Intrinsic, Fundamental AP Design Flaw


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion

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Mathmuse wrote:

I have run three complete Adventure Paths, started a fourth, and played in part of another. I have not encountered the "one of these is not like the others" Flaw. And the reason why I didn't has already been mentioned in comment #35:

James Jacobs wrote:
Billy Buckman wrote:
If all APs have one unavoidable, fundamental disconnect it's this: the PCs don't exist. They are faceless entities in the published volumes, and the AP only has enough room to give you a handful of ideas and possibilities. Connecting your weird band of freaks to the world of the AP is the connective tissue that helps bridge potential gaps or lulls in the narrative across the 6 books, imo.

I don't see that as a disconnect so much as a golden opportunity for a GM to take the story we provide and customize it to their specific group. That's the whole point of a tabletop RPG, I think, and the primary advantage that it continues to have over computer RPGs.

Without this "disconnect" it's just a story that you read to yourself or friends.

Mr. Jacobs has said this before:

James Jacobs, introduction to The Lords of Rust wrote:
I’ve run many campaigns over the years, and one thing I’ve learned from them is that when the players work toward answers to their own questions, they tend to get a lot more involved in the adventure—they take more notes, get more into their characters, and have a richer experience.

After GMing 5 AP's to completion I absolutely agree. Although several of the AP's may not be strong in a cohesive sense it is the GM's job to weave the PC's story and background into the AP itself. This makes it more immersive and keeps players engaged and motivated to find out the outcome of their storylines.

I always create a flow chart of each player to add tidbits of their background - names of people they have mentioned become actual characters in the AP, gods they worship are tied to the storyline. I will also change specifics in the AP to align with a PC's motives and interactions. As written AP's provide tangible links to each book but its the GM who needs to make that into glue to bind it together.


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I don't see WftC being that good. In-fact, it's one of the worst instances of lack of a clear overall vision. It never clearly established the exact nature of its primary conflict so each author's depiction on the details is all over the place. Likewise, as far the actual plot goes, only two factions for control exist, but there's supposedly a bunch of others you only get the name of. Gameplay is all over the place too, often picking UI stuff at random.


deuxhero wrote:
I don't see WftC being that good. In-fact, it's one of the worst instances of lack of a clear overall vision. It never clearly established the exact nature of its primary conflict so each author's depiction on the details is all over the place. Likewise, as far the actual plot goes, only two factions for control exist, but there's supposedly a bunch of others you only get the name of. Gameplay is all over the place too, often picking UI stuff at random.

I agree as well, one of the worst IMO. I had imagined something like THIS out of WftC before this AP was announced, some of the AP followed my ideas, which was cool, but then veered into railroad land fast. But honestly some folks loved WftC as written due to the intrigue in the politics RP. Better than SD but not by much.

Silver Crusade

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Uh, WftC’s conflict get established from the get go. Trying to get Eutropia on to the throne.

Dark Archive

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Hm... different strokes for different folks I guess. WftC is the best campaign I've ever run in 25 years.

As far as some path books being weaker or stronger I think that may well be the case... and sometimes it isn't necessarily the authors fault as sometimes they get swamped by their deadline etc.

I really do think that with a little extra work on most DMs parts a lot of books that most call weak or the outlier can be stronger especially if they are made to tie in the backstory of a PC.

The hardest path books for me are the ones that are fundamentally difficult to run because they require a lot more work on the part of the DM.

I think that book 3 of Serpent's Skull falls into that avenue... I think.

The entirety of Giantslayer is a nightmare for a DM to run with a group of even marginally savvy players who know anything about the rules.

If I hadn't tried to run it twice already it would be my next project to try and convert to 2E.


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I have long thought of this as the "too many cooks in the kitchen" phenomenon. Although they have gotten much better at managing it over the years, having as many as six authors working simultaneously on different parts of the adventure frequently leads to some jarring shifts in tone, awkward transitions, or occasionally continuity errors. I believe that the OP is correct in their assertion that such things are an inherent weakness of this production process. They can, and have, done a great deal to minimize it, but there's just no way to eliminate it altogether.

That said, I would point out that the same process also offers some major strengths. For one thing, a single author necessarily thinks in just one way. Having multiple authors adds variety, and makes it more difficult for players to anticipate the plot overmuch. Also, it is invaluable to have other people to bounce ideas off as you are in the process of developing an adventure.

There are other ways to produce adventures. The necessity of producing fresh content every month without fail or delay is a major factor in producing adventures in the way that they do. With a less driven time frame, you could produce an adventure using a process in which development takes a year or more and the entire thing drops all at once as a finished book-length campaign. That would likely make it easier to smooth out the transitions and make for consistent tone and so on. But it would also be risky. If you sink a year into developing a full-length hardback adventure and it sells poorly, well ... that could be a serious problem for the business. To make that model work, the stakes on any one product are a lot higher. You have to be Pixar, not Vogue.

So Paizo has good reasons for using the process that they do. It offers them a more predictable revenue stream. It shields them, to some extent, from mis-steps: if one month's adventure is poorly received, well, there's always next month. For those reasons, it's baked into the core of Paizo's business model. At its heart, Paizo is still publishing a monthly magazine. Just as they were when they published Dungeon Magazine all those years ago.

A tangent:
As an aside, may I just remark that it is deeply weird to be in a hobby where you can't read most of the monthly magazine for fear of spoilers?


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Rysky wrote:
Uh, WftC’s conflict get established from the get go. Trying to get Eutropia on to the throne.

Why are you doing this?

Is Taldor a land where
a: Women can't inherit but are otherwise equal
b: Women are treated worse then men, including unable to inherit
c: Only the position of Emperor can't be inherited by women.

Depending on which source you ask, you get a different answer. Lots seem to work on a or b, but have plenty of female nobles that seem to have inherited their title.

The player's guide was clearly written after the fact, but contradicts the AP at many points. Aside from the fluff, you've got crunch like how one of the noble families gives a bonus to influencing crowds, which simply doesn't come up in the AP for several books (if it did at all)

Silver Crusade

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Because there was a post I wanted to respond to? I’m allowed to post on these forums same as anyone else thank you very much.

