Preparing for an AP: how do you approach it in terms of prereading and character creation?


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion


Hi everyone!
I am curious about how everyone prepares to run an Adventure Path. I usually read all the six volumes in advance, and then reread the relevant information for the next session as we play.
What's your method? And how long does it take for you to read an installment? It usually takes me about 6 to 7 hours, because I usually take notes while I read.
Another curiosity of mine: we all modify APs to better suit our players and encourage our players to create characters thematically suited for the AP to a certain extent. Do you tend more toward the former or the latter? Example: do you prefer your players coming to session 0 with character concepts already in their minds, or would you rather have them form their concept based on the themes of the adventure as detailed, for instance, in the player's guide?


For the strictest use of APs that I've run, I sent out the player guide and told my players what I 'needed.'

I said I needed PCs that would fit into a frontier style, mountain man explorer, survivalist type of role. Discussed with everyone what they wanted to run with, using that mold, and a group was formed.

I can't even relate how often I reread an AP book. I tailor the AP to how I like; will it stand up under questioning? Do all the encounters measure up thematically? I will drop encounters that I don't personally like and expand the role of others based on his I like to run my games

Liberty's Edge

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I skim the AP as a whole, getting major plot points and overarching stuff, but don't sweat the little details, then do a deep dive on the specific volume I'm running right before I run it, and go over bits of it again for upcoming sessions.

In terms of PCs, I generally discuss basic thematic stuff like the Player's Guides do (and provide said Player's Guide), see what people are interested in playing, then discuss character creation with them and work out what Traits/Backgrounds each one wants (and try and avoid duplication).


I read a book at a time, plus the summaries of what's to come. Given an AP takes us between a year and two to run, by the time we get to the sixth book, I'd have long forgotten it.

My players are pretty good about reading the players' guide and coming up with whatever they want. Everyone knows how to use e-mail, text, telephone, chat programs, forums, and face-to-face talking in order to coordinate a cohesive party. We don't formally do a session 0 anymore because of that.


I'll read all 6 books plus the player's guide and then, if given time, I'll read modules that I might want to add in.
After that, I prepare / set up vision-blocking for the maps of the first book (we use MapTool) and I'll populate the first 2 or 3 maps with creatures.
About a week before the game I'll start reading the parts that I think the players will get to and make sure I've put the creatures on the maps.
Once I'm into the swing of the campaign (usually around book 3, sometimes earlier, sometimes later) I'll start reading the next one I'm thinking of running.

No idea how long each book they usually take me to read as I read a bit, get distracted, do other stuff, and slowly make my way through each book. A campaign typically lasts a year with my group and I give myself around 6 months to read the AP so I'm not worried about time.

As for modifying the APs.... The first one I ran was Kingmaker, which I heavily modified for a few reasons and one of the most extreme examples was pretty much re-writing one of the books so that I could give one of the players a thing he wanted near the beginning. And then he was mad that the enemies had it and not him. And then it was never used.
I don't modify things to that extent anymore.
Most of the changes I make now are small... The players will typically provide me with some character background and a few NPCs. Sometimes they'll ask for suggestions or work with me to get it to fit into the story better, sometimes they are set on what they want to have as their background and aren't concerned if it comes up or not.
Most of the time they provide things that are easy to fit in. (Eg: NPC that is similar to why an NPC is in the AP so I can switch them out so that it looks more like the NPC is there because the player created it rather than because it was written that way.)

My players are a mix of how they approach character creation. One is always thinking of new characters to play and what he wants to play next and will look at the Player's Guide to see what trait he wants and will try to shoehorn , two want to know which AP will be run a few months before and then read the Player's Guide and make characters based off of that,

My players are a mix of how they approach character creation. Three like to know which AP I plan on running next as soon as I'm confident which one it will be. Of those, one is always thinking of new character concepts so once he knows which type of AP it is he'll narrow down his concepts, read the Player's Guide, and refine it based on that. The other two will have class ideas that they'd like to play with super vague concepts, read the Player's Guide, and create characters based on that. The fourth player doesn't want to know what AP will be next until a week or two before the end of the current campaign. Once he knows the AP he'll read the Player's Guide and then start coming up with a character based on that.
Due to one not wanting to know what's next I tend to not let anyone know until we're nearly finished the current campaign.
Thankfully everyone is good with that, and they all work together to make sure people are playing what they want to play, no one is stuck playing a role they really don't want to have, and they all end up with suitable characters that make the AP fun.


Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Something I'm trying to do more of these days is find ways for my players characters to have more connections to NPC's and places in the AP before we even start session 1.

Player wants to have grown up in a gang and there is a gang war in Chapter 3? Perfect, he has a past connection to one of the gangs.


Crivens wrote:

Something I'm trying to do more of these days is find ways for my players characters to have more connections to NPC's and places in the AP before we even start session 1.

Player wants to have grown up in a gang and there is a gang war in Chapter 3? Perfect, he has a past connection to one of the gangs.

I can't stress how important it is for characters to have connections like that.

Even if it's a minor NPC, when they show up and the player is already aware of them it helps the player buy-in to the plot.


Crivens wrote:

Something I'm trying to do more of these days is find ways for my players characters to have more connections to NPC's and places in the AP before we even start session 1.

Player wants to have grown up in a gang and there is a gang war in Chapter 3? Perfect, he has a past connection to one of the gangs.

I do that all the time too, but lately I have been wondering whether I should be the one to change the adventure more significantly instead.


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Some APs and modules are easier to change. If it's worth your effort so that you can tie a character in better, go for it.
If someone ignores the Player's Guide, ignores what you've said about the adventure, and makes something that doesn't fit at all, ask yourself if they put any effort into having a suitable character and, if not, are they worth putting the effort in to changing an adventure?


My prep is definitely on the heavier side compared to most, if I'm honest...

I start off by reading the adventure background for the AP (the one that outlines the backstory and plot of the main villain) that's usually provided in book 1, then I skim through all the AP books (focusing on the adventure background and chapter heading sections to get the summary of the plot). I started running my first AP before getting all the books, and it's a mistake I shan't ever repeat.

Once I've done that, if there are any details about the setting that I don't understand or that I think might be especially relevant throughout the adventure (like the city gazetteer or dedicated region/faction books for the place the AP is set), I try to read those and generally will do so pretty thoroughly so that I have a strong notion of how the AP's setting functions and how I can inject more flavour into things (accents, local expressions, cuisine and fashion norms, etc.). It's also around this time that I try to think about if I want to add any modules or other content that isn't character specific.

By this point I'm about a month or so from actually running the game, which is when I get into setting up the tokens, maps, and journals for the first book, plus any characters or locations that I might want to have appear earlier (for foreshadowing and whatnot). I usually have a pretty good idea of what most of the main characters are like by this point, so even if I'm missing plot points I should know how they'll behave in any situation. This helps me to avoid getting tunnel vision later, since I'm planning people, not story beats.

This is also when I'll talk to my players about the general gist of the adventure and what's important to keep in mind (for example with Hell's Rebels, I would emphasise that it's an AP where being clever is better than being strong, and narratively it is a must that your character care about Kintargo, at least as much if not more than they might hate Thrune). Players might bounce some ideas off of me at this point, and I'll offer some hooks to factions, NPCs, or locations if they seem relevant. If I have time I might make a player's guide supplement with more details about suggested classes, builds, motivations, etc (based on themes and relevant loot or challenges in the books). These guides usually only get created after my first run of an AP though.

Once we're a bit closer to the game, I have my session zero, where the players figure out together what their characters will be. I'll continue to try guiding them towards relevant plot elements. Usually my players are collaborative with this, so I have plenty to work with. I'm a big fan of weaving in side plots to link the PCs to a major event or NPC, and this is where that scheming starts. Ideally, I try to link them to someone or something that they might confront in book 4 to 6, but then also add or modify earlier situations to tie into this plot and foreshadow the eventual situation. Sometimes it gets a little convoluted and involves a lot of work to set up, but I'm a sucker for that kind of thing so I enjoy doing it (plus it usually pays off with my groups).

