Kingmaker: Days 0 – 4

Day 0

Each member of the party came to Restov for their various reasons. Reyes and Fionnius (“Finn”) quickly found each other and began forming the party — seeking to build a formidable squad to take on the rugged Stolen Lands. Eventually, all six members: Reyes, Finn, Kydien, Petronius (“Jack”), Asher, and Sparrow, headed South. They arrived at Oleg’s Trading Post. Oleg and his wife, Svetlana, mistook the party for an official Restov security force — something they had been asking for for some time. Nonetheless, the party claimed to be able to handle whatever it was Oleg and Svetlana needed… in exchange for free food and board, of course. Oleg told the party that bandits routinely come and demand exorbitant “taxes” — and they were scheduled to appear the very next morning!

Day 1

Asher and Sparrow waited by the Trading Post’s gates, while Kydien stood in a watchtower, and Finn stood off to the side with a bow. Jack and Reyes stood in the courtyard. When the bandits arrived early in the morning, they rode right through the gates and stopped, puzzled, at the sight of the two adventurers standing defiantly. Asher and Sparrow locked the gates shut. Jack and Reyes both gave ominous greetings, and Asher threw boiling oil onto three of the four bandits. Finn let loose an arrow into the fourth bandit — the leader of this group — and the arrow flew through the back of the man’s skull and jutted out his eye socket, killing him instantly. Writhing in pain, the other three bandits immediately surrendered.

The party learned that this leader was Haps Bydon, the lover of his superior, a woman named Kressle. Haps also was an officer of sorts under the Stag Lord, the most feared bandit in the Greenbelt. As an officer under the Stag Lord, Haps wore a silver Stag Lord amulet. Asher took the amulet and jokingly claimed to be the new Stag Lord. Reyes interrogated the bandits and learned the location of their camp. The party headed out. By midday, the party found a temporary campsite used by the four bandits, and quickly pressed on.

Soon, the party encountered a shambling mound. It proved a fearsome foe, one difficult for traditional tactics to defeat. However, being plant-like, it was susceptible to fire. Sparrow fired flaming arrows at it, and then Asher came and splashed a flask of lantern oil upon the shambling mound, and it succumbed to the flames. At night, the party was beset by bandits who tried to catch the party sleeping. Jack was nearly killed with an arrow before the rest of the party slayed the bandits — but discovered no connection to the Stag Lord or Kressle. These were merely freelance bandits.

Day 2

Although the day was uneventful, at nightfall, Asher rigged a trap around the campsite to alert the party of any intruders. The adventurers had no sooner settled in to sleep than the various sticks and pots and pans clanged and banged, meaning someone was approaching the camp. The party quickly drew weapons, and a confused, filthy man approached, holding beavers. It seemed as if he wanted to trade. The party was highly suspicious, and asked the man many questions. It became clear he was a crazy hermit named Joe. The party traded meat for some of his beavers. Asher offered to pay Finn a handful of small gems in exchange for a high-quality beaver hat.

Day 3

Again, daytime travel was easy, but night remained the party’s bane. As Asher stood watch on first shift, a monstrous centipede the size of a horse crawled into the camp. Alarmed, the party armed themselves and attempted to fend off the creature. However, Asher lept from the tree and buried his Aldori sword into the centipede, deftly slicing it in twain.

Day 4

The party came to the area where the bandit camp was supposed to be. Finn, Sparrow, and Asher scouted around until they found the camp. They reported back that the camp was very rustic and open, but had East and West watchtowers, with a cache of supplies under the West tower. They formed a plan for Finn to take down the East tower with alchemist’s fire, Sparrow to take up position in the West tower, Asher would slip into the main part of the camp and quietly slit throats until the alarm was raised, and then Jake and Reyes would ride in for a full assault.

The plan, however, did not go quite as expected. Asher was caught by Kressle before he made it to the camp proper. Playing for time, he showed her the amulet of her dead lover, irreverently worn around his neck, and taunted her. Enraged, she slashed at Asher but barely nicked him. Suddenly, the sound and sight of the Eastern tower going up in flames distracted Kressle, and Asher took this opportunity to stick his blade straight through her heart.