Where are these contradictions mentioned? Or are the contradictions from earlier 3.5 material?

Regardless, that doesn’t change the refutal to your earlier claim that it is incoherent in vision and conflict. The scope of the AP is securing Eutropia on the throne, that’s pretty apparent throughout the AP.

As for the backmatter articles containing feats for characters, those can be used outside the AP.

Silver Crusade

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deuxhero wrote:
fluff

It's 2020 and the "fluff is derogatory" memo is still trying to punch its way through your skull, I see.


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Tinalles wrote:
they have gotten much better at managing it over the years

then why have gotten their APs so much worse over the last couple of years?

Dark Archive

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Hythlodeus wrote:
Tinalles wrote:
they have gotten much better at managing it over the years
then why have gotten their APs so much worse over the last couple of years?

I disagree with that though :P

Silver Crusade

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CorvusMask wrote:
Hythlodeus wrote:
Tinalles wrote:
they have gotten much better at managing it over the years
then why have gotten their APs so much worse over the last couple of years?
I disagree with that though :P

Same, Extinction Curse is a blast.


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Rysky wrote:
Because there was a post I wanted to respond to? I’m allowed to post on these forums same as anyone else thank you very much.

As in why are you, the character, helping her get the throne. The AP is unsure of why your characters need to be helping.

Shadow Lodge

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deuxhero wrote:
As in why are you, the character, helping her get the throne. The AP is unsure of why your characters need to be helping.

Careful, you're veering off into motivation when you want to be talking about obstacles. Not that the "advance and protect the Good King so that the Realm may prosper" narrative that fantasy is grounded in, and that Paizo loves to reproduce without any further thought. (Jade Regent and Hell's Rebels also come to mind as examples, as well as the recent Revolution on the Riverside PFS scenario, which sees your party rescue a monarch from a Blanquist coup d'etat, because of course the literal Reactionaries, with a capital "R", get their fantasies catered to) is at all compelling.

Silver Crusade

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deuxhero wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Because there was a post I wanted to respond to? I’m allowed to post on these forums same as anyone else thank you very much.
As in why are you, the character, helping her get the throne. The AP is unsure of why your characters need to be helping.

Why does any of your characters go through the APs?

Look at the traits in the Player’s Guide and go from there.


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A lot of good posts in this thread, props for bringing this up.

For starters, I'm in full agreement with Warped Savant, Captain Yesterday, Steve Geddes, and Billy Buckman.
While I do prefer "samey feel" of a theme throughout a campaign like Mummy's Mask and Shattered Star, It didn't work for me with Giantslayer because of the packaging. Each volume boils down to find giant outpost, invade giant outpost, and clear giant outpost over and over, with book 4 as the exception because of the Sabotage system (Kudos to Jim Groves) and needing to do just enough damage to end their menace, or even turn on their dead kin, etc.
Shattered Star is awesome IMHO, though I can see others complaining about it being just "one big dungeon crawl". I happen to love "one big dungeon crawls" like Elemental Evil, Castle Whiterock, Tomb of Abysthor, etc, others may not. The Rod of... cough, seven, cough... Parts ties it up neatly, and the lack of RP opinions are just that. Opinions.
Late Edit***Curse of the Crimson Throne, IMHO is brilliant (easily top 3). Despite the reverance, some people have an issue with book 4. To me, it's an example of a perfectly logical and fitting change of scenery (not to others, as we have noted). You need advice on something ancient, you seek out the original people you evicted when you settled here, and pray to whatever deities that you can earn enough of their trust so that they will reveal the secret of your salvation. How does this not fit?
Now Serpent Skull on the other hand, had soooo many flaws for me despite Shiv being one of my favorite modules of all time. Similarly, Iron Gods was a smaller scale "No, just No!" for me as well.

examples and details...
1.

Iron Gods:
I railed against this AP in my head as I was a never a fan of the Barrier Peaks flavor invading my game world. I don't care for Gunslinger types be it gunpowder or beams. I didn't want spaceships and aliens (despite Thundarr the Barbarian being a childhood favorite cartoon). After reading book 1, my thoughts had changed and I loved the AP. This would be a definite run once and never again though.

2. Serpent Skull, I didn't like this AP for three reasons.

City of Seven Spears:
This needed some work mechanically, and I felt finding a lost city before finding THE lost city in volumes 5 and 6, took a little away from the endgame, even if Seven Spears could be considered the "gatehouse"

Vaults of Madness:
Insanity never resonates with me and I think my players would hate too much exposure to this. Overall, easy to mechanically change frequency of the rolls while still being plausible, and using less of the Vault lairs as I found some a tad dull.

Urdefhan:
Just not a fan of these guys who are a major part of books 5 and 6. I replaced every last "Urd" with the broken Drow house of Rasivrein (at least broken in my world) using just the Monster Codex with a tweak or two on a seperate text file if I ever run with it.

Notice that Serpent Skull is an AP that I had issues with 4 out of the 6 volumes, but after some personalization, it has become one of my favorites and I really want to run this one day. That's a huge shift of opinion for me.

Overall and echoing nearly everyone, APs are framework. It's the GMs job to tweak it to their groups tastes. It's also the players job to accept the overall theme of the AP.

On the controversial NON HATE side (<--- please note the emphasis), the latest APs (1st and 2nd edition) do not speak to me at all. I'm perfectly ok with the ending of Tyrant if anyone is planning to transition into 2nd Edition (which is not my bag and imho a mess of a ruleset), or even to continue 1st edition with the BBEG winning for once ushering in a new age of darkness (or lost omens).

Also, some of the new author blood has yet to grow on me. Further irking me is the Age of Ashes AP, based on what I've read on the forums and buying the PDF of book 1 for myself. It seems like it shouldn't have been released if what I read was true (the authors essentially working with "sort of beta" rules). Out of the first three APs, this was the only "traditional" (open to debate on a per person basis, of course) style AP. Ringling Bros and "Blue Bloods" doesn't resonate with me so much as a full campaign but again, it's just my taste and opinion speaking here. I'm excited for Kingmaker 2E, despite hating the ruleset. I want to see if things get more refined by then.

