We do a custom rules document for each campaign with "in" and "out". For the current one, a Kingmaker-style set north of Ustalav, it's CRB plus about half the APG classes and a subset of the APG spells, and nothing else unless it's specifically vetted and allowed. (We also banned a significant number of CRB things.) For the previous one, which was a high-power _Shattered Star_, it was pretty much everything goes. It's a matter of what the GM and player want from each campaign, and I find it works best when this is a joint decision.
(The one thing I can ALWAYS use is more Bestiaries. Just got #4, yum. But this is not to say that all of those critters exist in the gameworld.)
I would rather ban something up front than spend a lot of energy trying to mitigate it, personally. And I share the other poster's view that if I allow PC witches, that means there are witches in the gameworld and people have to know about them to some degree. They are not, mechanically, just wizards with cats. Hexes are Su or Ex, not spell-likes, and this matters in play!
I don't really understand the reluctance to ban. A lot of the time we're banning something because the game will be more fun *for the players* without it. In Kingmaker style games we find that Fly/Overland Flight/Teleport weakens the PCs' connection with the landscape, so we don't have them; I love that as a player because the landscape thing is really important to me. It's not about a GM power play, it's about having rules that support the game you want to play.
I much prefer the new skill-point system: you just couldn't be competent at mid to high levels in a non-class skill in 3.x, which led to unmotivated multiclassing. This frustrated me a lot. Consolidating the skills also helped, though our home games always give extra skill points as I think there are still too few.
I like at-will cantrips, and also the school, domain and bloodline powers that give low-level casters something to do once their few spells are gone. They aren't perfect yet (my sorceress has a notably useless one) but they're definitely in the right direction.
I like CMB/CMD. We always avoided manuver-using characters because the 3.x rules seemed so broken. In a recent Pathfinder game we actually had the scene where two characters open a door behind a guard's back, grab him, drag him through the door, and close it before anyone notices (okay, the Silence spell helped)--using the rules as written.
I like the attempts to unify the monster rules and to clarify what, for example, increasing or decreasing a monster's stat does to its abilities.
I really, really like that Paizo seems to listen to its players. I hadn't had that feeling about WOTC/TSR for a long time.
Also, if evil NPC allies *always* betray the PCs at the climax, it gets very predictable and takes away the "will she or won't she" question.
It's like the time FASA put out a run of five modules in which the PCs' employer betrays them at the end of the job. Once was a surprise. After five the PCs were so jaded, they just stopped taking jobs at all (they hung around preying on idjits who took jobs, instead....)
My group polymorphed Ardathanatos into a frog right in front of the doors, then beat on the frog until it died (they never picked up on any clues that he might be redeemable, and frankly would probably not have done it even if they had). Then the door opened and Yamasoth picked Ardathanatos up and took him away. Oops. We had to retcon this as it was clearly not an acceptable outcome.
My player really disliked the door-opening scenario. If there had been some hint that Ardathanatos' death was a tactical problem (as opposed to a moral problem) it would have helped, but we didn't encounter any. So it's just two rounds of "there's nothing you can do, you lose" plus a side dish of "you're too low level for this scenario." I think it came close to ending the campaign.
This scenario reminded me of "The Infernal Syndrome" from Council of Thieves (no spoilers here I hope) in that the module would be more interesting if the PCs took it very slowly and looked at everything carefully, but there are a lot of internal cues that there is time pressure--my player picked up on those early and played it as a do-or-die run. So the PCs went up two levels in one day, plus they never had time to really look at things, plus they skipped as much as they possibly could. As a result much of the really neat stuff in the module didn't get any chance to be neat. It was frustrating. I'm not sure what's to be done about this.
I played in it, though I think the GM dropped the rival party idea. It was seriously creepy (the curse scared the PCs very, very much--and they don't scare that easily) and very difficult. If your players are not into old-style dungeon delving, you may want to warn them. Plunging in rashly may well get them killed; it's important to take it slowly and be careful.
My rogue still has nightmares about the old guy in the room full of string.
We did not like the sequel as much: the PCs are pushed to do something that the module apparently fiats must fail, and I didn't enjoy that at all.
Doubling the hit points doesn't do much good if the enemies only hit on a 20 and do minimal damage when they do hit, does it? It just makes a pointless fight last slightly longer.
We call this "Blackwall Keep Syndrome" after the third module in Age of Worms, where the author seems convinced that the mass of lizardfolk is a huge threat (in theory it's about CR11) and gives lots of warnings about how the PCs musn't let themselves be engaged--but in fact the PCs can just stand there fighting lizardfolk until they are all dead, because they can't hit, and on the rare 20's they do a d6 or so. No amount of those is actually a CR11--not ten, not fifty, not a hundred. Probably not a thousand. They just don't scale that way.
And then you get the disaster when a GM feels s/he has learned that lesson, and applies it to the wrong creature--something where several of them really is much more dangerous than one. Harpies are a good one. Seugathi are a *great* one (ouch). CR is something of a black art.
Babau demons are more in the first category. If you can handle them, you can handle a lot of them, extra hit points or no. Succubi, in the other hand, are in the second category: unless you are totally immune to their wiles, you don't want to see ten succubi because you *will* miss a save.
James Sutter writes:
"Most folks can't cast passwall until 9th level..."
They used scrolls. I think they have 2-3 more of them stocked up just waiting for Windsong Abby. (If they passwall into the bottom of that they may bite the big one, though.)
