For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

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For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:00 am

This is an excerpt from one my favorite non-Palladium games. No gaming mechanics are referenced. Instead this is an excellent bit of material discussing the essential qualities and differences of Sandbox Gaming vs. what seems to be the more common Narrative style these days. As a Sandbox oriented gamer myself I thought some discussion of the style in the context of EU might prove fruitful/enlightening. And hopefully it will also make an interesting read for those of you who are interested and take the time to do so.

Sandbox Gaming and You (by Kevin Crawford)
Stars Without Number is designed to accommodate a particular style of play known most commonly as “sandbox gaming”. Sandbox gaming relies on two things; a group of players willing to take initiative in seeking adventure and a GM willing to make a world large and interesting enough to be worth the exploration. In modern day RPG circles, sandbox gaming has sometimes acquired a reputation as being burdensome for a group. Players can have a hard time deciding what to do with their characters without the clear guidance of an obvious story line, and GMs can grow frustrated by the sheer volume of content they need to create for a sandbox game.

To some extent, these criticisms are justified. These problems of aimlessness and overwork are the ones most likely to be an issue for sandbox gamers because the setup of the game naturally tends towards them if they aren’t nipped in the bud. If the players or the GM fail to understand or embrace the point of sandbox gaming, the play is likely to degenerate in short order. Still, with an understanding and cooperative group, sandbox gaming can produce some fun and interesting outcomes.

First, sandbox gaming creates emergent stories. With many other gaming styles, play is assumed to follow a specific narrative arc that is tightly bound to a preexisting story. There’s a beginning, middle, climax, and denouement, and the player characters have their roles. The GM has a clear idea at all times of how the story might progress. Player actions might alter the ultimate outcome, but they aren’t expected to go completely “off the rails” and charge off in a direction unrelated to the plot line.

The emergent stories created in a sandbox game are different. The GM does not have a single prearranged story on hand that he expects to fit the players into; he has many potential stories, formany potential places, all of them locales that the players may or may not visit. He might have a general idea of the goals that the players wish to accomplish, or offer them particular plot hooks to catch their interest and focus their efforts, but he largely sits back and facilitates the stories that the players grow themselves. The players might decide one evening to start building up support for an assault on the slaving rings of the Scordian Rim worlds, and the next to detour briefly to investigate the shrines of alien amberglass they’ve discovered on a remote jungle world. Their story is ultimately a recounting of what the players have decided to accomplish or attempt.

Emergent stories can lack the polish and artistic proportion to be found in play styles that presume a particular context and story line for players to participate in, but they are very much the stories of the players. They get the satisfaction of knowing that they really can play the heroes and freebooters of the cosmic spacelanes, free to accomplish anything within the compass of their courage, prowess, and luck.

Second, sandbox gaming is unforgiving. In most other styles of gaming, it’s implicitly assumed that the challenges the players face will always be calibrated appropriately to the abilities of their characters. They won’t ever find themselves in no-win situations or facing overwhelming odds without making willfully stupid choices and insistently fighting against the story line of the adventure. In many cases, this is a good thing. Not many people play role-playing games so they can experience the joy of being stomped flat by an insurmountable obstacle.

Sandbox games work differently. The world is not carefully gated for character ability, and groups that charge off into the lion’s den can expect to be eaten in short order. In many modern games, players are trained by genre conventions to assume that any obvious obstacle or enemy put before them is one they are intended to be able to overcome through cunning, strength, or diplomacy. There is an assumption that the GM won’t let the group stumble into overwhelming danger unless they intentionally set out against clearly-labeled impossible odds.

This assumption is not safe in sandbox gaming. If the GM has arranged for some ravening alien abomination to stalk the corridors of an abandoned orbital station, there is no promise that the players will be able to overcome it if they decide to claim the station for their own. If the group’s shuttle pilot reports a hot war zone over their landing site, then there is every likelihood that they’ll be blown out of the sky if they attempt to land anyway. The world is set up the way the GM has arranged it, and it does not change to accommodate the capabilities of the group.