One by one the bandits were easily killed by the party, until the last one, which was only wounded and then tied up. Fionn was killed in a freak accident, falling on his own sword. The bandit prisoner was interrogated, and the party learned much about the Stag Lord and his fort. It seemed the best way to get to the Stag Lord was posing as the next shipment of a greenish liquor favored by the Stag Lord. The party also learned that a group of mites had stolen some supplies from these bandits, possibly including Svetlana’s wedding ring. The mites were said to have a lair beneath an old sycamore tree East of the bandit camp.

Kydien was caught whispering with the prisoner, and revealed that she is the sister of the Stag Lord. She was detained, and the party planned on bringing her back to Restov to be hanged. In the night, Kydien went missing, presumably dragged off into the woods, where her trail stopped cold. Asher denied involvement. Crazy Joe stalked Jack at night, and was promptly killed by Asher.

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GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part VII

So last session, the party had gone looking for a group of mercenaries responsible for killing their defense lawyer and stealing key evidence of the Lumber Consortium’s vast corruption in the process. A massive sinkhole opened up in the swamps, and the party fell down, down, into eerie, forgotten tombs buried over a hundred feet below the acrid, black mud.

The party rested and sketched out a quick map of the tombs to discuss tactics. They had managed to clear the West side completely, but there were unopened doors to the East and South. They wisely decided that open corridors would take priority over doors, and that put them on an Eastern track. In one room, they encountered a Basidirond. This was a really cool encounter, because of the hallucinogenic effects of the spores. The party knew the plant was bad news, and wanted to just skirt around the walls of the room to get to the next passageway, but Aria spotted the skeleton of a dead adventurer in the roots of the plant, with a big, bulging backpack. She couldn’t resist.

Several party members started tripping out as Aria’s intrusion stimulated the plant to action. Rais thought he was suffocating, and one of his wolves thought there was a terrifying viper in the room. At some point, Aria believed she had shrunk to 1/10th her size and was afraid someone would stomp on her in the chaos. Nonetheless, the party defeated the basidirond, with Eydan using her sylph powers to blow away the dangerous spores.

The party also fought off some custom “swamp zombies” of mine that had distended bellies full of congealed swamp chemicals — basically a petroleum jelly akin to sterno. They were easy to defeat, especially with fire, but the results created dangerous, burning terrain. Although the party saw value in putting out the fire and salvaging some of this flammable jelly for themselves, they immediately wasted it by playing with it on a stone door – which was ineffective, to say the least.

At last, however, they came to a tall room in the tombs with walls lined with sarcophagi. At the center of the room lay the last mercenary, dying. Ghostly faces flickered into and out of existence around the room to watch the events unfold. The sight of the dead mercenary combined with the unsettling ghosts was enough to click the party out of their “dungeon grind mode.”

They ran to the dying man, and saw a bag of holding tucked in his belt that probably contained the body of the defense lawyer. But then four faceless stalkers emerged from hiding and pounced! It was a tough battle — the toughest yet for this party! And it was my favorite encounter of the entire campaign so far, because the party came together like never before. When one party member fell to dangerously low hitpoints, the whole party would reposition themselves so that the wounded could heal, safely protected by the rest of the group. It was beautifully fluid, as if they had rehearsed this tactic.

Four faceless stalkers against six level 3 adventurers… and the adventurers won. Barely. The previously malevolent spirits in the tomb ceased bothering the players immediately. One ghost woman appeared and explained they were grateful that the party had rid the tomb of the nasty creatures that had taken up residence over the years, and now the spirits could rest in peace again. As a reward, the ghost pointed out one of the sarcophagi that held nothing but treasure.

This treasure was custom-tailored for the group. Aria got two immovable rods, allowing her more use of her racial features. Abdiel got lucky gloves to make up for his INCREDIBLY terrible luck at rolling throughout seven sessions of playing. Rais got a huntsman’s shortsword. Eydan got goggles that could reveal secret doors and passageways. Elias got a Cassock of the Clergy, and Haru got a quiver that turned metallic arrows red-hot (for extra fire damage).

