A Kingmaker Campaign: Thoughts of a Former GM


Kingmaker


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Beware of spoilers ahead

Our Kingmaker campaign terminated this month, after one year and a half of battles, kingdom sessions, intrigues and fun. We are moving on towards Carrion Crown (we rotate as GM after every adventure).

Nyrissa won:
After the defeat of the Jabberwock, the PCs had bad luck against the prismatic sprays of the Ankous: half of the party had been petrified, the other half teleported away. When faced with the choice of giving back Briar in exchange of their stone friends, the two survivors refused the offer, being their friends not so important, leaving Nyrissa the control over the Stolen Lands.

My thoughts, confessions and considerations about the entire campaign - aka what I did get right, what I did wrong, considering my players and their responses.

1 - Stolen Lands: One of my favourite books, with a great villain and a good hook for the campaign.

  • Ask your players to give their character noble intents as motivations for this path. This is because the path is very long, very dispersive, and in many situations you may feel like fighting in first line for the people (or even non human creatures) in these lands may not be worth the effort, especially if you should defend the weakest side in the conflict. Being altruist is important, even in this path. My players had some internal conflicts when it came to take generous decisions and when the most 'noble' half of the party remained trapped in the House at the Edge of Time, the other half could not lead the mission anymore.
  • Most (if not all) of the Brevoy background is lost during the path. If you like it and if your players want to connect with it you will have to create some sort of subquest or other stories to keep it alive.
  • Don't make them rush against the Stag Lord: they'll die. Remember them their primary goal is to explore the land, the bandits should be a growing presence. The typical problem with players used to railroad campaigns is that they will rush against the first enemy they will hear of.
  • Rolling random encounters is boring. Create some good encounters with good terrain features in advance and make them happen as you like. Make the encounter worth of it, create clear and evident substories that can lead to further encounters. Don't be afraid to create some invisible railroads: sandbox doesn't mean out of control.
  • This fey pranks pdf is gold.
  • 6 players conversion helped a lot when we had 5 players.
  • Following suggestions from this forum (I don't remember where I read it) I downloaded all the maps of the lands (sorry, not sure if I can really do it), I edited them in a single big map (170 x 60 cm), I printed it and I plasticized it. I covered it with little paper hexes, and we hanged it on the wall, taking off the hexes and showing the map during the exploration. It was great!

2 - Rivers Run Red: One of the worst books of the saga, forum material can make a difference.

  • Kingdom rules work pretty well in this book. We used Ultimate Campaign rules, along with some of the Ultimate Rulership (Legendary Games) rules in the later stages of the game. Kingdom building works better if you have at least one player who is interested in the intense bookkeeping required. I suggest to use this excellent excel grid as soon as you can. Here you can find some good material for this part, especially if you want to keep Brevoy alive.
  • Again, don't be too fussy with exploration. You will probably be tired of it at the end of the second book, so don't be obsessed with exploration time and tables, go easy on it and give your players opportunities to explore the boring parts of the map through other ways (exploration edicts, informations by NPC, maps found around).
  • Dudemeister created this beautiful expansion for this book that really enhances the adventure. Give it a look.

3 - The Varnhold Vanishing: Solid book, Vordakai is a great enemy and his dungeon is very cool.

  • I suggest you to delay the meeting with Vordakai as much as you can, to avoid the “rush against the enemy” problem mentioned earlier. Dudemeister got this covered too.

4 - Blood for Blood: Nice book, Fort Drelev offers a lot of fun.

