- How to make a Fantasy Sandbox (main article)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part I (covers Step 1)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part II (covers Step 2,3, & 4)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part III (covers Step 5,6,7,8,9, & 10)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part IV (covers Step 11, 12, & 13)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part V (covers Step 14, & 15)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VI (covers Step 16)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VII (covers Step 17)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part VIII (covers Step 18, 19, & 20)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part IX (covers Step 21)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part X (covers Step 22)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XI (covers Step 23)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XII (covers part of Step 24)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XIII (covers part of Step 24)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XIV (covers part of Step 24)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XV (covers part of Step 24)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVI (covers part of Step 24)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVII (covers Step 25)
- A Fantasy Sandbox in detail Part XVIII (covers part of Step 26)
This was based on an earlier tutorial of his, aimed at Traveller GMs, that was called: How to Make a Traveller Sandbox. The earlier tutorial is not quite so useful for Spelljammer (as the sort of maps you generate for Traveller are totally different from the more free-form way that crystal spheres fit together), but I think there could be inspiration from here too.
What I really wanted to see when I bought SJR4 Practical Planetology has turned out to be the sort of thing that Robert has knocked up for free on his blog!
And the expanded, follow up articles, take the individual steps and add in that essential "nerd level" detail that makes each step much easier to understand. To illustrate the process, he provides a walk-through where he builds a world (or parts of a world) as he goes through his own steps.
"How to make a Fantasy Sandbox" is apparently the system Robert S Conley used to help knock out worlds for the Points of Light setting. It is amazing to be given a behind the scenes look at the design process. There is a possibility that Bat in the Attic might be turning "How to make a Fantasy Sandbox" into a commercial product (at some point). If that happens, I think it is going to be something that would really help GMs who need to learn how to knock out new fantasy worlds that seem as three dimensional as commercial role playing settings. And I certainly think that it would join HackJammer as something that would be a must have add on to the original Spelljammer Campaign Setting product line.
One of the things that I find really interesting is the way that Robert uses a big world map to get the overall context (including working out where desert areas should be), then zooms into an area of that map that provides the sort of environment he needs and then uses hex mapping to help keep a track of all the small details.
Another thing that I find really interesting is those hex maps. I've got to say that I've never been a fan of hex maps. I've always thought they look a bit clunky and I've really preferred the way that recent MWP maps of Krynn have been tweeked to make the 60 degree roads look a little bit less obvious. But the hex maps Robert is using here really do seem to help Robert to get the world built. I'm going to need to look at my own opinion and see if I need to review it. It is just possible that if I used hex maps as a stepping stone to later designing a non-hex map, that I could make a far more effective map. This has been a particular "wow" moment for me.
Following the detail of the process, at first it looks like Robert is randomly hopping from encounter charts, maps and writing short sections of fluff (or crunch), but when you actually step back and look at the original 34 step article you can see that this is actually a really brilliant way to ensure that you build a world that works...rather than build a world that has a cool theme, but ends up having some sort of hidden flaw that you don't notice until half-way through the design process.
Following the Sandbox method, it seems like you are forced to toss in adventure opportunities, knock out history structure and build plots that tie areas together, as you go along. So if you actually try to create the sort of two-dimensional planets that we have seen in a few of the Spelljammer products, the Sandbox process, should prod you into making improvements that do nothing to take away the major themes you want to imply, but encourage you to enhance your themes with other secondary themes that will make your world a lot more workable.
The "hopping" around is actually the process that makes sure you do all the work on the different parts of your world as you go along. I suppose it is kind of like making a cake. You add in a town, a mountain and a dangerous forest and you give it a few stirs to start to mix it up. Then you add in some races and political factions and do some more stirring. I won't say that it is impossible to build a world with a vital ingredient missing, but I think the "hopping" manoeuvres would really show up the fact that your world was a "one trick pony" planet and I think that would be an early warning that would allow you to add in other stuff. More importantly, if you add in the extra stuff at this stage, it is not going to look tacked on as it will be integrated into the entire theme.
Looking at the entire process, this would seem to be something that you could use to create an entire standalone campaign setting or something that could be used to expand any canon SJ planet into an entire standalone campaign setting...which is exactly the sort of feel I've been wanting to see in SJ planets. Maybe we don't have time to create the entire planets, but with a world map and a process of building different landing sites if the players want to go elsewhere, I think we could easily use this as a way to design standard worlds (or moons) of the earth body type.
The only possible disadvantage with this process is that it is going to make our attempts to design water worlds, air worlds and fire worlds seem less good than our earth world designs. But I think we may be able to have a look at the individual tutorials and talk over what we would need to change to deal with planets of different elements.
LAST EDIT: Tutorials XVIII added.