The party returned to Almas and handed over the dead mercenary and the recovered evidence to the Eagle Knights. They were hailed as heroes, and celebrated. They spent a week spending their hard-earned loot on various upgraded gear and such, and then hopped the next boat to Absalom, where they will spend the next three years training to be Pathfinders. This was the end of my turn GMing for the group (we rotate GMs). When next we pick up, they’ll be ready for their final test as Pathfinders, and they’ll set out once more for grand adventures!

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part VI

Having learned my lesson from last session, I really prepared for this one. In fact, I even wrote myself a script. And it paid off in spades! I was able to set an eerie atmosphere as the party raced through a small swamp in a storm to find the safehouse used by corrupt Lumber Consortium agents. In the safehouse, they found a large pile of unmarked bars of silver — the agents’ payment for murdering the lawyer who had solid evidence of the Consortium’s corruption. (As an apology for the previous session’s awfulness, I decided these agents hadn’t yet found time to safely deposit their silver.)

Then the party heard a noise from a nearby abandoned cemetery, and ran over. Much of the graveyard had been swallowed by the swamp, but a large crypt entrance still stood, and was likely where the agents had fled to. The party pulled a lever to open the large stone crypt door, but this proved to be too much strain for the swamp to handle. A massive sinkhole opened up, and buried the party in the forgotten tombs beneath the swamp.

They were sufficiently creeped out by the ghostly atmosphere inside the tombs, and were even more on edge when I gave them fair warning that this particular dungeon was NOT messing around. (Their first dungeon was built by a mentally deficient mage, and I didn’t want them to mistake that dungeon’s easiness for my style, or anything.) The first creature they encountered was a mummy, and there were groans and murmurs of “oh no!” at the table. I had never actually seen this party fear an encounter until now.

But the bard won initiative, and scored an insta-kill on the mummy, shooting its head right off its body with her shortbow. This certainly cheered the party right back up! It was a cool moment, too, and I think it brought the party closer together. They all but demanded the bard (who was the newest member to the party) stick with them from here on out.

Still, my dungeon fought back with a vengeance. Between scary ghosts, nasty traps, and creepy messages written on the walls, I had them on the edge of their seats, I think. The Paladin was a bit of a smartass, as he was in his element, but it was all in good fun. I nearly killed the druid with a fire trap, but the Paladin saved him from the brink of death JUST IN TIME.

The gunslinger got a much-needed armor upgrade, and finally was able to use his gun to great effect against a Crypt Thing, scoring some awesome hits.

As far as the sandbox nature of the campaign goes, I think it’s safe to say the party has found their groove. They have a clear antagonist: The Lumber Consortium. They have their individual goals, which have changed somewhat, but are still meaningful. And they also have a party goal of reaching Absalom and becoming Pathfinders. And they have a side quest lined up: Investigating Victor, eldest brother of 5 dungeon-building mages, who resides in a castle in Cheliax.

Should I continue to post these breakdowns, even though the campaign’s really clicked into place? The sandbox is still there, of course, and the players could go off their own rails any time they choose. But now it feels far more streamlined and focused. It just took a few sessions — and a healthy dose of party bonding — for everything to come together. Once you get past that awkward phase of “Uh, what now?”, completely open campaigns kind of just write themselves!

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part V

This was a bad session.

I was absolutely slammed by work this week, so my preparation was severely lacking. I’d say so far, my sandbox campaign has required far more preparation than running published campaigns. And I knew my players were going to be interacting with a lot of NPCs and possibly stumbling upon a dungeon… unfortunately, all I was able to bring with me to the table were my skeleton notes on the NPCs, and a vague scribbling of “small level 4 – 5 dungeon under marshlands.”

Now previously, the party had been hit hard by the Lumber Consortium, who not only hired assassins to kill the party off, but also falsely accused the players of heinous crimes in the event that the assassins failed. The party also believed the city guards to be agents of the Lumber Consortium, so after defeating the assassins they were toying with the idea of fighting off the guards, as well.

At the last second, the party surrendered (through mush gnashing of teeth), and only two members snuck off. These two members ran into a special task force of the Andoren Eagle Knights who were trying to build a huge corruption case against the Lumber Consortium, and were very happy to meet and help these two players. The rest of the party was transported to the capital city to stand trial for crimes against Andoran and the Lumber Consortium. Their defense lawyer, however, was excellent, and informed the players that the evidence found on the assassins was solid gold.

