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I’ve enjoyed reading about changes other GMs have made to Adventure Paths, so I thought I’d post descriptions of some changes I’ve been making to Jade Regent.
These changes shouldn’t be interpreted as any sort of criticism of the AP - I’d be happy to run it as written. There are two main reasons for my changes: suiting the preferences of our group and avoiding anything that’s too similar to other games we’ve played recently. I’ve also been inspired by reviews and comments on these forums. And some of my additions are tied to a theme of how power and ideals of honour can be used and abused. (And quite a few of my changes are just due to personal preferences and pure whim.)
Thanks to the writers of the AP and everyone who has contributed to the Jade Regent forum!
I’m planning to describe most of my changes in the order that the PCs encounter them, but I’ll begin with a brief description of the two most significant changes:
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Our group is currently at the beginning of the 4th book. If anyone’s interested in sneak previews or more details, I’ve been writing a campaign journal:
(Warning: this journal contains many words. I’m trying to keep a fairly comprehensive record to make it easier for players who miss sessions to follow what’s going on. That’s my excuse, anyway!)
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Behind the scenes...
I asked anyone playing a Tian character to discuss their background with me - I wanted to link their backgrounds to Ameiko’s if possible (so that Sandpoint wasn’t completely coincidentally full of Tian people). I imposed some restrictions on Tian characters: none of the PCs were born in Minkai (although they could be of Minkaian descent), and they have not lived in Tian Xia recently. Two of the PCs are grandchildren of Soto Tsutamu (who arrived with Ameiko’s grandfather from Minkai), and one was brought up by the Soto family in Sandpoint.
I recommended neutral good or chaotic good as the alignments that would fit best into the campaign, but I allowed any non-evil alignment. I also asked the players of any strongly lawful PCs to talk to me about their code of conduct - I wanted to avoid having PCs in the group with very strict codes against any form of deception.
There’s a list of the PCs in the campaign journal: Principal Cast. (Note that we have a large group with seven players, but it’s rare that everyone can make it to a session. Currently we have five regular players, and we often have sessions with fewer than five.)
I changed the stats for some of the major NPCs. Ameiko became a 3rd level rogue and Shalelu became a 4th level ranger. Sandru gained the ability to cast prestidigitation as a rogue talent.
Koya’s fortune-telling abilities allow her to deal out cards, meditate on them and then receive dreams related to her question. I’ve used this to provide warnings and foreshadowing, and PCs can ask her questions if they’re looking for advice from Desna.
- Everyone in the universe gets the Eschew Material feat for free.
- There’s no cut-off below 5 hit dice for Detect Evil and similar spells. So, for example, a typical goblin or an evil 2nd level fighter would have a ‘very faint’ aura of evil unless they have some way of concealing it.
- Creatures with the shapechanger subtype or the Change Shape supernatural ability won’t have an aura of transmutation magic just because they’ve changed shape. This means that detect magic can’t be used to help determine whether someone who looks human is likely to be an oni or a kitsune in disguise.
- Spells with a range of ‘personal’ can be made into potions. (I decided this one during the campaign. The alchemist PC was interested in brewing potions of expeditious retreat. I was already leaning towards allowing this, and then I noticed that some of the NPCs in the AP were equipped with potions of disguise self.)
Four “adventurers” meet in a tavern...
(Changes to Part One of Book One)
I decided to rewrite the opening of the AP to get to the main plot a bit more quickly. (I’d like to reiterate that this isn’t a criticism of the AP. This choice was a personal preference - I was hoping to provide a contrast to the pacing of other games our group has played recently.)
Here’s the condensed version of my changes to the opening:
- A swarm of unusual jade-coloured butterflies appears in the main square of Sandpoint. These attract some attention.
- The crowd of onlookers (including the PCs) then face a chaotic raid on the town by gleeful goblins armed with Minkaian fireworks.
- After the goblins are defeated or driven off, it becomes apparent that the butterflies were an illusion and the goblins were incited by someone attempting to create a distraction.
- The person who paid for the distraction has gone missing, and the PCs are asked to track him down. This leads them to a set of caves where they find Minkaian treasures and a letter mentioning Brinewall Castle (and some skeletons).
A less summarised description follows...
I moved the skeletons and the treasure from the Brinestump Caverns to a cave system in cliffs to the east of Sandpoint (and north of the Ravenroost hills). This cave system was a prearranged meeting point - Rokuro and Tsutamu had discovered it years ago and decided it would make a good hiding-place if they ever needed one. When Lonjiku opened the warding box, Rokuro sent Lonjiku away at once on the Kaijitsu Star and gave a hastily drawn map of the location of the caves to the captain of that ship. Tsutamu followed soon afterwards on board the Kaijitsu’s Blossom - the plan was that the ships would anchor somewhere along the coast and the passengers would meet at the caves. The map was in a waterproof chest along with Minkaian fireworks, fine jewellery and books when the Kaijitsu Star sank in a sudden storm.
