Arranging Notes into a Song

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Greetings, Pathfinders! This is the first in a recurring series of blog posts written by you. We're kicking things off with homebrew scenario creator extraordinaire Ron Lundeen. After reading this, I learned that Ron and I design scenarios in a similar way, so I can vouch for this excellent advice.

Hey, all! I'm Ron Lundeen, freelance author and avid Pathfinder Adventure Card Game fan. I'm here to give you a rundown on homebrew scenario design. I've released over 80 scenarios, including the very first fan-made scenario for the game and two full homebrew Adventure Paths: Shield of Rannick, which allows you to reuse all your Rise of the Runelords cards in a whole new way, and Bloodlust Corsairs, which does the same for Skull & Shackles. You can pick up these Adventure Paths and more for free at Now that the "establishing my bona fides" and "hawking my work" bullet points are out of the way, let's talk scenario design. I'll break this down in four steps. Along the way, let's design a new scenario!

1. Fit the Story to the Cards, Not the Cards to the Story

First, find a few cards you'd like to use together in interesting ways. This is the most exciting part of scenario design for me, and I usually do it with the cards right in front of me. You might have an awesome scenario idea about a haughty nobleman protected by an army of obstinate bureaucrats, but without cards to fit those ideas, you won't get very far (which is where the card creator at DriveThru Cards could become your friend, but we're concentrating on scenarios you can make with cards that you already own.) So start with the cards, then build a simple story.

Our Scenario: Let's use Wrath of the Righteous. The loot card Fiendsplitter from Adventure Deck 3 is a powerful weapon devoted to Torag, righteous god of the dwarves, and the villain Staunton Vhane from Adventure Deck 2 is an evil dwarf. Perhaps those two can go together: Vhane has stirred up some group to attack dwarves who follow Torag. An evil dwarf seems like just the kind of guy to lurk in a remote Canyon or Cavern, preying upon pilgrims at a Celestial Beacon. We'll plan on using those locations. Plus, this set has Blessings of Torag—perhaps we can use those somehow. We now have the nucleus of our scenario!

"Axes and dwarves" feels a little stereotypical, but we have to start somewhere.

2. Consider Where the Cards Are (or Could Be)

Certain cards are going to be required for your scenario—villains, henchmen, and locations, most likely. Those are pretty freely available for you to mix and match across adventure decks, or even across entire adventures. You don't want henchmen that are wildly more powerful than the villain (or vice versa), because the adventure will feel uneven. Building a scenario around cards other than villains, henchmen, and locations is a lot of fun, but must be done carefully. If your scenario requires other cards, consider whether they might already be in someone's deck; if so, don't use them, or set your scenario earlier than the cards would "appear" in your game.

Our Scenario: For Vhane's henchmen, let's use Deraknis. Vhane hasn't been paired with those before. I'd really like to use Blessings of Torag somehow—maybe shuffling all four of them into the Celestial Beacon to represent the pilgrims there—but those are base box blessings and therefore could be in players' decks already. So it's best not to have any special rule with those. Fiendsplitter is granted as loot in the third adventure, so we should set our scenario prior to adventure 3. Let's call it adventure 2 (which is also in line with our villains and henchmen). We'll banish Fiendsplitter at the end of the scenario; let's say the pilgrims of Torag loan it to the characters to put down Vhane.

Do they seem a little easy? We'll fix that.

3. The Scenario Designer Giveth and the Scenario Designer Taketh Away

Most scenarios have a factor that makes things easier and another that makes them harder. If you notice that a scenario has one fewer location than normal, you can bet it's going to have a rule making the scenario pretty tough (like needing to close all locations to win.) If the scenario has only one or two locations regardless of the number of players, you'd better strap in. For both easier and harder scenario rules, steal like crazy from anywhere in the game: villain powers, support card effects, and even character powers all provide good ideas for scenario-wide rules. Plus, the tricky part of including a rule—wording it clearly—has already been done for you.

Most scenarios mix locations that are beneficial and locations that are harmful. Mix those up as the number of players increases—you don't want to have only beneficial locations for smaller groups with the harmful locations showing up only for larger groups. But more importantly, choose locations that fit the theme of the story you're telling. If doing that makes the whole scenario feel a bit too easy or too hard, skew the scenario rules to compensate.

If your scenario is a one-off game that you intend as a detour from a published Adventure Path, the reward should be light: a single card draw is sensible. If you're designing an entire adventure—or even an entire Adventure Path—provide rewards at the same frequency as those provided by the published adventures.

Our Scenario: Let's have a scenario rule to make Fiendsplitter a bit better; we want to let multiple characters get a lot of use out of it. Some characters—like Alain and Radillo—can put useful cards on top of their decks, so let's create a power like that for Fiendsplitter. To ramp up the difficulty, and to keep the Torag theme, let's use a rule I swiped from the Kraken ship card from Skull & Shackles: against the villain or henchmen, characters must replace each die they roll that's larger than their Strength die with their Strength die. For locations, we already have the beneficial Celestial Beacon and the harmful Canyon and Cavern; let's include a few more locations appropriate for a pilgrim's trail through an isolated mountainous region. This is a one-off scenario where we anticipate being rewarded by holy pilgrims, so a non-Basic blessing is a reasonable reward.

