Reflections (and some tentative advice) on adapting Adventure Paths


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


Earlier this year, I finished GMing an Adventure Path that I altered significantly, particularly the second half. The experience inspired a few thoughts, listed below in case they’re interesting, useful or thought-provoking for someone. (I’m not arguing for or against adapting pre-written adventures - there are many different reasons why individual GMs may prefer to run adventures as written or to create their own from scratch.)

1) Adapting an AP gives opportunities to suit the game to the group’s preferences, remove aspects that are unlikely to be fun or interesting for the players, and involve the PCs more closely in the events of the adventure. I’ve also found it useful to alter pre-written adventures whenever something doesn’t make sense to me - it’s much easier to convey what’s going on to the players if I’ve worked out a version that’s logical in my own mind.

2) Many players are very quick to spot patterns in games, especially when it can seem to them that their PCs are repeatedly being punished for taking reasonable actions. If you’re adapting an AP, then you have an opportunity to make changes to NPCs or events that may be notably similar to ones in games your group has played previously. In particular, you may want to look out for in-game consequences that are likely to discourage actions you don’t want to discourage.

3) Even taking into account point 2 above, an AP is long enough that there’s space to explore variations on particular themes. I’ve done this with themes of temptation versus redemption and the different ways that people can be evil - themes like these have lots of scope to be included in various ways in NPC backstories without obvious repetition.

4) Pre-written adventures often contain enemy NPCs who will attack on sight, so that the only way for the PCs to deal with them is by combat. (My understanding is that this is often due to word count limits.) If you want to allow the PCs more options, then a possible approach is to give some of the NPCs different motives. For example, if the NPC wants something and thinks the PCs may be able to acquire it, then the PCs may be able to use diplomacy or deception as alternatives to fighting.

5) It may be feasible to rearrange a linear adventure into one that allows the PCs more choices about the order in which they confront various problems, and about the approaches they take. If the PCs have opportunities to learn useful information about their choices in advance, they can make meaningful decisions. And if the PCs’ choices in one part of the adventure have consequences elsewhere later on, this may help to make the game world seem more real. This style of adventure can be very complex to write in advance, but a GM has the advantage of only needing to track and react to the choices that one group of PCs actually made.

6) If you know your players and their PCs, you can consider including scenarios that AP writers tend to avoid (I’m thinking of situations where an impulsive PC can easily get the entire party killed, or opportunities that may tempt ambitious or avaricious PCs to abandon the party’s goals). But I’d still recommend caution! (GMs don’t always understand the PCs as well as they think they do. And if the players know they’re playing an AP, they may make assumptions about what outcomes are possible.)

7) Some pre-written adventures contain lengthy backgrounds for particular NPCs. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to portray this sort of NPC effectively if I replace the complex background with one or two key events and work out how these have shaped the NPC’s personality.

8) I’ve also found it can be fun and interesting to include some NPCs who are hostile to the PCs but not evil, and some NPCs who are evil but won’t necessarily be hostile to the PCs.

9) I’ve been thinking a bit about how to make setbacks and tests that are determined by roleplaying choices (rather than by the rules and the dice) seem fair to the players. This can be tricky, but in my experience it helps to try to make the logic behind what’s happening clear and built on information that the PCs already have, to avoid the impression that events are occurring arbitrarily.

10) If the PCs are venturing underground, it’s useful for the GM to remember where the water table is. (Hmm… On further reflection, this one is possibly only applicable to our gaming group.)

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completely coincidental wrote:
Earlier this year, I finished GMing an Adventure Path that I altered significantly, particularly the second half. The experience inspired a few thoughts, listed below in case they’re interesting, useful or thought-provoking for someone. (I’m not arguing for or against adapting pre-written adventures - there are many different reasons why individual GMs may prefer to run adventures as written or to create their own from scratch.)

Since the release of PF2, many are also looking to revise older Pathfinder material to the new rules.

completely coincidental wrote:
1) Adapting an AP gives opportunities to suit the game to the group’s preferences, remove aspects that are unlikely to be fun or interesting for the players, and involve the PCs more closely in the events of the adventure. I’ve also found it useful to alter pre-written adventures whenever something doesn’t make sense to me - it’s much easier to convey what’s going on to the players if I’ve worked out a version that’s logical in my own mind.

While not your goal in writing this, your comments are completely "on point."

Once the GM starts looking at an AP, he/she should absolutely look at how their player group will approach any encounter.

completely coincidental wrote:
5) It may be feasible to rearrange a linear adventure into one that allows the PCs more choices about the order in which they confront various problems, and about the approaches they take. If the PCs have opportunities to learn useful information about their choices in advance, they can make meaningful decisions. And if the PCs’ choices in one part of the adventure have consequences elsewhere later on, this may help to make the game world seem more real. This style of adventure can be very complex to write in advance, but a GM has the advantage of only needing to track and react to the choices that one group of PCs actually made.

The player characters need to have an idea of what they need to do, but you are right, the heros' actions (for good or ill) should matter. :) For a published adventure, they often need to focus on the main plot, but Paizo has successfully experimented with a more "freeform" style from time to time. In a sense, every adventure needs to be a hybrid of "linear" and "sandbox".

completely coincidental wrote:
7) Some pre-written adventures contain lengthy backgrounds for particular NPCs. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to portray this sort of NPC effectively if I replace the complex background with one or two key events and work out how these have shaped the NPC’s personality.

This can be somewhat annoying when the NPC in question doesn't need it. ("Isabella Locke" is a particularly glaring example.)

completely coincidental wrote:
10) If the PCs are venturing underground, it’s useful for the GM to remember where the water table is. (Hmm… On further reflection, this one is possibly only applicable to our gaming group.)

Probibly ... but, you do point out that the environment is as much of an NPC as the lord of the local mannor.

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Honestly though paizo aps are really good at giving enemies a reason to attack you and lot of them include lot of good roleplaying moments with enemies you can avoid(earlier ones might have less of them? Crimson Throne was pretty good about it though)

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CorvusMask wrote:
Honestly though paizo aps are really good at giving enemies a reason to attack you and lot of them include lot of good roleplaying moments with enemies you can avoid(earlier ones might have less of them? Crimson Throne was pretty good about it though)

Curse of the Crimson Throne contains some of the best work Paizo has ever done. ;)


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I can ONLY run an AP after I've changed, adapted, and rewritten parts of it.

For me, I think one small part is that it has to 'flow' in the manner in which I think, collect, and process. Not calling myself a genius or anything, as I mostly run homebrew adventures all the time for the past 28 years. But for me, if the outline I perceive of the book I'm reading makes little sense to me if I start asking questions (Why would that villain do that? How does the PC come to know the adventure background at all? Why would the NPCs presume that an event has 'ended'?) then that's where I start changing things.

Giantslayer Book 1 is fun, but honestly, the prescription Stupid Pills one must take to assume why the leader of the guards does what he does in part 3 is ridiculous. So yes, to maybe add onto point, I believe that all Paths need to be seriously gone over and adapted and edited as needed for each table.


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I just change the encounters to increase the challenge of the combats.


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The major thing I like to change is adding a decent amount of foreshadowing for major NPC's and major enemies who are not supposed to be a surprise before the party meets them. Even just a few rumours or name drops helps.

For me this worked particularly well for Kingmaker and made my second time DMing it far more well received than my first.

The main thing I like to take out on the other hand are the many Ap specific rules sub systems. I have a special dislike for the caravan system in Jade Regent, but the one in Hell's Rebels' doesn't fill me with joy either.

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