Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Wargaming and the sandbox

I've been considering how wargaming affected the beginnings of our hobby and how it affected how we approach the game today. This all started from my almost virulent reaction to the 1st edition TSR supplement - "Dungeon Master's Design Kit". The kit codifies a "railroad" approach to adventure writing, and provides forms, tables and suggestions. As a possible toolkit, for my way of gaming, it stinks. I can find some possible adventure hooks, and it gives me some bits to think about - but as an adventure or world building guide, it's nothing that I need or want.

I'm going to write up a review of the DMKit later, but I wanted to talk more about "sandboxes". So I typed up a big long post and realized it was complete rubbish. Garbage. It deserved a "SHUT UP CHGOWIZ!" response... so here's my second attempt.

What I wanted to say essentially came down to a simple statement: Wargamers play "what-if" without plots or railroads. They explore a war or part of a war, but without limits or predetermined plot points. That's what the early D&D campaigns, written by wargamers, looked like.

I think that is why I have enjoyed sandbox campaigns so much. I like seeing my players do "what-if" without them worrying if they're on the railroad or not. Their exploration IS the plot and once they grok to that, I see a lot of excitement - as well as accepting responsibility for moving their own game forward in the direction they want.

I think something was/is lost when the emphasis became on plots and "have to do A to get to B", like the DMKit from 1988 codified. I would really like to see the DM Kit redone to support a sandbox. There have been bits and pieces done in Fight On! and in the blogs. Perhaps that should be the next "carnival" or "book" - Game Referee's Sandbox Design Kit.

TWO DAYS ARE LEFT! Sharpen your pencils, get out the graph paper and enter the One Page Dungeon Contest! A "metric ton" of awesome prizes awaits those who dare! Contest ends May 14th.


Sham aka Dave said...

I'm writing a post which addresses the elements which formed D&D. Wargames not only affected D&D, but defined it. Two essential facets were taken directly from wargaming; the ongoing sessions (campaigns), and combat simulation (the rules).

The conflux of wargame campaigns, wargame rules, role-playing and fantasy literature formed D&D. Toss out fantasy literature and you have the basis of the entire genre.

Thumbs up on this theme, Chgowiz!

I agree with your observations in regard to the early D&D games. Wargamers often recreated historical scenarios, but the outcome was determined during play, not beforehand.

trollsmyth said...

Hmmm... A sandbox tool-kit? Neat idea. What all do you see that should go in it?

Mark said...

What a coincidence - I just saw this supplement for the first time on eBay yesterday. Given that by 1988 I was heavily into WFRP and had pretty much abandoned AD&D 1st edition, I had no idea that this product existed.

I was going to send a link to the auction to some of the "Old School D&D" blogs like yours or Grognardia as a source of inspiration for a future article or review.

Funny how life works like that sometimes...

Gothridge Manor said...

With Rob as a GM we do sandbox-style most of the time. Currently we are running through a campaign where the events are set, but we have the chance to alter them. I speak alot about expectations of gaming sessions. Normally I don't like the plot point stories, but I am willing to go on the ride as long as I trust the DM. Nothing aggrivates me more than getting into a good story and having it just end. Ahla, Firefly, Carnival as examples.

So Chgowiz are you going to volunteer to write up the Sandbox Tool-Kit? I would place my order now it you like. Just don't Duke Nuke'm Forever me.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Sham - you and I are going to end up echoing each other. I had this long post and I was repeating what I'd written earlier.

I also think there's a third facet - the concept of "go where you want" - open-ended in the game as well as ongoing sessions. Wargamers tend to do 'what-if' - I love to do that in my wargames.

@trollsmyth/Tim - Calithena has done some of this in Fight On! issues already. I'm not sure I could do much better than he's already done?

@Mark - thanks for thinking of us! I bought it off of Ebay as well and was highly disappointed. I should review this in the next couple of days as an "anti-sandbox" toolkit.

Player of Kee said...

I lurved the DM's Toolbox. Didn't use it for gaming much, other than character hooks and general "quests", but it sparked a lot of storylines for creative writing! YMMV, of course.

Will Douglas said...

I loved the DM's Toolkit -- at first. And then I used it a few times and realized that I never liked the results it gave me.

Of course, at that time I had never heard the term "railroad", but now I have and realize that's exactly what it was doing. No wonder the results weren't what I wanted.

verification word: nessies

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Kee - for those who enjoyed the plot driven story path adventures of the mid80s on, it's a great resource. And I can see why it would help with creative writing.

@Will - agreed. I had high hopes, but never expected this. It took only the first introduction and dimissal of random encounter/event charts to make me realize what I had purchased.