2 - Cult of Cinders (GM Reference)


Age of Ashes

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I'll also add that the point of this encounter isn't necessarily what Edka can tell the party but instead to show the party that the Cinderclaws are a threat not just to Akrivel but to all of the region's inhabitants and this ruined village adds to the gravitas of the situation. Perhaps the party will think that had they arrived earlier they could have saved the village. Of course this isn't possible as the adventure is written, but the party doesn't know this. The world feels more dynamic when things (seem to) happen outside of the party's direct influence.


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The first part of this module is painfully boring. So far the social interactions and NPCs are boring. I'll have to heavily modify it just like I did Hellknight Hill getting rid of the pointless Alak and the nonsensical goblin hostage situation. I hope the third module kicks up the action faster and doesn't have these waste of time NPCs or not really dangerous hostage situations.

PF2 is fun to play so far. This starting AP is not one of my favorite. It is definitely not up to Runelords or Kingmaker or even Giantslayer or Carrion Crown. I hope it picks up in the later modules.

I need the story to make more sense. I want some NPCs that aren't wasting my time as a DM with dancing, pointless hunts, and matchmaking. Supposedly the situation is very serious and the PCs are learning about gates traveling around the lands and they're spending time frolicking with elves.

I'm going to increase the urgency. I want them to feel like they are involved in something very, very serious and world threatening.


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One of the PCs in my party is a gnome with Animal Elocutionist. Thus, they can speak to Harriet.

What is Harriet's secret? Why is she a lion who thinks herself to be a leopard? Clearly, she can operate and hunt in the jungle as though she was a leopard herself.

Is it purely left to the GM to decide what Harriet's secret is?

Silver Crusade

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Colette Brunel wrote:

One of the PCs in my party is a gnome with Animal Elocutionist. Thus, they can speak to Harriet.

What is Harriet's secret? Why is she a lion who thinks herself to be a leopard? Clearly, she can operate and hunt in the jungle as though she was a leopard herself.

Is it purely left to the GM to decide what Harriet's secret is?

Harriet’s story is pretty much told on p. 25.

My guess is the Ekujae feed her or she simply avoids dangerous prey.


It is page 25 that says, "But Harriet had the last laugh on us—we found that lion a pride that would accept her and left her out on the plains to live with her people, only to find six months later that the lion had come back to the jungle! Shows what we know! I’m not sure how Harriet eats without any spots to hide her hide in the forest, but she’s certainly fat enough for a lion, so who am I to argue?"

Nketiah does not know how Harriet successfully operates as a "leopard" in the jungle, or why Harriet left the pride to begin with.

Is there something special about Harriet?

Silver Crusade

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She got attached to the Ekujae.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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There is nothing special about Harriet other than that she's a quirky lion who likes the company of elves and has weird habits. If the quirkyness inspires a GM to build more and more story, that's the entire point. We put things like Harriet into our adventures EXACTLY because they're strange and inspiring and help spur a GM's imagination, but if they don't then simply having it be a cat in a tree and nothing more won't impact the overall plot.


I think I know the answer to this, but it’s worth it for some clarity. The shard of the golden dragon orb, do the PC’s need this for anything in later adventures?

Dark Archive

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Asurasan wrote:
I think I know the answer to this, but it’s worth it for some clarity. The shard of the golden dragon orb, do the PC’s need this for anything in later adventures?

If they do, Kyrion is stated to return later on as thanks for rescuing him, so presumably if they weren't murdering poor thing for funsies they get opportunity to do that later again :P (or more likely non lethal way of getting help from the shard)

Dark Archive

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Continuing the conversation from Hellknight Hill GM Reference thread about the goofy evil taldan explorer twins

I mean, they COULD have just said his brother instead of identical twin, and it'd be identical scenario. Him having identical twin just makes the scenario even more goofy than if it was JUST his brother.

Also just to note that I wouldn't call it railroad, you can encounter the guy in two different locations and depending on order you encounter him, he behaves differently in second place you encounter him at. Its also not major part of adventure, just goofy side thing.

That said, you are right that it COULD be read in that way so I can now see why it would be offensive.


