How to balance the silly and fun.


Rise of the Runelords


So I'm running two versions of this campaign right now. Both have finished the Catacombs of Wrath. The first version is with a more introverted group. They didn't really enjoy flouncing about Sandpoint without direction and just roll playing for the sake of roll playing in Local Heroes, but now that the actual adventure is kicking in, they are eating up every bit of lore and eager to go take on Thistletop. Because it started as a 3 man game, I also have a DMPC who has been a useful vehicle for keeping them focused. But by and large they have been managing it on their own quite well.

The second group is much more extroverted. They took a very long time to uncover the plot, being much more prone to roll play and start joking with the various NPCs of Sandpoint. My "yes and" tendencies has led to random people like Naffer Vosk becoming hugely important in the eyes of the party, as we make various goofs back and forth. One session their biggest accomplishment was delivering a pie from Alma Alvertin to Ilsoari Gandethus. Also, when Shalelu came to town and announced that she was going to go goblin hunting, refusing the PCs requests to tag along so they could safe guard Sandpoint, it created a running gag that she's actually the PC of this adventure and the party is all NPCs.

This is all really fun. But between the focus on the silly stuff and some gaps from the holidays, they have kind of lost the thread of the actual plot. No one seems to remember who the various bad guys are, or that there's an attack coming from Thistletop soon. With some prompting from Brodert Quink I got them to try bleeding into the Runewell, but then Quink asked them if he could study the Sinspawn that emerged and the Tengu Inquisitor became protective of his "son." So now there's a caged Wrathspawn to study and the party has completely forgotten about the Runewell itself.

I'm not sure how I want to lean into this. I could have Shalelu or some other NPC show up to get them back on track. Or I could leave them to their own devices and have the goblin attack actually go down. Or I could just let them have there fun and keep the threats always looming but never actually going down. Or I could even let the NPCS go take care of the threat while the party generally faffs about.

I'm not sure there's even a problem, really, so I'm not sure what sort of feedback I'm looking for. I guess I'm just curious how people strongly people feel about keeping this adventure on track when it has such a delicious Sandbox to play in.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I am AFB right now, but off the top of my head ...

Thistletop has some foreshadowing of the final villain (which helps the AP's flow), but otherwise is not essential. One item from Thistletop will be useful/necessary at a much later date.

Has the party in question gone on the boar hunt? That's important for building social ties, etc. with Aldern Foxglove.

Aside from those two points, I believe that the party could pick up the thread of the plot again in Book 2. Of course, they do need to reach character level 4 by the end of Book 1, and have the correct amount of treasure so that they are not outclassed by foes in Book 2.


They did the boar hunt, yeah. You have actually made me wonder if I should implement the automatic bonus progression. They didn't claim Azlaznist's Ranseur off her statue, because the Shoanti declared it a holy site. And half the party gave the away the bribe for sparing the sinspawn to Vachedi so he could buy his sons back from slavery. At this pace, they might fall really behind the wealth curve, but I don't want to punish the roll play.

Book 2 would certainly be harder to ignore with the murders taking place in Sandpoint. Especially since the Ranger took her beating from Venice and still decided to date Shayliss.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Good luck with whichever route you choose!

Small nit-pick:

When you wrote "roll play" in your two posts here, based on the context I think that you meant "role play". (Role play is the original term. "Roll play" is a play on words, referring to the opposite of role play - often in a somewhat disparaging manner.)


Sounds like a fun game. I wouldn't worry too much about keeping your campaign exactly on track, but it's good to have your story weave around those tracks at least. I ended up having a range of spontaneous sub-plots within Sandpoint based out of my PCs actions, it just added to the sense of immersion.

All you need to do is to get your PCs to be concerned enough about the 'goblin threat' to go hunting for them, and end up in Thistletop eventually. Given your PCs are getting more and more into Sandpoint and its population, it should hopefully imply they'll be keener to protect it. For the campaign later it's extremely useful to have your PCs care about the wellbeing of the town, so this is an opportunity to keep doing that.

So just ramp up the threat level, alongside some NPCs prodding them in that direction, and all should be fine.


Bellona wrote:

Good luck with whichever route you choose!

