I'm going to give this whole "Wide Area Sandbox" thing some thought and plot out how I'd build one. By way of recap - the problem behind a Wide Area Sandbox concerns how to run a free-form campaign in a world where the players have a lot of mobility, and the traditional sandbox approaches don't cover enough real estate. I'm going to look for ideas from games like Traveler, or Stars Without Number, and see what techniques in the Sci Fi RPG genre can be ported back into a game using sailing ships.
But a preliminary problem is that of setting. Is the game mostly about exploring the setting, or exploring the adventures within the setting? For instance, a Swords & Planet game is as much about discovering the new world in all its strangeness, as it is about any adventures there.
I have a specific tone I mean to establish, between the mundane civilized areas (which don't need the hex-by-hex sandbox treatment), and the distant areas where hex-by-hex exploration is warranted. It's an evolution of an idea from last March, where I mused how wild frontier settings could be distinct from points of light - Wild Frontiers Part 1 and Wild Frontiers Part 2. It's funny how older ideas don't die, they just wait for the right time to be expressed.
I find myself firmly in the camp of using a real-world model for the Wide Area Sandbox; I want the "Known World" to be familiar and mundane; adventures with monsters mostly happen in wild, out of place areas, and the frontiers.
And that brings me to the point where I'm having some questions: For those of you that use the real earth as the model for your fantasy campaign, do you use actual earth places and names, or do you create that stuff whole cloth, only using the earth for inspiration? I'm leaning towards using the real world, with a touch of magic and fantasy woven into history, and using real places, events and names.
If the characters find a magic sword in a tomb, and they learn it once belonged to the grandfather of the current king, it seems more sensible to be able to flip open a history book and see that it was made for Blah Blah Blah, the King of France, instead of making up false histories. Time would be better spent on crafting excellent adventures.
The two candidate time periods for the wide area sandbox are the mid-17th century, and the Roman period.
The 17th century provides a backdrop of war and chaos in Europe, as well as frontiers across the ocean in the New World and early explorations of Africa. The dark heart of Europe can still serve as a setting for classic monsters in the Gothic horror tradition; Dracula is timeless.
The Roman world is very cosmopolitan across the Mediterranean, but offers wild frontiers on all sides, just beyond the camps of the Legions. It's ideal for a D&D game with a bit more armor and traditional weaponry because of the lower technology, but I'm not ignoring the fact that the Roman mindset is more removed; the past is a foreign country, after all.