As the Ruins of Azlant sink below the waves, a new age dawns across the Inner Sea. Discord is coming to Taldor. More accurately: the discord that has simmered quietly just beneath the staid surface of Taldor is ready to boil over, and consume the remnants of the once-great empire. Taldor's end is in sight, and has been for a thousand years. The end may be a generation away, or a century, or an age, but always it closes. The nations passengers know they plod steadily toward to edge of the world, and yet the captains at the wheel refuse to see, refuse to change the course. Most Adventure Paths aim to save the world from a new and immediate threat to emerge on the scene, but the villain threatening to destroy Taldor is entropy and tradition. And victory means changing how a whole nation thinks. Victory means winning the War for the Crown.
War for the Crown began two years ago, as an idea I pitched as part of the meetings that eventually led to Ironfang Invasion Adventure Path. I wanted players to feel like they had some real stake in the future of the Inner Sea region, but the worry at the time was that my first AP should be something more traditional while I learned the ropes. I put my notes in a drawer and a year later I brought them back out, and this time I dug my feet in. This time I wanted to tackle one of my first loves of the Inner Sea: Taldor! And I wanted the PCs to help flesh out this maligned and oversimplified nation—seen as little more than laughable aristocracy stereotypes—into a complex nation on par with Andoran and Cheliax. I wanted Taldor to have a future and I wanted the PCs to help guide it there.
And that's what we got.
The final War for the Crown evolved a lot from those first notes. In my first draft, the PCs chose one of three inheritors to back, and the adventure text itself would abstract the adventure a little more, referring to the major NPCs as the Patron, the Ally, and the Adversary. As much as I loved this idea, the problem is that it means about 1/3 of each volume would be useless to any given group (and no I couldn't make the books any longer; I asked). It also caused problems in not being able to flesh out specific NPCs very well, since any given NPC would need to serve one of three masters. Eventually we started asking which of the three candidates would be the "canon" inheritor of the Primogen Crown, and opted to focus the entire AP around working for them.
That "canon" inheritor, who now ends up your patron, was Princess Eutropia. Not exactly shocking, given that we've teased her revolutionary leanings and political goals since the original Pathfinder Chronicles: Campaign Setting back in 2008. The lady's worked hard and wants try steering Taldor away from its 600-year status quo of slow ruin, and there are more than a few traditionalists who think she hasn't earned it, or that she has sinister motives, or just that a woman needs to know her place. Grand princess Eutropia going into the second decade of Golarion's existence doesn't just move the timeline forward, it means Taldor becomes a nation of tradition vs. progress and old vs. new, a nation of backroom political intrigue where fortunes and family fates hang in the balance. Not just a stagnant world of laughable, foppish nobles.
And if your group doesn't particularly want to back Eutropia for the throne? If they want to select their own candidate or make their own grab for power? The core plot of War for the Crown is (hopefully) designed to still be flexible enough that a GM can adapt to a different inheritor taking center stage for their campaign. The foreword for #127: Crownfall has a few notes and suggestions for adapting the campaign to your own table.
One of the big goals for War for the Crown was a campaign with a lot of fun player options for tables to use or ignore depending on their own preferences. Several adventures use the various social combat and influence rules from Pathfinder: Ultimate Intrigue, but GMs should feel free takes the NPC personality notes and goals and let their tables simply play out dramatic scenes. Volume 2 introduces two special subsystems to capture two different aspects of Taldor: The Cults of Personality—so PCs can feel like movers and shakers all on their own—and the Relics system—which introduces magic items that grow stronger as their wielder accomplished great things on behalf of their people. Social, scheming tables will find the first system a delightful little distraction between game sessions, directing their psychophants and hangers-on to spy, spread word of their awesomeness, or rob the public blind. More combat-oriented tables will love the second, as your favorite sword or armor or ring grows cooler and more powerful just like your character does. Neither is central to the AP plot. Both suit the mood.
Humanity and NPCs
One of the challenges in a campaign built around intrigue and politics is finding motivation and personality for everyone involved, as almost anyone can serve as a friend, an ally of convenience, or an enemy, depending on a given table. Everyone needs a little personality and motivation, because hey, who isn't above a bribe? I had wanted to get rid of alignment altogether, because the nine-alignment system seemed overly simplistic for the complex moralities that lie at the heart of good political dramas, but apparently the alignments are "traditional" and "integral to several spells, class features, and monsters."
I tried guys.
Instead I've opted for showcasing little bits of NPC motivations and personality. Maxillar Pythareus might be a distant asshole who thinks women should be at home bearing kids, but his face brightens up if you want to talk war history and miniature wargames. Kalbio of Breezy Creek might be kind of an annoying hick, but dammit if he isn't just SO INVESTED in everything, because Oppara is SO BIG you guys. And Eutropia, the sophisticated dilettante, the respectable princess-come-social reformer? She is exactly the kind of nerd who would name her dog a pun.
As part of humanizing the characters, the running theme for this AP's foreword illustrations is showing where they came from: A major NPC's childhood illustrated, largely without comment, in each volume. Here are the first three.
War for the Crown is an Adventure Path with very human opponents and very human consequences. Failure doesn't mean the apocalypse, just a continuation of Taldor's current course and slow decline. Someone may change things in the future, but those who suffer in the current system won't stop suffering until someone changes Taldor's course.
War for the Crown kicks off in just a couple weeks with Pathfinder Adventure Path #127: Crownfall, and you can still preorder or subscribe now!
And I'm going to close out this blog with the motivational poster that's been watching over my desk since I started the earliest outlining stages of War for the Crown, guiding and encouraging me along the way. If you ever think you're not doing good enough, always remember: