Amusing session today, the party essentially ninja'd their way to the treasure, avoiding almost all of the opposition.
The party has been on an extended quest, defending their village from the ghostly reawakening of the Martoi. To this end, they've been visiting the six shrines of Tealwood to pick up magic weapons and curry spiritual favor, in the hopes that by mid-summer they'll be able to defeat the ghost-sorcerers.
This has been going well, but true to sandbox form their heads are starting to spin a little bit with all the threads and loose ends that are accumulating. I try to make adventure locations point to one another (via maps, spells that would be slightly better if only they had a such-and-such), and because it's a sandbox they keep encountering wrongs that could be righted, potential treasure spots they don't have time for, etc.
Mostly this is because they've stayed focused on their goal. The ticking clock is wonderfully focusing: the Martoi have put out word that all the villages of Tealwood are expected to bring 'their best' by mid-summer's day, to pay tribute and swear allegiance.
Last session, however, the party's neophyte wizard finally got her way: a trip to Ganer island where they had reason to believe she might learn something that would improve her control over fire magic.
She's been bumbling along, occasionally using it successfully, sometimes frying herself or her equipment. (She's burned through at least a full set of clothing, mundane equipment, and once torched a spellbook with three spells, before anybody could learn them.)
I used *Chains of Heaven* for the top of Ganer island, modifying it to put a Seree spell engine (like the one in Full-Dark Stone) in the sealed tower. (This is what has been calling to Zero.)
I spent a while last night and this morning mulling over the adventure, trying to imagine how Nacharta or Sigordine might react to the players' arrival but.. of course.. it didn't go anything like I had imagined it.
I started off by having a Nuss scout pull 'Agatha' aside as the spread-out party made their way up to the peak.
I'm trying to portray religion as a tapestry of paganistic half-truths, while the players seem to be coming from a standard fantasy pantheon mindset. They're dying to categorize the gods, figure out what they want, what they're each the god of, and so on.
The same bunch of players (different characters) visited a shrine of Deel in a gonzo one-shot version of *The Coming of Sorg*, so upon hearing that the Nuss serve "the daughter of Deel," they were hooked. The party was very candid in the resulting conversations, so the Nuss decided an audience with Sigordine was a-ok. The players were bursting with questions.
Sigordine is a dark glass construct, made from the remains of Deel when the gods destroyed the fortress. Being nearly invulnerable, she has very little to fear from the hedge wizards of the world, scavening bits of Seree magic, so I decided to play her as quite transparent and vulnerable. Maybe a bit of Mother's Day seeped into my consciousness, too.
It's funny how off-the-cuff decisions cascade. Why wouldn't an immortal construct made from the body of a dying god know about other divine powers? Well, maybe uh.. prayer is a mortal gift. Yeah! Long story short, before ten minutes were out the party had pledged to find a shrine of Deel and one day restore the bond between Sigordine and whatever scrap of Deel's power remained in the world.
With this established, the players returned their attention to the business of improving Zero's fire magic.
Waiting until nightfall, they surveyed the castle carefully. Between their stealth and a whole series of random encounter rolls coming up empty, they were able to get to the pink tower, crack it open, bond with the spell engine, and get out again with only a single hapless sentry to dispatch.
At this point, a really interesting discussion erupted, which felt like the clash of two different gaming styles. The players had reason to believe that a green wizard and her retinue were somewhere in the castle: there was obviously much more "adventure" to be had. On the other hand, this wizard wasn't in their way - they had what they wanted. Could they just.. sneak out of here and be on their way?
It's funny. I think a sort of loss aversion kicks in as they realize how much of my prep they're skipping. But this is actually pretty cool. The more tangible threats and opportunities they pass by, the more tangible the world feels. Owlshade, Gorm, Gadna Many-Arms, the gray thing they let out of the land of the dead, Emn and her brother at the shrine, the dead of Ragdar, the danger at Morton village, the Ricalu and Rilga who opened a way to the underworld.. Sigordine worried about Narcharta reopening the pit, could that happen? They know they're leaving all sorts of stuff behind, but it's all still there, and they can come back to it whenever they want to.
Some of the younger players paused just to make sure that if they defeated the Martoi the game wouldn't end, would it?
"No," I said, "it doesn't have to."