Burning Sandbox

edited September 2010 in Story Games
Over in this thread this thread, I was poo-pooing the idea that Burning Wheel is a good set of rules for a "sandbox"-style game.

But then Ara is all like, whoa you're so wrong, dude:
Posted By: akooserBurning Wheel works just fine for sandbox games but we can kick that to a different thread if needed to expand on how it works in play.
And Judd is all like, totes OMG:
Posted By: JuddWhat I like about using Burning Wheel is that the players have a mechanism for letting the GM know which part of the sandbox interests them. The orc game we played was a map with lots of cool names and me asking the players what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to go.
So, as I am starting a new Burning Wheel campaign tomorrow, for which my expectations are high, lay some wisdom on me.

How does Burning Wheel, so intensely-focused on specific character Beliefs that must be challenged by the GM, work well with a "We'll see where we go today" style of play?
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Comments

  • Ok cool :) I am preping dinner but will post here in a little while. I think Judd will beat me to it. ;) I will dig up my AP from a sandbox game I ran as well.

    Poo-pooing ideas is all good. :)

    ara
  • Alright. I had food and now some good beer.

    I am not sure how much info you want so I will sketch out the process and folks can ask questions. I hope Judd chimes in here since that game is pretty awesome!

    GM lonely fun
    1) Find a cool map you like. Show it to the players. Burn up the situation and go.

    2) Create a cool map with stuff on it (places, things, suggestions of situations). Show it to your group. I'll unpack this statement.
    So I ran a West Marches style game (running it again soon). On the map was the town and three of Tony's Microdungeons

    Each dungeon was setup like Thelon's Rift in the Adventure Burner

    Basically you tell the players what's cool at each location. In the beginning it's always some loot since the characters are broke (R0).

    Players write Beliefs about the loot. Then kick in the door and go.

    Sometimes a player will point to something on the map and ask what's there. Others will suggest cool ideas based on the map. So roll with it. Keep a handy supply of microdungeons.

    Repeat
  • Nope, I didn't beat you to it tonight. I'm helping the ladyfriend with her move.

    I think you have just more or less described how I roll with the Forgotten Realms game...give or take.

    I am really enjoying the maps of the Sword Coast and the map of Waterdeep on the table as we play...it has become part of the gaming ritual, when the maps get laid out, its time to get our game on.
  • Judd's post are a must read. One of the posts is here.

    There are lots of examples of differing sandbox game running with Burning Wheel. There was even a discussion of that topic here.
  • "Burning Wheel and Sorcerer are flat-out wrong for the kind of game you're suggesting, Gregor"

    Good for BW folks this statement is pretty easily disproved. ;) see above

    Dictionary of Mu is a sandbox game as well but that's best for another thread.

    Oh and Brian what is your definition of a sandbox game. I am guessing it might be different for all of us.


    ara
  • edited September 2010
    I think the definition of "sandbox" is a sizable obstacle to agreeing on this topic.

    I played a eleven game mini-campaign of BW. We had characters with strong Beliefs set against and perpendicular to one another in interesting ways, and we remained in a small Norse/Irish village the entire game where we could bounce those Beliefs off one another and off a consistent cast of NPCs. To the degree BW works for me at all, it was definitely a system in service to this set-up.

    If you love BW, you're probably going to like a "sandbox" (how you might define/emphasize it) campaign of BW, but to say that it's a particular strength of the system and to chose it above other systems that might be better tools is not an easy argument, not at least until both parties have agreed on the meaning of that term.
  • "If you love BW, you're probably going to like a "sandbox" (how you might define/emphasize it) campaign of BW, but to say that it's a particular strength of the system and to chose it above other systems that might be better tools is not an easy argument, not at least until both parties have agreed on the meaning of that term. "

    I totally agree. For the kind(s) of sandbox games I like to run/play in BW is great.

    Figure I should emphasis the I.
  • Posted By: TeataineLike, "here's your playground, full of challenges I wonder what you're going to do about."
    Gregor's OP reads (to me) like he wants a sandbox that is already defined, before characters inhabit it. While the resolution mechanics of BW can work for that, it still undermines what Beliefs are best at, and also what the extended character creation is for.

    In BW, the GM is supposed to adapt game situations to challenge Beliefs. If players are just supposed to write Beliefs about stuff the GM has already written, and/or the GM doesn't adapt the situation to challenge their Beliefs, then what's the point in even using them? It's sub-optimal. Sure, you can get a similar aesthetic feeling from playing Thelon's Rift, but BW is a game that revolves around the characters, who they are and what they want, while the pre-built sandbox of the old-school revolves around the setting, and the game doesn't care who your characters are. For that kind of game, other games do a better job than BW.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: akooser"Burning Wheel and Sorcerer are flat-out wrong for the kind of game you're suggesting, Gregor"

    Good for BW folks this statement is pretty easily disproved. ;) see above
    Posted By: akooserI totally agree. For the kind(s) of sandbox games I like to run/play in BW is great.

    Figure I should emphasis theI.
    Also, slamming my comments about a game style that somebody else has described, which were written in another thread, as part of another conversation, and then covering your ass by saying you're only talking about a style you enjoy is disingenuous and insulting. Don't do that to me.

    edit: un-whispered by request.

    edit: We kiss and make up downthread, but apparently I still can't explain myself properly! wurdz r bad 2 me!
  • edited September 2010
    Johnstone,
    I'd prefer you not whisper comments to me like that. I stand by what I said here and it's was not meant to be insulting or assy. Your comment related to BW as a sandobx so I posted the response here as to not further derail the thread. You are more then welcome to repost your whisper here. BW can be wrong for the type of play in your sandbox and even in the OP's sandbox. That is totally fine.



    That said.

    I saw the OP's requirements too and thought BW along with other games as well. So this is a thread about sandbox play BW and it's potential problems.

    You did point out one of the downfalls of a pre-built sandbox is that the player aren't engaged or can become disengaged. I guess what I run is a flexible sandbox. Lots of challenges set up before hand, hints of situation, and then we go. So it has all the requirements that the OP stated.

    What can come up is someone sees something on the map and says "Cool I want that" and I as a GM have nothing. So I ask them to write a Belief and we go.

