Intrinsic, Fundamental AP Design Flaw


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Grand Lodge

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(It'll take me a bit to reach the intrinsic flaw I see in AP design, your thoughts on any of my observations are Most welcome.)
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On the Quality and Popularity of APs, and How We Can Show Our Love:

Let me throw out an observation from both my playing experience and reading/participating in Dozens of AP Threads over the the past fifteen years on the Boards, here.

There are only a handful of APs that are almost universally loved/ respected by all of us on the Boards. Others are loved by many, but not universally -- there are always quite a few of us that don't like this or that AP. And even the very few that are almost universally disliked on the Boards still have small followings of folks that say, despite popular opinion, they really like this or that AP.

Ultimately, my conclusion is that the quality of a particular AP really depends on the individual person or gaming group reading/playing it. That's no surprise since it's been echoed by so many in so many threads over so many years.

RotRL, CotCT, KM, S&S, SA, and WftC are almost universally considered the best APs, 90% in popularity. But those APs have nothing in common. One could argue good writing or fresh design, but that argument falls short because so many other APs, that seem more 66.6% in popularity, often have good writing and fresh design more than the universally popular APs -- the six above that seem more 90% in popularity.

And when you look at the APs that are widely popular but not quite universally popular (I have a list of ten-twelve that seem to be 66.6% popular.), there is nothing in their design or writing that that one can observe is a common trait throughout. Again, I conclude that it just depends on personal or group preference.

Likewise, one struggles to find solid commonalities of 'poor' traits in the APs that seem to have but 25% popularity: SD, LoF, CoT, the two SS APs and HV.

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However, there is one design and writing trait that I have personally observed (reading & playing) that is also echoed on the Boards regularly over the years in Threads about the six or so universally-loved APs, the ten-twelve APs that are loved by a large majority, and even the six or so that have only a little love. That common trait is a Flaw -- a complaint that pops up on the Boards in seemingly every AP Thread.

Between volume and volume, seemingly all of the APs at one point or another (or throughout the whole) have transition gaps or inappropriate-to-the-plot parts, or cohesion issues.

(perhaps some minor)Spoilers:
Volume X of this or that AP doesn't 'fit' with the rest of the AP (such as Vol 4 of CotCT or Vol 1 of Return/otR). Or there is no transition between Vol X and Vol Y of the AP (some APs suffer this in every volume such as CC.). Or a major theme of the AP doesn't even exist for a couple volumes (such as not even knowing the campaign BBEG for KM until the very end).

All in all, even the universally-accepted-as-great APs suffer a bit from this 'at times' lack of cohesion or poor transition from volume to volume.

So here's my Thread:
Is this observation of mine accurate?
Do perhaps All APs suffer from poor volume-to-volume transition and poor cohesion -- from time to time? (some more than others, or less)?

And if so, HOW can we provide specific feedback to Paizo so they can address it?
Is it an intrinsic problem that is absolutely unavoidable because six authors write six volumes, independently of each other? Or can a design leader ensure that the six volumes form a greater unified AP -- even when it means stepping on the creative toes of this or that volume's author (slapping a Jacobs or Vaughan around until he writes a cohesive-to-the-rest-of-the-AP volume with transitions)?


Almost every AP suffers from "one of these is not like the others" disease, from CC and SA book 4, to HR 5, to WftC 6 (and 5 to a lesser extent) and even Rise book 3, which is too 2008-era Paizo to handle.

It's just kind of the nature of six authors all working from a design doc - there almost certainly is a design leader (after all, the adventures are written by someone before the authors take the wheel).

It's often annoying that this happens, but usually these work well as books in which to put player-character focused stuff or just rip stuff out and sub in something cooler.

I don't think it's inherently solvable beyond just like... Going to spoil SA 4 here a bit:

Spoiler:
"Hey, let's not have a book in our scary cosmic horror AP where the party fights gnoll slavers for half a book!"
Stopping stuff like that. Sometimes the whims of the authors blow in ways that don't necessarily work, and that's okay.

Also Second Darkness and Legacy of Fire suffer from the deadly disease of 3.5ism.


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I think it's an unavoidable issue. I think Paizo usually starts working on APs over a year in advance. There is a Lead Designer assigned to an AP (for instance, if it involves the Runelords or Varisia, James Jacobs was probably in charge). My thought is that any central design doc is going to include general adventure background, relevant information about the setting and any specific villains they want to include, and the overall plot of each section and the AP as a whole.

Each part probably specifies information the party should find out and goals they should meet to advance the story. How they meet those goals is then left up to the writer to determine.