They did have fun. I'm just glad we're neither relying on module EXP nor module treasure, because they got maybe 25% of each.
I was sorry not to see the artificer's house; I'll keep it on tap for a later game. It should stand alone just fine.
She married Aberian? Talk about going for the Big Mac when you could have the filet mingeon. :p
Who would you prefer?
I personally think Eccardian was the best match for her personality and drive. Unfortunately she killed him.
The current most powerful man in Westcrown is Vasindo Dravinge, but while Aberian is old enough to be her father, Vasindo is old enough to be her great-grandfather, and that does put her off. Also it would upset her cute little balance-of-power game with Vasindo and Ertein.
It's my favorite AP, but we changed it a LOT.
We had the PCs be the last heirs of a minor noble house whose big goal was regaining power and gaining more--so that the idea of becoming Mayor of Westcrown, instead of coming out of left field at the end, was the culmination of a campaign-long plan by the lead PC.
As a nice side benefit, this meant that the PCs looked at the Children of Westcrown as dangerous troublemakers. The only reason they'd overthrow House Thrune is to take its place! (Which is where we might be going with the post-AP continuation of the game--we'll see how that works.)
We reversed 4 and 5, and broke up 6 to scatter it through 3-5, and added Savage Tide 1 and 2 plus some side adventures. This allowed the GM to build up the BBG's plan a lot, and for the PCs to have time to diligently investigate it--from about 3 onward they knew they had a shadowy enemy who was going to wreck Westcrown, but it took them a long time to find out who, partly because they naturally confused Eccardian and Ilneric.
The PCs were a mix of borderline neutral/evil folks, as you might expect from Chelish nobility. One of my favorite roleplaying bits was that the lead PC became somewhat less evil over the course of the game, as she developed a personal stake in Westcrown's wellbeing. But she tended to regard her better impulses as temptations, and for a long time she kept blaming the Good party NPC, Calsienica. "I can't torture the guy. Calsienica wouldn't like it." No one got to hear that actually *she* didn't like it.
I agree that Westcrown could use a sourcebook. Figure on doing a lot to build up the noble families, the Temple of Asmodeus, and the general political situation if you want to run it as a political game (as we did).
Also, the player hook for module 2 is really, really weak. The PCs need to do this bizarre risky thing to get into Aberian's Folly--but there is nothing stopping them from just getting into Aberian's Folly, besides which they are not really motivated to get in there in the first place. In retrospect, Aberian could have asked the PCs to do the play in return for patronage--that would have worked a lot better for us (they'd have jumped on it).
My lead PC ended up as (a) Mayor of Westcrown, (b) married to Aberian, and (c) the head of the Council of Thieves. That pleases me more than any combat goal I've ever accomplished--though finally getting Eccardian after three near misses was also excellent.
We just finished this module, and I have to recount what happened.
Session 1. The PCs go up the cliff, skipping the Halflight Path entirely. They meet their guide, hear about the bizarre behavior of the Therassic Guild, and decide that's their clue. They use clairvoyance and similar means to find where the dungeon entrance is, passwall in, subdue some elderly librarians, tell the Therassics in no uncertain terms not to intervene, and go down.
Session 2. The PCs go into super-stealth mode and open doors a crack, peer in, swear, and close the door again. (They named this the "Hall of Horrors" about five doors in.) They fight the three Therassic agents (all three go down in a round or less), the hellwasps, and the caged fish. They skip *everything* else. When they reach the caulborn, they come to the natural conclusion that the caulborn are what made the NPCs insane (they never understood about the trap) so they subdue the caulborn and mind-read their Brain to find out how to work the menhir.
They retreat and free the coatl, then enlist its help in reverse-engineering the caulborn ritual, with aid from a planar ally summoning.
Session 3. The PCs pop out of the menhir and retrograde away from the rot grubs. (In retrospect I gave them a round more warning than the module intended.) They scout the Black Keep and enter the tower windows to take out the three wyverns. (By the way, the art, the map and the room descriptions totally disagree on where or how many windows there are in this keep.) Having finished those (and alerted other denizens--it was noisier than their usual attack) they cast Fly, move to the uppermost part of the keep, and passwall into it. They grab the Shard. The Horseman flings open the door and attacks, doing a little damage. They kill him and fly away.
I ruled that Olanna and the hounds realized where they were going and raced to the menhir to stop them. The PCs flew down, taking one round of attacks from Olanna and the hounds (they had cast Remove Fear so weren't in much danger of panic) and went through the menhir. They thanked the coatl and skipped town.
That's it! Three sessions of maybe 3 hours each. They skipped ALL of part 1, 2/3 of part 2 and more than half of part 3. Only one fight lasted more than 2 rounds (the hellwasps). Thank the gods I'm not using EXP or this would have been a complete disaster with the PCs at least one if not two levels too low by the end.
I can't fault their play. It accomplished all of their goals with minimal danger, no loss of innocent lives, and informing as few parties as possible about the Shard. But boy, shortest module EVER.
(If anyone is wondering, this is five characters, built for stealth: barbarian, oracle, wizard, rogue/fighter, cleric/fighter. Not particularly optimized for anything but stealth and operating in darkness.)
Here's my take on _Council of Thieves_:
The good: No gimmicks here. Relatively slow level advancement (which I prefer). Setting restricted to a single city and surrounding area, so I really got to know it. Several good NPCs, at least in my GM's hands. Acting out the play in #2 was surprisingly fun. The city is decently well described and has good scope for play.
