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Understanding adventure paths


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion

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I'm a relatively inexperienced GM and I've been wanting to make my own adventure for a long time and not just run an adventure path, so I decided to take a critical eye to the adventure paths that I have and I realized something, I don't actually have the experience to be critical on adventure paths. So I've decided to ask the community for help on this.

I'm not asking for full essays or breakdowns, Although those would be appreciated, I'm just asking for what people found good, what people found bad and why.

And I do want people to be critical about this and make valid points, not just personal opinions. If your answers are, "I like this because it's cool." Or, "I don't like this because I don't like it." That's fine but keep it to yourself.


If you've got the time to spare (I USED to have this . . .), following PbPs of Adventure Paths on these Messageboards might be what you want. If you can find a good one (sometimes takes a few tries), it's fun too.


Well I do have the time to do that I'm not looking for actual play on these adventure paths and how people played them. I'm looking for a critical understanding of the adventure paths themselves.

I want to understand why an adventure path is considered good or bad. If I was just trying to figure out how to play one in a certain scenario I could just pick a dungeon from one of the books and running in a solo scenario as the dungeon master and characters.


Kobolum wrote:

Well I do have the time to do that I'm not looking for actual play on these adventure paths and how people played them. I'm looking for a critical understanding of the adventure paths themselves.

I want to understand why an adventure path is considered good or bad. If I was just trying to figure out how to play one in a certain scenario I could just pick a dungeon from one of the books and running in a solo scenario as the dungeon master and characters.

A lot about an AP being good or bad depends on you and your group.

- Do you like the AP as a GM? You will never have a good AP if you arent engaged as a gm in it.

- Does it fit your group?
Themes:
Undead evil skull bashing in Carrion crown versus pirating the high seas and double crossing allies in Skull and Shackles or Saving the city from itself and knowning everyone in it Council of Thieves. Very different themes.
Style:
Intrigue, Straight adventuring/dungeons, Kingdom making. What does you/your group like?

- Old vs New Aps. I have noticed that the formatting and structure gets a lot better in later APs, roughly after Carrion Crown. They start involving more mini games and each volume has something defining going for it, more than old ones. Information is also better ordered.


I'm not asking about themes and play styles, those are opinionated. I'm asking about the actual construction. For example, I know Carrion Crown is terrible, even with my little experience as a GM. A GM I played with said that the major problem with Carrion Crown is that it doesn't give enough loot. I know it's bad because it's poorly constructed. This is further proven by the authors themselves admit that they f***** up when writing this adventure path, twice!

I know that Kingmaker is considered to be the best adventure path paizo has ever made. I don't know why it is, and that's what I want to understand. I know that Council of Thieves is considered to be one of the bad adventure paths that was written. I don't know why other than the fact that people don't like the low level cap. Looking over the books myself I don't think it's well-constructed. I can't tell why it's not well constructed and that's what I want to understand.

Are you seeing the pattern here? If I was looking for general opinions and play styles on an adventure path, I could easily go looking for that. Each adventure path has a dedicated thread. What I'm trying to understand is what technically makes a adventure good or bad. And by technically I mean the technics of it, not the opinions. Council of Thieves is bad because it has a low level cap is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot and put you up against monsters that it expect you to be well equipped for is a fact.


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Kobolum wrote:
I know that Kingmaker is considered to be the best adventure path paizo has ever made. I don't know why it is, and that's what I want to understand.

I don't think you'll meet a lot of consistency with what seems to be your opinion.

Broadly, Kingmaker is considered to be the best AP because of it's sandbox nature and it's unique plot structure (forge a kingdom from the wilderness and rule it). The theme and play style are what make it highly reputed. Similarly, Council of Thieves is considered bad because of the structure of it's plot making limited sense, and several of it's encounters being poor (in the sense of bad story and thus uninteresting or silly encounters rather than ill-balanced).

I don't think I've ever seen a comment saying that Kingmaker is the best because of it's loot or it's encounter balance. Indeed, one of Kingmaker's weaknesses is that it encourages one-encounter-per-day, owing to the nature of the wilderness exploration and story. I think technically speaking, it's not all that solid an AP. It's the superb writing, story, fascinating roleplaying encounters, and wide variety of sandbox options available to the players that make it great.

Silver Crusade

Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition is a great Adventure Path.
Facts: Its the first AP I have run. There is a lot of support resources on forums. There are battle maps. There are plenty of available miniatures and pawns. My players have avoided a TPK but have lost six or seven characters on the way to 15th level so far - it is well balanced. The story is detailed and coherent with engaging NPCs though I suppose that's opinion. The fact is that it has kept alive our fortnightly/monthly game for 44 sessions and counting.

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

Themes, personal preference, and individual module quality/execution are ultimately the biggest factor in whether I like an AP, but those aren't really what you're looking for, so I'll go through a list of things I've though hurt/helped APs overall in a closer-to-objective manner (though there will be people who disagree with these things and they aren't wholly-objective).

* Make sure your first module is strong. A strong first module can do a lot to help build up a path. It isn't everything, but most of the best paths (Curse of the Crimson Throne, Kingmaker, Iron Gods, Hell's Rebels) lead with a strong intro.

* Introduce or foreshadow the AP's villain early, but avoid direct encounters between them and the PCs until the end. Not introducing the villain early leads to a 'where did this guy come from' scenario and reduces overall path cohesion. Putting them directly next to the PCs too soon results in the PCs trying to fight them too soon. Carrion Crown, as written, suffers from not introducing the villain early enough. Adding the content the authors put on the board about introducing him earlier really helps things.

* Figure out your path's themes. Dial in on them tightly. Building on that: keep your setting within established bounds. Is your AP urban? Keep it urban unless you telegraph a departure from that well in advance. Is it planar? Make it planar from an early point. Don't suddenly make changes to the setting or themes compared to what's been happening for several parts. It *can* work (and I really like Skeletons of Scarwall and Sound of a Thousand Screams), but that requires particularly strong adventures to pull off; doing it is a big gamble.

* Is your AP set somewhere unusual? Are you in fantasy-Asia? Are you in a city at the center of the planes? Let the PCs be from there. Don't force the PCs to bring in outsiders to solve an area's problems if there's a valid population of locals. I'm not saying to mandate local PCs either, just to allow them.

* Are you giving the PCs extra power boosts? Make sure the villains' power accounts for this, or you end up with a cakewalk. I'm looking at Wrath of the Righteous here; this was one of its major problems (though some groups liked the feeling of power).

* Letting the PCs late in the path have some encounters with enemies they vastly outclass helps give them a sense of power and progression and enhances an AP. Having a whole module where the PCs outclass the opposition makes for an unfun experience bereft of general challenge.

* Include well-fleshed-out backgrounds for the three-or-so most notable NPCs in each part of the AP so that the GM has a wellspring of info to pull from, whether these are allies or enemies. The Pathfinder AP made a very good choice adding the section of stats/bios for the key NPCs at the end of the module.

* Make NPCs that are supposed to be allies to the PCs actually helpful, but don't overshadow the PC team with them. PCs (generally) will balk at working for NPCs once they pass a certain disagreeability threshold, and they (generally) won't want to be stuck following someone who outclasses them around.