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The entire twin thing ist just a bit goofy. The party's intended to meet the same guy twice in different places, the first time he annoys them but ultimately leaves, the second time around it gets violent. Since both encounters need an active antagonist, the adventure needed a solution in case the party goes full murder-hobo and kills him during the initial encounter. So instead of coming up with a really creative idea, the adventure "solves" this by having them meet his identical twin, with the same stats, same gear and almost identical name instead.

It was probably intended to be funny, but for me it came across as just lazy writing and somewhat lessened the enjoyment of this otherwise well done antagonist. (Though looking at his stats, he's some kind of superhero, no PC is going to get his attributes nearly as high even by level 20. Those design decisions always kind of rub me the wrong way...)

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NPCs are not built the same way PCs are in P2.


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Rysky wrote:
NPCs are not built the same way PCs are in P2.

Yes, I know, and I'm not saying the character is breaking any rules. But it still seems odd to me that an NPC that comes across as somewhat similar to a PC has attributes that much higher. I don't have the book on hand right now, but I think CHA 22 and DEX 20 with no dumped stats as an essentially 7th level NPC. That just seems way more "heroic" than the actual heroes.

Silver Crusade

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He does have high stats but he also has an 8 equivalent Wisdom.

Liberty's Edge

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To quote my post people are responding to (for context):

Deadmanwalking wrote:
CorvusMask wrote:
Wait, the goofy evil Taldan explorer having identical less successful, but equally evil twin is offensive?

It's probably the idea that twins are interchangeable and you can just use one as a placeholder for the other since obviously neither have any meaningful individual differences (in this case, they have absolutely identical stats and act exactly the same in the same circumstance). An idea that's super awful to real twins and taken as gospel truth in regards to these.

This doesn't seem intentionally malicious or anything, IMO, but it is a legitimately unfortunate implication of the text and something I can easily see someone being upset over.

That bit of text is definitely my least favorite part of the adventure by an order of magnitude as well, both for this reason now that it's been brought to my attention (it's the sort of thing I might not have spotted on my own, but I agree is legitimately and seriously problematic now that it's been brought up), and for making the PCs choices and actions in regards to said explorer meaningless. It's, frankly, a complete railroad plot with no real redeeming features that also manages to insult real people.

I like the rest of the adventure just fine, but that paragraph of text is a real issue. And one I hope Paizo realizes as such and avoids in future.

Peachbottom wrote:
Yeah, I don't understand anyone being upset with Gerhard/Erhard. I loved the character as soon as I read him. He's hilarious. And I don't see anything wrong with adding a little comedy into a campaign. I'm really looking forward to running him in my game. My players are going to think he's great too.
The problem is not a comedic evil villain. I doubt it's even having a set of comedic evil twins. I strongly suspect it's the idea that twins are interchangeable and have no real separate individual personalities. Which reads as pretty unpleasant and enforcing a real world unfortunate stereotype when you think about it.

I do also agree that his stats are so high as to be annoying. It's always an issue when people who are a!%+&%*s about being 'superior' are objectively correct.

Though, in fairness, he does have Int 10 and Wis 8, so he's not completely without dump stats.

But still, he has a net Str 16, Dex 18, Con 20, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 22 at 8th level. Even if you assume he has the stats of a 10th level PC (which seems reasonable to me), those stats are too high by a fair bit (a 10th level PC can have, at most, Str 16, Dex 18, Con 18, Int 10, Wis 8, Cha 20).

22 in a stat is available 'naturally' to PCs only at 20th level, and even with magic items only at 17th. Something like a nymph violating that standard seems totally fine, but this guy? That seems deeply wrong thematically, even in an asymmetric game.

Dark Archive

Not honestly sure what he even needs 22 charisma for, but I do have to admit that in case of unlikely high stat npcs I tend to just turn my brain off since it is just to justify it in character. Mechanically it makes sense enough to me that npcs sometimes just have higher stats than pc of equivalent level since the npcs don't follow pc rules anyway, but its kinda hard to figure out why they would have so in character.


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The twin things sounds like it is lampshading the old "Well my PC John died, meet my new PC, his identical twin Jack, but you guys can just call him John." Which is still maybe in poor taste, but that's where my brain immediately went.


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How are the exploration mechanics in this handled? Does it just use Hexploration like Part 4 of Doomsday Dawn did? I'm less interested in Hexploration than I am on general traveling through hazardous terrain. Does this book have a random encounter table or anything like that? I've been dabbling with things like tension pools but I'd love to see how the professionals are handling it.