The bad: I really disliked the extraplanar dungeon in #2. The logic behind the PCs going there was weak, and it was not fun once we got there either. We also had trouble with #4; it imposes a lot of pressure to move fast, but is only interesting if you go slow and look at details.
Things we changed: The GM changed a *lot*. He reversed modules 4 and 5 (I recommend this--it's an improvement plot-wise and not as bad as you'd think for difficulty level) and added about 1 module worth of new material for every module in the AP. Without that I think it would have been too thin. Savage Tide #1-#2 makes a good mix-in for CoT #1-#2.
Our PCs were Chelish nobility, the heirs to a minor noble house, and mostly neutral or a restrained flavor of evil. This helped avoid the early red herring that the campaign might be about overthrowing Cheliax, since it is NOT. Some groups hated CoT because they got the wrong expectations.
The extra material allowed for a long drawn-out cat and mouse game with the BBG, so when we finally found him we knew exactly who he was and why we wanted him dead. The scene where we had finally solved the plot mystery and confronted a major NPC with it was one of the most satisfying ever.
The GM also connected the PCs' backstories with the events in the module really well. This is what the player's guides are supposed to do, but we have never had good experiences with those so I tend to ignore them. Having the religious artifact McGuffin belong to the PC cleric's cult was *great*. The confrontation over that artifact was another of the really intense scenes in the AP for me. (Also one of two climax scenes in which the fight ended before it really began--surprisingly, this was fine.)
Finally, I think it really helped that our PCs developed a concrete plan for making the city safer early on, and a concrete plan for hunting down the BBG later. I enjoyed getting to be active rather than reactive.
I'd recommend it, but only for a GM willing to flesh it out a lot. In particular I'd really want the reason for the second half of #2 to be replaced, and reversing #4 and #5 is better than letting them stand. And the PCs definitely need more ways to find out about the BBG than the modules provide. (This is a common problem across many APs.)
Removing alignment from the game is certainly an option (I've done that in some campaigns). If the campaign is meant to be RAW, though, these spells undeniably have alignment-specific aspects; unfortunately they are written very confusingly so there is no consensus on what they do.
This matters to me as I run an LN charm mage myself. Enemies do not tend to have Pro Law in Cheliax; they have Pro Good or Pro Evil or Pro Chaos. If those spells work against her it matters mechanically.
Has anyone seen worked-out errata for these spells? They drive me crazy.
As for Spell Immunity, it helps against casters (though Dominate Person is lower level than anything which could stop it) but is (if I read the rules correctly) useless against supernatural abilities. We have had two near-TPKs due to monsters with Confusion supernatural abilities. (It's quite unclear to me, incidentally, whether Pro Evil blocks Confusion.) Witch hexes raise similar issues. And the more you allow non-Core spells, the less use Spell Immunity becomes.
We are considering revising all of the save-takeout spells to work more like poisons, with ongoing effects that build up to the final disaster if not stopped. It's a big revision and will doubtless mess up other things, but these spells are a problem for us--either defenses are so high that they don't work at all, which makes people like the charm mage no fun, or they *do* work, which makes combats very dicy and short. (The charm mage has settled a frightening number of boss fights with Hideous Laughter.)
There'd been a lot of killing in this module already, so we let many of the warriors live--but they ran screaming into the night and may have been eaten by snow leopards. We didn't inquire.
We meant to save Helva, but when she started casting--we hadn't known she was a caster--she got a lethally sharp response from frightened PCs.
Alvig, alas, got our party's standard treatment for people oath-bound not to talk under questioning. We cast Detect Thoughts and questioned him until he realized what was happening, whereupon the curse killed him messily. I admit that my character Jinko, the party advocate of "we have to kill them, we can't keep them or let them go" sometimes connives to make sure this happens, rather than a fully successful questioning session that leaves the prisoner alive. (The ancestral spirits told Jinko that her role is to do the awful things Ameiko's honor won't let her do, and she took that to heart.)
The PCs' opinion of that curse was conditioned by the fact that the first time they met it they assumed it had been imposed by force on unwilling people. They carefully preserved the prisoners' lives (after the first one exploded) and paid a huge sum to the high priest of Torag to break the curse. Then they found out it was done willingly, and after that they weren't nearly so compassionate.
They still didn't kill those prisoners, though. They kept them at great risk and expensive, arguing constantly about what to do with them, until one night Jinko slipped into the wagon and killed them all. I think the other player knows this, but the other PCs haven't caught on. On the other hand, there's a definite pattern of Jinko doing awful-but-necessary things and waiting for Koichi or Ameiko or Spivey to protest--and the protests never come. Power corrupts....
My PCs in Council of Thieves worry about this obsessively. They are well aware that the fighter could kill the whole party, two characters per round, and they'd have only a very few chances to stop him. They haven't found a satisfactory defense. (Pro Evil presupposes that your enemies are evil; not always the case. And it doesn't stop Confusion.)
The charm sorceress might also be able to take on the entire party and win (start by Dominating the fighter; he definitely can't make that save). So if she is Dominated, same outcome.
It is not actually hard to challenge high-level AP parties, if by "challenge" you mean "kill". What's hard is to get an interesting fight that isn't basically over by the end of the first full round.
