Get it? Ha ha ha!
...right. Okay, Devin, I got your back! Recently, in a post about sandbox play, you commented thusly:
"I love the idea of the sandbox approach. I really like being able to afford the PCs freedom to go where they will, do as they please, etc. I like the idea of having numerous plot threads and subplots that they can encounter and become involved with to whatever degree they choose to (or not at all). "My only hesitation here is the amount of prep-work this would appear to require. Any thoughts?"
Yes. Yes, I do. I will share them with you, and anyone else who reads this damn thing.
It can require lots of prep. But can isn't must, so you know what I do?
I prep very little.
My key is to prep as little as possible, really, and just add little bits here and there. The game I'm running for my wife, f'rex, started with her character's hometown, a nearby forest, some ruins, a tower and not a lot else. I scrawled a quick map, Amber made a character and I mulled over what might be in the ruins. (I eventually changed my mind on it, by the way.) I let her decide which potential adventure site she wanted to hit up, and I let a combination of charts and old-fashioned spur-of-the-moment BSing do the rest.
That was enough for one short evening of exploration, and in between games, I added a few other details, from NPCs to adventure sites. Using the old Wilderlands of High Fantasy idea of five-mile hexes, I started developing the land around the home hex, little by little: A town here, a lake full of monsters there, a forest, a pyramid.
Yes, a pyramid! It's useful to throw things on the map, at whim, and then explain them later. I still don't know what the hell a pyramid is doing in a pseudo-European vanilla FRPG setting. I can pencil in details later, though. Stick names on things and explain them on the go.
So I have a little sandbox. And every now and then, as I think of something, I lay the bait for it: "While in the inn,you hear a bard singing about the nearby Forest of the Mystic Kings." "When she mentions Dukesbourne, which you know is west of here, you think about that weird pyramid just south of it." She'll bite when she's ready.
In the meantime, I build out of spare parts. In one box, I have all the random, incidental crap that I get off of charts. Recently, an NPC has developed from randomly-rolled street-peddler encounter to a recurring character -- one who has provided a brief encounter hook already, and who may be much more. Another got himself kidnapped and his rescue provided a whole adventure!
In addition to random bits, I have old and unused ideas. I cannibalize my old notes for other games and use stuff that's interesting -- or just convenient. Months ago, I wrote up a 2nd-level female elven wizard, with a few character notes and a physical description. Guess what type NPC I ended up needing last night?
In summary: If you play your cards right, you can let the prep do itself.
Oh, yes. I could do more. So much more.
But you know what?