Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sandbox vs. Railroad -- the time factor

Like many GMs, I like being prepared for my games.

What that means these days is quite a bit different that what it used to mean.

In the old days, I used to spend hours upon hours writing out scenarios, creating detailed maps, making NPCs, etc.

These days, I'm happy to wing it.  I usually have a map (often borrowed off the interwebs) and a vague key.  The rest I just make up on the spot.

In the old days, my players were probably railroaded a bit, but they didn't seem to mind.  Nowadays, beyond the giant megadungeon, I'm fine with the sandbox.  The players can do what they want.

Here's the rub -- I'm finding myself being very conscious of time spent at the table.  I always feel rushed.  Because I never know what they are going to do, I don't have the minis I decide to use (or randomly roll up) ready at the table.  Because they can go left or right or back, I don't have the exact terrain or dungeon tiles ready.  I have to scramble to pull it all together.

In the old days, I'd just gather all this up ahead of time and the players would knock it all down in sequence like bowling pins.  Things seemed to be smoother AT THE TABLE.

Now, its not that I'm disorganized.  I have MANY plastic bins with all my minis in them.  The bins are labeled and I have a good sense of where things are.  I have multiple battlemats and multiple sets of dungeon tiles.  I have markers, pens, lots of dice, props, etc.

Its just that if they do something and I need an ogre mage, five trolls, a chest, a fountain, a bridge, two magic circles and a wyvern -- it'll take a minute to pull it together!

I've decided that tomorrow night, I'll discuss this with my players.  Maybe the perception is all mine.  Maybe they're fine with the slight delays.  Maybe they'd prefer more tracks and less freedom.

We shall see.

What do you all do to prepare for your games?


Anonymous said...



Christopher Letzelter said...

Unfortunately, I'm like you used to be - I spend a huge amount of time considering, planning, mapping, keying, revising, publishing, then setting up for the session. Things progress well at the table, but when everything's done, I'm writing up the CJ, reconsidering and typing up addenda to the published adventure to compensate for the party's actions during the session.
But I do love it, and here's why: I'm an artist and I love to create, but I really enjoy experiencing how other interact with my creation. So the game is a creative outlet for me, which is then turned into something different and surprising by the players. My NPCs and monsters, if they survive, now have to respond, react, and strategize, making my creation come alive without my direction.
So, when the party messes up my plans, I'm kind of glad, because it's now more vibrant and creative than when it was just ideas in my head.
Thanks, for the topic!
ChrisL/Anachronistes on DF

Jim said...

@Anon -- LOL!

@Christopher -- I do enjoy the making and then the players messing around. I'm often just so busy, I find I want to spend my minutes in the most effective manner. Thanks for the food for thought!