Hello. I'm not sure whether it was better to post this here or in general, so...
My friends and I are looking for an exploration-based modpack. We tend to play together or with family (I got MC to play with my niece occasionally), so mod packs that are configured to play on "some guy's server" are out. We've tried a lot of things so far. TerraFirmaCraft was interesting, but too prone to terminal lag even with a good computer (Or especially with? Damned Java garbage collection...). AoA could have been interesting, but none of us want to slog through unkillable Hunter XP mobs (And wtf is with a L20 hunter mob and a L93 hunter mob in the SAME BIOME?), and it just seems to be a collection of different-looking dimensions. A lot of the other packs we've looked at, particularly found on Curse, are just extra biomes / dimensions and bloated tech mods where you're practically a god right out of the gate.
What I'm really asking is: Minecraft's progression, such as it is, is vertical. Start on the surface, dig down, dig down more, keep digging down until you find diamonds, the end. Well, the nether, and then The End. We want something that's a horizontal progression: An easy start, with harder biomes spawning more dangerous enemies and stronger materials, then harder biomes beyond that, and so forth. Materials from loot or at or near the surface - the focus is preparing and heading into more dangerous territory to progress, rather than just relentless digging down. Plenty O Biomes is a good start, for example, but there's no reason to go to all the interesting biomes it has except to go to them. A mod pack that actively tries to move the focus of the game from digging to going places.
One thing we love about MC is building stuff along with whatever else there is going on (Or we'd just play Don't Starve Together :D), which is why we're really hoping we can find something. Thus far it's been pretty disappointing trying to play modded MC, since beyond the difficulty of just getting mods to work (together), trying to FIND mods on Google just pulls up posts from 2012 all over the place, and that's hardly helpful. Tons of mod packs have little to no descriptions or list what's in them but not how they're tweaked to work together, etc. I'd be happy if anyone had any suggestions for exploration-based modpacks that don't heavily rely on massive mining and pushing up to nuclear-steam-rail tech before doing anything else for us to check out.
(Even suggestions for individual exploration / survivalish mods that work well together to use as a start would be great. We'd prefer a working mod pack but we'd work at tweaking any suggestions to get something like what we're looking for, if we can only get a good start to work from.)