Lack of Villain Identity


Rise of the Runelords


So I've been running the campaign for a couple of years now, and one thing that has repeatedly caused a problem for me is that the villains in this campaign are quite mysterious about their large-scale goals. While I understand that part of the campaign is the process of figuring this out, it does mean that the party still doesn't have a real concept of what's at stake.

I've tried to address this through dropping hints at a larger-scale intent, including a correspondence between Lucrecia and Mokmurian that did mention 'gathering our forces' (as well as a few other campaign-specific adjustments I'd made). Most of the players seem to be content with the understanding that someone's been calling the shots with all this murder, and as of last session they've just found the note about the raid on Sandpoint. They seem to be mostly okay with the flow of information.

However, one player is planning to retire his character (he's playing a pacifistic druid, and all the deliberately going places to kill innocent creatures like ogres who lived here first doesn't sit well with the character). He wants to bring in a new character, but due to the fact that there hasn't been a lot of clear information revealed about Mokmurian or his goals at this point he can't find a strong character motive for joining the party, or caring much about any of what's going on. The opinion from this player seems to be that the villains so far appear to have been mostly of the mustache-twirling variety.

Have any of you had similar troubles with this AP, reluctant heroes not feeling like they had a reason to get involved? And how at this point could I help with that? My idea of a solution at this point is having Svevenka contact the players after Myriana is put to rest (one of the players had a familial tie to Myriana so I think I can sell it) and tell them about how Mokmurian travelled to Xin Shalast and returned, and that the city's been unusually active since.


The AP assumes that PCs are people who have ties to Sandpoint, or at least woould react to danger that comes to people of the region. Self-serving characters may indeed be lacking motivation.

If the PCs know about a coming raid, a new PC can be someone who'll help them to defend Sandpoint and then will be willing to join on the counteroffensive. Other reasons may involve reward from Lord Mayor of Magnimar, or rumors of riches that Mokmurian is supposed to have (he did in fact brought some form Xin-Shalst, although he distributed most of it to get more giants on his side).

I'd avoid bringing Svevenka: there's a risk that the PCs may decide to go seek Xin-Shalast too early, being unprepared.


Gilium wrote:
...reluctant heroes not feeling like they had a reason to get involved?

For me, this is the part that sticks out. If they aren't having their motivations piqued, then what are their motivations? Without that knowledge, there's no guarantee that anything will get the 'ol motor running. Which motivations does bringing in Svevenka tackle?

My suggestion, not knowing their motivations, is to have a talk about their characters and what drives them. Start editing your plothooks to follow suit. Weave in some personal story arcs that go parallel with the main story arc (or if you're lucky, get entwined with it, like the Myriana connection).

I will admit that my players also had trouble seeing the larger threat. I wrote stories between sessions that gave them glimpses (sans spoilers) of what the bad guys were up to, or how they originated. Even so, my players spent a good portion of time after Mokmurian's death wondering what came next. And; while they felt like they knew more about the Runelords from their time spent in Runeforge, they didn't fully understand what their next moves were supposed to be upon leaving it. The first reason for this was that they spent so much IRL time in it that the players forgot, and so the characters forgot. The second reason was that they hadn't connected the dots between the rising threat and the research they'd done on Xin-Shalast and Karzoug in the library.

Grand Lodge

I think this depends in large part on how your PCs interact with the information they're provided. My party, for instance, was extremely into any and all materials they collected from enemy bases - by the time they cleaned up the Misgivings, they were convinced that Karzoug was returning to Golarion, likely through the use of a runewell of greed. The only info in addition to what the book provides directly that I provided to them was Karzoug's name when they asked Brodert Quink for it. I'm doing what I can to deter them from seeking out Xin Shalast in Book 2! Luckily, the PCs are less motivated than the players themselves.

If your game has been going on, there's several ways you can tie in the plot more clearly.

- Use the Ultimate Intrigue rules for research. The party can spend more time with sources of information they already have in order to get a clearer idea of what's going on and what the stakes are.