Wisely, the players immediately begged her to make copies of that evidence and give it to them for safekeeping, but the rules of the prison were quite clear: All personal property and evidence remains custody of the government and legal teams, respectively. But she promised to make copies as soon as the trial was over, since she had to hand it over to a certain task force of Eagle Knights anyway.

This is where I failed as GM: The most important, exciting trial of the last decade was glossed over in just a few minutes. I was dead tired and had very little prepared; there is no other excuse. My players felt the trial was very anticlimactic, but at the same time they said it was ok, they really wanted to get their hands on that evidence and formally assist the Eagle Knights in taking down the Lumber Consortium.

As can be expected, however, they were just a minute too late in being released from prison: Their defense lawyer was shot dead in the street, her body scooped up into the assassin’s bag of holding, and the assassin had a hefty head start in fleeing the city. And though they lost track of the assassin, the Eagle Knights knew he would likely flee to a Lumber Consortium safehouse in the small marsh outside the city. Desipte their power, the Eagle Knights could not assault the safehouse without a warrant — which would take at least an hour to obtain, even in emergency circumstances. The recently freed party, however, operated under no such rules, so the Eagle Knights told them about the safehouse.

And that was it for the session. I felt really bad about how short and unexciting it was for my players, but I had an idea on how to make it up to them. I know that with the constant attacks by the Lumber Consortium and being under arrest, they’ve had little time to acquire wealth along with their experience — they’re level 3 now, with an average wealth per player of 300gp. And they don’t have any special/magical gear to speak of. So, it just so happens that the Lumber Consortium’s payment, 9,000gp in unmarked silver bars, are still sitting in the safehouse. The assassins, ahem, forgot to deposit it safely. That’s 1500gp per player ON TOP OF the treasure they’ll find in the dungeon in the marsh.

But that’s not all. Money is well and good, but I think I’ll make a special encounter in the dungeon — an exciting fight in dangerous terrain.

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part IV

The party spent the night at the Dead Demon Inn in Oregent, in central Andoran. By morning, the party Druid was pretty uneasy about being in the large town, especially one where the Lumber Consortium headquarters. The party met with a bard from Tian Xia for breakfast, and tried to have a friendly, normal conversation, but the Druid was on everyone’s case about getting out of town asap. This part of the session was incredibly awkward, because they truly were struggling with their freedom. The players at my table now numbered 6, which is pretty much my absolute limit, and they all wanted to do different things. I refrained from prompting them as much as possible, though there was a veritable hurricane of activity going on “behind the scenes.”

See, the highly corrupt Lumber Consortium (LC) head of the town they just fled sent out messenger pigeons with an urgent notice about the adventurers, calling them terrorists and charging them with various crimes, including murder of an LC employee and attempted murder of others. The notice recommended that “specialists” be hired to “neutralize the threat” they posed to the LC. And then the players unwittingly fled to the town in which the LC headquarters. In the night, LC executives hired assassins and concocted a plan to use a sort of block party to distract, poison, kidnap, and execute the party.

The players finally heard about the party that was to be held later that night, and found it odd that the town guards were handing out flyers to local businesses about it. The Druid reached near-hysterical levels of demanding that the party leave, but the party told him to shut his hippy mouth and relax. He spent most of his day mapping out the neighborhood and committing escape routes to memory. As the party left to go pull some shenanigans in the marketplace, the druid assaulted a wealthy merchant he found whipping a street urchin, and the druid was subsequently arrested.

This was a critical moment in the session. There is an ongoing struggle between Andoran’s government (standing for Liberty, Justice, and Freedom) and the Lumber Consortium (which essentially props up Andoran’s economy, although it is extremely corrupt.) This encounter with the town guards was meant to show the contrast between the two entities: the Druid was treated very fairly, advised of his rights, etc etc. Unfortunately, this somehow convinced the Druid that all guards are in the pocket of the LC, and his arrest was just a sneaky way of getting him “in the system.” (This guy’s roleplaying was fantastic, despite his vastly incorrect conclusions!)