I still love Paizo, their APs, and PF1. Plenty of stuff to keep me busy for years to come despite them wandering off in directions I'm not interested in.

It's all in what you make of it.

Shadow Lodge

Sunderstone wrote:
While I do prefer "samey feel" of a theme throughout a campaign like Mummy's Mask and Shattered Star, It didn't work for me with Giantslayer because of the packaging.

Come again? It seems from the examples you give like you're saying the opposite; that the trappings of time and place should remain unified, but that actions the party is more or less compelled by changing circumstances to take should change to keep things interesting.

RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32

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Hythlodeus wrote:
Tinalles wrote:
they have gotten much better at managing it over the years
then why have gotten their APs so much worse over the last couple of years?

Age of Ashes is one of my favorite adventure paths of all time, so this is in "agree to disagree" territory.


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Interesting analysis. I only agree with it partially. However I think you're on point that every group values different aspects of play and hence will have differing opinions.

I know even between the groups I play with there is such variation.

HOWEVERRRRRR....

There is well written stuff and badly written stuff. This happens at different levels. It goes from the overarching plot to the individual module to each contained adventure. There are so many variables it is hard to pin down differences between AP, they do have a large scope.

My experience is that APs that do well have a strong solid foundation and cohesion between Volumes and a stable thematic. A single volume out of tune is fixable, a series of dissonances in theme and main plot is much harder to work around.

Precisely it is in this most APs fall flat, also the most obvious trait. For many APs it is clear that they have not finished writing the details of the overarching plot when they hand out the writing for the individual modules. What one module assumes the next one will not, or will not have had all the information available whilst being written.
This is one of the most egregious problems with Paizo's APs (followed by bad guy backgrounds with no way to convey them, followed by terribly long dungeons).
If the AP is solid a module off-key with the rest it is often tolerated. The opposite is true, individual volumes far above the rest getting hailed and adapted into other stories (2nd of CoT, 1st of Serpents skulls).

Examples.

Skull and Shackles. Acclaimed AP and by far my favourite of everything I've read paizo or otherwise.
Strong theme, forces cohesion in the party, builds strong bonds between characters, plays strongly on the ambitions of the characters instead of an unknown villain machination. All volumes follow a similar goal which is always in sight, if distant. Background mechanics to bring the ambiance alive (ships, infamy) which functions decently. Also a very polarising AP but none the less the characterisations of the npcs is top notch. It is an AP with a strong vision.

Iron Fang Invasion. Decent AP but not one of the best.
Strong theme again. However this one gets muddled with unknown villain syndrome (two in fact), adventurers doing things because they are expected to, after volume 3 the next 2 volumes really break pace and become more standard adventurer questing. Militia system that is suggested but not used, a blend that soon the writing itself ignores. It does not stay consistant, loses track of what it wants to be and soon falls into the box of old school questing.

Carrion Crown. Thematic but linear.
Strong theme. Rail road. Nothing that really invests the characters except the initial reason they meet. Oh and "someone's got to do it" again.

I know for us the key defining trait that will make an AP hit that amazing tune is the investment the group puts in it. And this is strongly dependant on the AP's writing. An AP like Carrion Crown gives very little space for it whilst Skull and Shackles is built upon it. The more the narrative weaves the party into the central tension, the better the effect.


Tinalles wrote:
I have long thought of this as the "too many cooks in the kitchen" phenomenon. ...

Absolutely! However the fact that they write later volumes without having stablished what exactly happens in the previous ones is a common occurance, which I imagine has to do with publishing and editing deadlines more than anything.


Tinalles wrote:
I have long thought of this as the "too many cooks in the kitchen" phenomenon. ...

Absolutely, that is so obvious. However the fact that they write later volumes without having stablished what exactly happens in the previous ones is a common occurance, which I imagine has to do with publishing and editing deadlines more than anything.


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Errant Mercenary wrote:
Precisely it is in this most APs fall flat, also the most obvious trait. For many APs it is clear that they have not finished writing the details of the overarching plot when they hand out the writing for the individual modules. What one module assumes the next one will not, or will not have had all the information available whilst being written.

In addition, the writer of a module does not know how the players handled the preceeding module. For example, in Fires of Creation, the 1st module of Iron Gods, the writer Neil Spicer opened the possibility of the PCs allying with the villain Meyanda, a leader in the Lords of Rust. Yet in the 2nd module, Lords of Rust, the writer Nicolas Logue assumes that Meyanda is dead and offers no advice if she had accompanied the PCs. GMs ask about that in the Iron Gods subforum.

The writers assume that the previous modules are closed books. However, those books shaped the party and their goals.

Errant Mercenary wrote:

Iron Fang Invasion. Decent AP but not one of the best.

Strong theme again. However this one gets muddled with unknown villain syndrome (two in fact), adventurers doing things because they are expected to, after volume 3 the next 2 volumes really break pace and become more standard adventurer questing. Militia system that is suggested but not used, a blend that soon the writing itself ignores. It does not stay consistant, loses track of what it wants to be and soon falls into the box of old school questing.

Thank you, Errant Mercenary, for the foresight. I am running Ironfang Invasion, currently halfway through Trail of the Hunted, the 1st module. I had not looked ahead to the 5th and 6th modules to see the path foredained for the adventure.

I just read the introductions to those two modules. My players, as is their nature, will alter the path. I feed them information and they decide. They already know of the Stone Road from direct observation (sigh, Pathfinder 2nd Edition needs better rules for spying from cover) and the name of General Azaersi from a Moltune spy's own speculations. The party is already forming different goals than the writer expected, and I can use this to create greater harmony. I simply need to set up interpretations that will give them reason to care about the possibilities in future modules.

This is part of the fun of being a GM.

Scarab Sages

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James Jacobs wrote:
Billy Buckman wrote:
If all APs have one unavoidable, fundamental disconnect it's this: the PCs don't exist. They are faceless entities in the published volumes, and the AP only has enough room to give you a handful of ideas and possibilities. Connecting your weird band of freaks to the world of the AP is the connective tissue that helps bridge potential gaps or lulls in the narrative across the 6 books, imo.

