Adjusting Kingmaker Pacing?


Kingmaker


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Greetings Kings and Kingmakers (it should come as a warning that there's a lot of Kingmaker spoilers to come!) As a veteran of GMing Kingmaker books 1-2 with three different groups, I'm about to start a fourth foray into Book 1 GMing for a new group. This time I'm considering making some tweaks to the pacing, particularly where it comes to the initial Bandit hunt. I was wondering if anyone has tried anything similar or had feedback to share.

The two main goals I'd like to achieve are
1. Slowing down the rush towards the Stag Lord's Keep and
2. Encouraging the players return to Oleg's Trading Post on a more frequent basis.

Previously each group I've ran for has almost entirely fixated on the bandit threat, often at the expense of other exploration and taking an almost identical path towards the Stag Lord's Keep. It makes sense: as written the bandits are the most active threat the party faces and have an actual timeline of events. It also is highly beneficial to the party that they attack the Thorn River camp before it is alerted (after the attack on Oleg's) and attack the Stag Lord before he realizes the Thorn River camp has been compromised. The downside to this has been that the parties have been underleveled when they encounter the Stag Lord, overleveled when they encounter several other locations (the Mites in particular), and generally miss the peripheral encounters. In two games the party didn't even meet Bokken in Book 1 because they didn't explore that hex (immediately adjacent to the Trading Post.)

At the same time, there were very few return trips to Oleg's Trading Post, typically after major milestones (primarily after completing the Camp, Keep and Kobolds.) I'd planned on slowly introducing the various subquests slowly when they returned, but I ended up including about 4 each time.

One thought I've had is not running the initial bandit encounter at Oleg's. The party doesn't really *need* a reason to think the Bandits are the biggest threat, and the Thorn River Camp is close enough that they'll run into it fairly soon. Maybe introduce the Bandit Threat that they have have been extorting Oleg, but they have a week and a half before they're due to return in a week or two. Has anyone else tried other alterations of this nature?


To the first, break up the Bandit Groups so they have less contact. The Stag Lord is a mysterious shadowy figure who comes to them, with each group operating in cells. They know he's within the Greenbelt, but not where.

Happs operates his own cell for the initial attack on Oleg's. He's under Kressel's command, but doesn't know where the Thorn River camp is. Because the cells communicate only monthly or so by dead drop letters under certain trees, it's a common occurrence for contact to be missed, so there's no time pressure to clean time out before Kressel realises Happs is gone. Make the Stag Lord a passive threat instead of an active one.

Encouraging the players to return to Oleg's is much harder. One method is to heavily track encumbrance and rations, and encourage the players to return for food. If you include the horse food as well, they can't get that far without needing to return.

Alternatively, have Oleg's having a messenger post, where a messenger randomly checks in every couple of days to take the latest mail to Brevoy. The party need to continually check in with Lord Snootypants, an officious bureaucrat who controls the expeditions legitimacy. Miss two contacts, and he sends another party of rival adventurers, assuming that the PCs are dead rather than too busy to keep in contact with those sponsoring their expedition. Ensure they need to turn over very regular maps and communication to Brevoy in exchange for the initial sponsorship of horses and the charter, then the later BP support - a rule put in place after the last group refused to do so, explored 25 out of 30 hexes, and then went missing leaving no information behind, so Brevoy gained nothing from their initial stake.


I am running my second group through Book 1 now - It's fun isn't it?

With my first group, I left them very much to their own devices. However, I made sure that both the Raid on Oleg's and the Attack on the Bandit Camp were tough fights and upped the bandits to a point where it they barely succeeded and a few bandits escaped. :) Then I had the captured bandits big up the Stag Lord's fort. The party decided that they weren't strong enough to take it on yet - and insisted on getting a few more levels before they went to visit. Even then, their first attempt didn't go that well - It is hard to make stealth rolls when you are fighting stuff :)

I am taking a different approach with my second group. The game is played online at RPoL and there is always players drop out in that sort format. For this group, they are working for an NPC aristocrat who is assigning tasks - ironically, I am sending them to the Stag Lord quite early as i want to get into the kingdom building phase earlier than recommended :)


As I recall, the module is set up so that players can follow side quests to get to the mites and kobolds. IIRC (don't have the module in front of me) it goes Svetlana's missing ring -> taken by bandits -> clues it went to the mites -> get the statue of Snaggletooth -> go to the kobolds. You could sort of point things at the kobolds and mites.