SA 4:

The doc for this part of the AP probably said, "The PCs need to track down Lowls in this city. Here's the information about the city." The author looked at the information about the city and said, "Hey, there's a large gnoll slaver community in this city. I'm gonna work that in for regional flavor."

Despite being the "Call of Cthulu meets Pathfinder" AP, the city information loans itself to a certain plot line. They could probably curtail such weird outliers if the Lead Designer of the AP had a more complete design doc, specifying how the PCs should accomplish each goal, but that takes a lot of creative freedom away from the AP writers. At that point, they might as well use a purely in-house AP writing team who all work on the AP in a sequential order. Said team would write every AP, since the Lead Designer has for each AP has already written the entire plot, and now all they need to do is make the language pretty and create stat blocks for the enemy. They might get to write in side quests and pick treasure, but there isn't much else for them to do.

Paizo's APs tend to be as high quality as they are because Paizo gives the authors (many of whom are freelance) a certain amount of creative freedom. While this does result in frequent "One of these things is not like the others" issues, I think the end result is a far better product than the alternative.

Grand Lodge

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Grankless wrote:
Almost every AP suffers from "one of these is not like the others" disease.

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That's pretty much my OP in one sentence, yes.

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Phntm888 wrote:

I think it's an unavoidable issue.

(The Design Leader may say) The PCs need to track down Lowls in this city. Here's the information about the city.
(And) the author looks at the information about the city and says, "Hey, there's a large gnoll slaver community in this city. I'm gonna work that in for regional flavor."

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Yeah, this is my feeling as well.

But I'm starting to wonder if it actually IS avoidable.

Consider, ....Looking back over the AP Threads these past 15 years All of the APs suffer from this flaw -- however dramatic or insignificant the flaw is -- so,... is it a good idea to, using specific examples, suggest to Paizo that they keep an eye out for this in design trait. And when an author says, Ooh, a large gnoll slaver community!, the Design Leader says, "Sorry, that doesn't fit the AP's theme or flavor," or "That's disjointed and incoherent with the rest of the campaign," or something -- "Rewrite the damn thing, please."


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Phntm888 wrote:
I think it's an unavoidable issue.

"This novel written by six people working simultaneously on different chapters lacks coherence."

"Well, that's just an unavoidable issue with novels."

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
W E Ray wrote:
"Rewrite the damn thing, please."

If you're publishing something that's monthly, it's not really an option.


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I don't think specific flaws are why some APs are more unpopular than others. People don't generally judge things based on a checklist of "avoiding mistakes" or whatever- we judge things (movies, books, sandwiches, etc.) holistically.

People are more likely to form an opinion and work backwards to justify that opinion by finding specific things they can nitpick, but those specific nitpicks might not have a real causal relationship with why they formed that opinion. There's research on this and everything.

So I think it's better to look at this sort of thing from the top down. People like/dislike Wrath of the Righteous because they like/dislike gonzo badass showcases. People might dislike Hell's Vengeance because they just don't like playing evil characters. People might think more fondly of Skulls & Shackles than Serpent's Skull because "let's be pirates" connects better with people than "let's be Allen Quatermain".


W E Ray wrote:
Do perhaps All APs suffer from poor volume-to-volume transition and poor cohesion -- from time to time? (some more than others, or less)?

I would argue that Mummy's Mask doesn't have a "one of these things is not like the others" moment in it.

But yes, for the most part, the rest of the APs all seem to.

Silver Crusade

Warped Savant wrote:
W E Ray wrote:
Do perhaps All APs suffer from poor volume-to-volume transition and poor cohesion -- from time to time? (some more than others, or less)?

I would argue that Mummy's Mask doesn't have a "one of these things is not like the others" moment in it.

But yes, for the most part, the rest of the APs all seem to.

Ah, the thing about MM is that it’s the FIRST book that doesn’t fit, imho.

Grand Lodge

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I do think it’s a beneficial dialogue to have, though.

We love or strongly like nearly all of the APs — that’s an extraordinary publishing feat considering both the variety of APs, and the diversity of gaming groups, yes?!

But when we think back to all the Threads we’ve read and contributed to over the years, the one trait that seems a weakness, is either cohesion for the whole and/or transition from volume to volume.

Now, before risking a process change one must consider the degree of weakness this flaw creates — and if the problem isn’t ‘quite’ as bad as ‘perhaps’ squashing the creative process of an author, of course NO change in the design process — but why not look at trying to fix it otherwise?

Or, as I name it in the OP title, is it intrinsic to the process? Is there no way at all to correct this flaw? I dunno. But I’m confident it’s a beneficial dialogue to have.