He later met up with the party and explained what happened, and said he was incredibly angry with the wealthy merchant who reported him to the guards for assault. So, in the name of sweet, sweet vengeance (never fuck with murderhobos, silly NPCs!) the Rogue broke into the merchant’s house, a stole a coinpurse and a tin of what was basically opium. The Druid was unimpressed. The rest of the party lost their patience with the “sweet sweet vengeance” and meandered back to the Dead Demon Inn. While all this had happened, the party Gunslinger got absolutely wasted in a whiskey-drinkin’ contest with a dwarf jeweler, and was escorted back to his room at the Dead Demon Inn by the town guards. Once there, the LC’s hired assassins quickly took advantage of the Gunslinger’s condition and dragged him off. The rest of the party didn’t get back to the inn until nightfall, and didn’t really know where the Gunslinger was.

At nightfall, the Druid morphed into hybrid werewolf form, lit himself on fire (because every plan needs fire) and burst through the door of the wealthy merchant’s home, ran straight into the dining room, and tackled the merchant. After mauling and severely burning the merchant, he ranted about how angry he was, threatened the family, and jumped out a window and ran off. The family sent the servant to run for help (screaming about a demon hell hound.) And for those of you following along at home, yes, the Druid was angry about being arrested for assault, and decided that the proper response to this was MORE ASSAULT. Finally satisfied, he rejoined the others at the party, back in human form.

At the party, an assassin was quietly trying to poison their characters, but only partly succeeded in poisoning the bard, who concealed her illness and shrugged it off, choosing to believe it was due to exhaustion rather than poison. The Druid reached new levels of hysteria when he realized the Gunslinger was missing, and tracked his scent to a seedy-looking tavern at the corner of the neighborhood called The Juicy Mermaid (owned by the LC, naturally.)

The assassins were using the gunslinger as bait for the rest of the party, and it worked. The combat was incredibly intense, as it wound up being a roiling melee on a flight of stairs from the kitchen to the cellar. Necks were broken, throats were ripped out, faces were pierced, kidneys were slashed… the Druid’s companion wolf was cut to ribbons and saved from the brink of death by the Paladin. The normally pacifist monk was driven to lethal violence. And as they emerged from the fray, finally victorious, the met Phase 3 of the LC’s plan:

During the party, the LC distributed additional memos to the town guards, explaining that the party were murderous terrorists who are planning on killing LC employees and destroying LC property in town, namely The Juicy Mermaid. The building was surrounded and the guards demanded surrender. And I apologize here for the long wall of text, but this was my favorite part of the night.

The guards, as official agents of the Andoren government, have a deep mistrust of the LC. However, they have a duty to uphold the law, and here are the suspects as described, emerging from the property specified in the memo, drenched in blood with weapons drawn. The guards explained that their court case will be expedited due to the nature of their charges, and that if the party is truly innocent, they’ll be acquitted. The party immediately began talking amongst themselves in Dwarvish (none of them are Dwarves, yet they can all speak the language), discussing what to do.

The Rogue wanted to make a run for it. The Gunslinger wanted his shit back (it was left in his room at the inn during his kidnapping, and nobody thought to pick it up when they went looking for him.) The Bard passed out from exhaustion. The Monk wanted to negotiate with the guards’ sergeant on the spot. The Paladin wanted everyone to cooperate with the guards and have their day in court. And the Druid wanted to attack the guards, as he believed they were just LC agents with shiny badges. And the guards really sympathized with and believed the party.

But the discussion was too much for the high-strung Druid to handle. He morphed into werewolf form for the third time that day, and charged the guards. Out of character, at the table, another player was upset about this, because of the Druid’s backstory: He had made himself a pariah and an exile after going werewolf in his home village and accidentally hurting a bunch of people, and therefore promised to himself that he would never go werewolf in a town again due to the dangers it posed to others and himself. And this was the third time today he was going werewolf. He argued that his character had been on edge all day (true), believed the guards were more LC assassins (false) and that this was the only way for the party to survive (false), and on top of all that he was emotionally unstable due to the near-death of his dear wolf companion (true). But on the nature of breaking character: My opinion is that characters are fluid. Just like my campaign adapts and reacts to the characters, the characters must adapt and react to the world around them. The Druid’s goal in life was to make reparations for the people he had infected with his curse many years ago, and that defined who he was. But based on the party’s experiences, he was changing into the hyper-vigilant “guard dog” of the party, and I thought that was extremely cool character progression.