* If your AP offers PCs the chance to join up with different factions, include content for all of those factions throughout the AP; don't just abandon the majority of them a module or two later. Serpent's Skull kind of drops the ball here.

* If you have a specific moment that the AP centers around, particularly if it's the PCs' initial goal/motivation, make that part the best module you possibly can. Serpent's Skull had finding and exploring the lost city at the center of the PCs motivation be the weakest module of the path, and the whole thing suffered a lot for it (despite having a very good opening module).

* Don't include abstracted mechanical subsystems that make PCs less effective than they would be in standard mechanics. Don't make fiddly subsystems a focus for part, but not all, of an AP, forcing groups to learn them and then abandon them later. The caravan rules would be an example of what not to do here.

* If you have a thematic or mechanical goal, state it in an AP's intro. There's audiences out there for APs that do weird things or break standard conventions, but it needs to be part of the initial buy-in. Want to make an AP with low-treasure and high difficulty? You can, but you need to say so. Your audience may be lower as a result, but catering to a niche audience can be a successful strategy sometimes.

* If you say in an early module that you're going to include details on something in a later module, make sure you actually include them in the later module. There will be people who specifically end up wanting whatever the thing was who will be upset if you forget to include it later like you said you would.

* Make sure the adventures are meaty enough. Shorter adventures make for weaker paths, generally. Make sure you include enough details on the places they're taking place in that they feel like they're in a setting with character as opposed to generic-no-serial-numbers-fantasy-land.

* Is there going to be something in a later adventure that certain character types just won't work well with? Announce it at the start of the AP. It's fine if Paladins / evil PCs / Druids / members of Faction-X don't work as PCs, but you need to be upfront about it so that people don't get surprise-stung halfway in.

* For published APs: Are you including a new monster? Include a picture for it. Is someone a major NPC? Include a picture for them. Is the whole AP in a particular town? Add a picture of it (and a map too). Stuff without art has less of an impact (particularly weird new monsters), and good art (and cartography) is pretty much required to get past a certain AP-module-quality threshold.

* Give the PCs direction and reason to move to the next module. PCs left adrift in a non-sandbox will end up in the wrong places at the wrong times. Don't railroad, but make sure there's a hook from each module directly into the next (and that there isn't a hook leading from module 1 straight to module 5 that overshadows the hook to module 2).

* Don't have the villains auto-beating the PCs in a cut-scene unless it's part of the upfront module buy-in (and even then, be careful). Don't give the villains powers in cut-scenes that they don't have in their stats. Do feel free to give the villains cool additional narrative powers as formally-statted things, though.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Card Game, Class Deck, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Legends Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Kobolum wrote:

I'm not asking about themes and play styles, those are opinionated. I'm asking about the actual construction. For example, I know Carrion Crown is terrible, even with my little experience as a GM. A GM I played with said that the major problem with Carrion Crown is that it doesn't give enough loot. I know it's bad because it's poorly constructed. This is further proven by the authors themselves admit that they f***** up when writing this adventure path, twice!

I know that Kingmaker is considered to be the best adventure path paizo has ever made. I don't know why it is, and that's what I want to understand. I know that Council of Thieves is considered to be one of the bad adventure paths that was written. I don't know why other than the fact that people don't like the low level cap. Looking over the books myself I don't think it's well-constructed. I can't tell why it's not well constructed and that's what I want to understand.

Are you seeing the pattern here? If I was looking for general opinions and play styles on an adventure path, I could easily go looking for that. Each adventure path has a dedicated thread. What I'm trying to understand is what technically makes a adventure good or bad. And by technically I mean the technics of it, not the opinions. Council of Thieves is bad because it has a low level cap is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot and put you up against monsters that it expect you to be well equipped for is a fact.

I think your impression is mistaken.

Kingmaker is frequently criticised from a "technical" level that you seem to be looking for on the grounds that the BBEG is operating entirely beyond the PCs' perception and hence comes out of the blue somewhat in the final instalment.

Personally, I'd advise you drop the distinction between objective/subjective critiques of adventure paths. They're all subjective (no matter what the critic claims). You give the example of the fact that Carrion Crown doesn't give out enough loot. What do you consider the "correct" amount? If you hand out the expected WBL for 4 PCs it might be right - unless your group doesn't search very well, or has crafting characters, or sell a lot of things because they're only interested in the big six, or....a host of other table variances. Even something as measurable as "gp value of loot PCs can find" is going to vary campaign to campaign as to whether it is the "correct" amount or not. The measurability doesn't imply it's useful as an objective standard.

You say you're not a very experienced DM - I think an important thing to learn is that there isn't a correct way to do it, nor is there much value in seeking out a universally recognised "best" adventure path. The most significant determinant of either of those things is your specific group of players and what they like. I think you'll have far more success gauging what kinds of things your players like and then tailoring any AP to those things, rather than searching around for some community led "tick of approval".


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I don't consider Kingmaker to be the best adventure paths.


Kobolum wrote:

Well I do have the time to do that I'm not looking for actual play on these adventure paths and how people played them. I'm looking for a critical understanding of the adventure paths themselves.

I want to understand why an adventure path is considered good or bad. If I was just trying to figure out how to play one in a certain scenario I could just pick a dungeon from one of the books and running in a solo scenario as the dungeon master and characters.

What I mean is that by following PbPs (if you first take the trouble to find a good one), you will get an understanding of the adventure paths, and a feel for what makes them good; you may even find that an adventure path is better than most reviews gave it credit for. For example, this Council of Thieves PbP actually turned out awesome overall, despite repeated loss of GM, which only ended up seriously scarring it at almost the very end(*). It gives the feel of people of Westcrown (a couple of immigrants) who have regular day jobs getting fed up with what is happening to their city, banding together, and rising up to do something about it.

(*)This is the only PbP I have been able to follow from start to finish.

Liberty's Edge

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Mechanically the AP's all follow a basic system based on the theme of the campaign.

If you and your players enjoy hack & slash, then Intrigue & Espionage are likely not going to be well received. (Cutting out fey, shape changers and such)

Basically it works as such

Location (where is the AP)
[This will help character creation more than anything else]

What's in the area (Settlements & Monsters)
[this will further help build a random encounter table]

Theme: Espionage, Comedy, High Magic, just to name a few.
[this helps you decide on enemies for the campaign itself, from stopping infiltrating Drow to a army horde of Zombies]

Story: Who/what/where/and why.

Mechanically depending on how you wish to progress the group and how fast. from level 1 to 2, each member needs 2,000 Exp on the medium track.

Which you can do with 1 CR 10 of course, but better to break it up into an entire first set that measures up to 9,600 XP.

Traps, Groups of small monsters and some Role Playing Encounters can do so as well.

But to build them, look at your group of players and try and get into their heads a bit. What do they normally play. If you've been playing for a bit, then chances are, you know who generally plays the Arcane caster, Who's the Fighter, healer and skill monkey and how they play.