Dark Archive

I never had problems with AP books that have change of pace from rest of AP though, unless its really blatantly disconnected even plot wise


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I think the issue in a lot of cases is that having to scale up from level 1 into the higher tiers of play covers such a range of play that it's hard for that to always feel coherent.

The same problem happens in superpower-focused anime :p

Dark Archive

Same author or not the AP format automatically produces 5 transitions because there is always some type of resolution to end each book. These are always likely to be some of the biggest tension points as groups take divergent paths through the book. And writing can only directly address so many. In short I think it is a numbers game to a large extent and the author switch may increase some issues, but as a GM managing that is always going to be my responsibility.


Matthew Downie wrote:
Phntm888 wrote:
I think it's an unavoidable issue.

"This novel written by six people working simultaneously on different chapters lacks coherence."

"Well, that's just an unavoidable issue with novels."

While we are discussing six TTRPG adventures connected by an overarching plot or theme written by six different people, and not novels (which are typically written by one or maybe two people), I suppose you have a valid point that if we have only one (or two) people write the entire AP, we could avoid the issue.

Of course, it would take longer to produce every AP, and Paizo might not be able to produce monthly installments like they currently do.

Since I highly doubt Paizo will be changing their AP writing process to one or two people writing the entire AP, however, it is my opinion that Paizo Adventure Paths having six different authors means that it is an unavoidable issue that Paizo Adventure Paths will suffer from one section being somewhat different from the rest of the AP.

Regardless, W E Ray is correct that it is a worthwhile dialogue to have. Perhaps a solution will even come out of it.


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Phntm888 wrote:

I suppose you have a valid point that if we have only one (or two) people write the entire AP, we could avoid the issue.

Of course, it would take longer to produce every AP, and Paizo might not be able to produce monthly installments like they currently do.

There'd be a difficult transition period, but overall it should be the same cost and number of writer-hours to produce single-author APs. You'd just need to start them earlier and have more of them being written at the same time.


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I feel like one of the issues with the abruptness of the transitions is because each volume is supposed to end with a satisfying conclusion of some kind, sort of like a season finale in a television program. It's worthwhile to do this since some people are going to stop with whichever book or are going to need to wait to play the next one.

Some of the abruptness of transition is going to be because it's the GM's job to adapt specific events of the campaign to smooth over "hooray, you've saved the day" to "now you need to confront the greater threat."

I think some of the "one of these is not like the other ones" is because sometimes Paizo experiments- rather than doing something they know works, they want to try something unlike what they've done before. But big swings are more likely to result in both big hits and big misses.

Grand Lodge

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PossibleCabbage wrote:
(Also) sometimes Paizo experiments- rather than doing something they know works, they want to try something unlike what they've done before.

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100%, and it's important for Paizo to continue to try to push the boundaries and evolve how gaming is played. And that's something we haven't really hit yet. Plus, each volume is suppose to be useful for a variety of differing groups, and likewise each AP overall is suppose to have a variety of aspects to please a variety of differing groups. A Haunted House AP can NOT be six volumes of a Haunted House.

So each volume has to have an "End" point that feels like a victory and each volume and AP has to have different aspects for different gamers. An urban AP still has to have some dungeon crawls. A dungeon-crawl AP still has to have some roleplay & intrigue, that kind of shtick.

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Although I think a really cool idea for Paizo to try (since they want to try new things), is ending an AP volume NOT with a victory over that volume's BBEG, but rather a DEFEAT/ Cliffhanger that slaps the PCs in the face. Isn't The Empire Strikes Back the best of Star Wars for that reason, Han in Carbonite-- and roll credits?! (you know, that reason and Yoda)

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Grankless wrote:
Also Second Darkness and Legacy of Fire suffer from the deadly disease of 3.5ism.

Before their Anniversary editions, both Rise of the Runelords and Curse of the Crimson Throne were 3.5. And that is also when they gained most of their popularity.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

W E Ray wrote:
Although I think a really cool idea for Paizo to try (since they want to try new things), is ending an AP volume NOT with a victory over that volume's BBEG, but rather a DEFEAT/ Cliffhanger that slaps the PCs in the face. Isn't The Empire Strikes Back the best of Star Wars for that reason, Han in Carbonite-- and roll credits?! (you know, that reason and Yoda)

Check out Tyrant's Grasp

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Thanks for the feedback, all! We're constantly trying to improve our Adventure Path content, and also doing our best to keep them fresh and interesting. That does mean that not every adventure (needless to say not every Adventure Path) will be equally perfect for everyone. Further, the fact that we use different developers and different authors for them all means that some may or may not work as well for any one individual GM. We do try to preserve each author's concepts for every adventure while simultaneously working to make sure the Adventure Path as a whole hangs together and has one "voice," but that's often a difficult task.