We are currently in Jade Regent #3 and just finished a very complex and tense fight which went 7 rounds. It reminded me of how strongly I prefer this to the "death in the surprise round" effect that sets in at higher levels. The keys to that fight were heavy use of area denial by the enemy, plus forewarning. But those tactics seem harder and harder to use at higher levels.
Our lead PC married Aberian immediately after her own inauguration as Mayor of Westcrown. Purely a political marriage, though she's become somewhat fond of him. If you think about it, Aberian's not a powerful spellcaster or a highly connected politician, but he survived as Mayor of Westcrown for *20 years*. He has something on the ball, namely an ability to avoid making enemies and a positive knack for seeming biddable and harmless without actually turning into any specific faction's pawn.
I suspect that, down the pike, she will find out the hard way that she's still not taking Aberian quite seriously enough. She's used to using mind-reading to remedy any gaps in her understanding of the people around her, but Aberian has mind shielding. And he's been playing his (admittedly somewhat purposeless, but still challenging) political games in Westcrown since before she was born.
We had excellent success with both Kingmaker and Council of Thieves, but not out of the box--I'm not sure you *can* run Kingmaker out of the box (picks up empty box and rattles it in puzzlement).
Council of Thieves has the most extended non-combat sequences of any AP (in book 2) and is relatively dungeon-light. But you will need to flesh out the politics a lot.
Kingmaker is an awesome opportunity for PC/PC and PC/NPC interaction, but it's more like an outline than a worked-out adventure; figure on adding 2 episodes for every 1 episode the AP gives you.
I hesitate to recommend Second Darkness as most of it is, in my opinion, highly problematic. However, module 4 is a great roleplaying arena, especially combined with the support material in the back. It would be worth considering running it as a stand-alone (whatever you do, don't follow up with #5, often regarded as the low point in AP modules).
In all of the APs, we have found that the roleplaying tends to dry up past module 4. I don't like high-level play much anyway; if you have the same feeling, it's worth looking for ending points before module 5. (I ran Skull and Shackles 2-4 plus Legacy of Fire 4 as a mini-campaign, which was...okay, but pirates are not really our thing.)
I am also frustrated with the combat advice, which can include up to 3 rounds of prep casting--for an encounter that's in the tens of feet range. The result of this is invariably that the foe dies before doing anything. In my current Shattered Star game the length of the average combat is probably 1.5 rounds (counting the surprise round--they are stealth experts). You *have* to do something aggressive with your action as it's the only one you will get!
A similar weirdness happens at the other end of the combat strategy--the NPC entry will say "flees when reduced below 5 hp." Needless to say, with each character's action delivering 20-40 points of damage, this will occur only due to a rare fluke.
I don't think optimization is the whole story. I played in a game where there were two experienced (but restrained) adult players and a teenage newbie. He slapped together an archer character because he liked to shoot things, and just took basic Core feats that support archery. The adult players helped a bit with the math to figure out what those feats did. The campaign ended suddenly when someone cast Dominate on the teenager's archer and he killed the entire party (both of my characters in the first round, both of the other player's in the second round). It is very easy to make an effective archer. You don't need splatbook feats or strange race/class combinations or creative rules interpretations. You just need to pick up the feats that any "advice for beginners" will point out.
Also, there is a pattern that so far has destroyed two of my AP games. The player agrees to be restrained with character design. He then hits a ruthlessly hard module #2, often with a TPK or close, and decides this agreement was a crock. He redesigns his PCs to be capable of handling module #2 at the given levels. Nothing in the AP ever challenges them again. I suspect it will happen again with Shattered Star (though with #3, not #2 as usual).
My main experience with the Pathfinders is in _Council of Thieves_. (Possible spoilers follow)
They do not come across favorably there, though I guess you could blame it all on a couple of bad apples. But my impression is that they are indeed Victorian gentleman-adventurers, motivated by glory, curiosity, and greed, but able to think of themselves as good guys because glory and curiosity come first, and because they're brave and daring.
They were the kind of people who go into a Mwangi tribe and take their most holy artifact away and put it in a private museum in a distant nation. (That thing was holy to my PC's deity, in an inspired piece of backstory-connection by the GM. I took it personally.) And then never understand it, and allow it to cause immense harm.
That's not Indiana Jones, that's the other guy.
I don't mind this portrayal. My PCs have one Pathfinder friend; they don't trust the organization as a whole, no more than they trust the Expeditionary (which means they'd murder any Pathfinder who posed a threat to them, if they could get away with it, as they've murdered an Expeditionary captain already; they're Chelish aristocrats and not nice people themselves).
But attractive? No. No more or less than the Expeditionary. One grabs other peoples' stuff for the glory of the Decimvirate, the other for the glory of the Empress. And they are both pretty much informational black holes, which would bother any PC of mine who was devoted to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge.
My player refused to do Pathfinders for Shattered Star--we have developed too clear a view of them as a basically bad group, and a group that would logically and necessarily want to do the wrong thing at the end of S*.
I do agree that many more nations than Cheliax would ban them. Consider the centuries of conflict between the Egyptians and the British Museum. Tomb-robbing is not attractive when it's your ancestors' tombs, on your land, and the stuff is being carried off to a distant country that is probably not your friend. I'm not troubled by their presence in Magnimar because the Magnimaran government is weak and conflicted; equally with Riddleport; but I'd be a bit surprised if Mendev or Andora would tolerate them.
I think there are two related issues here.