I do have another idea on tap, though. Try this variation on Staggy, ratcheting up the creepiness factor to taste. I tried to run this scenario for a PbP, but I ended up aborting the game due to time constraints. You can still do the bandit attack, but as players get further into the bandit plotline, they discover there's something not quite right about ol' Staggy and some of his senior lieutenants ...


So far my group hasn't been a problem in this area (though we are only 3 sessions in so far). I was somewhat helped out by a couple of "fortunate" random encounter rolls. The first one rolled a troll encounter. I allowed the party to observe the trolls on the move but from a safe enough distance that the trolls didn't notice them. The party did; however, note that the trolls were heading south. Later the party encountered a shambling mound which didn't go nearly as well. The upshot though is that the party has figured out that the Stolen Lands are a very dangerous place and that while Ole Staggy may be the biggest human threat, he's far from the only notable threat in the area. As such, they are taking their time in exploring the northern sections of the Greenbelt for now.

Unfortunately I did biff the ring quest a bit and forgot to lay the hook prior to the party heading off the to Thorn River camp. As such, they haven't gotten the clue that the ring was taken by the mites (they are assuming that Staggy has it right now).


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The Ring really is kind of a weak thread connecting the Thorn River Camp to the Kobolds to the Mites; unless they approach it from the correct angle and ask the right questions there really isn't a huge impetus to go treking East as opposed to towards continuing towards the Keep. This actually came up once in a game, but the party decided that stopping the Bandits was more important than recovering a single ring.

I suppose upping the difficulty to the point that the party realizes they'll need to level up a bit to take out the Stag Lord is one way of going about it, though.

As for returning to the keep / tracking encumbrance, I've experimented with a couple provisions systems to try to cut down on the tedium while imposing some limit. The downside is with horses it isn't hard to carry enough supplies to last a long time, and there isn't a lot of especially heavy, valuable loot. Encumbrance was one of the first things I thought about, however, when I was considering sandbox games and what causes me to go back to town. It's almost allways when my character can barely move and I can't make myself throw away anything more.


*evil Grin* do they all have good riding skills, trained in mounted combat and ride war horses ?

As a GM I have great fun watching them roll all those ride skills and spend all that time gathering up the pack mounts and untrained horses afterwards.

1) Oh, and look, that pack of wolves is chasing your pack mule that is loaded with food and your spare clothes. Oh! the mule jumped in the river to get away from the wolves and is swimming down stream.

2) That troll is eating your horse!

3) Snowstorm!


JohnB wrote:


3) Snowstorm!

Now that I think about it the Forces of Narrative almost demand a snowstorm or rainstorm when the players attack Thorn River. I think there's a possible comedy effect on both sides, with the PCs and the bandits all completely miserable and trying to fight in the rain/snow.


pennywit wrote:
JohnB wrote:


3) Snowstorm!

Now that I think about it the Forces of Narrative almost demand a snowstorm or rainstorm when the players attack Thorn River. I think there's a possible comedy effect on both sides, with the PCs and the bandits all completely miserable and trying to fight in the rain/snow.

Aye, there's an awesome random weather generator on here that somebody worked up as an excel doc. For my game it dumped nearly five feet of snow on the party immediately after the fight at Thorn River.

One other thing with regard to going back to Oleg's. Obviously food and regular supplies are a good reason to head back there, but so is just general adventurer gear like weapons and such. In the northern portions in particular there are not a lot of great gear drops and Oleg can become a decent source for gear to buy/sell. If need be you can even up his gp limit some if your party is having trouble selling everything. My party has already put in several requests for various items and/or types of items.

I may just be lucky though because my group is actually pretty good about the RP aspects of it and while we don't count out every single pound of gear, etc. they do generally make it a point to stock up once in a while and to head back to the base of operations. If anything, the party was finding themselves heading back to Oleg's too much because they knew that it was relatively safe there and that they could get some supplies and/or help from the likes of Jhod.