- Use this new PC to introduce new information. For instance, a Shoanti Ranger living near the Storval Plateau could have had run-ins with the Stone Giants making up Mokmurian's forces and may be acting as a scout further south in Varisia to see what they may be planning. A knowledgeable wizard from the Pathfinder society could be interested in any of the special dungeons/locations involved in the adventure while providing useful new information.

- Have any powerful divine characters in your party? By start of Book 4, they're likely powerful enough to have a serious impact where a god is concerned. Have a herald conscript them to protect Varisia - this works just as well for a new character introduction as it does to direct the party.

- If Mokmurian himself is the problem, you can provide a bit of background on his actions by having giant outcasts in the region following or before the party returning to Sandpoint to protect it from the raid. Tying that with the threat to the PCs home and friends in Sandpoint, Mokmurian should start looking like a legitimate threat even before the full scope of his plans become clear (which should become clear quite quickly once the PCs reach the Storval Plateau).

I'd also ditto avoiding bringing in Svevenka - if they think Mokmurian is just a pawn to a bigger threat, they may try and go straight for the real opponent. Needless to say, that would be disastrous, and while your players may get that from a metagame perspective, it'd be best to just provide the PCs with the information to get them to the next step - that is, Jorgenfist.

Dark Archive

I'm curious at how you got pacifistic druid into campaign at all that has lot of combat O_o also ogres being "innocent" because uh, Graul family show what ogres create.

Either way, main motivation of RotR is based on players being attached to Sandpoint and being curious enough to see what is at end of trail of foreboding evidence. RotR is one of more self motivated APs on purpose.

Anyway, Razmus is also good way to foreshadow what Mokmurian is exactly doing.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Maps, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

My group enjoyed the mystery.

Spoiler:
They'll get a lot of revelations at Jorgenfist; I don't think you need to start revealing things to them right now. They heard the name Karzoug from the imprisoned demon at the dam, as the wizard who trapped him. But they had no idea who Karzoug was or that he was the villain until after Mokmurian's defeat.

I don't think introducing Svevenka or Xin-Shalast would have been a good idea for my group—the existence of Karzoug and Xin-Shalast was the big reveal of their trip to Jorgenfist. They'd have wanted to know why Svevenka couldn't just tell them how to get to Xin-Shalast if she knows of them and their quest.

As for motivation, who need to know more about what the player is thinking, I guess. My group cooperates with the plot; they were willing to assume the role of people who'd come to like the town of Sandpoint. They would probably have introduced a new character as a survivor of the raid who had lost a family member.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I also advise against the Svevenka connection being used too soon. It could lead to skipping Book 5, which is not a good idea.

(And "innocent ogres"?!? Not possible with the PF/Golarion version of them!)

One new character possibility would be a surviving Black Arrow. Maybe he/she was on leave (visiting family, etc.) when Book 3 happened, but now is back and wants to help the party as a "thank you" because they just took back Fort Rannick for the order. Fort Rannick will need a massive re-build after the ogres wrecked half of it (and maybe the party did more wrecking), so it won't be functional as a Black Arrow HQ for the next little while. The Black Arrow could help the party in the meantime.

The RotR AE Player's Guide supplies campaign traits for the AP. Implicit in all of them is that the character is either from Sandpoint, or at least has a vested interest in defending the town.

The defence of Sandpoint against the upcoming raid should be the main focus when Book 3 ends. This is one of the reasons why everyone who has run the AP stresses the need for the party to develop an interest in Sandpoint's survival.

Book 4 is mostly an anti-giant slog, but it also supplies a lot more in the way of clues.

RotR Book 4 and 5 spoilers:

The giant raid on Sandpoint should be an eye-opener on the dangers to Varisia if giants start attacking - particularly if there were no high-level characters around to defend a settlement. And there are rumours of many sorts of giants being on the move in Varisia.

The gathering of giants in/around Jotunfist itself (I re-named it in my version of the AP) should have frightening implications. Plus all the various giant types encountered there, some with obviously Thassilonian runes on them. (One of my players was convinced that they had met a rune giant in Jotunfist ... until the party did some more research in the Therassic Library at the end of Book 5, and found out just how big real rune giants were.)

