The session started in a small, riverside town of Bier, where rumors abounded and various character concepts yielded even more opportunity. Unfortunately, we had a few out-of-towners, so session one of Exodus began with only two players, but it was certainly enough to cause trouble and yielded two almost-TPKs.
Ah, the infinite potential of a blank sheet of hex mapping paper. A wondrous world awaits!
Exodus is a Pathfinder campaign set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy, which has a decidedly old-school feel to it (largely because it was the first non-TSR D&D setting ever published, way back in the 16th century). It’s a sandbox hexcrawler, and that’s exactly what I gave to my players on session one. “You’re here. You’ve heard this, this, and this. Now what?”
The two characters, being of roguish persuasion, sought out the local dubious elements and proceeded to get themselves into hock with the thieves’ guild, a localized branch of the greater guild doing business in the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, that just happened to be running a smuggling operation out of Bier. The abbreviated party had heard:
- The savages of the Purple Claw tribe haunt the Dearthwood to the north, across the Estuary of Roglaroon.
- A madman recently came into town from the foothills to the south, raving about the horrors in the Tomb of the Seeker.
- A pair of hideous giants prowls the wood to the west, under the control of a witches’ coven.
- In a ruin to the northeast lies a treasure sought by the marauder Lokaug Vishnakh and his warband.
At this point, the party consisted of Mordun, a half-orc, half-tiefling alchemist trying to suborn his monstrous origin, and Quinthalas, an elven rogue displaced from the Dearthwood by the orcs of the Purple Claw. They decided that the wise thing to do would be to venture south and find exactly what this “Tomb of the Seeker” was, and then use that information to pay off their debts to the thieves’ guild, from whom they borrowed a pack animal to carry their supplies. Without a known destination, though, they later opted to seek out the giants of the nearby forest, to give them a better grasp of the immediate geography.
And giants they found. At least one, and apparently leading a rival tribe of orcs. The drew the giant and his entourage out of the forest with a great campfire, over which they roasted a deer, and the hungry humanoids followed the scent.
That’s when it fell apart. The party had staged itself in a ruin that stood on the crest of a hill, where the two hoped to be able to use the geography to their advantage. Tactical errors were the rule of the day, though, and while the duo managed to overwhelm the trio of orcish scouts who closed with them first, they were soon themselves overcome by eight more of the Mystic Eye tribe. TPK one.
Nothing good could come of it. And nothing good did.
When they came to, they found they had been dumped into a small catacomb beneath the ruin (which they presumably would have found had they not been swarmed by the orc raiders). Looking up into the moonlit sky, they saw a grate and the silhouette of an orcish head, and were told, “Find the idol and we’ll let you go.” Whatever was down there, the orcs didn’t want any part of it.
More haplessness occurred, with the rogue mostly finding a series of long-ago-sprung traps, but falling face-first into a recessed gallery that had collected a pool of viscous acid. Icons from an unknown age decorated the gallery, with the most notable being a large, human-shaped statue missing its arms and head.
Thereafter, with a bit more exploration, the pair discovered another shrine, this one protected by a bizarre pair of spiders. The spiders had constructed no webs, and instead seemed to be automatons or otherwise behaving unspiderishly. Flanking the alcove of the shrine were a pair of chests, and the alcove itself housed another headless, armless statue, around the neck-stump of which hung a pendant marked with the Mystic Eye on one side and a similar symbol on the other that they had encountered on a stone column when they still owned their freedom.
The spiders — the initially nonaggressive spiders that had been provoked into combat — proved more than the meager and wounded party could handle, and Mordun fled into the company of the orcs after procuring the relic. Quinthalas’ greed made an end of him, and he expired, food for the spiders — the vampire spawn spiders — in the abandoned shrine.
I don’t think those orcs came up with this on their own.
Mordun turned the pendant idol over to his orcish captors, who repaid him by branding their tribe’s sigil on his face.
In retrospect, on a gameplay level, I think the players had different expectations of the exploration game and sandbox experience. I think Quinthalas’ player, Nate, had a conception of “old school” gaming as “if it exists in the dungeon, it’s there to be conquered,” and that’s a perilous undertaking for first level characters. Sam, Mordun’s player, was much more cautious, but felt a player’s responsibility to help the other character, even though the Mordun probably should have fled when Quin pushed his luck too far. This is okay — the players are new to one another and the campaign is new, so everyone is still feeling out how he wants the campaign to proceed and how the players and characters relate to one another.
On my end, I didn’t feel like I evoked as much detail as I prefer to, nor do I think I conveyed the sense of the campaign scope as much as I might have liked. It’s something that will acquire a greater sense of understanding as the campaign progresses, so I’ll keep my eye on it. Also, the encounters felt a bit “stock,” and I’ll need to take my own advice to weird things up a bit once the campaign hits its stride.
For their part, the players were definitely proactive instead of waiting for the Malleus Argumentum, which was fantastic. The downside, of course, is inherent to sandbox games : The gamemaster has to know enough of the world to at least wing it when the players decide they want to do any given thing, so focused preparation suffers. I think this is somewhat to blame for my lack of evocative vision communication, but I’m happy to accept that as the cost for a world the players truly own in which they can undertake whatever they wish.