    This style has worked but I don't know the long term (2+ yrs down the road) game looks like. I would guess it would evolve away from the sandbox play I describe.

    ara
  • Posted By: Brian MinterHow does Burning Wheel, so intensely-focused on specific character Beliefs that must be challenged by the GM, work well with a "We'll see where we go today" style of play?
    The short version (I know I'm going to end up cross-posting, because I started this awhile ago and am just now saving it) is that if the character Beliefs are about "where we go today" (or, more often, "what we do today"), it's totally sandbox.

    The best example I can think of for this (besides the ones Judd will no doubt provide) would by KTNG, which was summarized in a series of about a dozen podcasts by the Podgecast guys. (Just google KTNG Podgecast and start at the first summary.) Basically, the GM and the players set up a broad setting, and then the story went wherever the player's beliefs were pointed.
  • Doyce,

    That's more the kind of sandbox play I see with BW as opposed to the challenges already set in place let's go explore mode. Can you provide links for the podcast?

    Thanks!

    ara
  • I agreed with Brian and Johnstone in the original thread but I must say that you're making a pretty good case for it. I'm almost convinced. Still, I feel that you're both using BW in a way it's not exactly supposed to and turning the sandbox into something it's not really supposed to be. You get a great experience, I'm sure, I'm not contradicting that. I think BW would work perfectly if you'd change the whole reward currency structure, but that kinda guts the game...

    What you're saying gets you a mode to play BW sandbox, but not sandbox with BW, if you get what I'm trying to say. "Writing beliefs about where we go today" totally works, but it means that the situation either gets shafted or has to be adapted and re-adapted through play. Which is not something I'm originally looking for. (but I'd love to run a "sandbox" BW)

    I'm going to say "I'm thinking."
  • Gaming maps, when done well, have situation all over them. This idea that "true" sandbox maps don't have situation baked in feels wrong to me. I feel like good sandboxy maps have situation all over the damned place. I wish I knew Greyhawk better so that I could point out relevant bits.

    That said, thinking about the Sword Coast of the Forgotten Realms, it is teeming with situation and my players looked it over and made characters that plugged into that. No, we probably aren't engaging in orthodox sandboxery as you define it but in BW, I definitely don't tailor challenges based on the characters' abilities but more to what is supposed to be at place X. That said, what is at place X is influenced by their beliefs and the consequences of their actions, in that order. So, as I said, not orthodox sandboxery and that is fine with us.
  • Heya Teataine,

    I can go into more detail if you like on how running a sandbox uisng RAW BW works using the criteria you set out in you post. I don't want to convince you to use BW because I read your post and assume that you have a system in mind! The stuff I am talking about here is from my previous AP and prep work for the upcoming game.

    ara
  • Posted By: akooserI read your post and assume that you have a system in mind!
    I don't! BW was pretty high on my list of considered systems actually*, but [publicsecret]what I'm actually planning to do some time down the line is to write a system from scratch that is tailored from the bottom up to this specific mode of play.[/publicsecret].

    *so was LotFP, as well as some FATE variant (LoA), Dungeon World and other stuff.

    I'd love to hear about running a explore/dungeondelve/kill monsters game with BW if you'd like to talk about it. I'm aware of Burning Thac0, but I still believe (will I fight for it?) that BW RAW does not cater to an "orthodox" Old School hexcrawl. They have different agendas.
  • I like your public secret. I would love to see a game that's completely focus on exploration.

    ASIDE: In other thread Eero said this
    "Maps do not have a big role in my games currently, but I'm intensely interested in hexcrawls for their promise in this regard. If somebody made a focused design game that was specifically about getting to draw interesting maps and then getting to play with them, I'd be there with my wallet. It would be fun to repurpose those massive D&D maps from back in the day for some game that would provide exploration, emergent richness of fiction and a quick reward cycle. In fact, I'll probably be there with my game design brain at some point."
    /ASIDE

    I don't know if I am smart enough to talk about the varying agendas. I have a low level understanding of them so I will leave that out.

    I'll dig out my crappy notes and characters sheets from previous game and write stuff up.
  • Heya Teataine,

    So I am going to try and address these points:

    1) The way I see it, a sandbox primarily has a map, mostly blank, with a few cool-sounding names written on it. Every time (perhaps in the very session, or perhaps a few days before) the players decide "I want to go there!" or "I want to see what's that thing!". The GM need not have the whole map filled out, but he should have enough prepared dungeons, NPCs and locales that he's prepared for every eventuality of "going there". Everywhere you go there should be cool stuff to find and stuff to fight. So...

    2) There should always be the feeling that the world is always bigger, that there is always something still left unexplored, something you missed. The world is NOT tailored to the PCs. There should be many times you have to run only to come back another day. Which brings me to...

    3) There is no baked-in situation. The world is passive and uncaring. There can be certain countdowns and threats, for example "If no-one goes into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, the goblins move back in and fortify them."

    4) "here's your playground, full of challenges I wonder what you're going to do about."


    If that's okay I'll stick with these 4 points? I need some starting place for how you see the sandbox and if my sandbox looks like yours. At the moment I think it does. But there might be pink sand in my sandbox at the end of the day. *sigh*

    *A lot of the requirements you are talking about here are met with Daniel's engine discussed in this thread
  • Posted By: akooserI don't know if I am smart enough to talk about the varying agendas. I have a low level understanding of them so I will leave that out.
    Well, I don't want to drag academic discussion of agendas into this at all. Agenda is basically how we play, what we get our kicks out of during the game. Reading Burning THAC0, there's a lot of advice like:
    -forget about surprising your players, tell them what the module is about
    -throw out the filler, it has not place in BW
    -random encounters aren't really cool in BW
    -no gold and XP hunts, because you don't need them
    etc.

