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.