Gargs454 wrote:
pennywit wrote:
JohnB wrote:


3) Snowstorm!

Now that I think about it the Forces of Narrative almost demand a snowstorm or rainstorm when the players attack Thorn River. I think there's a possible comedy effect on both sides, with the PCs and the bandits all completely miserable and trying to fight in the rain/snow.
Aye, there's an awesome random weather generator on here that somebody worked up as an excel doc. For my game it dumped nearly five feet of snow on the party immediately after the fight at Thorn River.

Random generators are fine, but I think GM fiat is good at times, too ...


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I've previously done pre-determined / scheduled weather, but the ~2 month that the first book can take when speed run didn't lend to too severe of weather ;) Book 2 I definitely threw in snow when they wanted to adventure through Winter though.


pennywit wrote:
Gargs454 wrote:
pennywit wrote:
JohnB wrote:


3) Snowstorm!

Now that I think about it the Forces of Narrative almost demand a snowstorm or rainstorm when the players attack Thorn River. I think there's a possible comedy effect on both sides, with the PCs and the bandits all completely miserable and trying to fight in the rain/snow.
Aye, there's an awesome random weather generator on here that somebody worked up as an excel doc. For my game it dumped nearly five feet of snow on the party immediately after the fight at Thorn River.

Random generators are fine, but I think GM fiat is good at times, too ...

Oh I agree. The random generator just worked out well enough for me. :)

I certainly think that trying to play up just how dangerous the Stolen Lands are is a good idea. The combination of weather, geography (not so much in the first book, but hey, if it warms up some of your fighter types might have trouble crossing rivers), and just the brutal nature of some of the monstrous denizens of the Stolen Lands should be enough to encourage caution by your party. More to the point, the Stolen Lands are a region ripe with resources and surrounded by "kingdoms" yet has remained uncivilized for a very long time. There's a reason for this of course. :)


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I'm running a Kingmaker game of my own at the moment, and much like yourself my players are interested in dealing with the bandit threat and attacking the Stag Lord. To combat this, I propose a very simple solution, and that is to make the bandit threat larger and more invasive in the Stolen Lands. When the party raids the Thorn River camp, they find a "rough map" of the area the bandits have drawn up--enough to have basic geography but not to serve as a real map of the area--with spots marked on it. They can find a letter to Kressle from one of the Stag Lord's lieutenants (I used Dovan, but it doesn't really matter), talking about troubles or points of interest these other bandit camps have found in the Stolen Lands. One of them is near Bokken's Hut, and two more were placed near a village I created in order to create a side-quest. You could place them anywhere you want to draw PCs to that location... I might do a full write-up on the stuff I did for this and link it later.

The side-quest involved Jhod's "werewolf", but has an actual werewolf and her children terrorizing this village and pinning other people as the monster. If you wanna check it out, my party's just about done with it now so you could see it in the Gameplay thread. It gave them more of a reason to explore the Western parts of the map and put more of an impetus on finding the Temple of the Elk, as it's where the werewolf is holed up.

Make the Stag Lord's fort seem like a much bigger threat. Maybe he has scores of bandits that are subservient to him that protect his fort, and so the PCs need to deal with these other camps to cut off reinforcements. Beyond that, if you use random encounters you can fudge the numbers and have some bandits show up; maybe they have a note on them talking about this weird tree full of mites or a tribe of kobolds. Instead of being wary of the Stag Lord knowing they're coming, make it about them bleeding him dry so that when they finally assault his fortress he's down a lot of men and the PCs can finally attack him on their own terms.


Jon, The Evil DM wrote:
Make the Stag Lord's fort seem like a much bigger threat. Maybe he has scores of bandits that are subservient to him that protect his fort, and so the PCs need to deal with these other camps to cut off reinforcements. Beyond that, if you use random encounters you can fudge the numbers and have some bandits show up; maybe they have a note on them talking about this weird tree full of mites or a tribe of kobolds. Instead of being wary of the Stag Lord knowing they're coming, make it about them bleeding him dry so that when they finally assault his fortress he's down a lot of men and the PCs can finally attack...

