In prior posts I've talked briefly about a sandbox campaign I've set up for play when everyone can't show up for my "regular" campaign. The Lost Frontier has seen four sessions since then, and while I have been remiss at getting up the play by play, it's been going along exactly as planned. So far, there has been a different mix of players each time, with last week's session having the most players (four, with five PCs)and things being suitably, well, sandboxy.
Last week's session was remarkable in that as a DM I had to engage in not one, not two, but three complete focus shifts until the "real" adventure happened, which just highlights how non-scripted and seat of the pants such a campaign can become. The session started with the group meeting in the favorite inn/tavern of the town of Barnacus, and me presenting them with several (randomly rolled up) rumors from a rumor sheet of about 20+ adventure seeds. Some had been heard before, and dismissed (for the second time, a certain PC decided there was NO WAY he was going to try to find out why intelligent white apes were attacking caravans going to and from the city). Finally settling on a tried and true cliche ("A village at the foot of the mountains has had several young ladies kidnapped for an unknown fate")the party hired three NPC fighters, bought a pack mule, and headed off.
On the way to the adventure, the party passed through an area where undead were said to be attacking people. The party clerics decided it would be a good idea to look into this while they were in the neighborhood, so convinced the party to just stop and take a look-see. This led to a battle with ghasts and a delve into a underground crypt, and a room with four doorways, all with cryptic clues to which sort of undead lay within. The first room they choose was a skeletal figure on a throne, and after disturbing it, it waved it's finger at them....and teleported them all far away. To a completely different adventure!
They ended up spending the afternoon battling a small orc army (over 200 strong) protecting a freehold on the edge of civilized lands,and getting a better view of the wider campaign area (and the subtle idea that orcs are once again building up to another invasion of civilized lands, something that happens every decade or so with alarming regularity in The Lost Frontier).
For my part, I enjoyed the fact that the adventuring focus changed three times: from rescuing village lasses, to cleaning out a tomb of undead, to defending a fortress against orcs, and it was more or less all player driven. Had different decisions been made at approximately any point (choosing a different initial rumor, not investigating the undead, certainly not choosing the tomb of the Crypt Thing over the other three tombs) we would have had a totally different experience. It definitely kept me on my toes, even if I experienced the mental whiplash of three entirely different DM foci in the period of an hour! Typical adventuring behavior seems to have players focus in on one goal (which happened the 2nd and 3rd sessions, as two different groups decided to clean out one dungeon due to the rapidly escalating reward for such an endeavor) and move on from there. I'm interested in seeing where the more scattered sandbox approach will leave the landscape (half-finished dungeons? Rumors never followed up on? Threats ignored that will have to be dealt with "off stage"?)
Interestingly, hex crawling is a perfectly viable endeavor in my sandbox, yet the players have yet to go about adventuring in that way, although I hope they do at some point; simply because I've taken the ridiculous amount of time to plant over 1000 adventure seeds, treasures, NPCs, ruins, dungeons and what-not in the campaign area.
Probably my only "disappointment" so far has been no character deaths. NPCs have not been so lucky, and the different groups have been smart in hiring cannon fodder every time out (once losing four NPCs in a single session in a dungeon delve near town). If this keeps up the group may develop a reputation in town (although the NPCs that do survive are very comfortably compensated, so this might mitigate the criticism somewhat among possible hirelings). These are all experienced players, however, who know the value of caution, retreating, and can recognize a threat that is too dangerous for their low level group (an entreaty from the priests of the Temple of Elemental Fire hiring adventurers to clean out their temple invaded by rogue fire creatures met with nothing more than a chuckle or two). Now that the two longest lived characters are 2nd and 3rd level, I'm interested in seeing the player's reactions if/when these characters bite the dust, and they are forced to begin again from scratch. In the other campaign I run, characters that die are raised by their companions; I'm wondering if this same dynamic will hold in the much looser confederation of "game as you go" sandbox playing style. Certainly in the case of the lost NPCs no consideration beyond running away was taken in their unfortunate deaths....