I'd pick it up myself to find out, but I got burned on Hellknight Hill when I picked it up hoping to find settlement mechanics so I'd rather wait until I know I'll be running the book to buy another volume. I suspect this stuff is going to get covered in the Gamemastery Guide, but I'm hopeful I can gleam some insight before then.


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The party can travel two hexes in a day if all they do is move. If they use an exploration activity to Search, Scout or Explore they move only one hex but find any encounter located in that hex.

There are no random encounter tables. The book recommends using he given encounters for inspiration on coming up with your own but warns against using too many lest the game become bogged down. I most likely won't be using an random encounters.

There is a mechanic for enemy patrols that track the party through the jungle based on how much damage they do in their travels. Those could perhaps feel like random encounters to the party if they don't catch on as to why they're happening.

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In fact, let us know if you miss random encounters! The current game philosophy is that it's better to curate encounters rather than randomly roll them—do you enjoy having wandering monster tables to roll on? Or do you never use them?

Silver Crusade

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Maybe not Random Encounter Tables persay, but a “You’re likely to encounter these critters in the area” list or something like that.


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Random encounters are the devil. I love that they are no longer assumed to be part of the baseline.

Liberty's Edge

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James Jacobs wrote:
In fact, let us know if you miss random encounters! The current game philosophy is that it's better to curate encounters rather than randomly roll them—do you enjoy having wandering monster tables to roll on? Or do you never use them?

The tables are super handy for more sandbox-y games set in the area, and give indications as to what creatures might be found there, but moving away from them in the APs themselves seems a solid call.

So I'm pretty much in agreement with Rysky, I think. A paragraph or so on what creatures might be expected in the area is probably as useful as random encounter tables in most cases, but no guidance at all is a bit too little.


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I don't like rolling on the random encounter tables, but I do like looking at them for examples of how I may adjust or replace the core AP encounters if the party goes off the rails.

Dark Archive

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James Jacobs wrote:
In fact, let us know if you miss random encounters! The current game philosophy is that it's better to curate encounters rather than randomly roll them—do you enjoy having wandering monster tables to roll on? Or do you never use them?

I actually love random encounter tables(especially the unique to the book encounters with flavor and stuff, I have habit of skipping random encounters if roll's result was boring(such as same creature multiple time in row or it would be trivial difficulty encounter), but I tend to run those extra encounters whenever I can)

And as said, they are also useful for gauging creatures in area in case you need expanding the adventure or adding more creatures to encounters

(in general I think exploration based APs definitely need the random encounters, kingmaker would be weird without them. Also I think Curse of the Crimson Throne benefitted from the pretty complex random encounter table it had)


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I'm not sure random encounters are what I'm interested in per se. I think it is closer to what Fumarole describes with the patrols-- encounters or consequences based on what the party actually does. In particular related to the passage of time.

PF2 has has made 10 minute increments into something useful and easy to measure with things like Treat Wounds. And Hell Knight Hill even included some rooms that specifically said they needed 40 minutes to search, for example. But the problem is without a ticking clock tracking that time is kind of meaningless and players can take several hours to heal up after any given encounter.

I would like to start figuring out ways to make it seem like the world is still alive and doing stuff in that time, both in the field and in the dungeon.


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Continuing misplaced discussion from another thread:

Peachbottom wrote:
Yeah, I don't understand anyone being upset with Gerhard/Erhard. I loved the character as soon as I read him. He's hilarious. And I don't see anything wrong with adding a little comedy into a campaign. I'm really looking forward to running him in my game. My players are going to think he's great too.

It's just a matter of preferred group style.

As a GM, I would be taking a huge risk running this. Worst case, angry players who give up on my game. The identical twin thing is offensive because of its railroady nature (we worked hard to beat this guy, but nothing changes as a result--my players hate that) as well as feeling really cheesy. There are also problems with "Gerhard could carry three barrels of gunpowder, how come I can't carry my alchemist's kit?!" and "Gerhard can destroy a temple with three barrels of gunpowder, are you going to let us do that?" and "Why are his stats so high?" if the players find that out somehow (and I have a math whiz who might well notice). And then there's "Where is his camp? How did he get here?" though I could probably improv my way through that.