And there's also the unavoidable fact that not every author has the same skill level or will be equally fun to read for every person (in the same way I love reading Stephen King but am not a fan of Anne Rice, even though both are horror novelists).

Best we can do as developers is to do everything we can to make an Adventure Path work together to a level where it would work for us as developers, to the extent that we can in the limited time we have to do this task. Our games are, in theory, CLOSE to any one GM's game, but there's always going to be differences in interests.

We also try to make sure that not only is there a variety in the types of Adventure Paths we do, but variety in each individual Adventure Path's content. What folks are seeing as "off topic" content that doesn't exactly relate to the plot is often content we put in as something akin to a palate cleanser, or something to appeal to a play style that is otherwise lacking in that campaign. If an entire Adventure Path features nothing but fights, the players who prefer roleplay will get frustrated. If an entire Adventure Path features nothing but complex social situations where every villain has a well-supported redemption option, players who just want action or don't want the complications will get frustrated. It's the same reason you see humor in so many horror movies; a moment of levity lets your brain unwind from the tension of the horror and then primes you for the next horror element so that you're not overwhelmed.

In short, there's a LOT of reasons why it' tough to make the "perfect" adventure path. We do our best, though, but keep giving us feedback so we can keep trying harder. I do need to say that I appreciate how so much of the feedback here has been non-confrontational and respectful, though... that's how to give feedback and have the people you're talking to listen!

Thanks again!

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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W E Ray wrote:
Although I think a really cool idea for Paizo to try (since they want to try new things), is ending an AP volume NOT with a victory over that volume's BBEG, but rather a DEFEAT/ Cliffhanger that slaps the PCs in the face. Isn't The Empire Strikes Back the best of Star Wars for that reason, Han in Carbonite-- and roll credits?! (you know, that reason and Yoda)

We sort of tried this just recently with Tyrant's Grasp.

Spoiler:
It wasn't a TOTAL defeat for the PCs, but it wasn't a "everyone lives happily ever after" either. And judging by a lot of the feedback, it pissed off a lot more folks than appealed.

My takeaway, both from this adventure path and from the past 35 some years of being a GM, is that players HATE losing. Even if you have one player who sometimes enjoys losses, having a whole table of them? Doubt it ever happens. It's one thing for a campaign to organically come to an unexpected end (be it a TPK or the players and GM simply deciding that the story is more interesting going in an unexpected direction), but it's quite another to hard-code player failure into a story. And a "cliffhanger" where the PCs reach 20th level only to fail won't make players want to play (or trust the GM or adventure creator) the sequel, especially since they'd be creating new characters entirely. I suspect most players would choose to build those new characters for a different GM, or a different rule set entirely.

Players rebel against railroads... especially those that bring them to failure without any chance of success. As such, an Adventure Path that is set up to end in failure is not a good idea .


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Pathfinder Starfinder Society Subscriber

If I had to call out one fundamental flaw/limitation in the way APs are designed, its the overly rigid structure that arises from still being designed for print publication in six equal-sized pieces.

Some APs have narrative arcs that would be best with five books and ending early (imagine a condensed Giantslayer that pitted 14th level PCs against the main villain). Others would want to have some books longer than others, or books that are small interludes (imagine Rise of the Runelords Book 2 being split into two distinct adventures with the Murderer arc and the Magnimar arc getting their own books - along with a nice gazetteer on Magnimar in the second one). Some books overstay their welcome in their commitment to provide enough encounters to get the PCs to a high enough level for the handoff to the next book. While others run out of steam narratively and add an unnecessary mandatory sidequest to get you to the right level to proceed.
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Ultimately though, as many people above are pointing out, the widely loved APs are widely loved despite bits in each of them that people seem to acknowledge are not the best. That tells me there's nothing wrong with the AP being a little bit lumpy, or that they have poor transitions, so long as the experience as a whole is good.


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I feel like a basic issue is that it's impossible to please everyone. People are going to like or dislike things (ceteris paribus) based on pre-existing aesthetic preferences. If we group people into "they are fond of X" and "they are not fond of X" we're going to get some themes or tropes or genres that are more popular than others, and these numbers are going to change based on the audience for a given product.

Like if Paizo hypothetically did an AP which was a straight up comedic farce, people are probably going to cleave based on whether or not they like that sort of thing in their roleplaying games. People with just a low tolerance for whimsy might say "well, that book that took place in the Maelstrom felt out of place" but probably the real issue was "that just wasn't a good story for them, but it might have been for others."

