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I'd say it's about 50/50. Some players need a huge push to interact with NPCs in a significant way (like Shalelu's lover). I don't push those too hard, because it's clearly not what they want. That's why that relationship is purely physical, because I also didn't want him to be left out of the RP scenes completely.
On the other hand, two players have made a huge effort to interact with their NPCs, hunting for presents for them, going out of their way to get them a share of the loot, putting themselves in danger unnecessarily on the NPCs' behalf. I reward that with a little more interaction. Both of those PCs are engaged, at this point.
Most of the NPC stuff happens in e-mail or on our Obsidian Portal forum, in part because I can't be bothered to slow the game down to do it in-game. Sometimes, though, I'll say, "the entire caravan stops today to celebrate the Ritual of Stardust. Everyone breaks out an instrument and takes turns playing and dancing, except Shalelu. How do you participate?" The Ritual of Stardust is great, because it's built around declarations of friendship and love, it happens every few months, and all the NPCs would participate (Ameiko's the only non-Desnan in the group, and if you can't get a follower of Shelyn in on a love-in, you're doing something wrong.) Come to think of it, that's the last big NPC thing I did, and the PCs have been driving the relationships ever since.
The NPCs, and Ameiko especially, are proving integral to my game. One character had a childhood crush on Ameiko and made it her mission to bring joy to Ameiko's life. It worked, Ameiko proposed to her and they're getting married when the group hits the Forest of Spirits. The problem is, that union won't produce an heir.
The kitsune Ameiko is going to marry picked up a dragon statue in Kalsgard (the one that is hinted at in the Kalsgard guide as always working to return to Tian Xia). Except that the dragon statue contains the spirit of an ancient forest dragon, a herald of Tsukiyo tasked with guarding the Forest of Spirits, who was imprisoned in that form. He has been training the PC, in her dreams, to be Royal Consort. Once they get to the Forest, the dragon can return to his natural form, at which point he's going to perform the marriage ceremony, strip the kitsune of her status as an Amatatsu Scion, make her (and one other PC) Princess of the Forest (assuming that they can get the blessing of the kami), change the sex of the entire party, temporarily, and grant their mythic ascension. At that point, I expect the kitsune and Ameiko will get to work on producing an heir, and when Ameiko takes the throne, her Royal Consort will be the Princess of the Forest, which will join their two kingdoms.
As a bonus, there was a PC who was Ameiko's little sister, but the player had to stop, so the PC was summoned on a secret mission by a Norn. Ameiko's relationship with the sister went from one of over-protection to great respect, so she's sure her sister will come back. If the player doesn't, though, the sister never reappears, Ameiko hears rumors of her death, falls into a depression, and starts making Very Bad Choices.
Meanwhile, the witch has gotten engaged to Sandru, the first person who ever treated her with compassion. She has tempered his bluster quite a bit, and he has worked to make her just a little less evil.
In fact...:I expect that at least some of the stuff in Hongal and Minkai will involve helping Sandru set up his trade empire, since most of the PCs want to return to Varisia with him.
They are getting married in the Uqtaal Necropolis. Koya is insisting, because she wants to stay there and reconsecrate it. As part of the wedding ritual, she is going to cast an Atonement, allowing the witch to become truly good. Atonement is above her level, so in return Desna is going to bind her to the Necropolis, which is also going to become the secret passage through which Sandru's burgeoning trade empire will run, until the pass through the Wall of Heaven can be cleared, which might take a couple of years.
Shalelu's lover and adopted sister are PCs.
I don't expect much to happen with the lover. He and Shalelu are perfect for each other: neither of them says much and both are socially awkward. Most of their flirting looked like this: "Shalelu, I wanted to... um... that is... I got you... Something is trying to kill us! Thank gods! To arms!" At this point, most of their interaction seems to consist of scouting ahead of the caravan and then returning to have sex, after which they both need healing.
Meanwhile, the sister is a were-bear. When they get to the Forest of Spirits, the huldra that has been quietly traveling with them, collecting stories and trying (unsuccessfully) to bed any of the PCs will reveal her true goals, and try to take the younger sister away to the First World. I think that Shalelu might have opinions about that. Character-wise, she's been the hardest for me to get a handle on. Mostly, she's the Queen of Doing Violence. She's done a lot of violence, to a lot of people.
So, for us, the NPCs have been a huge inspiration in terms of sub-plots and character development. I think it's safe to say that much of the character development in the game wouldn't have happened without the NPCs, since the PCs aren't really interacting very deeply. In my party, the NPCs are the only thing holding the whole show together; without them, the PCs wouldn't have anything to do with one another.
What does Prince Batsaikhar look like?
