Adventure Path Complete! Debriefing (Spoilers, obviously)


Strange Aeons


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(Cue Hastur's theme song and take a bite of this occult dessert I baked for our finale session.)

If someone told me I'd actually finish running this adventure path (much less in 7 months), I would have laughed in their face. AP's are a serious commitment, and getting several adults' schedules to align on a weekly basis can be damn near impossible. The other two AP's my group has completed each took a year a piece -- with the 6 player roster changing constantly, so I started this one off by mostly expecting the group to fall apart halfway through the first book. You can imagine my surprise as the group chugged on and life managed to stay out of the way. Miraculously, we had few absences and only had to cancel around three times.

I owe a lot of this good 'fortune' to just how well-written and exciting this adventure path really was. I never got the impression from the players that they were just going through the motions and showing up because they had to. I think all of us on this forum have been in a group where showing up as the player or the GM can feel more like an obligation than actual fun, but that was not the case here.

It's been a blast. Thank you to the writers and everyone at Paizo for continuing to churn out the best TTRPG material there is. Being a GM can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience, but thanks to the thriving community on these boards, it's that much easier.

Here are our thoughts. Remember, everyone's group is different, and I took a few liberties with some elements of the AP so YMMV in your own run-through. I hope you have as much fun as we did. :)

The Party:

Investigator (Empiricist): Norin, the Investigator of the party functioned as a high AC "Bufflord" who dominated nearly every skill check the party encountered. MVP extract: Echolocation.

Bloodrager (Aberrant): What can I say? This guy was death machine with a ludicrous amount of reach. He might as well have had pounce. Combined with the free spells upon rage activation and a meaty chunk of hit points, the group agreed that "Jeffrey the Fishman" was the most dangerous physical threat in the party.

Brawler: Getting out of the Bloodrager's shadow was hard, but Ronan had plenty of shining moments. Pummeling style meant his damage was nothing to scoff at, and there's something be said about the DM stealing all of your gear for one part of the adventure and not even being fazed by it. A few key bull rushes, spontaneous step up/disruptive combos, and grapples saved the party when things were looking dire.

Medium: I had never seen this class in action before, and both me and the player using it were very underwhelmed by its capabilities. Versatility is great, but some of the class abilities he gained upon leveling up were laughably bad. However, once the Marshall spirit reached a certain point, Simon became quite possibly the most incredible buff-totem I've ever seen. Using the halfling favored class bonus, copious spirit surges, and auras that ended up providing a +6 (!) bonus to saves or attack and damage, Simon kept this very martial party a razor-sharp killing machine.

Tips:

I'll keep this section short because the GM reference sections are already filled with my blabbering about tips and tricks I used.

-Don't be afraid to turn up the heat on the players. When an eldritch monstrosity shows up, you want the players thinking about whether or not they should run -- not whether they should bother blowing any of their spells. Add some HD or throw on some templates if you're worried one of the more dramatic encounters is just going to be a speed bump.

-Find a way to give the player's a sense of accomplishment at the adventure's milestones. (As I get into in the complaints/compliments section, there's a lot of "Whoops! Just missed him!" moments, and I think it would go a long way to really play up the whole 'unraveling the mystery angle'.

-The adventure changes locations a LOT, so bringing NPC's like Dr. Elbourne, Winter, etc. can really add some continuity and feeling of development.

-The only other thing I wanna add is that freedom of movement took a lot of the drama out of some of these fights. Many monsters depend on grappling or swallowing/impaling to bring down players (Shrike Worms I'm looking at you). Even worse, the last set of encounters all took place within a 2 hour time frame -- meaning the party was able to have FoM on them at ALL times. I attempted a few dispels, but they're not a guaranteed success, and trying to remove it ended up wasting the few precious monster actions that I got.

Compliments:
There was a lot of great stuff in this AP. Here some of the elements the players said they really enjoyed.

-The amnesia element and the initial hook is fantastic. There's no adventure quite like it, and Paizo's writers should continue taking bold risks like this.

-Locations. The Asylum, Neruzavin, Carcosa (Paris!) -- They were all amazing. However, the players agreed that Dreams of The Yellow King was the strongest chapter by far. Bokrug's arrival, the people being abducted by webs at the ball and NO ONE saying anything about it, the whole fighting yourself thing at the oasis-- it just had so many memorable scenes and places.

-The Sanity system. While it was often times a lot of book keeping, and, like everything in pathfinder, trivialized at higher levels, I got a lot of positive feedback on it. The madnesses forced the players to concede weaknesses in their characters' personalities and it drove a lot of role playing which they liked.

Complaints:

Out-of-the-box, this adventure took WAY less love than Kingmaker or Skull and Shackles to make it run smoothly. This was very helpful -- considering that I was running these books AS they came out and didn't have time to overhaul very much. Despite this, the players did have a few complaints.

-Your Lowls is in another castle. Chasing this guy around is well-justified considering the whole revenge and (later) doomsday angle, but everywhere the players went they just missed him. It got disheartening at times, and I couldn't do much to fix it because I didn't know a lot of the story's details because I was running the AP as it came out. Early on we would approach the end of an arc and the players would begin excitedly discussing what they were gonna do if they ACTUALLY caught up to him. After a few near-misses, they got discouraged and started making defeatist remarks like "don't get too excited he's gonna TP out as soon as we walk in" or "I swear to god if we don't see this guy until the last book I'm gonna cry." (sorry about that, btw).