Best case, the players groan at the cheesiness and probably break character and indulge in a lot of pop-culture humor. I like my humor to stay in-game.

So a lose-lose for me, and I wouldn't run it, but obviously if you and your group like this sort of thing, enjoy! It is colorful and funny, in a B-movie sort of way.

RPG Superstar 2012 Top 32

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Mary Yamato wrote:


Gerhard could carry three barrels of gunpowder

"Gerhard can destroy a temple with three barrels of gunpowder, are you going to let us do that?"

Answering things that were actually addressed in the adventure. (And not the rest of it. Different people, different tastes.)

A: He has a bag of holding 1. Why shouldn't he be able to carry 3 kegs of black powder in it? Those are significantly smaller than barrels.

B: He has Engineering Lore with a +14, and the cliff is noted to be unstable. He 'carefully calculated' where he should place the kegs to cause the temple to collapse down the cliff. I'm usually the GM, and I'd certainly allow this!


I have a question about the befriending the Ekujae section of the adventure. Is the ring of fire resistance given to each PC or is there just a singular ring that the party has to decide who gets it?


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Chris Godsey wrote:
I have a question about the befriending the Ekujae section of the adventure. Is the ring of fire resistance given to each PC or is there just a singular ring that the party has to decide who gets it?

A single ring.

Cult of Cinders page 15 wrote:
The elves offer the PCs a copper ring of fire resistance in the shape of a leopard, with the clan’s twin leaders wryly noting that it will likely serve the PCs well in the days to come,


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For another opinion on wandering monsters: I do not really use the charts as given. But I do like knowing what monsters or encounter options are in the region in case I do need and extra encounter.

Scarab Sages

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Seannoss wrote:
For another opinion on wandering monsters: I do not really use the charts as given. But I do like knowing what monsters or encounter options are in the region in case I do need and extra encounter.

Same here. I generally cherry pick the list for an encounter I think my players will find challenging.


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Reposting as the other thread is getting moderated and everything on this subject is getting quarantined to this thread:

I’m considering running this AP despite my opinions of how this edition will shake out. I haven’t read the adventure yet, but have read the thread to see what people think of it.

Mary Yamato wrote:
there is also a question of attitude and tone. Neither episode 1 nor episode 2 sold me in any way on the gameworld being a real place. This reaches its nadir in the encounter in #2 where, if the PCs inconveniently kill an NPC, the GM is told to have their identical twin brother show up so that nothing will change. But that's far from the only example.

This is definitely something I’ve started to notice of late with Paizo’s adventures. Player agency takes a backseat to the adventure’s narrative anytime there is a slight conflict. I don’t remember this in Carrion Crown (the only AP I’ve run), nor have I experienced it under good GMs. But I have seen it in Dead Suns (which I ran half of) and now apparently this adventure.

It could be Paizo has always done this, and feels it has to due to how APs work. But it’s something I’ve certainly only picked up on “recently”.

Rysky wrote:
The thing with the twins is that it's a joke encounter, it's not something dire to the AP that requires either brother to be there to continue on.

That makes it even more nonsensical. Having “a twin” come out of nowhere who carries on the dead twin’s work is a classic “screw you guys. You have no agency in this campaign. Get back on the tracks” jerk move by the DM. If it’s not crucial to the plot, I don’t understand why the adventure writer would include it.


Seannoss wrote:
For another opinion on wandering monsters: I do not really use the charts as given. But I do like knowing what monsters or encounter options are in the region in case I do need and extra encounter.

This is definitely how I have used them in the past (I dislike wandering monsters as written, but I do like the table as info for me to use).

Silver Crusade

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Rysky wrote:
The thing with the twins is that it's a joke encounter, it's not something dire to the AP that requires either brother to be there to continue on.
That makes it even more nonsensical. Having “a twin” come out of nowhere who carries on the dead twin’s work is a classic “screw you guys. You have no agency in this campaign. Get back on the tracks” jerk move by the DM. If it’s not crucial to the plot, I don’t understand why the adventure writer would include it.

Huh?

No it's not, the character(s) in question are dealing with something related to the plot of the AP but the character(s) themselves are irrelevant.

And even then it's good to have side and optional stuff in an adventure to break down pacing and tension.


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Rysky wrote:
No it's not

Well... that's your opinion. I disagree.

