What are the best Sandbox RPG products and why?

Spending lots of time in the last few months researching RPG products, blogs, forums and what gamers like I’ve determined that I’m an OSR-Sandbox kind of gamer. What has become interesting is the games that I’ve purchased all reflect this, to various degrees, without me even realising until I started writing this post.

MERP – although it is solidly in another’s very famous world it is presented as a massive Sandbox ready for gaming glory.

Battlelords of the 23rd Century – a multi-galactic setting waiting for you to populate it with all the seeds of information and flavour from just the core book.

Rolemaster – doesn’t even come with a world!

Warhammer FRP 1st Ed. – a massive grim world of perilous adventure! There’s lots of gaps with guidelines for ways to fill them between cities and wild lands empty for your artistic GM brush.

SLA Industries – a planetary urban sprawl with Cannibal Sectors, ruins, and mega-dungeons and not a single map.

SLA Industries

All this brings me to ask of you: what are the best Sandbox RPG products and why are they best? What makes a product capture your attention? How do you decide if you’ll purchase an RPG Sandbox product?

For me it’s something that oozes “potential”. It has a clear world that operates along familiar daily patterns. And it has events & ongoing actions that are exciting, even if more than a little dangerous.

What are the best Sandbox RPG products and why?

OSR?

OSR, Old School Roleplaying, seems to be gaining some kind of resurgence. I think it’s that the hobby has hit “middle age”. Yes, that sad old time when people remember their earnest and energetic fumblings through life as adolescents devoid of responsibility and any wisdom about what they don’t know but applied to RPGs.

“I want to game like that again!” is the motivation behind it. “Internal consistency, feh, emotive characters, meh, logic, what-evah!”

Well, that may be overly condensing the sentiments but that does not mean it comes from different broth.

It is unfortunately like going back to the TV shows of your early years and getting excited only to realise how terrible ($#!t) they actually are. I wouldn’t force anyone through the “Rat Patrol” but I loved it in primary school. I wouldn’t put anybody through re-runs of Macross wtih Minmei’s horrible singing but it was awesome as a young teenager. And I certainly will neve make the mistake a former friend made of again watching Battlestar Galactica and A-Team from the 80’s. I think my eyes would bleed as my suspension of disbelief snapped back in a thermo-logic-fusion-explosion.

Underlying this push to get back the magic of roleplaying is the realisation that things have mutated past their essence. Games are less about fun and more about agenda. Rules are about being simple, or sharing narrative control, or consistent in resolution mechanic for all things. The fact remains that all the rules have to do is resolve conflict at the table within the game world in a consistently understood manner. Everything else is fluff (which should never be confused with flavour: as unfortunately it often is).

OSR is a slightly complex movement to try and have fun with roleplaying again. If that’s kill things and take the stuff, or sandbox gaming, or chains of modules ending in godhood, so be it. Just know what you want out of gaming and have the courage to pursue it as a group. Abandon the post-modernist trap of naming tropes and plot-devices to take away their power. Work together at the table towards the experience you want to share. But most importantly of all, get on the same page about expectation and investment, so you can actually have a fun game together.

OSR?