First AP is always the feel out the group adventure, giving you the opportunity to build the adventure around them and make encounters more difficult and less difficult in the areas that generally need it for your story.

and it's repeat as needed for the next XP build for the next part from level 2 to 3.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Yeaaaah, Kingmaker is considered one of best APs, but I wouldn't say its best AP by longshot even though I like it(I don't think you can really compare kingdom building and adventuring since its more of apples and oranges thing) :p Its kind of plotless and mostly about doing sidequests until you stumble upon main quest of the book so far. Heck, I wouldn't say Council of Thieves is even the worst AP. To me, AP isn't really that bad if it doesn't take that much work to fix the bad parts of it and nothing in Council of Thieves seems hard to fix from what I know.

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

There are a bunch of discussion threads on the various APs that have good advice and quite a few of them are not too far down from this sub-board.

This thread (summarize an AP in brief) is one of my favorites. Both the actual descriptions and snark should give you a pretty good feel for the various APs.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

At this point, there are 21 APs (or there will be when Ruins finishes up this month).

So, the question really isn't "which one is the best?" and more "which one is best for my group right now (and for the next year, plus?"

Do you want an old-school style campaign? Ironfang or Giantslayer are classic beat-up the monsters campaigns.

Do you want an urban AP with lots of RP opportunities? Hell's Rebels and Curse of the Crimson Throne are frequently bandied about as two of the best APs - and there's Council of Thieves to choose from as well.

Arabian Nights? Legacy of Fire

Evil? Hell's Vengeance

Horror? Strange Aeons or Carrion Crown

Build-a-Kingdom? Kingmaker

Stuff that is completely unexpected? Reign of Winter

etc. etc. etc.

Some APs are pretty simple for a more inexperienced DM - Mummy's Mask & Shattered Star are relatively straightforward (but rewarding) if you want to get some reps in before you take on a more complex AP, like, say, Rise of the Runelords (which is pretty demanding for the DM).

So... yeah. As of right now, there's 21 options for your party if you want to pick one of these up - and that's just the Paizo published APs.

(as far as Kingmaker being the "best" it's not. But it goes right at the people who want to build a Kingdom, and if you want to do that, it's a fantastic AP. So there's a big partisan faction backing it and lauding it with praise. If you don't want to build a Kingdom... well... something else is probably a better fit).

Lantern Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Also keep in mind that APs may not be the best option for your group. My f2f group has average finishing an AP per 4 or so years. That is a lot of patience, commitment, GM keeping very good notes, etc.

There are a lot of very good modules out there too. Or, you can play through only certain books of an AP as well, as many could be easily picked up at different points along the way.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Kobolum wrote:
I'm not asking for full essays or breakdowns, Although those would be appreciated, I'm just asking for what people found good, what people found bad and why.

I'll just throw out some thoughts in the hope that they are helpful.

Personally, I like the modular nature of at least some AP adventures. For example, Burnt Offering (the very first AP adventure) gave you several locations that you could basically tackle in any order you wanted. You could even start the next adventure before everything in BO had played out. So the way it was written, the players had a lot more freedom how to pursuit the APs topics and the GM didn't have to put them on a rail because there was no need to. So generally, I like it, when even in story-heavy APs, you can shift chunks of the adventure around a bit to accomodate the plans of your players and not having to railroad them because there's only one critical path without any possibility to go for another route.

I also like when an AP introduces new mechanisms that enhance gameplay by giving the PCs additional goals to strive for. That includes subsystems like the haunts introduced in Rise of the Runelords or the chase system in Curse of the Crimson Throne, but what I'm mainly talking about here is things like the affiliations in the Savage Tide AP , where you could join and an organisation, rise in their ranks and get several benefits by doing so. Really loved that even when the mechanism itself was lacking a bit. The kingdom building rules in Kingmaker are another great example, as were the Rules for using the Harrow Deck in Curse of the Crimson Throne.

A third thing I really love is anything that ties the PCs background to the campaign plot. The Character campaign traits are noteworthy, but also things like the mythic rules, that made the PCs the chosen ones in that campaign. I also loved the amnesia thing that went on in the Cthulhu AP which got resolved over the course of the AP. It's something I try to implement in any AP I run, because I never liked random heroes doing random stuff without a personal motivation that goes beyond kicking doors, killing monsters and looting treasures.

I also like how a lot of AP adventures enable character play even during Dungeon crawls (especially in Big Dungeons). Again, just running through them, killing everything and searching for treasure alon doesn't do it for me, so there should be creatures, opponents or organisations to interact with, there should be a story to it.

Some things I don't like:

1. Big, non-modular dungeons. Actually I do kinda like them, but my players generally don't. I remember back in Dungeon times, reading through the first Shackled City adventure, and having this really big dungeon with Jzadirune and (I think) the Malachite fortress, where I immediately knew that I would bore the hell out of my players trying to run that for them, It was just to big, too many rooms and no good way to break it down into smaller pieces. So if you have big dungeons, you better compose them out of smaller ones like splendidly done in Sins of the Saviors, the fifth part of the Runelords-AP.

2.I also don't like bottlenecks, like when you have to find a certain clue that will lead you to the next part of the adventure, and if the players fail to find it, they are basically stuck. That was one of my major criticisms for Rise of the Runelords, where this happened once or twice.

3. Generally but that is a problem that goes to the roots of D&D 3.X/pathfinder design, I don't like the number of combat enocunters in the AP adventures too much. I know that combat is a big part of Pathfinder, but I really appreciate when you can circumvent at least some encounters, or, better, when you get story awards that replace some encounters you would have to have normally. So while running APs, I try to tone that down a bit and often skip over minor encounters that just serve to cost the PCs their ressources. Of course, that also means that I have to rework the major encounters in order to keep them challenging.

This all said: There's no way that Kingmaker can be considered as better than Curse of the Crimson Throne :D

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Oh, and I also would like to recommend you to read the Kobold Guides to Game design by Kobold Press. Those are collections of essays by some big names in the industry that cover alot of topics you might be interested in. The Kobold Guide to Plots and Campaigns is a tremendous ressource of insights and ideas when it comes to creating your own campaign, but there's also one about Worldbuilding and one about Adventure design that I consider to be well worth reading when you want to do your own thing.


captain yesterday wrote:
I don't consider Kingmaker to be the best adventure paths.

No opinions, kthxbai

Lantern Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

One way to eliminate the pointless encounters and encourage PCs to solve problems without fighting is to ditch XP. I highly recommend it. ;)


Kobolum wrote:
A GM I played with said that the major problem with Carrion Crown is that it doesn't give enough loot.

ISTR reading that that was a design choice to help it feel more oppressive and horrory, no ?


It's mostly just opinion. Skull and Shackles is for me the best AP written so far. Mostly because it suited my ambition-centered npc way of telling a story, that it is nautical, grey morality and loosely structured.
These are anti-theses for some people and my personal grail.
Your interpretation of Kingdom maker being one of the best ones is also an opinion. I'd rather shoot my foot off than have to run that AP because of its kingdom building aspect.

Looking at an AP objectively should be done in several ways:

- By the numbers. How purchased was it (per volume, vs printed..), how many of the reviews are possitive (in the paizo page), activity in forums vs publication...there are a thousand variables to look into, which Paizo does to some degree. However I think you're not interested in this side of things.

