Reading over Scourge of the Sword Coast and I’m a bit impressed with it so far. From things I had heard about the meta-event the adventures involved in the Sundering have been rather a rather tight rail road. I’m not really seeing that in this adventure so far. Yes the adventure does operate on a presumption of player actions but does not limit the players to those presumptions.
What I think I’m seeing in a lot of the rail road comments is a sense of perceived handholding, a not trusting of the Dungeon Master to take the fate of the story an place it into the hands of the players. However, I don’t think that is the case either, instead it seems to me that the writers (Tito Leati, Matt Sernett, Chris Sims I believe) are giving clues to the group as a whole in regards to those presumptions.
For instance one of the first things that occurs is the ransacking of an abandoned farm near where the player’s caravan is encamped. The book describes the farm, the enemies and everything but it doesn’t say “if the players leave the goblins to ransack the barn the caravan will be attacked and everyone slaughtered!” Neither do any of the NPCs attempt to force the players onward to the farm. No, the players can ignore it and (and this is the important part I think people are missing) if the DM adds nothing the night goes by with little problem.
Of course I’m still reading, but I am seeing little in terms of a set path. Yes this is an adventure path series; however, it does not beat the group over the head into following a straight and narrow line. It is also, however, not a sandbox. Nor should it be. Not every adventure needs to be a sandbox or a set piece within the sandbox. For what it is (a premade story that that the players interact with and subtlety change) Scourge of the Sword Coast is thus far great and I really wish I could play it instead of just reading it.
Finally, no worries, I’m not ditching S&W and Xplorers to go hunting after 5th. While I enjoy the new edition and think it a refreshing refocusing on the part of WotC. I’ve come to love the open straight forward nature of the OSR systems.