Tarondor's Guide to Pathfinder Adventure Paths


Pathfinder Adventure Path General Discussion

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James Jacobs wrote:

For those playing the home game... we knew that the Isle of Dread was in Mystara, but decided to bring it into Greyhawk for Savage Tide because it was such a great location, and because we wanted to show in print that it was okay to borrow something from one campaign and put it into another.

Considering how many AP's I've stolen for my Mystara game*, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't agree. It was just surprising to see it done (semi)officially.

*and StarDrive/Alternity, GH, Star Trek, Ringworld, etc. stuff I stole for Dragonstar, and the Mythago Wood stuff stolen for Ars Magica, and various stuff stolen for Laundry Files, and...


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
James Jacobs wrote:
There's no "GM school" out there. The best ways you can become a good GM, as a result, are by being a GM, by playing with or watching other GMs, or by reading published adventures. I've learned a LOT of my skills as a GM and adventure writer by reading adventures and running published adventures. I've long felt that a GM who deliberately avoids reading (much less running or incorporating) adventures written by other people is denying themselves one of the best ways to self-improve.

I've been GMing for more than forty years. When I started, the -only- published adventure I was aware of was "The Temple of the Frog" in the "Blackmoor" supplement. We just dove in and did whatever crazy thing seemed cool to us. When they started to become available, modules, adventures and campaigns were revelatory because they almost always included ideas we hadn't seen before or hadn't considered for inclusion in our own stories.

Becoming a good GM is not just about experience. I know some very inexperienced GMs who shock me with their excellent storytelling skills. Most of these have expressed concern at their lack of experience while simultaneously being great GMs.

Being, or becoming a great GM involves:

1) Emotional intelligence, a willingness and ability to work with your players to deliver a fun experience for all concerned;

2) A willingness to improvise when preparation inevitably isn't enough (and believe me, I'm an over-preparer);

3) Preparation; No set amount - just know your setting and characters.

4) Reading. Read fantasy fiction, history, game modules, other games, anything you can. It will enrich your game.

But most of all, be willing to try again. Very few people are great right out of the gate.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:

For those playing the home game... we knew that the Isle of Dread was in Mystara, but decided to bring it into Greyhawk for Savage Tide because it was such a great location, and because we wanted to show in print that it was okay to borrow something from one campaign and put it into another.

Considering how many AP's I've stolen for my Mystara game*, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't agree. It was just surprising to see it done (semi)officially.

*and StarDrive/Alternity, GH, Star Trek, Ringworld, etc. stuff I stole for Dragonstar, and the Mythago Wood stuff stolen for Ars Magica, and various stuff stolen for Laundry Files, and...

My own home campaign is a gloriously messy mix of Tolkien, Moorcock and Byzantine history with a dash of Le Morte D'Arthur thrown in. And then a vast asteroid full of Gygax slams into all that.


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Wonderful guide! I had - some years ago - started something similar to this guide before realizing that I just didn't have enough experience yet with all the APs out there and setting it aside. It's fantastic to see a single reference that talks about all these different APs.

Of course, my own opinions are quite different than what's listed in both the poll and your ratings Tarondor (I was bored to death by Kingmaker by the end of Book 2 for example, and think its probably one of the worst APs they've made), but the summaries and discussion on each rating are quite a good reference for GMs looking for their next game. Having GM'd Iron Gods for example, your comments there are spot on and I think very helpful to a prospective GM.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:

For those playing the home game... we knew that the Isle of Dread was in Mystara, but decided to bring it into Greyhawk for Savage Tide because it was such a great location, and because we wanted to show in print that it was okay to borrow something from one campaign and put it into another.

Considering how many AP's I've stolen for my Mystara game*, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't agree. It was just surprising to see it done (semi)officially.

*and StarDrive/Alternity, GH, Star Trek, Ringworld, etc. stuff I stole for Dragonstar, and the Mythago Wood stuff stolen for Ars Magica, and various stuff stolen for Laundry Files, and...

It's also hardly the first time that something like this has been done officially, of coruse... Bloodstone Pass was originally in Greyhawk and shifted to Forgotten Realms by the end of that four part series. And Ravenloft's snatched up all sorts of stuff from all sorts of settings.