- As a story. Does it flow, characters consistent, interesting choices and ample action places for the pcs? Lack of plotholes. ETC. Apply any movie/literature/story writing concept to this.

- Mechanically. Fights too hard? too easy? too cumbersome? Enough loot? Stat blocks well made? Resource management balanced? Balanced for all party compositions? Does an old AP hold to new rules sets? Were there enough/too many minigames? Were these good, engaging?

....I'll think about what an AP can do to make it good for me, I've also run a lot of self made content inside APs and mixed APs and homebrew, but it is a tough question that at least I learn more of every session, yet is so volatile (could depend on how your group wants to play or what theyve played before).

Also a little devils advocate: Anything that is good will have half the people loving it and half the people hating it.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Card Game, Class Deck, Maps, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Tales Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Deluxe Comics Subscriber; Pathfinder Legends Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Kobolum wrote:
A GM I played with said that the major problem with Carrion Crown is that it doesn't give enough loot.
ISTR reading that that was a design choice to help it feel more oppressive and horrory, no ?

I vaguely remember that too. I’m not sure it was formally expressed by staff as a design goal though - I think it might have been advanced as a kind if theory/defence by fans after the fact.


Errant Mercenary wrote:

{. . .}

Also a little devils advocate: Anything that is good will have half the people loving it and half the people hating it.

I thought that was supposed to be: Anything that is good will have the Good people loving it and the Evil people hating it . . . .


UnArcaneElection wrote:
Errant Mercenary wrote:

{. . .}

Also a little devils advocate: Anything that is good will have half the people loving it and half the people hating it.

I thought that was supposed to be: Anything that is good will have the Good people loving it and the Evil people hating it . . . .

Hah! And if playing Asmodean Advocate: You meant for half people to hate it, get them talking about it while you go about your other more nefarious deeds.


I have run three adventure paths: Rise of the Runelords D&D 3.5 version, Jade Regent, and Iron Gods. I also played in Serpent's Path. I frequently rewrite parts of the adventure paths to make them fulfill my player's interests.

What is good about the adventure paths:


  • Level-appropriate encounters and loot (except for a few notable mistakes).
  • Lots of local flavor about a Golarion setting.
  • The modules have supplemental articles about the setting that provide ideas for side quests.
  • A theme unifies most of the adventure and ties it together as a story.
  • The story provides a good beginning to introduce the premise and a good reason why the party has to solve the problem themselves.
  • The different adventure paths come in a variety of themes. Pick the ones you like. Rise of the Runelords is ancient ruins, Serpent's Skull is wilderness survival, Iron Gods is science fiction, etc.
  • Foreshadowing: (a) Players can spot a Chekhov's Gun or clues about a villain behind the scenes; (b) Weaker foes with similar abilities to the boss are thrown at the party early so that they can learn how to fight such abilities before the boss encounter.
  • They have better villains than I can create. I'm too soft-hearted.

What is bad about the adventure paths:


  • They are generic, with no idea about the abilites or background of the party except for the previous events in the adventure path.
  • All problems can be solved by killing the foes. Too many enemies fight to the death so that they won't have to be explained in the next module. Player creativity is optional.
  • They railroad the players.
  • Creating the side quests from the supplemental articles becomes mandatory when the players rebel against the railroad.
  • Most paths introduce a new mechanic, such as caravan rules in Jade Regent or high tech in Iron Gods. This ties into the theme and would be good; unfortunately, half the time the new mechanic does not work properly.

Rise of the Runelords is a classic and makes a good example of how an adventure path can lead the players into heroism. The 1st module begins with the PCs at the Swallowtail Festival in the small town of Sandpoint, so no stereotypical meeting in a tavern with a mysterious stranger. Goblins raid and the PCs help out. The local sheriff learns the goblins are organizing and asks the PCs, now respected by the townsfolk, to help guard town while he hurries to the nearest big city for more help. Thus, the PCs gain a mission without losing their autonomy. Each problem they overcome puts them in the right place to notice the next problem. A few times this is contrived, such as when the corrupt mayor of Magnimar sends them to Fort Rannick to get them out out town, but usually the progression is quite plausible.

Jade Regent is notorious for two big problems. First, NPCs that accompany the PCs are considered more important than the PCs. The module sidelines them so that the PCs handle their own battles, but this makes the NPCs important and useless, a demoralizing combination. Second, the PCs have to handle some missions formatted as a railroad plot, such as leading a rebellion in the 5th module, Tide of Honor. A full rebellion won't fit into a module, so the writer instead gave a series of important steps for the party to accomplish for the rebellion. The PCs have no choice, except for completely deraiing the module, which my players did.

Note that both Rise of the Runelords and Jade Regent have a series of missions for the party. They are both railroads. But Rise of the Runelords has a smooth railroad that pulls the players along willingly and Jade Regent has a confining railroad that makes them feel like puppets.

An overall theme tightens the adventure. Jade Regent's theme is travel, despite the title implying that the theme is an Oriental setting (which the party does not reach until the 4th module); hence, it was given caravan rules. The MacGuffin-like objects (not true MacGuffins because they are actually useful) are maps and keys and guides. Iron Gods was written to contrast gods and technology. The technology is evident from the beginning. The first battle is with a damaged (easy to defeat) robot. The plot hooks are always related to technology: The source of income for the town of Torch, a nuclear torch that mysteriously beams up from the ground, went out; the villain in Torch came from Scrapwell, a scrapheap of technology; the clues in Scrapwall lead to a search for the android Casandalee; etc.

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justaworm wrote:
My f2f group has average finishing an AP per 4 or so years.

So... you're saying that I'm slow?

-Skeld

Lantern Lodge

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Skeld wrote:
justaworm wrote:
My f2f group has average finishing an AP per 4 or so years.

So... you're saying that I'm slow?

-Skeld

Hah, I was merely stating fact. I have no idea what is slow or fast. Frankly, we are probably right on track for the number of hours we put into it. It seems to be mostly kids' soccer that's our problem... :)

Grand Lodge

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justaworm wrote:
Skeld wrote:
justaworm wrote:
My f2f group has average finishing an AP per 4 or so years.

So... you're saying that I'm slow?

-Skeld
Hah, I was merely stating fact. I have no idea what is slow or fast. Frankly, we are probably right on track for the number of hours we put into it. It seems to be mostly kids' soccer that's our problem... :)

We need to up our gaming to weekly. I'm sure all the wives would love that.

-Skeld

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I again oppose definition that linear ap = railroaded ap. Railroaded ap is ap that forces players to have only one solution to problem in the manner of "if players try out anything else, they can't progress", it isn't railroad if ap is just written in linear manner or if it assumes way to progress.

Also, Jade Regent is another AP that gets too much flack in my opinion. From what I see, only Ameiko is important NPC and shes the macguffin of the story. Rest of the NPCs are more like extra resources for players to use or roleplay with. Sure that depends on what players like though, my players like opportunity to recruit more meatshields in battle, but some players might not prefer cohorts and such.

