Our CoT party was 4 tieflings (one who looked human) and one human, and this rocked. We spent the whole campaign trying to keep the human-looking one's race a secret so that she could front for the party, since the bias against tieflings was quite apparent.
It was a measure of the PCs' political success when the human-looking one could finally acknowledge her half-siblings as such and not have her political aspirations immediately collapse. Someday maybe she'll get to a place where her own race isn't instant blackmail material, but she's not quite there yet. Especially as she's married to Aberian, who hates tieflings.
You might not want to make tieflings immune to all those spells, especially since one of those spells is successfully used on an NPC tiefling in module 1. But we did make them immune, and that was okay too. They may be a little better than humans but not obtrusively so. (Please don't make them immune to Raise Dead, though. I have been in campaigns where some PCs could be raised and others couldn't--it was standard in 1st ed--and it leads to bad feelings every time.)
We did Sixfold Trial with a single player and 4 PCs (the party had 5 but chose to exclude one). I was surprised how well it worked, roleplaying-wise--I thought it would fall flat with only two people doing all the roles, but it was fun. We read the whole thing, plus some improv. (The Belly of the Beast nearly killed us, too. Module authors often appear hazy on what skill levels to expect from PCs.)
It's about 7 pages--you can print and/or photocopy, and it runs a lot better if everyone has a script.
I recommend being generous with Acting bonuses, especially with fewer PCs. We botched an awful lot of the rolls.
In retrospect I don't know why it worked so well, other than that I have an acting background and found it a novel experience, but it really went well--one of the few things we ran unchanged that was a clear success.
I think most APs are more fun for a custom-built themed party than for random adventurers (RotRL perhaps the least so).
Our custom party for CoT were members of a petty noble house fallen on hard times, but with ambition for economic and political improvement. We had the heir to the House (sorcerer), her two tiefling siblings (fighter and sorcerer), her nursemaid/bodyguard (rogue), and her pet scholar (cleric of the Mwangi deity that the Morrowfall is tied to--that was fun!)
This leads to a more political game, but if the GM is up for it I think it works great. I cherish the scene where the lead PC, newly a member of the Council of Thieves, confronted Vasindo Dravinge with the answer to the nightbeast riddle and received the reply, "Well done. You're reacting much more calmly than most people do when they find out."
With a setup like this, when a PC becomes Mayor of Westcrown there is a chance that s/he will actually have a plan for using that position, rather than it being a throw-away endgame reward as such things normally are. (One of the tiefling siblings became head of the Spera Dottari, too.)
Incidentally, if you have tieflings--and this campaign is very good for them--be sure to decide right away if tieflings are immune to Charm Person, Hold Person, etc. It will matter and the source material is contradictory. Our lead PC is a human-looking tiefling trying to pass as human, and it *really* mattered for us. (I don't know what Aberian will do if/when he ever realizes he is married to a tiefling. Should be exciting. She currently has the upper hand politically but he could make things sticky for her if he chose.)
CoT is my favorite AP so far (we have played all or part of 8 of them). The thing that made it work for me is that our PCs were leaders of a minor noble house with political ambitions, so they were very involved and committed to Westcrown. (We tried that in CotCT too, but that AP leaves its city behind and never develops the city-based game.) With 6 modules in one place we really got to know Westcrown.
Downplay the hints in #1 that this adventure is about opposing House Thrune. It isn't, and this is a potential derail.
Reverse modules 4 and 5--we did and it worked great.
Give the PCs a different motivation for the murder play than getting into the Folly. Figure out something the PCs need from Aberian and have the murder play be his asking price. I wish we had done this--with politically ambitious PCs it would have been easy. Getting into the Folly is a very weak motivator: the PCs can do it some other way quite easily.
Make the nightbeasts more of an ongoing problem, and allow some intermediate victories against them--we hit a nightbeast breeding facility and a dark-folk temple complex. This allows you to foreshadow Ilnerik and Eccardian more.
Add side material. We put in Savage Tide 1 and 2 intermixed with CoT 1 and 2 and that worked great. We also added a lot of side stuff like the nightbeast facility and a couple of Eccardian-motivated blowups at various Houses. Our Eccardian was portrayed as a master at finding the weak link in a House and inciting that person to destroy it--he did at least three on-stage, with the PCs only able to do damage control. This made him seem much more of a big deal. (He tried to recruit the PCs, too, and that was an interesting thread.)
Finally, this was player-driven and I don't know if the GM could make it happen otherwise, but our PCs got involved early in a plan to light parts of the Spera at night, and that was a constant source of plot ideas as well as a very satisfying accomplishment when it finally worked. We also had a PC voted onto the Council of Thieves itself, somewhere around 4-5, and that was very cool.
I have just committed to running Skull and Shackles 3 and 4, followed by Legacy of Fire 4 (they dovetail surprisingly well) for a party of PCs who do not like pirates, do not want to be pirates--but are part of a Flying Dutchman style ship with built-in ghost pirates, and have to deal with that fact. (The end of Legacy 4 will be their getting out from under this curse.)
I think, tbug, you must have had something to do with this idea.... Thanks!
(1) Make the PCs highly racialist non-human paladins whose ethical code mainly applies to their own kind. After all, human paladins are often happy to slaughter goblins or otyughs. Perhaps elf or cyclops or serpent folk (or something) paladins don't consider humans within the circle of "personhood".
(2) Engineer, probably with player complicity, an elaborate deception in which the PCs think they are doing these awful things for an important good cause. We know that Golarionese paladins, and even good gods, can be somewhat flexible--look at the role of the cult of Iomede in Cheliax, for example. So the PCs could go a long way thinking they are on the side of good before finding out the horrendous truth. Of course you will need a plan for remaining on track when that does happen, but it could be "we made this mess, we must fix it". (Regrettably, you won't be able to tell if that can work till you see the later episodes...but I think it's always a mistake to run an AP you haven't seen all of yet. Every time I've done so I've regretted it.)
You might think about Nethys in this context. Paizo doesn't seem to be doing much with Nethys' madness and dual personality, but paladins of Nethys must have a tough row to hoe trying to figure out if they are serving his benevolent side or ... the other one.
Best of luck with it! These backwards-path games of yours have been a very useful inspiration to our group--especially for Second Darkness, where honestly I would never have gotten it to work as written.
This has no canon support, but in our game when things looked politically unstable in Westcrown, Egorian first appointed a deputy mayor and then named a small group to put forward a candidate for mayor. Abrogail really doesn't care much who's mayor of Westcrown, and is politically savvy enough to want the people on the ground to pick (so that she can scapegoat them if it goes wrong, I suppose).
Her small group was Vacindo Dravinje, Ertein Aberigo, and Lily Varuna (the lead PC). Lily managed to convince Vacindo and Ertein that neither of them wanted the other as mayor, and there was no obvious candidate outside that room (Lily mentioned the High Priest of Asmodeus but that didn't fly, as she knew it wouldn't). So Lily ended up as Mayor of Westcrown.
A subtheme throughout the negotiations with Egorian was the fact that Lily is not willing to sell her soul to prove her loyalty. But you don't want to show Egorian that you have scruples.... It was fun, for nerve-wracking values of fun.
We celebrated the inauguration and wedding (to Aberian Arvanxi) last session. Nothing even blew up! Though some of the wedding gifts were...disturbing.
I really like tiefling and aasimar for this one. Our party was 4/5 tieflings (though one looked human) and accreted tiefling NPC henchmen at a ferocious rate. I think the PCs may eventually succeed in changing the social status of tieflings in Westcrown, which is something of an accomplishment in itself.
For a more exotic concept, Azlanti gillmen would make a lot of sense, though their special abilities wouldn't have much play in the main-line module.
My sweet spot is 3-6, but for me it's even more important that the rate of advancement be kept low. Fast advancement tends to shatter my grip on the characters, in terms both of personality and my ability to play them effectively.
We deal with this by a mixture of inserting other modules into the AP sequence, starting the PCs a bit higher level (3rd or 4th rather than 1st) so that advancement can be slower, and trying to reduce the level needed for the later episodes by cutting them down. For example, we are going to do the last episode of Kingmaker at 13-14 rather than 17-18. Of course then you have to rewrite a lot of the scenario....