In consequence, sandbox groups need to pay serious attention to advance reconnaissance, scouting, information gathering, and lines of retreat. They need to be able to identify a no-win situation before they get into it, and be ready and able to bug out if the situation gets to be more than they can handle. Failure is always an option in a sandbox game, and it’s up to the players to respond to threats without assuming that the GM is going to get them out of a bind. By the same token, the GM has to be ready to let dangers be discovered before the group is neck-deep in trouble. Effort spent to investigate and scout a situation should be repaid with a relatively clear warning if it’s more than the group can be expected to overcome.

Third, sandbox games rely heavily on the idea of a living world. The universe continues to move as the characters go about their adventures. Empires clash, scheming villains progress in their plans, lost worlds are discovered and expeditions vanish. The players shouldn’t be left to feel that the rest of the cosmos goes into stasis when they’re not around.

Many modern adventures can end up a little bit mechanistic, as important plot points and revelations can’t happen out of sequence without spoiling the progress of the story. The GM may be willing to fudge a few things, or may have the improvisational talent to let things unfold without disrupting the story arc, but most GMs find it easiest to simply let the important NPCs hold off acting until the
dramatic moment is right.

This isn’t how a conventional sandbox game works. NPCs will act when they are ready and events will unfold when it’s time without reference to what the players are doing or have done. Because the only story is emergent, there’s no master narrative to control events. If all-consuming disaster visits a world due to the players’ carelessness or indifference, well, there’s always the rest of the galaxy for them to explore.

The guidelines given in the Factions chapter give a method for creating a steady supply of “off-screen” events for a GM, but it can’t be a substitute for a GM’s careful consideration of cause and effect. If the players wipe out the secret maltech laboratories of the Brotherhood of the New Day, the impending Brotherhood assault on the nearby frontier world of Argus IV might be set back for months or years. By the same token, if any Brotherhood cultists escaped to tell of the culprits or any security footage survived, the cult may well vent its displeasure on the group.

In either case, the group needs to be aware of these causes and effects, so as to give them the proper feeling of being in a world which reacts to their actions and is affected by the choices they make. A sandbox world that is perpetually impervious to the players’ mark isn’t so much a world as it is an exceptionally large backdrop. Players will engage more deeply with the setting when they feel as if their actions matter to it.

Now that three major elements of a sandbox world have been described, it’s important to point out the things that the players and GM need to bring to the table. Sandbox games can fall flat in a hurry if the group or the GM isn’t prepared to deal with certain important factors, and these things need to be understood up front.

Players need to understand that it’s ultimately their job to motivate their characters. They need to have a goal and work toward it, even if it’s something as simple as “Become fabulously wealthy and renowned.” The GM will do his best to provide interesting hooks and places for the characters to be, but ultimately, the players need to have their own motivation and act accordingly. They should be ready to get out into the cosmos and do something.

Players also need to understand that the universe is not organized around their capabilities. The world is full of situations and opponents that will get the group killed if they are careless or foolhardy. The GM will respect attempts at scouting and investigation and will clue properly careful adventurers about potential death-trap situations, but he won’t save the group if they insist on plunging ahead into certain doom. Players need to know the limitations of their characters and choose challenges they’ve got a fighting chance of surviving.

For players that are new to Stars Without Number, it may be necessary for the GM to be a little more explicit than usual about letting them know when a situation is too much for them. They may not have the experience with the gaming system to realize that a quartet of freshly-generated adventurers hasn’t got much of a chance fighting against a dozen pistol-wielding thugs. GMs shouldn’t hesitate to give new players like this an explicit take on their odds of success before the group chooses a course of action. Once the players get more familiar with the way skill checks and combats play out, they’ll be able to make their own estimation of their chances.

On the GM’s side, it needs to be understood that a sandbox game world requires a lot more preparation than many contemporary story line-based games. It’s not sufficient to plan out one particular narrative arc on the assumption that players can be steered back onto it if they go astray. The GM needs to have at least a basic idea about the contents of an entire interstellar sector, because the players could theoretically end up on any of those planets, to say nothing of the adventures to be had in deep space around abandoned asteroids and derelict void stations.

