What types of stories should APs tell?


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


While reading through the thread about themes people like to see in APs I started to wonder what type of stories people wanted or expected to see in them.

With type I mainly mean two things, morality and scope.

Morality in most (all?) APs is absolute. The PCs are on the indisputably good side and are fighting against the indisputably evil side. Some APs turn this around but the morality of each side is still very clear.

With scope I mean what is at stake in the adventure. Most APs are either directly save the world, or at least prevent worldwide catastrophic consequences.

Do you want or even require the APs you play to have this kind of scope and morality? Heroic good guys saving the world? Would you play an AP which is more shades of grey or has a much lesser scope? Why or why not?


It's hard to do small-scope stories at high levels in RPGs. Why are these level 20 demigods just chilling in Podunk, Taldor?

It's just kind of the nature of the D20 system that eventually, you have to save the world, or the country, or whatever. It's just easier to write.

Scarab Sages

If I am going to be the GM, I always consult with my players on A) what they want to play and B) whether I have buy-in from them on the central conceit of a particular story (i.e. Kingmaker being kingdom building & resource management similar to Age of Empires--that's how I sold it to them, and they bought in). Buy-in from the players is hugely important. This means you will get characters build towards the story that's going to be told, rather than the typical hodge-podge of characters that often don't fit the stories or eachother at a PFS table or even an open world campaign.

If I am going to be the player, I consult with the GM on what they are expecting and what the other players intentions are. That what I can build my character to fit into the story/theme/central conceit of the AP and I can build a complimentary character to the rest of the group.

More central to your original question, there are a couple APs that are a little more ambiguous on the morality expected.

First, Skulls & Shackles, could go any which way from straight up evil and despicable pirates to do-gooder merchant's learning to live in pirate infested waters and becoming pirate lords in order to protect both their merchantry and various settlements they have brought under their protection. This is probably my weakest example of ambiguous morality, because the theme is extremely strongly pirate, and that caries a tone of connotation for expectations of theme and morality.

Second, Kingmaker, literally can go any way you want it to. Morality of the "kings" and Kingdom is totally, 100% up to the player characters. Because all the foils, stumbling blocks, obstacles, enemies, BBEG, etc. are outside forces aimed at their Kingdom, and the players can handle it in any way they see fit. They still ostensibly are protectors, yes. But its protecting their own interests as much as their citizens. And the theme is more meta, grand-scale, world-building than you usually see in a story.

Largely, however, you are correct that the PCs are expected to be the (anti)heroes of the story.

I believe that the popularity of Kingmaker is just for this ambiguity, but I do think that the heroic stories need to be told too.


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I'd love to see an AP which presented a conflict between two basically sympathetic interests - Golarion's pantheon has some lovely examples of deities whose areas of interest could come into conflict without necessitating either side being either evil or Evil - which leaned into diplomatic and non-violent resolutions.

Shades of grey, but in the "both sides basically decent" rather than the "both sides equally dubious" direction.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I may be in the minority, but absolutly would love another take at the villain AP. I loved the idea behind Hell's Vengence, and would love another take at the "evil" ap. (Dream would be one where you join the Razmir faith, rise in its ranks, ultimately take down Razmir and the PCs become the new heads of his church/faith/nation)


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I'm only really cool with evil characters in an AP in the context of "well, I'm a rat bastard, but I can't let the [world/country/city/whatever] be destroyed because that's where I keep my stuff."

Evil for the greater cause of EVIL or for pure nationalism is something I have literally no interest in.

So more Skull & Shackles, Strange Aeons, and Reign of Winter and less Hell's Vengeance.

Dark Archive

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Vorsk, Follower or Erastil wrote:
I may be in the minority, but absolutly would love another take at the villain AP. I loved the idea behind Hell's Vengence, and would love another take at the "evil" ap. (Dream would be one where you join the Razmir faith, rise in its ranks, ultimately take down Razmir and the PCs become the new heads of his church/faith/nation)

I do think it helps if the next villain AP's theme isn't "Being evil".