He's described as "enormous," in the text, but I can't decide whether that means "voluminous" or "titanic." On the one hand, making him a man of impressive girth gives weight to his depiction as a slave to his appetites. On the other hand, I picture "The Golden One" as a taller, more Mongolian, version of Gerard Butler in "300." On first meeting, he stands, his many-folded robes fall away, and he reveals himself as a 7' tall, chiseled figure, looking a bit like Rocky (from the "Horror Picture Show," not "and Bullwinkle").
I could see it going either way, and the headshot is no help (except that that guy doesn't look overweight).
Which direction have other people gone in?
I'm working on that problem right now, myself. The current plan is to make the aranea less of a threat (shift them from CE to CN if necessary), and have the NPCs push for the PCs to talk to them (possibly using Miyaro and the kami). A Restoration to cure Akinosa, and the PCs have an army that will sweep through the Penance, taking out the smaller foes and falling back when they hit something they can't handle, like the Swine Shogun. That way, I cut it down to about half a dozen actual encounters, pre-rolling and narrating the rest (probably passing out different write-ups to each player for them to narrate to the group). I can still play out the really fun stuff, and highlight the cruelty of the oni, but skip the grind.
This weekend, my group asked a question that I didn't have an answer to, and couldn't find in either the book or the thread: "How did she activate it, and can we take control of the Storm Sphere?"
I try to give them more than one way to solve any given problem, so the railroad "you must break these six very difficult to break crystals" was an issue. In fact, they were impossible for my party to break: no picks, all our fighters wield light weapons and rely on multiple attacks, most people do elemental damage. There was literally one character who could do a single point of damage, and then only if he rolled max damage.
In the end, I decided that there was a control panel on the roof, just like the ones for the elevators, but to get to it a flying character had to make a Reflex save to avoid the lightning, and then make multiple UMD or DD checks to get it working. When the only character who could make those checks got killed by the failed save, we turned it narrative. "It takes you hours, but you eventually chip the crystals apart."
It would have been nice to have a hint in the room write-up as to how Katiyana gained control in the first place.
The group even got the crysmals to repair the storm sphere, which they will now take with them, because that couldn't possibly come back to haunt them, later...
I don't think that the Wood Wife or the satyr are bestiality (and Greta only barely). Humans and fae are a classic fairy tale trope, as are humans and shape-shifted animals: "Beauty and the Beast," "The Swan Prince," "The Frog Prince," "The Crow Brothers," "Midsummer Night's Dream," the story of the selkie, the kitsune, and on and on. This whole adventure path seems to follow fairy tale themes, and this one is so common in the source material that I'm surprised it hasn't come up more. That's just the transformed animals. That's not even considering the animals that fall in love with humans (and vise versa).
Satyrs and huldra aren't animals. They're fae. Even Greta, in the context of the Howlings, isn't an animal - she's as smart and self-determined as any human.
If you're not interested in the fairy tale stuff, I don't see what the attraction of this AP would be.
You could adapt the system, though, to give each NPC an action every round, but limited to the ones on the card. That way, the person who has the tightest relationship with the NPC controls their actions, but doesn't have to learn to read a whole new sheet.
Personally, I found that trying to realize the NPCs during combat led to making my players watch me play with myself: "Shalelu rapid-shots the yeti for 25 damage, then moves, so the yeti gets an AoO, which she dodges. Ameiko keeps singing, and moves past the yeti to get into flanking position for Sandru. Sandru attacks with his rapier, deftly power attacking for 30 points. Nobody needs healing yet, so Koya casts 'Bless." Ulf charges, but he misses. Now, it's... hey, where did everybody go?"
Alternatively, the players all got an NPC to play... then spent an extra fifteen minutes on every turn because they weren't familiar with the character sheet and had to look up every little rule. Half of my players can barely keep the rules for their own characters in their hards, little say a whole new character they didn't create.
I made the decision early on to let the PCs be the stars of the combats and work on making the NPCs more important outside of combat. YMMV.
NPC actions, spoilered because I can't remember if I've mentioned it before, or where I stole the idea from.:
I give out "NPC Action Cards" at the beginning of every session/ encounter. If a player declares that an NPC is with them, and they have a relationship above acquaintance, they get a card. When they get to "devotion," they'll get two cards (except Ulf, who is always with them, and so always has a card). The cards have the NPCs picture on one side, to help the players remember who's with them. Once per encounter, the player can hand in the card to have the NPC perform one of the actions on the back. For example:
Koya’s NPC actions may be used to:
If an NPC card is not spent the NPC can be used to flank or Aid Another. NPC actions must be declared at the start of your turn.
End result: the NPCs take up almost no time in the combat, their presence is felt, they have a small effect (Shalelu sacrificed herself to save a PC, at one point), and I never have to play an NPC in combat. It's a great replacement for hero points.