It’s this kind of heavy preparatory burden that might well have contributed to the decline of sandbox gaming in favor of smaller, more tightly-plotted story lines for games. Stars Without Number is designed to ease this burden by giving the GM a number of tools for the quick generation of a roughed-out interstellar sector with plot hooks, places of interest, and adventure frameworks ready for elaboration.
Last edited by Vortigern on Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:53 am, edited 5 times in total.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Thu Oct 26, 2017 4:02 am

I am curious for thoughts/opinions regarding the material above (however it might strike someone) if anyone is interested in discussion. GM or Players either one. I'm sure there are some that have never heard of it, and some that are groaning to hear of it again both. 8P
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Fox » Sun Oct 29, 2017 3:42 am

The difference would appear to be the lack of a definitive story line in the Sandbox gaming. Many Narrative style games have a lot of side quests that can be done out of order, those resemble the emergent stories of a sandbox game.

The question of whether sandbox games are less "forgiving" seems to be more a question of style of game mastering. Admittedly, if there are going to be "bosses" (ie: extremely tough enemies), and an inexperienced group goes after one, they can expect to get their tails handed to them. This does not have to be fatal...given the fact that (especially in PBP gaming) the players may have a lot invested in their characters, they could be very unhappy to have their characters killed. So instead, arrange things like the characters being taken captive and having to escape as possibilities...and that probably leaves then stripped of nearly everything they owned so they might still be mad, but they will be alive and hopefully will have learned something.

A living world can be a good thing, but is hard for the GM to maintain. That can be the problem with a sand box style game. Most of the major forces will need an agenda and a timeline, so that if the players are off dealing with the west end of the continent, forces on the East end will be changing in ways that have nothing to do with the characters. The GM has to keep track of this...all the time. It is a bit of a burden on the GM, but is a lot more realistic in the long run.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Sun Oct 29, 2017 4:44 am

1.) Narrative Sidequests

I understand the comparison however I would say that while there may be some similarities between the perceived freedom of action that 'sidequests' can bring into things and that given by a genuine Sandbox experience that there are still some substantive differences. A good Sandbox gives total freedom with total consequences whereas a Narrative even with additional layers/options ultimately is still going to pull you back to the Narrative and primary story. I'd say sooner rather than later on EU, where people will wonder why you are detracting from 'The Adventure' as it were. I could be wrong yet that is my general experience in the groups I've played with here so far as either a player or GM.

2.) Forgiving / Harsh Environment

The crux of this is the increasingly common expectation that encounters be scaled against the PCs/Party and that encounters should almost always be 'winnable' even if defeat is still a possibility. The design philosophy of a Sandbox world is totally different and more simulationist. The town guards in scaled encounters in a narrative game can be expected to scale more or less with the players as they grown stronger etc. A simulationist/sandbox approach would instead prompt the GM to have to determine the hows and whys of how good are the guards here? How much training and equipment do they have? Do they have any veterans? Why or why not?

Perhaps a small town has a very strict veteran sergeant but not much money. So the troops have poor gear but excellent training. Whereas a nearby larger city has a great deal more money and the best gear that it can buy ... but a lordling captain who knows jack all and thus the guardsmen are poorly trained. Just for a quick example. Determining that and establishing that little bit of extra detail in how those forces are composed ... adds that much extra depth to the game world. And means that you know how those forces are composed for later, and how effective they will be barring interference or adjustment due to player actions/involvement. And that makes the world feel more real. It also makes the power level of players feel more worthwhile and substantive, whether it be high or low. And that also makes the game feel more real.

3.) Living World vs. Sandbox

There is a distinction here that may seem subtle or petty yet I view as kind of important. A good Narrativist GM can make the world feel quite alive. But they can't give you a Sandbox without giving you a Sandbox. A living world, with the depth and detail of characters and whatnot that bring that to life, isn't something I consider intrinsic to Sandbox play by any means. That revolves around freedom of action and there being no overarching 'plot' that is more or less expected to be followed. The key element of Sandbox play is exactly that. Not that there can't be major NPCs / factions that are doing things that the PCs care about and end up motivated by. But those plots then are of their choosing out of what they found interesting in the setting. Not because there was a <footstomp!> adventure about it and they were along for the ride.

