Dark Sun Sandbox

Does anyone have suggestions for running Dark Sun as a sandbox style game?

For myself, I’ve been trying to create an OSR/sandbox style campaign that incorporates elements from some of the classic modules (which can be notoriously ‘railroady’). I put together a master table of rumors that tie back to modules or portions of modules. I provide players with the entire rumor table (six pages!) a couple of weeks before our session and ask them to pick 2-3 that seem interesting to them. Based on their choices I prep an adventure (or series of adventures).

Wondering what others have tried in terms of sandbox play in Dark Sun.


I don’t think will help you very much but I tried a sandbox style game for a single player. I drew up some very close up detailed maps of an area south of Tyr where I had the last pride of Wemics make their last stand against Kalidnay. I created about 15 factions in the area from a few slave tribes, a nobles retinue from Tyr, defiler enclave, gith tribes and others. I added about 3 maggufins left over from the cleansing war and well as large marauding creatures. The player was free to navigate between the various NPCs, ruins, and monsters in the area. In whatever order they wanted and because I had written such detailed accounts for everything and everyone I just made notes of the shifting balances of power where the player wasn’t interacting and of course with no railroading plot the player was free to do anything they wanted.

PS: the player ticked off a psionically slumbering Cyclops and was killed at level 8.


I run very open world games and the trick is to drop adventure hooks, way more than needed and even in the middle of other quests. It gives the feeling of a dynamic world that way and gives the players the option to form priorities in character. I try to be really clear that not everything is meant to be pursued and have a few ideas of what happens with the unresolved hooks.

If you have more than one game in the same time setting, you can actually then set up other parties accomplishing other tasks and adventures that affect the other game and vice versa.

If you tie this into character generation, be sure to ask for ideas for friends and foes in the background from each one and incorporate as needed. If you make the players use a tree, you can literally have them write a few dozen NPCs and foes and sometimes even a few hooks without ever needing to start real writing.

From here it’s a matter of how much of the modules and time frame in your game. Just be aware if some npc characters are older or younger and plan accordingly… will the psionatrix ever get activated, do you want to drop a quest relevant item earlier - like the water hammer, etc… and hint at the possibility of intersecting Dragon’s Crown in some form later…

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@Kalakoftyr that is both helpful and awesome! That’s must’ve been a fantastic experience for your solo player. Though, it also sounds like a lot of work on your side to prep the sandbox.
You’re making me realizing there are different ‘levels’ of sandbox, or perhaps its different levels of player agency? My approach was much more limited and less open ended than yours.
Maybe I should’ve started this discussion with a poll to see how many people run a ‘sandbox campaign’ though I’d first need to figure out what categories of sandbox to include as choices.

Another thing I do is have the players roll a d100 before the game starts for their main PC. I just use it as a baseline, but it determines something special the character starts with. At the high end (and especially in higher level games) it let’s me make or pick a minor magical or empowered item. At the low, perhaps tools that help a proficiency or survival (like poisoner’s gloves for a bard, a special helmet that filters dust or some trinket that provides a light save bonus). I write a brief couple line history for each of these and take in mind previous owners, etc… I always tag a bonus if they’ve worked a helluva background as well.

This way, the player can be rewarded with questioning the items they start with if they’re smart. Look into the history, get an object reading or in the case of empowered items, have a random NPC in a bottle that can be used to minor effect.

I find it keeps the game 3 dimensional and forces you to think about how the character has already fit into Athas.

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@Killer_DM I love the idea of building out your campaign world using input from character creation. One of the things the “Comprehensive Rumor Table” allowed me to do was to seed some information for future adventures (e.g. there could be a scrap of legend about The Skull of Dorag Thel which makes an appearance in Forest Maker – in a sword and sorcery style campaign that might even become the primary motivation for that adventure).
Good note on time tracking - though I tried to write the rumors so that they wouldn’t be outdated quickly, some definitely have a shelf life. The table itself would need to become a living document, and updated occasionally with additions, subtractions or modifications.

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Continuing to think about this it seems like there are three (?) main categories I’m trying to capture here.

Where do your adventures come from:

  • do you primarily run published adventures?
  • do you primarily run published adventures but only after heavily modifying them?
  • do you primarily run adventures you create yourself?

What level of agency do your players have:

  • they choose their own goals
  • the goal is based on the adventure but players have an infinite number of choices in how to achieve it
  • the goal is based on the adventure but players have multiple paths to reach it
  • the goal is based on the adventure, there is only one narrative path, but the players can make meaningful decisions on how to overcome each challenge along the way
  • the goal is based on the adventure, there is only one narrative path, and each challenge has only one solution

What is your mode as a GM:

  • prepare a single narrative path and run players through it
  • prepare a single narrative path and improvise if characters choose not to follow it
  • prepare multiple narrative paths depending on likely character choices
  • prepare a sandbox by defining locations, occupants, items and events and then let players wander around in it
  • prepare (or acquire) a series of procedural engines and create the adventure on the fly as you play it
  • improvise everything based on some vague ideas you have about the setting or what might happen this session

Actually, as I look at it, the first category may not be important or at least leaves out important choices that appear in the third category.


I have long used a 4 dimensional style campaign structure. I also use the 5 Sentence NPC method. Finally, I set the power of agency of player or character to be inviolate. Agency is being defined in the original sense: the authority and power of being an agent, in this case, unto one’s own self.

In response to the specific questions:

  1. I use published adventures as a backbone timeline for reference, and modify from there as appropriate to player desires and goals, drawing from many sources.
  2. Players in my games are invited to provide me with character backgrounds aka plot hooks. I also interview each player as to their hopes, dreams, and goals for the RP, the campaign, and their characters. What game system we use, and what genre we play, is determined by our collective choices, since I can run almost anything with confidence.
  3. As previously mentioned, I use a 4 dimensional method of GMing. I pick a published adventure as a Prime Temporal backbone for the campaign, if one exists that roughly matches the gestalt of the goals of all my players. If one does not exist, I create it by using whatever does exist that matches, and then filling in any places that need it. Then I use a map and place the rest of the adventures that seem appropriate around on the map. Then I cross-interface the timelines of the adventures with the Prime Temporal to create a 4 dimensional playing field, or what others might call a sandbox, but not nearly so limited as a sandbox. Finally the players are set loose using Temporal Prime as a starting point and baseline reference, and off they go.

Ah, one last point. Once my players are turned loose, I adjust current and future events across the map and timelines based on their actions, and progress as per the ‘unmodified’ timelines for all the other locations that they are not affecting.

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If anyone is interested in seeing my rumor table mashup, it should be available here now.