Essays / discussions on running an Adventure Path?


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


Hi all - so, I'm currently five sessions into running my first Adventure Path, Curse of the Crimson Throne, and finding it a bit intimidating. I do my best to prep, but often feel slightly lost. I often have a hard time figuring out exactly what the authors intended, and what they expect to be happening at the table in actual play.

I was wondering if anyone can suggest some good essays or discussions on principles for running an AP successfully? What should I be doing? What should I look out for?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

If you can afford it, invest in a program like Hero Labs. It makes things much easier for the GM and can help speed things along.

If you can't afford it, then lots and lots of notecards. Write down each encounter on its own separate card with all the pertinent information so that you have the card before you and see what the critter can do and what its abilities are. As well as combat information like AC and hit points! (Note, I think Paizo might put out cards with some of this information. I'm not sure on that, however and never bothered checking out those products.)

You also are playing an older AP. The newer ones probably do a better job of giving the GM more details on suggested tactics and the like. That said, I've heard good things said about CotCT from different people on the forums.

Oh, and always read the Bestiary for each encounter before the game. Familiarize yourself with the encounters and their abilities outside of writing notes on them.


4 people marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I have run nearly all the APs to date so you might find these suggestions helpful.

1. Read through the entire AP. It is not unusual that something that at first blush that is insignificant is an earlier chapter suddenly has relevance or importance in a later chapter. Make a note of these as well as general notes on the story line.

2. Read through each chapter you are about to run several times. This is important because each chapter is laid out sometimes a little different. Understand the flow of the chapter and where to find things to minimize page flipping back and forth for yourself. Keep notes.

3. Don't worry about what the authors intended and what they expect to happen. Read through and YOU infer the intent of the story line and what YOU expect YOUR players to do with the various elements within that story. I have DMed Legacy of Fire twice (two different groups). Because they were different groups, the campaign played out differently - yes, the overall story arc was followed for both campaigns but the campaigns had quite a different 'feel' to them due to the decisions of the players and the dynamics of the group.

I can't emphasis that enough. It is YOUR story, so own it.

4. Anticipate the trouble areas and make contingencies to deal with them. An AP is written by 6 different authors and sometimes, the flow of the story can get rough. Within a chapter, sometimes events and developments can get the party going off on an unexpected direction. Or, your players come to a completely different conclusion with facts presented. You can get completely loss if you don't anticipate these issues coming up so read through the chapter, figure out what most likely your players will do and figure out what you will do if your players completely seem to go 'off script' or to the opposite of what you expected them to do.

5. Don't be afraid to go 'off script' yourself. Players can sometimes do things that mire them into a situation or a single course of action. Don't be afraid to play with the story elements and coax them back into the story line. That might mean such and such encounter must be run sooner rather or later. Or encounter X must be discarded. Or you might have to jump ahead a bit in the story (which is why 1 and 4 above are important) and then back track to the skipped parts somehow. Be flexible.

Have fun! Don't sweat the intent of the authors because it is YOU that takes the story line and encounters from the book and makes it hopefully memorable adventure for your players.


Black Moria wrote:


3. Don't worry about what the authors intended and what they expect to happen.

Thanks - I find though that understanding what the author intended helps me to handle off-piste contingencies, too. If I have a default intent in mind then I can understand the implications of departing from it. Eg running CoTCT I constructed a default timeline of events and noted that. I then found it easy to accommodate changes in response to player actions. If I didn't have an idea of what was supposed to happen when (as was the case when I first started) I would much more easily get confused, especially when the text seems to contradict itself - as happens rather a lot. :)

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
S'mon wrote:
Black Moria wrote:


3. Don't worry about what the authors intended and what they expect to happen.
Thanks - I find though that understanding what the author intended helps me to handle off-piste contingencies, too. If I have a default intent in mind then I can understand the implications of departing from it. Eg running CoTCT I constructed a default timeline of events and noted that. I then found it easy to accommodate changes in response to player actions. If I didn't have an idea of what was supposed to happen when (as was the case when I first started) I would much more easily get confused, especially when the text seems to contradict itself - as happens rather a lot. :)

It might help you to make a flow-chart or mindmap, or even bullet points of story beats you need to hit each session so you know what information you need to communicate to the players about the story.

Scarab Sages Reaper Miniatures

2 people marked this as a favorite.

Read each individual book in the path. My preferred method is to read each book twice. At this stage, I am looking to see who the book works - how elements at the end of the book are presaged by elements at the start, how to use the events, where to point the PCs, etc. My primary focus here is on mastering the content of the one book by itself, six different times.

Then, a third time, I will read each book in order, one after the other, specifically looking for how the books connect. Is there something in book 3 that was hinted at in book one, or something on book 6 that was important to make sure the PCs got an item in book 2? Make sure you know what parts of a book connect that book to the next book, or some other future book.

I put sticky notes in my books to remind me what parts are presaging future events, and to make sure not to skip those. After this, I hit the forum for the AP in question and see what problems people have, or neat player handouts they have come up with.