You can alternate the first couple modules of Council of Thieves and Savage Tide and it meshes surprisingly well. You could probably do the same with Council of Thieves and Second Darkness 1-2, or even Curse of the Crimson Throne 1-2. For more rural games, Kingmaker can easily incorporate Rise of the Runelords 2 and/or 3, or the stand-alone "Fellnight Queen", or Carrion Crown 3. And I'm sure Serpent's Skull 1 would go into Skull and Shackles no problem (as a prequel, maybe?)
The new rules subsystems didn't get a lot of playtesting. If your group needs bullet-proof rules, you had better not use them unless you have a chance to vet them *heavily*. This is true for both the kingdom building and army combat rules.
There are a lot of easily liftable mini-adventures in KM and we enjoyed almost all of them. I personally did not like module 3 as much because the BBG's actions made no sense to me--this can be fixed but not easily. The BBG of module 5 is interesting in himself but his castle is not--I'd figure out a way to tell the PCs where to go as you do NOT want them trying to map that morass of small empty rooms.
As others have said, the large rewards for small quests make no sense, but this is easy to fix. I also agree that if you use the KM maps you should flesh out the later ones to the same detail level as the first one. That first map is a really nice piece of work with something interesting in almost every hex.
The random encounter tables have a few things on them that really cannot be random (d4 adult dragons, hm?) and you should either remove those or figure out where they live. Otherwise it feels really fake when they show up in the middle of the kingdom with no history or lair or food source apparent.
By the way, the stand-alone module _Fellnight Queen_ goes really well with KM and can help flesh out the faeries.
Scared of players getting teleport, would like advice on getting maps and idea for combat during journeys
We banned almost all of the movement magic a couple of campaigns ago: not only teleport but fly, overland flight, dimension door, wind walk, shadow walk, and planeshift.
Upsides: Terrain makes a much bigger difference, and the PCs are much more involved with it. Mounts, ships, and so forth are a lot more important. There's a stronger sense of place. Fewer fights are rendered irrelevant by the PCs simply staying out of reach. Traps work better (prior to banning these spells we had some trap-heavy scenarios blunted by PCs who flew all the time). You don't have to fuss with the complex flight rules. Perhaps most significantly, the scry/buff/teleport combo, which can spoil high-level games, isn't as dangerous without the teleport.
Downsides: Some monsters are too powerful if the PCs can't take to the air to fight them. Unless you also strip these abilities from creatures, it can seem unfair (teleporting demons and devils were the biggest one for us). Some adventures assume fast travel and the pacing breaks without it. It's hard to do a series of adventures in very diverse locations. Players sometimes resent having abilities removed (not a problem for us--we had a consensus--but could be for other groups). PCs lose a potentially life-saving getaway option; so do NPCs, many of whose combat tactics involve a last minute dimension door.
My husband is thinking of bringing back very short duration combat flight, but both of us are agreed that long-range movement magic has more downsides than upsides in our games, and we will continue to ban it. I particularly recommend this if you ever run _Kingmaker_.
That said, I would have a big plausibility problem with 4-5 dangerous encounters per day, unless every town is built like a fortress and every caravan is armed to the teeth.
What worked for our game was to interpolate several attempts by Eccardian to take down potentially troublesome factions *before the endgame*. We had a doppleganger attack on a Spera house; an attempt to take out the wizard school by various Underdark recruits; a doppleganger breeding operation in the Dospera (giving the PCs a chance to be the aggressors on that one); a political plot to take out an organized-crime family in the Spera; a demon-summoning plot to take out a Dravinge ally on the islands; a couple of oddly powerful and directed nightbeast attacks....
It was a lot of extra material. we generally double the amount of stuff in an AP, which is a ton of work for the GM but tends to make them run better.
The PCs kept picking up pieces, and they also kept building their own political power--every House they rescued, they tried to ally with, and they got their hooks into several other important factions as well. This led, somewhere between books 3 and 5 (everything got a bit out of order) to them getting recruitment pitches from both the Council of Thieves and Chammady. Due to timing, they ended up siding with the Council. They finally put a name to their hidden enemy and went to Vasindo Dravinge to say, "Here is what has been happening in the city, and here is why."
At that point the GM put in the Council assassination attempt--boom!
Eccardian needs to be doing something that the PCs can interact with, but to avoid a premature ending, he needs to be doing it indirectly. And that pattern has to repeat enough times that the PCs can see it *is* a pattern.
I do think this has improved since _Shackled City_--which has tons of backstory that is *extremely* difficult to give to the PCs even if you want to. My husband has run this twice. One group didn't try hard to get the info, and never had a clue who they were fighting, which sucked a lot of the interest out of the game. (You do not want the player reaction to the Big Reveal to be "Huh? Who?") The other group (me) tried very hard, and we found that having that information tended to break the AP badly. And even then, fully half of the bad guys were meaningless names to me all the way through. The Pathfinder APs have handled an information-seeking player, on the whole, a lot better.
It would be nice, though, if when there is an NPC with interesting backstory, there were a means provided, however briefly, for learning it. The BBG of Kingmaker book 1 is problematic this way. The BBG of book 6 is a lot better as book 5 provides an NPC who knows the story and may tell it--that's well done and I'd like to see more of it. (I know that putting anything in module X to support X+1 is problematic. But so nice when it does happen!)
In the meantime, my 2 bits of advice to GMs about redemption, and interaction with villains in general:
(1) Let the players know it won't break the AP if they want to capture, question, or try to redeem villains. They may avoid doing it out of misplaced concern for the GM.
(2) Never run an AP until you have all the episodes on hand. Then you can put in the missing information links a lot more readily. In our Kingmaker game the PCs knew about the final villain from midway in book 2, and it REALLY helped that I had read the whole AP by that point. (I frankly would not be interested in running Kingmaker without this kind of player information; I think book 6 really works much better if you see it coming. But for the players to see it coming, the GM has to know it's coming, and you canNOT rely on the little blurbs in previous books!)
If people just dislike the limited options and fragility of levels 1 and 2, a radical solution is to start the party at levels 3 or 4 and slow down level advancement. This makes the PCs feel more capable at the start but in my experience does not tend to break the first AP module at all, and can in fact make it more fun. We have done this with almost all of the APs we've run. You can add a few more opponents in the early going, or just accept that the PCs will be quite capable initially.
I personally am tepid about levels 1-2--it is hard to find good opponents for PCs at these levels--but find 3-5 to be the sweet spot. I think that the high page count needed to present high-level opponents tends to lead to underdeveloped plots and settings, so I would not buy a high-level AP.
We've been frustrated a couple of times when it seems as though the AP authors have deliberately blocked redemption plotlines. The GM can fix this, of course, but why is it happening in the first place?
The final module says outright "It may look like you can redeem the BBG, but you can't."
Rise of the Runelords:
The first two modules make an effort to get you acquainted with Aldern Foxglove, but the scenario plays out in a way that makes him next to impossible to save. My player did it anyway, but significant GM intervention was required. My player was quite upset at the way the game fostered a connection between Aldern and the PCs and then blocked his natural responses to that connection.
This happens again in module 6 with the woman corrupted by the sword of sin--the module flatly denies that you can do anything to help her.
You would think that if an NPC's heart has been taken from her, and you have her heart, you should be able to help her. While the module doesn't say this is impossible, there is zero support for it. There is an "after the AP" epilog which suggests the BBG's redemption but, frustratingly, there is no interaction with her at any point in the arc, which is not how PC-driven redemption should work.
Conceptually I really like the Crimson Throne example given above--we cheered when we saw it as it seemed like such a departure from the standard practice--but it's not as strong a redemption theme as I'd like because it happens totally offstage.
My husband and I take turns GMing the APs. We are both *very* inclined to try to redeem or recruit or rehabilitate enemies, and there have been some good games arising from that, but it does feel quite often like we're fighting against the written material. It sometimes feels to me (_Shackled City_ was the worst for this) that good can be corrupted but the Paizo writers don't really feel that evil can be redeemed. Falls from grace are all one-way. That describes a world too unpleasant for me, frankly. If there are corrupted angels there ought to be redeemed devils.
We're between books 5 and 6 and the PCs' kingdom has 5 cities, only one with 2 districts. We are using a heavily modified version of the kingdom rules, though, so money has not been abundant. The large territorial gains suggested at the end of 5 would probably have destroyed the economy, so the PCs found ways not to make them.