I don't see that as a disconnect so much as a golden opportunity for a GM to take the story we provide and customize it to their specific group. That's the whole point of a tabletop RPG, I think, and the primary advantage that it continues to have over computer RPGs.

Without this "disconnect" it's just a story that you read to yourself or friends.

THIS! I think one of the reasons my players enjoy my running of Kingmaker as much as they do, is because I've done my best to adapt the story to not just the characters, but also the players. It also doesn't help that they love resource management (which surprised me). So much so, that one player who's a coder created a pretty complicated online app (with a hex map and everything) to track all the kingdom building stuff.

Also, I wanted to comment one one of W E Ray's comments about Kingmaker.

Spoiler:
That the BBEG isn't even known to the players until the end of book 5 or book 6. There are nuggets from book 2 on that give a taste of what Nyrissa is up to. I'd actually say that Book 3 is probably the only one that doesn't have any of Nyrissa's interference directly written into it (other than Book 1). And once the players find out about Nyrissa and presumably have befriended Evindra, you can actually reveal all of these nuggets to them! My players really loved the fact that I was able to keep that plot point secret from them until the big reveal. That lots of the obstacles and rabble rousers were because of Nyrissa.

I think one thing that would be helpful (and probably happened more to a certain extent on the APs that have the best transitions), is to ensure that your authors collaborate with one another. I seem to recall Thursty holding court at Paizo Con many times talking about collaborating with other authors and making sure something he wanted to do would fit with what the other author was doing (or seeing if that other author could add a paragraph or two) so his thing would make more cohesive sense.

When writing in a shared world, writing in isolation is likely to ensure the most difficult of transitions from one adventure to another. I imagine though, different authors, with the infinite number of writing methodology they use, it may be more or less difficult to quickly and comprehensively collaborate with one another.

But if I had one bit of advice for Paizo, it would be to ensure that their authors do more collaboration on a distinctly comprehensive level to ensure that the story threads remain cohesive.

Scarab Sages

PossibleCabbage wrote:

I'm not sure how Paizo could possibly anticipate our group of an Undine Shaman, a Half-Aquatic Elf Paladin/Gunslinger, a Gillman Medium, and a Dwarf Arcane Trickster with an interest in clockwork devices were the ones to save Talmandor's Bounty and not literally any other group of four PCs anyway.

Or if they were to insist (rather than imply) that the heroes of the story were a Human Cleric, an Elf Rogue, a Human Fighter, and a Human Wizard and the GM had to make specific alterations for anything else.

When there are hooks like "a person with this background/trait might have this specific interaction" are fine, but I think Mr. Jacobs is absolutely in the right here.

Another thing, as a GM, you can do is write a character creation document that includes the preferred (or limited to) list of books that actually fit the theme of the region/AP. Of course player buy-in for such a limitation would have to be there, otherwise you don't have a happy group. I did this when running Ironfang Invasion. I listed out probably 15 different books that fit the theme of not just the AP, but the region of Nirmathas and the Fangwood Forest. I also allowed any of the list of suggested character options that weren't necessarily in my list of books, that showed up in the Player's Guide to II. Then I let them pick one book that was not on the list to round out their character.

If you get buy-in from the players, and you do the research, you can almost make sure the characters actually fit in the adventure you are about to run. In the case of II, I had the players create children that were all from the village and were friends with one another. I ran a prequel adventure of my own design with them as NPC classes before I started the adventure. Giving them all relationships with all the main NPCs in the village and having their relatives living in the village really immersed the players in the adventure and gave them real angst about what was going on and made them earnest to really figure out how to solve their problems.

Now that won't necessarily work for every group of players, as sometimes a group just wants to play a gaggle of crazy characters. Which is perfectly fine if that's what that group enjoys. Just means the GM has to work harder to try and tie the character back-stories into the AP story. One way to do this, is to require every character to choose a campaign trait as one of their two traits (most GMs and myself give the players an extra trait slot to do this) and write how that campaign trait makes sense to their character backstory.

Scarab Sages

W E Ray wrote:
Anguish wrote:

First, I don't subscribe to the premise that this is a flaw. Second, I don't think it's universal.

I won't pretend every book of every AP, or even every AP is perfect. But the specific complaint this thread exists to lament isn't one my group experiences. Everyone's mileage will vary. Which is my point.

.

Yeah, this is what I'm looking for. When I realized that so many of the Threads on APs I've read and participated in over the years had this same complaint -- cohesion, lack of transitions, internal consistency -- I really got to wondering how true it is that perhaps all the APs suffered from this "flaw," and of course, to what degree it is an issue, and finally whether it can be 'fixed' if indeed it is an issue.

Thinking back to the APs I know the most I can see it. It's there. And even thinking back to the APs I've only read over and used just bits and pieces from, I can see it. Now, I don't know how much of an issue it is and, as we all know from having been on the Boards for years: "Our Mileage Will Vary." But I really wanted to know how much others see it, and if it's a trait that the designers and developers can address.

Or, if like Anguish says, it's not at all an issue for his group. Or like a few folks have said, maybe it's an issue but there's no way around it.

I'd argue that in some cases, the complaint of lack of internal consistency, cohesion, and transition may be due to a couple factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the AP itself.

1) Some GMs are more skilled than others in telling a story and making sure players understand the internal consistency of the plot.
2) Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.
3) Sometimes groups have internal quorum consistency issues, where not all players are able to show up to every game day, and many miss pieces of the story. Or they use game time as a social time, and often aren't fully paying attention to the story as its being revealed.
4) Some GMs feel constrained to exactly what's written for whatever reasons (players demand it, they aren't super experienced, they feel obligated).

I've seen reviews of adventures before, where the player really tore the adventure apart quite angrily, and I'm thinking inside, "But that was not how the adventure was written." After some careful probing within that conversation, it comes to light that the GM totally screwed up or actively made changes for the worse. Adventures often get unfairly judged by a myriad of things that have nothing to do with how well the adventure was written, and so you have to take that into account.

