Tabletop RPGs are a wonder. They can let you do anything you can dream of, in a world that can be limitless. The only problem comes with running a campaign that is limitless. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to run a world, but it’s hard work. To allow your players free reign over your world you must know it like the back of your hand. This is essential to running a great sandbox campaign.
First off, let’s go over what exactly is a sandbox campaign. It is a campaign in which the players are free to go wherever they please, whenever they please. This is a slight bit different from a normal campaign. In those games if the player veers off the path the GM will do his best to steer them back to the correct course. This is called railroading, and while it keeps story progression going, it can be annoying to the players if used too frequently. In a sandbox game there is no railroad; just you, your players, and your world.
The most essential step in creating a great sandbox campaign is to set the story. I can not stress enough how important it is to have a good story. The rules for a good story in a sandbox campaign vary a bit from normal campaigns though. The story doesn’t necessarily need hooks to get into it, but it should be interesting enough that your players will want to choose that story among all the other choices they’ve been given. This makes sure they always have something to do.
An equally important step in designing a sandbox campaign is to create the world. This is your world to explore, so take this time to create a world worth exploring. The more time you take to add details to your world, the more alive it will feel. You need to set rules, create history, and add characters to your world. Create a map and litter it with points of interest. For map making I suggest using this map as a great start. Make it unique; make it fun! If you need more help with this part, I’ve written about world building before here.
Once you have your world and story set up, you’re ready to start your campaign. This is where it all comes together. A vital part of running a great sandbox campaign is improvisation. Your players will want to go all sorts of different directions and do different things. How well they can do this and have fun with it depends on your ability to improvise and roll with what they want to do. Try running some practice scenarios, either with yourself or a fellow player. Meet each request with “yes, and” and never say no. With this in mind, your players are sure to have a great time exploring your open world adventure. While they’re having fun, don’t forget to keep those dice rolling high!