Shackled City: Your opinions


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


Dear all,

at the moment we are playing the "Shackled City" campaign which is a D&D campaign in origin.
While Shackled City is not a Paizo-product i would very much like to hear your opinions about this campaign. I will start in expressing my opinion / impressions and i'm eager to hear about your experiences and feelings with this campaign.

We are playing it for quite some time now (Level 9) and i'm extremly underwhelmed.

My major complains are as follows:

1. There is no discernable plot:

You are always out of the loop. There are plotpoints to which you have no access, you can't follow up on a lot of things because it is not envisaged and you are not high-level enough (and will come up later). You have to wait until level 9 or 10 to get a hint(!) of what might be going on and you are still just a background actor with strings attached.

2. Overbearing dungeon crawl:

As there is no discernable plot, or at least no plot that is open to the players to experience or follow up, half of the campaign you are just roaming through more or less (mostly less) interesting dungeons from one room to another, killing monsters which seem to have no connection to the plot whatsoever. The loot is uninteresting and consist mostly of standard valuables. No fun magic items, just useless stuff to sell.

My constant feeling is, that powers beyond my understanding are controlling our every move and for the city we are just some mercenaries
without any grasp off plot, story or any knowledge about whats going on.

This has been one of my most joyless and frustrating experiences in a campaign until now, which says quite a lot, considering that i've been playing for almost 20 years now.

So, what is your opinion about this campaign?

EDIT: I like to add a link to a review i found which also raises most of my points but with improved eloquence ;)

http://nicolaigrunnet.blogspot.de/2011/08/d-shackled-city-review.html


I like to add a few things:

3. The campaign is extremely railroady:

You can't really do your own stuff. Yes there are off-times but you can't change anything in the city. You can't buy a house, property is at a premium, so you are always feel like a stranger in Couldron and you never actually "connect" with the city in any way.
As i said in 1. you can't really follow up on most of the things. You can try, but the AP will block your attempts at avery step because you either have no clue left on which to continue while all the others you followed up fizzled out without any result.

Also what the PCs do has little to no effect on what comes next. You are in essence just a background actor just in for the money ride.

This is one of the main complaints i have about several andventures in systems like Midgard or the black eye as well. There are so many powerful people doing the really important stuff, while the players are more or less background actors.

It should be about the PCs, they should be the ones making the difference. I don't play RPG to be on the sideline.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Question: Are you the GM or are you a player?


2 people marked this as a favorite.

It has plot holes you can float the Titanic through, BUT I still enjoyed many elements of it.

I still remember having a Chevy Chase style rant at one NPC over plot. The NPC was around 9th level, travelling the wilderness, with a sending prepared. After we finally rescue his sorry hide, my warmage goes off on him.

You mean to tell me you are a divine servant of [somebody] and you had a sending prepared? You could have prevented ALL of this with a plain old flamestrike. Hell, even a mass inflict light wounds would have given you a fighting chance. You either would have won, or died and we could still be in town. But instead you hide in a closet casting sending FOR TEN MINUTES. Who travels with a gods damned sending?? Seriously! Are you sure Wisdom is your primary stat? You, sir, are either an idiot, or your god wants you dead. Either way, here's a dagger with one bullet in it if you know what I mean.

Sovereign Court

honestly, every preprinted campaign will be railroady, it's just the nature of the beast. It is the job of the GM to obscure the tracks. Even Kingmaker, the "sandbox" AP, still had railroad aspects (i.e. the overarching plotline of the AP).

That said, not sure why your GM is not letting you buy a house in town, if that is the way you want to run. And PC actions should definitely have an impact, probably not on the greater plotline (as the PCs are most likely not interacting on that level until mid/upper levels), but should have an impact on Cauldron and the smaller stories going on there. It is possible there could be adjustments to the greater storyline from the actions on the PCs in the smaller storylines. The extent of the PC impact really depends on the GM and how they run the campaign. This is, of course, a rule for any campaign that a GM runs.

I am currently running the campaign (updating most elements to PF) for some friends and while it is early on so far, it is going well. I do plan on introducing some sidetrek items to tie into the PCs' backstories, which should help invest the PCs more into the story of Cauldron.

