My parting thoughts on Jade Regent

Jade Regent

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After 57 monthly, and occasionally twice-monthly, six-hour game sessions over four years and three months, or Jade Regent campaign came to an end in December of 2019. Since then, I acquired the books and skimmed through them, and talked with our GM a bit about some of the events around the AP, and used that to create this writeup: my final thoughts on the AP as a player.

Overall, I enjoyed this AP thoroughly.

Quick player summary:
We started with a group of eight(!) PC’s and ended with six. Two players left in book 2 due to time commitments, one left in book 5 because they weren’t enjoying the campaign, one joined us in book 4, and one changed characters in book 4 because their original concept kind of petered out and they were losing the joy. Final makeup was Rogue/Ranger, Cavalier, Wizard/Evangelist of Shelyn, Oracle of Battle, Bard, Alchemist. The players who departed were a Ranger, Witch, and Cleric of Groetus (that one is a long, long story). The Alchemist was the newcomer. The Bard’s player previously started with a Fighter (tank build).

To balance encounters, our GM generally doubled their size and max’d enemy HP. And because we were so large we were leveling slower than the AP expected, though that was about right (we went into the final battle at 14th level, so by the game’s framework we were an APL+1 party in a CR15 encounter).

We had no player deaths, though I can think of two instances where hero points directly prevent them. The first one was used in the skeleton caves in book 1 to act out of turn, which saved a PC from being completely surrounded when they were low on HP. Based on the initiative order, they were going to die unless the skeletons were all really unlucky. The second was in the Well of Demons in book 6 when my character used one to re-roll a failed save. This was against the Miasma of Souls, so failing that would have been a major bummer.

We lost one of the minor NPC’s, though we later raised him. One of the caravan drivers, Bevelek, was killed in the Necropolis when the caravan was attacked. We also raised the character that was killed in the market in book 5 when I and one other player intervened and tried to save him. Obviously we failed, and we kind of took it personally.

What we changed

Very little. Most of us have families and multiple commitments, so playing even as infrequently as we do can be a challenge. GM’ing is a lot of work so to keep that gaming/real-life balance he runs AP’s mostly as written, and any tweaks tend to be minor or fixes for things that are obviously broken.

The biggest change we made: dropping caravan combat. I did just enough research before we started to learn this much. Our GM simply replaced caravan encounters with regular encounters and tweaked numbers accordingly. This let us focus on the caravan management and enhance it for overland travel instead of wasting resources on offensive/defensive capabilities.

We also tweaked some of the caravan rules that didn’t make sense (see “What worked due to heavy lifting”).

What worked

The biggest boon of the Jade Regent AP was, IMHO, the setup. The campaign traits established a world where the PC’s and NPC’s knew each other, and in most cases had known each other for a very long time. In some cases, our characters grew up together and in others we simply crossed paths frequently. The big exception to that was characters who chose Sandru as their NPC tie-in because he didn’t spend time in Sandpoint. For the most part, though, we had rich character histories that were intertwined both with each other and the NPC's, going back several years.

Crossing the Crown of the World was very cool and I think everything the authors wanted it to be. We felt isolated. We felt like one mis-step could be a TPK. Light and darkness were almost characters of their own. We were forced to throw a lot of resources into basic survival: Rings of Sustenance, cold-weather protection (including custom crafted items), bags of holding, and on and on.

This AP is a crafter’s dream. If you’ve ever wanted to play a campaign where you had time to craft magic items, this is the one. You are so isolated for so long that you have to craft. I can’t imagine playing in this AP without at least two crafters in the party.

The growing a rebellion story was a blast, especially in book 6 where you are expected to be a thorn in the JR's side, and incorporate a mixture of psychological warfare along with the pre-written encounters. We got really into these, sometimes taking the adventure a bit off the rails. The last two books were what the AP was building up to, and the build-up was worth it.

Overall, the AP had a near-perfect balance between RP and combat. It felt like there was something for everyone, multiple times, across all the books.

And last, but not least, the diversity of encounters, environments, monsters, combat, etc. was pretty amazing. It felt like the world-crossing journey that it was.

What worked only due to heavy lifting

The caravan rules were a huge burden. I managed our caravan and the amount of work involved here was insane, and that’s coming from someone who loves creating elaborate spreadsheets in Excel with macros for automation. I had a sheet dedicated to projections for range based on our provisions, consumption levels and travel speeds. I optimized our feats, our character roles and balanced and re-balanced our stores. And on and on. I have no idea how “normal” people run a caravan. In fact, a little Web searching suggests that most people don’t, and just hand-wave it’s too much work. Way too much.