It's hard on me as a player if I'm asked to attach to something and then forced to leave it. When we did CotCT we had to quit when the game left Korvosa, because I was invested in Korvosa and just had no interest in two whole modules set elsewhere, doing something entirely unrelated, while my city went to hell.
We dodged this bullet in Second Darkness by making the PCs agents of the Winter Council, but I have heard that it derailed many other groups' campaigns; you attach to the Goblin and then it's gone, and you don't re-attach.
We also had this problem with _Age of Worms_. My player got very invested in Diamond Lake and then the AP left it forever. Later it asked him to invest in Alhastor, and the response was "You have to be kidding, why would I want to go through that again?" (And with good reason, given what happens to Alhastor.)
Our best APs so far have been Kingmaker and Council of Thieves, both of which encourage the PCs to attach and then allow them to stay attached for the entire AP. Speaking for myself as a player, I don't find myself willing to do the "build up a place you care about a lot" thing more than once per AP: blow off the first one and I'm done, frankly. (We knew better than to even attempt Legacy of Fire after the failure of CotCT.)
A separate problem, though they sometimes travel together, is that while it's upsetting to have something you care about destroyed, and it's annoying to be railroaded, it's INFURIATING to be railroaded into having something you care about destroyed. Legacy does this, and then tells you it's your fault. I can't think of a better way for a GM to squander a group's willingness to cooperate! After that's happened once, why are you going to go along the next time? Shattered Star, in my opinion, does this too. For me as a player this is one of the few non-negotiables. You can refrain from railroading; you can railroad me into something fun; but you don't get to force me to do something and then beat on me for doing it.
I know there are groups which are okay with both of these--we're a very diverse lot. But they're recurrent problems for a lot of groups--you can see that in the messageboard threads. I would certainly jump at an AP that promised (a) to maintain the attachments it makes early on, and (b) to railroad the PCs only to do things that are reasonable and have at least a chance to work out, not to do things that end in disaster and humiliation.
Brandon Hodge wrote:
Thanks for the comments; they're very helpful.
I don't think I could run it that way, though, because there is a huge difference in my mind between the Council of Elrond and the Decimvirate of the Pathfinders. By and large, the Council of Elrond represents good people who are trying to save the world, and Frodo can reasonably know this.
That is just not how the Pathfinders' Society comes across in the material we've played so far (specifically in _Council of Thieves_). They are not altruists. They are Victorian gentleman-adventurers looking for fame, glory, and knowledge for themselves and their organization. And the secrecy of the Decimvirate can very easily be interpreted as a broad hint that whatever one may think of the rest of the organization, the high leadership are something more sinister. My player says that _Seekers of Secrets_ reinforces this view further (I haven't read it myself). It is therefore hard to expect the PCs to trust them. It seems rather likely that the Sihedron is the key to *becoming a Runelord* and that is one heck of a temptation to put in the Decimvirate's way.
My other concern is that if I play up the presence of abundant high-level good guys willing and eager to help the PCs, then...they would help the PCs throughout, which we all know is an undesirable outcome. But the alternative is that they are eager to help reassemble the Sihedron but not to deal with any of the adventuring, and to someone suspicious-minded like my player that reeks of ulterior motives.
Tolkien got away with having the Council sit back because the Council members are wise, but not mundanely powerful in quite the way that high-level D&D characters are. Even then there is a lot of in-book puzzlement over whey they don't help more....
Basically, I feel I'm caught between "The Pathfinders and allies are good guys who want to help" (in which case, why don't they help more, and won't that bog down the game?) and "The Pathfinders and allies are sinister and enigmatic, so better do this ourselves" (in which case, why do we take their bad advice at a critical moment?)
Note that this is a problem about feelings. It may be perfectly logical for events to play out as you describe. But if my player then resigns the campaign in disgust, the fact that it was logical is cold comfort, as the game is ruined. In my estimation the events shown would ruin the game for him (and would for me, if positions were reversed). (I ran it by him, so I am pretty sure of this assessment.) Mileage of course varies.
We get bit by this every time the AP threat is really big (Rise of the Runelords, Second Darkness, Age of Worms; and Reign of Winter looks like another one). The only thing I know to do about it is to keep high-level trustworthy allies off stage as much as I possibly can, as their presence will either break suspension of disbelief or the game contract that requires the PCs to be the ones doing stuff. Shattered Star #6 puts them on stage making a key (bad) decision; this just doesn't work for me.
I'm partway through GMing #3. So far I don't have a problem with the heavy dungeon crawls (and it is certainly easier to run than Kingmaker, our previous AP!) But everything outside the dungeons feels prefunctory and disconnected, and that's making the whole thing feel soulless to me.
Four points that were particularly a problem for me:
In #1, Sheila Heidmarch's actions make no sense to me from one end to the other. Once she realizes the PCs have a shard of the Sihedron, she...is too busy to bother with it? We're supposed to assume both that being a Pathfinder is sufficient motivation for the PCs to pursue the shards relentlessly, and that it's not at all a motivation for a Venture-Captain? She'll give 8000+ gp worth of stones to a beginning party, but she can't be bothered to send someone with them....
She comes across as a cardboard cutout, not a person. But as soon as you try to make her a person it messes up the AP. What she and the senior Pathfinders would actually do is likely NOT to leave the PCs in the driver's seat. So it's a quandary. (My player relieved me of some of the problem by refusing to play Pathfinders.)