4.) Self-Motivated Characters

The biggest challenge I have found in trying to introduce Sandbox concepts with a group has always been with the players that have only ever gamed Narrativist. Many seem to flounder and lack direction, expecting the GM to prompt them where they are 'supposed' to go next... without seeming to grasp that there is no place they are 'supposed' to go. Some take to it easier than others, and some seem like they are hitting a wall and really struggling to get it.

I've gone to great lengths with some in person groups in the past writing handouts full of rumors and legends as plot hooks, giving more rumors and happenings in a RP sessions, and then still having people instead of asking questions about what they might be interested in (or saying they want to look for something new if they don't see what they want) still just sitting and waiting ... Like, all this detail is nice and all, but when are you going to tell us what is going to happen?

This has always seemed rather decidedly strange to me (though I've grown more accustomed) as my home games coming up as a young gamer and my 'gamer instincts' have always from the very beginning leaned Sandbox and Simulationist. I never 'started' as a Narrativist and then 'made the switch' as it were. I always felt like the Narrative style was taking authorship/voice away from players whether I was GMing or playing either one.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Townsend » Mon Oct 30, 2017 8:18 am

I honestly don't think it's possible to have a true 100% "sandbox" experience here on EU. Having said that, however, there are plenty of sandbox-type opportunities such as when our characters are doing downtime in MercTown (or in the case of the G.I.R.L.S., getting together and setting up their HQ). I also like for the group to have a say in what kinds of adventures/missions they'll undertake.

Personally I think the big challenge to sandbox-type adventures (aside from the fact that most gamers have traditionally played narrative-type ones) is that they're better suited for individuals rather than groups. Think of games like Elder Scrolls/Fallout and other games that are very much a sandbox format -- you have the freedom to go off and do all these side quests in whatever order you like because your choices don't really affect anything/anyone else. Your choices in a group will possibly have ramifications for the other members (and that's even if you can get everyone in the group to agree on which side quest to follow next).
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Fox » Mon Oct 30, 2017 6:11 pm

TES is not a sandbox, because nothing outside changes in a "organic" way. A better Sandbox would be the old Birthright: The Gorgon's Alliance game. In the strategic section, the various countries did actions of their own that could greatly change how things went. It was not a true Sandbox, but was a better simulation of one.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Tue Oct 31, 2017 1:51 am

Sandbox doesn't equal freedom without consequences. That wouldn't be a 'living' world as it were. Instead Sandbox is the desired 'more accurate' depiction of all the moving parts of that 'living' world, and that equals at times much more real and harsh consequences depending on what player actions are. It also doesn't make the players the sole motive force. Because the big NPC factions / major NPCs etc. are going to be doing what they would otherwise do regardless of what the PCs are doing. Unless the PCs do something that draws their attention / influences them in some way. The world doesn't revolve around the PCs. Unless they do things that make it revolve around them, in which case they better be ready to be the center of attention.

The idea / structure of main and side-quests is kind of misleading, to my eye. The main quest is whatever the PCs are most interested in and motivated by. Because there is no 'storyline'. But the rest of the world is still moving. And that by itself provides motivation not to ignore everything else going on, if you want to have a chance to influence it etc.

That is what is meant by Emergent Stories. Unplanned events that don't necessarily follow any story arc or planned structure, but they represent a much more 'real' as it were outflow of events and decisions by the players ... that form their organic story of what they decided to do and which NPCs / factions in the world they decided were important to them. It does take a more proactive player to play this way. Or at least a couple in the group who provide the impetus for forward motion to the others.

TES is indeed a current attempt at a Sandbox style videogame, but as Fox notes, is not a perfect one and ultimately has many limitations that a good tabletop Sandbox game would surpass in spades.