That's why I think it's important that Paizo tries a lot of different things. And that the release schedule for these things is generally brisker than people can actually play them most of the time. That way you often have the ability to wait for the whole AP to come out so the GM can read it and smooth over any lumps they anticipate, and you'll have other stuff to do if you're not sure an AP is going to go over well with your group (or if you're sure it's not going to.)

Like we're not going to run another "let's be evil" game, given our experience with Hell's Vengeance. Games where "it's wholly in keeping with the narrative to be evil if you want" however (e.g. Skull & Shackles, Strange Aeons, Reign of Winter) work fine. If Paizo's numbers suggest that doing another "Evil AP" makes sense for them, we can just do something else in the meantime.

Grand Lodge

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I’m not too surprised Paizo’s one step ahead in design, doing something like what I suggested earlier. Alas I only read the first volume (and browsed vol’s 2,3,4) as they came in the mail. But it does seem interesting — although I’ve also seen quite a few people on the Boards griping about the ending of TG. Mayhaps my thought of doing something like that at the end of just a volume rather than the whole AP,...?

Grand Lodge

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In any case, the observations I posited in the OP seem to hold true through the Thread — while one can not find a similarity in what makes the ‘best’ APs, it is clear that there is a trait that we consider a flaw throughout the APs — and that’s of poor transitions/ lack of internal consistency, or cohesion.

I still wonder if it is intrinsic to a design process with six authors and is unavoidable — or if it can be ‘solved’(?) during the design phase.

Sure the APs come out every month on a schedule — but we know that the AP after ‘Agents of Edgewatch’ is currently being written, yes? Six authors and a design team leader are knee deep in that AP right now. And volume one arrives in January of 2021. (It has to be sent to the printer in, what, December sometime?). But plenty of time to find good transition parts and notice cohesion problems.

Or is it not even that big of a deal?

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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W E Ray wrote:

Sure the APs come out every month on a schedule — but we know that the AP after ‘Agents of Edgewatch’ is currently being written, yes? Six authors and a design team leader are knee deep in that AP right now. And volume one arrives in January of 2021. (It has to be sent to the printer in, what, December sometime?). But plenty of time to find good transition parts and notice cohesion problems.

Or is it not even that big of a deal?

Again, we do our best, but you're significantly underestimating the challenges of creating an Adventure Path.


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Eliandra Giltessan wrote:
Warped Savant wrote:
W E Ray wrote:
Do perhaps All APs suffer from poor volume-to-volume transition and poor cohesion -- from time to time? (some more than others, or less)?

I would argue that Mummy's Mask doesn't have a "one of these things is not like the others" moment in it.

But yes, for the most part, the rest of the APs all seem to.

Ah, the thing about MM is that it’s the FIRST book that doesn’t fit, imho.

I disagree with that. The first book flows so well into the second and it hints toward what's to come, has call-backs in later books, and makes sense with the rest of the narrative.

But that being said, books not quite fitting in as well as the rest either doesn't seem to bother me much or I subconsciously find ways to fit them in easier or can easily justify why they're there.


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I think the problem with Tyrant's Grasp is that the whole AP ends in a defeat, rather than an earlier volume ending in a defeat that can be reversed in a later volume. Defeating the PCs is a good way to make people hate the villain, and makes it more rewarding when they finally win.

APs need some variety. AFAICT, one major complaint about Giantslayer is that it's giants, giants and more giants. Though I've not read it so can't comment. Likewise, MM and SS are primarily dungeon crawls. So using the local flavour (cf Gnoll slavers upthread) to add spice seems entirely sensible.


What's really the difference between putting the defeat qua temporary setback at the end of the volume, rather than in the middle? Maybe we shouldn't do downer outcomes at the end of volume 6, but I don't see the difference between "one midway through volume 4" and "one at the end of volume 4."

Dark Archive

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On side note, I feel this topic's title is bit too dramatic.

Like umm, I honestly see this as more of minor annoyance than big fundamental flaw. And even then I think people tend to exaggerate it, I didn't feel like wilderness adventure in Crimson Throne felt out of place with rest of ap for example :P

Dark Archive

Warped Savant wrote:
Eliandra Giltessan wrote:
Ah, the thing about MM is that it’s the FIRST book that doesn’t fit, imho.

I disagree with that. The first book flows so well into the second and it hints toward what's to come, has call-backs in later books, and makes sense with the rest of the narrative.

But that being said, books not quite fitting in as well as the rest either doesn't seem to bother me much or I subconsciously find ways to fit them in easier or can easily justify why they're there.

I wonder if people are more forgiving if it is the first book that doesn't fit - I've played in lots of campaigns where the first few adventures were just a "warm up" for the main event. In fact, I quite often add an introductory adventure of my own to the start of an adventure path, especially if not everybody can make the first session.

