I have run sandbox-ish campaigns for as long as I can recall, and most times the rules I've run them with have made it harder, not easier, to run a campaign of that sort. Playing with various incarnations of D&D, there would be the invariable scaling from 1st level wimp to 10th level hero, to a situation of "high-level over-powered munchkin that is impossible to challenge seriously". Well, impossible to challenge without putting in far more time as a DM than I found fun. I never wanted to spend hours compiling spells, abilities, treasures to *finally* challenge the players. I wanted to spend that time on fun characters, plots, twists and turns ... bits and pieces of lore and adventure that I could drop into the game.
About 2-3 years ago I ran across the various concepts of old-school gaming & sandbox games on the internet and soon realized this was pretty much what I had been looking for. Fiddling around further, I realized I wanted a game with less of a power-curve and more bloody damned adventuring. I wanted the players to start with "heroes" like Conan, characters with back-story & ability - but not with super powers. That's the direction we started developing BASS - which is basically still little more than a simplified house-rule-set & a character generation system for creating bad-ass, unusual characters.
The next few steps I want to take are the development of tables & elements for populating the sandbox: regions, locations, items, artifacts, opponents. Tools that will allow me, as the DM, to throw more at the players, more easily and with less planning. Because that, I think, is a rule that should be set in stone:
Planning and preparing for a game should not take longer than actually running the game!
It might be fun, but, honestly, much of it will never be seen. So why do it? That's why I want elements that can recycle from adventure to adventure, campaign to campaign ... and if one of them sparks a hook that starts a player of on a cycle of adventures, then so be it. If not: it's just loot for sale!
More to follow ...