  • You should revive the fey background at this point. Make it clear something is happening to the area, the First World presence should be more violent but not so dangerous to require immediate action: a weird presence, just to remember them the Stolen Lands are not common wilderness. Otherwise, Nyrissa may look out of place at the end of the adventure. Faerie Mysteries by Legendary Games is a good addition to the game.
  • Kingdom rules gave me a headache at this time. Maybe because my players power played their kingdom, there was no Kingdom check they could fail, their Kingdom was extremely rich and their armies were unbeatable. There was nothing they could not do (by rules), no event could shake their reign (by rules). This made all the Kingdom subsystem useless for roleplaying purpose: if I wanted to challenge their kingdom I had to do it in a non-standard way, which could make all their work to raise kingdom statistics useless or, worse, they could feel cheated because the other kingdoms did not work according to those rules that made them clearly superior. My suggestion is to dump kingdom rules by this time, if you fear this situation may cause you problems. Explore Kingdom rules in the second and third book when they are still fun to play, and ignore them by now; or make Kingdom sessions more occasional (i.e. once every 6 months to decide the kingdom course); decide with your players what is important for their kingdom and give them missions and quests to reach that specific kingdom goal; you can even create simplified kingdom rules, but don’t get stuck in the mud of the classic rules when the kingdom becomes too big.

5 - War of the River Kings: My favourite book. Irovetti was such a badass.

  • Jason Nelson really did a great work here, providing even his own original work to anybody who asks him.
  • I liked my tournament so much I want to share it: In my game I moved Whitehorse Abbey close to the tournament, the midnight joust took place in the afternoon, while at midnight I placed the Midnight Toast (like in James version). When the PGs have been invited, Irovetti asked them to bring a bottle of their finest wine, as tradition: the winner’s bottle would be poured in the barrels destined to the nobility at midnight toast. Since the players won the tournament they felt very bad when they heard rumors about Gaetane (professional poisoner) meeting with Irovetti and heading to the nearby Abbey: was Irovetti framing them in a conjure against the other River Kingdoms? They run to the abbey, fought against Gaetane but they could not solve the mystery of the Abbey nor understand Irovetti’s plan. Back at the tournament, they awaited the Midnight Toast with great fear, just to realize after midnight that Irovetti was playing with them all the time, keeping them busy while his armies attacked.
  • Most of the army battles will be played in this book. Ultimate Battle by Legendary Games can be a nice addition. This kind of battles can be a little long and may not involve all the players. On the other hand, even if very complex, battles may be a little boring. When I added some PCs vs. NPCs tactical fights during the main battle to achieve goals and change the outcome of the battle I always had more involvement and fun.

6 - Sound of a Thousand Screams: A real hack and slash adventure. My players didn’t like this part and preferred to stop it instead of keep fighting when they have been defeated (even if not killed); this part contains most of my regrets for them to abandon the adventure and my considerations may not apply to you.

  • When my players understood their Kingdom was falling apart due to the First World invasion, they almost lost interest in their kingdom. I felt bad about it because I could not make them love the Stolen Lands and their inhabitants enough to defend them, nor hate Nyrissa enough to defeat her, even after kidnapping the Ranger’s son. Make them realize Nyrissa was behind almost everything bad happened to their Kingdom as soon as possible and that she already hurt them before.
  • At the beginning of the book I warned them I would have played seriously. In the past I held back some enemies if they were too strong, but then it was time to wear off the gloves and see who would have ruled the Stolen Lands. This was OK until they fought in the glades, but they suffered a lot when they had to fight more than one enemy. Kingmaker is famous for 1/day encounters and this may cause your party to think they are unbeatable, taking risky decisions and going nova as soon as they can. CR may be a little misleading, so keep this in mind and try to understand that the party may arrive at the House at the Edge of Time without a good action economy experience. They were astonished by the number of enemies in this place.
  • Remember them they are not in mission for themselves but for a greater cause. If this has no effect, remember them the people they left home and that may die if they lose. Should their kingdom fade, Nyrissa must not win or the consequences may be even worse than the loss of the Stolen Lands.

I don’t know if I wrote this for you or for me to read, the end of an Adventure Path is always emotional to me. I was sad they didn’t care to save the Stolen Lands at last; but maybe I am a little egoist, fun is the only important thing and if an adventure doesn’t provide enough entertainment it’s OK to stop it. I had a lot of help on this board when I started and I hope I can give back some of the matured experience with this post.


Great write up and tips, thanks for the advice!


Thanks for your thoughts. I may be writing one of these about this time next year, I think.


Awesome write up. Sorry to hear about the disappointments at the end, but it also sounds like you had a lot of fun along the way.


Any chance the map I linked in this post is what inspired you?