Aaand since I like too much babbling and joining every line of conversation, how many aps you can complete in year depends on whether you are able to play weekly or not <_< I am able to run two games weekly or bi weekly online so I already run RotR and over half of IG in like year.


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Skeld wrote:
justaworm wrote:
Skeld wrote:
justaworm wrote:
My f2f group has average finishing an AP per 4 or so years.

So... you're saying that I'm slow?

-Skeld
Hah, I was merely stating fact. I have no idea what is slow or fast. Frankly, we are probably right on track for the number of hours we put into it. It seems to be mostly kids' soccer that's our problem... :)

We need to up our gaming to weekly. I'm sure all the wives would love that.

-Skeld

Mine tolerates it. Twice weekly, actually.


CorvusMask wrote:
I again oppose definition that linear ap = railroaded ap. Railroaded ap is ap that forces players to have only one solution to problem in the manner of "if players try out anything else, they can't progress", it isn't railroad if ap is just written in linear manner or if it assumes way to progress.

CorvusMask is correct in his definitions. Railroading is a GM style of insisting the players stay on the predetermined path, and linear is an adventure that prepared only one path. Nevertheless, for written modules, if the players try out anything else, then I have to start improvising new material to let the players progress. As an experienced GM, I prepare some improvisation materials, but an inexperienced GM could be stymied and forced to railroad.

Linear modules tempt the GM into railroading. Tide of Honor is railroady, because the setup is both linear and fragile.

CorvusMask wrote:
Also, Jade Regent is another AP that gets too much flack in my opinion. From what I see, only Ameiko is important NPC and shes the macguffin of the story. Rest of the NPCs are more like extra resources for players to use or roleplay with.

I apologize for repeating hearsay. In my campaign I rewrote those characters down to minor NPC status to give more action to the PCs. I don't know directly how much angst overshadowing NPCs cause. By the way, we are discussing roleplaying macguffins over at the thread, Games with MacGuffins.

CorvusMask wrote:
Sure that depends on what players like though, my players like opportunity to recruit more meatshields in battle, but some players might not prefer cohorts and such.

I remember a D&D 3.5 campaign where the DM put some troops under our command to protect us. His help backfired. At the first trouble, we told the troops to say behind us where we could protect them.

CorvusMask wrote:
Aaand since I like too much babbling and joining every line of conversation, how many aps you can complete in year depends on whether you are able to play weekly or not <_< I am able to run two games weekly or bi weekly online so I already run RotR and over half of IG in like year.

The APs I have run take from 2 years to 2.5 years. We play 4 hours a week. And the wives are the most enthusiastic players, especially my adorable wife, a grandmaster of AP derailments.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Hours per session and manner of how you play also affects it yeah. Like, I run my games in roll20 and online games tend to be faster than live games since in live games setup takes long time(whether its tokens or maps or rolling or players talking to each other) and my sessions tend to be 3-4 hours for the wednesday game(IG) and 4-8 for the saturday game(RotR, currently Crimson Throne). And yeah, sometimes I run IG weekly, sometimes bi weekly, either way didn't take a year to reach end of book four even with 3-4 hours since like I said, its faster to play online games since drawing maps, checking sheets and even rolling and checking dice results takes surprisingly lot of time in live games when totalled up.

Anyway, as far as I know, Jade Regent as written doesn't ever tell what the party npcs do since they don't want to railroad GM so its up to them. But I'd still say that 3 out of 4 are actually minor NPCs. Like, Shalelu is there for fanservice(shes apparently popular npc?), Sandru is there to be the caravan master and Koya is the caravan's fortune teller. They are more of "hey players, here are cohort options for you if you take leadership!" Only Ameiko is plot important and like I said, shes macguffin and easily replaceable if needed. Players' enjoyment of Jade Regent really depends on what they were expecting and what they like, if they don't like idea of party npcs of course they won't like idea of that, if they do, hey they know in advance some of the cohort options.

Also, by meatshields I don't mean "NPCs to protect players" I mean like animal companions and such: more controllable characters for the PCs to use in combat.(do note that leadership and cohorts are only broken if player has free reign to customize their cohort to support their PC perfectly <_< Recruiting NPCs as cohorts is much less powerful from instanced I've seen)

Just as example of how different parties can be: My RotR party actually legitimately hired Orik for duration until end of Fort Rannick even though I didn't level him up just because they took liking to the guy <_< Gave him share of loot and everything.


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Kobolum wrote:

I'm not asking about themes and play styles, those are opinionated. I'm asking about the actual construction. For example, I know Carrion Crown is terrible, even with my little experience as a GM. A GM I played with said that the major problem with Carrion Crown is that it doesn't give enough loot. I know it's bad because it's poorly constructed. This is further proven by the authors themselves admit that they f***** up when writing this adventure path, twice!

I know that Kingmaker is considered to be the best adventure path paizo has ever made. I don't know why it is, and that's what I want to understand. I know that Council of Thieves is considered to be one of the bad adventure paths that was written. I don't know why other than the fact that people don't like the low level cap. Looking over the books myself I don't think it's well-constructed. I can't tell why it's not well constructed and that's what I want to understand.

Are you seeing the pattern here? If I was looking for general opinions and play styles on an adventure path, I could easily go looking for that. Each adventure path has a dedicated thread. What I'm trying to understand is what technically makes a adventure good or bad. And by technically I mean the technics of it, not the opinions. Council of Thieves is bad because it has a low level cap is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot is an opinion. Carrion Crown doesn't give you enough loot and put you up against monsters that it expect you to be well equipped for is a fact.

Carrion Crown is not bad. The loot experiment was a bad idea, but most GM's such as myself replaced the temporary items such as potions with permanent loot.

Kingmaker is also not objectively the best adventure path either, and yes I have run both of them.
Problems with Kingmaker include the inability to run into something that you can't defeat and cant run away from. The kingdom building rules are easy to break, and since you can easily have only encounter per day its not challenging enough for many groups. With that said I don't think its terrible, but I could keep going on about the problems it has if a GM doesn't step in and fix things.


With that being said what make a good adventure path is an interesting story. Even though "interesting" is subjective the fact that it needs to be a quality of the AP is not.
The story should also flow from book to book, and there should be more than one way to solve a problem.

In addition there should be minimal plot holes, preferably none.

The treasure should be enough so that party is not underpowered vs the NPC's.

Most AP's have at least one TPK worthy fight. Ideally boss fights should be tough, but not so tough that it's a 50% chance either way.

One complaint with Carrion Crown was that the last villain was not foreshadowed enough. The BBEG should be known of, and he should be built up with regard to his/her reputation. It's easier to pull people into the story when they have a known specific enemy to focus on. This is also a problem with Kingmaker.


wraithstrike wrote:
In addition there should be minimal plot holes, preferably none.

Ah, plot holes. I forgot about plot holes.

Plot holes are forgiveable, but risky. If the villain has a stupid plan, the PCs probably won't realize how stupid it is before they are in the final reveal and in combat with the villain. After they win, they can put up their feet at the victory party and say, "Hey, the villain's plan had giant holes in it, didn't it? Besides us showing up to stop it, I mean."