We learned early on how poorly-thought out the caravan rules really were. And I’m not just talking about combat. Some of the “jobs” made little sense. For example, “Spell Caster” is not a job: it’s a job that lets you perform other jobs. “Wainwright” also isn’t a job. You don’t fill your day on the caravan “wainwrighting”. It only comes into play when something breaks. Same goes for “Trader”. You aren’t trading while you’re traveling, you are trading when you stop somewhere. There were other little issues here and there.

Dropping caravan combat let us focus on the caravan as mobile basecamp. When crossing the Crown of the World, speed and consumption are king and queen. Our caravan had enhanced undercarriages and we maxed out both the Efficient Consumption and Enhanced Caravan feats. That was possible only because we didn’t have to worry about caravan hit points and other nonsense.

The AP also waits too long to reveal the specifics of crossing the Crown, including distances and cold weather rules. The players need to know this stuff up front because caravan planning is a burden. Holding the rules back until just before they are needed, like it’s some big secret, is pretty rude.

What didn’t work

NPC relationships. We tried. We really, really tried, but this subsystem was half-baked and the idea was all but abandoned by the AP after book 2. It felt like an idea the book 1 designers had but that no one else bought into or cared about. This is a problem in general with all of Paizo AP’s: they are consistently inconsistent in everything from tone to execution of subsystems. I could list all the little things that were wrong with NPC relationships, but it all boiled down to this: as a player, I felt let down by the AP. It set up expectations that it didn’t deliver on, and as a result it wasted my time and my game resources. That really, really sucks.

The AP struggles to keep the NPC’s relevant past book 2. And even in the first books it doesn’t do well. Even Ameiko, the most important of them all, is unconscious in book 1, exists only to be kidnapped in book 2, has no role in book 3, and does...what...exactly in book 5? The GM has to do a lot of heavy lifting.

The uninspired, overly long, boring, repetitive dungeon crawl through the House of Withered Blossoms in Book 4. Talk about a grind. This thing had “we need more XP” written all over it. We spent 8 months playing in this location and by the end I just wanted it to be over. The real kicker though? It wasn’t even challenging. It was just a chore. Ugh. Normally, I'd save this for the "by book" summary, but it was That Bad that I bring it up here.

What was a little uncomfortable

The AP has a “Western savior” theme that is difficult to ignore. It helps a lot if Ameiko lives, of course, but you’re still a bunch of foreigners who come into a new culture and then save them. That’s a little icky.

Renshii Meida being pregnant was one of those, “What was Paizo thinking?” moments. It’s dropped in solely to be used as leverage without even acknowledging that, hey, this means killing a pregnant woman. Seriously, this was just gross. I personally found it to be in exceedingly bad taste. We ended up turning Meida to stone and hand-waved that we'd "deal with it later" because there was not an OOC appetite for it.

My commentary on the individual books of the AP coming shortly.

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Book 1: The Brinewall Legacy

This one was very good from start to finish. I liked that we were unraveling a mystery without realizing there was a mystery until we were deep into it. The Warden/invisible stalker was our first encounter, and we all loved how it unfolded as we slowly realized something wasn’t right about him.

There were a lot of RP opportunities.

The skeleton cave is a PC death waiting to happen. :) I don’t think it was unfair, though. At some point, the game has to take the gloves off and teach you a lesson.

Kikonu was our favorite villain thanks entirely due to his play. We got tons of mileage out of this thing, including with the Prince in book 4 and the Raven Prince at the end of Book 6. Think about that: a throwaway detail in book 1 had six books worth of value. How often does that happen?

The book established Zoibe as a rich, complicated character, but then they make her chaotic stupid by having her attack the party. She is supposed to be smarter than that. The GM played her straight, she turned on us, and she died.

Spivey was our break from the action. We had to do the castle over the course of two days, and we used the graveyard as a place to rest and recovery. She provided some nice RP moments, and of course she and Koya hit it off. She came with us afterwards as far as Kalsgard.

Toughest combat: The skeleton cave and the Decapus tie for first place here

Favorite encounter: Invisible stalker

Most underwhelming encounter: All the corbies. Maybe it’s how our GM played them, or maybe the  “insane murderous crow-guy” thing just doesn’t work.

Book 2: Night of Frozen Shadows

My second favorite book. The intrigue-style game was great for our sneaky characters, and even Sandru got some RP action as an NPC. Wodes, as intended, was this constant thorn in our side. Just when we thought we couldn’t hate him more, he’d show up and do something else. By the time we finally caught up to him it was very personal. Combat with him may have been anticlimactic (the outsider bane arrows from Brinewall FTW) but it felt good when he went down. Like we had really accomplished something.