Conna could explain the neutral stone giant point of view (and supply the first half of Mokmurian's backstory). Her knowledge of stone giant tribal history can reveal how the runelords enslaved the stone giants (using rune giants) and forced them to build so many of Thassilon's mega-sized monuments. It's also the reason why stone giants distrust wizards (and hence why Mokmurian got kicked out originally).

(For those whose PCs were interested in Varisian lore, I made the point from the beginning that the stereotypical villain in Varisian folk tales was always "an evil wizard in a tower". This is due to the Varisian oral tradition's memory of life under Thassilonian rule. And why Varisians seem to produce more sorcerers than wizards; it's a cultural bias.)

Mokmurian's notes can explain the rest of his backstory, including his trip to Xin-Shalast. (Minus the explanation of how he got there; that would have not been written down for security reasons.) They also explain that Runeforge is important, by way of explaining the reason for the giant raid on Sandpoint. ("This is where the traitor Xaliasa dwelled ... Runeforge ...")

The Therassic Library underneath Jotunfist can supply a lot of information about Thassilon in general - including hints of why it's not a good idea to let the runelords come back - plus the specific information about Karzoug and Xin-Shalast that the AP lists. (Even though Mokmurian deliberately destroyed all references about how to reach Xin-Shalast, the library maps of Thassilon do show that the city is "somewhere in the Kodars".)

I also allowed the party to find some information about Runeforge in the library (it's general purpose being to research improvements in magical theory and practice). However, I stressed how there was no information about where it was or how to get there. This is why Xaliasa's knowledge is so important, both to Mokmurian and to the party. If Mokmurian thought that Runeforge is important, then the party per definition should be interested too.

In Book 5, the journals of the various Runeforge wizards should also provide information. Vraxeris in particular was interested in the repercussions of Karzoug's awakening. (Jordimundus was not so far-reaching when it came to conclusions, but he was a voyeur when it came to what was going on in the other wings.)

Karzoug himself should be providing the impression that he is not a nice guy. Mokmurian's death scene and his Runeforge speech should support this impression. (Best if done with a Christopher Lee voice.)

Motivation? Who wouldn't want to defend their beloved town and nation against invading giants under the rule of a risen evil runelord who wants to re-enslave the entire region as part of his new Thassilonian empire?


To be honest: no. Adding new PCs to the AP has been straightforward. In each case we just took one thing that really mattered to the PC and had it placed under threat by Karzoug's machinations.

The highest level PC we added was at level 13. She created an Inquisitor of Pharasma. She had been sent by her church to investigate reports of missing souls, which is something Pharasma is highly motivated to prevent.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

... According to the AP, the skimmed-off greed doesn't prevent the souls from reaching the Boneyard.

On the other hand, it's possible that Pharasma might still notice the difference.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I'd say it's probable she noticed the difference, however imperceptible it was. She's the oldest deity in existence, after all. I don't think it matters how many levels of wizard you have and how many cool toys the writer gave you, Special K - you're still having to play by rules. She's a god. She doesn't.

Why doesn't she take action, then? Who's to say she didn't see that the PCs are already on the job, and she's letting them act as her mortal agents?


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Modules, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

Sounds like you've just finished book three? If so perhaps the new character could be from Fort Rannick and was away when the fort fell (perhaps a ranger or druid out in the wilderness alone). They could seek out the party after hearing about how they avenged the Black Arrows.

Have you considered having them play as an NPC already introduced? Shalelu would be a good choice as would one of the surviving Black Arrows from earlier in the book.


Bellona wrote:

... According to the AP, the skimmed-off greed doesn't prevent the souls from reaching the Boneyard.

On the other hand, it's possible that Pharasma might still notice the difference.

Yes. I changed that :) I had Karzoug stealing the actual souls of the greedy.