In #2, everything points, emotionally, at Korvosa. Sorshen is buried there. The Gray Maidens are from there. It ought to point at *going* to Korvosa--but instead you are supposed to ignore all that and go elsewhere. I found this made the PCs feel really detached, like all the Korvosa stuff was just stage dressing. The Gray Maidens deserved more.
In #3, the Therassic Spire's motivations again make no sense. We did something we shouldn't and need to hide it, so we...shut down, alerting the ENTIRE CITY to the fact that we're up to something? Then we scatter hints around to get everyone's interest up? And then, we hire strangers to rescue our team we sent to get the Uber Artifact, and casually mention that the strangers can keep the Uber Artifact when they find it?
It plays as a transparent cover for "We just need you to do this, so do it, okay?" Which is something I remember from 1970's dungeon crawls, but not with fondness.
And looking ahead, #6 requires the PCs to be so bloody unconcerned that they will let strangers get their hands on the Shards, in a public venue where anyone could try to teleport in and snatch them--and then that works out terribly. It's not a good idea to fiat that the PCs are stupid and then punish them for stupidity.
The dungeons are pretty and well designed and (except for the seugathi) well balanced. But there's nothing holding them together, and I'm finding that boring and somewhat alienating. I think they would work better as drop-in additions to another AP. The motivations driving each episode are like placeholders for some real but campaign-specific motivations, and inserting them into something else might make those motivations apparent. I haven't figured out which AP yet, though.
Carrion Crown and Shattered Star both have parts that are not just Lovecraft-flavored but are explicit Lovecraft pastiche. We found them to be a bit *too* explicit--it was hard to come to the adventure with a fresh mind when the players recognized all of the monsters, locations and themes. I am told there's a similar section in Jade Regent (haven't gotten there yet).
There is some less explicitly Lovecraftian horror in Rise of the Runelords, Jade Regent, and Kingmaker, as well as in other parts of Carrion Crown. And almost every single AP has at least a couple of distinctly Lovecraft-flavored critters or situations.
1. Council of Thieves (player). My GM just did a bang-up job with this one, developed the city to an incredible degree--and since the PCs are nobility, they were never suckered into the unfulfilled and frustrating "let's topple the Empire" false lead at the beginning. I have to say, though, the GM swapped modules 4 and 5 and added 2 episodes of Savage Tide and a whole lot of his own material. I have no idea how this would run on its own.
2. Kingmaker (GM). Again, we had to go way, way outside what was in the modules--and rewrite the whole kingdom mechanic, which was a pain--but it was a really rich campaign with excellent NPCs. My player wants to do another kingdom-building game ASAP, which speaks highly for this one.
3. Rise of the Runelords (GM). It has its rough spots, especially in transitions between modules (I hear the Anniversary Edition is better). But there's a lot of colorful stuff and it all more or less works.
Those are the only three we've run all the way through. We've done parts of most of the others:
Jade Regent (currently playing module 3) seems pretty good, though the GM is doing a lot of fixing to make it work--the mechanics systems are both very bad ideas. Our PC/NPC relationships are not at all the ones the modules expect, but they are good ones, and there's some roleplaying depth. This could end up being a favorite if the later modules work.
Shattered Star (currently GMing module 3) has colorful dungeons, but feels very shallow--NPC actions seldom make any sense, world interaction is minimal. It comes across, in my hands at least, as competent but soulless.
Curse of the Crimson Throne (player through mid-#3) lost me catastrophically when it left Korvosa--I just didn't want to continue once I heard how long we'd be away. We went back to the same ideas in Council of Thieves and were much happier with them there.
Second Darkness (GM) was something of a trainwreck from #3 onwards, but I have to say that after abandoning the entire plot of #4 we had a *really* fun game in Zirnakaynin--the sourcebook material there is excellent. The player hated #5 and then quit early in #6--two very weak modules in a row. The idea of being motivated to rescue someone you hate just did not work for us. My player ended up preferring the drow (who are colorful and passionate and capable) to the elves.
Carrion Crown (mixed). I ran #3 as a side adventure in Kingmaker (it fits well in Thousandvoices); my husband ran #4 as a side adventure in one of his games. Neither one persuaded us we want to see the whole AP. There's better horror in RotRL or Kingmaker.
Skull and Shackles (GM). I ran part of 2, 3, and 4 as a mini-campaign. The mechanics subsystems didn't work again, and the whole thing felt stale to us, but we're not particularly pirate fans.
Legacy of Fire (GM). I ran #4 as the end of the Skull and Shackles mini-campaign, but it did nothing for me--it felt underdeveloped. The overall structure of the AP, with the PCs pulled away from their base, has the same problems for us as Curse of the Crimson Throne with even less compensation.
Serpent's Skull (GM). I've run part of #1 twice, but both games failed early. They didn't seem as fun as I hoped from the readthrough, but they were so short I really can't say. The later modules don't look as though they'd work for us.
In the future we might try Reign of Winter with the PCs as Baba Yaga's fairy servants. We can see no way to make it work run straight; the plot's just not acceptable to either of us. Wrath of the Righteous is going to be totally out of our level range; maybe module 1 will be useful elsewhere, but I think we'll be sitting this one out.
Looking at this, I can write my "AP wish list":
--pick a situation and STAY THERE, don't pull the PCs away (Kingmaker and Council of Thieves were best for this).