Thanks everybody for the appreciation. Sorry kadance, I don't think it was one of those posts, even if our maps look very similar. I remember the guy who posted it thanked his wife/gf for cutting the paper hexes one by one, if I recall correctly. Btw, awesome job, the hex improvements are a great idea.


Thanks for the write up. These kinds of write ups can be invaluable to those of us who plan to run this in the future. I am almost done with my current (non-KM) campaign which has been running over 5 years now. I plan to do a heavily modified KM for my next campaign and have been greedily stealing so much from everyone here.

I think your point about Nyrissa is spot on. In reading the books (admittedly without playing them) it does seem as though Nyrissa pretty much comes out of nowhere in the final book, which may explain why the party lost interest -- especially when combined with the fact that the nature of the campaign drastically shifts in that book too. Dropping hints about Nyrissa along the way seems like a very important element for making the conclusion really stand out.

Honestly, with all of the great advice I've stolen from these forums, my biggest fear with this campaign is going to be getting a group to commit to it.


My group had a blast up until the last book. It wasn't a matter of her not being well foreshadowed as the DM tried to compensate it's just that it went from (mostly) being a game pitting our up and coming kingdom against the politics and threats of the new area and how the world reacted to our handling of that to "here's nothing but combat and the definitely final dungeon" It became unsatisfying, we didn't like it, our DM didn't like it (as he preferred RP over combat if it seemed reasonable) and we decided to retcon the thrashing of Pitax as the close. If we ever do return, and we've been asking him to consider it, it'll likely be having to answer for the more unusual choices we made over the game and then dealing with the wrath of Surtova.


Caius wrote:
My group had a blast up until the last book. It wasn't a matter of her not being well foreshadowed as the DM tried to compensate it's just that it went from (mostly) being a game pitting our up and coming kingdom against the politics and threats of the new area and how the world reacted to our handling of that to "here's nothing but combat and the definitely final dungeon" It became unsatisfying, we didn't like it, our DM didn't like it (as he preferred RP over combat if it seemed reasonable) and we decided to retcon the thrashing of Pitax as the close. If we ever do return, and we've been asking him to consider it, it'll likely be having to answer for the more unusual choices we made over the game and then dealing with the wrath of Surtova.

I agree that the AP certainly does seem to shift gears pretty dramatically in the last book in that regard. Obviously a lot will depend on how invested the group gets with dealing with other nations but I can definitely see this as being pretty jarring. I think at the very least, there should be a bit of an Epilogue that involves the kingdom coming to terms with the surrounding area following the (presumptive) fall of Nyrissa. I suppose one of the cool things about this though is that it creates a ripe setting for a groups next campaign as they can see how their decisions impacted the future of the kingdom.

Unfortunately, I think the path somewhat short sells the potential for international politics in the campaign, preferring to focus almost exclusively on the internal threat (of sorts). To that end, Book 6 does make some sense as by that point, the Kingdom should really be the 5th PC (or 6th, etc.) of the party, and Book 6 presents the ultimate threat to that PC. I realize that a lot of the decisions made were no doubt based on space limitations, but it would still have been nice to see some more details on the international side of things.


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I feel that where Book 6 really fails is in turning the kingdom into a classic 'damsel in distress' that needs to be rescued, after the party has likely spent months or even years of real life time developing the kingdom. Book 6 plays out more or less the same whether you have a little 7-hex barony or have settled the entire Stolen Lands and started conquering the River Kingdoms. Everything still ends up hinging on the actions of the party, rather than incorporating the nation into the effort.

Why shouldn't men and women volunteer for the army and march on The Thousandbreaths to wage war against the evil fey? Book 6 should be all about every decision the party has made finally coming to fruition, whether it is making the people love them and having a loyal populace willing to follow them into Hell, or pardoning evil Gyronna worshipers who will now ally with Nyrissa to conduct foul rituals throughout the kingdom. It ought to matter whether the party spared Akiros Ismort and gave him a chance at redemption, how they treated the rescued survivors of Varnhold and how they honored his death, but instead none of that matters.