Spoiler for Rise of the Runelords, Hook Mountain Massacre:
The party is sent to Fort Rannick, which stopped sending reports weeks ago. Rescuing some rangers, they learn that ogres took over the fort. The secret is that the villains have set up the nearby village of Turtleback Ferry as sacrifices, and all they need next is to kill the entire village. They sent ogres to break the dam upstream to kill them in a flood. Wait, they have an army of ogres at their beck and call, yet need a dam break to kill a helpless village guarded by a fort they already conquered?

But this works, because first the party clears the ogres out of the fort, and then they track the other ogres to the dam (if they can't track, the rangers can track for them). They don't need to know the villain's plan; instead, they just need to kill ogres.

The risk is that the PCs might miss putting clues together in their detective work, because the whole story has holes in it. In the Rise of the Runelords story above, the sihedron sign marking the village led the party in my campaign to guess that another skinsaw cult had infiltrated the village, while really a single cultist had visited and fled.

In Lords of Rust I had a terrible time roleplaying the Iron God Hellion. Chaotic evil Hellion believed in individual freedom and absolute obedience. What? I decided Hellion was insane.

CorvusMask and I are arguing over another plot hole in Jade Regent. 5th-level bard Ameiko Kaijitsu wants to travel to Brinewall and beyond to claim her heritage, after learning that foreign enemies wiped out her entire extended family. Thus, she invites her old friends--a 4th-level cleric, a 4th-level rogue, and a 6th-level ranger--and her new friends, four PCs currently at 2nd level. And the job of protecting her falls to the new 2nd-level friends, because if her stronger friends did it, then the PCs would not feel important.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Eh, I wouldn't call Fort Rannick thing a plot hole, it seems to be all about how Lucrecia prefers subterfuge:

Spoiler:
she prefers it to seem like village was wiped out by disaster rather than army of ogres and even villagers aren't aware that Fort Rannick was conquered by ogres.

Hellion isn't plot hole, Hellion is CE mad AI who believes that everyone should do what he says because he is great and superior :D Hellion's personality is all about egocentric narcissism

Anyhoo, I would like to note though that its not like character themselves know what level they are, so technically character shouldn't know "I'm four level higher than you". That said, it is weird that RAW apparently assumes npcs start joining encounters in two final books since most of the recurring npc cast ARE adventurers and I think only first two books really give them excuse to stay at caravan?

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Mathmuse wrote:
CorvusMask is correct in his definitions. Railroading is a GM style of insisting the players stay on the predetermined path, and linear is an adventure that prepared only one path. Nevertheless, for written modules, if the players try out anything else, then I have to start improvising new material to let the players progress. As an experienced GM, I prepare some improvisation materials, but an inexperienced GM could be stymied and forced to railroad.

I hear you, but I think that Paizo does it's best to alleviate that problem by publishing supporting material alongside the APs. The articles in the second half of each issue as well as the books in the companion and Campaign line contain tons of ideas to mine in case the PCs stray away from the path. Not to forget our fellow GMs here at the board, who alos come up with a constant stream of awesome ideas (or at least used to, has been some time that I read through the AP-specific boards).


I've asked once before (in a much older thread), but it has been long enough that it is worth asking again:

The Jade Regent Player's Guide has a small sidebar about the possibility that the PCs are the four major NPCs (Ameiko, Koya, Sandru, and Shalelu). Has anyone actually tried this? (Of course, it's hard to justify how they are starting out at first level -- especially Koya. And of course #2: If your group is going to try this, you need to make sure that your players are steady.)

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Haven't heard of that. Bard, rogue, cleric and ranger is weirdly squishy party anyway.

That being said, Jade Regent's player's guide is really misleading when you think about it :P I mean, if player's guide didn't say that Koya, Sandru and Shalelu are major npcs, you honestly wouldn't know that from AP itself. As I said, they are major only in sense that they are easily accessible cohort options to whom PCs are in written connection to through campaign traits.


When considering an AP the most important factor for me is "will a PC be personally invested"?

Stopping the Big Bad Evil Dude is not a great motivation, no matter how much it is sold in the roleplaying business. Stopping the BBEG who murdered your village, sold you into slavery and many years later you have broken free and want to stop him doing the same unto others (:the world), is a great motivation.

Very few APs will go the mileage and involve PCs visceraly into its world. This is why I believe that Skull and Shackles is one of the best and most engaging APs because it makes this extremely personal from the get go. Furthermore the characters are expected to have ambitions and thinking processes similar to us normal people. This makes for a much more natural flow of things.

I dont know about you, but I cannot roleplay a Good good paladin fighting deamons 3 times before breakfast and super powered beings as much as I can roleplay life like relations in living quarters and fighting for dear survival while you try to get on with life.


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Errant Mercenary wrote:

When considering an AP the most important factor for me is "will a PC be personally invested"?

Stopping the Big Bad Evil Dude is not a great motivation, no matter how much it is sold in the roleplaying business. Stopping the BBEG who murdered your village, sold you into slavery and many years later you have broken free and want to stop him doing the same unto others (:the world), is a great motivation.

Very few APs will go the mileage and involve PCs visceraly into its world. This is why I believe that Skull and Shackles is one of the best and most engaging APs because it makes this extremely personal from the get go. Furthermore the characters are expected to have ambitions and thinking processes similar to us normal people. This makes for a much more natural flow of things.

Kobolum has an advantage there with his homemade adventure path. He can tie events to the PCs as he writes it, assuming the players created the PCs beforehand.

UnArcaneElection mentioned the Jade Regent Player's Guide a few comments above. The Player's Guide for an AP is an attempt to work the PCs into the story in advance. I like to hold a session zero where I outline the setting and the first plot hook for the players to create relevant characters, and then I adjust the setting to shift the elements the PCs invested in to center stage.

For example, in Jade Regent sessin zero I mentioned the adventure path would involve a trip to Minkai on the Tian Xia continent. Two players created PCs from Tian Xia, who were visiting Varisia. To them, the trip to Minkai was their trip home. A nice side effect was that we could roleplay them teaching the others the Tian Xia language.

Errant Mercenary wrote:
I dont know about you, but I cannot roleplay a Good good paladin fighting daemons 3 times before breakfast and super powered beings as much as I can roleplay life-like relations in living quarters and fighting for dear survival while you try to get on with life.

The Iron Gods Player's Guide included the Local Ties campaign trait, which made the PC a resident of the starting town Torch and a friend or employee of key NPCs. Two players took Local Ties. They chose to play townsfolk thrown into extraordinary events. When the 1st-level party learned that something suspicious was inside a local warehouse, where the module expected them to fight the gang members guarding the warehouse, the party instead reported the situation to the town authorities. Because that is what responsible townsfolk do. I loved the roleplaying.

CorvusMask wrote:
Bard, rogue, cleric and ranger is weirdly squishy party anyway.

The default party is wizard, rogue, cleric, and fighter. A ranger is a full martial like a fighter, but more magical and lacking heavy armor. A bard is an arcane caster like a wizard, but more martial and wearing light armor. It seems to balance out to me.