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Tarondor wrote:
Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
James Jacobs wrote:

For those playing the home game... we knew that the Isle of Dread was in Mystara, but decided to bring it into Greyhawk for Savage Tide because it was such a great location, and because we wanted to show in print that it was okay to borrow something from one campaign and put it into another.

Considering how many AP's I've stolen for my Mystara game*, I would be a hypocrite if I didn't agree. It was just surprising to see it done (semi)officially.

*and StarDrive/Alternity, GH, Star Trek, Ringworld, etc. stuff I stole for Dragonstar, and the Mythago Wood stuff stolen for Ars Magica, and various stuff stolen for Laundry Files, and...

My own home campaign is a gloriously messy mix of Tolkien, Moorcock and Byzantine history with a dash of Le Morte D'Arthur thrown in. And then a vast asteroid full of Gygax slams into all that.

Wow. You and I use similar material for inspirational source material.

Acquisitives

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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
Thorfinn's maps are awesome.

Thorfinn is a hero.


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He and all the other Mystara mappers, like Robin and her series of 1 mile per hex maps.

Acquisitives

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Bjørn Røyrvik wrote:
He and all the other Mystara mappers, like Robin and her series of 1 mile per hex maps.

Mystara is the original Golarian. Always wanted to run a game in Ierendi.

Dark Archive

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Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Gygax is one of those people where more I learn about them personally more I get disappointed ^_^; And I haven't seen most of his work so I don't have same type of attachment to his work as lot of D&D fans do.

I am however wondering if I should try to find Vance's or Moorcock's books that helped inspire lot of D&Disms(and apparently were super popular back in 70s or whenever they were written again), though I am kinda worried if writing style has aged and is hard to read nowadays. I've never been able to read Lord of the Rings x'P

(yeah I say lot of fantasy fan heresy here)

Acquisitives

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CorvusMask wrote:

Gygax is one of those people where more I learn about them personally more I get disappointed ^_^; And I haven't seen most of his work so I don't have same type of attachment to his work as lot of D&D fans do.

I am however wondering if I should try to find Vance's or Moorcock's books that helped inspire lot of D&Disms(and apparently were super popular back in 70s or whenever they were written again), though I am kinda worried if writing style has aged and is hard to read nowadays. I've never been able to read Lord of the Rings x'P

(yeah I say lot of fantasy fan heresy here)

Haven't read Vance, but Moorcock's Elric stuff is just fantastic.

Liberty's Edge

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The other Eternal Champions (Corum, Erekose, Ulrich von Bek, Hawkmoon) are pretty good too.

The Princes of Amber by Zelazny are classic IMO.


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CorvusMask wrote:
though I am kinda worried if writing style has aged and is hard to read nowadays. I've never been able to read Lord of the Rings x'P

I also couldn't get through LotR, but I did read and enjoy the Dying Earth stories by Vance that I read.


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CorvusMask wrote:


I am however wondering if I should try to find Vance's or Moorcock's books that helped inspire lot of D&Disms(and apparently were super popular back in 70s or whenever they were written again), though I am kinda worried if writing style has aged and is hard to read nowadays. I've never been able to read Lord of the Rings x'P

I'm of the opinion that the Elric books are pretty same-y. Good, but it gets old quickly. I'd stick with Stormbringer and "Sailor on the Seas of Fate", at least to start with. Moorcock on the whole is decent, but he's not my favorite.

Vance is good, and I highly recommend him. Start with "The Dying Earth" and its successor stories, which is where most of his D&D genes come from.

Sovereign Court Director of Community

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Clearing out older flags. Removed a harassing post re GM skillset.


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Just wanted to thanks for putting something like this together. Still going through growing pains a GM myself, and this is going to be pretty damn useful.

I'm curious though. Has anyone gone through a similar reviewing process for the smaller adventure modules, and the PFS modules?


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Tarondor wrote:
Honestly, I was flabbergasted that anyone would bother responding to a poll, but not bother responding to all 8 questions.