    So, yeah, while BW can be used to give and oldschool feel, it's not really oldschool. Examples of hexcrawl agenda is stuff like "surprising your players" and "finding out what's at the bottom of the well". BW's RAW agenda is "challenge your player's beliefs" and "fight for your beliefs". You can make the two overlap, because of the flexibility of Beliefs but, it's just not the same "way to play". We agree on that, yeah? It's a matter of what you want out of your game.
    Posted By: akooserI'll dig out my crappy notes and characters sheets from previous game and write stuff up.
    Very cool, thanks.
  • Posted By: akooser
    If that's okay I'll stick with these 4 points?
    ---
    *A lot of the requirements you are talking about here are met with Daniel's engine discussed in thisthread
    Crossposted earlier. Yeah, that's more than great.
    ---
    I'll check that out now.
  • You can still have surprises in Burning Wheel. Telling them what the module is about doesn't necessarily require telling them everything. At least not in my interpretation. What is does mean to me really is taking the advice in modules of old to how to hook the PCs in, and baking the hooks into the PC's beliefs. However, this works best if a bit more spirit of openness is used than in traditional old school play.

    Filler was a pacing mechanism. To the extent that filler has relevance to the fiction, I think it's still reasonable to include it in a Burning Wheel game, however, it may be introduced as simple fiction without engagement of mechanics (other than "say yes" - which in a sense IS a mechanic).

    Random encounters are just a specific form of filler, and as such, are a pacing mechanism. They work great in Burning Wheel as complications to failed rolls, or perhaps even particular choices by players (have a good reason to not "say yes"? perhaps one of the modules (if you're adapting an old school module) random encounters could be used to provide the obstacle for the resulting roll).

    BW can gave gold and XP hunts, just write a belief about them. However, ultimately, they are just the reward mechanism of old school RPGs. Their relevance to the fiction is really limited to their role as rewards that drive play. I don't think the change in reward mechanisms between D&D and BW really changes how a sandbox might be used.

    To me, the ideal of sandbox play is that players engage the sandbox on the level of the fiction, and utilize the game mechanics to drive tension into the fiction.

    Frank
  • Sandbox BW

    I am not really sure of a good order to address this in since they all overlap. But I am going to give it a try.

    Oh!! I typically follow the West Marches methods (there are others) with some minor modifications to allow for Circles, Resources, Reputations, etc..

    I am going to break this into several post!

    1) The way I see it, a sandbox primarily has a map, mostly blank, with a few cool-sounding names written on it...
    2) There should always be the feeling that the world is always bigger, that there is always something still left unexplored, something you missed...


    So for the previous games and the upcoming games this is handled as GM lonely fun. On the large scale I have several 11x17 maps strung together. The maps evolve like Tony's How to Host a Dungeon.

    1) Primordial physical geography is laid down
    2) This geography determines boundaries, interactions, and situations of tribes, kingdoms, city-states, what have you. These collapse and leave behind ruins altering the landscape.
    3) Environmental changes leave their marks on the landscape
    4) Repeat adding layers as you want

    This can be done all at once. I just wrote it out stepwise. So what you have is an environmental narrative with situation built into the map. All maps that I like have this built in. I should clarify situation. This is not how it's typically used in BW. It's maybe more fluid. I don't really know how to describe it with words :(

    The town is usually a small dot on the far east side of the map. So on the large scale there is always #2. #1 is typically what the player map looks like and this map evolves as the players push (through Beliefs) their characters out into the wilderness

    I've done something similar to #1 as well with just a few things jotted down and then a blank players map. It works both ways. Just depends on what you want :)

    On the smaller scale each encounter (microdungeon) has special areas that are hard to get to based on the resources available to the characters. So every place has something that is unexplored.

    With a rotating player bases different groups explore different areas of the map. This in turn makes the other groups go WTF I want to explore there or reexplore this.
  • 4) "here's your playground, full of challenges I wonder what you're going to do about."

    Several things tie into this.

    First and most important everyone at the table is on the same page.

    The pitch "Hey all I have this bad ass map full of challenges and not really a particular situation or story in mind. It's an explore and kick in the door kind of game. All Beliefs will be focused on that. Cool? "
    1) Bring the map to show off
    2) and the players map
    3) Highlight the challenges on the players map. Give em options
    4) Plan the challenges but don't play how they play out

    If everyone is one board you are good to go! The Adventure Burner has good advice in it.

    Second
    Lonely GM fun. Having already setup the map I have lots of challenges already to go. These aren't scaled to match character abilities. Usually I try and put easier challenges closer but not always.

    Third
    Beliefs. Very important like in any BW game. No hacks, no magic tricks here
    1) A goal about the immediate task at hand. Always tied to exploring and usually about retrieving something
    2) Belief about another character (helpful or not)
    3) Either personal philosophy or overarching exploration goal. I prefer the overreaching exploration goal

    All these goals are fairly easy to hammer on and allows you to spotlight folks. The sheer size of the sandbox can drive a lot of these.
  • Example Beliefs
    I don't have the exact wording so these are coming from memory

    1) I am going to to retrieve and sell it so I can eat tonight
    2) Something about undermining another character, I don't recall the details
    3) Reputation is all important. I will prepare for a 8 week journey and bring back proof so I can advance in reputation.

    1) I am going to to retrieve and give it to the old lady. I will go hunger tonight
  • There is no baked-in situation. The world is passive and uncaring. There can be certain countdowns and threats, for example "If no-one goes into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, the goblins move back in and fortify them."

    I am not sure about this one because the what you describe here reads to me like a Situation. So I think we have different definitions of what Situation is. I had something similar about a mountain pass and players cranked out Beliefs about it and we did it.

    Oh surprising the players. Let me get to that one next. I have to wrangle with a manuscript here and then I'll get on it!
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: akooserThere is no baked-in situation. The world is passive and uncaring. There can be certain countdowns and threats, for example "If no-one goes into the Dreadcrag caves for a month, the goblins move back in and fortify them."

    I am not sure about this one because the what you describe here reads to me like a Situation. So I think we have different definitions of what Situation is. I had something similar about a mountain pass and players cranked out Beliefs about it and we did it.
    I don't have time to comment on everything but I'll just interject here.

    You have a Situation there because you made it a situation. You wrote Beliefs for it, which by virtue of Beliefs, made it a Situation. You addressed it.

    The way I understand the distinction:

    BW:
    GM: "Ok, guys so there's this mountain pass called Devil's Arse that's been unguarded for a while and if nobody defends it it's going to be repopulated by goblins."
    Player 1: "Sweet."
    Player 2: "I know, my dude has a belief that says 'I must defend the mountain pass for it was the duty of my forefathers and so it shall be mine.'"
    Player 1: "Yeah, and I'll write 'If the pass falls, commerce with the east barony will fail and my family will go hungry'."