That's right: I just stole from a pirate ship.

4. Shake It Until You Break It

Once you have your scenario sketched out, test it a few times with groups of different characters and different sizes. The more you deviate from the standard scenario model, the more you should test it. Pay particular attention to where you've changed how an existing rule works, so you can see whether that makes other rules function oddly or whether the change disproportionately affects some characters more than others. If you find something like that, change it or build an exception around it. Or you can just pretend that's what you intended all along!

Our Scenario: Playtesting reveals that our scenario doesn't work for large groups—there aren't enough Derakni cards in the set to populate all the locations. We need to add one more henchman. I first thought about a Grimslake, but that seemed too tough in testing, so let's use Chorussina instead. After testing with a bunch of different characters, I found that the rule about limiting some checks to your Strength die doesn't really bother Crowe, but that's okay: Torag loves Crowe. The rule also particularly handicaps low-Strength characters like Seoni and Enora, so we'll make sure that characters who spend mythic charges to swap in d20s don't have their d20s knocked down to their Strength die. Low-Strength characters can then plan to reserve mythic charges for this circumstance.

Vhane's bringing this gal to the party.

Now we've got our final scenario, The Pilgrim's Axe. Give it a try and let me know what you think in the Homebrew and House Rules section of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game forums. Better yet, post a scenario of your own!


Ron Lundeen
Contributing Author

If you've got an idea for an Adventure Card Game homebrew blog you want to write, send me your pitches at!

Tanis O'Connor
Adventure Card Game Designer

More Paizo Blog.
Tags: Adventure Card Game Homebrew Community Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

Excellent blog idea! And the perfect person to start it with. Ron's contributions have been awesome, and give your box a whole second life. Love it! Thanks Ron!

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

It looks like both of the preview images for the Kraken are for the back. I assume the preview image for the Kraken on the left should be the front of the card.

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

If you click the one on the left, it will show you the front. So it seems just to be the preview.

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

Ach! Ron's not content killing characters in RPGs — now he's plotting numerous messy demises in the ACG too! :-)

Adventure Card Game Designer

I <3 this blog so much.

Adventure Card Game Designer

Many, many thanks to Ron for kicking off our recurring guest post feature.

Paizo Employee Contributor

3 people marked this as a favorite.

This was so much fun to do! Thanks for letting me kick off the guest blog series!

3 people marked this as a favorite.

Awesome! Maybe DriveThruCards will get scenarios, adventures, and the remainder of the card types implemented soon, so we can get physical versions of this!

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Hawkmoon269 wrote:
If you click the one on the left, it will show you the front. So it seems just to be the preview.

It seems to have been fixed now :)

That was very nice read... and I can't wait to try out Bloodlust Corsairs.

Just one thing... link leading to your page is broken. It leads to [which is non-existent] instead of

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game Developer

Ripe wrote:
Just one thing... link leading to your page is broken. It leads to [which is non-existent] instead of

Fixed already. The Paizo people are quick!

::pours one out for Web Fiction::

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

GREAT idea for blogs... Just don't let Hawk do one, else we are doomed with eternal can'o'worms.
Just kidding, I will jump on Hawk's blog as soon as he does one.

And total Bravo to Ron.

Paizo Employee Developer

This was a great read, Ron, and makes me want to check out your other custom adventures (when they unshackle me from the word mines, that is).

1 person marked this as a favorite.

My favorite author scores again - I'm here to tell you that he probably even designs them in his sleep! Must remember to ask his darling wife...

Has anyone played through Bloodlust Corsairs? how does the difficulty compare with Skull and Shackles? does the difficulty noticeably increase/decrease with different-sized groups?

Any homebrew adventures you all recommend for after Adventure 6 in Skulls and Shackles? I'd like to keep playing these characters a bit longer before WotR :D

Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber
Reynier Otero wrote:
Any homebrew adventures you all recommend for after Adventure 6 in Skulls and Shackles? I'd like to keep playing these characters a bit longer before WotR :D

Ron did create a deck 7 for Rise of the Runelords. It uses just a few new cards. It's also on his website, I believe.

Paizo Employee Contributor

jones314 wrote:
Ron did create a deck 7 for Rise of the Runelords. It uses just a few new cards. It's also on his website, I believe.

Yes, here at Thanks!

This article is really helpful in designing scenarios, thanks!

Could we maybe retroactively give the homebrew and wrath of the righteous tag to this blog entry?
The article from Iammars has it, and it's been hard to track this one down. I remembered reading this article once, but it was really hard to track it down when I looked for it lately, to the point were I convinced myself this blog entry actually didn't exist. I just found it by accident now, since it came up on a google search.

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