That being said, some Adventure Paths require a LOT more work by a GM to ensure everything is being accounted for. If it weren't for my friend creating his online app for the kingdom building, I doubt the players would have put up with that aspect of Kingmaker for very long after Book 2. Some APs that have a lot of political stuff going on, with the GM needing to keep track of several to tens (or hundreds?) of relationships NPCs have to eachother and to each PC based on PC actions is a TON of work to do, and someone who doesn't or can't take that time can make that AP feel very disjointed and generic.


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Tallow wrote:
Now that won't necessarily work for every group of players, as sometimes a group just wants to play a gaggle of crazy characters. Which is perfectly fine if that's what that group enjoys. Just means the GM has to work harder to try and tie the character back-stories into the AP story. One way to do this, is to require every character to choose a campaign trait as one of their two traits (most GMs and myself give the players an extra trait slot to do this) and write how that campaign trait makes sense to their character backstory.

On the trait tangent....

Personally, I'm not a fan of AP campaign traits. The worst of the bunch for me are the traits from CoCT and the heavy connection to the starting hook. The Lamm/Harrow beginning is such a weak AP starting hook in general. Once Lamm is dealt with early on in the first chapter, there's nothing left (besides for a possible angry statement from his son later). If you use these starting traits, it's assumed the PCs have been in Korvosa for at least some time, some might have even been Korvosan residents. This shackles a portion of that character's back story to Lamm and the lame hook that has virtually no meaning in any other volume.

CoCT spoilers while elaborating on a better example of a history not tied to Lamm...:

I have a player interested in going Red Mantis prestige later and he has no idea that the Red Mantis are even part of CoCT. He just thinks the PrC is interesting for his Urban ranger (he was informed that our campaign is largely urban based).

Big fans of being logical about becoming a Red mantis without derailing by looking for a trainer during the chaos of this campaign (and secretly, as a DM not wanting to upstage the Bruce Vencarlo Wayne part of the campaign), we came up with a better "Lamm-Free" background that his mother was a former Red mantis from Ilzamagorti who was stalked and seduced by a vampire. To get ahead in her organization, she proposed to experiment on herself using some forbidden magics to help shape the baby before it was born, resulting in a sleeper agent that could be born in any city the Mantis had interests in.
This baby at a certain point (probably level 6 after the PrC reqs kicked in) would begin manifesting his abilities, and have the training to become a fully skilled Red Mantis Assassin slowly growing in power (err... leveling). Thinking she failed in her experiments while using up considerable guild resources, she fled far to escape punishment, eventually settling in Korvosa and trying to stay anonymous.
Long story short, she eventually goes missing or dies, the kid becomes a Lamm's lamb, etc. All because of the forced "1 must be a campaign trait" shtick.

Our backstory makes it logical to not need a Red Mantis trainer while interrupting the events of the campaign as they are unfolding (it's hard to go to class in a war zone), and has far more long lasting tie ins during some chapters like...
Imagine he discover Ramoska Arkiminos is his father? Or maybe one of the Assassins burning down Orsini's house could be his missing mother pressed back into service. Now there's a chance to use this in future volumes, maybe an unknown ally in the Red Mantis working as a double agent of sorts. etc

My point is the more I think on it, the more I prefer our own hooks and future APs doing away with traits entirely. There are very few AP traits that are a lot less invasive, like those in Carrion Crown for example. Your backstory can still be totally your own, as the only requirement is that you met the professor somewhere at some point in your life, and it doesn't even have to be in Ustalav. In this case, the traits are just giving each of you a reason to go to Ustalav at the same time as other PCs. Probably, the only AP with campaign traits that work for me.
Overall, I'd be ok with future APs dropping traits, maybe even houserule an extra feat instead if need be.
I thought I read somewhere that Paizo was never too happy about the way traits turned out, but they still kept churning them out in every AP. Meh.

"Design Flaw" as the title implies is one thing, Paizo possibly realizing it earlier, yet continually pumping them out while taking the "oh well, we'll do things different in next edition" has me scratching my head (I guess that's as fundamental a design flaw as one can get)... Umm, at least almost as much as releasing a first AP for the new edition with writers that worked on it with beta rules not yet in final release form.
Trending design flaws into a new edition and releasing them into the wild (assuming for the sake of continuous scheduled releases) is scarier IMHO. This is another nail in the proverbial coffin for me, and one of the lesser reasons I have decided to sit 2nd edition out. YMMV of course.


The tail end of Age of Ashes and all of Extrinction Curse are using the "correct" rules. If you don't want to run AoA because of the rules clunkiness, just don't? Citing it as an example of 2e being a mess is kind of moot when it's a solved problem.


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Grankless wrote:
The tail end of Age of Ashes and all of Extrinction Curse are using the "correct" rules. If you don't want to run AoA because of the rules clunkiness, just don't? Citing it as an example of 2e being a mess is kind of moot when it's a solved problem.

I wasn't citing "just the tail end of Hill", or any volume of Extinction Curse at all.

As to not derail anything, my issues with AoA (at least Hellknight Hill specifically) are in the parallel "Underwhelming" thread in this same forum, if you are interested.
Why I think 2E is a mess or paizos trending direction are two different discussions for other threads. As I said, just opinions. Didn't want to offend anyone.

Grand Lodge

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Tinalles wrote:
I have long thought of this as the "too many cooks in the kitchen" phenomenon.

.

It's interesting; I never stopped and considered this as the possible reason for a 'disconnect' that appears in the APs. But now that you mention it, I think it has to be considered. (Though, having thought about it, I still think it may often be deliberate by the AP Design-Team leader in an attempt to make an AP accessible to all play styles.)

If my observation (the OP) is true: that even though we can't quantify or observe the specific ingredients of a Universally-considered-Great AP, but instead can only find a universally-considered-'negative'-trait (that of occasional incoherence/inconsistency/plot-gap in the APs), and if your theory is correct -- hmm, I wonder if Paizo would consider assigning an AP to only one or two authors. ....You think an 6-volume AP written entirely by Greg Vaughan would sell well!?!


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W E Ray wrote:
You think an 6-volume AP written entirely by Greg Vaughan would sell well!?!

See Slumbering Tsar, although not sure about the sales numbers.


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Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
W E Ray wrote:
hmm, I wonder if Paizo would consider assigning an AP to only one or two authors.

No. It takes about 3 months to write one volume of an AP.

