AP GM difficulty


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


I have just seen on another thread a discussion about someone being a new GM and a response suggesting some APs that are easier for the GM to run than others

This particular example mentioned Mummy’s Mask (and one other that I have forgotten) as an easier one and Runelords as a more demanding one

This was surprising to me as I thought many recommend Runelords as a first AP due to meeting traditional high fantasy themes and not having added rules

What do people think? What are easier and harder paths?
I guess Kingmaker falls under harder due to the sandbox. And for me the urban ones would be trickier as there is more potential for having to invent things on the fly if PCs wander streets (of course some GMs will be very good at this part)


I'd rate Jade Regent as hard. It has a caravan subsystem that needs modifying / replacing, and a bunch of allied NPCs you have to run (though you could just abandon that part of the narrative and let them fade into the background).


I feel Shattered Star is a good 'easy' GM difficulty AP. Part of that comes from probably the same reason Mummy's mask is considered easier, high Dungeon Crawl content. But it is also quite well written, a lot of good tactics write-outs and good short but descriptive character motivations to bring NPCs to life without too much effort. The only GM difficult part are the amount of creatures that may charm or Dominate PCs and how to handle that without being devastating. Fortunately, hopefully players see the prevalence early on and defend themselves enough that it isn't as much of a concern. Seducer's bane and hat of Free thinker for all? XP


Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber

I think it depends on where your personal strengths and weaknesses as a GM lie. If, like me, you're much stronger on tactical thinking than improvising dialogue, then you're going to have a very different experience than someone for who the reverse is true.

Runelords, while excellent and basic in many ways, has a large section of the first book dedicated to social encounters around town. I was trying out GMing for the first time with Runelords, and that section was a nightmare for me. It was only made worse by having entirely new players, too, who weren't sure how to handle it either. I think I would have done a lot better at it if I had run a bunch of other APs first.

Of the APs I've run, I would actually think that Strange Aeons would be one of the best for a newbie GM, regardless of their type. There's a couple reasons for it. First, the opening area is very restricted, reducing the number of ally-type NPCs you have to run to a fixed and manageable level. Second, the adventure is already harder than most, so a tactical newbie can still probably threaten a party appropriately well. Third, since there are a lot of bizarre things going on around, any mistakes are less likely to be noticed, and can be hand-waved away as part of the ambiance.

Silver Crusade

I would rate Iron Gods as one of the harder paths, both because it requires knowledge of tech as well as the normal PF stuff and because half of book 5 is very sandbox-y. It was the first AP I ever read when I was a new GM, and the idea of running that part terrified me.

I'll second Mummy's Mask being relatively easy to run. I would say that there are some parts where it gets difficult for players if run as written, though, so I don't know that I would recommend it for a totally new group.


Rise of the Runelords was the first Paizo adventure path I ran and I did not find it difficult. I had gamemastered for only short one-session games before that. I had played for decades before that. The action is straightforward, with defense against villains making decisions for both players and GM clear. I ran the D&D 3.5 version, which had too many moments that could lead to total party kill, but I hear the Pathfinder Anniversary version improved it.

Jade Regent was my second adventure path. I agree with Matthew Downie, who is often right, that it is hard. I started rearranging it from the beginning, tossing out the caravan subsystem as not worth the effort to learn. I replaced it with, "You need to fight these three ogres and the caravan guards are fighting all the other ogres in the raiding party. Their success will be the same as yours." My players derailed the plot of the 5th module, Tide of Honor, and replaced it with a better plan, so I cut apart the sections of the module, moved them to other parts of the country, altered the emphasis, and re-used them.

Iron Gods is my third adventure path. It is even harder to run. Players and GM have to learn the technology rules. For example, robots have hardness, which is like damage resistance but applies to energy, too. The plot hook between the 2nd and 3rd modules is weak, so the GM has to hype it up in advance. My players derailed the 2nd, 5th, and 6th modules, but that is more them than the module.

Let me start a table.

Rise of the Runelords
Style: Combat grind with possible TPK
Setting: Varisia, Golarion's country for adventuring.
Preparation: Solid linear plot with no supplemental material necessary.
Motivation: Heroism. Save a town and save a country.
Linearity: If the players deviate from the path, events will return them on their own motivation.

Jade Regent
Style: Escort the lost heir and help her gain the throne.
Setting: Travel from Varisa, over the northern ice cap, to Minkai, the country based on Japanese legend.
Preparation: Has a new caravan subsystem and typical relationship and notoriety subsystems. The Player's Guide helps with the subsystems.
Motivation: Loyalty. The players have to favor the heir, or it becomes meaningless. An alternative is to let a player character take the throne.
Linearity: Pray that no-one in the party learns Teleport before the traveling part is over. I added the Ruby Phoenix Tournament module to the 4th module to spice it up. It fits well. The 5th module is a railroad and might be derailed.