About giving experience for a single die roll: this is yet another reason why I level at story appropriate moments, instead. Beat Kimandatsu? Get a level! Because how anti-climactic is it to beat the big boss in the middle of a level? *yawn* I couldn't even tell you how many xp most encounters are supposed to give. I never even read that line.
I love those, Siduri. I wish I'd read the Sandru one a long time ago, because that would have been an excellent way to link him in. He's actually the one I have the hardest time with, at this point.
One of my players went for Shalelu (it was going to be two, but the second one had was already set up to be her half-step-sister, in my background, and that got weird). I tied her in before that, thanks to some good advice here on the board, by making her protective of Ameiko (her "heart-sister"). In particular, she didn't know what happened with Ameiko and Sandru, since they agreed never to speak of it, and only knew than Ameiko came back from adventuring with him with a broken heart. This meant a lot of tension on the road between Shalelu and Sandru. (In my backstory, he left Sandpoint for the Varisian life because Shalelu told him to stay away from Ameiko, because of the confusion, and threatened his life. The first time she caught them alone together, she tried to make good on the threat until the party stopped her.) This tied into Koya, as well, because she had decided that Ameiko and Sandru should be together, and blamed Shalelu for keeping them apart. Some nice soap-opera drama, there.
Remember that the "relationship scores" don't have to be romantic. It's possible to have a close tie to Shalelu as an apprentice, and for that to be the relationship that gets built up.
One of my PCs is engaged to Sandru and apprenticed to Koya, so I expect to kill Koya off at some point, for drama's sake (and because there's no one left who would be mechanically affected by it). That said, your Koya write-up is great. Really useful stuff, there.
I'm having some trouble deciphering the "Fording the Taraksa" event. The first paragraph says that if the caravan follows the Kluani "they automatically locate the ford," but that if they try to find it they have to "try to find an alternate ford," which requires one Security check. Then the next paragraph describes how to find the ford, which takes four security checks.
It seems to me that the four Security check paragraph is a clarification of the "strike out to find their own," since "automatically finding the ford" implies that no Security checks are necessary.
If that's true, that Security checks are not necessary to cross the Taraksa ford, then there's no advice on how long that should take.
As an added bonus, I rolled a Heatwave for that day, after days and days of freezing weather, which should melt the ice just enough to make crossing potentially deadly.
I'm not sure what to do, though. Four Security checks? One, but at a higher difficulty? Greater penalties for failure (including potentially losing wagons)? Fight the glacier toads, with a 50% chance to break the ice and trigger the giant pikes?
Am I misreading the second paragraph? What have others done, here?
I always try to plan for my players to use crisis entry, because it's my SOP as a player. Give me a cathedral to breach, and I'll come in from the bell tower every time. Even if it leads to a TPK and ends a Shackled City campaign prematurely.
Crisis entry: not always a good idea, but always awesome.
I wish my group had battled across rooftops, instead of one-shotting the sniper. (Magus crit fml.) Sounds epic.
Some of it is memory, too. I gave out "clue cards," every time they triggered an event, that summed up the info they had gathered. The players held onto the business cards in between sessions and started every session by comparing notes again (as the party talked over dinner). This way, they never lost track in between sessions, and they could help each other finish up missions. (As an added bonus, the cards had the skills and DCs for me, to make it easier to nudge them towards the check.)
It also helps to throw in extra npc contacts. My group had Fynn, but also had a helpful tengu acrobat that dropped hits about the thieves guild.
I'm glad you did this. I'd been worried that my party had too much wealth, especially since they want to craft over the Crown. I'm adding in four PFS modules, "Baleful Coven," "Under Frozen Stars," "The Harrowing" and the "Ruby Phoenix Tournament," as well, so mine will be well over.
My wealth problem is a little different. I have a gunslinger, a bladebound magus, a ninja and two casters. The ninja gets all the cool early-game weapons, and the gunslinger and magus don't want any besides the one they have. My party, in other words, is not that interested in magic item drops. They're selling almost everything, which means that I have to add in the extra adventures, or else they'll be even farther behind, I think.
Uthak: I'd love to see what you did with the caravan. I'm planning to keep the caravan rules in place through the Crown (since one of my players doesn't keep a journal or paint minis but wants the extra hero point that comes with doing out-of-game work), but giving them a modified Nigh Monarch Vardo at the pole, which should help to shift the caravan to the background. Then, in Minkai, I'd like to turn the caravan into an encampment until the adventure is over. If we could make it a mobile town in the meantime, that could be fun.
Pallius: I like a lot of parts of that idea. I think it's especially important to shed light on how Minkai is interacting with its neighbors. I think I'd avoid the "rebels" angle, because it shows up in Book 5, though. I like the idea of fake rebels, because it would make the players more suspicious of the actual rebels, later.