As to the bigger picture, there is an overarching plot, and the PCs should be receiving hints as they go along. If you have not been receiving hints as the story has progressed, that may be an issue with the way the GM is running the game, or you are overlooking the hints.

While there are some plot holes in the campaign (as there are within any campaign), as long as the GM prepares in advance these holes can be patched .


@Haladir

Player. I suppose if you are DM and you can see the plot and all the stuff that is going in in Couldron you lack the feeling of being lost between the cogs of intrigue.

@zylpgryx

We have been receiving hints as the story goes on, but as i said these clues are getting us nowhere. We don't have a loremaster (Wizard/bard) so we have to rely on the library and NPCs for information, but nothing we have uncovered forms any usable clue.
Yes we are level 9 and we are beginning to get some clues what is going on, but at the moment the city treats us like unimportant mercenaries and the people we though were allies now turn on us as soon as we start to disagree with some of their positions.

I just don't feel any connection to the city and the other players feel the same.
Buying a house is possible but not "encouraged". The GM said the prices for real estate are so high, we have to spend at least 20k gold for a small house barely enough for one small family. Our ideas about buying a Lyre of Building and building our estate a couple hundred meters outside of the city or in Kingfisher Hollow was deemed either too dangerous due to jungle wildlife or she complained that we won't catch all the stuff that is going on in the city. There were times in which i thougt: "Even if so, who gives a s$+$".

But i thank you for your insights. That kinda points more in the direction that this type of campaign is no my thing and in addition that the DM is not making is easy either.

I just retired my old rogue-character and i was planning on bringing in a new character (Exploiter Wizard) but my level of anticipation to play again is nearly zero, so i will most likely step down and DM Kingmaker every second session we play.

But coming back to railroady:
I think that is okay, plot-wise if you have enough other things to do. A good example to integrate the players more into the world and give them a hint of home is Rise of the Runelords. The authors did a good job integrating the party into the small town of Sandpoint. The tavern and all.

That is sorely missing in ShC. I know that their is a way to get a city estate but we have no clue how this is possible with the low level of real allies in the city.


2 people marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Actually, Shackled City was Paizo's first adventure path (originally appearing in Dungeon magazine from 2003 to 2004, which Paizo published at the time under license from Wizards of the Coast).

To answer some of your concerns:

1) There is a plot, but a lot of it is going on "behind the scenes." Part of the adventure path is about uncovering what is really going on.

2) As the adventure path installments spanned the D&D 3.0 to 3.5 transition, there was a lot of emphasis on dungeons (many of which are very large and require days' or possibly even weeks' worth of exploration). Also, as the first adventure path, pacing and transitions were not always as well thought out as they could/should be.

It's really up to the GM to breathe life into Cauldron and its inhabitants. They should have at least a couple people they consider friends and allies, as well as some rivals and those that see the PCs as tools. One of the tacit assumptions is that the GM shouldn't go out of the way to screw the party over all of the time.


I agree that (1) the first bunch of adventures are pretty loosely connected and (2) there are way too many dungeon crawls for my taste.

Age of Worms and Savage Tide are definitely improvements, in my opinion (although Age of Worms still has issues with some of the adventures being only loosely connected). Shackled City is nice in the sense that most of it takes place in the same area, though.


Dragonchess Player wrote:


2) As the adventure path installments spanned the D&D 3.0 to 3.5 transition, there was a lot of emphasis on dungeons (many of which are very large and require days' or possibly even weeks' worth of exploration). Also, as the first adventure path, pacing and transitions were not always as well thought out as they could/should be.

I don't think it has much to do with 3.0 vs. 3.5; it's more related to the desire to make each installment try to work as a stand-alone adventure (with its own dungeon portion of the adventure).

As you note, it was the first adventure path (although not the first multi-part adventure) in Dungeon so they were concerned about customers complaining about adventures that required too much knowledge of previous installments. By the time they published Savage Tide, they realised that wasn't a big concern.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I always thought that Shackled City would be much improved by just casting the PCs as town guard. The overarching plot becomes "protect Cauldron", and the fact that a lot of the early threats seem unrelated is less of an issue - it might even work when the players figure out that the random stuff they've been doing for the past few months is far more insidious than they had thought.


