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How do I make my campaign more combat-based?


Hello, I'm Matt. I have been playing for about four years now and GMing for a year and a half. I in no way consider myself to be a great GM, but I am the favored GM in my 5-man group. I'm running a new campaign in a few weeks and I've been spending a lot of time planning.

The basic plot is that the PCs are childhood friends who live bland lives in a farming village. They tire of their lives and go to the great oracle in a nearby city. The oracle reminds them of the stories they heard as kids about the pirates in the West. They decide that this is the life for them and journey toward the west with the help of some NPCs, doing odd-jobs along the way. Around 10th level they will become full-fledged pirates and start piratey things.

The issue I'm having is that when I run through the game in my head, it feels like I, as a player, would be combat-starved playing this, maybe even so much that I would pick fights with town guards and go looking for boss monsters, derailing the story while I'm at it. I don't want this to be how my PCs feel. I have tried making adjustments but it feels like the story doesn't flow well into random fight scenes. I have bandits, cults they stumble upon, and even a mind flayer ruling over a kingdom who have never seen their king. It still feels like a lot of social encounters and puzzles.

I turned to the messageboards because I needed help. Can you think of any easy encounters to add in? I have a few: a bar fight, bandits, a cult, mind flayer, a cave with a wyrmling dragon in it, a group of goblins conning everyone into thinking they control a massive army, and a few other encounters.

What motivations do they have, beside traveling to the coast and becoming pirates? Greed can lead to dungeons with shiny treasure, curiosity might make them meet strange fey and pity could make them help other travelers (with all trouble that comes from it).

Beside this, I'd play with the pirate theme even before reaching the coast. Let them meet a pirate hidden in a cave, afraid of being found - and paranoid enough to attack them after some talking. Maybe they stumble upon a part of a treasure map and must search the area for the other parts. Or some shady bounty hunters meet them, getting bounty for pirates (and would-be pirates).

When it comes to creature types, I personally love mites. They are amazingly pathetic (probably more than goblins), have an impressive amount of senses, can shaken your players and trample them with giant vermin. If you can get your players into caves, kobolds with their traps and ambushes likely will become a memorable experience. Ogres as sadistic dorks have a lot of RP potential, especially with their games like skullball. And there is the good old zombie apocalypse.

Sovereign Court

If they want to be pirates and you are making start from humble beginnings and the likes...well you can just have fun with it.

You already know their objectives.

A decent sailing ship (brig, etc...) is 10 000 gold and also it means that they would need a crew, 20 (including the players).

It's important to know what kind of pirates they want to the real evil pirates or fantasy pirates who are basically seafaring adventurers.

From there, you can build some interesting stories:

-Assembling the crew: Noble woman on the run, an old sailor with no ship, a halfling cook etc...usually easier if they are in some kind of troubles and the players can get involved in their stories and at the same time be involved with whatever story you wanted to run. Like maybe one crew member they need is currently in a cult and they have to rescue him or her from the cult...One npc is on the run from the mindflayer etc...

-Get a Ship: Probably make it a good adventure, like the stories of the pirate of the west, speak of a hidden cave where they have left their most valuable treasure. As they explore said cave, fight dangers etc...they come to the end to discover a ship [insert name here] and now they can sail at sea with it.

-Piracy at level 10 wouldn't be too much fun for them to be quite honest, unless of course all the pirates in your world are legendary (level 10+), which is fine of course but doesn't seem like they won't get too much pirate stuffs. Sure fight sea monsters but that's not the same thing.

Thanks for the suggestions! I think I'll work them into the game. It might help a little to ask the players what kind of ideals their characters have. Ideas are starting to brew about the ship and the crew.

NotAgainMatt wrote:

The issue I'm having is that when I run through the game in my head, it feels like I, as a player, would be combat-starved playing this, maybe even so much that I would pick fights with town guards and go looking for boss monsters, derailing the story while I'm at it. I don't want this to be how my PCs feel. I have tried making adjustments but it feels like the story doesn't flow well into random fight scenes. I have bandits, cults they stumble upon, and even a mind flayer ruling over a kingdom who have never seen their king. It still feels like a lot of social encounters and puzzles.