Grand Lodge

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Tallow wrote:

I'd argue that in some cases, the complaint of lack of internal consistency, cohesion, and transition may be due to a couple factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the AP itself.

1) Some GMs are more skilled than others in telling a story and making sure players understand the internal consistency of the plot.

.

Yeah, I'm glad you brought this up. I do think its important that one looks at the APs with both playing and reading experience.
(One of my flaws is that there are a few APs I've not read or played at all -- avoiding Spoilers to hopefully play in them one day. Other APs I've played only a bit in but at least read.)

Of course, I will remind that my observations in the OP were as much from posts on the Boards here over the years as much as my own experience. It was posts rather than experience that made me think to start the Thread.

.

Off Topic Reply:

Tallow wrote:
2) Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.

.

Hmm, I never thought of that. I've always considered a good DMing trait of mine that, after a session, I'll often have metagame discussions about the session. This will include sharing things I thought were maybe a bit slow (and why), things that were absolutely working, places where I miss-spoke or miss-stepped during gameplay. And there are certainly occasions where part of that metagame sharing, I talk about how I changed this or that from the published text. ....Now, I realize you say the pet peeve is when a DM does something like this During play -- but there have been times when I've had to pause a game, perhaps after a PC questions something wrong, and I give a metagame answer.

I'd be really interested to hear a couple specific cases in your game where it came off as bad DMing -- last thing I want to do is make a mistake like what you describe while I think I'm doing the right thing!

Scarab Sages

W E Ray wrote:
GMing Tangent:
Tallow wrote:


2) Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.

.

Hmm, I never thought of that. I've always considered a good DMing trait of mine that, after a session, I'll often have metagame discussions about the session. This will include sharing things I thought were maybe a bit slow (and why), things that were absolutely working, places where I miss-spoke or miss-stepped during gameplay. And there are certainly occasions where part of that metagame sharing, I talk about how I changed this or that from the published text. ....Now, I realize you say the pet peeve is when a DM does something like this During play -- but there have been times when I've had to pause a game, perhaps after a PC questions something wrong, and I give a metagame answer.

I'd be really interested to hear a couple specific cases in your game where it came off as bad DMing -- last thing I want to do is make a mistake like what you describe while I think I'm doing the right thing!

GM Tangent Answer:
Oh, I don't mind after the session if we discuss metagame stuff or if you ask me if I liked XYZ or what I liked, didn't like, thought you could improve, etc. I also don't mind you discussing issues you've run into with the scenario and things you did to help it flow better or fix it.

What I have had happen, is in the middle of the adventure, a GM start complaining about the writing, the author, how messed up the encounter is, how incompetent the publisher/author/developer is, etc. When I'm in the middle of playing, I don't give two figs about that, just make it so I can enjoy it and we an discuss that later.

I've had experiences where amazing GMs have made subpar adventures some of my favorite, because they were amazing GMs. And I've had poor GMs make some amazing adventures feel like an annoying waste of my time because they were poor GMs (or had a really poor attitude that day).

Dark Archive

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I'd just like to highlight how annoying it is to bad mouth an adventure, or as I have most commonly experienced it a scenario in the middle of running it. It makes it more or less impossible to enjoy if the GM is telling you during the mission briefing that scenario X is _________ I can't imagine how frustrating that would be in the middle of an AP. More often than not if you try and patch something you see as a rough spot the players will have no idea.


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Tallow wrote:
Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.

So all you're asking is that the GM does unpaid adventure-writing work on your behalf, and that they do it better than the professional adventure writer did, and that they never let you know they're doing it so you don't have to be grateful to them?

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

You missed the “during play” part.

Scarab Sages

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Matthew Downie wrote:
Tallow wrote:
Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.
So all you're asking is that the GM does unpaid adventure-writing work on your behalf, and that they do it better than the professional adventure writer did, and that they never let you know they're doing it so you don't have to be grateful to them?

As a GM and published adventure author who does just all of that, I don't expect my GMs to do any more than I do myself.

But if they aren't prepared to run an adventure to such a degree that issues within it catch them so off guard that they take valuable play time to complain and moan about the terribleness of the adventure, then that's not a GM I want to play with.

You don't need to be a published or experienced adventure writer to figure out how you are going to handle such a poor writing situation while you run it for your players. Because presumably you spent more than 5 minutes reading that and know what the issues are, and can easily figure out what you are going to do so your players will enjoy it.

An example would be a horse stable that has several 5' x 10' stalls and the monsters inside are all large without actually enough room to all fit in that building let alone fight in the building. So as a GM you just either make the stables larger or the creatures medium-sized instead.

Another example would be if there is a huge plot hole that doesn't make much sense, and as a GM you don't have time to write the filler bit. Just don't talk about it during play. Likely the players aren't going to even catch that there is a plot hole, because there are tons of things players aren't privy to that the GM is when playing the game. So you even bringing up that there is this gaping hole is only going to bring it to the player's attention and help them not enjoy the adventure. Almost zero effort. Actually, more effort would go into complaining during play than just doing nothing about the plot hole.

Not sure why you acted all offended by that comment.


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Tallow wrote:
Another example would be if there is a huge plot hole that doesn't make much sense, and as a GM you don't have time to write the filler bit. Just don't talk about it during play. Likely the players aren't going to even catch that there is a plot hole, because there are tons of things players aren't privy to that the GM is when playing the game. So you even bringing up that there is this gaping hole is only going to bring it to the player's attention and help them not enjoy the adventure. Almost zero effort. Actually, more effort would go into complaining during play than just doing nothing about the plot hole.

Back when I was less experienced as a GM, I would occassionally play out a badly-planned scene in a module, the players would grow confused at the situation, and their characters would start asking unanswerable questions. Sometimes I could ad lib answers, but sometimes I had to just say, "Sorry, I cannot fix this right now. Pretend it makes sense and we can figure out an excuse later."