** spoiler omitted **

Ha, thanks. I don't think I normally mix those up, but I was rather bleary eyed yesterday.

I'm also contemplating what to do with this still active runewell. Initially I was thinking it could wrack up some more charges over time, discharge a Wrathspawn who could stealth murder Das Korvut and some other wrathful types. Use those to pump out more Spawn, training in secret in the catacombs to gain some levels. Probably use the stats from the Wrathspawn in Runeforged. Then eventually have them strike against Sandpoint, starting with taking over the armory so they all have weapons.

This Wrathspawn could change that though. Given it is an intelligent creature, Azlaznist and all her followers will be dead, and the Tengu Inquisitor that birthed him worships Calistria, goddess of vengeance... I actually don't see why it couldn't be persuaded align itself with the party over time. If it comes with pre-programmed allegiances, then it should want to stop Karzoug, and if it doesn't it seems like it would just want to fight and train to be the best soldier it could.

If I go that route, I'll need to consider if it will reveal to its father how the runewell works. It could wind up preventing the sinspawn army from ever emerging, or it could lead to Sandpoint or the inquisitor using said army for themselves. And if the army does strike at Sandpoint, it raises Stranger Things 2 questions of loyalty.


If everyone is having fun, it's all good. A few observations:

1. The AP doesn't actually have a schedule. There's no calendar of events - 2 days after the Swallowtail Festival, Tsuto breaks into the Glassworks; 4 days after that a horde of goblins attacks the town, etc. And this is on purpose - to allow for just the sort of differing pace of play as you are experiencing. Instead the AP relies on a more vague, looming danger to motivate the pc's forward.

2. I'd be reluctant to advance events without the pc's direct participation. If NPC's deal with Thistletop, one of two things happens and both are bad: either the NPC's take care of it without consequence, in which case it wasn't a problem the pc's had to deal with in the first place (which in turn tells the players it was unimportant) or there are consequences to the NPC's (death, damage to the town, etc.) in which case the pc's could have helped and either didn't (shame on them) or didn't have a chance (shame on you.) This is another downside to having a fixed calendar - you need a method to make the countdown and consequences explicitly clear to the players/pc's, otherwise the GM is just being a <word that rhymes with trick.>

3. Yossarian is right - have someone directly ask them to go. Mayor: "I know we asked you guys to hang out and be visible but Hemlock's not back yet and this diary thing of Tsuto's has me freaked out. Could you guys go check out Thistletop?" Or Hemlock returns from Magnimar empty-handed (lets you foreshadow the political corruption in Magnimar) and he asks them to go. Or the survivors of a merchant caravan straggle into town (with appropriate level of damage/gore for your campaign - several dead, more severely burned or just plucking a few goblin arrows from their hair) - waiting for Hemlock is no longer an option, etc.

4. Cautionary note: Book 1 has a lot of supporting detail for running Days of Our Lives - Sandpoint Edition but the rest of the books don't provide anything like that in terms of role-playing avenues. Book 2 moves the action to Magnimar but even with the Magnimar source book, sustaining the level and depth of interaction your players seem to be having in Sandpoint is going to create a lot of work for you. And the rest of the books provide minimal role-playing opportunities - this is a sometime criticism of the AP (I view it more as a feature with both pluses and minuses.) The pc's go back to Sandpoint a few times and go to a small village (Turtleback Ferry) but after Book 2, the majority of the campaign is: find bad guys (and boy are they bad!) and put them in the dead book. You may want to think about how your players will react as the AP advances - you might be creating an appetite for a style of play the AP doesn't support much past Book 2.


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Yeah, I've read over most of the campaign. But I think the downtime between adventures should provide them with some chances to go back and keep those little sub-plots Yossarion mentioned chugging along, if they are so inclined.

Sounds like some prodding from NPCs is in order, unless this group really wants to keep doing the Days of Our Lives thing, in which case the campaign may just get hung up haha.


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Something I've started doing, which seems to really help the "my PCs have lost sight of the plot" issues is I do a recap of "the story so far" at the start each session. I generally go back as far as the start of the current chapter in my recaps (or do a general recap of the previous chapter if it's the first or second session of a new chapter). I generally get a "that's right, we did do that" response from at least one of my players during the re-cap, so it seems helpful in reminding the players of things they may have forgotten that their characters likely didn't (since the latter actually lived through it.)