--NPCs with reasonable motivations and good engagement with the PCS (Kingmaker, Council of Thieves, Jade Regent).
--don't introduce cute new mechanics! I love innovation, I would love to be able to encourage development of bold new subsystems, but every single time they've been a mess. We had to either rewrite everything (Kingmaker) or ignore them (Skull and Shackles, Jade Regent, Second Darkness).
--colorful settings are great (just about every AP does this well--it's a real strength).
Our PCs (3rd level party of 5) could not deal with the centipede swarm. On the first encounter they ran and were very lucky not to lose a PC (they remembered the Drag action and dragged the lagging character through a door just in time). On the second encounter they threw all 10 alchemical fires but did not get enough hits against the very high touch AC to kill it; they had to spend a hero point to save the lagging PC.
Beating on it with torches did not seem viable; it does 2d6, torches do 1d3, and it has as many hp as a PC.
How have other groups dealt with this encounter?
The community has tons of experience with the core classes. When non-core classes are allowed there's much more risk of a character who is broken, too strong, too weak, or can't find a reasonable role. I might be able to spot upcoming problems with a single class, but I know I'm going to miss stuff when I have to consider all of the possible multi-class combos as well.
So my preference would be to run core-only; but increasingly this requires re-writing NPCs in the APs and modules (NPC alchemists seem particularly popular). Ignoring the new classes is *not* cost-free if you use prepared material.
I guess the short form is that I'm very risk-adverse. I like to run long campaigns with continuing characters, and we tend to do parties who are tightly thematically linked, such as members of the same family. Swapping out characters who don't work is really disruptive for us. Killing off the campaign and starting a new one is even more so. (We tend to use about two APs' worth of material per campaign, so they are substantially longer than the average AP-based game--often a couple of years real-time, playing twice a week.)
So for me to welcome a new class it would have to add a lot to the game. My player loves Oracles so I deal with them (though the party consisting of four Oracles and a heavily multi-classed I-don't-know-what-this-character-is character made my head hurt, and I would rather not do that again). Ninjas have some promise as a drop-in replacement for Rogues, minus the Asian feel. The rest? They haven't showed promise sufficient to outweigh the risk (though I might try Inquisitor sometime myself) and the community experience with Summoner suggests that the risk is pretty darned high.
My other concern is that, in my experience, having a lot of diverse mechanical options around encourages players to want to try them all--which is fine if that's what you're looking for, but does not mix well with the two-year mega-campaign play style I prefer. I'm playing in a campaign now where the other player looks wistfully at each new book that comes out and says "Hm, wouldn't it be cool to have a [archetype + race + trait + new splatbook feat + ....]" and I just cringe. Fortunately he reins in this impulse, because Jade Regent *really* does not work well for constant character swapping!
A general suggestion: the described traits are not traits of the god, even when presented that way, so much as traits attributed to him/her by a regional cult. You can have heretics, you can have significant regional differences, the interpretation of a god can change just as it does on Earth.
This is the way we handle Erastil. Brevoy is quite patriarchal, and the church of Erastil in Brevoy is pretty much as described. The church of Erastil in the new Kingdom was quite different--its early growth was very much shaped by Elsbet, a kind of Joan of Arc figure who founded the Order of the Elk, a guild of laypeople dedicated to Erastil and to community do-gooding.
Elsbet and Jhod had quite a lot of conflict, and there was a subplot midgame where enemies of the kingdom tried to turn Jhod against Elsbet by revealing secrets from her past. But by campaign end they were working together, and the structure of the faith in the kingdom was an interesting synthesis of some fairly different views.
(We didn't have a state religion exactly--the King's ideology was tolerant to a fault. But major churches needed permission, and the ones who got it were Erastil and, much later, Pharasma--and never Abadar or Gorum despite repeated attempts.)
Similarly, in our Council of Thieves game (in which religion's pretty important, probably more so than in the source material) the Egorian Church of Asmodeus is as sexist as it can get away with, partly in opposition to the Thrune Empress, but things like the Sisters of Iseth show an alternative interpretation. You could have a very misogynistic Church of Asmodei in one place and a completely gender-indifferent one in another, one where the Whore Queens are as big or bigger a deal than, say, Mammon.
The basic idea is that mortals don't ever know all there is to know about gods, and/or that gods are fairly paradoxical, with multiple aspects that can look contradictory to mortals. So it's quite possible for mortals to come up with drastically divergent interpretations of a god without either group getting immediately slapped down; and in fact they may *both be right.*
A couple of key GM decisions:
(1) Do you want the mass combat? On the one hand, the players may really want to see armies and warfare. On the other hand, the mass combat rules are shaky, and the players may also realize that armies don't make sense if you have high-level PCs. This leads to a "war" consisting of teleporting assassination raids (and a lot of GM work statting up the targets). It's a good idea to figure out well in advance if mass combat will be a plus or a minus for your game, and don't build armies if it will be a minus, or keep them strictly offstage. You really want to avoid "the players spend a lot on armies and then realize they are stupid" outcomes.
(2) How much should the PCs know about Nyrissa? If they know a lot they may want to go after her too early. I introduced the idea that she had to return "when the stars were right" but my PCs somehow came up with a compelling plan to reach her early anyway. (It is hard to argue with folks who are willing to use the Boneyard as a waypoint.) If they don't know about her #6 will be really jarring as it takes them away from the kingdom theme. I like PC knowledge, but it has to be handled carefully because knowing you have a top-level adversary early on can be very demoralizing.
