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!