I would never introduce a twin out of nowhere who picks up exactly what the deceased sibling was doing with the exact same motives and the exact same stats. That is a classic "screw you" move by a DM (especially if the twin has no other part in the adventure and does not appear except if you kill their sibling). Your welcome to disagree.

Silver Crusade

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I'm just not seeing how a joke encounter is a screw you to the players since it's not something that hinders them in nay way.


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Rysky wrote:
I'm just not seeing how a joke encounter is a screw you to the players since it's not something that hinders them in nay way.

That much is clear. I would suggest it's because your focusing on "it's just a joke guys" rather than it's actually teaching the players "nothing you do will matter! If you kill my NPCs, I will just shoehorn in replacement NPCs to get you to follow the tracks. How dare you think you have agency!"

I've explained it as well as I can.

Given you don't understand, I suggest you move on and simply accept that I will have a different opinion to you.

Silver Crusade

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I understand now what your reasoning is, but that's not what is in the scenario, since the setup is a mockery of the "My character Bob died so here's his twin brother Rob to avenge him" character replacement scenario. It's also the only instance of it and in the second book as well, so an isolated incident as well.

And that's without getting into the fact that the GM is under no obligation to introduce the brother in the first place.


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Rysky wrote:
I understand now what your reasoning is, but that's not what is in the scenario, since the setup is a mockery of the "My character Bob died so here's his twin brother Rob to avenge him" character replacement scenario. It's also the only instance of it and in the second book as well, so an isolated incident as well.

That definitely helps lessen the problem, but it is still definitely a risky thing to include. There are some things I just avoid including at all costs and I would only ever include this if it was clear up front that it's a joke, and if I'd gamed with that group for quite a while and they knew this is something I wouldn't pull on them AND if they were in the mood for some levity. That is a highly niche situation in which I include this. I think including the entire scenario in an introduction adventure path for a new edition (which will likely attract new GMs who don't have the experiences to know that including something like this is dangerous) is very risky.

Rysky wrote:
And that's without getting into the fact that the GM is under no obligation to introduce the brother in the first place.

Yes, thankyou. I am aware that GMs can change whatever they want. Pointing this out adds zero value to the conversation.

Silver Crusade

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It does add value when you take umbrage with the scenario, reinforcing to you and others reading yes you can change this, it's not that important nor integral to the adventure or plot, it's a joke encounter.


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Rysky wrote:
It does add value when you take umbrage with the scenario, reinforcing to you and others reading yes you can change this, it's not that important nor integral to the adventure or plot, it's a joke encounter.

I guess it is a good way to dismiss criticisms. I can see why someone might see value in that.

Silver Crusade

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I'm not dismissing any criticisms.


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Rysky wrote:
I'm not dismissing any criticisms.

Ok.

Dark Archive

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Plus players wouldn't know that in first place unless you tell them :P You are kind of saying "GM isn't allowed to bring back villain, either through normally, as undead, or as joke brother at all" which just sounds incredibly restrictive to me.

Like rail roading is more like "Nothing you do matters because things happen anyway in way gm wants". The twin brother backup doesn't really count because it does actually change how encounter happens :P (e.g. if players manage to never tell him that they met his other twin and killed him, they can just talk the guy off)

It would kinda help this conversation for you to give other examples of this "GM agency over Player agency" situations?

(and yeah, I'm agreeing with Rysky that it kinda feels like you are taking the joke too seriously and if I understood right, you weren't even offended by the twin thing. Like its essentially a pair of random encounters with joke of goofy taldan explorer there. It would be actually bad if guy was major villain and killing him early would result him being replaced in finale by his twin brother because that would say "You can't end the adventure early no matter what!" meanwhile the guy in actual adventure is just two shot encounter gag.)

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Oki backtracked to the other thread and found the example: Yeah the dead suns case its straight up rail road. There are two big moments where without railroad the players could change main story drastically, but book directly tells you "Even if players take precautions, bad guys succeed anyway" without even giving good excuse for how. Thankfully I haven't managed to notice as drastic railroad in the other Starfinder APs yet at least...

I can understand the logic that explorer brothers sets up bad precedence, but I still think its restrictive that you can't use that kind of idea in what is essentially random encounter disconnected from the main story.


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CorvusMask wrote:
I can understand the logic that explorer brothers sets up bad precedence, but I still think its restrictive that you can't use that kind of idea in what is essentially random encounter disconnected from the main story.