I've been looking for a way to get a Kuwa oni in, though, and that would be a perfect opportunity. I like the suicide bomber, but it might be good to give the PCs a chance to stop it. Players like to have agency in these things.
Since my players don't know there's a mechanical benefit, even the power gamer is focusing on his one relationship for the fun of it. Having a gift every level or so works to keep the relationships in mind, and it's especially nice to hear players say things like, "that's really nice sake, I think Sandru would like it, so I'll take it as part of my share of the loot," when it's already been established that this character and Sandru have a nightly nightcap, sampling different alcohols from different regions or countries.
The thing that the relationship system does nicely, I think, is provide me as GM a quantifiable level for the relationship. I'd be tempted to jump too quickly to intimate friendship, so the system has slowed me down, and forced the relationships to build over time. As a result, the speeches that the NPCs gave on the Ritual of Stardust could be focused specifically towards the PCs they were closest to, deliberately snubbing the PCs that they had bad relationships with (for example). Sure, I could have done all that on my own, but the system made it much, much easier to quantify. Koya and L. are friends, almost fellows, so she'll talk about how L has become like a daughter to her, while K is only barely a friend, so Koya will talk about their "growing friendship."
In a system where Charisma is measured in numbers, regardless of how you role-play it, it is actually useful to have a mechanic to track the progress of a relationship.
Is it perfect? Nope. Have I made some changes? Sure, but they've been minor. I know there has been a lot of criticism of the system, and of the caravan system, but I'd recommend that anyone playing JR give both systems a try, for the first couple of books. If they're not working, you can adapt them and/or chuck them, but they do a lot to make the adventure path feel different, and to integrate two potentially peripheral elements (the NPCs and the caravan), which has made it feel, at least for my group, like a more immersive experience (because they have to actually think about their travel arrangements, and they think about the NPCs even when they're not around).
I just realized why I thought it would be wielder-only:
"If a new person wields Suishen, that person must learn the sword's additional powers all over again."
I take this to mean that if the ninja had possession when Kimandatsu was killed, the ninja can access the protection from cold, but as soon as it is handed off, the power goes away, unless the samurai then uses it to kill an oni, in which case both can use the protection, but neither gets the next ability.
An argument could be made that the wielder could cast it on others, using the sword. I think that would have to take the form of kneeling in front of the wielder and swearing fealty, as though being knighted. Every day. The sword is the soul of an emperor, after all. NG or not, no Ego 25 artifact is going to be the party's cold-protection machine for nothing.
The 3/day spells can be cast on anyone, as a spell caster, I guess. I'm with you, Jeff, about the speech. I play it as telepathic by contact, just like Helgarval.
That would completely change how I was going to handle the Crown Run. Is there any reason not to make all of Suishen's powers "wielder-only?" If it's an inherent limitation of the artifact (which some people have argued is too powerful, anyway), then it's consistent. That's a change I'm comfortable making, to give my players a little more challenge over the Crown.
They went to the trouble to get a crafter, and making wands will keep her busy enough that the trip won't be too item-heavy.
gamer-printer: From the OP: "As I have 6 players in my game I had a side quest take them into Riddleport, where he tried once again to press the issue of taking a ship instead of going over land."
Seems to me it's one player who actually likes being a little disruptive and contrary. I get it, because I'm often that guy. That's why you have to increase buy-in. An old sailor who knew a guy who told of surviving the trip, and of the dangers probably won't do it.
Heck, one of my players is actually playing a sometime sea captain, and even that character was convinced to give up the sea route by the "it's more than 10,000 miles through uncharted water, past the hole in the world created by the death of a god, through the territories of dozens of hostile countries, and no one you know or know of has done it and lived. There are no maps for much of the journey. The alternative is a well-known path of 3000 miles with an experienced guide."
It's really unfair to base advice on the assumption that someone is using their own world. I suspect that the OP is like me: I have a job that already takes up 50 hours of my week. I don't have the time or interest to build a world, or completely rewrite two chapters of an AP. I do enough re-writing as it is. I told my players up front: "this isn't an Eastern adventure: it's Journey into the West. It's The Last Samurai, not House of Flying Daggers." If they wanted to play House of Flying Daggers, I'd be sad for them, because that's not what I'm running.
I get that you wrote a three-part AP set in the East, but people running this AP don't want just that. The journey is the destination, for some of us. If you don't run the Varisia part, you don't get to play the out-of-his-element Viking warrior, or the returning descendent of a family that left in disgrace, or the witch fleeing her past to a new continent. For those archetypes, you have to play the journey, because it's how they build character and connections, before taking over a new country.
As an added bonus, the adventure path looks like this:
Levels 1-6 (gritty realism): Varisia and Vikings
In other words, the power-level of the character levels are appropriate for the geography, thematically. Some people might think that's awesome.
Why not cater to one's whims? Players need to have fun too.