Like one of things I didn't like about Hell's Vengeance is it insisting its "All evil ap" and as such including randomly highly evil things to do(like skinning a monk to use their skin as flag) while plot makes most sense for LE Cheliaxian loyalist even if campaign traits do have justification for other alignments.

Like if AP's theme is "We are assassins/Red Mantis now" or such, then it would work much better in my view. In general the ap could be "You are either LE/LN/CN/CE/N/NE characters" instead of "If you play the ap, you are DEFINITELY going to do something that makes you evil because you are complicit in things like building nukes out of innocent people souls"


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CorvusMask wrote:

I do think it helps if the next villain AP's theme isn't "Being evil".

Like one of things I didn't like about Hell's Vengeance is it insisting its "All evil ap" and as such including randomly highly evil things to do(like skinning a monk to use their skin as flag) while plot makes most sense for LE Cheliaxian loyalist even if campaign traits do have justification for other alignments.

Like if AP's theme is "We are assassins/Red Mantis now" or such, then it would work much better in my view. In general the ap could be "You are either LE/LN/CN/CE/N/NE characters" instead of "If you play the ap, you are DEFINITELY going to do something that makes you evil because you are complicit in things like building nukes out of innocent people souls"

I feel 100% the same way. "Villain AP" speaks to me, "Evil AP" absolutely does not. To me, the former allows for a pretty diverse set of stories being told within the framework of an AP while the latter is unnecessarily restrictive on what kind of PCs you can actually play.

Dark Archive

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Henro wrote:
CorvusMask wrote:

I do think it helps if the next villain AP's theme isn't "Being evil".

Like one of things I didn't like about Hell's Vengeance is it insisting its "All evil ap" and as such including randomly highly evil things to do(like skinning a monk to use their skin as flag) while plot makes most sense for LE Cheliaxian loyalist even if campaign traits do have justification for other alignments.

Like if AP's theme is "We are assassins/Red Mantis now" or such, then it would work much better in my view. In general the ap could be "You are either LE/LN/CN/CE/N/NE characters" instead of "If you play the ap, you are DEFINITELY going to do something that makes you evil because you are complicit in things like building nukes out of innocent people souls"

I feel 100% the same way. "Villain AP" speaks to me, "Evil AP" absolutely does not. To me, the former allows for a pretty diverse set of stories being told within the framework of an AP while the latter is unnecessarily restrictive on what kind of PCs you can actually play.

True yeah, though it is kinda hard to roleplay villain without being evil in as a player. But yeah, its definitely different goal, since good villains' goal isn't just to do evil for sake of being evil.

Liberty's Edge

Shades of grey and difficult moral choices are interesting roleplay experiences, but hard for me to sustain over the course of a multi-year RP experience like most APs. I need to come up for air sooner than that.


I don't know if most APs really stop and think about their morality. It's usually 'the protagonists fight the antagonists' as is typical in D&D games, with all the justifications built into the world flavour why the PCs are good and the monsters are bad. I imagine that APs that sprung more out of a moral question would be significantly different than what we've had before: less pirate and horror themes, and more ethical dilemma themes.

I like a scope that is a series of ever-expanding bubbles: the PCs start in one small bubble, pop it, and discover themselves in a larger bubble. 1st level PCs don't have to swear to destroy the Nine Hells, but can swear to bring down the imp who has corrupted the gnome village, and it can eventually build.

Dark Archive

Building on the above an Erastil vs. Abadar rural vs urban theme could be fun and interesting way of creating conflict with both sides being good.

Liberty's Edge

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Davor Firetusk wrote:
Building on the above an Erastil vs. Abadar rural vs urban theme could be fun and interesting way of creating conflict with both sides being good.

Abadar is not Good, he's LN and tolerates things like slavery. So...there's a clear good guy in this conflict, even if both have Good aligned followers.

Shadow Lodge

Deadmanwalking wrote:
Davor Firetusk wrote:
Building on the above an Erastil vs. Abadar rural vs urban theme could be fun and interesting way of creating conflict with both sides being good.
Abadar is not Good, he's LN and tolerates things like slavery. So...there's a clear good guy in this conflict, even if both have Good aligned followers.

