Seize the GM
Seize the GM
Sandbox Adventures vs. Structured Adventures

Main Topic

So once you start working on individual adventures in your game there are a few terms thrown around. The big ones are Sandbox and Structured. What do they mean and what are the differences and advantages of either one. They are pretty easy to define, the structured adventure is all laid out in the order that events need to happen. Whereas the Sandbox has a bunch of bits that exist in the game world and if the party finds things they find them. 

So the differences are pretty obvious from the definitions as we have laid out. There is more to each of them though. Structured adventures are frequently used in published adventures and players have a frame of reference for them. Sandbox adventures, though, are much rarer in older games and were more used as the Setting books.  Don’t mistake a Structured adventure for railroading your players nor should you think a Sandbox style has no guardrails.  It relates back to the appearance of agency we discussed in GM-Centric and Player-centric campaign design – Sandbox structures lend themselves more naturally to GM-Centric design while the episodic and serial nature of Structured adventures makes it easy to work the Player-Centric design in.  

Benefits of running a structured adventure is a thing we like to call time. You can just prepare the parts that you need for the session you are getting ready to run. As well as knowing the parts they are going to interact with means you can have the setup so you can bring a fully immersive game session. The ability to make it feel like you have known all along just how things will play out can make it cool. If you run an adventure a few times you will have been able to get the nuances down and make the session really memorable. 

Benefits of running a Sandbox adventure is about your creativity.  Because of the work put in to make the larger “sandbox” populated, the chance to tell a story or showcase a theme is much more easily done without a large wooden mallet labeled “HINT”. A well built sandbox creates an engaging and memorable world where multiple adventures can occur. 

Stat Blocks


Steelepoint: a dark reflection

The town of Steelepoint is a dark version of what you expect from a western expansion town. The main road thru town is a dusty straight line. There is a massive coffin maker in town.  Most of the buildings are shody and rundown. But the Saloon and gambling hall is a massive, clean and new looking building. The girls and guys hanging from the railing, calling out to passersby, are barely clothed. The clap of 2 gunshots ring out from a sidestreet and then a wounded man crawls out of the alley. Followed by a woman with a gunslinger rig on and a smoking pistol in hand. Then as she walks by she puts a single shot in his head. 

As you walk by the dying man you notice not a single drop of blood. But there is a spray of wires in the two holes in the machine. After a few seconds the hologram reworks into a different character in the city. He sits up dusting himself off and stumbles back toward the saloon. Once he disappears through the doors the illusion of what he is has become its new reality. Welcome to the town of Steelepoint, a haven for those that want to live in an illusion of what the old west was like. But with modern conveniences to keep things from becoming too real. 

How to Use Steelepoint in Game:

You can just drop Steelepoint in to a western style game and leave out the tech elements. Or it could be completely virtual or a strange real world place. Or what if it was a zoo aliens made for mankind. Let your imagination run wild since it is the Wild West. 


The Devil’s Train

Screams.  A pitched whistle pierces the moonless night.  And you fight your instinct to run

The ground rumbles.  Stones pop like water on a hot skillet.

Then you see it.

First the grey steam plume.  Tortured faces camouflaged within the undulating grey clouds.

Then the red headlight.  However it doesn’t seem like a normal light with a red filter.  You get an uneasy feeling, has the headlight devoured every colour aside from red and black?  You’re unsure.  

You now make out the shape of the engine.  And you know now that it’s too late to run.  

The wheels whine and strain as the metal behemoth comes to a stop.

Heat radiates from every inch.  But the environment around doesn’t seem to be affected at all.  The air feels dry and your eyes itch. Dust, steam, and debris whirl around you.  You feel phantom sensations all over.  Scratches, caresses, pinches and jabs.

You shake your head for a second to focus.

Then you lay eyes on the conductor.  Sharply dressed.  Eerily clean. The soot seems to land on him and get absorbed by the black void of his coat.  

He doffs his cap with a slight bow and gestures to a placard riveted to the side of the engine

“All you want in life for price of your soul

All the money you can fold, power that you can hold

I’ll put you in control

Only if you’re down to roll down these train tracks tonight”

When you’ve finished reading, you hear a voice in your left ear, and in your head simultaneously. 

“Where we gonna go?”

How to Use the Devil’s Train in Game:

This can be used as a plot hook for something weird west.  Or if your characters are taking a turn for the evil and not seeing it, it can be used as a legend/myth to see if your players want to turn it around.


Legendary Antillian Torus

It is both unassuming and intensely powerful.  The sheer amount of focus this simple torus demands is uncanny.  Large enough that it can be worn like a bracelet by all but the largest or smallest of humans, the Torus thought lost to the hidden Atlantic island of Antillia rests before you. An artifact of a bygone era, or so it should be considering where it is said to have been found, the reddish metal seems perfect and unblemished. It took so long to find even a hint that it existed, now coming face to …. Ring with it seems overwhelming.  Drawing closer, you hear what you think is a slight hum.  Your blood stirs.  Glory and renown await.  You reach out, impelled by some unseen force or impulse. The torus is warm to the touch as you lift it and your eyes go wide…. 

How to Use the Legendary Antillian Torus in Game:

The Torus is clearly an artifact of some kind but its nature is left to you here – is it magical, or perhaps super science?  Is it truly from the far past or does it merely fit within a legend already existing? While it has some uses in my own head, and maybe upcoming writing, it is a macguffin for your own greater purposes in any setting and any theme. 


ataxia noun atax·​ia | \ ə-ˈtak-sē-ə  , (ˌ)ā- \

Definition of ataxia

: an inability to coordinate voluntary muscular movements that is symptomatic of some central nervous system disorders and injuries and not due to muscle weakness

History and Etymology for ataxia

borrowed from Greek ataxía “lack of discipline, disorder, confusion,” from a- A- entry 2 + -taxia, from táxis “drawing up in rank and file, order of battle, order, arrangement” + -ia -IA entry 1 — more at TAXIS

First known use is 1670

Look-up Popularity Bottom 40% of words

Closing remarks 

Zendead – Sennheiser Headsets I know it is a strange thing but I love music and podcasts. I have had my pair of Sennheisers for a decade at least. They still sound great and can have parts replaced as they wearout. If you love music I would suggest a nice pair of their headphones if they are in your price range. 

Joules – Find a recipe that you’ve always wanted to cook.  Think Binging with Babish or Good Eats.  On your next food run, pick up the ingredients that you need and give it a try.  Food is always essential.  So eat well.  (and mastering how to do a Filet Mignon will make you a HUGE hit!)

Guard-a-Manger – Musgrave Wooden Pencils.  There is something magical and almost lyrical about the sound a sharp pencil makes when scratching across good paper. If you find yourself writing on paper again, go old school and get a pencil.  The Musgrave Tennessee Red ones are american made with real cedar and an absolute joy to use.  

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on the following platforms



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And Thanks to Merriam-Webster  and Online Etymology Dictionary for our Lexicon segment

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