I think they are about to add Nitivka's Crossing, and yes, there is an obvious problem with Brevoy but they seem to be in a position to pull it off after helping Restov secede from Brevoy two years ago.
We've played about 5 years total.
Rise of the Runelords 3 "Hook Mountain Massacre" has a hillbilly-horror theme. You might have to scale it up--the suggestion of hags, upthread, sounds like a good match--but I think the tone would work. (If your players are sticklers for logic, though, you should draw up a timeline and make the visuals conform to it, as otherwise some things do not make sense.) It's 3.5, not Pathfinder, though, if that's a problem for you.
Kingmaker 3 "Varnhold Vanishing" is horror-themed, it's Pathfinder, and it would also be fairly easy to scale up. I didn't find it exciting when I ran it, though. Again, watch for logic if this is an issue for your players.
I am currently playing in _Council of Thieves_ and running _Kingmaker_. Can't offer anything toward the "how long does it take" question, though, as I didn't record when we started. Maybe a year of playing 2-3 hours 2-4 times a week, alternating between the two campaigns every couple of months. We put in a lot of outside material.
Both campaigns are going to have to go past their module-6 ending in order to be satisfactory. The way that the CoT game developed, the PCs are very invested in their new roles in Westcrown and the player would be seriously bummed not to get to see them in action. But the PCs are only 11th, and while that's already very high for my tastes, it's bearable.
I cut down _Kingmaker_ so that the PCs are supposed to be 13th at the end. (For reasons already described, I don't like to run high level. We did RotRL as written and the last two modules were not very entertaining.) But I can already see that the PCs will simply refuse to accept the ending that the AP offers and go straight into the "what happens next" epilog material, so I am making plans to run that as well. I think we might have another year on that campaign. I don't know if CoT will last that long as the GM is finding the political game very challenging to run. (I am proud to say, I have a PC *on the Council of Thieves.*)
We did one AP with a party that was almost all tieflings (and bought a darkvision item for the one PC who was not). Darkvision is *great*, especially for stealth missions; almost essential for stealth missions against things that have darkvision themselves (which this particular AP was crawling with, as it turned out).
The GM did enforce social sanctions against tieflings, though as the campaign has gone on their increasing political power has mitigated some of the problems. I didn't mind; I thought that added an interesting flavor. The one PC who is a human-looking tiefling has had to tie herself in knots to keep the secret--we have contingency plans for when it's exposed, as I suspect it eventually must be--and that's been entertaining.
Good NPCs presented throughout, especially in the early modules--Falchos, Meliasne, Mikmik, the Stag Lord's men, Willas, Oleg, etc.
Especially in the first two maps, interesting things in a large proportion of hexes. (I would have liked to see this on the western maps as well.)
The overarching plot--I really like that it's a big deal to the Stolen Lands and not to anyone else, so that it's very clear this is the PCs' problem. This module has the best answer to "why is this our problem?" ever, and I appreciated that as a GM.
The detailed encounter tables. They don't make a main course but they are nice seasoning and give the GM an idea what kinds of things are out there. (However, a few of the biggest entries, like dragons and hydras, should have "home addresses" and not just show up randomly from nowhere.)
We had to rewrite the kingdom rules nearly completely, and we had to abandon the mass combat rules. (My player handled *that* by assassinating Irovetti before the war could properly get underway. Otherwise I would have had to abstract the army combats.) I had the same problems here as everyone else who's commented--magic item economy in particular.
What the module BBG was doing made no sense in modules #3 and #5 (and not a whole lot in #4). And in #6, while one has the sense that the BBG has a reasonable plan, the GM isn't actually let in on it, which makes improvisation difficult.
The endpiece mini-quests are goofy at best. I ignored them after module #2.
It would have been useful to have a writeup on Mivon rather than Iobaria. And if there was any realistic chance that the PCs would end up governing Pitax, Pitax needed at least a sketchy mechanical writeup. Most of all, claimed, settled and farmed hexes for all of the neighboring countries should be indicated somewhere! It really bothered us that there is no hint where Pitax's north border is. If we're fighting a war there....?!
All in all I really liked Kingmaker. It has a good structure for sandbox play, and my player had a great time running all over the place doing things with that openness. We are late in module #5; I will have to completely rewrite #6 due to level issues (we don't let things get that high level) but I think there's a lot of good material there. But a second kingdom-building AP would benefit from *heavily* rewritten kingdom and mass combat rules.
We did a nearly all-tiefling party for a recent AP.
The tieflings firmly believed that they were better than humans, and as a player I saw little cause to doubt it--the darkvision was a big deal, the resistances were a big deal at the lower levels, and the charm/hold immunity came up now and again as well. (Unfortunately the module authors didn't always remember it, and had tieflings succumbing to charm person as part of the plotline--oops.)
The downside was that the module was crawling with anti-evil-outsider magic items and abilities--I think they were there for the PCs to pick up and use, which they did, but they also did a number on the PCs. One PC was actually fighting with a bane-sword specific to his own type (don't cut yourself, ow!) because it was far and away the best weapon available; he eventually went up against a paladin who had one just like it, and got severely mauled.
If I were a Chel making a bane-sword I would make it an evil-outsider version without much hesitation (human is the other prominent choice). Of course this is not a problem for neutral or good tieflings.
I have a one-player campaign, and it is somewhat random who is rolling for a particular event, especially when there are a lot of NPCs on the PC side. We went through a whole fight recently where (for no particular reason) the player rolled all of Kyril's to-hit rolls and I rolled all of his damage rolls.
The rolls are therefore hopelessly open. If I want to fudge, which I very occasionally do, I need another approach.
I have a side thought about player cheating on dice. Sometimes it's just that a player is a poor sport or immature; but sometimes, especially if more than one player cheats or other players condone it, it's a sign that something is wrong in the campaign as a whole.
The first time I saw this, the GM was railroading the PCs into scenarios and then having them either rescued by NPCs or saved by bizarre strokes of fate. The players started to cheat (also to optimax) in the hopes of having more influence in the game. Anti-cheating measures didn't help at all, since the problem was structural. When cheating didn't improve matters, the players went into a bizarre tailspin of playing to lose, forcing the GM to do more and more outrageous things to save them, and the campaign died acrimoniously.
The second time, I was playing in an old AP and the GM was also running it for a different group. The game was, in both cases, *way* too hard--not only lethal but gruelling and discouraging for the players. My group just b&%$$ed endlessly and finally abandoned the game. The other group cheated, rolling crits when they needed to. I have to say, I don't like this strategy, but they had more fun than I did. But again, the problem was structural, and anti-cheating measures would not have helped.
So, as an alternative to making rules about roll openness and so forth, it's worth trying to find out *why* your players might be cheating. Roll openness will help if it's "I'm just too tempted by having my character shine" but it won't help if "The game is so hard we have to cheat to survive" or "The game is so unfair we feel the need to strike back any way we can." Those need a different fix.
There are blank hex-sheets on the web site somewhere. Print some out and make a copy of the map in the module. Give another set of blanks to the players. It's important to be able to write on the maps. (My spouse would kill me if I wrote on the ones in the modules, though I guess you could....)
It's something we've been doing for a long time. He has some concerns about the PCs' ability to respond to threats, but overall likes that the terrain matters a lot more.
Without flight, both strategic and tactical terrain is emphasized a lot more strongly. You have to watch out for flying enemies as they are much more dangerous to a non-flying party--if you roll the "d4 black dragons" on the encounter table things could be very bad. Dungeon scenarios like difficult climbs, trapped floors, etc. become real obstacles for the PCs and you have to watch out for those too.
I like it. In previous campaigns we have found that the PCs lose the sense of place if they can be fighting in Cheliax in the morning and shopping in Katapesh in the afternoon. In our Kingmaker game even the other River Kingdoms are a significant effort to reach (except for Mivon--watch out! it is not on the maps but it is VERY CLOSE to the play area).
Great idea to keep a calendar. I have day-by-day notes for all five years of our campaign so far, and a calendar for upcoming events including all of the Kingdom festivals and anniversaries.