Iron Gods
Style: Fight through dangers to uncover mysteries.
Setting: Numeria, land of barbarians and alien technology.
Preparation: Buy the Technology Guide and read it from beginning to end. Then lend it to the players. Also read up on the unusual monsters, such as robots. The "scrapworth" reputation subsystem in the 2nd module is well done and no trouble.
Motivation: Inquiring Minds or Heroism. The adventure part has some weak plot hooks that the GM should replace or beef up.
Linearity: A heroic party would find this straightforward, except for the GM stopping them from attacking the Technic League before the 5th module. An inquiring minds party will constantly wander down side paths that the GM has to fill out on his own. (I've recorded a ton of stuff in the Iron Gods Paizo subforum.)


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Depending on how often your group can meet and how experienced they are with the system, running a full AP can take years.

So when I come across posts from new GMs asking which AP to run, I generally suggest trying a module or two first. They offer a chance to try out the GM's seat without demanding that you give up all your free time for the foreseeable future.

I sometimes wish someone had sat me down and said as much when I first started GM'ing. I picked Runelords in 2012 ... with any luck we'll finish sometime in late 2019. It's been a really long haul.


Tinalles wrote:

Depending on how often your group can meet and how experienced they are with the system, running a full AP can take years.

So when I come across posts from new GMs asking which AP to run, I generally suggest trying a module or two first. They offer a chance to try out the GM's seat without demanding that you give up all your free time for the foreseeable future.

I sometimes wish someone had sat me down and said as much when I first started GM'ing. I picked Runelords in 2012 ... with any luck we'll finish sometime in late 2019. It's been a really long haul.

I am not a new GM , not by a long shot. I don’t think I am particularly great at it but have ran games for many years but life often gets in the way

I was not asking for an easy AP. I was just intrigued by a post in another thread that mentioned this. And I was most interested by the comment on Rise being difficult as it is often the one many people pick first out of the APs

For reference I will be running a module first anyway as the group is experimenting with a move to Roll20


Also if you as a GM like the AP then you're more likely to read it more times or prepare better, from my experience.

What I've done:

Carrion Crown, Very Easy.
This is a straight A->B->C, kill everything in between, sort of AP. Its thematic is strong, the story compelling enough.

Skull and Shackles, Hard.
Sandboxy, multiple NPCs of varying levels, extreme environments (and level differences between PCs and surroundings), multiple extra subsystems, several scripted events, several keep-track-of-points events.
My favourite AP, since I was personally interested in it and its nautical aspect I did copius amounts of research.

Start of Crimson Curse, Normal-Easy.
Straight forward, more open yet containable. Reading ahead it looked like an AP I could run with an A->B->C party or a politic intrigue one.

Played RotRL. Sounded easy to run.


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Errant Mercenary wrote:
Played RotRL. Sounded easy to run.

Because the GM said so, or just because it seemed fairly simple?

I'm running a D&D 5E adventure right now (Hoard of the Dragon Queen) and my players probably have no idea how much of it I've had to rewrite. The vagueness of it ("Here are some characters they could meet and some outlines for possible random events") and the poor encounter balance and the flawed assumptions about how the players will act (here is a large group of kobolds that will probably slaughter the PCs if they try to fight them, here is an adult dragon that they can drive away even though they're level one, somehow the players are expected to guess this) make me appreciate Paizo's writing.


Matthew Downie wrote:
Errant Mercenary wrote:
Played RotRL. Sounded easy to run.

Because the GM said so, or just because it seemed fairly simple?

....

From playing it, I did not Gm it, but considering it was a GM that doesnt prep too much and the nature of the AP (fairly linear and early in design so no archetypes from more advanced books etc) and having read part of it, RotRL doesnt seem too daunting.

Paizo's APs are really hard to step away from, indeed, I find most games run without a solid backing module/AP rather lackluster.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Of the AP's I have run I would say the hardest to run was probably Skull and Shackles.

It was ultimately because the pathfinder system for ships is too easily broken by a determined player either by the use of such spells as dimension door (especially when the win condition for most fights is 'kill captain / ship surrenders') or by min/maxing the hell out of profession sailor (+36 at level 8 means that the game essentially becomes Tokyo Drift Shackles).

In addition every single book of the path has some underwater element and running three dimensional combat, keeping up with the different combat rules, etc is challenging. I assume this also makes Ruins of Azlant challenging. Of course unless the players are considerably thick these rules become less and less difficult as they all pick up piercing weapons and the ability to have a swim speed.

Book 6 of Giantslayer is likely just as difficult because of the sheer amount of flying.

