I picked up the Anniversary Edition of Rise of the Runelords, the very first Pathfinder adventure path. This is my review of the third module, Hook Mountain Massacre.
In the third module of the Runelords adventure path (chapter 3 in the Anniversary Edition), the players go up against a horde of inbred ogres to save a frontier fort. Given that most of this adventure takes place in the great outdoors, it feels almost like a sandbox, at least insofar as any non-linear adventure often leads to unexpected player choices.
In this adventure, the players venture into the wilderness ostensibly to check up on Fort Rannick, an outpost guarding the civilised world from the chaos of the wilderness. The players do have to journey to the fort, though, and before arriving at the fort they're meant to run into a household of murderous ogres who have, as it turns out, abducted some soldiers from the fort. The GM can place the ogre household anywhere, so you can force the players to at least come within range of the house, and you can probably goad them into the house one way or another.
Assuming that happens, there's a truly horrifying and unsettling family of inbred ogres for the players to defeat, and not one or two but three NPCs for them to rescue. I'll admit, I don't love the idea of NPCs joining the party for any extended amount of time. I find party NPCs to be awkward at best, and a GM burden during combat (I know, I can just assign them to players, but then they become player burdens), so I'm not sure I would bother with the NPCs surviving. One NPC in particular harbours a dark secret that's somewhat significant to the story, or at least to a subplot, so I think I'd probably have two NPCs dead on arrival, and a dying confession from the third. A better GM than I could probably do a lot more with these characters, and I think in theory they could make for a more immersive experience as the players travel further into what is now known to be compromised territory.
The next stop is Fort Rannick itself. The fort could take several sessions, should the players decide on extended surveillance. This reminds me a little of the giant encampment in the Giantslayer adventure path. In fact, this segment of the adventure embodies one of my favourite kinds of gameplay. I think of it as Shadowrun-style gaming: players have to investigate and scout out their target, weigh their options, collaborate and debate, accounting for even unforeseen circumstances, until they settle on a brilliant scheme that ensures them success.
And then, several hours or game sessions later, they execute the plan. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot can go wrong, but no matter what happens, it's such a supremely satisfying experience for both players and GM to see, essentially, a simulation play out. The PCs are going into a pre-programmed area that changes based on what player choices trigger. And even when players stick exactly to plan, there are always some unexpected surprises. It's like a heist movie, only a lot more tense (and fun) because you're in it.
In the end, the players learn that the fort got overthrown thanks to a little bit of human error and a little bit of betrayal. Most importantly, they learn that the invasion points to a far greater plot threatening Turtleback Ferry. Well, that's how these adventures progress, after all, so it's not too surprising. Connections to the actual plot of the adventure are still tenuous, but players are probably starting to assemble a few clues that at least hint at something deeply sinister. In just two chapters, the ultimate goal becomes clear.
This was a good read. Disturbing and ugly and filled with evil your players will definitely want to clear out of Golarion, and a good variety of gameplay options.