If the players go in expecting that the grand finale is the House of Thrune they will be disappointed. Given this, it's a misstep to make adventure 1 about rebels against the House of Thrune--that opening makes promises the AP is not planning to keep. There are various ways to fix this.
We had PCs who were a (minor and struggling) part of the Wiscrani aristocracy, which solved the problem conclusively. They didn't look at the Children of Westcrown as a model to emulate; they saw them as dangerous hotheads who needed to be co-opted and redirected.
For us as for many groups, the nightbeasts were the big PC goal. We found that it worked better (except for power level issues, but they are fixable) to run module 4 after module 5. It is an annoying distraction where it is. (My GM didn't think we would do it at all, but for reasons that seemed good at the time the PCs provoked it--they realized that the Folly was going to blow and, rather than pressuring Egorian to stop it, deliberately sent messages that wouldn't arrive in time. Then they were sorry--the blowup was worse than expected--but at least it did not feel like a digression.)
Council of Thieves is my favorite AP so far, but we got very far from the main line presented in the modules. (By the time the main line has you fighting the Council of Thieves, one of our PCs was *on* the Council of Thieves. I recommend this if you can pull it off; it's totally fun.) I don't think I would have liked the main line much; it has good stuff but the connections between the parts are troublesome.
Our game digressed a *lot* from the main line. For us, it seems as though Eirtein Aberigo is going to play the role you describe. He, Visendo Dravinge, and the lead PC are now the ruling triumvirate of Westcrown, and the PC doesn't feel she can act against Eirtein without destabilizing things badly; but she is pretty sure he is waging a propaganda war against her behind the scenes. Blast him. If he finds out that she is a tiefling (the dark secret of the campaign) there is going to be Hell to pay.
She managed to read his mind once, and found: "She's a nineteen-year-old being advised by twenty-one-year-olds. I just have to wait. Sooner or later she'll slip up." This statement bothers her very much, because it seems so likely to be true....
That particular AP doesn't just favor an all-Elf party, to my mind it doesn't *work* with the generic party. We ran it all-Elf and as a GM I would not even consider doing otherwise--if the players said "No thanks" to the Elves I would find a different AP right away. There's a reason it consistently shows up on "least favorite" lists--a generic party has very little reason to want to do it.
Some APs are naturally generic, like Rise of the Runelords. Others really are not. I think Council of Thieves is going to work massively better for local PCs than for outsiders; to a lesser extent the same is true for Crimson Throne.
We've come to accept that the first step with any AP is to analyze it and try to answer "Whose problem is this situation really?" and shape a party that is a reasonable answer to that question. But not all groups are communicative enough to do this, and it's hard for beginners to have the needed perspective. I would definitely like to see a sidebar in each first episode on "Party concepts we think would work well with this AP."
I think writing that sidebar might also be a useful reality check for the module authors. If you find yourself wanting to say "The PCs should be locals who really care about the city" that might be a hint that you shouldn't do lengthy digressions outside the city. If you find yourself wanting to say "The PCs should be interested in rebelling against the government" you could check to make sure that that's where the AP actually goes....
I have to say, we never did solve the "whose problem is this?" issue with Crimson Throne, and had to abandon the campaign as a result. We found it fairly easy to solve in RotRL and Kingmaker. Council of Thieves and, especially, Second Darkness required parties *very* far from generic in order to work for us.
Some gaps you may want to fill:
The AP as written has neither weather nor seasons, and would really benefit from them. You can roll up weather in advance, or tie it to a real-world city (Prague might be about right!) or just go with seasons and fill in the weather appropriately. It should *matter* whether the PCs hit the boggards in midwinter when the bogs are frozen, or in late spring when they are at their wettest.
The random kingdom event table gets tired after a little while. Either increase the table or design your own events (they do not need to be genuinely random, only reasonably mixed between good and bad).
Consider rolling kingdom events a few months in advance, so that you can foreshadow some of them and the PCs can possibly intervene. This one change helped my campaign more than anything else. (I actually invented a new Kingdom stat "Responsiveness" which the PCs can invest in to get warning of upcoming events, but you don't have to go that far.)
You will need some NPCs in Brevoy, and ideally in Mivon (it's closer than it looks!) and Pitax. The earlier you can develop them, the better.
Make your own copies of the hex maps so that when you add things you know where you put them. I didn't do that till around book 3 and it was a mistake not to.
For more radical changes:
We are running Kingmaker with full casters being quite rare; most casters, both PC and NPC, are half levels in caster and half in something else. So high-level magic is quite rare. I feel this has worked well for us with this particular game, helping keep the focus on kingdom-building rather than on big magical stuff.
We also deleted the long-range movement spells: fly, overland flight, teleport, wind walk, shadow walk, etc. The only fast movement available to the PCs is their small, precious cadre of pegasi and their little army of kobolds mounted on wargs. The kingdom feels a lot more real if you have to tromp back and forth across it and worry about the remoteness of the remote parts. The rivers in particular become a big problem, and bridge-building becomes a much bigger deal. You may not like this--it slows the game down--but I really do.
I would not recommend running any AP until you have all six parts in hand (got burned that way twice myself--you can't foreshadow properly just based on the one-paragraph summaries). So I'd save Jade Regent for later.
Kingmaker and Legacy of Fire are polar opposites. Kingmaker needs a group that knows what it wants to do and proactively goes out and does it. A group with that temperament will probably feel railroaded by Legacy. Conversely, a group that is happy to follow along with a railroad as long as it's scenic and exciting will likely prefer Legacy and find Kingmaker dull.
Legacy is probably easier to run. Kingmaker takes a lot of fleshing out, and you have to worry about the kingdom-building and mass combat mechanics, both of which are arguably broken. But many groups hit the later parts of the Legacy railroad and really resent them. You might look specifically at the transitions among modules 3-6 and think about how your group might react to them. (We did that and decided it was not for us.)
I can't speak to Serpent's Skull--we will probably do it after Council of Thieves, so I haven't read any of it.
I found it helpful to foreshadow the upcoming conflicts (in modules 3-6) quite early and quite heavily. That way, the PCs are not just blindly developing a kingdom, they are trying to prepare for problems they can see on the horizon.
The other concern I'd have from what you have said is that the kingdom rules, if exploited in certain ways, allow the kingdom to become so wealthy that there is no longer any meaningful decisionmaking or planning to be done. The problem aspect is magic item generation. There are a lot of suggestions on these boards for how to keep that in check--in my own Kingmaker game I completely removed that aspect and had magic-item-generating buildings give military advantages instead.
We have had a lot of fun with Kingmaker, but I agree with other posters that it does not run well straight from the books: you have to add a lot and link together the random material with ideas of your own. I have been lucky in that my player has generated a lot of plot for me: for example, his PCs decided that the best way to keep Brevoy off their backs long-term was to encourage Restov to revolt and become a Free City. One might question whether this was a *good* plan, but it was certainly an excellent scenario-generator. (The PCs ended up spearheading some parts of the rebellion, including hitting the governor's mansion.) So if you are a player in a boring Kingmaker game, try to generate some goals for your PCs and proactively go after them.
Some other ideas my player has had:
Recruit various local peoples, such as the centaur tribe, giants, boggards, etc.
Punch a trade road through to Numeria or Iobaria or both.
Find out what happened the last time the BBG tried something like this. (This leads naturally to exploring ruins left over from that time.)
Strike deals with the local faeries, flushing out those that might support the BBG and allying with those who are more loyal.
Hunt down and eradicate the cult of Gyronna as far afield as they can reach.
Start playing River Kingdom politics--not just Pitax but the other kingdoms as well. The modules don't develop this but the worldbooks give some initial guidance.
Hold a tournament! They are a lot of fun, and there's no reason to wait around for the one in the modules.
It's in the nature of sandbox campaigns that the players and PCs need to be proactive, pushing their own goals: reactive players and PCs need a more railroaded plot. So if you are bored, pick a direction and start pushing. It will probably go better if you warn the GM in advance, as things like the tournament are quite prep-intensive.
There's a tension in our-world folklore and folk religion between a model in which damnation is something you do to yourself, and one in which it's something that's done to you. "Even a man who is pure and good/And says his prayers at night/Can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/And the autumn moon shines bright." The defenses against having damnation done to you *can* involve being pure and good, but often they are more along the lines of morally-neutral protective magic--garlic can literally save your soul--or somehow winning the protection of a greater being.