I also believe it is possible to have a pbp / EU Sandbox experience. But I would readily concede the expectations of players and GMs alike on EU seem structured around Narrative style play so there are some obstacles between here and there if it were to ever happen.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Sentinel » Tue Oct 31, 2017 9:58 am

I think the really big hurdle is for the GM to learn how to manage a sandbox game. Narrative is so easy to plan in comparison. I have GM'd a handful of times and am far from a seasoned GM but I used an off the cuff approach and build logically as needed. I don't flesh out chunks of content. If the PC summons a monster then I only create its intellect stats until it performs combat which at that time I would create its physical stats as needed and record as I go. Once I got used to it it was only a couple dice rolls as needed and I had whole characters.

This habit ended up being more sandbox and facilitates PCs doing what they wished without me getting butt hurt at hours of wasted prep that comes with Narrative. I had some prepped encounters but they were kept very universaly usable and just the type or names of the creatures would change.

I didn't really consider at the time making the world so alive behind the scenes which would require a clearer idea of the political landscape to achieve. I think it is fairly easy to achieve and can be done on a local scale to grow into large scale. I.e. Lord Wazzit wants to acquire Lord Whosits territory. Put into play actors and incidents that involve the PC current interests or cross into them to key the players into knowing about the power plays going on. If the players don't bite then it doesn't mean their current plans aren't impacted as well. That's life. Your bank closed down with your money in it your involved. Your home is repo'd by bank for landlords loses. That's life. Same thing ls can happen to PCs. There lives can be upended because of a local power play. They can take it or leave, or do something about it. Of course when they choose to leave then now you're at the mercy of the worlds whims.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Tue Oct 31, 2017 11:30 pm

I think the real trick to managing all of the details and effort on the part of the GM is dual fold. One, pace yourself and keep things that you 'have' to do to the minimum level required to keep things moving, interesting, and feeling alive. Don't feel 'obligated' to go into the weeds on everything. You don't have to and it can waste a lot of your time and contribute to burnout. Keep things fun, light, and moving etc. Second, do build work that you find fun and interesting as much as possible. Then be ready to take it apart, do some minor rewrites, and reskin it to suit something <ahem> totally different but similar based on where the players go and what they decide they want to do. So you don't waste your time building 'unused' material... you just have to be mentally ready to repackage things and figure out how it fits into a different context/area etc.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Wi-Fi » Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:22 am

Sandbox games are fun. It could help with side stories and practice as both gm and player in terms of posting.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby John Altfeld » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:01 pm

I ONLY run sandbox games when I GM - usually for groups of 5. It's more interesting to me to come up with a setting (or detail out an existing setting), create some competitors/antagonists and see what the players do. If I wanted to do a through-line narrative, I'd write it down, not do it in an RPG.

For EU, it might be more difficult because it puts a lot more work in the lap of the GM, but if there were an expectation that players would also be helping in some manner, it might be possible.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Tiree » Mon Jan 29, 2018 1:45 pm

As a GM I only run sandbox style gaming - It's what I know.

I have lots of adventure idea's built up. But the players are truly the driving factor. They may bail on the adventure or continue on with it, I have no skin in the game either way. Mainly because I keep the adventure in more of a framework, than a fleshed out canned adventure. Sure there may be a statted antagonist, a set of supplies or loot. But it's the players that come to me and say, "I want to see this." and then I work it into the story in weird and exotic ways.

I also mine character backgrounds and adventure notes. I also try to have a character shine in each adventure.

But PbP is tough, especially here: Character Turnover is the death of many groups and adventures. That is why canned adventures can work really well here.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Augur » Tue Jan 30, 2018 6:25 am

This is a wonderful article, but the terms used here are somewhat misleading. There is no dichotomy as is presented. Rather, there is a spectrum. This spectrum describes the degree of player choice within the setting. In one direction on this spectrum is the amount of liberty the players have in making their choices regarding the narrative they wish to construct (emergent narrative), and running in the other direction is the amount of work required by the GM to construct (directed narrative) the world and narrative itself. From my own experiences as a player and as a GM, I have found that groups of players can often founder when confronted immediately with a wide-open world of choices and ultimate self-direction. Presenting them with a defined set of choices works to combat this and give them a short-term sense of self-direction and purpose. As the players grow accustomed to their own agency, and have a greater understanding of their roles within the setting, a proactive GM can expand the degree of choice they have until they reach some maximum threshold. The players in the HU2G setting are about to reach this stage (after a decade of play) as they will be confronted with the responsibility for joint command of an interstellar ship and its crew to support missions of their choosing. They have achieved peak agency in a roleplaying context, but it's taken years of character and setting development and enormous amounts of roleplaying and various types of conflicts to reach this state.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Wi-Fi » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:02 am