Overall, this book felt very personal, all the time. The mechanic of the escalating threats against the party really creeped us out as players, and ramped up the paranoia level. We almost lost two characters to poison because it was everywhere and it just kept coming. The adventure was masterfully written.

That being said, Ravenscraeg was another boring dungeon crawl. The only excitement, really, came from figuring out how to sneak in without going through the front door (in reviewing a few JR journals, I am amazed at home many parties tried to raid this thing through the front daylight!)

I felt bad for Runecaster at the end, and he put up one hell of a fight, holding off what, at the time, was a party of eight! Now that I’ve read his backstory, he’s really a pretty sympathetic character and I wish some of that backstory had come out. I love complex villains and moral dilemmas.

It’s hard to find favorites in book one because there were so many rich NPCs from villains to allies. We even felt bad for Asvig and Helga who were basically used by Kimandatsu (and ended up negotiating with Helga to end the fighting after Asvig died).

Toughest encounter: Goti Runecaster tied with the Tengu and all that poison.

Favorite encounter: Stealing from the Rimerunners Guildhall. Only two PC’s were involved but the rest of the party was riveted to their gameplay.

Underwhelming encounter: The funeral ship, but I think this was because we had a party of 8 at the time, plus a raven familiar. Lots of eyes looking out meant we spotted the ninja well before they got to the ship. I don’t think any of them made it out of the water. This encounter hinges on spreading the party’s resources too thin, and we had too many resources. I am not sure how I would redesign this for a large group.

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Book 3: The Hungry Storm

This was my least-favorite book for a lot of reasons. The elephant in the room is that it’s a side story, separate from the main story, and that was jarring. We were looking for oni and Five Storms connections  everywhere, and there weren’t any except for one throwaway encounter.

Although it’s logical that a journal this far would not be all plot all the time, it does not make for good gameplay. The issue comes from expectations: when you sign up for an AP, the expectation is that you are on rails, and you are chasing a single plot from book 1 to 6. Learning that one of them is a huge sidequest is a let-down. And the thing is, this easily could have been tied to the Five Storms, even in passing (some bargain between Sithuud and the oni, or whatever).

On top of that, it pulled punches on what should have been a huge moral dilemma: the only reason the white dragon was attacking Iqaliat was because Tunuak crushed her eggs. Yeah, we all recognize white dragons are nasty and a threat to everyone, but this act is a bridge too far. It would have been nice to offer some way out of this other than old-school murder-hobo. And the AP, as written, just assumes that’s what the players want to do, not even giving lip-service the fact that this all started because of a massively evil act, and the dragon has cause.

I love moral dilemmas, but you gotta commit and follow through.

Throughout the whole crossing, we were wondering why we needed a guide. After reading book 3, it’s not made clear to the GM, either, and there’s apparently no consequence to not having one. The only thing Ulf offered was the detour to Iqaliat and some lore that is easily replaced by Knowledge checks. Yeah, there’s flavor there, too, but...if you tell the PC’s they need a guide, there should be some rules crunch backing that up.

All these issues aside, the Storm Tower was very cool. Our party was PC’s at the time, so our GM used two remorhazes instead of one. Every square of that level was a threatened space and it was scary and tough. The crysmals also took us by surprise and forced us to think on our feet. And then there was Katiyana, with all those environmental factors working against you. Best encounters in the book, hands down, and possibly even across the whole AP.

The necropolis felt like a shoe-horning to build up XP. Still, we lost an NPC there.

Toughest combat: Katiyana in the storm tower

Favorite encounter: Katiyana in the storm tower

Underwhelming encounter: Dead Man’s Dome. Our GM converted this to a traditional encounter, butt kept the flavor the same. Regardless, massive piles of modest undead were no match for us.

Book 4: Forest of Spirits

My second least-favorite book because the last half was so awful. If the first half wasn't so good, it would have had nothing going for it.

It started awesome in Ordu-Aganhei, with some of the best RP encounters I’ve ever seen, anywhere. The Prince was this casually menacing figure that we all knew had power over us. We put on a scene of Kikonu’s play for our part of the entertainment in the Feast of Honored Guests and that was hilarious.

My character was the one he became infatuated with, and at times it was pretty scary...wondering what he was going to do, what would happen if she made him angry, etc. He kept sending her gifts, asking her to join him for meals, and at one point casually stroked her character’s hair. The parallels to real life here should be obvious. Really good stuff.