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber
hogarth wrote:
Dragonchess Player wrote:


2) As the adventure path installments spanned the D&D 3.0 to 3.5 transition, there was a lot of emphasis on dungeons (many of which are very large and require days' or possibly even weeks' worth of exploration). Also, as the first adventure path, pacing and transitions were not always as well thought out as they could/should be.
I don't think it has much to do with 3.0 vs. 3.5; it's more related to the desire to make each installment try to work as a stand-alone adventure (with its own dungeon portion of the adventure).

It's more that 3.0 was marketed as emphasizing a "back to the dungeon" play-style and adventures were dungeon-heavy at the time. After 3.5 was released, a trend started with using smaller dungeons and including other "outside the dungeon" encounters to get the same number of challenges for experience award purposes.

Sovereign Court

Ah, so it strikes me that the lack of connection to Cauldron y'all are feeling really is more the result of GM style. It does take effort on the GMs part to ensure there are points of connection, beginning as early as PC creation.

Creating additional material can also work for immersing the player's into the city. For example, I put together the following items prior to our first game (the Gazetteer was inspired by some of the other similar works put out by other folks on theRPGGenius site for the AP).

Player's Guide
Gazetteer 1

I do plan to continue the Gazetteers as a regular element, partly to show the impact the PCs have, partly to help build up the rivalry with the Stormblades, and partly to introduce various elements of the city (via the "ads" on the sidebar).

I also expect the Gazetteers to aid in dropping occasional clues / red herrings (though we do have a sort of unofficial house rule that if the PCs are going off on a red herring in a major way, the GM usually works an actual red herring (or scarlet fish or similar imagery) into the plot, so the players are aware it is off the rails. Sometimes we have continued on the false trail simply for the fun of it, but mostly we end up backtracking to see what we missed.


I have some very fond memories of running Shackled City... then again, my group was very much on the same page for this stuff - they basically played a group of busybody Pholtan missionaries, on a mission to protect Cauldron and convert it away from that misguided faith of St. Cuthbert - but they were painfully nice about it all. But I did spend a lot of time linking things together and filling in the gaps - it helped that the PCs had goals of 'set up church, build connections with locals' in between the adventures.


I ran this start to finish switching to the hardback when it was released about 1/2 way through. To say it was fantastic for my group would be an understatement. They loved every minute of it and so did I. That said it has a very different feel to it than the AP's released now and those reasons are well defined by others in this post.

The biggest baddest reason to love this AP however is it's Grayhawk Baby! As much as I enjoy Golorion, GH will always be my first love and I miss everything Paizo did to bring her alive. So many stories left untold!


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

To the OP: I think you and the other players need to have an out-of-game chat with your GM and raise the concerns you raised here. It sounds like your GM isn't running the kind of game that you all want to play. As other posters have said, the city adventuring part of this AP is more up to the GM to write/improvise. It might also be better for everyone if the GM made the plot more obvious to the players: "Railroad"-style play isn't bad if the players willingly buy tickets!


zylphryx wrote:

honestly, every preprinted campaign will be railroady, it's just the nature of the beast. It is the job of the GM to obscure the tracks. Even Kingmaker, the "sandbox" AP, still had railroad aspects (i.e. the overarching plotline of the AP).

That said, not sure why your GM is not letting you buy a house in town, if that is the way you want to run. And PC actions should definitely have an impact, probably not on the greater plotline (as the PCs are most likely not interacting on that level until mid/upper levels), but should have an impact on Cauldron and the smaller stories going on there. It is possible there could be adjustments to the greater storyline from the actions on the PCs in the smaller storylines. The extent of the PC impact really depends on the GM and how they run the campaign. This is, of course, a rule for any campaign that a GM runs.

I am currently running the campaign (updating most elements to PF) for some friends and while it is early on so far, it is going well. I do plan on introducing some sidetrek items to tie into the PCs' backstories, which should help invest the PCs more into the story of Cauldron.

As to the bigger picture, there is an overarching plot, and the PCs should be receiving hints as they go along. If you have not been receiving hints as the story has progressed, that may be an issue with the way the GM is running the game, or you are overlooking the hints.