    Oldschool Hexcrawl:
    GM: "What do you want to do today?"
    Player 1: "Oooh, let's travel to the Shattered Spire." Player 2: "Yes, let's!"
    GM: "Ok." Makes some notes about how travel to the Shattered Spire takes a week and advances his goblin countdown for the Devil's Arse.

    Then, if this was BW, the GM would tell you what the Spire holds and the players would write Beliefs (like, there's a wizard in the spire that's terrorizing the countryside and the players would write "I must stop the wizard."). In a hexcrawl, the players would have no idea what's in the Spire or even what it is until they got there.



    But carry on, this is good stuff.
  • Heya

    Thanks for the clarification. I need to chew on that for a bit. I think I bounce between both but need to really dig into my notes and head to sort that out.
  • So I do bounce back and forth between those.

    Here is a Belief from an exploration mission based on someone pointing a feature they thought was cool

    1) Goal: I will be the first to explore Fang's Reach

    All the PC's had the something similar. This Belief also add metagamey (using the right term?) reasons behind it. The players really wanted to open certain skills, face environmental challenges (Ob tests), work towards gaining Traits, pushing Instincts, and talking up Reputations.

    In this case no one knew what was at Fang's Reach or if anything would happen once there. But it did allow for Beginner's Luck on skills, Advancement testing, Resource testing, and a failed Circle roll. In the fiction (err map) players added new landscape features to navigate by.

    In one game this kind of thing happened a lot. In the upcoming game I have no idea what will happen!

    I think I got at the OldSchoolHexcrawl as we have defined it so far. And I think this address player surprise.

    Make sense?
  • Wow, many response to this. I guess the term "sandbox" is kind of open to intrepretation.
    Posted By: Doyce
    The short version (I know I'm going to end up cross-posting, because I started this awhile ago and am just now saving it) is that if the character Beliefs are about "where we go today" (or, more often, "what we do today"), it's totally sandbox.
    That makes sense to me! I don't see that as messing with Burning Wheel's core premise, either. You're just using Beliefs in a specific way (short-term, session-by-session) to give you a certain kind of play. I like it.
  • If I was running a BW sandbox game I would first nail down some sort of situation or premise, no matter how shallow or vague it is... something like points of light from D&D 4E, old fashioned "band of adventures" seeking gold and glory or some vague reason for the group to be out and exploring and adventuring. Once you have that settled, have everyone write a big picture belief that ties into that, a reason why they are exploring. Is it ideological? Is it for gain or glory? Something that provides a context for the characters to be exploring and adventuring. This may not be true hexcrawling.

    Then have everyone write a belief about the group or another PC and that should tie everyone together nicely.

    Then for the third, leave that one open for now and let the players add that in as they get invested or identify things they want to do based on the stuff they have found or encounter. So instead of them creating situation by writing beliefs, the GM provides it at each location and then the players write a belief in response to it about what they want to do about it.

    So using the example of the Shattered Spire, the players get there I check my map and notes and see I have stuff about a Goblin horde setting up shop, so I immediately get into setting that up and describing what the players find while threatening or challenging the characters big picture beliefs, for example say a Knight with a belief of "I will protect the people of the Marches by defeating the evil we find" by pointing out the siege equipment they are building for an attack on the keep or whatever. My notes also mention and evil Goblin Shaman, which the knight see ordering the construction of some shrine as well. He is all then "my 3rd belief is - I must destroy the profane Goblin shrine, it is an affront to my god" or maybe "I will defeat Shaman and thus break the horde". And then we are off to the races.

    - Colin
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: akooserMake sense?
    Yeah, totally.
    Posted By: Brian MinterYou're just using Beliefs in a specific way (short-term, session-by-session) to give you a certain kind of play. I like it.
    Yeah, that's what I'm seeing from all this interaction, too. Beliefs become much more like the ones in MG, but even more abstract. Maybe there should be even just two beliefs (interpersonal and ethical) and the main one should be renamed to "Goal" or something.

    I'm still cautious about the whole issue. I did consider it was possible to run BW in sandbox mode, and this thread has cemented that, obviously, yes, it can. But...you get something that's fun and sandboxy, that's like the traditional sandbox, but ultimately, I think I must concur with Johnstone where he says:
    but BW is a game that revolves around the characters, who they are and what they want, while the pre-built sandbox of the old-school revolves around the setting, and the game doesn't care who your characters are. For that kind of game, other games do a better job than BW.
    Let me emphasize that this is not to say you can't do sandbox with BW or that it's not fun, it's just a different kind of sandbox than the truly purist oldschool hexcrawl.

    Thank you Ara for all the extensive notes. This thread has been very informative. Personally, I have gotten everything I expected out of it. Brian, it's up to you if you think this should be discussed further?
  • You are welcome Teataine. Thanks for all the poking and prodding. It help me make sense of my crappy notes into something more coherent that will hopefully make play more fun in the next game
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: akooserDoyce,

    That's more the kind of sandbox play I see with BW as opposed to the challenges already set in place let's go explore mode. Can you provide links for the podcast?

    Thanks!

    ara
    Sure. Here: http://podgecast.com/archives/tag/ktng/page/2
    And here: http://podgecast.com/archives/tag/ktng

    (You start on page two, cuz they're posted in reverse chrono order. It's worth noting that in this game, the 'sandbox premise' was that everyone was noble sons of a noble house, and the players pointed everything at doing politics and stuff, so that's pretty much what they ended up doing. It's a lot less dungeon crawl and a lot more Reign.)

    However, there's still lots you can do in "go explore mode" and still tie it into beliefs. If you show your players the map and they say "this 'Castle Tenebrous' sounds cool", then they write beliefs around it.

    Or, more accurately, tailor the second half (the 'goal' half) of their beliefs to it.

    So maybe I have:

    Beliefs:
    1. I must clear my name and regain my ancestral lands.
    2. I will help my friend Sandroval regain his place in Dwarven society .
    3. When I next face my brother, I will defeat him expose him as the betrayer he is.