As the players grow accustomed to their own agency, and have a greater understanding of their roles within the setting, a proactive GM can expand the degree of choice they have until they reach some maximum threshold. The players in the HU2G setting are about to reach this stage (after a decade of play) as they will be confronted with the responsibility for joint command of an interstellar ship and its crew to support missions of their choosing. They have achieved peak agency in a roleplaying context, but it's taken years of character and setting development and enormous amounts of roleplaying and various types of conflicts to reach this state.


This how Sandbox works best with a history behind it that is crafted. Problems arise when a written pre-crafted story like Star Trek or Star wars limits it. Look at how they won't go past the Dominion War because its chief creator is no longer with us. It is a sad state of affairs that STO (Star Trek Online) is the only source of new story worth anything. Stories with expectations and limits never succeed. Star Trek Discovery, Marvel Comics and modern Sci-Fi all have this issue.

Character handling as well is a huge issue (Starwars, I'm looking at you...) and they did a terrible job in terms staying in character history. Appreciate the effort, but the execution and writing is terrible. and that is the bread and butter of Sand box gaming.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Augur » Tue Jan 30, 2018 9:29 am

Wi-Fi wrote:Character handling as well is a huge issue (Starwars, I'm looking at you...) and they did a terrible job in terms staying in character history. Appreciate the effort, but the execution and writing is terrible. and that is the bread and butter of Sand box gaming.

Couldn't agree more.

[tangent warning!]
Common complaint "It looks like Star Wars, but it doesn't feel like Star Wars."

The new and prequel SW films do great justice to the aesthetics of Star Wars, but utterly lack the clarity of ethics of the original trilogy, and that is reflected in the out-of-character behavior of many of the long-established characters, and the overall narrative aimlessness of the writing. The newest film brought this into stark clarity for me, and has helped me reconsider all of the films in light of this.
[/tangent]
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Sun Aug 12, 2018 1:58 pm

Augur wrote:This is a wonderful article, but the terms used here are somewhat misleading. There is no dichotomy as is presented. Rather, there is a spectrum. This spectrum describes the degree of player choice within the setting. In one direction on this spectrum is the amount of liberty the players have in making their choices regarding the narrative they wish to construct (emergent narrative), and running in the other direction is the amount of work required by the GM to construct (directed narrative) the world and narrative itself. From my own experiences as a player and as a GM, I have found that groups of players can often founder when confronted immediately with a wide-open world of choices and ultimate self-direction. Presenting them with a defined set of choices works to combat this and give them a short-term sense of self-direction and purpose. As the players grow accustomed to their own agency, and have a greater understanding of their roles within the setting, a proactive GM can expand the degree of choice they have until they reach some maximum threshold. The players in the HU2G setting are about to reach this stage (after a decade of play) as they will be confronted with the responsibility for joint command of an interstellar ship and its crew to support missions of their choosing. They have achieved peak agency in a roleplaying context, but it's taken years of character and setting development and enormous amounts of roleplaying and various types of conflicts to reach this state.


The floundering/waffling (and whining) that you refer to is certainly a thing.

I 'believe' that this relates to a crux of three factors. (From the perspective of players.)

1.) Having enough knowledge of the setting to really grasp it and understand the world they are playing in.

2.) Having done enough character development / investment to be self motivated as PCs from the beginning of play.

and finally ...

3.) Adjusting expectations from a set of baseline assumptions (all too frequently IMO) of Narrativist play. (Such as looking at the GM and asking 'When are you going to tell us what we are going to do?' ... Ahem.)