While there are some plot holes in the campaign (as there are within any campaign), as long as the GM prepares in advance these holes can be patched .

My players in King Maker chose to ignore the plot line mostly and stumbled back on it from time to time. I just ran the plot in background. Every so often they player would stamp out fire. They never even finished the AP. They quite enjoyed the game though.

Dark Archive

Dragonchess Player wrote:

Actually, Shackled City was Paizo's first adventure path (originally appearing in Dungeon magazine from 2003 to 2004, which Paizo published at the time under license from Wizards of the Coast).

To answer some of your concerns:

1) There is a plot, but a lot of it is going on "behind the scenes." Part of the adventure path is about uncovering what is really going on.

2) As the adventure path installments spanned the D&D 3.0 to 3.5 transition, there was a lot of emphasis on dungeons (many of which are very large and require days' or possibly even weeks' worth of exploration). Also, as the first adventure path, pacing and transitions were not always as well thought out as they could/should be.

It's really up to the GM to breathe life into Cauldron and its inhabitants. They should have at least a couple people they consider friends and allies, as well as some rivals and those that see the PCs as tools. One of the tacit assumptions is that the GM shouldn't go out of the way to screw the party over all of the time.

All of this. I actually ran most of Shackled City for my group back in the day. I do agree there was a heavy emphasis on "crawling" that got tiresome.

Shackled City definitely has its flaws, being the protoform to what we now know as Adventure Path. There was also no guarantee they'd get to run all of it at all, meaning each piece needed to have the potential to function as a standalone like many of the adventures in Dungeon. (Sidebar: If you can get your hands on some of these old issues by Paizo and are OK converting to Pathfinder, there are a lot of wonderful one shot adventures. It's also not hard to use them to fill gaps in your own campaign; I adapted at least 3-4 over the years for home games).

But as many have stated, the story IS there and there are actually plenty of NPCs who can help convey it...if the GMs fleshes things out and the PCs engage. Otherwise, if folks are just looking to grind through chasing the bad guys, it will be fairly boring.


Okay, then i imagine it is a combination of "flawed" GM work, the disconnect between the adventures, and the lack of real allies in the city.

The reality is, that we were really friendly and helpful to a lot of the NPCs (even the Storm Blades!). But as the AP progressed, most of them were insulted and pissed of by the slightest mistakes (which we weren't even realizing were mistakes) we made. So we are now without real support and we are close to switching sides to Marvu. I suppose that is due to the "hard-assness" of the NPCs played by the GM. I have never experienced NPCs as touchy as these before or since.

I was really taken aback during the last crisis, where the Academy was totally uninterested in helping the city out with the riots over the taxe increases and the St.Cuthbert high priestress was on the side of law and order unwilling to even provide medical care for the wounded as this escalated.

In short: I don't like the nobles, i don't like where the cities policies are going and i don't like the touchyness or lack of interest of most of the involved parties. They don't give a s!~*, why should we?

To be honest i would like to have the "talk" with the GM you suggested, but i'm not sure how to phrase the issues we have.

But i will think about it, before i lose interest in this camapign completely.


I think you might also have to look farther back in that the Ruins of Undermountain which came out in the late 80's (IIRC) was very popular. By which I mean if it was popular just 10 years ago it just might be long enough to be popular again today. (Think of film plots that often are very cyclical in nature and the more popular ones be re-created again and again.)
But having said that you do have to recognize the change in your patrons and adapt accordingly also.
But note I have also not seen the product in any way that I can remember.
MDC


It sounds like the GM is making the NPCs particularly difficult to work with, for some reason. However:

Spoilers for Shackled city. You have been warned:
There's a lot of corruption in Cauldron's government. There's even a time late in the adventure path that there's an ideal moment for a PC or friendly NPC to become mayor. It's possible the GM is trying to make you hate "the establishment" to set things up for your group to be the linchpin for revolution.

This doesn't mean, however, that all NPCs should be jerks. If the players don't care about Cauldron, the whole adventure kind of falls apart.