I mentioned this to comment on my weirdly squishy-free Iron Gods party. It consists of magus, skald, fighter/investigator, gadgeteering gunslinger/rogue, and gunslinging bloodrager, with a strong "we are just well-armed townsfolk" theme. Everyone can handle both melee and ranged combat, so they fight in a freeform skirmish without any need to protect a squishy wizard or an essential cleric.

How the players invest in the campaign will create a thematic style that makes the campaign especially fun and memorable.


Mathmuse wrote:
CorvusMask and I are arguing over another plot hole in Jade Regent. 5th-level bard Ameiko Kaijitsu wants to travel to Brinewall and...

Mmm, not my read of it.

She invites the PCs to join her caravan, which consists of her, her mid-level buddies, and a couple of random, non-classed people (the caravan drivers and the like). While the PCs might not be up to par with her current allies, 8 people are much better than 4 to defend the caravan.

Then, in Book 1:

Jade Regent Spoiler:
Ameiko is possessed by the kami of Brinewall Castle and passes out into a plot coma. The higher level NPCs actually do stay with her, to protect her unconscious body. The PCs are tasked to search Castle Brinewall for what could be causing it. By the time they come out, they should be 4th or 5th level, which solves any problem about who the best levelled adventurers are.


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In addition to the many fine criteria listed above, one of the things that I want to emphasize is to look for high quality set pieces: complex combats, varied combatants, meaningful role play opportunities, etc. How you get to them can often be fudged. It's like a musical: it's nice if the book makes sense, but a musical lives or dies based on the big song and dance numbers.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Errant Mercenary wrote:

When considering an AP the most important factor for me is "will a PC be personally invested"?

Stopping the Big Bad Evil Dude is not a great motivation, no matter how much it is sold in the roleplaying business. Stopping the BBEG who murdered your village, sold you into slavery and many years later you have broken free and want to stop him doing the same unto others (:the world), is a great motivation.

Very few APs will go the mileage and involve PCs visceraly into its world. This is why I believe that Skull and Shackles is one of the best and most engaging APs because it makes this extremely personal from the get go. Furthermore the characters are expected to have ambitions and thinking processes similar to us normal people. This makes for a much more natural flow of things.

the players's guides are supposed to do this - the PCs should work with the DM to integrate their character (created with the assistance of the player's guide) into the campaign world (which the DM theoretically knows how he wants to run it).

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Yakman wrote:
the players's guides are supposed to do this - the PCs should work with the DM to integrate their character (created with the assistance of the player's guide) into the campaign world (which the DM theoretically knows how he wants to run it).

Not every player's guide does a perfect job though. COtCT PG for example did a fine job making the PCs invested in taking their revenge on an old enemy, but as far as the campaign itself was concerned, they still had no inherent reason to participate in the events to follow.

Part of the problem naturally being that the designers (as well as the GM, I guess) don't want to give away too much of the plot of a given AP, so while the PGs can give you all kind of information about which characters fit the setting and how you might get them invested in the start of a campaign (both valuable things), they can't go far beyond that without spoiling the AP.

In the end, that's nothing a designer can do without shoehorning the players into playing specific characters. For example, Legendary games has a series of character books suitable for various Pathfinder APs. those pre-build characters often come with a background that integrates the PCs to the given AP, but as most players want to come up with their own hero, I'm not sure how often those characters find use( I love quite some of them and would love to play them in a PBP; not sure how many GMs would be sympathetic to such a wish, though).

So my best advice for the OP would be to work with the players during character creation. Find out what they want to play and give them any help they need to integrate it in the campaign. You can even modify the setting in question if necessary to make a character fit (that goes even with published settings, I've had a lot of fun over the years doing that to adapt APs to other settings).
Asking them about their backstories might give you a good clue how to personalize the campaign for them, it might even give you ideas how to enrich your campaign with their ideas


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WormysQueue wrote:
Yakman wrote:
the players's guides are supposed to do this - the PCs should work with the DM to integrate their character (created with the assistance of the player's guide) into the campaign world (which the DM theoretically knows how he wants to run it).

Not every player's guide does a perfect job though. COtCT PG for example did a fine job making the PCs invested in taking their revenge on an old enemy, but as far as the campaign itself was concerned, they still had no inherent reason to participate in the events to follow.

Part of the problem naturally being that the designers (as well as the GM, I guess) don't want to give away too much of the plot of a given AP, so while the PGs can give you all kind of information about which characters fit the setting and how you might get them invested in the start of a campaign (both valuable things), they can't go far beyond that without spoiling the AP.

In the end, that's nothing a designer can do without shoehorning the players into playing specific characters. For example, Legendary games has a series of character books suitable for various Pathfinder APs. those pre-build characters often come with a background that integrates the PCs to the given AP, but as most players want to come up with their own hero, I'm not sure how often those characters find use( I love quite some of them and would love to play them in a PBP; not sure how many GMs would be sympathetic to such a wish, though).

So my best advice for the OP would be to work with the players during character creation. Find out what they want to play and give them any help they need to integrate it in the campaign. You can even modify the setting in question if necessary to make a character fit (that goes even with published settings, I've had a lot of fun over the years doing that to adapt APs to other settings).
Asking them about their backstories might give you a good clue how to personalize the campaign for them, it might even give you ideas how to enrich your campaign with...

which is why i said that the PCs should work with the DM to integrate their character into the AP setting.

you are correct: many of the player's guides do not do a good job helping the PCs get started. I'll give two examples: Giantslayer and Ruins of Azlant.

Both have these unexpected hooks which get the party together right away, but aren't really foreshadowed in the players guides. The initial hook in the adventure SHOULD be in the player's guide - Hell's Rebels and Strange Aeons did that, for instance. But the DM, assuming he's read the player's guide and volume 1 of the AP should have a good idea about how to integrate characters into a party and what might work and what might not.

Designers write an adventure and then players make a character based on an outline of that adventure (the player's guide). Now, the PC which gets created sometimes doesn't do a good job of fitting into the AP Setting and then the PLAYER & DM have to shoehorn their character into the AP Setting.

I agree with your advice to the OP - the DM and the Players need to have a session 0 to work on their characters and their backstories, and make sure that they work in the AP.

Let's say that I'm a player in the RUINS OF AZLANT campaign. I go and read the Player's Guide, and I'm really excited to try out my new TENGU VIGILANTE.

If I don't get a chance to sit down with my DM before hand, I might sit down at the table with a character that is completely wrong for the AP. I don't know any better, because the Player's Guide is designed to encourage possibilities for characters rather than restrict them.

But if I sit down with my DM he will almost certainly hold my hand and tell me to get my head on straight and come up with something better. And then that momentary impulse to break out CROVAX THE SHADOWED won't survive and I'll work with the DM and maybe some of the other players to come up with something better for the AP Setting.

And when the group gets around to playing HELLS REBELS, then CROVAX THE SHADOWED will caw in the night!

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Yakman wrote:
Let's say that I'm a player in the RUINS OF AZLANT campaign. I go and read the Player's Guide, and I'm really excited to try out my new TENGU VIGILANTE.

My first question as a GM would probably be if you had accidentally read the wrong Player's Guide :D

Joke aside, I'm not big on saying "no" per se, so I would try to find out why you chose that character and what is the main appeal of that character to you to see if we can work that into the campaign.