Well, first, with an episodic story like this, I don't think you need to worry as much about "derailing" as you think. This is a classic story (like Journey to the West, or the old Wagon Train TV show -- both of which, oddly enough, are westward journeys) where each week can be a different and separate story, where the party rolls into <small town>, and discovers that <problem>, which needs <adventurer action> to deal with. Having dealt with <problem>, the party then walks/rides/drives off into the sunset and the credits roll.

This means that you can actually be very open to player input about what they want, and if (for example), they want a haunted crypt full of undead, simply make S3;E6 the "Hallowe'en episode."

But some other ideas include lycanthropes, natural disasters, hostile fairies, gang war between the Jets and the aSharks, bullettes, necromancers, evil summoners, a tournament, a false arrest, theft from the party, escape from a death trap, underwater salvage, dopplegangers, animals that escaped from the zoo, plague of giant wasps,...

That enough for you?

I have fledged out most of the pre-pirate adventures, and they're ready for the table. Although, I'm having trouble coming up with adventures once their journey to the west is over. I have some basic pirate ones, but it feels like they don't meet anywhere. I was reading my 5e DM's guide and I was interested in the villain rules. I am thinking now about making the mind flayer mentioned earlier into a long-running villain. He wants to avenge the loss of his wife who was killed by pirates. He makes constant attempts to destroy their ship (Because someone they know was on the crew that killed his wife) like blowing up the docks, sending bounty hunters, etc. I however need more ideas for where to take the story, I like the idea of them continuing to travel, so they will likely be sailing around the coast finding islands and such to explore. I even have a quest for them to investigate the ruins of an underwater city (Basically Atlantis) that is now infested with a city of Merfolk and a bunch of bronze dragons looking for loot. I am just wondering if you have any ideas for how to be bringing the story back to the villain (Also, what's a mind flayer name?). Thanks for your help!


Dark Archive

Rival pirates.
A ship full of sailors with booty the party desires.
A ship of pirate-catchers, if the PCs have been doing bad.
Are sea monsters real in your campaign setting? 'cause what's more appropriate than a random encounter with a Kraken or a sea serpent?

Actually, what level is the party currently?

NotAgainMatt wrote:

(Also, what's a mind flayer name?).

Mind flayers are telepathic. "My name is not pronounceable in any of your crude, sound-based languages. If you must have a symbol for me, you may call me the Dread Lord of the Mind."

Or Orfamay Quest. Because Raymond Chandler is an awesome writer, for a mere humanoid.

Not sure if your world is Golarian based, so here we go:

The Aboleths of depths of the Western Sea have long desired to make war with the surface dwellers... but with their plans were thwarted decades ago when the great nation of Chelidor (problematic Lawful-Greyish-Neutral sea-faring superpower) killed off a lot of their top lieutenants and forces in a single cataclysmic battle.

Now, the Supreme Aboleth of the Western Sea has heard a rumor that thrills him greatly: one of these Lieutenants, a Mind Flayer by the name of Cthuu Ordain (or what have you) survived. Eager to re-recruit him, the Supreme Aboleth sets in motion three seperate plans.

1. The Supreme commissions a cursed ghost ship to hunt down Cthuu and bring him in and reinstate a powerful "geas-esque conscription" that will make Cthuu a subservient recruiter for his armies.

2. Seize an artifact that lies in the ruins of Atlantis, maybe some kind of Psionic Weapon ("Spear of the Cloying Void") that would be particularly powerful in his Lieutentant's hands. If seized, it would also serve as a powerful motivator for Cthuu, as the Supreme suspects that Cthuu would willingly sacrifice his free will in order to wield the Spear to finally inflict his revenge upon the world that killed his beloved.

3. Capture the PCs ship and crew in order to deliver crew member that personally killed Cthuu's wife, and directly trade the crew member's life for fealty from Cthuu.

As the Supreme begins to mobilize, and war becomes more and more imminent, various factions that had a stake in the previous war begin to mobilize, either to make themselves useful to the Supreme and his minions, seize resources to protect themselves, or take action to stop the impending war before it can even begin.

- The Council of Winds, a group of creatures hailing from the Plane of Air and whose home is over the West Sea, convenes, and debate ensues. The Elder Elementals of Trist promote neutrality, and keep both the Djinn Qatuk from gathering some of the braver pirates under one banner, as he knows that Chelidor is rife with corruption, and might even side with the Supreme to gain control of the land nations. Erstwhile, a Valkyrie by the name of Selda, who holds an honorary position on the council, wants to move to wake Agyra, both to punish a sea that, as far as she can tell, is devoid of warriors of honor and nations of virtue, and in the vague hope that someone would rise up to stop it... and by extension, give her existence as Valkyrie of the West Sea meaning. The PCs will need to restore Selda's hope and provide the Elementals of Trist with evidence of the Supreme's plan to conquer the skies.