The two models are in conflict in our world, and it seems to me that they can be in conflict in Golarion as well. It might be metaphysically *right* that damnation can only be accomplished by your own choices, while not being entirely pragmatically true in the world as it stands. Or the apparent damnations of the innocent may all be flawed damnations, which is the view most of my good PCs have held. Asmodei may claim your innocent soul, but by the very nature of things, his hold over you is innately flawed and someday you may rebel, escape, or be rescued.
I am really happy to see Paizo doing more with redemption. In their early APs (especially pre-Pathfinder) good people and creatures fell with great regularity but redemption seemed to be a pipe dream. One AP has a GM note for its final scene to the effect of: "The players may think that such and such is evidence that the BBG could be redeemed-- but they're wrong, he can't." Yucch. I played a paladin in that particular campaign who eventually became an ex-paladin, broken under the cumulative weight of so much evidence that evil is stronger than good. (And yes, someone with an adamantine dedication to goodness could have dealt with that realization; but she wasn't quite strong enough.)
My lead _CoT_ character is a heavy-duty enchantment sorceress, and she routinely considers every captive as potential recruitment fodder. She is not good herself (far from it) but she does represent relative sanity and stability compared to where most of her captives come from. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she fails: she routinely hits things like "being a demon cultist has freed me from the need to discipline my worst passions, and actually I don't know how to do it anymore". Those types get fed to an otyugh. (She is interested in gaining recruits, not in saving souls.) Is it moral to use suggestion and charm to these ends? She doesn't care, but if she did it would be an interesting argument. I think she'd say that she has no power to force a moral transformation against a genuine will to remain true to oneself: it's more a matter of strengthening some already-present impulses and weakening others. (As is, slowly and insidiously, happening to her. She's the only character I've ever had who notices that she has temptations to be good, and tries to push them aside. It's pretty funny to watch. Lately she doesn't like murder so much, and she excuses this by saying "My ally so-and-so wouldn't like it"--a transparent cover for "I don't feel like it.")
If we had only known back when we ran Sixfold Trial what we know now (about the course of that campaign) the whole point of the play could have been to impress the Mayor and get his patronage, and that would have made perfect sense. The PCs did, in fact, impress the Mayor and get his patronage, and it's been significantly important to them....
...to the extent that one PC is now fussing over wedding dresses and who to invite to the happy occasion of her becoming Lady Arvanaxi. And worrying a *lot* that she is too much of a trouble magnet to have an undisturbed wedding, no matter how good the security is.
My play groups have universally had little to no tolerance for "make the PCs do something because it would be cinematic or cool" manuvers. If it doesn't make sense to the PCs then the players don't want to do it. We have to work within that constraint. But winning Aberian's patronage would have worked, in retrospect.
We have what has become a *very* political Pathfinder campaign. There were bursts of intense violence in the past, and doubtless will be again, but several sessions in a row of politics now, and lots more to come. (My PC is currently waiting to see if she, or her worst political rival, is about to be named Mayor. I literally woke up in the middle of the night last night wondering about this.)
A couple of observations:
The social skills rules are not all that well developed. If I were doing this again I'd probably borrow Shadowrun's Etiquette skills, reflecting that being diplomatic with nobles and being diplomatic with street thugs are not exactly the same skills set. And the GM will have to set her own target numbers--the rules don't give much help here (or rather, it will be a mess if you try to use them as they don't scale right with level).
A bit more love for the non-combat spells would help. Suggestion is a great political spell, but the Charm line do too much already with a 1st level spell leaving you nowhere to go until Dominate, which is *definitely* too much in a political game, and also too easy to detect. In general, there are relevant spells but they aren't vetted as well as the combat spells. (Watch out for Detect Thoughts. The Pathfinder version is killer.)
I agree with the posters who think PCs need more skill points. I recommend either +2 or +4 across the board. (We did this game with +2; I think next game will be +4.) Some people double, but this gives rogues too many and doesn't help the real problem classes enough. You will really reduce your chance of having good non-combat play if several character classes are prevented from contributing by lack of skills; also, flavor skills are suppressed if points are too scarce. (I wish my fighter had a Profession skill for soldiery: we keep wanting it.)
I also agree with pitching XP, which we always do, and tailoring advancement rates to what will work for your particular scenario. The game I'm describing has gone from 3rd to 10th in 2 years (game time) and that's almost incredibly fast--part of the political PC's problem is that she has to explain away her meteoric rise in ways that don't make her rivals suspect she's really a devil or something.
I think the rules set can definitely help or hinder your desire for a less combat-centric campaign. Compared to AM, all flavors of D&D will hinder a bit, but Pathfinder is, in my experience, about as good as they come. The at-will cantrips are great at making someone feel like a magician without making them powerful in combat, the reduced number of skills makes building a skill-based character easier (for me, anyway), and the rules have been cleaned up in various minor ways. Also there is quite a lot of support for the gameworld, which is important--you can't have a good non-combat game without a strong setting to support it.
My player recruits far and wide, and has a couple of the Stag Lord's men still, and a *lot* of kobolds (led by King Mikmik Trollheart), and some hobgoblins, and a pack of werewolves, and a lot of faerie allies including some rather unseelie ones, and (until recently) a boggard, and a small band of centaurs, a pack of wargs, and...it's pretty boggling, actually. The only things he won't recruit are mites and goblins.
He also has a certain barbarian chieftan's twin four-year-old sons. That will either be a very good or a very bad thing someday, but I don't yet know which.
Our group destroyed the cage, and then the sorceress cast Suggestion: "Let my minion Dismiss you and you can go free." (She has a *frightful* save on that.) A couple of seconds later the cleric cast Dismissal--end of fight. The GM was surprised....
The PCs were pretty pleased initially, but they are now wondering where he went (there is a 20% chance of going to the wrong place) and what he's going to do next. He has, they feel, quite a legitimate beef against Westcrown. While it would be nice if he owed them a favor, they really don't expect he will.
For us--playing this module way out of order, with a very different lead-in--the first half went really well, but the second half, after the cooling towers, was problematic. The PCs believed they were racing against time to stop the Folly from exploding. As a result they did not look into side issues, and missed almost all the treasure, and all of the riddle clues, and the backstory.
You can make a good adventure out of a frantic race against the clock, or out of a deliberate CSI-style investigation of a mystery. I felt that this module tried to split the difference, and that gives pacing problems. The PCs really wanted to stop and read things, but could not justify doing so. Now that it's over, they're frustrated and sad at the loss of information, as well as stung by the loss of treasure (they are committed to finding Aberian a new house, and that's going to be pricy!)
I have been chewing for a long time on why Nyrissa doesn't visit the PC king in dreams (in my game she can't do it physically until the "stars are right": her appearances to the Stag Lord and Irovetti were by proxy).
I have finally decided on the following, scheduled to happen part way through War of the River Kings:
The PC king has a dream clearly from Nyrissa in which she offers him rulership by her side. I expect he will refuse (though the player has surprised me before). She'll laugh and say that he has time yet to change his mind, and she will send him a gift.
A few days later a merchant arrives with a mysterious artifact-potion. The PCs' centaur sage will be able to say what it is: it transforms the drinker into the form of whatever immortal heritage he may possess, or kills him if there is none. The PC king, as is well known, is descended from a dragon....
I kind of doubt he'll use it, though he could. But if he doesn't, what will he do with it? It's a frightful prize. People would come from all over Golarion to try to buy it, steal it, or seize it by force.
This may work only for the unusual circumstances in my game--my PCs have known about Nyrissa since rather early on. (My player pursues knowledge with fanatical intensity, so he almost always knows the plot well in advance--I just have to roll with that.)
If you roll the random encounters in advance, you can do more with them. This monster is where it is because the trolls drove it there; these tracks belong to the monster in the next hex, giving some forewarning; this monster has been harassing that one; etc. This also helps for the occasional encounter that does not really want to be "random" (we had issues with the woodmen in the Gnarlwood not having any set location)-- if you see them coming, you can fill in where their camps are, where they sell their goods, etc.