Kalshane wrote:
Something I've started doing, which seems to really help the "my PCs have lost sight of the plot" issues is I do a recap of "the story so far" at the start each session. I generally go back as far as the start of the current chapter in my recaps (or do a general recap of the previous chapter if it's the first or second session of a new chapter). I generally get a "that's right, we did do that" response from at least one of my players during the re-cap, so it seems helpful in reminding the players of things they may have forgotten that their characters likely didn't (since the latter actually lived through it.)

That's probably worth doing. I always do a "here's what happened last session" but going further back would probably be safe.


Latrecis wrote:

...

4. Cautionary note: Book 1 has a lot of supporting detail for running Days of Our Lives - Sandpoint Edition but the rest of the books don't provide anything like that in terms of role-playing avenues. Book 2 moves the action to Magnimar but even with the Magnimar source book, sustaining the level and depth of interaction your players seem to be having in Sandpoint is going to create a lot of work for you. And the rest of the books provide minimal role-playing opportunities

Days of Our Lives, Sandpoint Edition. ROFL :)

What Latrecis is referring to is a bit of a flaw in the construction of the AP imho, and one that can get GM's into trouble if they're not paying attention far enough ahead. The AP emphasises building a strong connection with Sandpoint with lots of sandbox role play but then makes drags the PCs further and further afield, putting stress on that connection. Whilst at the same time expecting the PCs to keep Sandpoint near and dear to their hearts. You see plenty of GMs in this forum struggling with this: such as having a very hard time 'railroading' their PCs back to Sandpoint after beating Hook Mountain. And also getting them back there to meet Xaliasa who holds the clues to finding Runeforge... conveniently located in deep ruins beneath Sandpoint!

In my campaign my PCs ended up connecting with Magnimar more than Sandpoint. They still have NPC friends and interests in Sandpoint, but Magnimar is their base of operations and the comings and goings of that city underpin many of their own motivations. Magnimar is a much bigger sandbox than Sandpoint, plus I did a lot of development work on it, so it was fine as far as I was concerned. The Magnimar city supplement by Paizo is very good as a foundation.

But the Runelords AP as written rather railroads the PCs into Sandpoint being their first love, and assuming it remains so. I wouldn't bet on that happening, and given your PCs style I'd prep your Sandbox for other possibilities.

PS: this has resulted in my prepping my next AP, Curse of the Crimson Throne, in a rather different way. But that's a long story for another post in probably a different forum.


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I made a detailed NPC gazetter of Sandpoint based on my PCs experience of it, in case you haven't seen it in the community created assets thread, here's a link. You might find something in it worth plundering.

Download here:
Sandpoint Gamesmaster Notes - NPC guide.


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Kalshane wrote:
Something I've started doing, which seems to really help the "my PCs have lost sight of the plot" issues is I do a recap of "the story so far" at the start each session. I generally go back as far as the start of the current chapter in my recaps (or do a general recap of the previous chapter if it's the first or second session of a new chapter). I generally get a "that's right, we did do that" response from at least one of my players during the re-cap, so it seems helpful in reminding the players of things they may have forgotten that their characters likely didn't (since the latter actually lived through it.)

I make my players do it at the beginning of each session. It forces them to get in the habit of it, plus its great as a GM to get them to play back where there plot perceptions are at. We start with "So who wants to describe what happened last session?". This is especially useful when you only play a few times every month, as unfortunately my group tends to.


Yossarian wrote:


I make my players do it at the beginning of each session. It forces them to get in the habit of it, plus its great as a GM to get them to play back where there plot perceptions are at. We start with "So who wants to describe what happened last session?". This is especially useful when you only play a few times every month, as unfortunately my group tends to.

This has basically been standard for every campaign I have been part of either as player or GM for the last 20 years. Even if they were played on a weekly basis, so much IRL stuff happens that you HAVE TO remind the group what happened last time. In other groups, I used to hand out extra XP for the player with the best and most accurate recap but for RotRL I decided against that, knowing the tendencies of some of my groups players to write 5 A4 pages of elaborate notes JUST to get that 5XP.