So replace Erastil with Gozreh if you want to keep the urban-rural theme. Or with Irori for an individualism-collectivism theme (Irori's the individualist).

Liberty's Edge

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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
So replace Erastil with Gozreh if you want to keep the urban-rural theme. Or with Irori for an individualism-collectivism theme (Irori's the individualist).

This works fine, but doesn't really provide a 'two Good Gods in conflict' vibe people seemed to be requesting.

Shadow Lodge

Deadmanwalking wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
So replace Erastil with Gozreh if you want to keep the urban-rural theme. Or with Irori for an individualism-collectivism theme (Irori's the individualist).
This works fine, but doesn't really provide a 'two Good Gods in conflict' vibe people seemed to be requesting.

Oh, OK, then keep Erastil but replace Abadar with Torag to keep an urban-rural theme with two LG deities. Set it in northern Andoran in the foothills of the Five Kings Mountains.

Or, for another potential conflict between two churches of LG gods, followers of Aesocar and Myr set out from Xin-Edasseril to spread the good news. Finding a mostly saturated market, the churches are forced to compete with each other for new followers.


Deadmanwalking wrote:


This works fine, but doesn't really provide a 'two Good Gods in conflict' vibe people seemed to be requesting.

I'm not hung up on "two good gods in conflict" particularly, that just seemed the easiest way in, given the Golarion we have, to an AP where the central difference was between positions that are a) more or less the same degree of sympathetic and b) both generally positive; something where "oh, this bunch are Evil or at least less good than the other side so we can just beat them up and that's a win" is designed to be off the table, as far as possible.

More than two "sides" would be even more appealing here.


The other story I'd really like to see, in an AP or module, though given progression of in-game time I suspect the odds here are now very low, would be something focused on the Harbingers of Fate that went into detail on exactly what they expected from the Age of Glory and specific goals they aimed for to bring Aroden back; it would fit with the level of "telling us more about Aroden" that's been in Tyrant's Grasp and that I understand to be in Extinction Curse, and that Dead God's Hand looks to do.


What I would like to see, but sadly is very unlikely to happen, is a shades of grey civil war.

The king is dead and has no children of his own (or them died at the same time against some Cult of the Devourer things which make resurrection impossible).

He has a young nice, but she is clearly unqualified. Then there is a pretender to the throne with no claims through blood who challenges the succession and would make a good leader in a stern but fair way. The lesser lords of the realm on the other hand have agreed on a third candidate and would follow him.
And if you need even more sides in this conflict the queen dowanger does manage to resurrect the king in a later chapter, likely with the help of the PCs, but something is not right and the risen king is some sort of undead with a strange personality shift. And after the PCs have meddled for some time in the conflict and possibly earned a noble title some lords approach them and suggest that one of them should be king and are willing to support them, in exchange for some very big promises in favour of the nobles.

But I guess that simple good vs. evil stories sell better (or at least Paizo believes so) as not every group wants to have hard moral choices in their entertainment and rather prefer to have a clear enemy they can kill.


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The real issue is that "hard moral choices" with "branching options" takes up a *lot* of page space that can be filled with more adventure.

Also this feels far too similar to War for the Crown on the face of it.

Shadow Lodge

Grankless wrote:
Also this feels far too similar to War for the Crown on the face of it.

Pretty much. The claimants themselves are NG and LN, but their parties of supporters run the alignment gamut (and Eutropia's in particular are dependent upon PC actions).


I did once have a setting/campaign idea where the main conflict was Law vs Chaos rather than Good vs Evil. Large rigid empire with more tribal groups along the borders mostly. Traditionally good and evil groups allying to either preserve or combat the empire.

Never went much beyond the basic idea with it though.


thejeff wrote:

I did once have a setting/campaign idea where the main conflict was Law vs Chaos rather than Good vs Evil. Large rigid empire with more tribal groups along the borders mostly. Traditionally good and evil groups allying to either preserve or combat the empire.

Never went much beyond the basic idea with it though.

How would you make this anything other than “woo-hoo, colonialism”? I don’t think a story about tribal groups being displaced by empire is where you need shades of gray.