Tsutamu had persuaded Rokuro to delay telling Lonjiku the truth about the two families. This added to Tsutamu’s feelings of guilt after the attack on Brinewall and the sinking of Lonjiku’s ship, when he believed that all the Amatatsu family had been killed.
It was well-known in Sandpoint that ships belonging to Rokuro and Tsutamu had sunk in storms, and it was believed that Rokuro and Tsutamu had both drowned (Lonjiku never told anyone in Sandpoint that he had been on one of the ships, so it was generally assumed he had been in Magnimar when his father had died). However, until recently no one had thought to investigate the wrecks. Kelsiran Valdemar (who is the younger brother of Ethram Valdemar and rather envious of his elder sibling’s wealth) wondered if there was a chance of retrieving valuable cargo. He kept his plans secret, because he didn’t want to be forced to share anything with the descendants of Rokuro and Tsutamu. And he was well aware of the ‘rumourmongering’ tendencies of Sandpoint’s citizens. So he decided to hire some help from Magnimar quietly.
First, he paid some undine divers to locate and explore the wrecks. They brought back the waterproof chest and the nameplates of the two ships. The divers reported that the Kaijitsu’s Blossom had run aground before sinking and contained no sign of cargo. Kelsiran believed that survivors may have taken cargo to the caves marked on the map from the first ship. He decided to investigate the caves to find out if any valuables had been left behind there.
Kelsiran hired some warriors from Magnimar to accompany him on an expedition to the caves. But if he did find treasure, he didn’t want to be spotted returning with it. So he also hired a team of four people to create a distraction in the main square of Sandpoint at the time when he expected to return from the caves (he planned to arrive back at the other side of Sandpoint). He didn’t specify what the distraction should be, except that it needed to be large. He had shown the team the fireworks from the first ship, and they asked if they could take some for their distraction.
The team advertised themselves as ‘trouble shooters for hire’ (they mostly worked as confidence tricksters and thieves).
Esvailar (male half-elf cleric of Calistria 1/bard 1)
Korrevetesque Rindletrax (male gnome illusionist wizard 2)
Tanrien (male human bard 1/rogue 1)
Viyen (female human fighter 2)
They arrived separately at the Rusty Dragon tavern late on the evening before the beginning of the campaign, and they pretended to be adventurers meeting for the first time. They appeared to drink more than they were actually drinking, and they loudly made plans to set out together the next morning and investigate Foxglove Manor. In fact, they had already made other plans. The next morning, the bard/rogue stealthily left Sandpoint (with a goblinoid disguise and charm spells ready) to find local goblins, give them fireworks and persuade them to launch a raid on Sandpoint.
(Of the team, only the cleric had a high enough wisdom to realise just how much damage this over-the-top distraction could end up doing. He was starting to slip from chaotic neutral to chaotic evil.)
The goblins didn’t show up exactly when expected (they managed to delay gratification just long enough to fetch other members of their tribe), so the team’s wizard created an illusion of a strange butterfly swarm (based on an illustration in a Minkaian book from Kelsiran’s find) in the main square as a stopgap distraction to draw attention until the goblins arrived.
This is where the campaign starts.
The PCs were among the townspeople of Sandpoint whose attention was attracted by the butterfly swarm. The PCs’ tasks during the first session were:
- Defend the town from the reckless, dizzy-with-explosions goblins (and keep fireworks away from the bakery in particular).
- Put together the clues suggesting that the goblins had been provoked by someone else.
- Track down, capture and question at least one of the team of ‘trouble-shooters’, who will eventually admit they were hired by Kelsiran.
- Seek authorisation from the mayor to search Kelsiran’s house.
In Kelsiran’s house, the PCs discovered the ships’ nameplates and various valuables of Minkaian origin. There was evidence that Kelsiran had left the previous evening. But although Kelsiran clearly planned to return to Sandpoint at the time scheduled for the distraction, there was no sign that he or any of his hired warriors had made it back.
Concerned about his missing brother, Ethram asked the PCs to try to track Kelsiran’s expedition...
When Kelsiran and his hired warriors arrived at the caves (and managed to get past some giant spiders), they found the treasury surrounded by skeletons that looked like ordinary human remains. The skeletons didn’t move until Kelsiran opened one of the chests. Then the skeletons rose and attacked all at once. Kelsiran managed to climb through an opening overhead and take refuge in a small space where Tsutamu couldn’t reach him, but this was a dead end, and so he was trapped there. His hired warriors were all killed by the other skeletons, who then stopped moving again. Only Tsutamu remained animated, making tireless repeated attempts to reach Kelsiran through the opening in the cavern roof. This was the scene that the PCs found when they made their own way past the giant spiders.