I didn't do random weather but I did do seasons. Brevoy is described as having harsh winters, so I put snow on the ground 4 months of the year, and adjusted events accordingly. This helps a lot in making the place seem real. Random weather is a good idea as well, though don't fall into the trap of making it too extreme. This campaign will cover a lot of time, and if the weather is too freakish it will become distracting.
The final Stag Lord fights can be quite difficult. Watch out if your players seem to head straight for them. If you can't stop them, consider adding an NPC such as Kesten to the group to make it a bit stronger.
I found _Stolen Lands_ to run quite smoothly. Things become more difficult for the GM as the game goes on. But it can also be a really rewarding campaign with lots of scope for player creativity.
I don't think I'm getting to the full-fledged essay, but here are a couple of thoughts:
What made this AP really shine for us was intense PC and player involvement in what was happening, much more than I think the main line will generally produce by itself. The key event was right at the start, where the PCs met the Children of Westcrown and realized that they were dangerous, hotheaded liabilities who needed to be redirected. The PCs roped them into a neighborhood watch system which they themselves rapidly took over and controlled. Much of the rest of the campaign grew out of the neighborhood watch--the Chain of Lights--and the PCs' attempts to parlay it into political power.
For this you need political PCs with a stake in the setting. This is a poor campaign, in my opinion, for standard out-of-town adventurers. (There aren't many APs where that conception fits well; Rise of the Runelords and Serpent's Skull, I guess.) We had the PCs as the younger generation of a failing Minor House whose older generation had recently died off. They were based in the Spera, so Spera economic progress fed back directly to them. The Chain of Lights literally started at their doorstep.
The lead PC also wanted to see her House become a Great House, which was a good long-term motivation. For example, module #2 could be motivated by presenting it as a way to get the Mayor's patronage, a valuable political and economic asset. (The motivation presented is very weak so it's good to find a better one.)
We then broke up the events of the AP, partly by mixing in Savage Tide #1 and #2 (they fit well) and partly by allowing the PCs to engage with elements of the BBG's plans earlier, when they were still small. The PCs drove a lot of this by identifying threats to the Chain of Lights and proactively going after them--we broke up a doppleganger factory, a doppleganger takeover of a Minor House, some gang action, several nests of dark creepers, etc. There was one largish assault on the Chain of Lights and a number of smaller ones, but more often the PCs had identified something that *would* be a threat before it turned into an overt one.
The Chain of Lights turned out to be an economic success and the PCs' House, skimming the profits, became steadily more significant in the city, leading eventually to recognition as a Great House and an offer for the lead PC to join the Council of Thieves. This is, in my opinion, *totally* where you want the PCs for the events of the late game. The Council is the body with the most at stake. It was particularly nice that Lily (lead PC) had been making recruiting attempts toward young members of the Great Houses exactly as Accardian had, only she was about a year behind him. (The PCs actually had an appointment to meet with Accardian the day after things blew up--he would have had his chance to recruit them.)
I don't know how to start off the campaign in order to point toward having a PC on the Council. The lead PC had that as a goal from the time she was aware that the Council was real, but that couldn't have been predicted by player or GM in advance. I do think it's more likely to happen if the PCs are driving more of the action, and that having them as stakeholders--which the Chain of Lights did very effectively-- does a lot to put them in the driver's seat.
My other concrete recommendation would be NOT to run module #4 where it is. Module #4 is totally reactive for the PCs--a disaster happens and they must respond--and it breaks up the coherent thread of PCs versus nightbeasts. My GM just skipped it. To our surprise, it is now happening halfway through #6 because the PCs forced it to happen (they deliberately removed the maintenance staff, knowing that the place might blow, because they felt they were in position to exploit the resulting chaos). As much as possible the flow of the AP should follow the PCs' agenda, not fight against it. #4 will probably work better after #5 than before it, with appropriate modification of difficulty. I know another poster's group did that with success.
The other thing unusual about our campaign was that the PC cleric was a cleric of the god that the Aol belongs to. (I don't know what the mainline calls him: we called him the Midnight Sun.) This made that whole thread matter a lot more. He ended up with the Morrowfall, of course, and we played up the idea that the Morrowfall is only marginally better for its user than the Totemrix. But I think that while fun, this was secondary to the Chain of Lights in making the game work. (And I'll warn that having what's arguably a demon-priest in Westcrown is not very easy. The PC party has two dark secrets--the cleric's deity and the lead PC's tieflingness--and I found it really hard to keep them.)
This set of PCs were neutral to evil. I don't think that's essential, but a strongly good orientation will need a different approach--good guys do not belong on the Council of Thieves, and will be more likely to wreck Westcrown's social fabric than try to preserve and manipulate it.
Fort Rannick is upriver of Turtleback Ferry. The PCs are supposedly at Fort Rannick (they might also be at the dam itself) when they see the flood go by. They are then supposed to chase the flood downriver and try to save the town.
My player just shrugged and said "The road is gone." It would be, wouldn't it? If enough water came down to flood the town that deep it would surely scour everything off the banks all the way down.
Even if there's a way downriver, unless the PCs are very fast--floods move 10 mph on relatively level ground, more on steep ground. They can't realistically warn the town. Chasing the flood doesn't make a lot of sense to me.
That's not to say it's a bad scene for all groups, but it didn't work for us.
My group's PCs met this strange faerie, like a male dryad but cursed to be bound to a wooden statue rather than a living tree. They eventually decided the best solution to this was to kill and Reincarnate him, with his consent.
They now have a person who habitually looks like a hobgoblin (the King is a hobgoblin) but appears able to look like anything he pleases; who is so likable and pleasant that people often tell him things they should have kept secret; and who can, with a touch, give you huge bonuses on one endeavor at the cost of making everything else seem completely unimportant. (The PCs seldom permit this, but they used it to win one of the Rushlight contests.)
So, what to do with this strange and somewhat disturbing person? They made him the Spymaster....
As a result, the player is not particularly aware of the structure of the spy network, except in Restov where he early on sent a PC (relegating him, alas, to NPC status). It is lucky for the PCs that their Spymaster is not actually working for the BBG: that would be bad. But even so, I think they are taking a big risk in trusting him so much.
We added a fourth stat, which we call "Responsiveness", to the Stability/Loyalty/Economy trio. Every month at the Council meeting there's a Spymaster report on upcoming threats, and the accuracy and look-ahead of this report depends on the Responsiveness roll. The PCs have put a lot of investment into Responsiveness, so they hear about many things far in advance and can prepare. I've really liked how this works. (Warning: you have to redo all the buildings, so it's a lot of work. It would be easier just to have the Spymaster reports and use some kind of skill roll for them, if you like the basic idea but don't want to do massive rewrites.)
Our Kingdom was settled initially by Irissens, and still has a markedly Irrisen flavor even though most of the (human) inhabitants are Rostlanders. They are the only local nation that goes to war in winter by preference. They love non-humans--the King is a hobgoblin and the General is a winter wolf, in good Irrisen tradition--and recruit anything they can get their hands on, even wildly difficult things. (They only had spriggans for a season, though, before becoming lethally tired of their behavior.) Their King is said to have the blood of dragons, and this leads him to want his Honor Guard to be all kobolds, so a lot of work has gone into training kobolds into some kind of usefulness.
It is a bizarre place. I try to play up the bewildered reactions from neighboring, more human lands.
Once an ambitious Brevoyan merchant showed up with six young non-sentient flying mounts, hoping to entice the King into agreeing to a trade treaty. Unfortunately for him, overnight the non-sentient flying mounts somehow turned into sentient flying mounts. The King expressed bafflement at this, but pointed out that the Summerlands are a River Kingdom and slaves are not allowed, so the critters had to be freed. Big political brouhaha ensued, but he stood firm. He was arguably telling the truth, in that the PC who Awakened the critters didn't ask his permission first. But surely he could guess how it must have happened! (Though perhaps he blamed a witch. The Irrisens *really* believe in witches.)
Sailing ships are a weird environment. In my experience they *hugely* favor arcane casters, who love to have a water gap between them and their opponents; they also favor archers to a somewhat lesser degree. Every time we have seen wooden ships in a game, the arcane casters have essentially ruled play. Paizo seems to like to stock their pirate ships with mostly melee fighters and rogues. This is a recipe for Sudden Ship Death Syndrome as soon as you reach level 5, if not before.