Once I'm into the start of the adventure, I document and keep track of things, all the while planning stuff for the next session as well as the next book(s). It ends up taking a lot of time, though I try to set stuff up so that I can reuse it for future runs off the same campaign. The idea is to eventually have 3-5 APs thoroughly built up so that I can run them for a new group with only minimal prep necessary. It's a very front loaded approach, but this sort of stuff is my jam, so I'm happy to put the hours in to make something reusable (and maybe even shareable to other GMs).

Edit: I need to stop writing these essays on my phone while lying in bed...


i try to pre read all the ap but sometimes it is just the first book and the blurbs and the players guide, i hand them the players guide and hope we did good if we are playing something not completely out yet. If it is already out i try to read it all first and then the players guide but honestly "read" might mean "skim" and highjinks happen.


I've only recently started using APs and my need is a bit out of the ordinary for their intention. First, I'm running Mystara instead of Golarion so a lot of work has to be put in there. Second, Currently I'm mashing up three APs into one, so even more work is needed to make things fit. The PCs being 20th level means I can't assume a straight forward progression from book 1 to book 6, nor can I assume they will be working for anyone else (they give orders, they don't take them).

Thirdly, all APs I am planning to run are tied to the main campaign and have a ton of backstory to fit into. After the current mess, I'm going to have to run one for 6 wizard or sorcerer apprentices of one of the current PCs (probably Serpent's Skull), and after that I'm going to have to run a solo gestalt AP for two players, which will require a lot of rebalancing.

The short version is I read the things thoroughly and have to think carefully about what makes sense in relation to setting, the PCs, and the history of the campaign over 9 years.


I read the entire AP. It takes us years to complete an AP so there is plenty of time to go thro' it several times.
The players make any character they want (they read the players guide) Often we end up with an unbalanced party. The players just have to learn to deal with what they have.
I look for places I can tie characters into the AP
Before starting each book I read it in depth. Often running a test run of the whole book or specific parts of it. I find this often throws up issues a simple reading does not show.

Dark Archive

I read entire ap in advance yeah before running first book, and prefer to add stuff to give personal stuff to PCs rather than altering or removing encounters to replace with my own stuff. So my preference is "AP + extra content" rather than "Players won't ever see some things from the ap because GM said so" (different matter when players manage to skip entire dungeon on their own x'D)

RPG Superstar 2014 Top 32

I am similar to Trichotome. I'm starting Agents of Edgewatch in 10 day's time, and I've been prepping for about a month (on and off). I do a lot of prep at the start of the campaign, with additional bursts at the start of each module. Week-to-week, I don't need to do very much.

So far I've:

* Read all mods.
* Done a lot in Foundry - prepped all maps and fights for AP1 and sourced maps for missing areas and side-cases.
* Done a lot of thinking about structural parts of the campaign I want to change or edit. (I made a post about things that I think are missing). Added a whole bunch of NPCs to flesh out the city.
* Created a first Newspaper handout, and a template for future ones. (These will be frequent handouts throughout the campaign)
* Created a "loot box system" for replacing all of the treasure with random handouts provided by the city.
* Prepped a bunch of side quest investigations (side-cases). These are fairly intensive side-quests that can act as a "Case of the Week" - maybe a few hours play in each one, they're about half the size of a PFS mod. I'll probably do at least 3 per AP section.
* Got character art for all characters, including side-quests, bonus characters and characters in the mod missing art.
* Spent some time on these forums.

All of this is before I know what my players will be bringing. Once I have a list of their backstories and characters, I'll weave additional stuff from them to integrate them into the world.


The first step for me is reading the whole AP from start to finish to get a good grasp of what will await my players, the themes and plot. Once I'm done with that I start planning. I reread the AP book by book, making notes of NPCs, background informations, do my research on Golarion lore on the wiki if necessary and try to find out where the beats in the plot are, where my players will turn it sideways or get hooked on seemingly irrelevant details. This is the phase when I will make excessives notes that come pretty handy later on.

Once it is time for the players to come up with characters, usually about 6 months or so before we start playing I sit down with them individually and try to get as much information as they can provide about their goals with that character and about their character's background. Then I cross reference with my notes, consult the wiki again if necessary and start building story arcs with twists and turns for each character within the frame of what the AP provides. Usually I have another round of talking with my players after that, gently fine tuning backgrounds, nothing drastic, but minor details if they are okay with it.