But ultimately? Ordu-Aganhei was a missed opportunity. We were trying to figure out how to get away from the Prince, and then the book crowbars in an external force (a nice and flavorful encounter, but an external force nonetheless) to solve it for getting you kicked out. This AP would be better served by having a chapter called “Escape from Ordu-Aganhei” or “Escape from Hongal” and trimming the House of Withered Blossoms.

The Forest of Spirits was a let-down. The spirit possession things looks good on paper, but reading through the chapter, it was an idea doomed to failure. All the spirit possessions after the first were evil/malicious, and after the second we just blasted them all before they could get anyone. Boring!

The House of Withered Blossoms was just a grind, and not even an interesting one. The only real challenges in there were the shadows from the aranea shadow dancers, which almost killed a couple of us because they took us by surprise. Munasukaru’s Penance just kept going and going and going. Ugh.

Toughest encounter: Entering the House of Withered BLossoms through the rooftop, and encountering shadows.

Favorite encounter: Everything in Ordu-Aganhei, but especially the feasts and the related events.

Underwhelming encounter: The Sisters of the Broken Path. We blew through them like they weren’t even there. Really? Monks balancing on bars above a pit vs. characters with spells, devastating ranged attacks, and flight? This must take the title of “worst encounter design ever”.

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Book 5: Tide of Honor

This ended up being my favorite book. It was like Kingmaker in miniature. All the subplots were interesting and came with their own unique challenges. There was something for everyone, and a grand fight at the end. It’s hard to pick out favorites.

The market in Enganoka was memorable because it presented a moral dilemma and left it up to the players. We made the knowledge checks, and realized this was all wrong. Two of us misread the rest of the group and intervened while the others got Ameiko out of there. It created some interesting tension and RP afterwards.

Almost everything in here was awesome: the raid on the fort, the shadow maze, the sad story behind O-Sayumi and Shosaito, the cat-and-mouse game with Kaibuninsho (though this was off-script). The only thing that bothered me was the Fuhonsen, and the whole “can’t keep it, can’t use it, can’t destroy it, and it’s on a timer” thing. Great for literature, but kind of crappy game design.

Toughest combat: Shosaito, but only because of the shadows; otherwise, the attack on the fortress because it spread us thin

Favorite encounter: The attack on Shuryo Onsen, but mostly for the scouting and planning it took

Underwhelming encounter: Gangasum went down fast.

Book 6: The Empty Throne

Great installment that was bungled by the writers.

Another sandbox where you’re supposed to go do a bunch of things to annoy the JR, and run a side quest for Ameiko.

The sandbox elements were awesome: raiding the palace to rescue hostages, raiding the granary, etc. Our GM even added some retaliations against the populace to keep us on our toes. All good stuff. The granary raid was a high point. Rescuing the hostages really challenged us, and we almost got two of them killed in the process. There were some close calls.

But then you go to the Shrine, and the game grinds to a halt. Everything in the shrine is attacking you because reasons. It’s a bunch of nonsensical encounters with “we need more XP and are out of ideas” written all over it. Sigure comes off as a petulant child, and then he sends you into the Well of Demons where you have even more nonsensical encounters. It’s like the bad old days of AD&D where monsters lie around in dungeons waiting for the PC’s to come along and kill them. How did they get in there? Where are all their resources coming from? And on and on.

Also, a big deal was made about Amatatsu Meimei and her evilness, but in the end? She was just a selfish woman who made a deal with devils to live long and beautiful, and use d the Throne to enrich herself. Oh, and she preferred women to men. She’s a vain lesbian so she’s evil. Great move, there Paizo. Keep it classy!

I see from reading the book there are “Rebellion Points”. It’s always great to introduce a subsystem that affects the players and the story, but that they don’t know about. Also, though the book encourages the players to use subterfuge, the bar they set for it is obnoxiously high and even then the effects are...pretty lame. Also, you're encouraged to get the Seals before the final battle, but...there's no mention of what they do or why or how they help. And in reading it, the benefits they offer are pretty lame. Our party didn't want to fight Teikono so we didn't have the Seals. And it didn't matter at all.

This was all a missed opportunity. Fortunately, our GM was willing to go off script here. Which is good, because the script stinks.

I already talked about pregnant Meida so no need to repeat that.

In the end, the JR and his crew went down fast. But, we are obsessive over-planners, so part of that was because we got to define every aspect of the fight and take our time preparing. It was short, but very satisfying. Our group enjoys making a solid battle plan, then watching it unfold. Even if it means breezing through the encounter itself. The challenge, to us, is in making the plan.