Other than that I would be fine with pirates. But I don't really want a reprise of our Riddleport arc in Second Darkness, where the PCs owned every ship they came across. And I don't mean metaphorically. They ended up with a whole fleet--the only limiting factor was ability to find crews for them all. They had a well-developed ship-clearing drill and nothing the setting seemed naturally to produce was able to cope with it.
Similarly, my CoT party just caught a whole lot of rebel Hellknights on a ship, with the result that there are no longer any rebel Hellknights in Westcrown. Yay us!--but it was not an interesting fight, and I wouldn't want to see a lot more like it.
If Paizo seems able to fix this I would play in a pirate AP.
Two more skill points per level for PCs and named NPCs. Pathfinder is better in this regard than 3.5 but that's not saying much; never enough skill points!
While I do not recommend these changes in general--they are meant to support a specific style of play--we kill almost every way a PC could fly except for flying mounts and shapeshifting. No Fly, Gaseous Form, Wind Walk. Also every way a PC could teleport except for fixed gates: no Teleport, Dimension Door, Shadow Walk, etc. I find this makes terrain a lot more interesting and meaningful. My Kingmaker group cares about the state of their road network, which I'm sure they would not if they could Teleport.
Again, not a general recommendation, but we move Raise Dead to 6th and substitute a within-one-minute Cure Deadly at 5th. (Note that it matters what this spell is called: if it is called Cure Deadly you can spontaneous cast it, if it's called Revivify you can't. I prefer the former.) I would rather save PC lives with Fate Points or some such mechanism than with easy Raise Dead, which has far-reaching repercussions for the game world.
No Read Magic. I just don't see the point. Also no Identify; items are either trivial to identify or need analysis. (Most are trivial. I got very tired of Identify several campaigns ago.)
Expensive material components only. (And, frankly, not all of those.)
We treat animal companions as being fairly smart, not limited to just a short list of tricks. (The player is expected to roleplay them, though; they don't just do what the character wants all the time.)
House rule I'd like to see the most: some way to avoid the item-shuffling that sets in at the mid-levels and just gets worse and worse. "Well, we have a +4 Cha headband, can anyone use that? Okay, if Sue trades her helmet to Chris, and her ring to Eric, she can have the headband--no, wait, Eric needs to give his other ring to Sue or he doesn't have enough ring slots, so...where was I anyway? Let's just sell the rotten thing, okay? Using it is too much work." Plus, since each character seems to absolutely need a certain level of stat backers, AC and save backers in order to be viable, all the interesting little mementos that PCs picked up earlier get sold off to free the slots for the boring essential items. I hate this, but I don't see how to fix it short of going back to Iron Heroes. (Which my player would do, but I need proper caster rules to be happy, and it doesn't have them.)
Player point of view here:
It's okay if the GM says "there are things around here too hard for the PCs, they just have to watch out!"
But the GM should NOT combine that with "why don't you guys get with it and do the adventure I intended you to do?" If the players have to make a careful decision about whether something is in their reach or not, sometimes they will decide not to do the intended adventure. It is, in my opinion, extremely unfair to give them grief over this--that amounts to a demand that the players read the GM's mind to know when they "should" push on into a threatening situation and when they shouldn't.
My understanding is that later parts of Serpent are rather railroady. You might want to think about whether a precedent of "don't do anything until you feel prepared for it" is going to work with those modules. If it is, go for it (you should probably warn your players if this is a change in your play style). But if you are going to need the players to push their PCs into highly dangerous situations later on in order for the modules to work, don't set the opposite precedent in #1.
We find that the solution to a lot of the "grindy" Kingmaker encounters is not to run them. We started that at the very beginning. "Hey, you have a random encounter...roll roll...with your dinner!" (Elk, deer, boar, etc.) Now that we're somewhere around KM 4 or 5 with 10th level PCs, we probably play out only 20% of the rolled encounters. I do make sure to *mention* every single one, though, or the player will get a distorted idea of how dangerous a given area is.
I don't see the random encounters as providing most of the interest in Kingmaker; they're there to make the wilderness wild and keep the PCs from taking the map for granted, and for us they work for that. The interest is in the setpieces and in what the GM can elaborate around the setpieces. It's not an enormously interesting sandbox as written, but it's easy to make more interesting just by connecting up the dots.
In my experience, you can scale a module up or down about two levels, but beyond that you will have to rewrite it. The *kinds* of threats level 10 faces are not the kind level 5 faces, and it can feel really false to the world if you ignore that. We had an experience of that with a module side adventure recently. The GM had done a good job of cutting it down mechanically--the PCs were able to handle all of the threats--but it didn't *feel* like an adventure for their level, and it was hard for the PCs to make good threat assessments--common sense and world knowledge assured them that the foes were much too hard for them. We'd have been better off with a module aimed closer to the PCs' actual level.
So an AP written for 1-13 is *not* going to be an easy conversion to 1-20, or vice versa. Some of the later adventures will need a complete rewrite or they are likely to feel very awkward and contrived. (I hope I can get away with it with Kingmaker, because I certainly can't, as a GM, run #6 for the level it wants. We'll see.)
It's a compromise, because for every GM who has to up-power those last adventures to get to 18 or 20, there's one like me who has to cut them down to 13 or 14 (currently doing that with Kingmaker 6).
I think it's good that not all the APs hit the same level range. Then if a particular group dislikes one AP's ending level, there's always the next AP.
I would be upset if Paizo started writing to the fast track, though. We already need to add about a module's worth of extra material to each AP module to get pacing that works for us; any more would be overwhelming, especially for modules written to be run as one brief, tight adventure. In RotRL #5 the PCs in my game went up two levels *in a day*. This doesn't work for us at all, but there was no obvious way to slow things down once the PCs were in that location. If RotRL #5 had been written to advance the PCs 4 levels rather than 2, I don't think I could have run it at all.
I GMed the whole AP when it came out. (#1 observation: NEVER run an AP until you have all six in hand. This caused me a lot of trouble.) Here are my comments. Caveat: We had a large, caster-heavy party and a player who was VERY intent on having things making sense and using information extensively. He always knows what is going on many, many modules before the authors expect. I like this, personally, but it makes things run differently.
This ran well for us, except that my player intensely disliked the fight with the quasit. He felt that the message it sent was "You can't do this. Go away" and that that was derailing.
I really like Sandpoint. I would like to see more towns done this way. I would also recommend changing later parts of the AP to make more use of Sandpoint (more on this later).
I loved the first half when I read it, but it fell flat when run because the haunts provide all this information about the past horrific events and then...the PCs can do nothing useful with that information. They just have to kill Aldern. I eventually improvised a way for them to actually break the curse using what they had learned about it. (And, to my shock, the PCs saved Aldern--I ran him as a sort of half-ghoul--and he was with the party for the rest of the AP! One of the best party NPCs ever, but obviously that was really specific to my group.)
I would like to see the conclusion of part 1 offering ways to use all that information and lay the lich's spirit.
In part 2, I agree with people who said that Magnimar is sketchy--on the other hand, we're about to leave and never return, so this may not be the best place for more detailing.
Xanesha was way overpowered for us. My husband ran RotRL for a different group and swapped Xanesha with Lucrezia, which is better but still very hard. My player did beat Xanesha by ambushing her on the ground with a lot of recruited NPC help, but rather than seeming pleased with the victory he was demoralized and nearly quit the game--he felt that it showed his PCs were flatly not up to the challenges. (And it's not an unreasonable response: he had 7 characters who were all 1 level higher than expected and barely won with over half the party down and two dead. The logical conclusion *is* "We aren't up to this" especially since we didn't plan to keep all those NPC allies.)
This kind of encounter kills campaigns. I don't think they should be put in without a VERY clear "campaign killer" warning flag and some advice on what to run instead if you need to avoid that.
I have learned through bitter experience that the CR system cannot be trusted when monsters are given class levels--AC and SR sometimes go up way too high, or the creature is able to cover all its weaknesses. Xanesha fits that pattern exactly.
Hook Mountain Massacre:
We had logic problems with this one. The PCs are in Magnimar when news arrives that Fort Rannick has dropped out of contact--10 to 20 days from Fort Rannick--but when they arrive it looks as though the attack happened yesterday.