I've taken to running the kingdom building rules for major settlements of creatures in Kingmaker, albeit with different amounts of starting BP - the mites & kobolds would start with nothing, whilst the bandits would start with what they looted from Oleg's for example. Currently the mite kingdom has failed, not least because the players have wiped out half of their tribe (but didn't finish them off). The kobolds & Stag Lord have not collapsed yet, though ironically the Stag Lord is suffering from dissident bandits attacks.


One way to promote going back to Oleg's frequently is to enforce food & water rules as well as encumbrance.

For the first couple levels my group was carefully planning out how much they could carry and have on horses and forage so they could figure out how far they could range into the wilderness. Eventually, they druid got a high enough Survival that he could forage for the whole group if they left their horses behind so they did that. But then, whenever they got any kind of loot...they had to head back as lugging it around while exploring made them move ridiculously slow.


Hm, interesting. My group wasn't too concerned about finding the Stag Lord at all. After they took out the Thorn River camp, Oleg's was safe and they started exploring the area around the trading post. They didn't get too concerned despite several more run-ins with bandits, even after Oleg's got attacked again. Well, they found the fort, tried to sneak up on it, and ran away when the zombies came. It wasn't until after they ran into and captured Akiros that they tried for the fort itself. Maybe they were working off some meta knowledge (they're mostly old hats at this) and knew they needed some levels before taking on the end boss.


Spatula wrote:
Maybe they were working off some meta knowledge (they're mostly old hats at this) and knew they needed some levels before taking on the end boss.

Interesting point. My group is also really, really experienced (as in used to write for TSR experienced). So even though they are not acting on "player knowledge of the campaign material" they could very well be acting on "Hmmm, as a player, this Stag Lord sounds like he could be a nasty (as in higher level) fellow."

To be fair, there was a discussion about heading south and they eventually agreed not to right away, but I think that the "old hat" thing might very well be part of the decision making process.

Scarab Sages

JohnB wrote:

*evil Grin* do they all have good riding skills, trained in mounted combat and ride war horses ?

As a GM I have great fun watching them roll all those ride skills and spend all that time gathering up the pack mounts and untrained horses afterwards.

1) Oh, and look, that pack of wolves is chasing your pack mule that is loaded with food and your spare clothes. Oh! the mule jumped in the river to get away from the wolves and is swimming down stream.

2) That troll is eating your horse!

3) Snowstorm!

This, the overlooked handle animal check every time combat breaks out on a non-combat trained warhorse. The plate wearing cleric in my party got in the habit of dismounting at the start of every combat, just so he didn't end up prone on the ground after failing a check.

The very first thing the party saved for and bought (having to send off to Restov) was combat trained riding horses. I also deliberately did not equip the entire party with horses to start off with, meaning they were slowed to the speed of the party members traveling on foot.

I also had some interesting fey encounters that got them involved in fey plotlines (pixie wanted them to carry a love note to a brownie, etc) which distracted them in the direction of the moon radishes. This established a pattern of regular fey encounters and activity in order to foreshadow later events right from the campaign start.

Lastly, I had several bandit groups that operated in the area and were loosely allied with the Stag Lord. These groups were VERY offensive to the party and became the main enemy early on. I had these groups stay close to Olegs, and made them fairly tough for a 1st level party. The Forestlords were raiding little farms scattered throughout the Greenbelt, taking slaves and doing to the women what slavers usually do. Needless to say this upset the paladin and LG cleric terribly and caused the party to drop everything in an effort to stop them with extreme prejudice :)


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

The happy medium tweak I went with was keeping the initial encounter at Oleg's, but changing it so that Happs was bringing a small number of new recruits that weren't really familiar with the operation to the area. So they know that the bandits are a threat (and are recruiting!) but thanks to the barbarian's accidentally(?) critically decapitating Happs, they don't have the specifics of where the camp was other than "a few days away" and "Somewhere in the Narlmarches." Lacking specifics or a timetable, the group chose to visit Bokken first off, so I'll take as a plus.


