A Playtest Campaign: Varisia

General Discussion

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Me, the GM: Longtime TTRPG guy. Most recently lots of 5e. Have written, 3rd party, Ennie-nominated stuff for Pathfinder and 4e. Just loves games.

So,we’ve got a year, right? Forget Doomsday Dawn (sort of...), I wanted to run a campaign. My group is at the end of a 5e campaign, a modified Tyranny of Dragons. It has been great fun, but I did want to push towards PF. I’m intrigued by some of the choices, it’s new, and for all the great things 5e does, it doesn’t allow full character customization...a Pathfinder tenet.

My group is very beer & pretzels. We make characters and roleplay, but we like rolling dice, snacking, drinking, and yucking it up. We are all in our later 30s. I’m the DM. 3-5 players per session.

Character Creation:
It wasn’t too bad. Definitely a lot more dials than 5e...but I wanted that, and they knew that going in.

I did extend it over two nights. Night 1 = board games seguing into character creation. Night 2 = fleshing out motivations, alignment, equipment, etc. and playing for about 2.5 hours.

The PCs:
Elf Ranger with a Bear animal Companion
Elf Wizard (Universalist Tradition)
Human Fighter (Power Attack, Sudden Charge)
Human Fighter (Power Attack, Furious Focus)
Halfling Bard (Bardic Lore)

GM Prep
I wanted to go a bit old-school...no adventure path, no assumption the PCs were innately heroes fighting some vast darkness. Instead, they came up with some personal motivations and a reason to be in Magnimar.

While not starting with an AP, I plan on seeding opportunities as they move throughout the world to become embroiled with any of them. I also stealing liberally from...well..everything.

I like creating scenarios and hooks, and letting the PCs go where they will.

For this session, I greatly reworked an old Dungeon Magazine ["Wild in the Streets," Dungeon #62] and seeded three possible threads. I had the PCs starting near the docks of Magnimar, when a crate fell revealing a trio of firepelt cougars (Level 0 Bobcats). These bewildered and feral beasts just so happened to attack the nearest PC, but also
- Lord Hobart and Kelleri Deverin (thus seeding Doomsday Dawn intro and Rise of the Runelords...she might ask for an armed escort to Sandpoint).

- Jeminda -- a bureaucrat...who is missing gold from Ravenmoor (Leads to "Feast of Ravenmoor").

- And the cats belong to Master Basaalee Mindavu...an evil ranger who run’s an animal fight club in Magnimar.

Hooks aplenty.

Prepping was easy. Grabbed some statblocks that made sense (bobcats). Picked out my 1st level treasure parcels if needed. Wrote down motivations for the NPCs...and we we’re off.

Actual Play
We started with combat...and it was the only one we did. Not because it lasted long, just a lot of roleplaying afterwards as they interacted with some hooks.

The combat pitted 3 Level 0 Bobcats vs. 3 PCs. This should be a High Difficulty Level 1 Encounter. But, to be fair, I had 2 of the 3 bobcats focus fire on pedestrians (Deverins & Jeminda) thus opening up my hooks into further story. Things went pretty well for the PCs. Fighter oneshot his cougar and the ranger grabbed the other two: via his bear companion (Teddy) and an arrow.

Skill rolls and the like were all intuitive to anyone who has played a version of D&D 3.0 on.

Lingering Thoughts

So for example: PC 1 says wait do these cougars look familiar? DM says, that is a Recall Lore skill (or whatever) and so on.

Again, if you have super-invested players, and as they become more familiar with the rules, let them help.

The point being...and this was a pitfall of 4e’s power system ... clearly defined labels can limit the imagination of some players. They don't react to the world...they seek to implement a predefined power or trait on it.

However, as PF2’s list of actions/activities is fairly broad, I don’t foresee that happening. I.E. They seemed to have reversed engineered this...people do whatever, these prescribed actions just help map how they affect the world.

Anyways, that is session 1. A lot of preamble, but I’ll make sure to get more crunchy with my thoughts as we move forward.

(We played session2 last night...very combat heavy. I'll post soon. If readers have questions, feel free to ask. I'll answer the best I can. So far, I like the system.)

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Session 2 - Starting “The Lost Star”

* Got the other 2 players set-up. One hadn’t gamed in almost 30 years...I did a lot the character building so we could get moving. Once we got into it, he grokked it pretty easily.

* I gave a bit of narrative over the top to wrap up last session and tie this together, but then started them at Deverin’s Manor.
They did a quick roleplay with the goblin and Kelleri. Then they plunged into the sewer.

* My prep work was pretty basic.I adjusted for a 5 party size based on BESTIARY playtest rules. I also tweaked treasure parcels to match (also adjusting for things they earned last session). Other prep continues to be getting used to the system.

