See for me, I AGREE that sandboxes should be "living/breathing/moving" things...that's exactly WHY I say they're a crap-ton of work! Or as I said in my whole quote:JB, I think you're overestimating how much work is involved - it's not as much as you might think, or made it be in your previous games.
"It requires a crap-ton of energy on the DM’s part to keep the campaign world LIVING/BREATHING/EVOLVING/RESOLVING..."
See? The work (and I'm just as lazy as the rest of y'all if not moreso) comes from trying to make a "living world;" that and the "keeping a couple steps ahead" of my players...which I don't do.
The living/breathing world is a combination of how I see the world and how the players see the world. In so many ways, the players themselves shape the coming adventures. And while this may involve writing a sentence or two in a notebook as compared to the work of:
Players were expected to play their character/role in whatever scenario (I hesitate to even call them “adventures”) that the DM devised. The DM was expected to come up with adventures.I'd be willing to bet it's about the same amount of time. In truth, the time I spend ends up being more reactive than proactive.
Here's an example - I had a dungeon full of ko-balds in an area held by ko-balds. The players wiped them out. A few weeks later, the players wanted to go back. I grabbed an encounter table and rolled up an owlbear and goblins. Since goblins are in the next forest over, and once the owlbear was killed by the freaked out players, the players wondered out loud if the goblins were going to move in. BOOM! There's my future story line "GOBLINS MOVE INTO FORMER KOBOLD BASE - WAR IMMENENT?" That added flavor and set up stuff for the future.
My point is that staying ahead of the players, for me, has been a combination of some prep (probably about the same time it takes to prep a module or grab the latest ScoobyDo adventure and rewrite it in fantasy format) and more of figuring out how the world reacts to the players. I listen to how the players see the world and it helps me to guide my hand. It's not always the truth - my players have come up with some crazy shit that just doesn't fit the bill, but that's OK. Heroes often get derailed on red herrings and I'll let them, they'll figure it out.
There's another quote I want to pull and this one is from Matt Finch's first adventure design book. I'm bastardizing it a bit, but it's the same jist: "Meaningful player decisions should have meaningful results." (Actually, his full quote is: "A good adventure should maximize meaningful player decisions." but you can see how I derived my interpretation.)
The players guide the sandbox a lot more than I let on because that's my job. I'm a con artist. I'm a scammer. I have this great sandbox with all the pieces, but in truth, the players do as much of the building as I do, through the things they do, or the things they don't do. I'm not some improv wizard, if I was, I'd be making money in comedy than being a boring IT manager. When my players make meaningful decisions, I want it have consequences, even if not right away, but it will in the future.
So what constitutes a meaningful decision? Well, that's one of those things that each DM and each player is going to differ on. For me, meaningful decisions involve - where are the players going? How do they interact with the elements of the destination (monsters, important objects)? What do their actions result in? What would be the reaction of all those involved who are not PCs?
Each adventure is not a meaningful decision kind of adventure in a world sense. Sometimes a "kick the door, grab the loot, kill 'em all" is exactly that. That doesn't mean that the weird sword someone grabbed from a kill/loot game now doesn't have meaningful results later on. It could. I planted a magic sword a long time ago and then in a place of Chaos, it shattered. Nobody has asked why, or what to do, or how to pursue it, so it remains open, but there's that potential. I'm not going to beat the players about the head with it, but at the same time, that thread is there. It's a line in my notebook.
This is a long winded way of saying that the two steps ahead thing and the Just In Time creation doesn't have to be about DM skill in crafting worlds - it can be just as simple as letting the players do what they do best and then letting the world react to that. And if you really need inspiration, grab that d12. 1-2, the world reacts badly, 3-5 the world is unhappy, but waiting, 5-7, the world is neutal, doesn't care, 8-10 the world is OK, but wants to see more, 11-12 it's the best outcome for the players' interest. Done. Next!
Whew. OK, JB continues...