- Neimo the Drow is the captain of the Kroke, a powerful weaponized submersible. Once beholden to the Supreme, Neimo and his crew place their hope in their ship, which runs on an Eldritch engine powered by magical energies. His search for fuel has brought him into conflict with Anemoa, an aquatic variant of Android, whose Nanites serve as an excellent source of power. The Anemoa in turn begin sending out requests for aid in the form of diplomatic parties for someone to rescue them. Should the PCs join the Anemoa beneath the waves, they'll find that Neimo and his crew won't give up their chance at freedom without a fight.

- The Cloud Giant King, still grieving over the loss of his first born during the first war, refuses to lose any more family to the Supreme's clutches, and enters an uneasy pact with Supreme. His men begin raiding and pillaging the islands of the West Sea, but his seventh son, Wage, is unwilling to commit to these atrocities as a way of life. As such, he seeks the aid of a crew who will help him locate the Hammer of Storms, which is on the back of Horratort, the largest and oldest of the Zaratans. The PCs will have to contend with the lich that has made his home on the back of Horratort, and then may choose to help Wage "convince" his father of the error of his ways.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32


Have them raise the gold needed to get the ship through heists.

Also, if you want them to be pirates, have them be pirates beginning at level 1, 3, or 5 instead of 10.

Also, pirates can do heists, too.

It also helps to know what kinds of characters your players are playing. If they're all paladins or other lawful goody two-shoes, forget my heist idea! If they're a mix of bards, monks, rangers, rogues, slayers, and illusionists, then doing stealthy adventures is ideal. If they're a bunch of bards, cavaliers, oracles, paladins, rogues, sorcerers, and swashbucklers, have them use that Charisma!

Anonymous Warrior, that is fantastic! Thank you for putting in the time to help me. I will be using this exoskeleton as the backbone of my campaign. I appreciate all of the suggestions I've received and I think I will put possibly all of them to use.

Thanks! -Matt

As a DM i find random encounters wierd, maybe couse i plan everything, if you find your campaign combat starving what about put multiple path choices with different endings (most of them in fights, couse you know "real pirates always want to fight", maybe you could add Pirate Hunters to the campaign that "randomly appear", maybe add some bosses to that pirate hunters faction too; focus on real pirate life (i mean assault ships around the sea, escape from pirate hunters and the royal millitia) and add some fantastical issues marine monsters, cursed seas, islands and stuff, some treasure hunting and maybe some undead pirate army who wants to retrive something your PCs got; and since Pathfinder got firearms why not some Ship to ship combat (very tactical and beatiful combat) (maybe you could use Stormwrack D&D 3.5 manual for some help on sea related campaings)

You could have the party find a strong item they can all benefit from (like a Rod of Security), and have it haunted by a Ghost with the Malevolence ability. This Ghost uses the ability to possess random NPCs who then try to kill the party ("Give me that rod!").

Because the Ghost has the Rejuvination ability, killing this possessed being merely banishes the ghost for 2d4 days at most.

Make the Ghost a Bard, or someone else who's good at convincing people to join his cause. Once he uses Malevolence, he then gathers minions over a few days, and makes an assault. The creatures he possesses and recruits can be stronger as the party levels up. So it starts with a crazy-eyed beggar on the street alone with a rusty fork, but eventually you could be dealing with an elite (possessed) Fire Giant, leading his clan into war against the party.

The only way to be rid of the Ghost is to put the magic item back in his grave. If the item is destroyed, the ghost's purpose changes to revenge - to wipe out the entire bloodline of the person who is responsible for destroying his precious artifact.

Over time, the party may figure out that these attacks are all from the same person, and might capture the ghost and figure this all out. But until then, it's just periodic attacks from people who apparently want that item... for some unknown reason.

You could make this reoccurring arch-villain somehow related to one of the PCs, or to a major NPC. Maybe their great-grandfather, or even the murderer of their grandfather, or similar. It has much more grand a feel when it becomes personal.

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