Pathfinder Pawns Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Good suggestions, Maynotcare. Can you expand on how you'd handle those aspects to make Book 6 better?


Maynotcare wrote:

I feel that where Book 6 really fails is in turning the kingdom into a classic 'damsel in distress' that needs to be rescued, after the party has likely spent months or even years of real life time developing the kingdom. Book 6 plays out more or less the same whether you have a little 7-hex barony or have settled the entire Stolen Lands and started conquering the River Kingdoms. Everything still ends up hinging on the actions of the party, rather than incorporating the nation into the effort.

Why shouldn't men and women volunteer for the army and march on The Thousandbreaths to wage war against the evil fey? Book 6 should be all about every decision the party has made finally coming to fruition, whether it is making the people love them and having a loyal populace willing to follow them into Hell, or pardoning evil Gyronna worshipers who will now ally with Nyrissa to conduct foul rituals throughout the kingdom. It ought to matter whether the party spared Akiros Ismort and gave him a chance at redemption, how they treated the rescued survivors of Varnhold and how they honored his death, but instead none of that matters.

Excellent idea! This could also really make all those international intrigue side stories really cool. Is Brevoy ticked off at the Kingdom? Well, they may not be all that interested in seeing the Stolen Lands taken by the evil fey, but they might use the party's distraction to launch a campaign to reclaim their "rightful" place as the rulers of the Stolen Lands (simultaneously helping to defeat Nyrissa while also undermining the party). Or, did the Kingdom help Rostov successfully defend themselves in the Civil War and now Rostov wants to return the favor? Same can be send for all the River Kingdoms too.

I guess the only real potential problem with this is that you may well end up with a second straight "book" of mass combat at the end of the campaign. But even there, I think there is still room to distinguish things. For instance, the party may still ultimately be tasked with taking out Nyrissa (after all, they are still the most powerful force in the Kingdom, and as a small party, can move around a lot more easily). However, the success, or failure, of the army in the mass combats might affect just what the party is going up against when they seek out Nyrissa. Or maybe, they are able to defeat Nyrissa, and get the fey to retreat as a result, but the army was still decimated by the fey forces, leaving the Kingdom extremely vulnerable. These are just some ideas of course, but I really like the idea of making nearly every decision hinge on the decisions the party makes throughout the campaign. Heck, even their treatment of some of the fey they encounter along the way could impact things in the end. If the party has shown a general desire to work with the fey, and not just put them to the sword, then maybe Nyrissa can't build as big an army, or they get an early warning, etc. By contrast, if they just mow through all fey, then Nyrissa might have an enormous army, etc., etc.


Maynotcare wrote:

I feel that where Book 6 really fails is in turning the kingdom into a classic 'damsel in distress' that needs to be rescued, after the party has likely spent months or even years of real life time developing the kingdom. Book 6 plays out more or less the same whether you have a little 7-hex barony or have settled the entire Stolen Lands and started conquering the River Kingdoms. Everything still ends up hinging on the actions of the party, rather than incorporating the nation into the effort.

Why shouldn't men and women volunteer for the army and march on The Thousandbreaths to wage war against the evil fey? Book 6 should be all about every decision the party has made finally coming to fruition, whether it is making the people love them and having a loyal populace willing to follow them into Hell, or pardoning evil Gyronna worshipers who will now ally with Nyrissa to conduct foul rituals throughout the kingdom. It ought to matter whether the party spared Akiros Ismort and gave him a chance at redemption, how they treated the rescued survivors of Varnhold and how they honored his death, but instead none of that matters.

This.

You've got me thinking (again) about making Book 5 the ending of the campaign. They've spent all this time and effort building up their power and kingdom, having it triumph in war would seem to be the payoff.

Now I wish I had reorganized things so that the "alien-fey invasion" happened in pieces, CR-adjusted, of course, over a long time as the PCs expanded and built the kingdom. My players have wanted to strike back at the Fey invaders ever since the Dancing Lady.

OTOH, most of my players lean towards the hack & slash, so winding it up with a faerie dungeon crawl won't be such a bad thing. And I won't have wasted time & money on my Jabberwock and Nyrissa minis.