None of the skeletons detected as evil. I played Tsutamu as having a very dim, distant memory of his past existence - his goal was to fulfil the only duty left to him and protect the Amatatsu treasures from thieves. (Perhaps he was actually some sort of ghost animating all the skeletons...) Tsutamu would not attack the PCs unless they touched the treasure, but he was also refusing to let Kelsiran go past him. So the encounter became a roleplaying challenge - the PCs needed to work out Tsutamu’s motivations and find a way to persuade him that they could be trusted to deliver the treasure to its rightful owner. (In our game, this negotiation was influenced by the fact that two of the PCs were grandchildren of Tsutamu.) Once he had passed on his duty, Tsutamu collapsed into a motionless skeleton.
By then, Kelsiran had spent a day and a half trapped in the caves - when he was rescued, he was in no mood to make any claim on the treasure. The hilt of Tsutamu’s sword contained two letters, and they suggested that answers to some mysteries could be found in a place called Brinewall.
Half of a conversation with a Seal
When the PCs and some of their friends were camping on the way to Brinewall Castle, they noticed that Ameiko was starting to talk in her sleep. It sounded as if she was having a conversation with someone who was trying to persuade her of something. But when she woke up, Ameiko had only very vague memories of a dream about an imperial dragon with jade-coloured scales.
(Ameiko didn’t fall into a coma. In my campaign, the Amatatsu Seal is an intelligent artifact that can communicate telepathically with members of the Amatatsu family across a distance of 30 miles. However, when its warding box is closed, it can only communicate at a subconscious level, through dreams.)
A Spiveyless campaign
Before the start of the campaign, the player of the wizard PC mentioned that the character would be interested in taking the Improved Familiar feat and acquiring a faerie dragon familiar. I wanted to introduce this familiar as an NPC beforehand, so I replaced Spivey with a faerie dragon named Azu-Bemphi.
Azu-Bemphi had arrived at Brinewall Castle two years earlier, accompanying a small group of adventurers who wanted to find out what had happened there. The adventurers tried to find a way over the walls, leaving Azu-Bemphi outside on watch so he could send a warning if enemy reinforcements arrived. When the PCs turned up, he was still waiting - he had occupied himself by tending the cemetery and playing tricks on dire corbies. The earlier group of adventurers had presumably been killed by the forces inside Brinewall. (Apparently, faerie dragons lose track of time easily.)
Azu-Bemphi is an enthusiastic, valiant, patient, theatrically self-confident and occasionally self-doubting dragon, and he’s been great fun to play. He is travelling with the PCs and helping them, mostly by scouting (but he has also breathed euphoria on raiders and carried equipment when his master-to-be was hit by strength-draining poison).
Brinewall Castle: planned changes
My changes for this section were inspired by two overall objectives:
A few other GMs had already posted on the Paizo forums about making Zaiobe redeemable, and I decided to let this be a possibility in my campaign too: Zaiobe had been happily evil until she was bullied by Kikonu, and that experience provoked her to start asking herself many silent questions about her path in life.
Meanwhile, Kikonu is rational and loyal to the Ceaseless Storm (but perhaps not quite as smart as he thinks he is). One of the discs needed to unlock the vault is already in his possession, and he knows where the other one is - but it's much too close to the decapus for him to want to risk using his dimension door ability to retrieve it. (I also altered the geometry of the vault so it was impossible for Kikonu to dimension door into the space that contained shelves holding treasures.) Kikonu has no particular reason to suspect that the Amatatsu Seal is in the vault - the Ceaseless Storm believes that it's at the bottom of the ocean and has turned to dust in its box - but he's been wondering if it's a possibility... and surely something of value must be kept there.
I also removed Kelda (Kikonu has no reason to keep prisoners), the former castle commander (the Ceaseless Storm in my campaign would have no reason to create undead they can't control) and Ameiko's grandfather (this seemed repetitive after two PCs had already met their undead grandfather).
“Minions of evil for a day!” (Brinewall Castle: what happened in the game)
The short version: The PCs accidentally managed to get themselves employed by the bad guys.
The longer version: After Azu-Bemphi told the PCs that he had seen the castle's commander on the battlements a few times and he appeared to be quite vain, the PCs decided to try to use flattery - they were hoping this would be enough to get them past the castle walls, but they weren't expecting the deception to last much longer. Instead, Kikonu also improvised and decided to try to exploit the strangers who claimed to admire his reputation as a strong leader; he hired them to retrieve the disc from the decapus's lair.