And while I WANT my players to be independent and "go off doing their own things," I have a shit-hard time reconciling MULTIPLE players wanting to do DIFFERENT things at once...ESPECIALLY in a campaign world where the "maps" are static, even if the "world" is not.Uhh, don't. Let them do it. It's not your job. You set the stage. They play in it. If they want to go in different directions, LET THEM! They'll figure it out, or they won't. Either way, you've done your job and you'll do your job as impartial referee.
Here's yet another example.
I have two main themes in my world - Chaos (the Dark Ones) is on the rise and the Bestials (orcs, goblyns, ko-balds) are wanting to kick human ass. My third theme is "you need gold. Lots of gold. There's riches out there. Go get it." but it's not the main oppositional them.
The first two YEARS of my campaign have seen the players wander from goal to goal. First, they wanted to clear out the monastery. No, they wanted to raid the ancient dwarf mine/kobold outpost. Wait, no, they want to explore the woods and rescue New Hope. No, wait, let's dig through the Inn and find the rumored magic sword. No, wait, wait... there's a second level the dwarf mines. Let's loot it! No, I found a map to a gold mine out in the Plains of Irecia. Let's go there! No, no, we should find my god's holy site! No, the chaos is stronger in the monastery, we have to clear it!
You get the point. :) They've finally focused lately and it shows. They've decided the orcs are too powerful right now and they want to eliminate the nearer threat of the chaos under the monastery.
And that's OK. They wandered, they had a good time, they learned and their skills as players have improved. My skill as a DM has hopefully improved.
Please forgive the length of this post, but there's another aspect I want to explore from JB's reply:
I was writing how they don't work for ME (at least the last three or four I've tried), and how there may be another "primitive" way of playing that still has some merits.When I read your post yesterday, my goal in the rebuttal was to address the underlying myths that get perpetuated, you just happened to hit a crap ton of them. There's no way in hell I can judge you for being a good or bad DM unless I play in your game, so I tried to be real careful about not coming at you, but at the underlying themes.
I think it's cool that you guys all do the sandbox thing...I think you have a lot of good tips for a newbie sandboxer like myself. So long as my players get to develop their own characters over time...strange as it might sound (coming from me) that's what I prefer to see more than the development of a campaign "world."
I think all good or skilled DMs have that same approach - allowing the players to develop their characters. I know I do. I'm perfectly happy to let the players farm mustard, go genocidal on the countryside or even let Enonia burn while they set up their own new town. I've been happy to let them figure their world out for the last 28 months because it's been fun, we've all been learning and we all are getting invested in what we do. That's independent of how we construct the world we all play in.
I'd also like to say that there is no primitive way, no better way, no ONETWUEWAY of making a world tick. Sandbox is a tool, just like story telling is another tool. I've happily and liberally stolen as much shit as I can from all the blogs I read and all the games that I've watched or played in. Every DM has their thing that works and their thing that doesn't. I know that each game I walk away from, I feel like there's a dozen things I could do better. I could describe rooms/exits/layouts better. I could set better atmosphere. Hell, my fucking combat rounds sometimes are like keystone kops because I get so excited about fighting that Philotomy's sequence falls out my ass and I can't remember who is doing what. But I try to learn and improve my skills.
We keep coming back to that skill thing - and each style of play takes a skill but I think all these skills can be learned. It may not be easy, but it's worth the attempt, if you're interested. I have about zero interest in running a plot-driven campaign, but I will stick my toe in it now and then to see what I can learn from the experience. If you don't like sandboxes, think they're shit, cool... but I hope you learn something from learning about them. To me, that's no different than trying new video games to learn tricks, or trying a new sport to exercise a different part of the body. I'm a firm believer that if we don't push at the envelope, we don't grow, we don't find new areas to explore - and that at the end of the day is what drives me to do the things I do... to grow, to learn, to learn new things and express the crap in my head in new ways.
Well, if you read all the way through, you're a trooper and thanks for hanging in there.
 Not that JB isn't civil, but my experiences in the past haven't been so good on these in other areas, so this was nice that I could say "bullshit" and someone got what I was saying. :)