-Okeno. Everyone pretty much agreed this arc of the AP was a complete tone-break. While slaughtering your way up a gnoll slaver tower would be awesome in some storylines, it just didn't fit the feel of the adventure. The location was well-fleshed out, the descriptions great, and the Gnolls were well-statted, but The Whisper Out of Time could have just ended at the Mysterium and it would have made a lot more sense.

-The Necronomicon. There was a lot of hype for this item, so when the players finally got it, they were not that happy when they heard what it actually did. From a more objective power-level standpoint, it has a ton of abilities and bonuses so it fits in alongside other artifacts. However, my players weren't having it. To them, unless you're a wizard who is in need of a scary-looking new spellbook, it's pretty underwhelming. On top of that, the ability drain you get trying to unlock its power makes it even more unattractive.
It's the NECRONOMICON for god's sake! It should tempt you. It should make you want to risk permanently losing a piece of your wisdom score or undergoing irreversible damage JUST to get a TASTE of its power. I'm not sure how I would even begin building an item like that with Pathfinder rules, but I agree that it was a missed opportunity.
As one player put it... "I was more excited about finding a +2 short sword at level one with a cool name than I was about getting a hold of the most infamous occult tome of all time. There's something terribly wrong with that."


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

A great summary, and very helpful as well. Kudos!


Question for you:

Spoiler:
I see you used the sanity system. How did you handle Bokrug's arrival and the party taking a minimum 27 sanity damage? Essentially going insane unless they pass the DC 42 will save with no current sanity damage plus decent mental ability scores.

I'm using the sanity system and this bit has me worried for the characters next chapter.


DMatt wrote:

Question for you:

** spoiler omitted **

I brought down the sanity damage to a heavy (but more reasonable) amount for big B because, as someone (maybe you) pointed out in the GM reference thread, it seems if you run that as-written than it's just kind of an unavoidable soft-wipe. If you really want to keep it, you could make it more targeted, perhaps with big B bringing its will on one particular person. Maybe the SAN damage doesn't happen until they try to sleep and the figures haunt their dreams. Maybe setting the encounter in such a way where the party doesn't quite SEE or make out its form unless they get super close or it arrives (although, I'm 90% sure the Unspeakable Presence does not require sight to activate so you may have to handwave some mechanics around). Perhaps the fact that it occurs in the dreamlands is justification enough to say that things don't quite work the same.

As a side note, I also didn't have them take sanity for EVERY new monster in the AP -- just the particularly hideous/terrifying/eldritch ones. To make up for it, I added a few other sources based off of events in the story or if something particularly gruesome or foul happened to one of the PC's.

Paizo Employee Developer

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Spastic Puma wrote:
It's been a blast. Thank you to the writers and everyone at Paizo for continuing to churn out the best TTRPG material there is. Being a GM can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience, but thanks to the thriving community on these boards, it's that much easier.

Thank you for this report and your consistent posts about this Adventure Path since its release. This was the first AP I've been at the helm of the story, so thank you for the thanks. I'm certain that the excellent authors I had working on this appreciate it too. To paraphrase your words, being an RPG writer and developer can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience. ;) Sincere thanks and I'm glad you and your crew had fun!

Grand Lodge

Adam Daigle wrote:
Spastic Puma wrote:
It's been a blast. Thank you to the writers and everyone at Paizo for continuing to churn out the best TTRPG material there is. Being a GM can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience, but thanks to the thriving community on these boards, it's that much easier.
Thank you for this report and your consistent posts about this Adventure Path since its release. This was the first AP I've been at the helm of the story, so thank you for the thanks. I'm certain that the excellent authors I had working on this appreciate it too. To paraphrase your words, being an RPG writer and developer can be a lonely and sometimes frustrating experience. ;) Sincere thanks and I'm glad you and your crew had fun!

Hi Adam. Now that the whole AP is finished, are there parts where you have suggestions to GM's to do things slightly differently? I can imagine you have new insights now after the whole experience. :)

Paizo Employee Developer

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There's nothing big and glaring that haunts my sleep at night, but I'm sure that given the time and opportunity I'd certainly adjust and clarify things a bit differently. In fact, I quite agree with a number of the things that folks have said in the individual GM threads (my favorite suggestion that someone came up with was making the manananggal the missing priestess).


I liked the priestess manananggal so much, that I made Rumatra to kill her the night pc moved to town. She is missing. Will appear next day, during day, looking completely normal. She doesn't detect as undead (and i'd rule that means doesn't detect as evil, too, because undeads detect as evil because they are undead). Will go to her room, in New Chapel as normal.

Next night, they'll find the lower half of the body of the Manananggal in her bed, in the Chapel.


I haven't finished reading book 6 yet, but so far I'll say that book 3 looks like it will be my favorite from all of Paizo's content that I've read/played so far. I'm trying to imagine how incredibly suspicious my players will become once they find a Vorpal sword at level ~8-9.


Excellent review, SP. My PBP group is only 1/4 of the way through Book One (PBP, good luck finishing a module in one year...) but already we see some of the strengths and weaknesses.

Firm agreement that the amnesia start was both daring and brilliant. Also, Book Three looks bloody amazing -- I can't wait to get to it, even though it's literally years away in RT. On read-through, it looks like one of the two or three best individual modules Paizo has ever published. Also-also, agreement about the Big Occult Item; if you're not a wizard, it's a bit meh. It should whisper to the players, you know?

Doug M.

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