Well I said I would never do it so noone else is being restricted. In my experience players are predisposed to certain hang ups (and it doesnt seem to matter if they've been playing for years under other GMs or are brand new to gaming) which is to:

1) not trust NPCs (including questgivers)
2) wanting to get off railroad tracks and doing whatever it takes to achieve that.

Having a quest giver turn on them or having an adventure say "regardless of what the PCs would do which should reasonably have an affect on the AP, their actions dont"* reinforces their negative expectations. And so yes. I would never do either of those things.**

*This is of course what happened in Dead Suns rather than this adventure.

**Unless I knew the players really well, had earned their trust over years of GMing doe them and knew they would appreciate the plot development and not feel cheated by it. And even then, I'd do it once and never again for those players lest I start reinforcing their negative expectations.

Dark Archive

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Never really had problem with players being paranoid of NPCs(heck my parties tend to recruit NPC party members) or being strongly avoiding "railroads"(whether it means by being contrarian and doing something gm doesn't want to do or trying to otherwise not follow clues. Like in my experience, when players agree to play a published campaign, they usually want to play the campaign instead of going to do something else instead) so umm yeah, I don't really have experience to compare with that.

Like I still feel like its making mountain out of anthill in this case, but I guess if the gm's party is really paranoid about being railroaded I can see why gm would dislike it even as a joke.

Either way, I still don't think in this case it counts as player action not having effect on story or AP since the character being replaced by their brother does actually in this case change what might happen in second location.

Though I admit that they could have just as well have "if characters already killed the explorer guy, skip the second encounter" instead since, well, they already had the combat with the guy, gameplay design wise, why have a second combat with guy who has exact same statblock?(unless they are really good at not blowing their cover I guess) Thats kinda why I think they did that just for the gag, there is no real design or gameplay reason for it otherwise since they already defeated guy once. So I guess in the end it comes down to whether you find the joke funny or not. I don't actually have strong feelings on the backup twin thing, I just like doing analysis on stuff. I can see why people might find it genuinely offensive and if I knew in advance that my players are both likely to kill guy on first appearance and wouldn't like the joke, I'd definitely change it rather than keep it around.

On complete side note, I feel like ranting about Dead Suns again, but that would be getting off topic xD But yeah the Dead Suns' example is really frustrating ESPECIALLY since it doesn't even come up with good excuse or reasoning, its just do it like "If players scrubbed the ship for all tracking bugs, they just missed one anyway". It doesn't even suggest that GM could themselves figure out alternate solution to what happens.


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If your players don't like occasionally being railroaded, maybe adventure paths are not the way to go. Yes, freedom of choice is great, but the written adventure has a specific story to tell and very little way to react to the thousands of different people who will each play and make unique choices along the way. If you are playing an adventure path, sometimes you just need to make the decision, "if I want to get to the end of the story, I should just go with the flow." If the GM is running a custom campaign, that's a whole different story and can be revised to the players' actions much more easily.

If your players don't like jokes...I don't know what to say about that. Jokes are great. Humorous characters can definitely add to campaigns even serious ones. Age of Ashes is far from Paizo's more serious campaign. There are lots of examples of humor in the adventure path and I enjoy them.

Besides Gerhard, I found Belzamog to be very comical. Especially if you are able to speak with her.
Q: "If Dahak returns, won't he destroy you too?"
Belzamog: "Um...no?"


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John Lynch 106 wrote:
That much is clear. I would suggest it's because your focusing on "it's just a joke guys" rather than it's actually teaching the players "nothing you do will matter! If you kill my NPCs, I will just shoehorn in replacement NPCs to get you to follow the tracks. How dare you think you have agency!"

The AP does have several conflicting needs that can cause scenarios like this to happen. For example, there needs to be enough xp to hit the level progression, so presumably another encounter is needed. But the book is also constrained by word count, so there isn't room to create another statblock. You could use another Bestiary creature in a more generic combat, but getting double duty out of a new statblock is efficient from a design standpoint.

Does it matter to the narrative if they kill the guy and have to fight his brother? I don't know. Probably not. In terms of not impacting the narrative, there are bigger hills to die on than some jungle encounters.

I would probably just add the twin brother even if they didn't kill him. Fights with Twins are great.

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