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DM / player experience and character progression


Shackled City Adventure Path


I've read that this AP probably shouldn't be tackled by novice DMs and players. What do people think about that? Also, just flipping through and eyeballing, I'm concerned about level progression. Is it accurate to describe progression in this AP as 'if the PCs happen to survive, they should be x level at the start of this chapter?' Does anyone else have problems with the PCs surviving and being at the right level for each new chapter?


jocundthejolly wrote:
I've read that this AP probably shouldn't be tackled by novice DMs and players. What do people think about that?

If you have characters that are not team players, or players that are not cautious, they will get munched by this AP. If you as a DM would follow this AP to the exact detail, and do not understand when an encounter will KILL all of the party characters, this AP may not be for you. I personally have changed a couple encounters to something less deadly to allow the party a chance to survive (i.e. a clay golem against the party with no blunt weapons was changed to 2 bodaks).

The AP can play well, and be very satisfying, though the scope and scale can be quite daunting. It is a 2-3 year endeavor. That is quite a large adventure for a novice DM to take on (especially if they are just trying to get their feet wet at DMing and are unsure of themselves).

jocundthejolly wrote:
Also, just flipping through and eyeballing, I'm concerned about level progression. Is it accurate to describe progression in this AP as 'if the PCs happen to survive, they should be x level at the start of this chapter?' Does anyone else have problems with the PCs surviving and being at the right level for each new chapter?

For deaths, check out this thread. As for the level progression, it varies. For the most part, the XP does work. There are assumptions though. If the group completely cleans out Jzadirune and the Malachite Fortress, they will be on track for the Flood Festival, which doesn't work if you want to run Drakthar's Way. Also, around chapter 5-6 area, the group will be high enough level to start making their own decisions. In my group's case, they have skipped Kurran-Kural completely, and yet are succeeding at getting through Foundations of Flame even though they are lower than they should be. For some reason, it is working for them. Some other DMs just level the group up at certain points in the story rather than calculating the XP.

If the players feel it is too hard, if it seems too complicated to keep everything straight, or if no one is sure they can keep it together for at least 1-2 years, this might not be for you.

The biggest thing is that everyone (including the DM) is having fun. Novice or not, if all of you are having fun with the AP, go with it.


Wow, that's a great answer.

There is a lot of support 'out there' for running this campaign. Our DM for Age of Worms is a novice with not too much playing experience is pulling it off using advice from here, the RPGenius and likely some other places.

I'm also relatively inexperienced and DMing SCAP; yet we've gone from four to six players, and have made the switch to Pathfinder (characters only: npc's and monsters mostly just get a hit point boost). While I'd love to take credit, the campaign is succeeding because the primary material is good, the online resources are fantastic, and the players meet section8's standards (above)

This might be something you can run again, so any time spent organizing your thoughts about it likely won't be wasted.


jocundthejolly wrote:
I've read that this AP probably shouldn't be tackled by novice DMs and players. What do people think about that? Also, just flipping through and eyeballing, I'm concerned about level progression. Is it accurate to describe progression in this AP as 'if the PCs happen to survive, they should be x level at the start of this chapter?' Does anyone else have problems with the PCs surviving and being at the right level for each new chapter?

Section8 has already answered the question but I'll throw in my two cents anyway. I would suggest you run a mini game before the actual SCAP just to find your way, figure out all the problems of DMing and give you and your group a chance to make inconsequental mistakes.

If you would prefer to have it linked to the SCAP you can do what many on here did (and which I wish I did in retrospect) and create a mini-adventure that occurs before the party arrives at Cauldron or at least stops the Last Laugh thugs attacking poor little Rufus.

This adventure could be used to foreshadow a few important locations, NPCs and events that happen later in the campaign such as moving from Sasserine to Cauldron through the jungles and fighting some baboons, staying in the Laughing Monkey outside the city, meeting one of the Stormblades, Alek or a baddy such as Triel or Jil.

Perhaps if the party are from Cauldron they could be returning with important supplies and decorations from Sasserine for the up coming Flood Festival when they are attacked by goblins (from Drakhars Way adventure) or Baboons (From the Flood Festival).

They would then have to stop in at the Laughing Monkey Inn where they maybe acosted by bored Alleybashers (thieves guild). Here they could also meet a notable NPC and possibly a future ally (Shensen). On the way back into the city they see a strange red haired armoured woman and a hooded figure who spooks the horses. The red haired women gives the party a letter to pass onto the city guard called Skylar plus a gold coin for their trouble.