I also had a lot of trouble with Giantslayer due to the MASSIVE maps and trying to prepare them for table play.

I played through Wrath of the Righteous as a player and I can only imagine (if you are the kind of GM who is bothered by that kind of thing) that it is EXTREMELY frustrating since you are routinely getting trounced and its difficult to counter-balance mythic characters without straying into ridiculous territory.

The easiest path I have ever run was probably Hell's Rebels because I loved the story and the Rebellion system wasn't that much of a hamper to regular gameplay. Maybe two underwater sections in the whole path?


rkotitan wrote:
I played through Wrath of the Righteous as a player and I can only imagine (if you are the kind of GM who is bothered by that kind of thing) that it is EXTREMELY frustrating since you are routinely getting trounced and its difficult to counter-balance mythic characters without straying into ridiculous territory.

I feel though, now that it has been out for a while the basic aesthetic appeal of Wrath of the Righteous is "let's be fantasy superheroes and murk some big bads". In which case, when the party is killing a demon lord in 2 rounds, it's no big deal- that's what you signed up for.

So if everybody approaches the AP with the right mindset (i.e. the PCs are likely to make "top 100 most powerful things on the material plane") it seems like it would be pretty easy to run, since you just have to present the obstacles and let the PCs eat them for lunch.

Only real issue is that you have to learn the mythic rules, but as an AP where you want to challenge your player's it's pretty much impossible, but as a "players feel badass" AP it should be pretty easy.


Oddly enough we skipped the caravan stuff in the Jade Regent AP as well. I didn't GM it, but noticed the person GMing did have a hard time following it. I don't think it was the way the AP was laid out, but more it wasn't the kind of game he wanted to run.

I pulled a few bits out of the Iron Gods for a little side adventure in a home brew game. I thought it would be a fun AP to play or run as a whole, though I couldn't judge its difficulty to run.

I agree that how hard an AP is to run, likely depends on the type of game you enjoy playing and running.


Nodrog wrote:
Oddly enough we skipped the caravan stuff in the Jade Regent AP as well

That's not odd; it just means your GM was paying attention. Caravan battles, without major house-rules, are (a) too simple to be tactically interesting, and (b) nigh impossible to survive, due to difficulty balancing issues.

("Our level 7 caravan has AC 16, Attack +10, and does 1d6+7 damage. Our first random encounter was with a polar pudding, a CR 7 caravan encounter. The pudding has AC 20, Attack +13, does 6d8+3 damage, and has an ability that prevents retreat. Now what?")


simply put, if you'e a band new GM with no experience at all, books 4 of ALL APs is, where it is starting to get difficult. You're entering mid-to-high level teritory and most of the NPCs and villains will come with long stat blocks and equipped with lots of powers, spells and special qualities that make running things harder and harder as the AP progresses.


What Hythlodeus said.

I would add that some books of APs need a little GM help to go from so-so to good. That can be difficult for GMs who don’t have the ability/time/whatever to make changes. Of course any AP with a style that doesn’t match the GM’s prefered style are going to be more challenging.


PossibleCabbage wrote:


I feel though, now that it has been out for a while the basic aesthetic appeal of Wrath of the Righteous is "let's be fantasy superheroes and murk some big bads". In which case, when the party is killing a demon lord in 2 rounds, it's no big deal- that's what you signed up for.

If you replace 2 rounds with 1 character's turn, that's more like Wrath of the Righteous.

Wrath I rate as tier S difficulty to gm and have a real game with a sense of danger or tension


Linear APs are easier than the sandboxy ones IMHO, less prep needed if you know where everyone is going beforehand.
That said, I drop most of the subsystems presented in the APs. For example: mass combat, kingdom building, trust points, etc. Some of those subsystems were broken when they were released (like kingdom building in Kingmaker), some just were over-complicating things that were easily role-playable instead (like the trust points in Carrion Crown).

Lastly, my age old D20 system gripe with stopping to map out a battlemap, We "wing it" until an important battle comes up (bosses, some powerful enemies/monsters etc). This had the positive effect of keeping the immersion moving without having to stop every five minutes to draw every single room of a dungeon.

YMMV


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

For an easy to GM AP I would want a clear straight line story with not so much space for players to stray of plot and make the GM have to improvise. Also one which is it not nesecsary to rewrite the entire AP and rules system so bad choices would be
Wrath of the Righteous -rewrite entire AP , and maximum pc power to do complicated things worst possible choice

Hell's Rebels, Skulls and Shackles,Kingmaker, Jade Regent lots of Sandbox options

I think Giant slayer, Rise of the Runelords and Shatterred star all have a structure which can keep the players on track. Mummy's mask I have not read but it sounds fairly structured.

The others I have either not read or fall in between the two groups

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