Sunday, September 13, 2009

4e Sandboxing

I've been reading a fair bit about the railroad-sandbox dichotomy lately. Like most things on the internet, both sides of the argument are exaggerating to make their point. There is no reason that a sandbox can't have a plot, and no reason that a railroad can't have organically-growing spits and turnings.

I've also been reading a lot about the whole balanced encounter "problem". Of course, there is no problem, just exaggeration in order to argue against or denigrate other people. It's purely ridiculous for any DM to assert that they don't balance things somewhat. They don't ring the town with dragons, and they provide a mix of creature levels throughout the game environment. So they balance things, if not on an encounter-by-encounter basis.

Personally, I like the idea of being able to "balance" encounters, because it helps me fulfil my basic goal as a DM, which is to ensure that everyone has a good time. This is a role-playing GAME after all. I play sports for competition, I rescue people from car accidents to fulfil my community duties, and I play games for fun.

Having the ability to balance encounters doesn't mean that each encounter will be "balanced" - that's another exaggeration, spread by people who want to argue that their style is better. What it means is that I get some surety about the actual difficulty level of the encounter. Fine-edged control, rather than the semi-blunt spray and pray methods of many previous RPG's that I have played.

I, rather than luck, decide how tough I want a given encounter to be. This also lets me put in the appropriate "watch the fuck out" warnings in place. Again, something that sandbox purists may say isn't something they do, but which I consider essential for ensuring that I'm not that asshole DM that nobody will play with.

This section of the blog is going to be largely a design journal for my ongoing on-line campaign. We're running the game using Maptools and Skype, with Doodle for scheduling and MSN for private messaging. I'll be talking about encounter design, sandboxing, developing plot lines and working with online tools.

If anyone would like to read session summaries and more information about the actual campaign, go to