What the party doesn’t know is that one of the assassins STILL HAS THE MEMO FROM THE LUMBER CONSORTIUM ADVISING THAT ASSASSINS BE HIRED, tucked in his pocket. Not only would their trial be a breeze, but they could actually help take down the corrupt LC head back in the other town that issued the memo!

And one last thing, as I told the group I was ending the session on that cliffhanger. As the Druid charged the guards — willfully committing a felony, by the way — the Monk moaned “The one and only thing the Pathfinders don’t accept is a criminal… now we can’t be Pathfinders…”

My players have become emotionally invested in the game. They’ve made clear enemies of the Lumber Consortium, and are now felons in one of the most just and fair countries in the world. And their goal of becoming Pathfinders is rapidly becoming a pipe dream.

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part III

The party relaxed in the Mad Mage’s shack above the dungeon for a day, discussing what to do next. Sadly, for me, it seemed they really had no clue, and they were struggling with the sheer openness now. Every little suggestion was met with “Eh, well, who knows if there’s anything there.” I broke the immersion and told them that uncertainty is a huge part of the game, now. If they heard rumors of werewolves in the forest, they may actually be false, yes. But at the same time, it’s not like I can EVER say to them “Oh, don’t go that way, nothing’s prepared.” Part of my reasons for doing a sandbox campaign is to challenge me to think on my feet!

So while they relaxed and polished their treasure, the NPCs they had interacted with continued living their lives. The ranger from the Fangwatch came to check on them, but dare not enter the shack. Not seeing any signs of life (the party were sleeping in the basement), he decided to make camp within sight of the shack. Then a druid showed up, a friend of the ranger, so that if the PCs survived and emerged, he could make sure they aren’t planning on harming his precious forest. And then the local Lumber Consortium underboss and his muscle, a half orc, showed up. They had heard of adventurers making waves back in town, and then rushing off to this shack, and were concerned that the players were going to try to lay claim to the house. Also, an elderly town watchman showed up with a new player (an Aasimar paladin), curious about the goings-on.

All the NPCs agreed that the paladin should go check on the PCs in the shack, and he did so, and was surprised to see them alive and well. However, the party was concerned about the gathering of NPCs, and made a beeline to see what was going on. The druid gets the hint that the forest is on nobody’s mind but his, and leaves. The ranger and the elderly town watchman express their surprise at the PCs being alive. (By now, the players have taken on an air of arrogance; how cute! They think nothing can kill them.)

The underboss asserts that the cabin is the property of the Lumber Consortium, and says that if they wish to live there, they can rent it. The players ratchet up their arrogance, and boldly claim that the house is their sole property. One player gets an idea, and mentions the hordes and hordes of treasure they found in the dungeon under the cabin, hoping the NPCs will leave them alone to go looking for the treasure, and die in the dungeon. But that’s not how things are done here in Falcon’s Hollow! The underboss demands they hand over their treasure immediately, as it is property of the Lumber Consortium as well. They players continue to defy the underboss and the half orc. The ranger walks away, fearing a fight. (This was supposed to be a warning. The half orc was quite beefy, and I was afraid he would wipe the floor with the players if things got out of hand.)

But what player would relinquish their treasure? They switched gears to try and negotiate, but it was too late. They took a vague threat from the half orc quite personally and a lot of violence ensued. I’ll admit I underestimated the power of the party, and though the half-orc was able to do some damage, they eventually bested him, and he ran off with the man. (The players don’t know it yet, but they just made an enemy of the entire Lumber Consortium, because from its point of view, they’ve just marched in and stole a house and “hordes and hordes” of treasure on top of it all. Back in town, the underboss and the half orc report the incident to their superior, who immediately dispatches messages to other towns in the region. The Consortium head in each town hires an assassin and puts them on alert.)