Non-spoiler version: It's possible the GM is trying to set things up for later. However, even if that's the case, there should still be some friendly NPCs, as your party should care about Cauldron.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Hi Brakiri

My only and main advice is to speak as a group with your DM. You, the DM and the group are the only people which can do or advice anything in this situation. Just talk it out and if neccessary just stop the campaign and start something new. All other people here are just onlookers with just one view of the problem (your text).

Now the not important part of the post:

It is known that the campaign has some heavy dungeon crawl at the beginning and so there where some other social events like the full played demonscar ball or the flood festival to lighten things up. Also the Gazeteer is used as newspaper to give hints on the running events and of the tasks of the group.

Also there are allies like Shensen, Sky, Rufus, Skellerang, Vhalantru, Jenya, Mavuu just to name a few. You just have to consider, that these all are people with a history, perhabs an agenda and their own alignement.

You complain that Jenya refused to help tax roiters and was on the side of the law? She is, like you said the highpriest of the good of law and the highest judge of the city. She is RN and a well known persona of the city. Which side would you exspect her to take? Law and Order or tax roiters and anarchy?

Or Shensen. She is a highly troubled beeing since here heritage and you discoveres already a little part of her story. Do you you realy think the "get over it" you gave her or a hug after the rest will solve this? She has serious scars and its not so easy to fix this.

This are just some examples. But i think, the main problem with the NSCs you have is the exspectation, that they are there for you to serve you. This is not the case. They all have their own story, background and agenda and some will help you if it fits. But not because you think the AP was written that way.

And concerning your successes:
- you rescued the orphans
- discovered a strange ring of smugglers
- prevented the destruction of the city (flood) and were given a medal and honer by the lord mayor as well as a gift in money by Vhalantrue
- rescued a lot of people from raging earth colosses and fire elementals in the city
- rescued mavuu from what seemed an assasination.
- your group is a well-known and liked group of adventurers for the people
- ... and more ...

If this AP continues i would also suggest to not ignore the whole part of the story that was explicitly changed to fit your custom race and background of your character and was prepared in-time over the last three adventures (since the bathhouse). And perhabs just invest a little more in people, events backgrounds and so on and think why people behave a specific way. Think of them as people and not quest-givers with an explanation mark on their head. Also be aware that a lot of thinks happen in the background and some people are working against you. Its one important and fun part of the AP to discover who are the good and who are the bad. And one last advice: reading in the adventure wiki/log of other parties spoils a lot of this fun.

Like you could guess, I am the bad DM.

Regards Jinx

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

FWIW, I really like the Shackled City, but it's truly an AP from another time. From a time when it was expected that the GM would do all the fleshing out and no one thought that just because a published adventure started at the entry of the dungeon, the actual game would start there as well.

As an aside, I remember a comment about the Age of Worms AP that got some criticism for exactly this scenario (starting at the dungeon's entrance). I think it was Erik Mona commenting on that they were kinda surprised by this feedback, because they were actually expecting the GMs and players to use the Diamond lake Gazetteer and other help material to use for starting the game. It was mentioned that Erik's game went over several sessions before even coming to said dungeon's entrance. So they had a totally different approach to use those adventures.

Back to SC. I wouldn't call it a barebone AP because in fact the GM gets a lot of background information he can make use of. But yeah it's still a lot of work to do to flesh it out because the designers at that time didn't assume that GMs would want to run an adventure as is without making it their own before.

minor pet peeve of mine:

Quote:
It should be about the PCs, they should be the ones making the difference. I don't play RPG to be on the sideline.

It is about the PCs, it is about making the difference. It's just a question of scale, and just that there are movers and shakers beyond your power (for now) doesn't mean that you're on the sideline.

Just ask the children from the orphanage or those other people you saved, if you don't believe me.


Shackled City does include one of my personal all-time favorite adventures from Dungeon Magazine: Test of the Smoking Eye. That one is nuts, in a good way. Without spoilers... (1) it takes you to a place you wouldn't normally visit at this point in your career; (2) it makes that place really atmospheric and interesting; and (3) it can take the campaign in a really interesting direction (albeit one that may require a bit of work on the part of the DM and/or players).

Doug M.

Community / Forums / Pathfinder / Pathfinder Adventure Path / General Discussion / Shackled City: Your opinions All Messageboards

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