I also think it is not hard to have pure RPG sessions even in the last three books without changing too much. I usually give them a week or longer downtime between the books anyway, because I have crafters in the group that need that time. That downtime was always filled with pure roleplay, visting NPCs in Sandpoint, travels to Magnimar, stumbling upon new secrets in Sandpoint (like the source of Valdemar's illness). One PC married Shayliss before the start of book 5 after he found out she was pregnant after book 3.... and so forth.
The only real adjustment I had to make (aside from diving deep into the lore and digging up those secrets which are scattered through a handful of setting books) was to have the sinkhole at the start of book 5 appear a couple of weeks later than it should (and changing the dead city watch members in Scribbler's Lair to Sczarni and Jubrayl Vhiski for roleplay reasons), but that's not a big amount of work. Preparing the encounters and fights each session is more time consuming to me than that.


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Kalshane wrote:
Something I've started doing, which seems to really help the "my PCs have lost sight of the plot" issues is I do a recap of "the story so far" at the start each session. I generally go back as far as the start of the current chapter in my recaps (or do a general recap of the previous chapter if it's the first or second session of a new chapter). I generally get a "that's right, we did do that" response from at least one of my players during the re-cap, so it seems helpful in reminding the players of things they may have forgotten that their characters likely didn't (since the latter actually lived through it.)

I do the same, but each week I pick a different player and ask them to recap the adventure so far. I fill in gaps as necessary and find this is great for reminding the players where things stand, as not all of them take notes.


Yossarian wrote:

I made a detailed NPC gazetter of Sandpoint based on my PCs experience of it, in case you haven't seen it in the community created assets thread, here's a link. You might find something in it worth plundering.

Download here:
Sandpoint Gamesmaster Notes - NPC guide.

Yeah, I've been using this! It's great. Along with a lot of other community created stuff. I ran the Chopper's Isle sidequest last night. I had the little invisible attic whisperer skittering around the party. And having been conditioned to talk to ghosts using the Spirit Planchette in the Haunting of Harrowstone, they tried to befriend the little sucker. The inevitable discovery of the body really saddened them. As did Aesrick Battlehorn, who they remembered helping kids win carnival games at the Swallowtail Festival, giving them a child sized coffin on the house. :(

I also made them roll play their buying and selling items since I had so much material for shop keepers, and we were down a couple people so it didn't make sense to slam on the gas pedal for the plot. But they are all geared up and ready to go to Thistletop next time, after a request from Mayor Deverin.


How did RPing the shopkeepers work for you? I've been going back and forth on whether or not I want to try that.


RumpinRufus wrote:
How did RPing the shopkeepers work for you? I've been going back and forth on whether or not I want to try that.

Pretty all right. In general, they responded well to it, and it gave them a decent reason to get some extra lore they would have otherwise missed out on-- the Chopper Isle sidequest being a good example of that. I was mildly amused by coming up with where the players could sell individual items, like the tiara and dress of Erylium being bought at Vernah's Fine Clothing as toy accessories for a noble's child.

My biggest stumbling block was haggling over prices, or rather lack there of, because it's easier to just do the actual sell value of item. Which sort of touches on a larger issue of actually using the Appraise rules. By RAW the party needs to hit a DC 20 on any item they appraise to know what to sell it for, but that only matters if merchants actually try to undercut them. At which point you need to start dealing with bluff/diplomacy/sense motive shenanigans for every item, whether the party appraised it successfully or not. And keep track of what every item is actually worth, while still keeping WBL guidelines in mind...

Since I'm pretty sure WBL assumes PCs get 50% of gear, and 100% of non-functional loot levels, it's a lot easier to just do that. And for many groups it is more fun that way too. I have one player in particular who is too much of a power gamer who will try to bend rules for me to enjoy leaving that level of granular negotiations that effect his character's wealth.

So yeah. Fun to roll play figuring out where to sell stuff, fun to roll play the shop keepers being interested in individual items or doing business in general. Not fun to stress about actual prices involved.

For what it's worth, I didn't role play the shopping for my more introverted group and that worked out fine too.


I'll let my PCs haggle for really unusual or big ticket items (like a certain helmet), but for run of the mill stuff I just say "You manage to get a great price in some places while getting shorted in others. In the end it evens out to book price."

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