    So the Castle Tenebrous is coming up as our next thing, so I revise my beliefs to:

    Beliefs:
    1. I must clear my name and regain my ancestral lands; the Library Tenebrous has geneological records I require.
    2. I will help my friend Sandroval regain his place in Dwarven society; I will help him take the great axe Zigilburk back from the Champion of the Castle Tenebrous.
    3. When I next face my brother, I will defeat him and expose him as the betrayer he is; to do this, I must improve my swordplay.

    There. Now all my beliefs give me something specific to do for this stretch of the campaign, regardless of whether we're on the way there (practice swordplay or plan with Sandroval), or exploring the castle itself. ("What do you MEAN there's no library?")

    As the GM, the nice thing about this is that, once the player's Beliefs are updated, I know exactly what I need to prep for the next couple sessions (and, unless I had something additional in mind, that's pretty much ALL I have to prep).
  • Posted By: Teataine
    This thread has been very informative. Personally, I have gotten everything I expected out of it. Brian, it's up to you if you think this should be discussed further?
    No, I'm cool. Thanks for the responses, all.

    Burning Wheel would not be my game of choice for this style of play, but clearly it can be used that way without voiding the warranty.
  • Posted By: TeatainePosted By: akooserI don't know if I am smart enough to talk about the varying agendas. I have a low level understanding of them so I will leave that out.
    Well, I don't want to drag academic discussion of agendas into this at all. Agenda is basically how we play, what we get our kicks out of during the game. Reading Burning THAC0, there's a lot of advice like:
    -forget about surprising your players, tell them what the module is about
    -throw out the filler, it has not place in BW
    -random encounters aren't really cool in BW
    -no gold and XP hunts, because you don't need them
    etc.

    So, yeah, while BW can be used to give and oldschool feel, it's not really oldschool. Examples of hexcrawl agenda is stuff like "surprising your players" and "finding out what's at the bottom of the well". BW's RAW agenda is "challenge your player's beliefs" and "fight for your beliefs". You can make the two overlap, because of the flexibility of Beliefs but, it's just not the same "way to play". We agree on that, yeah? It's a matter of what you want out of your game.


    Gregor, before this thread gets closed out, I just wanted to respond to the comments on my Burning THAC0 advice briefly:
    Posted By: Teataine-forget about surprising your players, tell them what the module is about.
    Don't interpret this too broadly. Here's what I wrote way back in 2006:
    Posted By: ThorFirst things first: I recommend discarding any of the old notions that the players should be completely surprised by what's coming. Show the players the cover of the module you're running. Read them the back cover blurb. If it has an intro section, consider reading that to them.

    You don't have to reveal every twist and secret: just give them a broad overview. In other word, if the module is about delving into the Lost Temple of Whatsit to reover the Orb of Destiny that was stolen by Whosit during the reign of Thatguy, etc., tell the players! Then all of them should write at least one belief that takes them on the quest.
    It's not about revealing all secrets. It's great for GMs to use secrets and allow for big reveals in all sorts of BW play.

    Anyway, two points: 1. That (and most of the early Burning THAC0 advice) was specifically about playing from modules, which we did a lot of in our early Burning THAC0 play but don't really do much anymore; and 2. I don't think that was quite fair to some of the excellent old modules that actually did exactly what I recommend.

    For example, here is the intro text that you are told to read to the players from The Keep on the Borderlands, one of the most well-loved early sandbox modules:
    Written By: Gary GygaxThe Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies—dwarves, elves, and Halflings—who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It is these adventurers who, provided they survive the challenge, carry the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers meet the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest will return to relate the tale. Here, these individuals will become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They will be tried in the fire of combat, those who return, hardened and more fit. True, some few who do survive the process will turn from Law and good and serve the masters of Chaos, but most will remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatens to infect the Realm.

    You are indeed members of that exceptional class, adventurers who have journeyed to the Keep on the Borderlands in search of fame and fortune. Of course you are inexperienced, but you have your skills and a heart that cries out for adventure. You have it in you to become great, but you must gain experience and knowledge and greater skill. There is much to learn, and you are willing and eager to be about it! Each of you has come with everything which could possibly be given you to help. Now you must fend for yourselves, your fate in you own hands, for better or worse.

    Ahead, up the winding road, atop a sheer-walled mount of stone, looms the great KEEP. Here, at one of civilization's strongholds between good lands and bad, you will base yourselves and equip for forays against the wicked monsters who lurk in the wilds. Somewhere nearby, amidst the dark forests and tangled fens, are the Caves of Chaos where fell creatures lie in wait. All this you know, but before you dare adventure into such regions you must become acquainted with the other members of yur group, for each life will depend upon the ability of the others too cooperate against the common foe. Now, before you enter the grim fortress, is the time for introductions and an exchange of information, for fate seems to have decreed that you are to become and adventurous band who must pass through many harrowing experiences together on the path which leads toward greatness.
    That right there is more than enough to fulfill my recommendation about not keeping secrets. Every player should be able to write at least two beliefs based upon that. If I were GMing this, I would tell the players:

    1. Write a Belief about why you came to the Keep or what you hope to accomplish in the Caves of Chaos.
    2. Write a Belief about another PC or one of your Relationships (which I should be able to merge with the NPCs listed in the module, as they don't have names anyway).

    Most players could actually write a third Belief here without too much trouble, but I would recommend to my players that they hold off until they've had a chance to enter the Keep and talk to the NPCs. Why? Because there's a great little Rumor Table in Keep on the Borderlands, and many of the rumors are a Belief in waiting. If a rumor interests you, write a Belief about it!
    Posted By: TeataineThrow out filler, it has not place in BW
    I'm not sure how "filler" is integral to sandbox play. You don't have to fill every room with monsters in order to wear down the group's resources. There should only be a monster or other NPC in a room because it makes sense. Again, that advice is very specific to running Burning THAC0 from modules.
    Posted By: TeataineRandom encounters aren't really cool in BW
    Here's what I said:
    Posted By: ThorRandom encounters. They're a big thing in D&D. Or at least they used to be when I played. But they don't really fit in Burning Wheel that well. Ignore filler, remember?

