Sandbox in Space

Daedalus-class Last week I posted about my plans to run a Star Trek game sometime in the future. Focus of the campaign will be the adventures of the USS Daedalus (the first ship of the Daedalus-class) and its crew. The campaign begins shortly after the Enterprise TV series ends. Currently I am not 100% sure if the Earth-Romulan war shall be part of the campaign or already history. But even if the war is part of the campaign it’s just supposed to be the prelude to a larger sandbox campaign.

Sandbox campaigns are quite popular when running old-school games and in my opinion they are a good fit for a Star Trek game. Although the Captain of the USS Daedalus will have been given a mission by Starfleet Command, he or she is pretty much acting on their own for the most part. Subspace communication does not always work that great, so space ship captains have to make decisions without getting specific orders from Starfleet. And I thought it would be best to provide my players with the same freedom.

Although exploration should be one of the themes of the campaign, I think the players should have a basic idea of what kind of systems they will encounter on their travels. That’s why I probably start by creating a map of the sector of space the USS Daedalus will operate in. Of course it will not be 100% accurate and there might be enough room of improvisation if needed. Perhaps the map the players will be provided with is an old Vulcan star chart. Since they never bothered to closely examine every single system, there’s still a lot to explore.

Whenever the players are unsure what to do next, I can easily throw in a premade mission. But the rest of the time I’ll try not to railroad the players in any way. The space sector they are exploring should be like a living and breathing world (or rather worlds) where events happen even when the players are not looking.

That said I have never actually run a real sandbox game before. So while the idea of a “sandbox in space” sounds like a fun thing to do, it may utterly fail when I try to run it. If you have any tips on running a sandbox game in the SF genre, feel free to post your advice below.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

5 thoughts on “Sandbox in Space”

  1. Although I'm not a huge fan of molding my tabletop games around computer games, I think the recent Mass Effect video game series did space sandbox fairly well. There was an overarching mission to complete, but it had no time limit. Otherwise the starmap could be explored at the player's leisure.

    I think setting up a sector map ( makes me shiver with excitement for this) with general details of each planet and some premade encounters would be great. Then the players can warp around and do whatever they want.

    Some random elements can make the exploration even more exciting (for both the players and GM). I personally like the ship maintenance and upkeep aspect of space games, but that could be glossed over if it doesn't interest the players.

    To me the real appeal of sandbox games is saying "Here are your characters, here is your ship, here is the galaxy. And go!" while still being able to have exciting, memorable, unique encounters. Basically like playing through the season of the Firefly TV series (or innumerable others) where each episode is a nightly session.

  2. I am not fit to hand out advice. Even on the most sandboxy games I run there are still plots and conspiracies and back stories, the players can select to involve themselves or not, but I am awful at that type of game. There is also the problem, where we have played together for so long that I think my players are a little lost when I leave them in the wind without some clear plot hooks laying around.

    Here is a new challenge to tackle. My planned sci-fi campaign may be the place to do this…

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