"If five players are appreciating your hard work and not trying to derail you for their own amusement, or are really interested in seeing what life on the pole looks like..."
By "players need to have fun," I assume you would also consider the fun of the other players, who may not want a seasickness-and-scurvy adventure, and might be looking forward to yetis and blizzards.
Just for asking for a different way, doesn't mean he's a problem player.
"If he's got a reason ... then you can deal with the reason..."
By "deal with the reason" I mean "talk to the player about it and figure out if he can be dissuaded, or if not going by sea is a dealbreaker for him. If he doesn't like Sandru, get rid of Sandru and let this character take over the caravan (maybe he just wants more control over his own travel). If he thinks travel by sea is faster and easier, check out the other "players wanting to take a ship" thread to see why it's actually not, and give him the chance to try to hire a captain who can tell him all about it.
Personally, I'm looking forward to running the arctic stuff, and it's possible that the OP is, as well, in which case it's worth exploring ways to change the player's mind.
People rarely come to the boards asking for help dealing with an awesome player.
The ship goes south, straight out of Jade Regent and into Skull and Shackles...
That said, it sounds like you don't have buy-in from this player. Why not? Is he being obstructionist for a reason, due to personality-type or because he built a naval character and really wants to play Skull and Shackles? If it's personality-type, then no amount of appeasement will work: he will find a way to throw a wrench into any plan you have. In which case, adventure paths run just fine with five people, so he can be downsized.
If he's got a reason (doesn't understand the geography, hates Sandru, wants to play Skull and Shackles), then you can deal with the reason, but if five players are appreciating your hard work and not trying to derail you for their own amusement, or are really interested in seeing what life on the pole looks like (as mine are), then why cater to this one's whims?
To me, good and evil are less interesting than law and chaos. A good character could use an evil spell for good ends, but by definition of being "good" wouldn't want to (though the player playing her might). To combine Jiggy's theory with the OP's example: technically, a good necromancer could raise an army of zombie defenders of righteousness, but the act of doing so would corrupt him so fully that he wouldn't be good at the end of it, because genuinely good people don't create meat-puppets. He might be neutral, but his essential attitude towards the sanctity of life has been compromised.
Now, law vs. chaos, that's interesting. If a carriage has stopped and the driver is on break, a lawful character will wait until the driver gets on and pay her fare, even if no one else is (even a lawful evil character). A lawful character will never cut in line in a cafeteria. A lawful good character will let other people cut, if they have a pressing need (an appointment, hypoglycemia, a crying baby, etc.). A lawful neutral character will not, ever, let someone else cut, no matter how pressing their need (the rules must be maintained, or else society will descend into chaos). A lawful evil character will find some way (within existing laws) to exact revenge on someone who cuts (say, by flipping their tray when they've ordered their food).
A serial killer, by definition, has to be chaotic evil, right? He's flouting the norms of society and does not respect the sanctity of life. However, a chaotic evil serial killer who directs his attentions towards goblins, orcs and bugbears? We call him an adventurer. Likewise, a lawful good person who does not take life, any life, and does not wear a weapon in public is likely to be an unsuccessful adventurer. A lawful neutral rogue would never steal anything, unless she worked for the government and was legally granted the right to do so.
A chaotic good rogue would make an excellent firefighter: he would get to help people and do good in the world, and when the fire was out he could help himself to a few household objects. A lawful druid might work for a logging company, as long as they agreed to replace what they cut down. A chaotic evil druid might kill loggers. A chaotic good druid might work in the Greenpeace recruiting department.
What would a good gunslinger or ninja look like? They are classes that are built, more than any other, to kill. Guns don't do non-lethal damage, and ninjas poison. Could a good ninja work as a pharmacist? Would a good gunslinger look like Roy Rogers, only ever shooting to disarm?
According to the SRD: "A remove disease or heal spell cast by a cleric of 12th level or higher cures the affliction, provided the character receives the spell within 3 days of the infecting lycanthrope's attack. Alternatively, consuming a dose of wolfsbane gives an afflicted lycanthrope a new Fortitude save to recover from lycanthropy."
A paladin with remove curse won't work (although if it were a sufficiently high-level paladin - 15th or higher - I might let it slide, because at that level, who cares), and if those three days pass there is no in-game way to remove the curse, short of a major artifact or quest. That's how I read it, anyway.
The caravan requires one casting of endure elements per point of consumption, every week (Hungry Storm, page 36). When camped, the sashimono of comfort takes care of the caravan. If the horses are really a problem, that could be fun to play out. As the horses get sick and die, the caravan can encounter herds of yaks or woolly rhinos, which they can train and hitch to replace the horses. (That's my plan, personally.)
Horses are a bad idea, though. Just ask Robert Falcon Scott...