    At the same time they really contribute to the D&D feel. So here's my suggestion: Use encounters as the consequences for failed tests. Remember that failed tests in Burning Wheel are an opportunity for the GM to add complications. Make use of them!
    So that's not really a prohibition against random encounters. You just don't use them the same way you did in D&D. Instead of rolling randomly every few hours of game time, you wait until the players fail an Orienteering, Hunting, Survival, Cooking, or similar test (Forte test to stay awake!). When I ran from modules, I'd turn to that random encounter chart the moment the players failed a test like that and choose something fun from it. No reason you couldn't roll on a table if that makes it feel more authentic.
    Posted By: TeataineNo gold and XP hunts, because you don't need them
    That's not quite right. Here's what I said:
    Posted By: ThorOne thing we learned early on: You don't need to give every monster and encounter a handful of treasure with which to reward the players.

    It's fine to have the color of breaking open chests of gold or looting corpses for a few copper pieces. But either way, you can get away with awarding a handful of Resources advantage dice when the characters emerge from the dungeon (or whatever).

    3D to 5D of cash on hand, shared by the group, is a significant reward!
    So it's not so much that you can't go on a gold hunt. It's just that handing out Resources dice after each encounter will quickly give characters far more wealth than even D&D characters typically haul away.
  • Posted By: TeatainePosted By: akooserI don't know if I am smart enough to talk about the varying agendas. I have a low level understanding of them so I will leave that out.
    Well, I don't want to drag academic discussion of agendas into this at all. Agenda is basically how we play, what we get our kicks out of during the game. Reading Burning THAC0, there's a lot of advice like:
    -forget about surprising your players, tell them what the module is about
    -throw out the filler, it has not place in BW
    -random encounters aren't really cool in BW
    -no gold and XP hunts, because you don't need them
    etc.

    So, yeah, while BW can be used to give and oldschool feel, it's not really oldschool. Examples of hexcrawl agenda is stuff like "surprising your players" and "finding out what's at the bottom of the well". BW's RAW agenda is "challenge your player's beliefs" and "fight for your beliefs". You can make the two overlap, because of the flexibility of Beliefs but, it's just not the same "way to play". We agree on that, yeah? It's a matter of what you want out of your game.


    Gregor, before this thread gets closed out, I just wanted to respond to the comments on my Burning THAC0 advice briefly:
    Posted By: Teataine-forget about surprising your players, tell them what the module is about.
    Don't interpret this too broadly. Here's what I wrote way back in 2006:
    Posted By: ThorFirst things first: I recommend discarding any of the old notions that the players should be completely surprised by what's coming. Show the players the cover of the module you're running. Read them the back cover blurb. If it has an intro section, consider reading that to them.

    You don't have to reveal every twist and secret: just give them a broad overview. In other word, if the module is about delving into the Lost Temple of Whatsit to reover the Orb of Destiny that was stolen by Whosit during the reign of Thatguy, etc., tell the players! Then all of them should write at least one belief that takes them on the quest.
    It's not about revealing all secrets. It's great for GMs to use secrets and allow for big reveals in all sorts of BW play.

    Anyway, two points: 1. That (and most of the early Burning THAC0 advice) was specifically about playing from modules, which we did a lot of in our early Burning THAC0 play but don't really do much anymore; and 2. I don't think that was quite fair to some of the excellent old modules that actually did exactly what I recommend.

    For example, here is the intro text that you are told to read to the players from The Keep on the Borderlands, one of the most well-loved early sandbox modules:
    Written By: Gary GygaxThe Realm of mankind is narrow and constricted. Always the forces of Chaos press upon its borders, seeking to enslave its populace, rape its riches, and steal its treasures. If it were not for a stout few, many in the Realm would indeed fall prey to the evil which surrounds them. Yet, there are always certain exceptional and brave members of humanity, as well as similar individuals among its allies—dwarves, elves, and Halflings—who rise above the common level and join battle to stave off the darkness which would otherwise overwhelm the land. Bold adventurers from the Realm set off for the Borderlands to seek their fortune. It is these adventurers who, provided they survive the challenge, carry the battle to the enemy. Such adventurers meet the forces of Chaos in a testing ground where only the fittest will return to relate the tale. Here, these individuals will become skilled in their profession, be it fighter or magic-user, cleric or thief. They will be tried in the fire of combat, those who return, hardened and more fit. True, some few who do survive the process will turn from Law and good and serve the masters of Chaos, but most will remain faithful and ready to fight chaos wherever it threatens to infect the Realm.

    You are indeed members of that exceptional class, adventurers who have journeyed to the Keep on the Borderlands in search of fame and fortune. Of course you are inexperienced, but you have your skills and a heart that cries out for adventure. You have it in you to become great, but you must gain experience and knowledge and greater skill. There is much to learn, and you are willing and eager to be about it! Each of you has come with everything which could possibly be given you to help. Now you must fend for yourselves, your fate in you own hands, for better or worse.

    Ahead, up the winding road, atop a sheer-walled mount of stone, looms the great KEEP. Here, at one of civilization's strongholds between good lands and bad, you will base yourselves and equip for forays against the wicked monsters who lurk in the wilds. Somewhere nearby, amidst the dark forests and tangled fens, are the Caves of Chaos where fell creatures lie in wait. All this you know, but before you dare adventure into such regions you must become acquainted with the other members of yur group, for each life will depend upon the ability of the others too cooperate against the common foe. Now, before you enter the grim fortress, is the time for introductions and an exchange of information, for fate seems to have decreed that you are to become and adventurous band who must pass through many harrowing experiences together on the path which leads toward greatness.
    That right there is more than enough to fulfill my recommendation about not keeping secrets. Every player should be able to write at least two beliefs based upon that. If I were GMing this, I would tell the players:

    1. Write a Belief about why you came to the Keep or what you hope to accomplish in the Caves of Chaos.
    2. Write a Belief about another PC or one of your Relationships (which I should be able to merge with the NPCs listed in the module, as they don't have names anyway).

    Most players could actually write a third Belief here without too much trouble, but I would recommend to my players that they hold off until they've had a chance to enter the Keep and talk to the NPCs. Why? Because there's a great little Rumor Table in Keep on the Borderlands, and many of the rumors are a Belief in waiting. If a rumor interests you, write a Belief about it!
    Posted By: TeataineThrow out filler, it has not place in BW
    I'm not sure how "filler" is integral to sandbox play. You don't have to fill every room with monsters in order to wear down the group's resources. There should only be a monster or other NPC in a room because it makes sense. Again, that advice is very specific to running Burning THAC0 from modules.
    Posted By: TeataineRandom encounters aren't really cool in BW
    Here's what I said:
    Posted By: ThorRandom encounters. They're a big thing in D&D. Or at least they used to be when I played. But they don't really fit in Burning Wheel that well. Ignore filler, remember?