Liberty's Edge

Collapse of an imperialist empire could have shades of grey.


keftiu wrote:
thejeff wrote:

I did once have a setting/campaign idea where the main conflict was Law vs Chaos rather than Good vs Evil. Large rigid empire with more tribal groups along the borders mostly. Traditionally good and evil groups allying to either preserve or combat the empire.

Never went much beyond the basic idea with it though.

How would you make this anything other than “woo-hoo, colonialism”? I don’t think a story about tribal groups being displaced by empire is where you need shades of gray.

Not sure. It was a while back.

It doesn't have to be empire expanding though - it could be more fall of Rome.

Shadow Lodge

The Raven Black wrote:
Collapse of an imperialist empire could have shades of grey.

Trouble is, most of the big empires already collapsed at the turn of the Age. Lung Wa doesn't exist anymore, and Cheliax is reduced almost entirely to its core national territories (Canorus, Anchor's End, and Khari being de minimis exceptions, and Isger a big exception that's been used too recently to revisit). Vudra isn't an empire so much as a geographic expression and culture group. The Arcadian and Garundi states are either nations or federations. About the only good setting left for an imperial collapse story is Kelesh.


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zimmerwald1915 wrote:
The Raven Black wrote:
Collapse of an imperialist empire could have shades of grey.
Trouble is, most of the big empires already collapsed at the turn of the Age. Lung Wa doesn't exist anymore, and Cheliax is reduced almost entirely to its core national territories (Canorus, Anchor's End, and Khari being de minimis exceptions, and Isger a big exception that's been used too recently to revisit). Vudra isn't an empire so much as a geographic expression and culture group. The Arcadian and Garundi states are either nations or federations. About the only good setting left for an imperial collapse story is Kelesh.

Yeah, it definitely wasn't Golarion I was playing with that idea for.

Shadow Lodge

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thejeff wrote:
zimmerwald1915 wrote:
The Raven Black wrote:
Collapse of an imperialist empire could have shades of grey.
Trouble is, most of the big empires already collapsed at the turn of the Age. Lung Wa doesn't exist anymore, and Cheliax is reduced almost entirely to its core national territories (Canorus, Anchor's End, and Khari being de minimis exceptions, and Isger a big exception that's been used too recently to revisit). Vudra isn't an empire so much as a geographic expression and culture group. The Arcadian and Garundi states are either nations or federations. About the only good setting left for an imperial collapse story is Kelesh.
Yeah, it definitely wasn't Golarion I was playing with that idea for.

This being a thread about Pathfinder APs, and Pathfinder APs being written for Golarion, fitting AP ideas to the setting is kindof implicit.


Grankless wrote:

The real issue is that "hard moral choices" with "branching options" takes up a *lot* of page space that can be filled with more adventure.

Also this feels far too similar to War for the Crown on the face of it.

War for the Crown still suffered from absolute black and white morality and it is pretty clear that Eutropia is the good and "correct" choice for the PCs to support. Not that the AP leaves you with much of a choice in that regard. A real shades of grey AP must be more vague and modular instead of railroading the PCs.

Liberty's Edge

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keftiu wrote:
thejeff wrote:

I did once have a setting/campaign idea where the main conflict was Law vs Chaos rather than Good vs Evil. Large rigid empire with more tribal groups along the borders mostly. Traditionally good and evil groups allying to either preserve or combat the empire.

Never went much beyond the basic idea with it though.

How would you make this anything other than “woo-hoo, colonialism”? I don’t think a story about tribal groups being displaced by empire is where you need shades of gray.

You can just have the PCs be the 'barbarians' opposing the expansion. There's still a lot of room for shades of grey in that set-up, particularly in a 'what compromises are you willing to make with existing evils of your society to prevent being conquered' kind of way.

This isn't the original idea, but IMO it's a potentially good one.

I actually did something similar to this in one of my games a while back, though it was a rebellion against such an empire by a never very thoroughly conquered area instead of preventing being conquered in the first place.

The issue, as others note, is that there's not currently a good place in Golarion to do this, and it's probably pretty hard to do without its own raft load of unfortunate implications, but it has potential as an idea.