Finally they pass through the gates and witness their home city as if for the first time and take the supplies to the town hall where they find Skylar and pass on the messgae before heading to an Inn for the night and beginning the actual SCAP adventure in earnest...

Whether you use the above or not try and play through a few encounters before the SCAP just to get a feel for it. Try and read as much as you can on these boards and pinch as many ideas from the posters here as you can.

Enjoy

Delvesdeep

Osirion

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber

What's the experience of the playing group?
IE are they all new to D&D specifically?
Or to the concept of roleplaying games in general?
Has the prospective DM been a player for years, but just not taken the plunge behind the screen till now?
Do the group already know each other, and get along outside of the game?

If the group is new to the game, or new to each other, I would advise running some short scenarios to get everyone used to each other's playstyle, test a character concept, work out any confusion over the rules, show the campaign setting and the assumptions of 'D&D-style fantasy' (and how it differs from the fantasy someone has read).

I like the idea of a prequel, in the same area. I'd use different PCs, so people can make mistakes, and correct them when they make up their official PC ("Playing a wizard is a lot of work, I thought I could just fire energy bolts..." "Hmmm, maybe you'd be better as a sorceror, or warlock?"). Give them a clue that the action will all be taking place in a narrow area in the corner of the map, so someone doesn't make a Snow Elf, who's always pushing to travel north to avenge his people...

Make it clear it's a big commitment to run; you're looking at least two years, unless you play long sessions and often, and if people can't commit to play regularly, and to play well with others, it's best to find out someone's a dick in a prequel, than after several weeks of play, when they backstab another PC for out-of-game reasons, or totally ruin the party's relations with friendly NPCs like Jenya. Saves you a lot of running round for replacement players, and frantic ret-conning.

Taldor

Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Cards, Companion, Maps, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber

I ran "Thieves in the forest" prior to the start of the Shackled City AP (in one of my runs with the campaign). In hindshight I'd place further hints about a connection to the raids on the caravans to the Blue Duke and perhaps also have a run in with the two half-elves, looking for clues about Cagewright involvement.


We've been playing the Shackled City for 1.5 years now, and we were all beginners when we started. As the beginner DM for this crew, it was definitely a lot of work when I started. But we've had a lot of fun, and we have 5 of the original 6 players along with two new steady players. We play once a week for a few hours.

As far as level progression goes, we've run a little behind. I don't know if it is because our group has tended on the large side. And we haven't had many character deaths. My inexperience playing all the monsters has probably worked to the PC's advantage. Since I don't know all the tricks the monsters have up their sleeves, I am probably not as ruthless as I could be.

Currently, the PC's are level 12 and we are in Chapters 8 and 9. I didn't want an entire series of rescue scenarios so I've been sprinkling the encounters from chapter 9 throughout chapters 7 and 8.

Also, we've had a few side trips. We fought some undead in Kingfisher Hollow, looked for the Mayor in Sasserine, and one of the characters ran for Mayor, then tried to reanimate all the statues in the garden.

It's been great. You can read all about it here: Dungeon Divas

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

I'm having the same thoughts as the OP. I, however, am just daft enough to go through a module, pre-calculating the XP. After some faffing around, it suddenly struck me, that (since I do this sort of thing often with converted modules and whatnot) why did I not make up a spread sheet and save me hours of trouble...

Anyway, the results of that, and going as far as The Demonskar Legacy have left me a bit concerned.

The group I'm running this module for is extremely good as a combat team with a near-mastery of 3.5. (They will also have access to most of 3.5 to boot.) We haven't started yet (long way to go in finishing of my 3.5 Dragon Mountain 14-21st+ module yet!) so I don't know the final party composition either.

My usual wont is to award half XP for combats and none for traps. Now, that might put the PCs a touch behind the power curve, but that'll be balanced out by out usual high stats (I usually let them have base 8 plus 30 points point-for-point) and the fact they'll have a few toys the NPcs by an large won't.

However, while nothing else seems to catch my eye, if I did this, the PCs encountered Nabthatoron at only level 7 (assuming they get all of the rest of the XP available - and frankly the little biggers probably will!) Optimisation is all well and good, but even they would be struggling to hit AC 32 with any degree of reasonableness. He's currently the only spike on the power curve I've encountered; everything else is much lower (in fact I'd nearly say some of it is too easy!)

If I gave them full XP, they would reach him at about level 9. However, the net result of this would be them blendering through the first few chapters while laughing. (Drakthar, for example, would be absolutely pulverised by six level 5 PCs who know what they're doing, high DR notwithstanding; and at best case level 4 he's still going to be going down like a...really fast...droppy...thing (It's late, I'm out of humourous similes!))

