A while ago, Paizo decided to continue what TSR started with Dungeon magazine and publish dedicated Adventure Path’s which are essentially 6 installments of a campaign that would take you from first level to around 15th level (give or take some levels depending on how it goes). From the outside looking in, it looks like they have been doing very well with it.
If you happen to go through one, it is a very linear path through a campaign that is made with generic hooks into the story because it would be impossible to know all the types of players that are going to go through the paths. They are usually creative stories with lots to do as the characters race through the adventure. The problem is one that you would expect though … it’s a fairly linear campaign that doesn’t have great hooks for your own group of characters going through it. While they do present some suggestions on how to get the characters more entrenched into the setting, that heavy lifting is left to the GM if they have the time.
A while back, in what I believe was first edition Shadowrun, FASA had published a super-module called Harlequin that was a series of short-adventures that were related to each other. The advice in the module was very specific though … don’t run the sub-chapters together. Run other things in between and the players will be shocked when they see a set of their adventures all relate to each other. That advice was golden as it caught my players completely off-guard when they finally let the players into the know about the bigger picture of things going on.
Seeing how successful it was, I have actually taken that approach to most other campaigns I have run. There may be bigger things at work, but I take time to intersperse other stories including ones related to character’s backgrounds and goals to make the campaign more about them. It also has the desired side-affect that the characters have their own personal attachment to the setting so when something threatens the NPCs that they care about, they are all the more likely to try to make a difference. It’s a tricky balance though … do too much and the campaign feels like it doesn’t have a lot of direction. (I have gone too far in the past as well — so you need to know your players and how much that interests them.)
While you certainly could run through Paizo’s adventure paths as is and have a good time, it will be potentially a more impactful experience if you can weave other stories that really force the characters to interact with the setting and grow attachments to what is going on. At a very high-level that is what I like to do when setting up my sandbox campaigns. What do you like to do if you decide to run a sandbox campaign?