Actual Play

**I made it Elite to account for 5 players.
**They still killed it in one round.
**It got initiative because they didn’t see it. Filth wave affected the 2 fighters and the animal companion. Between that and one of its pseudopod attacks, it decimated the one fighter to nearly 0 hp.

ENCOUNTER: Goblins in A2
**Since the group came into the dark, cavernous room with light, I had the goblins make a perception check. They succeeded and snuck forward, but the bear animal companion noticed them. Fight was on.
**Fighter 1 wins initiative: sudden charge - CRITICAL SUCCESS - dead goblin. Is very cool. Also, shifts the battlefield towards the goblins end, letting the rest of the group room to maneuver easily.
**All in all went 3 rounds, no one in true danger...and even with the ranger rolling poorly, the group made short work of the goblins. The gobbos did manage to get a couple shots in here and there.
They found the healing potion - much needed!

ENCOUNTER: Mindfog Mushroom
**They noticed it before entering. Shot it with an arrow...saw spores...said, “Nah.”
**I award full xp for this. It just makes sense to avoid it.

ENCOUNTER: Giant Centipedes
**A doozy...and an odd one.
**1st they were surprised by the centipedes. I ruled the giant centipedes are largely motivated by hunger...they’d been drawn by the activity out of the cave.
**In one round, centipedes dropped the animal companion… which was smartly positioned by the Ranger to block the bugs a bit. After, this I had the centipedes essentially drag the bear carcass away --again, hungry, hungry caterpillars...though, I suppose it would have been more real had they kept biting the dying bear. (See Lingering Thoughts below).
The group dithered...the ranger was willing to sacrifice his bear to the bugs...who kept focused on slowly dragging the carcass back into the cave.
**Eventually, someone shot and killed a centipede in one shot.
This emboldened the group, they got in, wiped the centipedes (suffering some poison) and saved Teddy, the bear companion, while he was at dying 3. (Wizard used stabilize...he had it from his Ancestry Feat: Otherworldly Magic)

We stopped there, as they noticed a shiny object beneath the rubble. They picked it up to reveal a…AND I STOPPED THERE...always leave them wanting more. (Admittedly, off-book...but I’m just playing with the system).

Big Takeaways said wrote:

Lingering Thoughts:

***Coming from 5e...there was some discussion of how rules-heavy stuff felt. The rulebook saw so much use, I’ve decided to print out copies of the PDF for extras at the table. Shield rules slowed us down, death and dying is awkwardly written (it still is in update, I think), a couple other minor things.

***STILL...3 combats in 3 hours. Plus some roleplay and exploration. Regular amount of yucking it up. 5 players. Pretty good.

***BUT...the multiple attack thing, while well-received, did slow some people down...the -5 is basic enough...but add in the Bard’s constant inspire courage, the ranger’s volley penalty, the flat-footed penalties that pop up...a lot of little numbers being tossed around to shift things. I don’t think this is a problem...but it could be presented better or the character sheets, etc. could offer better ways to track this. At the very least the OFFICIAL PHB or GMG should address how to track these things (and foreground the advice).

***Do animal companions die at 0? Or do they play by PC rules? It seems left up to GM interpretation. I might be missing something.

***I glossed the rules for identifying potions and stuff for now. They simply knew the thing was an elixir of healing.
I need to print out condition cards!!!!!!!!

***The different properties of weapons makes two human fighters feel different...one was sword and board, the other reach weapon (glaive), and their tactical decisions and the like felt cool and tangible. Volley kind of sucks though.

***Wizard has not had the chance to shine yet. But with cantrip usage, they never dipped into their 1st level slots. The stabilize on the bear was a nice trick.

*** The character didn’t play optimally. But, inspire courage was used heavily...but he kepting using up 2 of his 3 actions to cast it. It is 1 action. Still, the bard looks like fun in play. Support. Some offense. Great resonance.

*** Aforementioned, death & dying RE: animal companions aside, our ranger is an archer. I have to re-read Hunt Target...but it seems a touch weak. Maybe even something as simple as giving it a free action to shift targets (or a reaction) would help.
*** Adjucating Animal Companions is always tough. I like the essential concept...trade 1 action to get 2...but it can lead to some interesting/silly situations. The GM will have to be sharp with this.

*** Coming from 5e, they are noticing the lack of a cleric is almost insurmountable. No short rests. No healing spells otherwise. They might not make it out of the Ashen Ossuary alive!

My To Do Before Session 3

Read Up on
Death & Dying
Furious Focus
Make Power/Spell/Feat Cards
Make Condition Cards

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