My current compromise is to stick trap XP back in, which buffs them to level 8 facing Nabthatoron. A touch better.

So, people who have actually played the module, what do you suggest? Quietly slip in a touch more story-award/puzzle award XP prior to that combat? Will a party of highly organised and competant level 8 characters actually be able to take Nabthatoron down anyway?

I'm trying not to add too much content in to the module; after all, I've got to convert Rise of the Rune Lords up from four to five or six players (probably more expansively than the "Changes to Rise of The Rune Lords for 6 PCs" thread, though that'll be my jumping off point). The point with the modules is, the less time I have to spend adjusting them, the more likely I can get my arse in gear and write some more of my own while they buy me a year or so!


Aotrscommander wrote:

However, while nothing else seems to catch my eye, if I did this, the PCs encountered Nabthatoron at only level 7 (assuming they get all of the rest of the XP available - and frankly the little biggers probably will!) Optimisation is all well and good, but even they would be struggling to hit AC 32 with any degree of reasonableness. He's currently the only spike on the power curve I've encountered; everything else is much lower (in fact I'd nearly say some of it is too easy!)
to stick trap XP back in, which buffs them to...

Not sure what you're trying to get at, but if you've read the chapter, they are not supposed to be able to touch him at that point. It will actually work much better storywise if they are incapable of scratching his hide.

As much as XP go, I only once had minor trouble keeping the group at the expected level, when I skipped a whole lot of Occipitus random encounters because I don't like encounters, which are purely random. They add nothing to the story except XP. Anyway, that's the only time, where standard out of the book XP calculation wasn't sufficient to exactly meet the prerequisites for the next chapter. I did allow in-chapter progression and added a side-trek to Sasserine after Occipitus which was sufficient to set things right again. Only during chapter 11 they fell back behind expectancies again (and I don't quite know why) but I don't care anymore, the last chapter can be tackled by a group below level 19-20 and my group has by now a very good recollection of their capabilities and combine them often very efficiently, so I'm not worried. Starting Chapter 12 now...

Cheers,
Nib

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

nib wrote:
Not sure what you're trying to get at, but if you've read the chapter, they are not supposed to be able to touch him at that point. It will actually work much better storywise if they are incapable of scratching his hide.

Huh. Serves me right for only skim reading. I missed that part (noting only the Deveopment wehre it says about Nabtharoron's destruction. I was also partly fooled in the character section where it mentions him as being a serious threat (along with Tongueater and Aushanna, neither of whom really registered on my threat meter (especially the former!)

Not too much worry then. I'll trapse on with my spread sheet and see how I go.

I find with random encounters, the best thing to do is roll them all up in advance (epsecilly if you know the PCs are going on a journey) and plot around them a bit. That makes 'em at least interesting. Might have to do that if I find the quest is a bit shy on XP.

I've skimmed ahead, but I can't find anything: does Nabtharoron show up later in the module if the PCs don't kill him? If not, that's a random encounter right there I might use!


I hadn't DMed an RPG for more than a decade when I decided to pick up and run the Shackled City. If I was inexperienced then, I'm certainly not now, 2.5 years into the campaign and only halfway through Chapter 7.

I'll tell you, I was concerned with my level of expertise beforehand, and I spent a lot of time reading blogs and listening to podcasts dedicated to improving one's level of game master mastery. I also spent a lot of time reading through these boards and checking out the resources on TheRPGenius.com. There's no question that doing all of these things helped.

My job was difficult, because, like Aotrscommander's, my players are almost all min-max masters, and I happened to have seven of them, instead of the recommended six. My players were also allowed access to all 3.5-compatible Wizards publications, which put them slightly above the AP's power curve. They've mostly overcome challenges with ease, even when beefed up, though there have been surprise challenges (like the choker in Jzadirune).

Still, I think I've done okay. My players are certainly enjoying themselves, their characters, and the story (which I've done my best to flesh out with help from some amazing Shackled City DMs who have shared their experiences on this board). They lament when we can't play weekly.

Just like the players begin at level 1, so can the DM. I've made mistakes, to be sure, but I never let them interrupt the fun or my being fair. That's the best advice I can give.

One note on XP: I've assigned XP by the book the whole way through, only giving out story XP awards where noted in the text, and my players are exactly where they are supposed to be. If you have zero PC deaths, or lots of them, then that will affect the XP balance over time.


Aotrscommander wrote:


I've skimmed ahead, but I can't find anything: does Nabtharoron show up later in the module if the PCs don't kill him? If not, that's a random encounter right there I might use!

