I’m Crawling, but am I in a Sandbox?


I see a lot of people use the term “sandbox” with very different tones. I see it used to describe games that are aimless journeys with no chance at meaningful character development. Alternatively, I see lots of content come out for sandbox adventures. I see sandbox prep as a solution to complaints about “railroad” stories or instances when the GM is strictly controlling the plot.

I have lots of books about Sandboxes, namely:

I am not sure if I know what a “sandbox” really is. It seems like people use it for a lot of different things. If it exists along a spectrum, what is on the other side?

I think that the core concept of a “sandbox” for me is the idea that the GM spends time prepping materials that can be used regardless of what players end up doing.

“Oh you want to go to the tiny settlement that I didn’t actually name instead of the major town that all my plot hooks are pointing you towards? Good thing I am running this sandbox.”

I think that sandbox prep involves writing random tables, npc names, rumors, random adventure hooks, npc’s to meet on the road, or whatever other events, characters, locations, etc. you want to have populating your world. But does sandbox prep have to be random? 

Is the opposite of sandbox prep, then, to read and run a module without considering these other things? How can a point-crawl also be a sandbox?

Aaron Griffin theorized that “all games are sandboxes,” in the sense that there is always an amount of the infinite that is possible. Instead, Aaron postulated that a more useful axis would have GM-driven plot at one end and player-driven plot at the other.

That spectrum makes sense to me, with module or scenario prep being GM-driven prep and sandbox prep allowing for the GM to have content regardless of whatever the players decide to do.

What does sandbox mean to you?