I answered the poll but not all of the questions as they didn't all apply to me. One asked what APs you've played in and I have played in none since I am the forever GM for Pathfinder in my group.


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I took the survey, started reading through the write-ups, and am planning to return to this thread (and the guide) when I have more time. This is a great overview of Paizo's story-telling in past years!


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Regarding the Isle of Dread, in addition to Oerth and Mystara, I believe it has "canonically" (for whatever that's worth) showed up in the Feywild and the Elemental Plane of Water. Personally I am found of the idea that it is a "shiftrealm" that moves amongst them.

_
glass.


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Hey Tarondor

Love the effort and work, is this still active and might you look in on Starfinder AP's for the same treatment? I'd be VERY interested (and I bet others as well!!) with those results, and a lot less to go through as well :)

Thanks

Tom


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Thank you for the effort!

I appreciate your guide; however, I regard Age of Worms and Savage Tide as the best of the best ever produced for the game (not only Pathfinder but D&D also, any edition).


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@Tarondor: Thank you for putting together this guide!

While I might not agree with every point/ranking in it, nonetheless it is a valuable resource for gaining an overview of all the paths listed in it.

Grand Lodge

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Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Nothing will ever top Shackled City for me personally.

Liberty's Edge

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I love Shackled City with some of the bolt-on additions people had come up with on the forums (notably in making the bad guys a bit more prevalent earlier)

I'd like to see Tarandon add in some of the 3pp APs (Slumbering Tsar, Zeitgeist, Wicked Way, Razor Coast). Wicked Way in particularly I think is a better AP than Hell's Vengeance. And also update for Outlaws and Frozen Flame.

I agree Age of Ashes is highly overrated, I thought it was meh at best.


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It's hard to rate Age of Ashes since the primary problem affecting it is "the hazards and antagonists are overtuned" since it was largely written before the 2e rules were finalized. How much you feel comfortable massaging the math so your players have a good time depends on you. The basic frame of the adventure is pretty fun, but I wouldn't recommend it to someone who doesn't know 2e well enough to spot the pain points and know how to fix them.

Like every GM is going to have different strengths and weaknesses and part of mastering the craft is figuring out where yours lie. Some people might think "working the villain into the story sooner" is the easiest thing in the world and some will struggle. Some people will think "fix all the math so the combat has appropriate difficulty" is their least favorite thing and some people will think it's NBD.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Will this guide be updated again soon? Maybe after Blood Lords?


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I have just started to read your guide and wanted to say thanks for all the work - it is an awesome resource!


This is great - would be great to see another update in a year or so.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Possibly in 2024. Probably later. It's best to let the AP's stew awhile so that there are many comments online about them. Otherwise its just one dude's opinion.

And sometimes I'm less than perfect.


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Cross-posting from another thread:

I took the Poll results from Tarondor's AP Guide/Poll and instead of just the "Recommended" rankings, I divided those by the Played/GM'd rankings (not quite fair for votes from those who've both played and GM'd an AP, but oh well). My hypothesis was that folks who actually *played* Second Darkness probably liked it, vs bad rap among those who haven't. I was wrong, but still recommend it! Some of the changes are just from 60% more votes.

Here's the stats, filtered for 1e only:

AP ------------------- % in Top 3 of GMs/Players recommendations (Tarondor Poll Rank, change)
1. Curse of the Crimson Throne ----- 47.4% (prior rank 2, +1)
2. War for the Crown ----- 41.0% (prior rank 10, +8)
3. Rise of the Runelords ----- 39.1% (prior rank 1, -2)
4. Hell's Rebels ----- 33.8% (prior rank 4, 0)
5. Kingmaker ----- 31.5% (prior rank 3, -2)
6. Reign of Winter ----- 28.4% (prior rank 5, -1)
7. Strange Aeons ----- 25.9% (prior rank 7, 0)
8. Iron Gods ----- 24.6% (prior rank 6, -2)
9. Return of the Runelords ----- 24.2% (prior rank 20, +11)
10. Mummy's Mask ----- 20.0% (prior rank 12, +2)
11. Skull and Shackles ----- 17.9% (prior rank 8, -3)
12. Ironfang Invasion ----- 15.7% (prior rank 15, +3)
13. Carrion Crown ----- 15.6% (prior rank 9, -4)
14. Wrath of the Righteous ----- 14.3% (prior rank 11, -3)
15. Hell's Vengeance ----- 11.1% (prior rank 21, +6)
16. Legacy of Fire ----- 10.6% (prior rank 14, -2)
17. Ruins of Azlant ----- 9.5% (prior rank 18, +1)
18. Serpent's Skull ----- 9.5% (prior rank 16, -2)
19. Shattered Star ----- 8.5% (prior rank 19, 0)
20. Tyrant's Grasp ----- 7.4% (prior rank 17, -3)
21. Jade Regent ----- 6.2% (prior rank 13, -8)
22. Council of Thieves ----- 5.7% (prior rank 23, +1)
23. Second Darkness ----- 5.4% (prior rank 24, +1)
24. Giantslayer ----- 2.4% (prior rank 22, -2)

War for the Crown and Return of the Runelords went way up, Jade Regent went way down. Credit to Tarondor - this actually matches his personal rankings much closer than the raw poll.

Edit: And since it was mentioned a lot, Age of Ashes got 30/103, for 29.1%. Probably still a lot of recency bias, since if you only do "Top 3" of 2E APs that you've completed more than half of, that would be a pretty small pool.


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I'm just about to finish Curse of the Crimson Throne for a second time (the first time was about twelve years ago), I gotta say that the second half of the AP still disappoints. Leaving Korvosa for the Cinderlands was okay, but Scarwall was waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay to long and the return to Korvosa felt underwhelming, since the party is quickly shoved into Castle Korvosa (another dungeon) and then the Sunken Queen (yet another dungeon).

Also, the higher level encounters really were underpowered by a mile and a half, which was quite noticeable in comparison to Hell's Rebels, another city AP, which I also finished a month ago and which felt much more competent in its encounter design in most places.

Also, I feel Jade Regent is underrated in your guide. :p

Also also, complete disagreement on Shattered Star. It was really bad later on, my players were getting tired as hell on the whole endless dungeon thing and I don't know where you got the idea that you know you'll be fighting Xin early on, since that is only communicated through events in the last adventure to the party. The first five volumes you are on an artifact hunt to help against the, ahem, Return of the Runelords.


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magnuskn wrote:
Also, the higher level encounters really were underpowered by a mile and a half, which was quite noticeable in comparison to Hell's Rebels, another city AP, which I also finished a month ago and which felt much more competent in its encounter design in most places.

Curious - did they feel underpowered 12 years ago? There's been a whole lot of power creep since then.

RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

Tarondor wrote:
I made a guide to the Pathfinder Adventure Paths. You can find it HERE.

This needs to be updated.


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Majuba wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
Also, the higher level encounters really were underpowered by a mile and a half, which was quite noticeable in comparison to Hell's Rebels, another city AP, which I also finished a month ago and which felt much more competent in its encounter design in most places.
Curious - did they feel underpowered 12 years ago? There's been a whole lot of power creep since then.

Ah, I think I started Curse in 3.5 and then migrated to Pathfinder 1E in the mid of the campaign (when the alpha rules came out), so the balance was kinda wack back then as well. ^^


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Lord Fyre wrote:
Tarondor wrote:
I made a guide to the Pathfinder Adventure Paths. You can find it HERE.
This needs to be updated.

That link to the guide or the guide itself? The link works for me. If you're referring to the guide, Tarondor stated above his plans to update it.

Liberty's Edge

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Majuba wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
Also, the higher level encounters really were underpowered by a mile and a half, which was quite noticeable in comparison to Hell's Rebels, another city AP, which I also finished a month ago and which felt much more competent in its encounter design in most places.
Curious - did they feel underpowered 12 years ago? There's been a whole lot of power creep since then.