However, one of the (numerous) complaints against Second Darkness was the perceived "bait and switch" where you think the campaign is going to be an exploration of Riddleport's seedy underworld but after book 1 you are expected to abandon everything you've built in the city, never to return.

Conversely, what puts me off Mummy's Mask is that it seems like all of the adventures are pretty much the same. That may be a false impression, but since Mummy's Mask is competing for my attention with the other 19 1st edition adventure paths that I haven't played in or run, it means I'm unlikely to give it a chance to prove me wrong.

Grand Lodge

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CorvusMask wrote:
On side note, I feel this topic's title is bit too dramatic.

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Yeah you're right, ...but I was not intending the OP to be too dramatic. I'm pleased that none of the posts in the Thread have become too dramatic. Also, I've tried to keep asking the question, in my posts, of whether or not this common "flaw" or "negative trait" really is a big deal or just a minor issue.

Nonetheless, when the observation hit me (I was reading a Thread about Extinction Curse or maybe Tyrant's Grasp the other day.), that while we can't pin down WHY six particular APs are almost universally popular and that another dozen are mostly popular -- that while we can't pin down a trait that the 'good' ones all have in common -- we Do observe a trait that has come up in all the APs (to some degree or other) that is negative. ....That's what made me start the Thread.

I'm wondering if it's fixable -- and how big an issue it really is.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Cellion wrote:

If I had to call out one fundamental flaw/limitation in the way APs are designed, its the overly rigid structure that arises from still being designed for print publication in six equal-sized pieces.

Some APs have narrative arcs that would be best with five books and ending early (imagine a condensed Giantslayer that pitted 14th level PCs against the main villain). Others would want to have some books longer than others, or books that are small interludes (imagine Rise of the Runelords Book 2 being split into two distinct adventures with the Murderer arc and the Magnimar arc getting their own books - along with a nice gazetteer on Magnimar in the second one). Some books overstay their welcome in their commitment to provide enough encounters to get the PCs to a high enough level for the handoff to the next book. While others run out of steam narratively and add an unnecessary mandatory sidequest to get you to the right level to proceed.
---

Ultimately though, as many people above are pointing out, the widely loved APs are widely loved despite bits in each of them that people seem to acknowledge are not the best. That tells me there's nothing wrong with the AP being a little bit lumpy, or that they have poor transitions, so long as the experience as a whole is good.

Quoting this for emphasis. I've been reading the majority of the APs and running them too for years now and this is the same conclusion I came to on my own. My players know that I will never GM an Adventure Path for them unless the entire AP has been released and I have been able to read through all six volumes so that then I can understand the entire story arc in context and make "adjustments" to the overall flow as necessary to help strengthen some of the weaker narrative moments that may come or to fast forward through dungeoncrawly slogs that won't keep my players' attention.

That latter part convinced me to eschew the normal XP system and just level the players when appropriate, which they approved since it is one less thing they have to track and doesn't contribute to their sense of rewards. I don't assign XP for combats and often change XP rewards from non-combat challenges into alternative rewards that might be simple vanities, a non gamebreaking piece of magical equipment, extra gold, etc so that there's still some incentive to achieve. But this allows me to do things like skip the majority of Book 5 in Giantslayer and get right to the meaty part in dealing with the Fire Giant royalty before ascending to higher heights.

I don't think this makes any AP wrong, but each AP is a story of varying length and some fit (or are made to fit) a six volume design better than others.


Yeah, like the rules as a whole, I see the AP itself as chassis that each table takes and fleshes out into their own unique and personalized story. The gazetteers, bestiaries, the other sections in the back of the APs (not to mention all the campaign setting/companion books) are there so that GMs and players have tools to add texture and personalize the experience.

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.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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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.


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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.


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.

Exactly what I was getting at. I don't mean to disparage when I say "disconnect", so maybe not the best word choice. What I was getting at is that the secret sauce is always the players, and if you trust in that you can overcome any real or perceived lull in a written adventure. But as others have echoed, everyone has different preferences. I haven't played a large number of published adventures, but the ones I have experienced (or skimmed) have all been incredibly detailed and well-written.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Conversely, I've found that using (or even just reading) adventures written by others has helped make me a better adventure designer and GM.


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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber

I - for one - don't subscribe to the thread's premise in two ways.

First, that this is a flaw. My groups have been following the Pathfinder APs since Rise of the Runelords, and some of us go back to Shackled City. The variety of style and content is a feature, not a bug. While I'd chew someone else's arm off for an AP penned by say... Vaughan, Pett, or Logue (VPL or Vorpal in my mind, and absolutely not a comprehensive list of our favorite authors), that would only ever be a treat. The baseline for most APs being stylistically consistent isn't good. Variety allows for players and GMs to learn what styles and content they prefer, and what they don't. Playing six books and finding which - say - four are talked about (positively) for years after is way, way better than losing the exposure to "meh" books.

