Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sandbox or Jungle Gym?

You read about sandbox style play in RPG-land all the time. But are folks building jungle gyms instead? In an actual sandbox you have a bunch of sand, a shovel, a bucket and you make your fun with that. In a jungle gym there’s a spot for the swings, a couple places to climb, and a slide each sort of fun has a distinct spot and that’s the fun you can have there. I believe an awful lot of RPG sandboxes are actually jungle gyms: you want to kill orcs there are some in hex 1023, steal from a dragon go to hex 1131, climb the highest mountain it’s in hex 1710, where’s the sand, shovel, and bucket? 

In a sandbox everyone get to build castles, kingdoms, rivers, cities, and mountains. In the jungle gym the possibilities have been spelled out for you.

An excellent example between the sandbox and jungle gym can be seen in two works by the same author who has gotten some attention the past couple weeks in the blog-o-sphere. In Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown by Geoffrey McKinney we have two vast hexcrawls and one is a wicked sandbox the other a whimsical jungle gym.

In Carcosa we have a wicked landscape in a world where everyone is someone else’s resource. Character’s can be wandering survivors, defenders of man, or users. Success and failure is spelled out all over the map as various hexes hold resources needed to achieve success within the confines of the campaign. Many of the risks are there to open future possibilities.

In Isle of the Unkown we have a land populated by a host of wonders, strange monstrous beasts, and unusual residents. The hexes hold distractions and entertainment but little in the way of resources to really move the campaign along or to aid future ambitions. The risks are the reason to tackle the risks, they are a distraction and temporary piece of entertainment.

Is your campaign a sandbox or a jungle gym?


  1. I'm thinking it's probably closer to the jungle gym than the sandbox.

  2. I use encounter table more and dislike set locations because of all the hexes that get missed thus my d100 format - on my island there are at least 10 terrains around city some still have not been touched by players - i assume every hex has 1-3 dungeons some a dozen, many connected or connect to subterranean kingdoms - are both types mutually exclusive?

  3. I don't think Sandbox vs Jungle Gym is mutually exclusiive; in real life they work great right next to each other. In designing campaigns and adventures (and playing in them too) it wouldn't hurt to focus on what we are actually doing.

  4. Mine is a playground. Lots of stuff to play on, but also open space (and sandbox elements) to let you do your own thing. Want to find out what the decapitated talking statues are about? Great - that is part of my jungle gym element. Want to bribe the orcs and possibly organize them into your own army of darkness? Go for it. That's the sandbox element. But both co-exist. Not to say your analogy doesn't have some use for analysis, though, just that it might not be opposite poles.

  5. JD, thank you for this post. I think it adds a lot to the idea of sandbox. I believe the "sandbox" phrase has its origins in wargaming, rather than the sandbox of our childhoods. I think your new definition of "sandbox" as part of a "playground" has a great deal of value and is more accurate. I think my campaign is more of a "playground" of places. Maybe it's more of a "toolkit" or set of tinkertoys (or legos). This deserves more thought...