The players are still unsure of what to do next. The topic of conversation shifts naturally to the Pathfinder Society, and the town watchman just so happens to be a Pathfinder himself. He speaks highly of the Pathfinder Society, and offers to put in a good word with the Grand Lodge should the players wish to apply. After a discussion, they decide they’d love to give it a try. They plan a route through Andoran, planning on hopping a boat to Absalom. But first, a two-day trek through grasslands to the next town.

At night, they are beset by werewolves. This is my final test of their abilities; I feel I can appropriately set up challenging encounters after this one. Interestingly enough, they notice but completely forget a hunter out in the area that had been attacked by the werewolves. The players just leave him there, bleeding, and missing a leg. He’ll survive, and he’ll be quite pissed. I can’t wait for them to encounter a particularly angry, one-legged hunter in the wilderness when they next leave town!

They get to the next town, and completely miss the fact that the Lumber Consortium headquarters here. (Of all the things to ignore…) They also shrug off a brief glimpse of a man shadowing them in the market. They’re far more interested in selling their loot and shopping.

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part II

The players recognized the open-ness of the world, but still couldn’t resist delving into the first dungeon they came across. Here’s how the dungeon crawl went:

This particular dungeon was built by the so-called “Mad Mage,” though in reality he was more simple-minded and ADHD than “mad.” As such, his dungeon was largely unfinished, with most rooms and hallways being bare stone with no furniture. However, the dungeon was built with the purpose of luring in gullible adventurers, killing them, and claiming their items. To that end, the dungeon was stock full of nasty traps.

The players first found some viewing globes in the dungeon’s “lobby” area, used by the Mad Mage to communicate with his four brothers. By speaking to the eldest brother, the players learned that the Mad Mage had committed suicide some 70 years ago, and that all five brothers had built dungeons in order to compete to see who was more successful in the art of scamming fatally gullible adventurers. It seems that since the Mad Mage’s suicide, all the brothers lost contact with each other and abandoned their hobby, having amassed more than enough wealth over the years to live comfortably.

The players’ opinions on the Mad Mage turned from “Burn the witch! Steal his shit!” to a sort of morbid curiosity, with a slight twinge of pity. Again, they took the time — however briefly — to reevaluate the situation: There was no telling what sort of traps or beasts they’d encounter in the dungeon, and also no telling what treasure, if any, they’d find. Perhaps it was not worth it…? Perhaps they could just head outside and find something better to do…? No, no, they can’t walk away from the possibility that there might be more to the story of the Mad Mage than what they’ve been told.

They are repeatedly (and hilariously) maimed by the various traps, and occasionally stop and again ask themselves if the dungeon is worth it. But one player brings up an excellent point — “Well, the Mad Mage’s house is way out in the country, and the dungeon is pretty well hidden underneath. If we clear out this dungeon, we can use it for ourselves, as a hideout or keep or something.” Now that was a really cool moment! It had never occurred to the other players — mostly longtime veterans — that they could do this. They were so used to happily taking the leads in whatever module they were doing, and not straying too far from the path. But this world was open! This world could be affected by whatever direction they took!

So, with the dungeon as a potential prize now, the party was more motivated than before. They did clear it out, and laughed about what a terrible dungeon it was. One player mentioned that they felt kind of bad for making fun of the dungeon, as if he was mocking a child’s art project for being awful. As a DM, that kind of emotional response is music to my ears! I must be doing something right!

They found some decent treasure, and made it to level 2. And best of all, the characters bonded. Currently there is a werewolf, a Vanara (monkey people), a sylph, and a half-elf. We also have a Tian Xia (read: Asian) refugee and an Aasimar on the way to join the party. So they bonded over their weirdness and over the fact that in their own ways, they’re all outcasts and freaks.

Next session will be an important milestone in my sandbox experiment. This dungeon (and its background) was the only material I prepared ahead of time for the campaign. I knew they’d go for it, because, come on, easy dungeon crawl. But now they are on their own. They’ve irritated the town, ignored a weird dead body, and annoyed a ranger. That gives them very little to go on, so they’ll need to — no pun intended — take the initiative from here on out.