Second, I don't think it's universal either. We've played about half of the published APs to completion, and there have been several that didn't have inconsistency or jarring transitions that anyone noticed enough to comment on. So it's not a fundamental trait regardless.

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.

Paizo Employee Starfinder Developer

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Jacobs has been doing this a long time, and there's no better voice to speak on this issue than him. I'll add only this: sometimes, when planning an Adventure Path, that one volume where we go off to do something different is very much intentional and planned. As developers, our thought process goes something like this: "The players may get bored doing the same story six books in a row. Let's mix it up in one of these, give them a change of pace." Of course, we have to make it a good change of pace!

Think of these unusual volumes like the bridge in a rock song. It comes about 2/3rd of the way through the song, it's recognizably different than the rest of the song, but it still has the same underlying beat and it sets everyone up for the final stanza.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, PF Special Edition Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
Anguish wrote:

I - for one - don't subscribe to the thread's premise in two ways.

First, that this is a flaw. My groups have been following the Pathfinder APs since Rise of the Runelords, and some of us go back to Shackled City. The variety of style and content is a feature, not a bug. While I'd chew someone else's arm off for an AP penned by say... Vaughan, Pett, or Logue (VPL or Vorpal in my mind, and absolutely not a comprehensive list of our favorite authors), that would only ever be a treat. The baseline for most APs being stylistically consistent isn't good. Variety allows for players and GMs to learn what styles and content they prefer, and what they don't. Playing six books and finding which - say - four are talked about (positively) for years after is way, way better than losing the exposure to "meh" books.

Second, I don't think it's universal either. We've played about half of the published APs to completion, and there have been several that didn't have inconsistency or jarring transitions that anyone noticed enough to comment on. So it's not a fundamental trait regardless.

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.

I was going to say something similar.

For me one of the strengths of Paizo as a publisher is that they will try things that I don’t like. Sure there’s the obvious downside of annAP that sits,barely read for a few years before being discarded. But there have also been several whose premise I would have dismissed that opened my eyes to a whole new thing.

I think of the “disconnects” the OP identifies as symptomatic of this willingness to experiment. Throwing the chance to star in an opera into the middle of an AP is going to make that instalment stand out as different. I’d be wary that an attempt to make the APs more cohesive might risk some of that experimentation risk, (albeit I agree they’d be easier to run).

Grand Lodge

James Jacobs wrote:
I've found that using (or even just reading) adventures written by others has helped make me a better adventure designer and GM.

.

This is huge for me! Back in the 90s my adventures were all very similar. I got in to Dungeon in about ‘95-‘96 but just read them for fun. It was late in the 90s when I started actually using the published adventures — albeit dramatically altered. But even still, my adventures became far more diverse and deep. Dungeon made me a much better adventure writer. And later when I started coming to the Boards, 2006 I guess, I dramatically started to improve as a player and DM. Advice and anecdotal experiences have made me a significantly better player.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber

I was sure I was going to hate Iron Gods when it was announced, I said so specifically on these boards, but I gave it a chance and it's still my favorite AP.


Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, PF Special Edition Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Superscriber
captain yesterday wrote:
I was sure I was going to hate Iron Gods when it was announced, I said so specifically on these boards, but I gave it a chance and it's still my favorite AP.

Serpents Skull was a big one for me. I had zero interest and to this day, it’s one of the most satisfying campaigns I’ve ever run. (In my opinion, Souls For Smuggler’s Shiv is the best first instalment Paizo have ever produced).

That’s also one that suffered from the problem the OP diagnosed. I can’t say for sure that addressing those issues would reduce the diversity and unexpected, left-field adventures, but I suspect it would.


I'd like to chime in to say that my favorite AP is Ruins of Azlant, and that is another example of an AP where there isn't really one installment I can point to and say "this one doesn't fit." The aspect holding that particular AP back (in my mind) is that underwater combat is hard, complicated, and makes certain character concepts harder (archer, pyromancer, etc.); but that's another example of writing a more risky concept for an adventure that might not appeal to everyone.

Grand Lodge

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.

.

Oh, I dunno, I think most (if not all) DMs these days know that when they start a new campaign with their experienced group, that the players aren't gonna be running the Core Wizard, Core Fighter, Core Cleric and Core Rogue. And that extends to include the Paizo designers and developers. I'm sure that when an AP design team (six authors plus a team leader plus their supervisor James Jacobs) start working on the six volumes that are to be a future AP, they're talking about Android Mesmerists and Kitsune Tinkerers and Unchained Rogues and Core Fey Foundling Barbarians and Suli Unchained Summoners and all kinds of options. Just like we do.

