Actual Play

Sandbox, Take 1: March 4

I ran my first session of my new campaign this past weekend, beginning to test out how I was going to try running something in a sandbox. The result was unexpected for my players, and a learning experience for me.

By way of providing background, my current game is a “Greatest Hits” compilation of most of my previous Cyberpunk games coming back to haunt me. It’s an interesting setup because there are established relationships for most of the characters to at least one other character, and established relationships to the antagonist(s) for all of them. Because each character had a personality and a past, I expected the sandbox approach would work better here, because there would already be some direction and expectations of how the characters act.

I was right in one of two of these respects. The characters had established personalities, which made the first session a joy to watch, though it didn’t help with running it. I had done some work to start characters off in a direction, but what I did not anticipate (though it makes perfect sense) was information overload. I gave the players the background, a basic objective, and a couple of hints. However, there were so many different ways to solve the problem that the players could not make one decision. Indeed, they hashed out three different approaches which they want to try. This took four hours, and since one of the players had to leave at that point, the execution will happen next time.

For many GMs, I could see this as being unsatisfying, and I felt a little of that. However, despite feeling a bit of a letdown immediately after we ended, I realized something: my players had just argued, in character, for four hours. The characters were reintroduced, and they have clear personalities (re)evolving very quickly. And there’s an action plan that evolved out of nothing. Though I was willing to provide NPCs where appropriate (and guided by the GURPS Frequency of Appearance rolls), mostly it was my players coming up with the direction. And that’s the true meaning of a sandbox.

I’m finding it thrilling to let my players guide where this is going. I don’t know who the major NPCs are going to be yet, but I keep looking for opportunities to introduce them. I’m very excited. And it also helped that my players who had social characters were given a chance to shine right out of the box; I’m less concerned about making the gunmen wait their turn, they already know what the system has in store for them.

Overall? Things went well. I’m definitely looking forward to next weekend’s session.


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