For Serpent's Skull, Kingmaker, and (soon) Carrion Crown, I have found the resources players created and potential pitfalls they point out to be invaluable. Knowing what encounters are too easy or too hard can be difficult from the read through, and the members here can not only find plot holes, but invent the most amazing solutions.

You're already 99% of the way there - you've found the resources of the forums, and you're asking for advice.

One final thought - if you get something "wrong", don't stress about it. Just change it so now the thing works the way you said it did. That guy isn't a villain anymore. That house isn't there in your version. The PCs likely won't know, and as long as the "job" that the element you changed is still done by somebody or something, it won't matter in the the long run.

Also, have fun!


Thanks Bryan - good work with Reaper Miniatures, BTW. :D

I think I am finding it tough to read the material in sufficient detail in advance of play; some AP volumes have very dense presentation that I find hard to follow. Runelords is probably best as the hardback seems more polished than the other APs I have. With Crimson Throne, probably the hardest thing has been making sense of the maps, and relating them to the text. There have been some chunks of text I really haven't been able to decipher, or the benefit just didn't seem worth it - notably when some complex new subsystem is introduced for rooftop chases, a game/contest, etc. In these cases having the confidence to leave it out seems to be the best thing - my game doesn't notably suffer from omitting material, whereas it can suffer from slowing to a crawl while I try to work out how (eg) Knivesies is supposed to work. By contrast, picking up on interconnections between chapters seem relatively easy, as they tend to be based around people/NPCs, and I find people/interpersonnel stuff much easier to grasp than new crunch-stuff/mechanics.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Consider ditching XP, if you think that will work for you and your group.

If you ditch XP, *and* ignore the published level-up points, you can manage balance easily by simply levelling up whenever the party starts to struggle. That way you get a much more balanced challenge all the way through the AP.


Matt Thomason wrote:

Consider ditching XP, if you think that will work for you and your group.

If you ditch XP, *and* ignore the published level-up points, you can manage balance easily by simply levelling up whenever the party starts to struggle. That way you get a much more balanced challenge all the way through the AP.

IME, using XP the PCs tend to be very close to expected level when I run things as-is (even using a different XP track, or PF XP in a 3e adventure, or even with AD&D PCs in a PF adventure - assuming I use PF style XP awards for the AD&D PCs).

Problems come more from massively over-level encounters, eg playing Crimson Throne my fourth level PCs ran into Girrigz and his wererats, pretty much on schedule in Book 2, it was something like an EL 9 encounter. This seems to be common when running the APs as written.

Liberty's Edge

2 people marked this as a favorite.

If you're into podcasts at all, we just talked about this a couple of weeks ago on Know Direction. I'm about to run my first AP soon, and having seen veteran GMs handle APs differently, I was looking for any advice I could get.

Audio version.

Video version


I just want to chime in to support some of those odder subsystems. Playing blood pig and knivesies (with some house rulings to rough out the edges), and having note cards w/ different options on them for the rooftop chase are some of the most fun times my players and I had. They were things I never would have considered on my own and I'd argue they are worth the added effort to figure out. That said, you're the best judge of your players and if they complain about this stuff that takes time from the 'real' adventure, maybe they're best left out.

Also, browse the forums for your chosen path; there's a lot of good ideas and collective DM wisdom to be found there.


Ryan. Costello wrote:

If you're into podcasts at all, we just talked about this a couple of weeks ago on Know Direction. I'm about to run my first AP soon, and having seen veteran GMs handle APs differently, I was looking for any advice I could get.

Audio version.

Video version

That was good stuff, thanks.


Hylozoist wrote:
I just want to chime in to support some of those odder subsystems. Playing blood pig and knivesies (with some house rulings to rough out the edges), and having note cards w/ different options on them for the rooftop chase are some of the most fun times my players and I had. They were things I never would have considered on my own and I'd argue they are worth the added effort to figure out.

Part of my problem is that I can improvise my own subsystems a lot easier than I can grok someone else's; and if they don't correspond with how I would do it (eg the rooftop chase cards - I would use a map) then it's a pain. In my AD&D Rise of the Runelords game I was able to improvise a 'track and ambush Bruthazmus' system easily, using the d6 Surprise rules as a base, whereas running Knivesies as written in CoTCT was no fun, and I didn't use the rooftop chase with Trinia at all as the PCs sensibly came in from both directions (roof & stairs) and caught her right off (after a couple reads I still don't know how that system is supposed to work, so just as well).

If I was going to learn a whole new 'rooftop chase' system I'd want it to be something I'd be using frequently throughout the AP.

Edit: Similarly, I did an actual Harrow reading for Book 1 of CoTCT as instructed - I hated it and I'm not doing that again if I can help it.


Hylozoist wrote:


Also, browse the forums for your chosen path; there's a lot of good ideas and collective DM wisdom to be found there.

Yup, been doing that; definitely helped me catch some things in advance with CotCT, eg problems with PCs lacking commitment to Korvosa. Playing the first chapter of Runelords before GMing it helped me, too, seeing things that frustrated me as a player I know to avoid them as GM.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / General Discussion / Essays / discussions on running an Adventure Path? All Messageboards

Want to post a reply? Sign in.
Recent threads in General Discussion