Toughest encounter: The Omoxes, by a wide margin. This was hard. Maybe the hardest fight in the entire AP. We almost lost an NPC and a PC in the first couple of rounds. I think our GM took pity on us because it could have been much, much worse. This is a TPK waiting to happen.

Favorite encounter: Raiding the granary.

Underwhelming encounter: None.

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Ah, so that is what Jade Regent is like when played by the book. My own Jade Regent campaign, Amaya of Westcrown, was altered before the first session, because I changed the year to tie it in with my previous Rise of the Runelords campaign. And I downplayed the NPCs because my game also began with eight players, each needing their turn in the limelight.

Kali Nassim wrote:

{. . .}

Quick player summary:
{. . .}
We had no player deaths, though I can think of two instances where hero points directly prevent them. {. . .}

A truly impressive feat:
I didn't know you could spend hero points to keep a player from dying . . . .

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Our GM runs a gritty campaign. ;)

Here's another thought: On page 13 of the Jade Regent Player's Guide is a sidebar "Playing as the NPCs". Any thoughts with respect to how this would work out? Of course one obvious problem comes immediately to mind: Whoever is Koya has to figure out how to work the backstory so that she ends up first level despite being about 60 years old . . . .

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The most obvious choice there would be Ameiko, and I see quite a few campaigns do it. You'd have to take away her cash reserves (though the setting doesn't give any details on how much she really has), but if you eliminate her time spent as an adventurer and either get rid of the inn, or assume she inherited it from her dad, then she could be redone as a level 1 character.

Another option would be to start with the discovery of the letter off-scene, and skip the swamp. Then you can start as level 2 (or even level 3, and up the difficulty of the encounters at Brinewall).

Sandru can also be done pretty easily as a level 1 or level 2. The most difficult would be Koya and Shalelu since they have long ties to the community and would need to be completely different characters.

But I think the AP intends for you to play Ameiko if you go this route.

Probably would be good to have a custom Campaign Trait for each NPC. They would all have to require backstory that justifies the level lag, although you could ameliorate this for some of them by starting the campaign at higher level, although that would also affect normal PCs, and isn't going to be enough to get Koya off the hook (and might be pushing it for Shalelu, but we all know elves tend to have rather -- um -- slack -- childhoods anyway).

For Ameiko, having her inherit the inn makes sense anyway, and her custom campaign trait could be a version of the Rich Parents trait that doesn't turn into a dead trait once you have spent the initial money (this should be done for the actual Rich Parents trait and similar ones, but I digress).

Of course, for Ameiko's player, the extended knockout time would be a drag, so some adjustment would need to be made.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Oh man, let me tell you. I just ran that fight with the Omoxes. I completely forgot the fast healing from the pool until near the end of the fight and it was still a near TPK.

I had the hezrou jump in and then I had Sokai stand up and basically stop the fight so that he could give his offer to the party and then HE joined the fight.

It was absolutely insanely brutal. I was lenient with the party (a little). One of them got feebleminded and ran off to get captured by Maemi. Thank goodness she was female or otherwise I would have had a lot of trouble justifying the Shiko Me taking her prisoner.

That fight with the omoxes was insane.

On the whole this campaign has been an absolute slog for me (I nearly quit a dozen times since the beginning of book 3). I am happy that it is nearly over.

rkotitan wrote:
Oh man, let me tell you. I just ran that fight with the Omoxes. I completely forgot the fast healing from the pool until near the end of the fight and it was still a near TPK.

"Brutal" doesn't even begin to describe that fight. Literally everything is stacked in their favor except for the restriction on teleporting. That almost certainly saved our lives.

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Mathmuse wrote:
Ah, so that is what Jade Regent is like when played by the book. My own Jade Regent campaign, Amaya of Westcrown, was altered before the first session, because I changed the year to tie it in with my previous Rise of the Runelords campaign. And I downplayed the NPCs because my game also began with eight players, each needing their turn in the limelight.

We also started with eight players (though that fell to six by the end of book two), and also set in the same continuity as our Rise of the Runelords campaign. The latter was also played pretty much straight from the book.

What was interesting to me as a player was that my character had lived in Sandpoint most of her life, and thus been through not only the events of Rise but also the background/setup. That meant she knew Nualia, saw the cathedral burn, etc.

Anyway, I am impressed at the sheer number of changes you were able to incorporate, and also at the inventiveness of your party. We took a few encounters off the rails ourselves, though my genius plan to kidnap Renshii Meida never saw the light of day...mostly because it would have left more than half the party out of the action while I indulged myself. I decided that would be selfish/hogging the spotlight.

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