Thoughts on Open World Environments in Pathfinder

When I first came to AD&D it was in second edition.  I was gaming while first edition was around but if I was playing D&D it was with the boxed sets (basic, expert, master’s, companion etc.).  The world I played in had meta-plot but was largely set up as an open world environment.  The DM showed you a map, gave you a background (shared background development), gave you the spiel of the state of things and asked for questions.  I pointed at various places and he gave me a rundown (swamp bad, nobody ever has returned and rumoured to be the lair of a black dragon etc).

A wild an distinctly different environment
greets the players eyes…

He had designed his world as a functioning sandbox.  That was he had a meta plot (The Dark Master was trying to take over the land with Minsel the Mad Mage at his right hand to drive his armies of undead and outsiders against the kingdom) but essentially allowed the players to do whatever they wanted to do.  He did a very good job of making it feel like the world was completely developed (true or not I do not know).  He also did not shy away from if a first level character wandered into the swamp (I wish I remembered the name of it, driving me nuts) they would get killed and he would say, you were told and shrug.

I loved this game and I am considering running something similar.  By the time I am ready to run a new campaign I will have run three Adventure Paths and been a player in one, as well as having run some of a Kaiden game.  I do like Golarion (the world of Pathfinder) but I find it far more set up for an Adventure Path style game (the world is largely discovered) than an exploration sandbox style game.  I know that this is an overgeneralisation but it is just my view.

A place of beauty contrasted by danger and uncertainty

I am thinking then that the best way to build a game like this might be to start in Golarion but have some kind of mishap occur to the players.  Looking at the first module of the Serpent Skull Adventure Path (which is one of the best sandbox style modules I have ever run) the adventure begins with a ship wreck that the players were on.  They are then thrown into an adventure of survival and investigation that is intriguing as well as player driven.  Taking that as my model perhaps I could have the players attending some kind of ritual blessing or magic ceremony that goes horribly wrong and when they awake they are in some kind of environment they know nothing about.

Wild expanses to be explored

Likely this would still be on Golarion, but somewhere well away from the Inner Sea so things are different.  Language will be an initial problem when they eventually make contact with the “civilised” areas of the region.  I will, like my DM such a long time ago, have a meta plot for the region but the drive for the players will be there own.  Will they pursue travel home or come to see possibilities in their new environment?  Will they take up the challenge that the meta-plot offers or will they put their heads down and explore the before unheard of region to see what they can find?  These are all hallmarks of a good sandbox and it will be these questions that I will find enjoyment in finding the answers to while it will be the self driven pace that my players will find enjoyable.

With nothing but your own ability to depend on…

I look back to that first module of Serpent Skull and realise that it was possibly the most successful Adventure Path module I have ever run (I was going to say module of all time but when I ran Harlequin in Shadowrun it blew my players minds).  The players of that module often talk to me about how they feel rushed in other modules and how they feel that they have no time to pursue their own goals.  I do believe that in their current game (Skull and Shackles) they will find this a bit different in some of the modules but I am getting the message that one or two of them really do prefer the idea of a sandbox style game.  they were the ones that were super keen for the game that takes them from 1st through to 17th level but I can see what they are getting at.

No questions from me today!  Although feel free to comment if you have played in a sandbox vs. scripted style adventure and have an opinion.  i really needed to just get my thoughts down out of my head so I could clarify them for myself.  I hope you have enjoyed the look at this process, and if it is something you haven’t tried before give it a go.  Take that idea from your head and write it down on where the idea largely came from and what you intend to do with it.  It can be enlightening!  Until next time, keep rolling 😀

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