Kikonu ordered Zaiobe to show the new employees around the castle, and I used the map and room descriptions to help run a fast-paced tour.
With the PCs and Kikonu both improvising, the situation was unstable and unpredictable. There was an improbably convincing fake disc made out of wax and cosmetics, a desperate escape back out over the castle walls, and a parley (with Buttersnips acting as herald). Finally, a deal was struck to divide any treasure found in the vault equally between the two factions, and a confrontation ensued when Kikonu attempted to grab the Seal and flee. Zaiobe joined the PCs’ side in the battle, and in the aftermath she agreed to leave Brinewall Castle with them.
Their idiosyncratic approach meant that the PCs only needed to fight two beings (Nindinzego and Kikonu) to obtain the Seal. On the other hand, their plan did oblige them to sit politely all the way through one of Kikonu’s plays and most of another. Something about swings and roundabouts…?
Brinewall Castle: reflections
Kikonu wanted something and thought the PCs might be able to get it for him - this change definitely succeeded in creating some different possible approaches for the PCs. (This section was one of the most fun for me to GM out of the entire adventure path because of all the unplanned unpredictability.)
Night of Frozen Shadows: planned changes
I made lots of minor changes to this book, but the overall structure and content remained similar, apart from one big difference at the end.
“What have you done to our sort-of-friend-maybe?” (Night of Frozen Shadows: what happened in the game)
Night of Frozen Shadows: reflections (players and patterns)
If I had the opportunity to run this entire campaign again but I was only allowed to make one more change, I’d remove the cursed tetsubo altogether. Even though it didn’t have a negative effect on our play-through as far as I could tell, in retrospect it seems more risky than I’d prefer.
In my experience, players notice patterns in games very quickly, particularly if there’s a sequence of negative outcomes for their characters. The danger of the tetsubo is that it could discourage the players from ever capturing enemies and trying to talk to them again, and this isn’t an outcome I want for games that I’m running.
(Not paying attention to the patterns they’re establishing is the most common mistake I’ve seen experienced GMs and adventure writers make. Some other examples I’ve encountered are GMs who say they want players to be creative but never allow the PCs’ creative plans to work, and an organised play campaign (not Pathfinder Society) with several scenarios where the PCs were betrayed by their employers - because the campaign relied on the PCs accepting the hook for each separate adventure, the subsequent games were greatly slowed down at the start as our PCs tried to establish why they should trust the next potential employer.)
Night of Frozen Shadows: reflections (themes and variations)
A full Adventure Path is long enough that there’s enough space to introduce variations on thematic elements without being too obviously (I hope, anyway) repetitive. I feel this can enrich a campaign, especially if done subtly. The three main themes I aimed to weave through our group’s Jade Regent campaign were:
I included Jubrayl’s agent partly to fit in with the second theme: just because he and Kimandatsu were both Lawful Evil, that didn’t mean they would end up on the same side or even share any viewpoints.
The Hungry Storm: planned changes
“Are you getting married to the dragon?” (The Hungry Storm: what happened in the game)
The Hungry Storm: reflections
Forest of Spirits: planned changes
“No, they’re real food. Very popular in Varisia.” (Forest of Spirits: what happened in the game)
Forest of Spirits: reflections
Tide of Honor and The Empty Throne: planned changes (campaign structure)
I’m not intending to list all my changes to the final two books unless someone responds to ask for more detail - from this point, it might be quicker to describe the things that didn’t change. But my overall aims for this section of the campaign were:
I expanded the possibility of disrupting alliances among the Jade Regent’s followers to create a loose structure for the Minkaian sections of the campaign:
Tide of Honor and The Empty Throne: planned changes (Minkai)
Tide of Honor and The Empty Throne: planned changes (the Imperial Shrine)
Instead of bargaining, someone seeking the blessing of the past rulers will need to answer questions about moral challenges associated with making decisions in a position of power. And there is also likely to be a practical test of leadership inspired by recent events. So I was paying attention to the PCs’ actions during their adventures in Minkai, to look out for a choice that could lead to a suitable test…
“I think we both knew it wasn’t going to be a long-term thing.” (Tide of Honor and The Empty Throne: what happened in the game)
To summarise greatly: the PCs succeeded in overthrowing the Regent’s regime and bringing about the coronation of a new ruler, all without the need to incite rebellion and risk the deaths of innocent people (only one not-entirely-innocent-but-still-sympathetic NPC was lost along the way). Enough coffee plants survived the journey to ensure that the next generation could be securely established in its new home.