He doesn't show up explicitly anymore, but he's supposed to hang around near the Demonskar, where players will eventually visit again. He can also run his own agenda, trying to get revenge or - as the story has it - lash out against Redgorge and serve as a random encounter right there.

There's different write-ups on therpgenius.com or on its successor http://therpgenius.pbworks.com/ about the Siege of Redgorge, which is a side-trek to fully exploit the background of Nabtathoron in the area.

Cheers,
Nib

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

I went and quizzed the group about their respective potential characters, so I could fathom out their walking pace and thus pre-generate the random encounters (and in doing, flesh them out.) What I'm getting is a party of one Cleric/Wizard/Mystic Thuerge, a Wizard, andother Wizard, a Cleric, a rebalanced Paladin (OneWinged4ngel's version from the WotC boards) and a Tracker (homebrew, basically a spell-less fighter/outdoor type with some sneaky skills.) So now I'm sure the late game being absolutely massecred...

Poor old Nabtorwoobiedoobie. He's going to get SoD'ed to death.(Actually, that sounds rather obscene, don't it?)

nib wrote:

He doesn't show up explicitly anymore, but he's supposed to hang around near the Demonskar, where players will eventually visit again. He can also run his own agenda, trying to get revenge or - as the story has it - lash out against Redgorge and serve as a random encounter right there.

There's different write-ups on therpgenius.com or on its successor http://therpgenius.pbworks.com/ about the Siege of Redgorge, which is a side-trek to fully exploit the background of Nabtathoron in the area.

Cheers,
Nib

Aha. Thanks for the link, it was worth a look through. I'm not sure whether I'll use anything from it, escept maybe swipe some of the ideas. I was half-tempted to use the Demonskar Ball section, but then I remembered the party composition and realised that all those numerous Diplomacy skills checks on a party wherein 4-5/6 have charisma as dump stats might be A Tad Harsh... On the other hand, they might suprise me, so I'll see when they actually generate their characters!


Don't skip the Demonskar ball. It is (according to the response on these boards) hands-down the best add-on to the Shackled City campaign. Coming quite early it is also the perfect time to introduce the nobility, which otherwise makes only next to nothing dents in the storyline.

Cheers,
Nib

RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32

nib wrote:

Don't skip the Demonskar ball. It is (according to the response on these boards) hands-down the best add-on to the Shackled City campaign. Coming quite early it is also the perfect time to introduce the nobility, which otherwise makes only next to nothing dents in the storyline.

Cheers,
Nib

Oh, I agree it's very nicely put together. However, I know my players well. They'll be lucky to get past the formal greeting event, to be honest. (I imagine half of them flipping out at the cost of hiring the costumes let alone the lessons!) Given that the party will be two wiards, a wizard/cleric, a cleric, a trapmonkey/fighter and a paladin, I'm fairly sure that while they will be a heavily-optimised combat group, they will be totally lacking in Perform skills and probably have only one character with Diplomacy (I hope - I will be stressing social skills are important in this adventure!)

So it seems a bit unfair to have the whole party make a total mess of things because only one of them is liable to stand a cat-in-hell's chance of making most of the checks. Especially since, with one exception, our group has developed simultaneous collective dice-rolling incompetance to a high art form!

That said, we haven't generated the party yet. When I've had a good look at them (much closer to the time), I might well consider it if I think it seems vaguely feasible.


You're free to modify the checks, so that your party can cope with it. Even if they are just less involved guests, they may enjoy a role-playing opportunity over the otherwise strongly combat oriented story of the d20 system. Maybe you would make the dance contest into more of a strength or dex based challenge, while the other riddles (like the poisoned cake) could be solved by intelligence.

I still think, it's too good to pass up this perfect opportunity for foreshadowing just because the party might fail horribly.

my 0.02 EUR ;-)

Cheers,
Nib


If the only thing holding you back from using the Demonskar Ball adventure is the diplomacy checks don't worry. The party are recommended to complete dancing, music and even etiquette training before the ball from some of the lecturers from the Bluecrater Acedemy (another foreshadowing attempt).

So even if your party all have a combined Charisma of 5, with the lessons they undertake, they will have no problem competing in the various performance based events.

Couple that with the foreshadowing opportunities and the fun you and they will have roleplaying some of the quirky characters in the side trek and the Demonskar Ball could actually be a surprizingly fun time for you all.

I'm biased but my party and I felt it was one of the highlights on the campaign. Give it a go you may be surprized...

Delvesdeep

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