    At the same time they really contribute to the D&D feel. So here's my suggestion: Use encounters as the consequences for failed tests. Remember that failed tests in Burning Wheel are an opportunity for the GM to add complications. Make use of them!
    So that's not really a prohibition against random encounters. You just don't use them the same way you did in D&D. Instead of rolling randomly every few hours of game time, you wait until the players fail an Orienteering, Hunting, Survival, Cooking, or similar test (Forte test to stay awake!). When I ran from modules, I'd turn to that random encounter chart the moment the players failed a test like that and choose something fun from it. No reason you couldn't roll on a table if that makes it feel more authentic.
    Posted By: TeataineNo gold and XP hunts, because you don't need them
    That's not quite right. Here's what I said:
    Posted By: ThorOne thing we learned early on: You don't need to give every monster and encounter a handful of treasure with which to reward the players.

    It's fine to have the color of breaking open chests of gold or looting corpses for a few copper pieces. But either way, you can get away with awarding a handful of Resources advantage dice when the characters emerge from the dungeon (or whatever).

    3D to 5D of cash on hand, shared by the group, is a significant reward!
    So it's not so much that you can't go on a gold hunt. It's just that handing out Resources dice after each encounter will quickly give characters far more wealth than even D&D characters typically haul away.
  • Final thoughts not really related to BW

    The mostly whole quote is
    "but BW is a game that revolves around the characters, who they are and what they want, while the pre-built sandbox of the old-school revolves around the setting, and the game doesn't care who your characters are. For that kind of game, other games do a better job than BW."

    I agree with what BW revolves around

    But I am very interested in this part:

    "while the pre-built sandbox of the old-school revolves around the setting, and the game doesn't care who your characters are."

    Which I will kick over to another thread in a little while.

    Thank to Brian for kick starting the BW Sandbox thread.
  • Perhaps one solution is to have each player keep a note card with a separate set of beliefs that are specific to each place they go. These beliefs should gel with their main beliefs but allow players to express their beliefs on the fly. When they leave an area on the map they file away the note card and when they return they update it.
  • Ara, I talk about how D&D revolves around setting on the Red Box Vancouver blog. It's not specifically about sandbox play, but hopefully it explains the difference between the old-school sandbox and the BW sandbox.
  • Johnstone,

    Cool! Thank you. I have a large blind spot (read as ignorant) in that area. Most of my D&D experience wasn't what I think of as sandbox.
  • edited September 2010
    Thor, it was not my intention to misquote or misinterpret you. I was generalising, quoting off-hand and out of context. I was attempting to point out some of the easy-to miss differences between what I perceive to be the purist old school and BW. BW can simulate that sort of thing, but it's not identical (precisely the difference between counting gold pieces and giving Resources dice. BW's way is sleeker, cooler, better, but not the same). I'm not saying this as a bad thing at all in any way.

    And thanks for your elaborations, they help.
  • Hey Gregor,

    I wasn't offended or anything. I just wanted to clarify because it's an interesting topic. I'm glad you found it useful!

    It's true that you invest something with situation in BW when you write Beliefs about it, but I also think we informally did the same thing when we decided upon a goal in sandbox D&D play. When we decided to free the slaves in the slave pen in the Shunned Cavern of the Caves of Chaos and escort them to safety, that's situation. Same thing for deciding to destroy the Temple of Evil Chaos.

    In BW, we just formalize the process a bit so that when you choose a goal like that, you change a Belief to reflect it and so you'll be rewarded for pursuing it.

    Anyway, I'm not sure how our Burning THAC0 campaign would rate purity-wise on the sandbox scale, but it gives me the same feeling I used to get when exploring the Caves of Chaos or venturing forth from Hommlet to tackle the moathouse.

    We've begun as lowly adventurers in Threshold, braved the depths of Castle Caldwell, fought dinosaurs in both the Lost Vale of Hutaaka and the Isle of Dread, uprooted the Veiled Society in Specularum, stopped the invasion plans of the Black Eagle Baron, stopped a plague of zombies in Verge, explored lost pyramids in the sandy deserts of Yalarum, put one of our own on the throne of Rockhome, and stopped the plots of Shadow Elves in Alfheim.
  • Thor, your observations are really interesting to me. On the surface, my early D&D play strongly resembled the bit Johnstone referenced from the Red Box Vancouver blog, but I think what really grabbed me about D&D was the character narative, weak as the mechanical support for that was. One of my strongest memories about my longest running AD&D campaign is two characters who were brothers (as opposed to the two players who were brothers...), Haldo and Zilto. I also remember coming up with an adventure to let the PCs clear off an island for one of the players character's to build a stronghold on and then being pissed off at the player for bailing on the session.

    It has always struck me that Burning Wheel evolved from the mode of D&D play Thor talks about, giving mechanical weight to the types of player contribution that make this sort of play so much fun. When I look back on where the fun was in my past gaming, it always includes strong player contribution, yet with a strong GM role in providing the framework. Perhaps this style isn't meant by those who originated the sandbox term, but it's what I associate with sandbox, and as such, Burning Wheel strikes me as an ideal game for that style of play.

    Sadly, my recent experience (prior to the Burning Wheel group that I have just pulled together) has been more like what Johnstone suggests, with little player contribution (except a few notable times when players tried to force their contributions). It made me start to despair getting to that strong player contribution in a GM framed setting that I so enjoy. Seeking Burning Wheel players looks like it has finally provided me a way to hook up with such players.

    Frank
  • Ara, sorry for getting all mad and shit. Sadly, there are (at least) two very different play styles with the same name, which easily causes confusion. I think the term is of relatively recent usage, and Expert D&D wilderness encounters weren't called sandbox in the 80s. Could be wrong, though.
  • No problem. :) Hopefully I wasn't a complete ass.

    Thinking back on it it now I needed to ask a clarifying question(s), well two actually. 1) what you meant by wrong which you answered here 2) what you meant about sandbox goodness which is in your blog. So all is cool.

