I've been looking about quite bit on other blogs and throwing away ideas I was working on. I just finished reading Bat In the Attic's outline for making a fantasy sandbox as well as Playing D&D w/ Porn Stars' version and realized while I really don't agree with either's methods, my particular method of building a fantasy sandbox would really not be on any more or less help. I've come to think that much of such writing is "here what works for myself," rather than actual, usable tips. Personally I use a mix of the two methods and toss in dice rolls with an occasional creative enhancement aid (Bukowski's pal) for inspiration. It's all just an attempt to pile up creativity ahead of time, against the approaching needs of a sandbox campaign. That late night hour when they've roamed outside of bounds in an unexpected move. I tend to fly by the seat of my pants sometimes.
So rather than bother to lay out my particular mix of randomness and system, I'm going to discuss a few helpful techniques for playing in a sandbox.
Erasable cards. I have a stack of plasticized cards I use to have private discussions with players. I also use these cards to sketch floor plans, what someone can see while flying, what the outside of the castle looks like, the village layout, etc... All those last minute floor plans that a sandbox endlessly demands. Maybe they just took an odd turn. Maybe they jumped down the garbage chute. Maybe they decided to swim down the exit passage of the pool. (How many times can you pull the "the passage is too small" bit before some smart ass says "well I have a potion of water breathing and a dimunition spell.") Maybe they just went invisible and eluded what you thought would be two days play of monsters and hit the edge of the mapped parts of your mega-dungeon. Unless it's a fight, you might not bother to draw it out on the glass. Then I take this stack of cards and use it to expand on my written materials, converting it into notes. In the past, I used a notebook or even cheap newsprint, but the plastic cards were scavenged for free and use the same markers.
Erasable board or glass, ruled in one inch squares. I know some people prefer to use die-cast walls and such props, but it takes less time to draw a line then it does to get out a set of walls. Other people dispense with the grid entirely, but it's easier than measuring everything. I used to game with a guy who had a truly large piece of tempered glass, which was often large enough for an evening of maps. I even used to make dungeons which I knew would fit on it. I'll openly admit this colors my map making. I long ago gave up orientating buildings anyway but neatly north and south. My dungeon passages connect neatly to an axis. Why? I'm willing to sacrifice a minor aesthetic in order to be able to sketch it out fast. As for people who say the figures and the map is a crutch, I say screw them, most people need a chess board to engage their minds. Until I come into a cheap or free flat screen to mount beneath a glass coffee table, I'll keep using my grid.
Camera One of those things I only started doing fairly recently, after I got a nice camera as a gift. I don't print a lot of photos. I don't obsessively photograph friends. I do like to take my camera hiking, which originally was to take landscapes and such. We've all done it, most of our product is second rate and of no real worth, compared to ten minutes of google imaging. Other than some experiments in sight lines, I didn't use these pictures at all as planned. What I did discover was completely different uses for my camera. I found myself using it to take advantage of trail maps. Snap a picture, no need to have a map or a good memory. I also found myself using it for birds, flowers, and trees. Not to keep pictures, as much as to try and expand my knowledge of what I'd seen. So I could name the birds I'd seen, even when they're not color coded, i.e. red-winged, black birds; a blue heron; or a gold finch. One of those skills you father or grandfather always just seemed to have, but which you don't unless you're an eagle scout. Back to business though. I've found a camera is also a good game aid. It makes for that quick snap at the end of an evening, so you know where everyone was positioned. It also works for those free form caverns you drew or that orc lair in the ruined tower, because who knows when the party might decide to come back or hole up there again. They might very well decide that it's perfect place to take on their pursuers some time. So a camera and a few well placed shots comes in handy.
The Big Screen or at least a monitor. I like throwing a map up on a screen to remind people where they are in a big dungeon. I think this is valuable, especially when your'e playing with the inebriated, children, or with big breaks between sessions. I've even been known to rev up power point and some pirated fantasy art to set the mood, which turned out much better and a lot less intrusive than similar attempts to set the mood with music (we're old, half of us have hearing damage.)
Computer Now I realize you all know the computer can be your friend or you wouldn't be reading this, but I've also noticed that a lot of people don't really work on the computer for producing materials. Maybe it's the old school thing, maybe it's just I haven't come across the right blog yet. Now I understand the pleasure that comes from creating by hand, just as you did thirty years ago. That there is a certain pleasure to be derived from sitting with a sheet of graph or hex paper and your favorite pen, pens, or pencils. That there is a joy in taking a break from technology and just jotting notes and sketches on a piece of paper. That unless you're under the age of thirty or so, you're never going to quite feel the same tactile connection to sketching on a screen as you do on paper. OK maybe it's not thirty, but I've never met an artist who was completely comfortable with electronic sketch pads over thirty. Yet scanning your work in afterwards simply isn't going to cut it. You're missing a lot of really sweet tricks by not using your computer in a better way.
Which is basically a long way around to laying out the next few articles i intend to write here, call it a bit of a computer tutorial for sandboxing.