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Our group just completed the Jade Regent. This was our first Pathfinder adventure (after 30+ years of gaming together), and we had a great time. As the DM, I really appreciated the strong storyline from Paizo - I hate hack-n-slash dungeon crawls, and like for the players to have a chance to really develop characters. I kept a blog of our weekly sessions if anyone wants the blow-by-blow. I'll go through a quick summary of what we did with each book, but first some background.
We have a large group - 7 players. So I had to do a lot of modifications to keep the encounters challenging and to make sure everyone had enough XP to level up on schedule. I quickly found that just adding more bad guys made combat really drag out. I ended up making good use of the myriad of templates you can apply to buff monsters - it made the encounters harder but also added some additional flavor. As the party got higher level, I started adding Mythic ranks to the BBEGs - when it's 7 against 1, the economy of action can overwhelm you quickly, but throw in things like Dual Initiative, Sudden Strike, Block Attacks, etc., and it suddenly gets more interesting. In general, I think Mythic is way overpowered for players, but it's perfect for those end-of-level encounters.
We skipped caravan rules (broken) and relationship rules (too mechanical). I also dropped Shalelu from the story. This AP has a ton of NPCs as it is, and I didn't see that she added anything.
Since this was our first foray into Pathfinder, we started out with We Be Goblins to introduce everyone to the rules. It was perfect as the group approached the Licktoad village - everyone was worried about killing off their former goblin character. The Licktoad attack immediately devolved into a Blackhawk Down scenario, with multiple running street battles between the split-up party and the 2 dozen or so goblins hiding in the buildings. It was one of my fondest memories from the whole AP.
Heading from Sandpoint to Brinewall, we needed more XP. Rather than throw in random encounters, I added a side story based on Ameiko/Sandru's backstory. The party came to a town where the inn was on fire. After putting out the fire, the innkeeper asked the party to go after his daughter, who he claimed had been "kidnapped" by a local boy (neighbors said they'd probably run off together). Turns out the girl had been kidnapped by a necromancer allied with the cannibal clan that had killed Sandru's brother and Ameiko's teenaged love years ago, and the boy had chased after them to try to rescue her. They tracked them to their cavern, rescued the girl (it was too late for her boyfriend), and it was an emotional way for the party to get to know Ameiko and Sandru better.
Brinewall Castle was fun - well designed. Kikonu managed to steal our bard's voice then D-Door away, which made for some fun role playing. The highlight was when our monk tried to do a heroic leap off the cliff to try to grapple the flying Nidenzigo - and missed completely. This was the first of many "deaths" for our poor monk.
Night of Frozen Shadows
Ninjas and vikings - what more could you want? I really liked this module. The detective work part of the module kept the group engaged, and they were really guessing about who was really after them and why (they'd "claimed" the raiders' boat after the attack on the road and sailed it into Kalsgard expecting a reward - ha!). The battle at Asvig's farm was appropriately epic. At Ravenscraeg, our sorcerer (Chaotic Chaotic) ended up facing 5 Tengu ninja on the stairs by himself after the giant wasp paralyzed the figher (and the rest of the party was still arguing among themselves a mile away), but survived.
As DM, this was my least favorite module, although the group seemed to like it. As I said, I scrapped the caravan rules, and turned the caravan encounters into real encounters. I mapped the whole trip out ahead of time, deciding when and where they'd have "random" encounters. It took them a full 6 months of travel time to complete the crossing. As others have mentioned, they kept trying to figure out how Katiyana's plot was tied into the Five Storms - which it wasn't. That was a bit of a letdown. I staged an epic battle with a Zombie Horde at Deadman's Dome - I described it in detail in another post on that topic, so I won't repeat it here, but for the first time, the party really thought they had no chance of survival (which is just what you want when they're facing the zombie apocalypse!)
In the Necropolis, Koya died. I had her recognize the dead tree as having formerly been one of the holiest relics in the worship of Desna. She believed that it could be brought back to life if the three clerics of Desna (herself, Spivey, and our party cleric) joined together to channel positive energy around it (literally tree-hugging). When the spectres started emerging, they all focused on Koya, and she sacrificed herself to return the tree to life. Her death really resonated with the players and their characters, and even though the module as a whole was just 'meh' for me, this was one of the high points of the AP.
Forest of Spirits
As others have done, I inserted the Ruby Phoenix Tournament here. I had the Prince kidnap Ameiko and Sandru, and coerce the party into competing in the tournament as Hongal's representatives to win their release. To add pressure to the party, Suishen informed them that the Ruby Phoenix had held an artifact in her vault that would allow Ameiko to control an army of terra cotta warriors when she reached Minkai - but the Prince was insisting that when (not if) the party won, they turn over their prize to him. So they not only had to win the tournament, they had to figure out how to trick the Prince into accepting something other than the prize they claimed from the vault. Our bard and wizard teamed up to con the Prince admirably (they made him think they were giving him a Ring of Resurrection that had kept the Ruby Phoenix alive so long), and the party skipped town before he learned their ruse.