A month or so before we start our first session I go over my notes again, try to get a feel of what's still missing, connect a couple of dots and start prepping earnestly, which means rereading the first book, focussing on combat situations and encounters this time. I look up spells or abilities if necessary and copy/paste them into a master document for encounters. This is also the time when I start photoshop and create the handouts, translated to German, the battlemaps and a newspaper template which will serve as a lifeline throughout the campaign, providing mostly useless but fun information with tidbits of relevant info that they might have missed sprinkled through it.

A day or two before each session I reread that section of the AP that is in front of us, plan and modify the encounters for the evening and look for roleplay opportunities in every NPC description.

Once the session starts, all hell breaks loose, naturally but at least I tried.

Dark Archive

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Have to admit I'm bit confused by notion of "once game starts, it instantly goes to offrail"

Like umm... How does that happen? Are lot of players type to attack civilians or just decide randomly "I know we agreed to play rise of the runelords, but how about we just leave varisia?"

Or am I missing a joke and people are exaggerating on purpose? ^_^;


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I'll admit something too, that sounds like a hell of a lot of work for something that should be pre-made, damn.


I am lazy compared to most of the people who answered already. I do not read the 6 modules in advance. Instead, I read the advertising blurbs about each module when I select an adventure path and read the introduction to each module after I buy the adventure path. For example, I read these blurbs in the Paizo store before buying Ironfang Invasion.

I skim each module two month before running it, and read each section in detail a week before running it. I skim to make sure I set the appropriate plot hooks for the upcoming module. I prepare the maps and convert the creatures from PF1 to PF2 in the week before the weekly game session.

The scenes from the modules don't stick in my memory, so reading far ahead would waste my time. For example, the Ridgeline Camp in Assault on Longshadow is a hobgoblin army.

Ridgeline Camp desription wrote:
Two tall towers flank a collection of drab tents along the uppermost ridge of this steep hill. Red banners flutter in the prairie winds, and the smell of animals and rotting meat tinges the air.

That does not describe the army itself. Instead, I have to piece it together from J1. Perimeter Guards, J2. Central Camp, and J3. Prisoner Cages. Piecing together gives a gist, but not a memorable story.

The introduction that I am not suppose to read aloud,

Ridgeline Camp introduction wrote:
This camp, which sits atop a rocky ridge that runs along the eastern edge of the Hollow Hills, serves as a central stronghold for Sergeant Dargg and his contingent of Ironfang forces. After losing several valuable morlock agents in the debacle at Radya’s Hollow, the hobgoblin cavalier has desperately sought a way to salvage his reputation and present Kosseruk with equally valuable allies before she receives word of his failure and summons him to account for the losses. ...

helps me understand Sergeant Dargg, but I don't need to read this months in advance. All I need to remember is that Sergeant Dargg's army had destroyed the village of Redburrow, conquered the village of Radya's Hollow, yet had almost no war prizes beyond a handful of human slaves.

CorvusMask wrote:

Have to admit I'm bit confused by notion of "once game starts, it instantly goes to offrail"

Like umm... How does that happen? Are lot of players type to attack civilians or just decide randomly "I know we agreed to play rise of the runelords, but how about we just leave varisia?"

Or am I missing a joke and people are exaggerating on purpose? ^_^;

Some people use the phrases "off the rails" and "derailed" to mean that the players messed with the underlying story and made the campaign hard to continue. My players frequently depart from the story in the module, but their goal is to make the story better.

An iconic example occurred in my Jade Regent campaign. In the 5th module, Tide of Honor, the party had reached Minkai with the lost heir to the Jade Throne. The module intended for them to join the rebellion against the Jade Regent to install the true heir on the throne. My players instead pointed out that they had the true heir. Minkai was a land of dedicated tradition with ceremonies that verify the merit of an heir. They did not need to start a rebellion; instead, they could go throught the ceremonies and the people would accept the true heir due to tradition. It was a masterful idea that played to the themes of the setting. The players still had to create a clever plan to prevent the heir from being assassinated. See Amaya of Westcrown - Tide of Honor for the plan.