Picking up Ameiko, the warding box, the seal and Suishen and meeting some of the early oni are the only things that you absolutely need (especially if you dump the caravan rules), I think. There is another option: if Ameiko was brought across the Crown by a group of adventurers who kept a diary, your group could pick her up in Ordu-Aganhi after the initial escorts are killed.
Alternately, the initial escort isn't a caravan, but a single person (which would let one of your players play the Tom Cruise in Last Samurai role, if he or she wanted), so you have Ameiko, one NPC, maybe Shalelu and Ulf as a guide. You still get the benefit of the NPCs, but without all the baggage, and you can write up the first couple of chapters as a diary, so that the players can pick up hints about the oni.
Already picked them up, and I'm definitely putting them both in.
My confusion was all about the map. 800 miles is a lot of space to not exist on any Paizo map, and since I'm doing the "Indiana Jones" red line of travel, drawing on the maps, it will be weird to have that big empty space.
I like the centaur idea, and I'll probably add in a tribe of adlets, as well, using the 800 miles as an opportunity to emphasize what an amazing guide Ulf is (something that I think is missing from the module). Whenever possible, I want the players to feel like having Ulf along is making the passage much, much easier.
What's between the Stormspear and Rimethirst Mountains? Have I really read correctly that there are supposed to be 1000 miles from Kalsgard to the Rimethirst Mountains, which should pass entirely without incident?
If my math is right, that's 800 miles between the two mountain ranges which doesn't appear on any Paizo map. The Inner Sea maps all stop at the Stormspear Mountains, and the Crown maps all start at the Rimethirst. If that's true, that's a lot of space to leave off of all the maps. What's there? A lot of nothing? Erutaki villages?
Given how prolific people are about settling every available piece of land, it seems like there would be something there, but I can't find any official information on it. I'm tempted to use it as evidence of what a good guide Ulf is: there would be a lot of attacks, but he knows how to avoid them. Except that I know my players are going to ask about the geopolitical situation in a space the size of Varisia, especially if it is completely unsettled. ("Why are there no people here," they will ask. "Is it haunted? Are there things we can kill? Why not?")
Finished Night of Frozen Shadows this weekend, and made some pretty serious changes to Ravenscraeg, as suggested upthread (or maybe in the main NoFS thread).
My party is five players and scary-effective, so the "fight the Frozen Shadows a couple at a time plan" was never going to work, but the players didn't have the foresight to get them all out of the fortress. Rather than have the whole dungeon consist of "witch sleeps enemy, gunslinger, ninja and mangos kill it in its sleep," I had a NPC (Ameiko's brother's lover) let it be known that she was pregnant and well protected, after the party had already killed Jorgan (PC Kelda's father) and Omoyani. That was enough to get Kimandatsu to move against her, for fear of another heir being born before she could dispense with the two she had captured.
So the party made their way through Ravenscraeg very, very quickly, since one of them has Scent. Triggering the ravenswarms, though, brought Kimandatsu back, along with all of the thugs and ninjas. As a result, the party fought 8 thugs, 7 ninjas, 2 trolls and Kimandatsu in her bedchamber, after they rescued Ameiko and company (and made friends with Skygni, thanks to a well-played Plot Twist card). The ensuing fight was epic, ending with one dead PC, and a PC, Skygni and Shalelu at negative HP. Both the of the last two characters standing and Kimandatsu were one hit away from going down, so it could have gone either way in the last round. The party squeaked out a win, but they really knew how close it was.
Not only was the last battle more interesting because it included (just about) everyone, the rest of the dungeon was more creepy because it was empty but could have had ninjas around every corner.
Other changes: a massive (literal) witch-hunt in Kalsgard, thanks to a poison-happy witch PC and a lot of other murder going on in town (all of the Frozen Shadows murders were pinned on her). Luckily, she died during the final battle, so the party will be collecting the reward offered for her: dead or alive. The witch-finder offering the reward? Another PC's father.
I'm adding in The Baleful coven, in between Turvik and the Rimehurst mountains, tied into that same witch's backstory (involving her grandmother).
This I've learned: if all of your PCs are from The Inner Sea, you need to dispense with the links to their backstories in the first two books. After that, it's much more difficulty for a "long lost father" to show up.
In this way, parenting and DMing are similar (I say this as a parent and a DM): if you make up rules and your only reasoning for them is "because I say so," then your rules are worthless, and your kids and your players know it. In players, this leads to finding new groups, or acting out. In kids, this leads to sneaking out and lying. If you're the kind of parent who doesn't explain their rules, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't want my kid being around that kind of influence.
Even if it were okay for parents to make up arbitrary rules, your players aren't children, and deserve to be treated like adults.
