During a chat discussion with an "old school" (as in AD&D) friend, Geoffery, I started telling him about my "Tunnelhack" system of scenario organizing. When I told that it is where I step away from my usual narrative style of writing to use random tables to handle entire stretches of the story, he stated "Oh so you're 'sandboxing' but without the miniatures." A week later I was reading a review of Ken St Andre's "Dwarf World" for T&T where the critic states something to the extent that the work is a bunch of random tables and that is about it. That has got me thinking on it a bit on what exactly do I think makes my self-exclaimed exciting matrices different than what what I've seen self-described sandboxers do.
True enough, my Tunnelhacks come from about an hour's worth of writing up randomized tables.But there does get to be a bit more going on, at least for me.
It's not about half-attempts at improvisation first off. I not only use the random charts to make the tabletop more exciting to me as the GM, but it also helps me explore vast areas of very large campaign areas without going into too much detail and printing expenses. As I write down a table and the sorts of terrain/ encounters come to mind in a quick list form, a bigger map starts to work itself out in my head. A lot of times, I am tempted not draw a map, just ask Christi Crab, and try to make the potential GM have to go deeper into the narrative of the scenario. But with some thumb pulling, I usually come up with a map, so the audience can point to someplace, roll a die or two and then say, "When you get to here, you see... ." But that is as far as I go.
I generally do not do all chart scenarios. I feel the need to have some pretty complex narrative to help keep up a pretty atmospheric approach when I move to the random charts. I've heard from a couple people, four really, who have actually ran my scenarios, that they felt that is indeed a common effect as they got to those points in the adventure as well.
And my list themselves are pretty full of wordy descriptions of characteristics of the area or say abilities of the creature being encountered. This of course is the occupational hazard of T&T, in that the GM has does not have cookie cutter bestiaries, while at the same time it is the treasure of the system as well. This also helps me later if I decide just to go with a narrative, by having a lot of the wordage worked out, if I decide to go with a scene-driven (railroad car) approach to the session; maybe throw in a few openers and then transitions, wallah! I already have pages of text and color to work with.
Of course playtesting is important to make these things work. At the same time, playtesting with the cat when you should be writing can be more hindering than helpful.
I guess the difference is is that my Tunnelhacking matrices and sandboxed prearranged elements is that it isn't about the abbreviated list being the tale, but the tale being the framework for the abbreviation.