[RPG] DM organization ideas for Sandbox campaign


I have over the past couple months been putting together Ideas on how I would run an All Flesh Must Be Eaten campaign. How do other DMs organize their Bads or Locations that the PC's might wish to frequent?

My initial Ideas are to go mega-man style, giving them the options of all the "Generals:" Just plopping down a big map of the area and saying "You eventually want to be here, but it's up to you how you want to get there." Then have certain events would happen at certain places with "The big bad" of the area and however many "Minions" required, depending on how the party "Levels up" throughout the campaign. I think I would keep track of it all via a labeled binder with all the general locales, crudely drawn map, Big boss info, and the general stats of bad guys.

Best Answer

I almost invariably run sandbox games, what the players do is entirely up to them and the plot advances through NPCs no matter if they interact or not!

Before organising a big sandbox campaign where there are strategic targets I'd advise the following:

  • Talk to the players; see what they want from the game and enjoy. Do they like exploring? Fights? Mysteries? Terror? Slapstick? Diplomacy? This will give you a good basis for planning how they'll be moving around the big blank map and how they'll locate the big bad locations.

Getting to the location.

If they can't find out about the location, how can they shoot/bite/run away from it?

  • Maps can give clues, hints and the occasional red herring. Use them as a starting point to give players options, the last thing you want players to be doing is kicking their heels and wondering "Now what do we do?" That way lies bordom and annoyance for a sandbox.
  • Make sure they have plenty of leads, npcs, clues and backstory for stuff around the map; maybe not directly to the big bad things (see below) but things that are affected by the big bad things, things that can give clues, directions or resources to assist in the take down. These can all be pieced together like a jigsaw (or a missile launcher, depending on the campaign) so that the players can head to smackdown city.

Where do you put them?

There are several ways you can do "where is the big bad" depending on the type of campaign you want to run.

  • Blatant placing. Everyone knows where Mordor is. Do they go there? Hell no, it's a deathtrap. For this type of placement for big bad make sure that all signs point to super-death-city and the problem isn't find the place it's surviving getting in, surviving getting to the boss and taking the boss down. This level of power should be made very obvious to the players, previous attempts, stories, piles of mutilated marines, that sort of stuff.
  • Mystery placing. Where is it? What is it? There are minions of the big bad everywhere but where and how and who controls them is a total mystery. This can work very well with zombies because they're not big on being interrogated, so the location of the secret lair can be something they have to triangulate from wandering zombies, stories from dead heros and the like. What you have to be careful here is that they don't just randomly wander into it too quickly in the first place.
  • Level up placing. The lair of local leutenant McBadski is well known, from there you can find captain McBadski, from there you can find general McBadski and from there Overlord McBadSki. A much more linear way through the bosses, but still if the players work it they can skip some McBadSkis if they are smart. This also works if you have it so that "oh you need the McGuffin A from Badtown to unlock McGuffin B at nastytown where you can get the key to BigBossLand.
  • Multiple placing. There are several places where the big bad could be, this is step further on from the Mystery placing. It has to be one of them, but which? Processes of elimination and difficulty to get to, and if the players bizarrely pick the right one first time then make either switch them or sure they get a browbeating and then have to pick up resources from the others.