Returning to the danish example, I think a good parent would have said, "why a danish," in case the response was "I'm allergic to chocolate'" or at least "you can't have the danish because I need it for breakfast tomorrow." Likewise, "you can't playba ninja" is bad DMing, whereas "I'm not big on ninjas because there is no Asia in my world and they don't exist," or "the ki mechanic doesn't fit my game," because the player can say "look, there's a ninja archetype that doesn't use ki, can I play that?"
Because talking to your players is good Gming, and talking to your kids is good parenting, whereas stamping your foot, putting your fingers in your ears and saying, "these are my rules because I am in charge here," is simply not. The latter results in GMing for your cats, while your players (or your kids) resent you.
In your example, as a kid in that brownie-party, I would have left, even if I didn't want the danish, because I object to weird, arbitrary rules on principle. In fact, I probably would have taken the danish-wanting kid with me and gone to a pastry-shop, where I could have had professionally-baked brownies.
My friends' parents didn't like me very much, because I always made them justify their rules. On the other hand, I never broke rules that had logical justifications.
In other words, if you want to run an undead game, players who don't want that should leave. That happened to me, a few years ago. The GM really wanted to run an undead game, and the players didn't want to play in one. So all the players left, and the GM had no players, but had his brownies. Meanwhile, I stole all of his players and ran a game in which everyone had fun. Last time I checked, that GM still didn't have a gaming group, and I'm still playing with all of his players. If the players hadn't come with me, I still would have left.
That's how it should be. GM the game you want, even if it means you have no players. Play the game you want, even if it means you have no GM.
In that case, he could borrow from my Sandru and be a lovable womanizer (meaning that he flirts with everyone, maybe has a few one-night stands in towns the caravan passes through, but isn't terribly serious about it, until he meets and falls in love with one of the PCs).
I borrowed some of the names from Richard Pett's _Your Whispering Homunculus_, which I highly recommend to GMs who like to include random world elements in their games.
Spoiler-tagged for my players, and length:
On the way north, the party picked up six passengers. A family who had been scarred in a goblin attack (a child who had a goblin phobia; his mother, who had been facially scarred; and his father, who had lost his voice), a father and his almost-adult daughter, and a single man. The last two, Cessily and Fat Ferris (who is not fat, nor is his name Ferris) wound up staying with the party after Losthome. Cessily flirts with every male in the caravan, although she has an order of priority that goes, roughly: rich, handsome, single. If a male PC hits the trifecta, bonus. She gradually learns to be the cook, and just wants to get out of the LLK and find a place where the men are better looking, and more wealthy. Fat Ferris is wanted by the law, although he doesn't tell the party that, and it will catch up with him eventually.
In Kalsgard, the party looked for a magewright. The problem is, any wizard high enough level to craft the kind of items a 6th-level party wants is too high level to go with them. So they found Ortsdotter. Ort is an armorer with five daughters, all of whom are involved in the family business. Ortsdotter has a first name, but no one calls her by it. She's a 1st level Wizard, 4th level expert, with all of the crafting feats. If you've ever seen _A Knight's Tale_, she's a bit like the blacksmith: brilliant, experimental, and very much wants to get out of the LLK, where, as a woman, her contributions are less recognized. By hitching her wagon to the party's star, she hopes to become a better wizard, and found her own smithy.
In other news, they rescued a huldra as a spellcaster, because one of them is a kitsune and I thought it would be fun.
Those are some of my NPCs, anyway. I hope that helps!
In my game, Bevelek is superstitious. He knows every urban legend in Varisia, and belIeves them all. He knows all the Varisian superstitions (like spitting over your shoulder whenever you see a black dog).
Vankor is married to a woman who stays in Varisia, and talks about her constantly. He tells stories incessantly about his "crazy wife," and says that she is the reason he spends so much time away from Sandpoint. If anyone sy pathizes, however, he curses them for insulting the love of his life. Recently, the party was attacked by a Hodag, which reminded Vankor, yet again, of his wife.
Both brothers are inveterate gamblers, and are always on the lookout for games of cards. When they find one (in Ravenmoor, for example), they work together to fleece the locals.
I also have character slugs for a magewright, a cook, some guards and a couple passengers, if you're interested.
Dead Shot adds a damage die to the attack for each secondary attack. The wording of the power leads me to believe that the damage is added to the base damage, not precision damage, meaning that a 7th level gunslinger's Dead Shot attack would do 2d8 if it hit, x4 (or 8d8) if it crits. That's nasty, but is balanced out by the -5 on the confirmation roll.
As someone who both plays and GMs for a gunslinger, that's how I'd rule it, anyway.
Checking the thread out while planning for NotFS, and I was reminded of this tidbit:
Greg mentioned that Kimandatsu is distracted, having "other irons in the fire," and the PCs weren't her main priority. Now, my group has investigated the hell out of Kalsgard and made a bunch of contacts. So, what exactly might K. be up to?