Shadow Lodge

Deadmanwalking wrote:
The issue, as others note, is that there's not currently a good place in Golarion to do this, and it's probably pretty hard to do without its own raft load of unfortunate implications, but it has potential as an idea.

There's kindof a good place to do the "barbarians opposing the expansion" deal, namely the Windswept Wastes east of Taldor and north of Kelesh, nominally but very loosely controlled by the latter.


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I have run 3 Paizo adventure paths to their end, and started a 4th. Each path has several potential moral tones and the players select theirs. And different individuals in the party may chose different morals.

Rise of the Runelords is a story of mystery and protection. The scope started small with a goblin raid but snowballed by following a thread of mystery to uncover a plot to conquer all Varisia. My wife and I ran the D&D 3.5 version adapted to Pathfinder 1st Edition rules. At 1st level, the PCs were largely motivated by fame and ambition in the town of Sandpoint. However, the most ambitious players dropped out and the rest continued on with a moral tone about duty. Their characters had latched on to a major mystery and were going to follow it to the end. {i]Rise of the Runelords[/i] was known as combat heavy, but the players' focus on the mystery changed it to a tale of intrigue.

Jade Regent is a story of travel and discovery. The scope is an escort quest to the land of Minkai on the other side of the world to put the true heir on the throne. The path was set up that the PCs could be motivated by ambition or motivated by the desire to set the world right. My party was generally neutral in alignment. One PC was a ninja on the edge of evil--and sometimes stepped over that edge--but honor-bound to follow the goals of her chaotic good liege. Many PCs started in Varisa or the Land of Linnorm Kings (we lost 3 players who moved out of state and recruited 2 others, so their characters started partway down the journey) with ties to Minkai, so they were returning home or visiting ancestral lands on this epic journey. In the 5th module they derailed the built-in plot to overthrow the corrupt government and decided to claim the throne for the lost heir they escorted by becoming popular folk heroes and then announcing their true identity to claim the throne traditionally. In other words, a neutral party pretended to be good in order to prevent an unnecessary war.

Iron Gods is a story of technology, divinity, and ambition. The scope started with a rescue mission, yet a few levels later the PCs learned of intelligent machines striving for godhood. It has a lot of potential built-in themes, such as exploring aspects of divinity or pitting technology versus barbarianism with the party on either side. My party chose the theme of those who share knowledge versus those who hoard it. They even spent downtime setting up workshop-based businesses and converting a gambling hall into a dance hall. Morally, they viewed themselves as decent townsfolk, regular people with extraordinary skills thrown into extraordinary circumstances. Their greatest motive was curiosity. In the 6th module, they derailed the path by asking the final villain for jobs. It gave them a chance to play with advanced high technology while learning to sabotage the villain's plan effectively. This made me change the villain's plan and altered the scope from preventing the rise of an evil god to preventing the death of a city and then rescuing the people of an alien planet.

I have not read all the modules in Ironfang Invasion but the first three are about protecting the common people from an invasion by the Ironfang Legion. I think the final scope is about ending the invasion via alliances and treaties, but I expect my players to alter this given their habit of derailment. The PCs started as exotic common people, people living unexceptional lives yet gifted with exotic ancestries, backgrounds, or classes. Well, nothing common about the tailed goblin champion with the velociraptor animal companion. Their moral motivation is caring about other people.

the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
I'd love to see an AP which presented a conflict between two basically sympathetic interests.

My friend Steward Sinex of Three Gear Games in Savage, Maryland, once ran a pair of concurrent Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying campaigns set in a civil war. The Saturday group of teenage players sided with the foreign-taught modernists in the civil war who want a more democratic government and more foreign trade. The Tuesday group of adult players sided with the traditional government to stop this defiance of the divine emperor (in a world where the gods existed) masterminded by evil foreign business interests. The teenagers did not understand why the adults' characters could side with the bad guys. The adults were more experienced with two-sided historical issues.


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path Subscriber
Ixal wrote:
Grankless wrote:

The real issue is that "hard moral choices" with "branching options" takes up a *lot* of page space that can be filled with more adventure.