(3) Who are the political adversaries? Module 1 kind of sets up Brevoy in this role, but I don't think you want an eventual Brevoy/Kingdom war--there is no support for it and also the kingdom rules will not survive a PC annexation of Brevoy; they don't scale up that far. We dealt with this by having the PCs aid in a rebellion in Restov leading to it becoming a Free City. This gives some buffer with Brevoy. A better adversary is Pitax, but then you will want to put in more about Pitax earlier on--module 5 can also come out of left field if not foreshadowed. (And you will want to map Pitax' claimed hexes and so forth, and be aware that while the end of module #5 promises rules for incorporating Pitax into the Kingdom, they do not exist!)
(4) How is the economy going to work? The module version of the Kingdom rules, if the players catch on to how they work, leads to a kingdom with all the BP and gold it could want (and overequipped PCs if they want to go that way). The Ultimate Campaign set is supposed to be better--I haven't seen them. We had to rework the whole thing for our game. I recommend doing a trial run of several years worth of monthly updates before starting the game--either enlisting a player or two to help or doing it yourself. In my opinion the best economic outcomes lead to some spending constraints and occasional worries but not constant crises or collapses (watch out for death spirals involving uprest). Also watch out for the annexation of Varnhold in #3 as it can wreck a weak or unstable economy. It is very discouraging to get a "reward" that turns out to ruin your kingdom.
Kingmaker is more work to run than the average AP but we have found it very rewarding. It's helpful to have a stock of similarly flavored stand-alone modules to fit into it--we had good luck with _Realm of the Fellnight Queen_. You will also need to write stand-alones when the PCs take some tiny element of the setting and run with it (we had kobold politics, werewolf politics--you can borrow the werewolf module from _Carrion Crown_--giant and troll politics, and more faerie politics than you could shake a stick at).
Our fight went like this: Suggestion ("Don't attack; we'll send you back to your home plane if you don't.") Liebdaga took Delay on his next action. (I will never know if he failed the save or not!) We cast Dismissal. *poof*
Liebdaga has been sending the lead PC interesting birthday presents every year since then. He will probably show up somewhere down the road. Having a major devil interested in you is likely to be a mixed blessing....
My understanding is that the GM had planned to reduce the staggered effect as he felt the fight would be too easy. But as a player I was just as happy not to fight at all.
We went much gaudier than the second picture, but not usually as extreme as the first. For the big wedding/inauguration of our Mayor of Westcrown, I happen to know she was wearing:
(but in cream, gold and blue rather than red and green).
Westcrown has a Mediterranean climate, so clothes shouldn't be too heavy: the second picture is a little more Northerly, I think. Or you can "wear" illusions of heavier clothing with something more comfortable underneath. For the really big parties I think illusion magic is used heavily, often for "special effects" you couldn't get with clothing alone. (Using illusions to make your wardrobe cheaper is, however, gauche--what you are wearing underneath does have to be expensive.)
The PC in question is the first one I've ever had who worried obsessively about whether her magic items would go with her outfit and who eventually had to have some essential pieces slipcovered or otherwise reworked before she could stand to wear them in public. But then, she's 19 years old and Mayor of Westcrown; appearances matter. (She's also married to Aberian Arvanxi, which seemed like a coup at the time she arranged it, but not so much anymore. She's just a little too fond of him to have him bumped off, though.)
Our take on this is that all religions in Cheliax must acknowledge the supremacy of Asmodeus. The only religions not tolerated even if they will do this are demon cults, Far Realms cults, and the cult of Rovagug (the "chaos gods" in the original quote). In general there are branches of all of the other common religions that have been willing to bow to Asmodei, but individual worshippers and temples may or may not be--I can easily see renegade Andoran cults of Iomedae which don't play along, even though Iomedae is a major Chelish religion.
One of the things that I find fascinating about Cheliax is the entanglement of religions like the worship of Iomedae and Sarenrae in the Asmodean culture. They are not fully corrupted, but they are certainly compromised. The only major Good power who is not is Erastil, and I don't think that Erastil-worship is at all common in urban Cheliax--it may be stronger among slaves and in rural areas.
Temples have to be registered with the Church of Asmodeus. This has been a major plot point in our CoT game as the Wiscrani Church requires you to file a floorplan when you register the temple, and one of the PCs is in cahoots with the High Priest. The floorplans have been quite useful. There are, however, a lot of unregistered temples in Westcrown, most of them transitory and easily disassembled if necessary. (The PCs had one for a while but they are too famous to risk it now.)
I think that the statement that you can't worship other devils is contradicted in a lot of places and must be taken as erroneous--you can, as long as you acknowledge the supremacy of Asmodeus. But the laws governing what "acknowledge" means are slippery and it can certainly be used against you. You may need to maintain a facade that you are "really" worshiping Asmodei through his loyal servants.
One of our PCs is a priest of the conjoint god that the Aol is sacred to. (I don't know his name in the modules--we have a different name there.) We are currently looking into how to get this cult recognized by the local Church, which requires making a strong argument that it's not a demon cult, despite appearances. My suspicion is that the PCs are going to get into trouble--they'll succeed in Westcrown and then Egorian will use it against them. But on a meta-game level we want that kind of trouble for this campaign, as we're continuing it beyond the end of CoT toward a probable showdown with Thrune.
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.