On paper, a complete wilderness adventure sounds great! Wandering around blind, not knowing where in the hell you are going, or really what you are looking for. In actual play, this was SLOW!!!! So slow that I was getting bored, and it was all the same thing. I thought that it would be fun, but plotting a coarse and deciding of where to go that day is frickin boring! I don't know if it was my fault, or if I did something wrong, or what. I thought about it! I really did. How can I spice this up? But with such a large map to explore, I really couldn't prep anything or describe a scene more clearer then what I was. I really didn't want to spend too much time talking about a day where nothing happens. I did give the place a lot of sounds and smells, but the players weren't all that interested, and I kept failing my random encounter checks.
His post serves as a cautionary tale about what to avoid in a sandbox campaign. It seems Ripper X was a little too wedded to the sandbox concept and could probably have been a bit more liberal with his random encounters (as in, fudge the die rolls so they actually happen, or adjust the rules so you’re rolling more frequently) without infringing too much on the spirit of the game. Moreover, it’s important to note that sandbox games are defined by their lack of a linear plot — but not necessarily their lack of story. Time spent exploring should be time well spent; the PCs should learn something important about the area, uncover a villain or stumble across a previously unknown map feature.
Plus, those villages aren’t just set pieces. The natives travel the lands, send out patrols, hunt, trade, etc. There’s no reason why a large percentage of ‘em can’t be on the move, thus increasing the chances that the party might encounter them. The island itself was a bit limiting — it’s a finite bit of territory, and if you treat the published module as canon, it’s entirely possible for the players to bumble their way through the least-interesting parts of the map.
I say all this not to condemn Ripper X — quite the contrary. I’m glad he posted his concerns, because I’m running a sandbox campaign myself, and any wisdom that can help me avoid such pitfalls is useful. I’d be grateful for any advice from DMs out there: What have you gotten right or wrong in your sandbox game?