Radya's Hollow in my Ironfang Invasion campaign was another glorious derailment, but I predicted that it would happen. While the players were halfway through the 2nd module, Fangs of War, some refugees from Redburrow reached Fort Nunder, which the PCs had just liberated. (The refugees were escorted by two new PCs who had just joined the game, as an excuse for the PCs to show up at Fort Nunder.) The refugees had seen that Captain Dargg's army (I promoted Sergeant Dargg and gave him a bigger army) was on its way to Radya's Hollow next. The party delayed finishing Fangs of War and jumped ahead to Assault on Longshadow to save Radya's Hollow from conquest.

The chance to save Radya's Hollow entirely instead of just rescuing a few survivors was my reward to the players for good roleplaying. They succeeded and then went back to contine the 2nd module.

Of course, I did have to read ahead one module to be able to permit this alternative path. But skimming the module was enough.

Steelbro300 wrote:
I'll admit something too, that sounds like a hell of a lot of work for something that should be pre-made, damn.

When I create a villain from scratch, the villain ends up too practical and too careful. The adventure paths provide over-the-top villains that are more fun for roleplaying games. And though I or my players often rearrange the plot, I can use the setting from the adventure path intact.


CorvusMask wrote:

Have to admit I'm bit confused by notion of "once game starts, it instantly goes to offrail"

Like umm... How does that happen? Are lot of players type to attack civilians or just decide randomly "I know we agreed to play rise of the runelords, but how about we just leave varisia?"

Or am I missing a joke and people are exaggerating on purpose? ^_^;

it just means, no matter how good and/or detailed your preparation is, players tend to do things you didn't expect them to do. all the preparation is meaningless if you are not able to sponanously come up with ideas.

or, as Werner Herzog might put it: there is no order in this universe


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Oh, so, so, so much before an AP begins. (since an AP is about 3 years of running for my group, it's a big commitment!)

First, I'll read all six books (obviously waiting till all 6 come out). At this stage I'm looking for interesting villains, cool setpiece encounters, memorable NPCs, interesting ideas, and things that hook me. This is at least a year in advance of running it. I'll be thinking about loose plot outlines and where the links between books are.

Second, at least six months in advance of proposing running it, I'll read through again. I'm looking to see if the initial hooks still appeal to me, but now I'm looking for the gaps. There's always some given how Paizo writes them, with different writers all writing at the same time. Are there plot holes? NPCs that disappear from prominence? Parts of the module that just don't link up? At about this point I start thinking about what sort of PC motivations would go into it that would keep characters invested through all six books. Often an AP falls down here, with one or two good books, then a radical change in style, so I might run just those books, or borrow them for elsewhere.

Third, a few months in advance, I'll run through what I like and what I don't as a GM. Change an NPC's motivation. Alter some stats. Tweak a plot. Write up a shortened 1 page player guide. I know who the group will be, so does it have enough roleplaying? Enough combat for them? Things that will appeal? At this stage I read through the Paizo forums - ALL the threads, all the posts - for that particular AP. If multiple groups think encounter X is overtuned, they're probably right. If many people think Book 4 in a weak narrative and needs changing, that's something I need to look at. In many cases, the forums are full of cool ideas I'll steal outright, alter, or file away for the future.

Fourth, a few months in advance, I'd elevator-pitch it to the players, giving minor spoilers. "This is a campaign where you're in an urban city for most of it, dealing with the internal politics and the Queen's rise to power, defending the city against various threats. Characters will need to live with the consequences of their actions, since many powerbrokers you influence will stick around for a lot of the campaign. Characters should be people invested in Korvosa's future, with NPC connections through the city" (Curse of the Crimson Throne). "This is a desert campaign set in the Arabian-Nights-esqe Katapesh, where anything can be bought and sold. You'll be starting with clearing and settling a small village, but later adventures will take you into extraplanar realms and dealing with genies extensively" (Legacy of Fire).