Raising the intensity of the Mites/Kobolds conflict and subsequent sidequest could also keep the PCs occupied for a while (battles between the creatures in more hexes, raids for food and other stuff in human-inhabited lands, etc).


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'm almost certainly going to up the difficulty of the Mite encounters (as written the party will slaughter them, even with a 5 player conversion using 6 player rules) and swapping Tartusk to a Summoner.

I also play the Kobolds in the Moon Radish encounter as refugees fleeing the conflict and forming a new tribe, which bread crumbs back to that conflict. I'll detail how things go.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Also, on the subject of pacing: one of the largest pain points I've seen is the transition from Book 1 to Book 2. There's a lot of arbitrary time issues that my groups have encountered.

Group 1 (Tabletop): *really* wanted to keep exploring and taking off pretty much right where they left off (there were huge gaps in the area that was supposed to be explored for the charter.) On the other hand, Book 2 really expects that the party has spent roughly a year building up their initial settlement, otherwise many of the encounters don't make sense.

Groups 2 and 3 felt that the sudden "You're running a settlement" was a bit rushed and wanted that to develop a bit more naturally.

The pacing changes I've made for the transition from 1-> 2 is:
1. Require at least 2/3 of the area in the initial Charter to be Explored. This is partly to cut down on the Stag Lord Rush, but also emphasizes the "You really need to Explore."
2. Guide the Party to major Encounter areas they missed. I've played it up as "You're in the middle of overseeing supplies for your Settlement at Oleg's Staging Ground, but your Marshal or Warden NPC alerts you that hunters have reported X." Pick two out of the way encounters that serve as breaks, and detail how preparations have increased between each guided encounter.

Those two worked out fairly well, although I'm debating if 2/3 is a good number or if I should increase it to 3/4.


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You could also run the Venture Capital event.

(And, incidentally, check out negotiation cards


When they are building their first settlement - they only need to be around in the stronghold for one week in four - or something like that (not where I can look at books, ATM)

In my TT game, I gave the players a few advisor NPCs who could do the donkey work for them. Al;though the PCs had to make the decision of what to develop and in which order.

Then when the PCs went away for a couple of weeks to explore / clear / sort-out the next areas, the NPCs got on with supervising the building work. When the PCs got back they saw a bit of development - maybe the Inn had been finished. Maybe there was a dock and a trade vessel from Mivon had arrived.

I treated the one year bit as when the settlement was well enough developed for me to start running the Town Adventures provided in the book. Grigori et al wouldn't be interested before it was developed.

In my latest version of the game (run on-line at RPoL) they will get a development charter as soon as they sort out the Stag Lord - which will be before the Mites, Kobolds, and half of the Gnarlmarch encounters.

That way I have loads of stuff for them to play with while the town is building and a more personal reason to resolve those local issues in a way that will benefit the region in the longer term.


@Wolfspirit, it sounds like you've slowed down the bee-line to the fort already, but here are some extra thoughts:
* when they do encounter Thorn River camp, make the password they learn have a longer shelf-life than a week. If you work out travelling times, the camp would have to have bandits going back and forth almost constantly to get a new password every week. IMC I made the password good for a month, and using an old password just meant your group hadn't reported recently so you owed the fort more loot. That took some of the time pressure off.
* If you're not above giving ideas to your players, you can also suggest that they don't actually need to attack anyone the first time they visit the fort. They can drop in, hand over loot, scope the place out, get a new password and leave like genuine bandits do. It's not like the Stag Lord is going to spend the loot they hand over before they actually attack - he's just sort of holding it for them until they return in force :-) My players surprised me by doing this, and it worked great - I got to showcase the Stag Lord and his lieutenants and the power games going on at the fort, they got a new password, more time to level up and tactical info.

One genius idea from someone else (I don't know who) is to make the passwords come from a copy of Zuddiger's Picnic they have at the fort.


Late to the discussion, but my idea would be to delay any of Happs' attacks on Oleg's until after the PCs are around. Have his first appearance while the PCs are out exploring, not just before the game starts.

As for how to get them back to Oleg's often, I agree with the suggestions to enforce encumbrance and food consumption.

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