This could be solved, and the cohesion of the campaign increased, by putting Fort Rannick much closer to Sandpoint. You would lose the scenic location at the dam, but it would be a lot easier to motivate the PCs. If any of the extra material about _Paradise_ survives, you could also up the emotional stakes a lot by having _Paradise_ dock at Sand Point rather than Turtleback Ferry.
Having the PCs own the fort does not fit with the arc of the rest of the campaign, which pushes the PCs into travelling constantly. It is a nice idea but doesn't belong here.
The river-flood is a beautiful image but doesn't make sense. Maybe it should be optional, for groups that prioritize color over logic. (Nothing wrong with that, it's just not the group I have.)
Fortress of the Stone Giants:
This needs a real, living Giant fortress, not a regular dungeon. I did a lot of work fleshing it out, with the PCs allying with Mother Cora to turn the Giant tribes against Mokmurian. Even so, the lower level was very unsatisfying: too disconnected and random. Stone Giants have an interesting culture (the associated article is golden) but it isn't used at all.
Sins of the Saviors:
We put Runeforge under Sandpoint. I totally recommend this: it improves coherence, and I had some Sandpoint notables who tried to explore Runeforge on their own and got trapped there, to up the stakes a bit.
I agree with other posters that the PC response to Runeforge is likely to be "Why are we doing this?" I also wanted, if there are going to be living inhabitants, to see exploitable politics--ways to turn the factions against each other.
Also, please, if there are going to be traps give them trap writeups with necessary mechanical information. "It just moves you back, don't know if it's teleport or space-bending, no idea how it interacts with spells" might have flown in 1st edition but not in Pathfinder.
Spires of Xin-Shalast:
I can't say much about this as I am a weak GM for high-level play. I would cut the huge mechanics writeup on the decapus, though, and use it to flesh out the Giants more. And having Karzoug all alone does not work: if the PCs are going to win at all they probably win in round 1.
Logic problems here again: Karzoug very likely knows where the PCs are all the time, but makes no use of his forces to try to stop them. My player really disliked this. The PCs are very high level now and it's not satisfying for them to be treated as irrelevant (also it feels like a cop-out).
This is an opinion and others will certainly disagree, but I think we have learned a lot since 1st edition. Nostalgia is fun, and I enjoyed RotRL a lot; but we should try not to repeat things that were *bad* in old-style games, like enemies who sit stupefied in one room all the time and have no activities or agenda. It would be more work to have a real Giant fortress with Giantish life going on in it, but a lot more interesting!
My player devoted all the party spellcasters to counterspelling and spell interruption attempts. (Basically, various forms of Readying an action to disrupt Karzoug's spellcasting.) So, all he got off was his Quickened spell and a fireball from the staff, and then the fight was over.
It was a big party by that point due to NPC recruitment. A smaller one might have had more trouble. As it was, I had given Karzoug several allies (a Xanesha clone and the fighter with the Runesword) and it made no difference.
I personally have not seen challenging fights at these levels. One way or another they are over almost instantly. That's part of why I prefer to run and play with lower level caps. My player didn't seem too upset about Karzoug's sudden death, but neither was it a memorable climax encounter, and from my point of view it was a lot of prep for no payback.
My player *does* ask who buys Large armor. After all, it might be a clue as to which of his neighbors are arming Large units (hello, Pitax). He is very keen on having the world make sense.
That said, his PCs are also arming Large creatures, so he has a clear use for the items.
I don't think Kingmaker runs very well if treated as a standard party-centered adventure. It's not particularly challenging as such. So we are running with a heavy emphasis on the kingdom-building, politics, long-term strategy, and world detail, and finding it to be a really good campaign. My player found out about Nyrissa fairly early, and everything is building up toward #6. (We are both in the middle of #4 and the middle of #5 at the moment, due to the action being more PC-driven and less GM-driven in this model.) I'm looking forward to it. (Have to cut it down, though, as we are not going to high levels.)
For reasons that might be hard to duplicate, by the time the internal conflict in the Council of Thieves was ready to come to a head, one of the PCs was a *member* of that Council. Having seen it play out, I think that's an awesome point of view from which to see the events --though the PCs will be a lot more involved, so some of those events can no longer be shuffled offstage but will have to be played out. The PCs certainly felt that the campaign problems were their problems. After all, they had worked long and hard to get a PC (and a covert tiefling, too!) onto the Council--they didn't want it blown up in their faces.
I can't figure out how you'd make this happen in general. It took a very, very politically ambitious lead PC and a lot of side adventures. But if it can be made to happen, it's great. No one is more involved than the Council, barring the two lead bad guys themselves. (Who were trying hard to recruit the PCs when the s##% hit the fan--they were, I think, less than a day too late to succeed in doing so.) The endgame ended being all about trying to neutralize the conspiracy while keeping enough of Westcrown's institutions intact that the city would still function and be worth ruling. Whereas in the main line the idea of the PCs as rulers of Westcrown is sort of thrown out late in the game with relatively little support, in this continuation it's completely natural. In a sense, the PCs are not only the opponents of the tiefling siblings, but their beneficiaries--the conspiracy creates the chaos which the PCs can exploit to rise to the political top.
In retrospect things could have developed a little more slowly. It would have been nice if the lead PC had had time to marry the Mayor, not just court him, and if we had understood the noble houses a bit better.
Our game was heavily customized and also a tbug-style "backwards path" (we played the leaders of an ambitious noble house). So our moments are unlikely to be duplicated, but here are a couple:
The murder-play was a lot more fun than I expected: the contrasts between the PCs and the roles they were playing were bizarre and funny. Those roles have cropped back up throughout the game--the PCs revert to them whenever they want a certain kind of publicity for what they're doing.
The PCs worked out a lot of what was going on, painful clue by clue, and then confronted Visendo Dravinge (pardon my spellings, I've never seen any of these names written down). That was awesome--it felt like the proper culmination of all that detective work. And Visendo's reaction ("I like how calm you're being about it--most new members of the Council get all upset") was also excellent.
The lead PC, Lily, at her first Council meeting as a member--the one where she exposed the doppleganger, the one where Visendo finally backed down Eirtein by saying "You'd better listen to this girl, she's going to be your next leader"--that was great too.
Ilnerich's death, at the hands of a PC priest of the Midnight Sun, was a total non-event as a fight but really intense as a roleplaying scene. (Ilnerich never did understand that the PC embraced his own death, even his death at Ilnerich's hands, if that would reunite the Aol. And this lack of understanding killed him.)
The time when the Arodenites were marching to the center of the city to announce their revolution, and were confronted by the Sixfold Survivors--"We'll fight, and if you win I will acknowledge Aroden and join your cause, but if you lose you are banished from Westcrown"--was one of the most tense fights ever. I don't know what Lily would have done if we'd lost! It would have been her utter political ruin.
The point at which we saw the full scope of the enemy plan, and it was apparent that we had missed by less than a day being recruited in on their side. (Though Lily is too ambitious to have been working for the bad guys forever, we might have had *quite* a different plotline for a while.) We had several sessions in a row of Lily saying "*I* should have done that! Damn, they're good!" I really like to see a smart NPC plan and this one was better than most.
Oh, and the time the GM grinned evilly and said, "Yes, it's a *house* spider."
Low points? We *hated* the Asmodean Knot. Had to go there twice. Would be happy if it vanished from the face of the earth, but the GM didn't run that part. Wasn't overly fond of Delvehaven either. Big dungeons don't really fit this campaign. We did Wallcourt disguised as the bad guys, which meant that it wasn't annoying--I think otherwise it might have been too. (Knowing the enemy plans, which we did by that point, is darned useful.)
The play was fun but the reason for doing it was exceptionally weak. If we had understood the structure of our backward path better we could have used "You need to do this to impress House Arvanaxi" and that would have been a lot smoother.
This was not the module's fault, but we botched Mother of Flies and never got to talk to the swamp-hag, and I regret that.
I want to write an essay about how Council of Thieves can be made to run better. We had a great game--for me the best Adventure Path yet--but it was in large part because we had a totally different party concept than expected, one much more tightly tied into what was going on. There was no "what's this plot about anyway?"--by the time we did Wallcourt Lily really did know enough to convincingly impersonate Chammidy, and also to wonder very much whether she should have sided with Chammidy rather than with the old Council.