Fifth, a month in advance, if the players are interested, write up my own player's guide adapted from the original one. Put in traits, describe what sort of characters should fit, let the players talk about what sort of characters and party they want. Talk about upcoming issues, get everyone on the same page on why the party would start working together and stay together. As a GM, here I'm looking ahead in the books, working out where to foreshadow NPCs that will appear in future books, set up clear links between adventures, work out what themes are important in the adventure and how to highlight them.

Then when we get into running, I'll sit down and do a few hours of prep at the start of each book. Work out what's happening, put it all together in my head, look for any unexplained gaps (doors that don't connect anywhere, etc). Session to session, I do very little prep other than writing up some props and the like.

By the time we get to Book 6, things seem to have jumped the rails a good bit. Little changes to NPC motivations, PC interactions, somebody saved when they're meant to be dead, all richochet through and small changes become big by this stage. Book 6 often gets altered heavily.

I'd estimate 100+ hours of prep for each AP, easily, most of it WELL in advance of the game hitting the table. The one AP where I didn't do this and I ran straight out of the book, sort of just reading ahead before each session, fell apart and never made it to the end.


First we meet on Discord to discuss the APs theme and lock down what class each player will be playing.
Next, I build a txt file outline as I read through the entire AP, changing/altering anything I feel might slow the game up needlessly either mechanically (like Father Charlatan's abilities in Carrion Crown) or otherwise (like a certain trap in Curse of the Lady's Light, Shattered Star).
I also note points in the outline where I can build a tie to a characters background. Even if it's late in the campaign, like a player of mine wanting to play a Dhampir and me surprising him in Book 5 of CC with a certain Nosferatu revealed as the father he never met.
I give every player this kind of treatment to further invest them into the campaign.
I also do some foreshadowing for villains that may warrant a recurring role or the BBEG behind it all if needed (some APs need this more than most).
Any changes are listed in my outline in that specific volume as I go. Some changes make this file very long or spawn a side text file, like adding Smuggler's Shiv as a prelude to Skull and Shackles as I make alterations to keep this volume from going past level 2. Another example is that I have a separate file for books 5&6 of Serpent Skull, effectively replacing every Urdefhan with Drow instead (yeah, I hate Urdefhan).

Like Reverse above, I put in a huge amount of hours months in advance. As we get closer to starting the new AP, I reread it all and modify my outlines further.


Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber

First time running an AP.
Skimmed the summaries and decided it was worth doing.
Read first 3 books, skimmed last 3. Provided Player's Guide and set up Session 0 with players.
I try and reread the next book not long after starting a book.
Prep for next couple of sessions (just in case things get skipped) (know the encounters and main abilities of opponents).

I am also reading (and contributing) to posts in the AP-specific forums - I have found that a goldmine of helpful advice.
I am also listening to an actual play podcast of the same AP (trying not to skip too far ahead of where my group currently is).

Not doing anywhere near the amount of prep that others appear to be doing. I don't have the time, nor am I likely to get sufficient return on the investment.


Fid suitable replacement monsters for spiders if I am playing with someone arachnophobic, and similar.

Is "change the names of any characters that could easily be mistaken for the names of my players" something anyone else has had to do here?


the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Is "change the names of any characters that could easily be mistaken for the names of my players" something anyone else has had to do here?

Nope. Three of my players have no trouble with similar names and the fourth has so much trouble getting any name right it makes no difference what I use.


the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:

Fid suitable replacement monsters for spiders if I am playing with someone arachnophobic, and similar.

Is "change the names of any characters that could easily be mistaken for the names of my players" something anyone else has had to do here?

Nope. I just had to find a rich aristocratic family in Magnimar that fit the the PC's personal background and had a history with half-elf bastards


the nerve-eater of Zur-en-Aarh wrote:
Is "change the names of any characters that could easily be mistaken for the names of my players" something anyone else has had to do here?

If it's similar / the same as their real name (or a close friend of the group) I'll likely change it.

If it's the same name as their character (which has happened before) I leave it because I like real-world things like that happening. Sometimes people have the same name and that's okay.


Warped Savant wrote:

If it's similar / the same as their real name (or a close friend of the group) I'll likely change it.

If it's the same name as their character (which has happened before) I leave it because I like real-world things like that happening. Sometimes people have the same name and that's okay.

Player's name rather than character's name was what I was thinking of here.

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