My group met Lute Haggersly before Brinewall, on some business in Varisia. It seems reasonable that he was gathering information on Kim to try and move against her within the guilds. If that's the plan, and it seems as though a political struggle might be the kind of distraction the PCs need, how would that play out? Who would the major players be? How would you hint at it for your group?
I have ideas, but I'm always eager to hear others GMs' thoughts.
This might be one of the hardest APs to pull off (followed by CoT). RotR might be fun with an all-goblin party (just play part one from the other side).
If you wanted to do Jade Regent, I'd recomment this: one of the goblins should be A) able to read and B) extremely ambitious. They have to kill Ameiko and all the other NPCs and take their caravan, then head North.
To make the AP work, they pretty much have to kill everyone they meet, unless their eventual goal is to ally with the BBEGs.
Your biggest problem::
The seal will never make them scions. It's totally out of character for the artifact. The only option that makes sense, at that point, is "We find box, give to other guys." Then the = goes from "kill all the oni" to "convince all the oni not to kill you."
If you want to do JR, I'd recommend having one goblin in the party, tops. If your players want to do an all-goblin AP, I'd recommend, in order, Skull and Shackles, Kingmaker, RotR. These will, in that order, require the least amount of rewriting (IMHO).
If you're all dead-set on doing both, here's what I'd do: give all the goblins <i>hats of disguise</i> at the beginning and plan to rewrite everything as you go.
There seems to be a little power-tripping going on. Thing in, in the AP, that shack has rats in it, and there are monsters waiting beyod that portcullis. The rats have disease, but not bleed. Auto-crit is only for unconscious characters. Your DM is lying about things being evil (most enemies in Brinewall are), or thinks that smite only works on creatures with the evil subtype (which they don't have).
Those don't sound like grudge monsters, just the AP as written and a DM who doesn't know the rules. Talk to him about it and see if he has misread smite and such. If so, get a rules lawyer with a searchable SRD. If he's just lying, get a new DM.
Are you using the caravan mini-game? If so, the troll encounter should just be hard. If your group threw out the caravan rules, your DM should throw out the caravan encounter table, as well.
Also, some nights the dice are just against you. JR shouldn't be a meat grinder. If you finished Brinewall, though, you shouldn't *have* to roll up a new character.
If the character doesn't have strone reasons to go to Minkai, say a Paladin from Mendev, maybe he doesn't belong in this AP. There are thousands of character ideas that would be less annoying for both you and your GM; why go with one tailor-made to cause headaches?
Other ideas: a Tian paladin of (insert Tian god here), looking to make a pilgrimage home. A crusader from Mendev who killed a man in a bar fight and wantsbt get as far from the Mendevian authorities as possible. A paladin of Shelyn who saw one of the PCs or NPCs on the street and fell passionately in live with them, as though though divine intervention. A paladin of Iomedae who owes Koya his life, and ahe's calling in the favor.
In my game, I have a paladin of Iomedae who just learned that his goddess visited Tian Xia, so he is retracing her steps, and eventually he may lead an order of Iomedaean crusaders against the oni. He also owes Sandru his life (you could talk to you GM and have your character's life saved by the party is Kalsgard, though you'd have to figure out why this very out of place character was there to begin with - why are you making work for yourself?).
In general, though, this AP has a very specific goal and plot. Maybe it's a good idea to save this character for the next AP?
I had the opposite problem: most of my players didn't see what the big deal was, about any of the NPCs, and didn't listen to them at all. I actually had to run a cut-away where my players played the NPCs rescuing a kidnapped PC, so that they could see how good they really were.
In fact, my players see Ameiko as overprotective of her little sister, obsessed with her family legacy, too forgiving of her little brother, and unreasonably afraid of snakes. In the end, they swore to save the people of Minkai _with_ her, not _for_ her. That's a big difference, and makes for a more participatory campaign all around. If the other players in your group treated her like a perfect font of knowledge, that's on them, because it's not in the adventure as written.
Your GM probably should have had her say "no," and "I don't know," and "why are you guys asking me all these questions" more. On the other hand, I see no reason you couldn't have played a character who just wanted to leave Sandpoint and explore the world. S/he doesn't have to care what happens to Ameiko - she's just a ticket out of town. You could even build a character that didn't like Ameiko, and you'd really enjoy the AP once the PCs are higher level than her, and Ameiko starts to depend on them, rather than the other way around.
If your fellow players have an over-estimation of Ameiko's value and importance, so do you, in a different way, whether that comes from your GM or a misreading of the Player's Guide. The NPCs _are_ important, but not more important than the PCs. In the end, it's an ensemble piece, like Firefly. (I would argue that in that analogy, Ameiko is River: mostly a plot device, and kind of crazy and damaged.)