    What is really interesting from you post is that my play experience with D&D has been what you describe but only for what I would call location-based adventures.

    As soon as we move away from the location based into what I think of as sandbox (either wilderness or megadungeon) then player narration and backstory always came up in play. But what was odd was when we switch back into location based we moved back into the play you describe.

    So my frame of reference was a little off :)

    In regards to BW you can't (I least I think you can't) create a character that doesn't already have situation built in before the game starts which would gum up the works of the game play you laid out (which is a great summation of all the box sets).

    ara
  • Posted By: akooserWhat is really interesting from you post is that my play experience with D&D has been what you describe but only for what I would call location-based adventures.

    As soon as we move away from the location based into what I think of as sandbox (either wilderness or megadungeon) then player narration and backstory always came up in play. But what was odd was when we switch back into location based we moved back into the play you describe.

    So my frame of reference was a little off :)
    Ah! That's interesting. So, the DM has a map of a dungeon all plotted out and stocked with some random tables. Once the Dm has a few of these, he can pull out a hex map and plot out some wilderness, and place the dungeons on the map, and towns and other locations, and then grabs a bunch of random tables. So the wilderness map is really the same as a dungeon map, just with fewer walls. PCs can go anywhere they want inside a dungeon, just like they can go anywhere they want out in the wilderness.

    The difference is that with wilderness exploration, you're trying to avoid monsters in order to find dungeons, while in the dungeons, you're trying to avoid monsters in order to find treasure, which you use to level up. It's like another level of a dungeon -- a meta-level of the dungeon. It's still supposed to be "foreign territory" for the PCs.

    And of course the other difference is that because the two levels are differentiated, players treat them differently. Like your group did player narration and character back-story in the "wilderness" section, and then, I guess pure problem-solving play once you got into the dungeons?
    (I'm imagining you guys in the wilderness pondering stuff like "how can I get the princess to fall in love with me?" and "how can I get revenge on the duke?" and "my character has a flowing purple cape his mother made for him!" and then when you get into the dungeon it's all "how can we find the treasure?" and "how can we get out alive?" and "I've got the iron spikes, who brought the hammer?")

    Of course, if the DM has the whole hex map prepped, and all the dungeons on it are complete, and the PCs can wander around exploring it, that's the old-school sandbox style. It's a fuck of a lot of work, too. A DM might be tempted to switch to a method that requires less pre-play work, but that also might necessitate a change in play style, too.

    In the D&D-style, play goes like this:
    DM (looks down at his notes): Okay, you see some stuff. And some other stuff happens. And that's what's there. What do you do?
    Player (improvising): Oh, well I do this, and this, and this other thing.

    In Burning Wheel, play goes more like this:
    Player (looks down at his notes): Okay, I do this, and this, and this other thing. What happens?
    GM (improvising): Oh, well you see some stuff, and some other stuff happens.

    Or, more simply, D&D is where the players improvise based on what the DM has already thought up (a dungeon), and Burning Wheel is where the GM improvises based on what the players have already thought up (characters). If you try playing D&D in a BW style, you don't have enough of a character (at 1st level) for the DM to come up with challenging situations. If you play BW in an old-school D&D style, you don't get much out of the Beliefs-Artha-Advancement cycle, because the GM isn't improvising based on the players.

    (This is also just one way of comparing them. I wrote another post about how detailed characters in games that run like D&D annoy me, and why they're better in BW.)
  • ah ha. That totally makes sense. I need to process this a little more to come up with a better response.
  • That is a terrific and interesting synopsis of (many of) the differences between BW and D&D play.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: Johnstone

    Or, more simply, D&D is where the players improvise based on what the DM has already thought up (a dungeon), and Burning Wheel is where the GM improvises based on what the players have already thought up (characters). If you try playing D&D in a BW style, you don't have enough of a character (at 1st level) for the DM to come up with challenging situations. If you play BW in an old-school D&D style, you don't get much out of the Beliefs-Artha-Advancement cycle, because the GM isn't improvising based on the players.

    (This is also just one way of comparing them. I wrote another post about how detailed characters in games that run like D&D annoy me, and why they're better in BW.)
    That doesn't jibe up with my BW experience at all.

    It is entirely possible for a BW game to go like so:

    GM: We will be playing Scourge of the Slave Lords. The slavers have been marauding up and down the coast, taking slaves and selling them from their fort in the hills.

    Player: I'd like to play a good ole fashioned mercenary, hired to take out the slave lords by local lords.

    Player 2: I was thinking of playing a local lord, actually. Can I be the guy who hired you?

    Player: Sure.

    Player 3: I'm a local hunter who has begged on to the group that is hunting the slavers because my wife and children were taken while I was away on the hunt.

    GM: Sounds like we have a game. We will begin the game with you in sight of their fort, where they chain up the slaves they have taken locally in order to sell them.

    The GM can have maps, and slave lords burned up, ready to roll and the players have to link their beliefs and relationships to that pre-made stuff. World burning doesn't need to be a democratic hug-fest.

    There is a lot of room for world burning in an adventure the GM has in the can, ready to roll. In the example above, the player who burns up the local lord could take the place of an NPC Lord in the module or that NPC could become a part of a web of lords who rule the area on the coast. That player's relationships, reputations and affiliations are going to define a whole lot about the nobles of that area.
  • edited September 2010
    Posted By: JuddWorld burning doesn't need to be a democratic hug-fest.
    [...]
    That player's relationships, reputations and affiliations are going to define a whole lot about the nobles of that area.
    Those two don't seem completely compatible to me? The player obviously has a huge swag of power over what the NPCs are like, what the world is like, etc.

    Even if the GM comes to the table with a prepared world, the players are going to write beliefs based on that and infuse the world with situation. It's going to be the players and their characters that define the world and shape play. The GM must be addressing the players' Beliefs or the game will fail, no?

    But anyway, this is all about pre-play. I think the crux of Johnstone's post is talking about play.
    In BW the players (pro-)act based on their beliefs, maybe roll some dice, GM responds, improvises complications for failed rolls.
    In D&D the players wait for input from the GM, communicating his prep, and then respond, the results of their actions are often covered by prep.
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