For example, in the Jade Regent adventure path, when the PCs discover the Amatatsu Seal that proved that the Ameiko Kaijitsu was heir to the throne of Minkai, all the PCs magically become Amatatsu scions, which means that they could inherit the throne, too. That included the goblin firebomber in the party ([url="https://paizo.com/community/blog/v5748dyo6sh59?Sleep-No-More#11"]I just mentioned him yesterday[url]). That made no sense for a story of the last heir, so I suspect it was an awkward backup plan if Ameiko died. My players all agreed that that did not happen and never mentioned it again.

These days I usually spot and fix such problems before the game session. A few weeks ago I missed a little one in Trail of the Hunted in Ironfang Invasion. Some dwarves slaughtered by the Ironfang Legion's Camp Redjaw troopers arose as undead in a few days. My players immediately deduced that Camp Redjaw had a necromancer with them, which left them wondering why the necromancer left the undead behind. Sorry, no necromancer. The undead are unexplained. I will add some mumbo-jumbo about corrupted fey magic if the party becomes serious about investigating the undead.

Tallow wrote:
Another thing, as a GM, you can do is write a character creation document that includes the preferred (or limited to) list of books that actually fit the theme of the region/AP. Of course player buy-in for such a limitation would have to be there, otherwise you don't have a happy group. I did this when running Ironfang Invasion. I listed out probably 15 different books that fit the theme of not just the AP, but the region of Nirmathas and the Fangwood Forest. I also allowed any of the list of suggested character options that weren't necessarily in my list of books, that showed up in the Player's Guide to II. Then I let them pick one book that was not on the list to round out their character.

I had the opposite with my players' characters for Ironfang Legion, adapted to PF2. I had explained to them about Phaendar and Nirmathas during Session Zero, yet their characters were unusual: the elf ranger Zinfandel, the halfing rogue Sam, the gnome druid Stormdancer, the goblin alchemist Tak, the lizardfolk champion Ishmael, and the gnome rogue Binny. They did not fit into a humble town of humans and dwarves, especially not the goblin. But Session Zero created plausible ties, such as Zinfandel training as a Chernasardo Ranger under Phaendar resident Aubrin the Green and Tak arriving as a refugee from the Ironfang Legion's invasion of Ecru.

And I shifted the story so that their role made sense. The villagers viewed the player characters as outsiders who ought not sacrifice their lives to defend Phaendar. When the Ironfang Legion invaded Phaendar, Aubrin and Noelan asked them to help the elderly and children flee the fight. They ended up as protectors of the refugees, as Trail of the Hunted intended. Though Aubrin herself survived, too, so she is the primary protector and the party is her scouts. The players like that division of labor.


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Tallow wrote:
Some GMs vocally complain about the problems with the AP during play, which as a player I hate. Don't tell me what sucks, just do what you need to do to make it enjoyable.
Matthew Downie wrote:
So all you're asking is that the GM does unpaid adventure-writing work on your behalf, and that they do it better than the professional adventure writer did, and that they never let you know they're doing it so you don't have to be grateful to them?
Tallow wrote:
As a GM and published adventure author who does just all of that, I don't expect my GMs to do any more than I do myself.

I am retired now, so I have plenty of time to rewrite a module. My players so derailed The Divinity Drive that 95% of its encounters I wrote myself. On the other hand, I also did that a lot while still employed and much shorter on time.

Rewriting an encounter is easier than running a badly-planned encounter and more fun than running an encounter that does not suit the players.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

Necromancers aren’t required for undead, plenty (and most) just spontaneously arise on their own :3


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Rysky wrote:
Necromancers aren’t required for undead, plenty (and most) just spontaneously arise on their own :3

Fifteen dwaves died. Five rose as undead. That is an extremely high reanimation rate for spontaneous reanimation.

Trail of the Hunted:
Bugbear commander Scarvinious, angry that the 15 dwarves of a small lumber camp fought rather than surrendering, flayed six dwarves to death. The flaying to death had an 83% reanimation rate. I presume Scarvinious did not want undead roaming the land he was supposed to conquer, so he must not have expected the flayed dwarves to reanimate.

One undead was a shredskin, a form of spontaneous undead that could result from being flayed to death. Okay, that fits the circumstances. The other four were risen flayed bodies, using the same stats as bloody skeletons. The skeleton template says that, "Skeletons are the animated bones of the dead, brought to unlife through foul magic." Skeletons don't require a necromancer--old tombs have plenty of undead skeletons--but we can assume some foul magic was involved, perhaps seeping into the bones over years. A lumber camp lacks foul magic of its own, especially not enough to animate bodies in only a few days. War slaughters lots of people, but usually only a battlefield associated with a large-scale atrocity or a betrayal of honor has the dead soldiers reanimate.

In addition, I knew in advance that only three players would show up to that game session, so I dropped the shredskin and converted only the flayed bodies to PF2 (three Skinless Undead, Creature 1, vs. three 2nd-level PCs). Thus, I mistakenly dropped the undead associated with spontaneous reanimation. That did drop the conversion rate to 20%, but the players chose to not dig up the mass grave and count the dead, so to them it looked more like 30%.

The high rate of dead dwarves rising as undead persuaded my players that the remains of torture were evidence of a necromantic ritual.

And if I declared aloud to my players, "Necromancers aren’t required for undead," then I would be openly criticizing the encounter. That is one of Tallow's complaints: GMs criticizing the encounters as they run them, though I had altered the encounter myself. Rather than ruining the mood, I let them make Recall Knowledge Religion rolls and investigate the area, searching for information about the possible necromancer.

Silver Crusade

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How is “Necromancers aren’t required for undead” criticizing the encounter when there wasn’t a Necromancer in the encounters?

There’s more ways than what’s just presented in the Bestiary stat block for the undead to rise, and there’s certainly no mathematical formula for how it happens or to which.

How many undead rise is solely dependent on the needs of the story and the GM.

Dark Archive

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I think that was sort of what Tallow was getting at, but I wouldn't consider it an egregious example. I've sat down to tables and heard GM comments like "well this isn't a very good scenario" and variations multiple times before we even begin. It is really obnoxious, when you realize the GM is basically saying right off the bat we are here to have fun, but it ain't going to happen.

I think a large part of it is a lack of self awareness about how deeply enmeshed 'Comicbook Guy' attitudes are among players and the perpetual meta critiquing.

