which has from the beginning been designed for sandbox play - in particular, for the kind of hex-based, hexcrawl adventure which the OSR recommends. All well and good, but for those of us who have swallowed the Kool-Aid and accepted the One True Way of Sandboxism but who want to apply it in other genres of games which we enjoy, there are some problems with the assumption of a hexcrawl and its associated mores. (The exception to this is, perhaps, Traveller and maybe post-apocalyptic Gamma World or pleasingly bastardised versions of Rifts.)

After fantasy, my go-to genre has always been Cyberpunk. Actually, in my gaming career, I've probably had more 'face time' with Cyberpunk 2020 and Shadowrun (the latter to my slight shame) than with D&D. So naturally my thoughts turn from time to time to the notion of Cyberpunk 2020 in the sandbox.

The crucial thing about a CP:2020 campaign is that it is a) usually urban and based in one city; and b) it is set in the future. You don't hexcrawl in that sort of environment - a taxi, subway train or gyrocopter can take you anywhere you want to go, and all the information about everywhere is available online (except the top-secret stuff, and probably not even then). So the hexmap has to be conceptual rather than physical; the surprises have to come from interpersonal relationships and behind-the-scenes shenanigans as well as vast amounts of tables of random events, because there is nothing geographically interesting about the actual physical space of the setting. So where rumour, conflict and player-motivated change are important in the D&D hexcrawl, in the CP:2020 hexcrawl they are everything.

Because I like a good project, I'm going to do a trollsmyth-esque series of posts on developing a CP:2020 sandbox setting over the next couple of weeks, interspersed with my usual ranting and miscellaneous musings. And so it was written, and so it shall be done.


  1. So the hexmap has to be conceptual rather than physical; the surprises have to come from interpersonal relationships...

    I did a series of posts about creating character-focused sandboxes based on Top Secret's under-utilized campaign rules a couple months back:

    I use them on a limited basis right now in my tabletop, but want to do a little more with them in the future. Fun stuff.

  2. Gigacrawler was meant to create a sort of sci-fi-ish setting where physical movement was still slow and interesting. Like: sci-fi-dungeon-as-sandbox.

    But a "conceptual" sandbox is a different thing--and something that could be useful in a medieval world,too. Just because your PCs are walking 150 miles doesn't mean their adventure has to happen during the walking.

  3. ckutalik: That is some really interesting stuff. I like the idea of a network map and it was sort of what I was thinking of anyway - some sort of flowchart of relationships (in the form of hexes, natch).

    Zak: What's Gigacrawler? I could google it, but I'm lazy. It's true obviously this sort of thing is useful for fantasy too - it's just that with other genres you don't even have a choice, really.

    Actually another thought that occurs to me is to have a time-based hexmap. Each hex is one hour, and as play progresses from hex to hex STUFF HAPPENS in accordance with what is on each hex. Depending on what the characters do, their "direction" across the hexmap changes.

  4. Oh, I like this idea very, very much. Looking forward to how the series pans out.

  5. My group's recent WFRP game was supposed to be an urban sandbox based around the political machinations of a thieves' guild. It didn't quite work out that way, which was a bit of a shame as the idea has potential.

  6. Zak: Never mind, I just realised it was something you were posting during my long blogging hiatus. I'm taking a look at it now...

  7. I appreciate all of the resources. I just met with my group yesterday to start a new game and they were all sold on the sandbox setting.

  8. I may regret this more than Laws/Marxism thingy but: Don't you think that Chicago by Night was really a sandbox? NPCs and Locations and Factions. I haven't read in quite some time but now it seems to me as a conceptual sandbox.

  9. I have 2nd edition one. the one with all NPCs, factions and relations.