In my general experience, the main problem with the PGs seem to be though, that they often get totally ignored by the players. Not sure why that is, but maybe they already find the character suggestions in the PGs restricting their right to form their own characters. Or probably they simply want to play Crovax the Shadowed no matter what.


Errant Mercenary wrote:


Stopping the Big Bad Evil Dude is not a great motivation, no matter how much it is sold in the roleplaying business. Stopping the BBEG who murdered your village, sold you into slavery and many years later you have broken free and want to stop him doing the same unto others (:the world), is a great motivation.

Tastes, they do vary. The thought of yet another "people you care about had terrible things happen and you are out for vengeance" character concept bores me to tears at this point.

Quote:


I dont know about you, but I cannot roleplay a Good good paladin fighting deamons 3 times before breakfast and super powered beings as much as I can roleplay life like relations in living quarters and fighting for dear survival while you try to get on with life.

My preference is pretty much the reverse, at some levels. Getting on with the day-to-day business of life is something I deal with enough in reality not to seek it out as the principal focus of something recreational. And if I want to play along with or GM for a bunch of characters for any length of time, I'd rather they were dedicated enough to do things on principle (and preferably had interesting principles) rather than working from "nobody really cares about anything unless you kill their parents to make them" approaches. The latter seems a fairly low expectation to have of people generally, and I am not drawn to playing to such expectations.


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I was running S&Shackles (pirate themed AP) and I asked around what their characters where doing in Port Peril:

- "And how did your drow swashbuckler end up in Port Peril?"
- "What do you mean? I'm a swashbuckler and this is place is called Port Peril."

Anecdote over, I will hit on a few things in no particular order I believe make an AP good/bad/pineappleinpizza:

-----

A little bit more on the Mundane vs Extraordinaire. I used hyperboles, of course playing the day to day of a commoner isnt too exciting (minus Mathmuse's Beyond Responsible commoners). However, getting into the mind of someone who is above many human-driven emotions and characters might be trickier (and usually come out blander) than someone who has the needs and wants of a varying degree that we can still relate to.

Related is "why are we doing this", "why are we a party", they are questions that an AP should strive to give natural answers to, and early. APs follow a theme, and therefore are the perfect situation to create a niche for the players to work together. In story telling they say doing is stronger than showing when it comes to character development.

Examples, a bit mixed for both points above, since I know these well:

Skull and Shackles - what I consider a good inmersion start. The PCs are thrown all together into a survival situation in which they have no inmediate out (this actually grinds many people since they dont like to have no choice inthat matter, but for me it's almost the same as saying "you start in Port Peril", a backdrop). They now have a common pool of liked/disliked crew and an extremely relatable goal: Get to the end of the day. Does not matter how extraordinaire or mundane you are, survival is intrinsic and primal to most living races. We can relate.

vs

Carrion Crown - In this AP you can, at any point, say "f this" turn around and keep on with your normal life. Until the 3rd or so volume you wont even realise just how big the stakes are, so why even bother? Of course, you can come up with reasons but these are much more player driven than the above.

In S&S you can indeed, once the first ordeal is over, say "im out" and go do something else. However the hook is set, the story has begun in whole from the start and keeps coalescing stronger into a set of goals (which actually can be entirely up to the PCs). I just like how stronger this aspect of story telling is.

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The Revolving Door of character pool - An AP should also assume characters might die or players change, or wish to change their characters. This means giving them a credible way to do this. Many APs have whole modules that happen far away from anything or are a huge, continuous dungeon, leaving few options but handwavuim or "you have a camp following you" (but then why are we sleeping in between enemies patrolling sharing moldy rations and drinking recycled pisswater?). In The Gamers there is a perfect scene, where they recruit the new character of their recently dead comrade, with the Gm's words "remember guys you've never seen this person before so role play this...". Worth watching if you havent.

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The Paizo Dungeon Rollercoaster that Never Ends - Dungeon design is a huge good/bad in Pathfinder. Another that depends on group's mind set though, see The Amber Die and their love for long, unrelenting dungeons.
Dungeons in Paizo AP tend to be bad*. *yet good. This is because Paizo cant design a dungeon that fits everyone with so many variables flying around, so they are a chasis really. However there are some things that stand out that we could take a message from to build a better one for our own AP.
- The Slog: Countless rooms filled with several CR Half of Party's which will never be relevant or even hit the PCs. Combat takes a lot of time in Pathfinder and these make the going a drudgery. Instead: Condense the rooms, put less enemies and increase their threat or change their mechanics (i.e. troop subtypes).
- Memorability: No one remembers the 17 rooms filled with cultists, but you remember the room where you had to stop the ritual and as you progressed the portal weakened. A little of Chehkov's Gun applied, as mentioned (Mathmuse), will go a long way. Make everything linked and give it a reason. Add terrain, win-conditions to be met, consequences, etc, rather than straight out fights. Give huge REAL advantages to the low CR enemies that make them an actual threat. Make the dungeon a living thing, rather that the tunels in which for some reason ogres lived exactly 50th from each other to tax the players some low level spells.
- Other mechanic considerations. These are important but it is more about good encounter design than a good AP, so wont go into it.
- Most Important Perhaps: Give your players what they want. I am a tricky, finicky, strategic GM. One of my groups wants a straight out fight to blow steam though, some cool, monstruous enemies. Then that there will be (too).

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"Wait who is this guy anyway?" - Or Introducing Villains Early - Something I feel Paizo has learnt to request from their authors more often even though their volume structure and different authorship makes it difficult.
Introducing characters early is good story telling. Otherwise it's a power rangers episode after another. Continuation and cohesiveness. They dont necessarily need to know that is the villain.
Recurring NPCs. Sometimes prewritten APs force an NPC in this role but your party have better chemistry with another. Sometimes an AP cannot be too specific about this, so when writing the story a little thought excercise in quickly switching around NPCs or "what happens if this one doesnt do X" might make the story boat a little more unsinkable.

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"One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" - The McGuffin...ish - Often the central point of many stories, the artefact everyone wants/needs/hides/destroys/dipsinlava has been done well and terribly. A McGuffin that has 1. Nothing to do with the party a priori, 2. No practical use apart from a contrived and designed situation and 3. No real bearing on the outcome of the story, should not be there, especially if it hits all 3 points.
For Frodo, the ring was passed from Bilbo, whose life it changed, has a great power used anywhere but with consequences in specific story situations and the whole damn story hangs on its fate. Even if the story is really about something else deep down (voyage, change, good vs evil) this is a strong catalyst.
We can also write down one that is not so important but it should adhere to some of the points above.
Paizo have been notorious with these in the past. Some volumes in their APs have been about this and really they go nowhere. There are many considerations to make...not all parties will get as much use of the same ability, prewriting a mcguffin later in the story and linking it with PCs backstories is mighty challenging.
I personally prefer stories that do away with this story element or downplay it. But some people like to carry jewelery to the end of the continent to throw it into a fire, I guess that works too.

As usual, the caveat remains true: Your players will never fail to sink your plan boat, burn its encounters rigging and swim in the direct opposite direction of plot shore.

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