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Gilium wrote:

So I've been running the campaign for a couple of years now, and one thing that has repeatedly caused a problem for me is that the villains in this campaign are quite mysterious about their large-scale goals. While I understand that part of the campaign is the process of figuring this out, it does mean that the party still doesn't have a real concept of what's at stake.

I've tried to address this through dropping hints at a larger-scale intent, including a correspondence between Lucrecia and Mokmurian that did mention 'gathering our forces' (as well as a few other campaign-specific adjustments I'd made). Most of the players seem to be content with the understanding that someone's been calling the shots with all this murder, and as of last session they've just found the note about the raid on Sandpoint. They seem to be mostly okay with the flow of information.

However, one player is planning to retire his character (he's playing a pacifistic druid, and all the deliberately going places to kill innocent creatures like ogres who lived here first doesn't sit well with the character). He wants to bring in a new character, but due to the fact that there hasn't been a lot of clear information revealed about Mokmurian or his goals at this point he can't find a strong character motive for joining the party, or caring much about any of what's going on. The opinion from this player seems to be that the villains so far appear to have been mostly of the mustache-twirling variety.

Have any of you had similar troubles with this AP, reluctant heroes not feeling like they had a reason to get involved? And how at this point could I help with that? My idea of a solution at this point is having Svevenka contact the players after Myriana is put to rest (one of the players had a familial tie to Myriana so I think I can sell it) and tell them about how Mokmurian travelled to Xin Shalast and returned, and that the city's been unusually active since.

Okay. I think I might be able to help. But I'll have to set aside some of my own baggage. Like: a pacifist pathfinder character is an oxymoron. And the idea that ogres can be innocent. Or that they were there first (note: the area was a human empire 10000 years ago...)

I also might point out to our reluctant druid that both the Skinsaw Cult and the Ogres had lived in some kind of balance/co-existence (albeit not necessarily peaceful or friendly) with their neighbors for decades until they were manipulated by a disruptive, external, evil force - the Lamia Matriarchs. That sure seems like something that should be stopped. If it helps him to view the Ogres as victims... well, whatever helps you make it through the day.

It also seems odd the character is planning to retire at the one moment when he realizes he's needed at "home." When the pc's find the note about the attack on Sandpoint, they should have the exact same expression and reaction as Luke Skywalker when he realizes that "If the Empire followed the droids here..." Get your butt in the speeder and get home before it gets torched.

But, again, setting the all that aside; this AP is a deliberate mystery. But it's not a whodunit sort of thing with clues and such that lets you jump to the end. It relies on the pc's caring about what happens to the people of Sandpoint (or perhaps the people of Varisia) and wanting to either stop harm in the process of being inflicted upon them or prevent it from happening in the first place. (For those "mercenary with a heart of gold" types there's also an almost unimaginable amount of wealth to be had.) The pc's need to be satisfied stopping one evil, seeing how it's connected to a larger even more awful evil, proceeding to stop that, lather, rinse, repeat. They need to be satisfied more with progress and less with "knowing."

Let's compare it with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (And pretend that the upcoming End Game is really The End :) Was Thanos' role clear in Iron Man or The First Avenger or even in Winter Soldier or Civil War? Nope. But is he really the BBEG of the whole thing? Yes. Would it make sense for Tony Stark to say "Well I don't know what all this Infinity Stone crap is all about yet so Pepper and I are going to Maui for a few years. See Ya!" No. (Okay a retirement in Maui with Gwyneth Paltrow sounds like a pretty good way to go.) The Avengers often had self-doubt about themselves, each other and whether they were doing the right thing or were up to the challenge but not because they didn't know what the real plot was. They dealt with the evils they faced as they arose and moved on to the next day. (Or in some cases didn't make it to the next day.)

Your Druid replacement pc needs some motivation? How about this? Somewhere in the Storval Plateau is a power-mad stone giant wizard who is building an army to curb stomp everyone his character has ever known and reduce every living being in Varisia to slavery. Or - there is someone out there organizing widespread human sacrifice to fuel some kind of greed magic on a large scale. The one small scale example that they know about was a tiny pool under Sandpoint that turned people into homicidal maniacs that burned churches, murdered family members and slaughtered innocents by the dozens. Maybe someone should make sure that doesn't happen again?