It's like when Monte Cook was promoting Ptolus back in the day, and writing the 3E Dungeon Masters' Guide, NPCs in the campaign setting aren't gonna be flabbergasted that a Druid with a giant badger comes to town or that a thief in the market would have access to Invisibility. The average commoner may have never seen an Android or Kitsune, never seen what a Summoner or Mesmerist or Vigilante can do, but he knows that they exist and his head won't explode when your Fetchling Cavalier on an Axebeak mount strides into the Adventure Path.

Grand Lodge

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.

Grand Lodge

Steve Geddes wrote:
I can’t say for sure that addressing those issues would reduce the diversity and unexpected, left-field adventures, but I suspect it would.

.

And of course, this is the big problem in attempting a 'fix.'

I think it's a good reason that a Thread such as this exists, to see whether many of us or just a few of us are interested in Paizo maybe seeing a 'transition-between-volumes/ internal consistency/ holistic cohesion' issue, and trying to, er, railroad(?) an AP design team to ensure it doesn't happen. And I dunno, maybe it can be a 'new experiment' Paizo tries.

It's always been a logical, even obvious, assumption that gaming groups won't want six straight volumes of just this or six volumes of that, and that variety should be thrown in. If indeed that is the cause of 'transition-between-volumes/ internal consistency/ holistic cohesion' issues -- and I'm not convinced it is the reason -- but if it is it'd be interesting to see if Paizo wants to experiment with total consistency in an AP.


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Currently GMing Ironfang Invasion, and thoroughly enjoying it so far. Major props to Crystal for such an amazing adventure. Sadly, one that I don't see mentioned enough in discussions like this about the APs. It's a very diverse, varied adventure that has a strong, cohesive main thread pulling the story forward.


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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.

The first adventure path I ran was the D&D 3.5 version of Rise of the Runelords, converted to Pathfinder 1st Edition. My wife started it, but I took over when she grew too sick. The party included a wizard who was a scholar of ancient Thassilonian lore, a mind-controlling sorcerer, a lore-heavy bard, a lyrakien bard who regularly headed home via a Robe of Stars to talk to Desna, and a detective rogue (he took over the detective role when I retired my detective ranger). They were not fighters, they were information gatherers. That drastically altered the theme of Rise of the Runelords as the party researched their way to victory. It made the story their own.

My players wanted Jade Regent on the promise of the pseudo-Japanese Minkaian theme. Except that the story does not reach exotic Tian Xia until the 4th module. That was not a big problem, for the characters brought Tian Xia with them. Two PCs were from Tian Xia and were returning home, two others were descended from Tian Xian families. The theme of the campaign was maintaining Minkaian tradition. In the 5th module, Tide of Honor, my players rebelled against the plot. They were not going to rebel against the oni-controlled government of Minkai. They had the true heir with them, so they were going to follow tradition and put her on the Jade Throne in the time-honored way, and made sure the murderous oni and corrupt politicians could not stop them. (Chronicled at Amaya of Westcrown.)

Another set of players--with only my wife in common--wanted to play with the technology in Iron Gods. That adventure path has many potential themes built into it, such as natural tribal lifestyle versus technology, science versus religion, or old gods versus new gods. My players decided to play lovers of science, most worshipping Brigh, and their theme was studying, promoting, and sharing science versus the Technic League's style of hoarding scavenged technology. They became so good at rebuilding old technology that they entered the spaceship Divinity by getting hired as a repair crew by the final villain and worked for him for months as they learned his secret plans. I had to rewrite the 6th module, The Divinity Drive, and we had a great time. (Chronicled at Iron Gods among Scientists.)

James Jacob wrote:
We also try to make sure that not only is there a variety in the types of Adventure Paths we do, but variety in each individual Adventure Path's content.

That variety provides more chances for the players to see a theme in the story and declare that that is their theme for the campaign. For example, the 4th module, Valley of the Brain Collectors, could be declared as the one that was not like the others because of its switch to Lovecraftian horror. But to dwarf gadgeteer Boffin, the horrors were merely an alien invasion and she was going to pull out her gadgets and beat them at their technological game. For her, that module fit. The main hook for them back in the 1st module, Fires of Creation, was not the call for heroes from the town of Torch. Instead it was the Local Ties campaign trait that made three of them residents of Torch who embraced the progressive view of that town.

I learned to continually adjust the story because my players had narrative control. And that collaborative storytelling fuses together the pieces of the adventure path.

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