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Tarondor wrote:
Good suggestions, Maynotcare. Can you expand on how you'd handle those aspects to make Book 6 better?

Well, most of my thoughts have been going into my rebuild of Kingmaker as a dragon-themed campaign rather than a fey-themed one, but some suggestions:

1. Thousandbreaths should be a Kingdom. While there should be individual encounters within the realm, there really ought to be a tactical reason/advantage to march troops into Nyrissa's realm, wage war against the evil fey found there, and fortify positions as ground is gained. This would likely draw out her more powerful allies, such as Ilthuliak, which the party would then have to deal with lest their armies be decimated, but would allow the kingdom to truly participate in the conquest of Nyrissa's realm.

2. Civil War in Brevoy. Personally, I would have this start in Book 5, with King Noleski taking advantage of the party being too distracted by Irovetti to lend aid to the Swordlords in Restov. That means that the players would need to make hard decisions about whether to aid their former patrons once the war with Irovetti is won, or fortify their own positions. Getting involved in a protracted civil war in Brevoy would weaken their own defenses and give Nyrissa a chance to spread more blooms throughout the Stolen Lands, but victory would mean grateful allies happy to assist.

3. Allies and enemies. The GM should keep a tab on all the named NPCs that are still alive by the start of Book 6... and use ALL of them. If the Stag Lord escaped justice at the end of Book 1, perhaps now he's a general of an additional army in service to Nyrissa. If instead of absorbing Varnhold after Book 3, they instead gave rule over to Pendrod and established deep diplomatic ties, then perhaps he'll donate a large shipment of cold iron weapons sufficient to give an army a bonus when attacking fey. There are really too many possibilities to run through all of them exhaustively, but remember that even the dead can come back to haunt the party, either literally as the undead, or via living relatives.


Maynotcare wrote:


2. Civil War in Brevoy. Personally, I would have this start in Book 5, with King Noleski taking advantage of the party being too distracted by Irovetti to lend aid to the Swordlords in Restov. That means that the players would need to make hard decisions about whether to aid their former patrons once the war with Irovetti is won, or fortify their own positions. Getting involved in a protracted civil war in Brevoy would weaken their own defenses and give Nyrissa a chance to spread more blooms throughout the Stolen Lands, but victory would mean grateful allies happy to assist.

I did something like this IMC. I'm not running on Golarion, FWIW. Instead of Irrovetti being the king of the neighboring country, she's been a behind-the-scenes rebel, hiding in the magically-shielded Thousandbreaths. Her appearance in Book 5 was a surprise invasion that passed through the Book 5 map and marched north of the PCs' kingdom, in order to assault the capitol. The players have just defeated the armies she left behind to keep them busy, and are sneaking into not-Pitax, the throne of their home kingdom.

Grigori (exiled by the PCs) and Maray did lots of groundwork for not-Irovetti, suborning several of the other noble houses to clear the way for the trolls, wyverns, and barbarians to sweep into the city.


Maynotcare wrote:

I feel that where Book 6 really fails is in turning the kingdom into a classic 'damsel in distress' that needs to be rescued, after the party has likely spent months or even years of real life time developing the kingdom. Book 6 plays out more or less the same whether you have a little 7-hex barony or have settled the entire Stolen Lands and started conquering the River Kingdoms. Everything still ends up hinging on the actions of the party, rather than incorporating the nation into the effort.

Why shouldn't men and women volunteer for the army and march on The Thousandbreaths to wage war against the evil fey? Book 6 should be all about every decision the party has made finally coming to fruition, whether it is making the people love them and having a loyal populace willing to follow them into Hell, or pardoning evil Gyronna worshipers who will now ally with Nyrissa to conduct foul rituals throughout the kingdom. It ought to matter whether the party spared Akiros Ismort and gave him a chance at redemption, how they treated the rescued survivors of Varnhold and how they honored his death, but instead none of that matters.

I had something like this in VV, and I thought it worked well. Something kind of fun about my players leading an army of centaurs, kobolds, Swordlords, and their own troops into battle against a horde of zombie cyclopes.

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