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I think you've got two problems: First, the AP doesn't hang together as cohesively as it should. The first four books rely on the PCs caring about the fate of Sandpoint: The town is constantly under threat, and the PCs only need to react to the Big Bad's attacks. In book five, however, once the threat of the Scribbler is dealt with the AP expects the PCs to get proactive. If your PCs are mercenaries or haven't developed a personal enmity for Karzoug by that point, you'll have trouble getting them to do the legwork required to take the fight to Xin Shalast.

As early as Book 2, I'd have the Pathfinder Society take an interest in the PCs: Venture Captain Shelia Heidmarch should reach out to the newfound Heroes of Sandpoint regarding the Catacombs of Wrath and any of the Thassilonian relics or lore they've recovered. At some point, possibly after uncovering the Thassilonian Library in book 4, if the PCs have been upfront about their discoveries she should either offer them membership into the Society or negotiate with them to arrange access for the Society to the Library. Lady Heidmarch, given access to the Thassilonian lore, is probably in a unique position to use her connections with the nobility of Magnimmar to persuade the Lord Mayor that Karzoug is an eminent threat to all of Varisia. At that point, Magnimmar should be willing to convene a war council and bankroll a fact-finding mission to Rimeskull. A new PC could be introduced as a Pathfinder Society expert at any point in this process.

The second problem is that your players seem to expect you to provide them with motivation for their characters to adventure. How about this: They're adventurers. Failing any personal investment, the characters should always find loot to be compelling. Here's a section from my "house rules" handout I give to new players:

Quote:
Motivation Your characters are unique, as are their backstories and goals. However, they all have one thing in common: They are all Adventurers. Adventurers put their life at risk to accumulate wealth. Whatever your character's personal goal, accumulation of wealth is a means to that end. Want to raise an army to defend your homeland? That costs money. Want revenge on someone who did you wrong? Finding them and orchestrating their demise will be expensive. Just out for new sights and experiences? Even a hedonist needs coin for meals and lodging. There are no "reluctant heroes" at the table: When the game starts, your character is already convinced that Adventuring is the best way to pursue their individual goal.


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SoylentG wrote:

I think you've got two problems: First, the AP doesn't hang together as cohesively as it should. The first four books rely on the PCs caring about the fate of Sandpoint: The town is constantly under threat, and the PCs only need to react to the Big Bad's attacks. In book five, however, once the threat of the Scribbler is dealt with the AP expects the PCs to get proactive. If your PCs are mercenaries or haven't developed a personal enmity for Karzoug by that point, you'll have trouble getting them to do the legwork required to take the fight to Xin Shalast.

As early as Book 2, I'd have the Pathfinder Society take an interest in the PCs: Venture Captain Shelia Heidmarch should reach out to the newfound Heroes of Sandpoint regarding the Catacombs of Wrath and any of the Thassilonian relics or lore they've recovered. At some point, possibly after uncovering the Thassilonian Library in book 4, if the PCs have been upfront about their discoveries she should either offer them membership into the Society or negotiate with them to arrange access for the Society to the Library. Lady Heidmarch, given access to the Thassilonian lore, is probably in a unique position to use her connections with the nobility of Magnimmar to persuade the Lord Mayor that Karzoug is an eminent threat to all of Varisia. At that point, Magnimmar should be willing to convene a war council and bankroll a fact-finding mission to Rimeskull. A new PC could be introduced as a Pathfinder Society expert at any point in this process.

The second problem is that your players seem to expect you to provide them with motivation for their characters to adventure. How about this: They're adventurers. Failing any personal investment, the characters should always find loot to be compelling. Here's a section from my "house rules" handout I give to new players:

Quote:
Motivation Your characters are unique, as are their backstories and goals. However, they all have one thing in common: They are all Adventurers.
...

Yeah, it is a player's responsibility to make a character that answers the call to adventure. Finding good motivation for them is important, but they need to meet you half way.

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