Getting off-track

Savage Tide Adventure Path

More of a way to vent concern rather than a particular question - feel free to let fly with commiserations or cries of "harden the #$^@% up!" as well as helpful advice!

I like sandboxes, and my players hate railroading, and I hate one-stop magic shops, and everyone likes subplots. So I've been throwing in all sorts of additional stuff to the STAP. There's Farshore's rather fraught relationship with Xiureksior, an insane recurring death knight NPC who seems to remembers the PCs from ages ago, a Sasserine aristocrat who may or may not be a vampire, the mysterious parentage of the half-orc PC and the question of why someone's sending him gifts of expensive magic items, Lirith's devil-worshipping family (who have become considerably more relevant since she got engaged to the wizard), and the wizard's ongoing quest to free his homeland from slavery under the efreeti, and everyone's desire to strengthen and expand Farshore itself. And stuff like that. Right now, for instance, they're mad keen to go hunt down a black dragon (one of Xiureksior's xorvintaal rivals, who has an item in its horde that Xiureksior has promised a nifty reward for)

Currently we're doing downtime - we've just finished a sidequest to the Lost Citadel, and basically I can embark the PCs on CoBI whenever I decide Jakara recieves Father Noltus's letter. The issue I'm seeing is that after CoBI there's very little time to take a breath or attend to recurring plots until after Into The Maw. Lavinia's kidnapping is triggered by the defeat of Khala, and then it's pretty much full steam ahead til she's rescued.

I'm sure that once Lavinia gets kidnapped, my PCs will chase her. they'll probably groan about it OOC (Lavinia IMC is brave to the point of recklessness in combat, which doesn't always make things comfortable, and she's put herself in tight spots more than once). But there's so much else happening, some of which they're far more interested in than Father Noltus, and this is going to monopolise their attention for three whole adventures.

Add to that the way that the group is heading somewhat off-theme. First of all, one of the original PCs (a dwarf dragon shaman) went mildly evil and was basically banished from the party. His player generated a new PC (while the dragon shaman 'went looking for redemption') who he seems to be happy with. But the dragon shaman a) was the captain of the Sea Wvyern and the only PC with significant seamanship skills, and b) has Azahu's tooth. Add to that the fact that the cleric (war god) has recently provoked something of a religious war-in-waiting by blithely and deliberately dumping a flame strike on Farshore's shrine to the legendarily vengeful sea god (and then talking his superiors into at least partially backing him up), and this is not a group of PCs that will be travelling ANYWHERE by sea any time soon. I assume that most parties would have travelled to Scuttlecove magically rather than by sailing, but that still leaves me in a problematic situation once the campaign moves to the Styx.

I kind of assumed that the campaign would start to go wildly off-track somewhere around Wells of Darkness (my PCs are already balking at all the alliances with evil that they've been pushed into - not a chance in hell are they going to start dickering with Orcus and Malcanthet) but it's all starting to happen a bit faster than I planned. And of course since I run so many sidetreks, my PCs are probably 1-2 levels above where the AP expects them to be, which presents its own set of problems.

I figure that Demogorgon isn't going anywhere, and that his plot to trigger the Savage Tide will happen regardless of what subplots we get tied up in. I figure that Iggwilv's suggestions regarding who to ally with are only suggestions and if they disagree (or never even approach her to ask) then they can just take on the responsibility of forming an interplanar anti-Demogorgon coalition WITHOUT her help. So the general thrust of the campaign will continue, if perhaps at a slower pace than the adventure path expects. But I very much doubt that pretty much anything after Into the Maw will be run as written. High-level PCs have ridiculous levels of freedom of action and strategic options, and any attempt to railroad is doomed to failure - particularly since I've deliberately made sure that the players know there's a bigger world out there beyond the bounds of the Sea Wyvern, Sasserine, and the Isle of Dread. I can steal setpieces (the beach assault scene, plus I really want to run some sort of visit to Malcanthet's palace even if the PCs don't want to go there...) and some ideas but that'll probably be about all.

Has anyone else had this happen? Has the campaign gotten so much bigger than the written bounds of the AP that you found yourself throwing out the rulebook and flying by the seat of your pants? How have you handled it? There's a certain necessary railroading in the nature of pre-written adventure paths - has anyone else found their PCs chafing at the bounds? And what do you do when they're finding the main plot much less interesting than building a wizards tower in Farshore, and visiting the Great Library in the City of Brass, and trying to work out the cause of the curse on the throne of Kennington, and trying to purchase back a fiance's soul from a pitfiend, and starting major religious schisms? Sure I can just drop Jakara's letter into things and give them a good whack with the plot stick to get them back on track again and into CoBI, but they're having so much fun as it is!

I don't think Lavinia's kidnapping is necessarily triggered by Khala's defeat. Just post-pone the kidnapping. Let your group finish up several of those "side quests" (even though they're now the main ones for them). This will give you time to "soften" Lavinia. Have her learn from her past mistakes and not be so reckless. Have some non-combat encounters to build friendships with the PC's so that when you *do* have Vanthus snatch her, the group will be more likely to pursue her to Scuttlecove to rescue her.

The dwarf with the Tooth of Ahazu could easily return shortly before the kidnapping. Run him as the NPC ship captain who has found that redemption.

"Enemy of My Enemy" has a lot of downtime built in. All of the Demon Lords say, "It will take me time to marshal my forces, call me when you're ready." That can take as much time as you want, allowing the group the opportunity to finish up other things.

They won't truck with evil? Fine, use other non-evil groups. The Court of Stars is one, obviously. But the Savage Tide would upset the balance and so the Modrons will help, if properly motivated. Perhaps the Beastlord, Malar, doesn't take kindly to what the Savage Tide will do to his precious charges (use the battle test of Orcus). A goddess of Love isn't too keen on such an explosion of rage (use Malcanthet's encounter).

Those sorts of suggestions will require a tremendous amount of alignment tweaking to encounters on your part, but just remember that the PC's don't have the script.

I'd write more, but I've got to get to work.

IMC I had a break of one year between Kala's defeat and Lavina's kidnapping.

If your players are so busy by themselves, there is no particular reason why the demogorgon plot has to be resolved quickly. It makes little difference to the plot if it takes one year or fifty.

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 32

I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to change all the alliances too. This board is full of great ideas though - see above!

My players are going to be very unhappy when V comes back, they dismembered him and disposed of the bits with gusto! My current idea is to have it take a year and a day from the moment he died. And that will probably mean staging a spectacular Abyssal diversion as the party will be in Farshore.

What's my point? Hmmm, I think it's that I'm glad you're trailblazing this!

But seriously, if you want to get them interested in the main plot you could have Captain Redeemed (or Captain Staying Badass) sail into Farshore with news of a plague of vicious mutated fish and seabirds ( savage tide ) just outside Sasserine or some other large city. Maybe sahuagin overwhelmed the disguised Crimson Pirates/ Kraken Society ship and the captain broke protocol and used the pearl as a retributive strike. Now there's good reason for the players to find the pirate base in Scuttlecove, and Vanthus & Lavinia are a subplot. No other adventuring group knows what could have caused the weird sharks and birds, so it's up to the party.

Why the big D doesn't wipe everything out the next day? He's waiting for some celestial alignment, like most evil genius masterminds!

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