A good Sandbox GM can try to tackle number two in character creation, positing some intrinsic motivations as being required during character creation/approval etc. But for the most part ... these are player problems. Mostly numbers one and two come back to being issues of player effort, investment, and motivation. Number 3 may genuinely be something of a 'I've never seen this before.' type of problem... and that can be an issue that needs some coaching and/or explaining of concepts etc.

Though I've also run into the occasional narrativist style player who was offended and angry that there was no overarching plot ... like the GM wasn't doing their job etc. For some it seems like their core ideas concerning gaming have grown up around narrativist style play and if posting this article does nothing more than expose some of those people to the fact there are multiple approaches to the hobby ... then it was a good thing. :D

Personally I think the amount of work involved in Sand-box vs Narrative isn't as different as all that. Some narrativist types spend so much time and effort working up their plots and NPCs etc. ... they aren't doing things 'the easy way' as it were. Sandbox requires a different sort of prep, being in world building vs plot building. Some of that can be front loaded work if you are making a unique setting. But for published settings a lot of it is already done for you. Your work is then fleshing out the major factions/actors that are going to be active in your campaign and ... figuring out what it is they are doing and why. This isn't the same as just coming up with good guys and bad guys. Doing it well requires making each faction feel like they have realistic motivations and people in them (personal opinion). And this is one of the big challenges I think to GMs trying to learn to Sandbox. Learning a new way to prep and adapting to both that.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Salomón » Tue Oct 09, 2018 7:59 pm

This has always seemed rather decidedly strange to me (though I've grown more accustomed) as my home games coming up as a young gamer and my 'gamer instincts' have always from the very beginning leaned Sandbox and Simulationist. I never 'started' as a Narrativist and then 'made the switch' as it were. This has always seemed rather decidedly strange to me (though I've grown more accustomed) as my home games coming up as a young gamer and my 'gamer instincts' have always from the very beginning leaned Sandbox and Simulationist. I never 'started' as a Narrativist and then 'made the switch' as it were.


This.

I can't think of a time where I played a game that was in the so-called "narrative" style, except perhaps as a kid, when we would play D&D modules.

But in organic games, it never seemed that way to me. There might be a hook, some bait or whatnot, but never much of a "railroad" feel to it.

The advantage of the pre-made style of adventures is that, as a GM, you can "front load" a lot of the effort. Will players still screw up your plans? Sure. Good ones will, anyhow. But you have an idea where you'd like things to go, and provide incentives for players to take that route.

While I'm not opposed to that style persay, it doesn't really float my boat in the end, personally. I much prefer the "Sandbox" format (or, to Augur's point, the "Sandbox end of the spectrum"), where the players dictate story direction, and GM dictates results and/or consequences of player actions.

There's something to be said for players feeling as if they have a good measure of control over where things lead. Of course, they don't have complete control - the GM controls all the NPCs and adversaries (PC mind control effects notwithstanding).

However, that said, it does seem to require more effort from all parties, and the GM has to be on their toes for it to work. GMs would need to have a keen sense of the sort of "gaming world" the characters are involved in, and be so familiar with it that they are able to react and think on the fly when things invariably don't go the direction they expected. Players need to take responsibility for their destinies (as much as they are able), and sow what they reap.

But to me, that's the best kind of gaming - when everyone's playing at a higher level of involvement and investment, and on the ball, so to speak. More investment goes with more reward, in my book.
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Re: For Discussion: Sandbox Gaming vs Narrative

Postby Vortigern » Mon Oct 15, 2018 10:17 pm

Salomón wrote:
However, that said, it does seem to require more effort from all parties, and the GM has to be on their toes for it to work. GMs would need to have a keen sense of the sort of "gaming world" the characters are involved in, and be so familiar with it that they are able to react and think on the fly when things invariably don't go the direction they expected. Players need to take responsibility for their destinies (as much as they are able), and sow what they reap.

But to me, that's the best kind of gaming - when everyone's playing at a higher level of involvement and investment, and on the ball, so to speak. More investment goes with more reward, in my book.


This resonated with me.

It does take somewhat more investment from both Player & GM, I suppose. And yet precisely as you say, I see it as producing deeper and higher quality results in game.
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