How easy it was to change this was really made clear to me a few years ago. I played 9-02 at GenCon and I had the worst GM in society play I ever experienced. He clearly did not know Pathfinder rules well, had very low GM skills in general, and I don't think he had any clue about actual PFS rules since he broke about half of them. The scenario itself does not have a good reputation on top of that. As luck would have it I was assigned to GM that scenario at a con about a month later. After actually reading the scenario I could see there were some potentially confusing points, and it was an oddly philosophical scenario. But partially because my experience was so bad I was motivated to give my players a fair shot at enjoying the scenario. All I had to do was decide ahead of time how to handle the rough spots and both of my tables went off just fine. I didn't hear a single complaint, and all it really took was the right attitude.

Scarab Sages

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Mathmuse wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Necromancers aren’t required for undead, plenty (and most) just spontaneously arise on their own :3

Fifteen dwaves died. Five rose as undead. That is an extremely high reanimation rate for spontaneous reanimation.

** spoiler omitted **

The high rate of dead dwarves rising as undead persuaded my players that the remains of torture were evidence of a necromantic ritual.

And if I declared aloud to my players,...

Trail of the Hunted:
I just got done running that one last October or so. and I didn't mind it at all. The emotional impact of live flaying and torture would be enough to raise the skeletons. And since the bloody skeletons keep coming back to life until their skins at Scarvinious's camp are destroyed, its easy enough to assume this is some sort of "ghost" or haunt.
Scarab Sages

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Davor Firetusk wrote:

I think that was sort of what Tallow was getting at, but I wouldn't consider it an egregious example. I've sat down to tables and heard GM comments like "well this isn't a very good scenario" and variations multiple times before we even begin. It is really obnoxious, when you realize the GM is basically saying right off the bat we are here to have fun, but it ain't going to happen.

I think a large part of it is a lack of self awareness about how deeply enmeshed 'Comicbook Guy' attitudes are among players and the perpetual meta critiquing.

How easy it was to change this was really made clear to me a few years ago. I played 9-02 at GenCon and I had the worst GM in society play I ever experienced. He clearly did not know Pathfinder rules well, had very low GM skills in general, and I don't think he had any clue about actual PFS rules since he broke about half of them. The scenario itself does not have a good reputation on top of that. As luck would have it I was assigned to GM that scenario at a con about a month later. After actually reading the scenario I could see there were some potentially confusing points, and it was an oddly philosophical scenario. But partially because my experience was so bad I was motivated to give my players a fair shot at enjoying the scenario. All I had to do was decide ahead of time how to handle the rough spots and both of my tables went off just fine. I didn't hear a single complaint, and all it really took was the right attitude.

Exactly! This is exactly my point.

There is one scenario I point to specifically, that while PFS was going, came out as the Season 3 special "Cyphermage Dilemma". The previous Season 2 special was pretty good, and the Season 4 special rocked. But this was just a really odd choice to make the special. It was not a very well written scenario. And yet, as a Venture-Officer at the time (the only ones allowed to run them for 1 year), I ran this one 5 or 6 times (a couple of which were at conventions.) I've had players tell me that they stuck around PFS because of that scenario. I've had brand new players signed up to play after running it for them. Why? Because I did what I could to make it fun for the players. I didn't have to rewrite or change anything. I just approached it with a good attitude and really allowed the players to succeed with nifty plans and roleplayed the badguys in a keystone cop way and it turned out to just be a ball of laughs and fun.

It can be the worst thing in the world, and if you want your players to have fun, don't tell them that during or before play.

Dark Archive

On side note though, remember that "what makes sense" is also a subjective thing. Just because it feels weird to you or your players doesn't mean it does for everyone or that it even is weird.

Like if I went around insisting to everyone that dating is weird and nonsensical and that everyone should agree with me because I'm right, I'd get lot of really odd looks :P


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Rysky wrote:

How is “Necromancers aren’t required for undead” criticizing the encounter when there wasn’t a Necromancer in the encounters?

There’s more ways than what’s just presented in the Bestiary stat block for the undead to rise, and there’s certainly no mathematical formula for how it happens or to which.

How many undead rise is solely dependent on the needs of the story and the GM.

I talked to the three players--my wife and our housemates--and they said that eventually their characters will wonder that they never found the necromancer. Where did he or she go? But their ideas about undead is that a massacred camp of 15 people is not a place where they would expect undead to rise spontaneously. One housemate thinks that except for revenge for murder--which targets the murderer--undead take a long time to spontaneously rise. My wife said that skeletons and zombies are almost always raised by necromancers. A successful Recall Knowledge roll would have told her character, "Necromancers or abandoned temples, tombs, and cemeteries," but her character was untrained in Religion.

Pathfinder 1st Edition gives short origins in the ECOLOGY section of character. Pathfinder 2nd Edition's Bestiary prefers introductions, "Skeleton. Made from bones held together by foul necromancy, skeletons are among the most common types of undead, found haunting old dungeons and forgotten cemeteries." Finding fresh skeletons in a forest is unexpected.

When the unexpected is encountered, story-driven players will try to deduce what happened. When the reason is that an event unlikely to happen happened anyway, the players are likely to follow a mistaken impression instead and create an unintentional red herring. In my Iron Gods campaign, I once watched player characters travel back to the location of a previous module because of a false red herring. I created a meaningful follow-up quest there to prevent a wasted trip, but neither I nor the module writer intended that direction.

The unintentional red herring can be a problem in Adventure Path design.

Silver Crusade

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Kinda but not really. Plotting around assumptions and mistakes can be fun, but are not mandatory.

The AP can’t really account for your players making up assumptions. Undead can be created by necromancers, they can be created to get revenge.

Can be. Nothing in undead or the example situation hard codes their creation and your players assumptions are just that, assumptions. That there’s no Necromancer or too many undead from one event for one player’s liking is not a failure of the AP.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

My explanation would be a necromantic ley line. And I would let those skeletons rise several times, until the players put the dwarves to rest at another place.

Dark Archive

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I mean, I agree that GM advice of "If players make a really long deduction that they are proud of, you can change things so its true so that players feel happy about being right" can be good idea, but it can also be good idea to let players sometimes just be wrong about their assumption.

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