GM Brian’s Campaign Analysis, Part I

I started them off in Falcon’s Hollow, a grim logging town run by a corporate bully. They had all received notes promising them a gift, and these notes were signed “The Mad Mage.” The characters met, discussed the notes briefly, but obviously, curiosity is going to get the better of them. Even if it’s totally suspicious, totally full of shit, and totally dangerous. Gotta love PCs, they’ll do anything for a gift. But this tiny little plot point serves a dual purpose: They’ll learn that they can choose to ignore plot hooks and go looking for others if one seems like a bad deal. Currently, the players are trained to go after the plot hooks like lab rats in a maze after cheese. I need to break them of that habit quickly if this campaign is going to be a success!

Now the party is very unusual, in that it consists of a werewolf, a Vanara (monkey person), a sylph (human-djinn hybrid sorta thing), and a half-elf. I warned them that it will make interacting with most civilized areas difficult due to prejudices, and that in fact, Falcon’s Hollow harbors a particular hatred towards werewolves. They accepted the consequences of their choices. Very admirable — I appreciate that they focused on making interesting characters to roleplay.

They asked the first NPC they met about the note, and the NPC explained that the only mad mage he knew of had died long ago, but used to live in a cabin about 4 miles north of town. The PCs made a beeline for it. They found the cabin in a horrid, run-down state, and it was full of junk. They easily broke in and started poking around, fought off a giant spider, and uncovered a secret trap door to a hidden basement.

In the basement was some kind of well, with a large, thick, metal cap bolted on top. (Now the vague plot as I have it now, is that this was one of 5 brothers, all of them considered eccentric or mad in their own ways. They had been competing to see who could build the most ludicrous dungeon to entice, attract, and ultimately, kill adventurers. This first brother was the bumbling idiot in the family, however, so his dungeon is very small and largely incomplete. Aside from some low-level encounters with squatting baddies, the players will also find a little bit of treasure from the one or two adventurers that didn’t actually survive the dungeon. But most importantly, they’ll find out about the other brothers.)

The PCs quickly determined that the lid was meant to keep things from the well in the well, and things outside the well outside. They also determined that they ain’t afraid of no ghost, and they’d like to get in that well. They even found some old, dried blood on the well, but since it was “just a little bit,” they guessed that whatever is below can’t be too dangerous.

They also found a weirdly mutilated body outside the cabin – a clue to a necromancer in town that went largely ignored. Following the advice of a boy on the road, they headed back into town to get a large wrench built at the blacksmith, and some dinner. During their few hours, they sufficiently creeped out enough citizens, and they began to quickly wear out their welcome. So they grabbed their wrench, paid the blacksmith handsomely, and hightailed it back to the cabin.

They met a ranger of the Fangwatch who was stalking them. He warned them of werewolves and other dangers at night. They showed him the well and explained they were going in. The ranger thought this suicide, and went off to tell the rest of his order. Here was a critical moment. They really had every reason to back off and ignore this well. But they admitted that they just couldn’t bring themselves to walk away from it. They knew they could, but they just plain didn’t want to! They were going to ignore the bully back in town preparing an angry mob for them, they were going to ignore the mutilated corpse, they were going to ignore the werewolves and the rangers, and they were going into the well.

It’s a rather small, basic dungeon crawl. But after the first couple of rooms, a creepy ghost encounter, and several close calls with nasty traps, they collectively decided, “If the risk of this dungeon starts to outweigh the rewards, we’ll back out.” BAM! I felt that was a huge success in freeing themselves from their old habits. I mean, in an adventure path, when you’re given a quest, you really have to stick with it and trust that it will pay out in the end. But in this open world, they are free to judge for themselves whether or not a quest is “worth it.”

They’ll probably finish the dungeon crawl in a couple of hours next session. And then they’ll have a critical choice: Go searching for the other brothers’ dungeons, or find something else to do entirely. My guess is, this will turn out to be an epic debate between the veteran and the rookie players: The veterans will want to stick with the familiar dungeon crawl settings, while the rookies will want to head straight to [ insert famous Pathfinder locale here ] because they read about it on the wiki and it seems really cool.

But maybe, maybe a player will speak up and say something like “Well, why don’t we go slay some dragons?” or “There’s nothing over here, let’s establish our own town!” or “Let’s go rob a bank, what do you say?” or some other invented quest of their own. And THAT would be truly perfect.