Inevitably there was power creep over time, but by 12 years ago you had the APG with the Inquisitor and Summoner, the CRB with most of the 9th level casting power, and Ultimate Magic (only just) to flesh out those 9th level caster's lists - I think that was already hitting the majority of the unbalancing options, personally. I think it's fair to hold the vast majority of the PF1 APs to the same standard for the challenge found in the encounter design :)


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The adventure path came out in 3.5 format originally, anyway and then was remastered into PF 1E with the hardcover. At that point the encounters could have been balanced a bit more for the power level 1E finished at, because the hardcover came out in 2016, well into the time 1E had released a lot of its most powerful options.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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magnuskn wrote:
The adventure path came out in 3.5 format originally, anyway and then was remastered into PF 1E with the hardcover. At that point the encounters could have been balanced a bit more for the power level 1E finished at, because the hardcover came out in 2016, well into the time 1E had released a lot of its most powerful options.

Could have been, but that honestly wasn't super high on my to-do list, since I wanted to retain the flavor of the original if possible, and that meant not bringing in a lot of newer content that wasn't part of the game back when the original was created. My goal for this wasn't so much to reinvent the Adventure Path as it was to preserve it and make changes as I felt were called for (such as by including advice for folks who felt like Scarwall was too huge, or by creating a new adventure in between books 4 and 5 to address the concern that the focus of the adventure stepped away from Korvosa for too long). But I also wanted to keep as much unchanged as possible, because it's one of our most popular Adventure Paths and I didn't want to make changes for changes' sake. No need to fix what clearly, to me, wasn't broken in many cases.

Furthermore, "balancing" an adventure in favor of the "optimal character builds" is a disservice to the more casual side of gamer. We always aim to present adventures for the average group, so that if you have a beginner group or an experienced group, the adventure doesn't favor one situation over the other.

Does that mean that, perhaps, "Curse of the Crimson Throne" plays better for a 1E group who limits their build options to just the core rules? Probably so.


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James Jacobs wrote:
Furthermore, "balancing" an adventure in favor of the "optimal character builds" is a disservice to the more casual side of gamer. We always aim to present adventures for the average group, so that if you have a beginner group or an experienced group, the adventure doesn't favor one situation over the other.

Still, Hells Rebels felt quite a bit more challenging overall, so I'd say there is a difference between earlier and later AP's, just as there is a difference between Bestiary 1 and Bestiary 6 monsters in effectiveness and overall design.

James Jacobs wrote:
Does that mean that, perhaps, "Curse of the Crimson Throne" plays better for a 1E group who limits their build options to just the core rules? Probably so.

I would say so. One thing which specifically stuck in my craw was how the Grey Maidens and the Red Mantis felt like total chumps. And that is with extensive reworks for both on my side in the last module (and the Grey Maidens in every book they show up... they did do better in their first appearance at least. ^^). Maybe if there was a "CRB only" group it would feel a bit different.

Then again, both groups were easily taken out in the last book by the Arcanist mostly with AOE spells and that a CRB only Sorcerer could do just as well. I guess it's at the end more a question of balance in high-level gaming. I basically had to assign fantasy numbers to all opponents in both campaigns at the end to make them at least somewhat competitive, only in Hells Rebels I did not have to inflate the numbers by as much as and as early as in CotCT.

Liberty's Edge

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James Jacobs wrote:
magnuskn wrote:
The adventure path came out in 3.5 format originally, anyway and then was remastered into PF 1E with the hardcover. At that point the encounters could have been balanced a bit more for the power level 1E finished at, because the hardcover came out in 2016, well into the time 1E had released a lot of its most powerful options.

Could have been, but that honestly wasn't super high on my to-do list, since I wanted to retain the flavor of the original if possible, and that meant not bringing in a lot of newer content that wasn't part of the game back when the original was created. My goal for this wasn't so much to reinvent the Adventure Path as it was to preserve it and make changes as I felt were called for (such as by including advice for folks who felt like Scarwall was too huge, or by creating a new adventure in between books 4 and 5 to address the concern that the focus of the adventure stepped away from Korvosa for too long). But I also wanted to keep as much unchanged as possible, because it's one of our most popular Adventure Paths and I didn't want to make changes for changes' sake. No need to fix what clearly, to me, wasn't broken in many cases.