Also this feels far too similar to War for the Crown on the face of it.

War for the Crown still suffered from absolute black and white morality and it is pretty clear that Eutropia is the good and "correct" choice for the PCs to support. Not that the AP leaves you with much of a choice in that regard. A real shades of grey AP must be more vague and modular instead of railroading the PCs.

The original pitch did have the players choose a side from several options, but as Grankless said that was set aside because they thought they could tell a better story if they just picked a side.

Shadow Lodge

AnimatedPaper wrote:
The original pitch did have the players choose a side from several options, but as Grankless said that was set aside because they thought they could tell a better story if they just picked a side.

And really, War for the Crown is about, among other things, building and managing a coalition, and it would be that no matter which claimant the PCs backed. It follows, therefore, that what claimant the PCs back is less important than the kind of coalition they build.


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

One of the reasons I hope the three-part APs catch on is that it allows for more types of stories to be told. 1-10/11 APs allow for lower stakes and a grittier tone. It also allows stories to be told in places without radically changing them going forward. By contrast, an 11-20 AP allows for a big, high-octane story right from the very first scene. I hope that they continue with 1-20 APs, but mixing it up now and then would be a very good idea.


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Agreed, honestly. I wouldn't mind a pair of three parters every 2 years or so.


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Evan Tarlton wrote:
One of the reasons I hope the three-part APs catch on is that it allows for more types of stories to be told. 1-10/11 APs allow for lower stakes and a grittier tone. It also allows stories to be told in places without radically changing them going forward. By contrast, an 11-20 AP allows for a big, high-octane story right from the very first scene. I hope that they continue with 1-20 APs, but mixing it up now and then would be a very good idea.

It also gives more variety, so you don’t - for example - spend an entire year in a corner of the setting some people don’t care about.


Grankless wrote:
Agreed, honestly. I wouldn't mind a pair of three parters every 2 years or so.

I have mixed feelings here, though some of that is informed by Starfinder APs being so much shorter anyway that a three-part Starfinder AP feels really difficult to get excited about, and I'm hoping this won't be the case for the upcoming Pathfinder three-parters.

The other thing three-parters would theoretically work to enable, if we ever get Epic for PF (as a continuation beyond 20th rather than the parallel-track approach Mythic took), is nine-part APs. For all the solid reasons why that seems negligibly likely, mentioning it in a thread like this makes that feel marginally less negligible than not indicating interest.


Ixal wrote:


War for the Crown still suffered from absolute black and white morality and it is pretty clear that Eutropia is the good and "correct" choice for the PCs to support. Not that the AP leaves you with much of a choice in that regard.

I'm sure I recall seeing posts from people interested in playing pro-Maxilar Pythareus WftC characters at some point.

I still very much expect that the group I am most likely to play Age of Ashes with are going to end up sympathising with one of the nominal BBEGs of the final module, by finding his plan very much equivalent to things presented as entirely Good and heroic in previous APs.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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keftiu wrote:
Evan Tarlton wrote:
One of the reasons I hope the three-part APs catch on is that it allows for more types of stories to be told. 1-10/11 APs allow for lower stakes and a grittier tone. It also allows stories to be told in places without radically changing them going forward. By contrast, an 11-20 AP allows for a big, high-octane story right from the very first scene. I hope that they continue with 1-20 APs, but mixing it up now and then would be a very good idea.
It also gives more variety, so you don’t - for example - spend an entire year in a corner of the setting some people don’t care about.

With so many people buying the Adventure Paths, this is going to happen regardless of how many we do a year. Doing more will increase the chances of one of those campaigns appealing, but I'm positive that even if we did 6 two-part Adventure paths, there'd be folks out there frustrated with where all six take place. Needless to say, lots of folks frustrated about missing the classic 6 part ones.

We can't please everyone every time. We can only try to please most of the folks most of the time, and even that is tough. The only thing we KNOW we can do is to please ourselves all of the time with the stories we choose to tell, and judging by the fact that we're still doing adventures well over a decade later, that tactic is a solid one.

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