With the XP from the tournament under their belts, I had them skip the upper levels of the House of Withered Blossoms altogether. I can't tell you how sick I was of hobgoblins by the time they finished the lower levels. As everyone else has said, that part of the module is a real slog (I just went back and counted - 15 sessions to get through it!), and it would definitely benefit from a greater variety of enemies. And Munusakaru, despite Mythic ranks, was anti-climatic.
Tide of Honor
Minaki at last! Now things start to roll again. The party enjoyed working the various factions, and as DM I liked the sandbox effect of letting them off the rails to make their own decisions. I gave Kaibuninsho some Mythic Tricskter ranks, and he truly terrified the party. His hit and run attacks had them jumping at every shadow before they finally took him out. They sold his coin to one of the ninja clans for their support, and conned another that they still had the coin, but that its disposition was a decision best made by an empress, not a princess. The Shadow Maze nearly took out several of the party (they were down quite a bit from their encounter with the Dragon Turtles when they started into it) before they figured out the (very) inscrutable clues from O-Sayumi's inro.
The Empty Throne
The module describes having to sneak past the "gates" of Kasai, but the map of Kasai shows no city wall and a wide-open waterfront, so I just had them smuggled into town on a ship, but then they had a free-for-all with the Typhoon Guards inspecting incoming ships. They rescued Hatsue handily, but left Ameiko safely hidden away. The granary proved to be a story problem (see the separate thread about how to steal the MANY tons of rice required to feed a city the size of Kasai) but they solved it by diverting incoming wagons of rice from the countryside to a rebel warehouse after they were already inside the city.
In the Well of Demons, I gave Maemi a different request for the party. Our infernal-bloodline sorcerer's backstory was that he was a minor Chelish noble whose father was secretly a devil (identity unknown). Maemi was in telepathic contact with the sorcerer from the moment he entered the Well, telling him to play along with her plan. Her offer was that she would gladly give Ameiko her blessing - as long as Ameiko would agree to marry the sorcerer! (The devil's plan was to put his offspring on the throne of Minkai, and also be in line for the throne of Cheliax). Ameiko actually reluctantly agreed (I had the whole party roll bluff, diplomacy, or intimidate against the sorcerer's sky-high charisma diplomacy to convince Ameiko one way or the other), but our cleric took exception and launched a pre-emptive strike on Maemi before she could sign the marriage contract. The sorcerer actually sided with Maemi and fought against the party briefly - he later claimed she'd Dominated him, and the others bought it.
At the Palace, the party used D-Door and Gaseous Form to enter the castle towers through the arrow slits, thus bypassing the gauntlet of fights leading up to the gate. (Good thing, too - I don't know if they'd have survived if the spellcasters had depleted their reserves before ever getting inside.) For the final confrontation, I'd given Anamurumon 5 ranks of Mythic Champion, and bumped the others up to max HP. During the fight downstairs in the Kabuki stage, our sorcerer had Dominated one of the Typhoon Guards. Since he was a kuwa oni, the sorcerer had him shapechange to look like Ameiko, and gave Ameiko a Potion of Disguise to look like a Typhoon Guard. The decoy Ameiko came in very handy in the throne room battle. The Jade Regent and his inner circle had heard the noisy battle downstairs, and were waiting for the party. Our cleric strolled in front of the open doorway and immediately was sucked into Renshii Meida's kimono Maze. The Raven Prince was lurking in the hallway with Greater Invisibility, and backstabbed the faux Ameiko. "She" ran away into the throne room, where Anamurumon made her the focus of his Chain Lightning, and then the Jade Regent used a flourish from his blade to finally drop "her". With no healer to help them, the party was hurting as Anamurumon and the Jade Regent started dealing big damage. Luckily our bard had cast Song of Discord and Renshii failed her save, so instead of casting battlefield control or healing spells, she was casting against the fighter battling the Jade Regent. Our sorcerer dropped her, and the cleric reappeared. Our rogue had min/maxed into an obscenely overpowered archer, and had the Daikyu of Commanding Presence, so she was able to dish out huge damage against Anamurumon. She dropped him and the fighter beheaded the Jade Regent (double 20 roll with Suishen) in the same round, and the Raven Prince decided they weren't paying him enough and vanished. Ameiko ascended the Throne, and the future of Minkai was assured.