Furthermore, "balancing" an adventure in favor of the "optimal character builds" is a disservice to the more casual side of gamer. We always aim to present adventures for the average group, so that if you have a beginner group or an experienced group, the adventure doesn't favor one situation over the other.

Does that mean that, perhaps, "Curse of the Crimson Throne" plays better for a 1E group who limits their build options to just the core rules? Probably so.

This makes me extremely thankful for the much lower power gap in PF2 between optimized builds and not-optimized ones : the APs keep being relevant. Which is a benefit I had never considered before reading this post.


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Yeah, it's one of the main reasons I want to, in the long term, switch to 2E. Still got a few AP's to run in 1E, though. ^^

Paizo Employee Creative Director

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magnuskn wrote:

Still, Hells Rebels felt quite a bit more challenging overall, so I'd say there is a difference between earlier and later AP's, just as there is a difference between Bestiary 1 and Bestiary 6 monsters in effectiveness and overall design.

That's to be expected, since Hell's Rebels was designed natively for 1st edition and we all (me, the editors, and the writers) had more experience with those rules. Turns out 100 or so months is a pretty healthy amount of time to get better at something.

(And again, rebuilding Curse of the Crimson Throne from the ground up as if I were developing it from scratch was never an option; there was nowhere near enough time in the schedule to do that and still have that book out anywhere close to on time. This is what we did with Kingmaker, and that one ended up being YEARS late.)

Grand Lodge

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I appreciate all the work done for Kingmaker, Curse, and Runelords a great deal.


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So do I. Just making a note of the different experience GM'ing Curse and Hell's Rebels, which happened pretty much at the same time.

Grand Lodge

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Runelords and Rebels were our concurrent games, there was definitely a noticeable difference. If that difference is not noticeable or nearly so in 2E I really need to get up on the system and start running it.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I’m running Age of Ashes at the same time as Outlaws of Alkenstar right now (having already run AV, Ruby Phoenix, Edgewatch, and Blood Lords) and I wouldn’t say it feels significantly different from the newest APs. The only thing noticeable is that clearly they hadn’t figured out yet how deadly a single APL+3 monster is, and the diversity in enemies is a little lacking.


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I must say, I'm kinda looking forward to a time when a single monster can take on an entire party and it's not a one-sided ass-kicking by the party against the monster, but the other way around. :p

No, I don't want to be a killer GM, I always feel very guilty when I, mostly accidentally, kill a character. However, since Paizo loooooves their single monster encounters, having a system which actually supports that playstyle on the GM's side is something I look forward to.

Still, I am not letting Return of the Runelords and War for the Crown go to waste and since I am now going into a period where I get to be a player in three, yes three, campaigns (Ironfang Invasion, Iron Gods, Strange Aeons) and I am committed to another 1E run of Hells Rebels with the Ironfang Invasion group (alternating each module with the current GM)... it'll be a while. Maybe I could run Return of the Runelords in 2E, since there's a published conversion kit on Pathfinder Infinite, but it'd be kind of a shame to not have a mythic Alaznist as the final boss.


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I am running Hell's Rebels under PF2, and the fact that single high-level opponents can be a genuine threat to PCs is a welcome and refreshing change from PF1 where I had to inflate monster/NPC states to present some reasonably fun threats to PCs, and even then it usually took one SoD/SoS spell to tilt the fight and leave us with 2h of mopping up.

(the first of you nerds to comment that I should have been a better GM and use terrain/Tucker's kabolds with traps/maybe a golem/rouge with daggers in darkness/smart tactics such as move-attack-move is welcome to try high-level PF1 GMing for the first time in their life and share the experience here)

Dark Archive

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I ran a party of 5, with some solid optimizers in the group and book 6 of Return of the Runelords held up pretty well in my estimation. Most encounters were not challenging, but the challenges were diverse enough that they had a way of sooner or later finding some party weak points for some of them. I even nearly had a TPK without having to do much modification, certainly not any of the give everything the advanced template or max HP. I don't mind that pace for high level play where the highly competent PCs can chew through a bunch of stuff cause they are prepared and then find a challenge when they least expect it.

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