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Hey folks! I just started running this AP, and the pacing of chapter 1 honestly feels pretty weird. It starts off with a bang, with a murder and devils and stuff, but then it seems like the adventure assumes the players will slowly, casually chat up three NPCs and get to know them rather than having any sense of urgency? And it feels weird that some of the NPCs kinda just, forget the important clues until the PCs make friends.
Basically, the pacing seems off, and the tension seems much lower than it ought to be given the situation.
Has anyone run this chapter already, and if so, how'd it go? Even if you haven't, are there ways to up the tension without just rewriting the whole thing? I have ideas for that, based on the Alexandrian's 3-clues rule and adding a bunch of content haha, but I don't have time for that before the next session.
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It wouldn't be a Pathfinder AP without their signature Convoluted & Unnecessary Subsystems! But yeah, this chapter (and the start of book 2 for that matter) have a weird lackadaisical energy.
If I had to run this module, I would have the PCs investigate the shop and learn the bad guys are already searching the marketplace for Merchant with Next Card/s, then have the battle occur in the middle of the market. PCs get more cards, portal to Harrow Court opens, and you're into chapter 2.
|James Jacobs Creative Director|
Thanks for the feedback, all! We're constantly tinkering with the pacing and type of encounters we put into our adventures. Conventional wisdom supports the idea that starting with a fight or some big action scene is the best way to kick off an adventure, but once that initial encounter is done, we do try to vary the content so that it's not always just about fighting.
If anyone DOES enjoy influence encounters like these, please don't hesitate to let us know as well—I still feel like the influence system is a great way to handle conversations with NPCs in a way that doesn't just feel like a GM reading text or forcing the players to second-guess what trigger questions to ask in order to learn what they're there to learn.
Obviously, not every type of encounter works great for every table. Those groups who want a more action-packed Chapter 1 in this adventure should consider...
Keeping the assassin attack and this bonus note in your back pocket to spring on the group as soon as they seem to be growing bored with the influence investigation is a good idea too... but also keep in mind that sometimes, something that sounds boring on the page to a reader might be a lot of fun in play!
|James Jacobs Creative Director|
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It wouldn't be a Pathfinder AP without their signature Convoluted & Unnecessary Subsystems!
The hope of including subsystems like influnce, chases, research, and the like in the GM book is to give GMs all those tools at once so that they'll gain system mastery with time, just like they will at running combat encounters. That's why we've largely stopped including brand new subsystems as part of adventures unless one of the GM book's systems just won't work.
We also produce more adventures than most groups will ever play, so a part of this is an example of us trying to do different things and keep ourselves interested as well—if every single adventure followed the same construction, it'd get boring pretty quickly. That said, we have no control over what Adventure Path is going to be any one group's first campaign, or how often they start new ones, so the order in which any one group tackles Adventure Paths is never going to be the same as those we publish.
Our hope here is that by publishing LOTS of Adventure Paths, we'll keep ahead of most tables' demands for new adventures and get more out there for groups to pick and choose ones that match their preferences. Not every Adventure Path can be or should be the best one for any one group.
I am running the influence system for the second book of fists of the Ruby Pheonix and find it very well suited for the task of winning over sponsors. I think I really appreciate influence systems where there is an expectation that the entire thing is not over in one sitting, and that the process of gathering information about the targets of influence doesn't necessarily have to be constrained to the subsystem itself. In my experience trying to homebrew with the influence system, players will only ever try to learn more about their targets if they don't feel like they already have really strong social skills which they will then just try to spam to get as many positive results as possible.
It has been slightly difficult to reconcile with PCs how gathering information is an activity that some of them spend skill feats on and they can do in very short periods of time, but some influence system periods don't really interact well with those systems. I imagine trying to add rules elements to those skill feats for interacting with various subsystems (chases, research too!) would be a nightmare, but would adding text in adventures about what kind of bonuses to give for skill feats that feel like they should be beneficial, but don't exactly line up with the system be as difficult? It could be generic advice but I think players would really feel rewarded for their choices if having sign language was occasionally a big boon, or quick contacts, courtly graces, quick squeeze (for chases) were specifically called out as automatic successes or critical successes. It seems like something experienced GMs might pick up on their own, but many will have enough on their plate trying to run the subsystem encounter that they won't think about ways to reward players beyond just their skill numbers or use of a spell.
Thanks for the feedback, all!
Thanks for the thoughts James! Just have to say before anything else that I really appreciate how active y'all are with the community (even if I didn't see it for like a week haha).
I actually do like the influence subsystem, I think it's pretty neat! I just don't think it was particularly well suited to this chapter?
I'm running 3 campaigns now right now haha (this, Strength of Thousands, and getting some new players into the game with the Beginner Box + Plaguestone), and I'm really looking forward to using the Influence system in Book 4 of SoT! I think it's perfect for slow, deliberate chipping away at several important figures in the city, and I really appreciate how it gives folks with non-charisma based skills room to really shine and not just take a back seat or roll insight forever.
I'll also say that writing rules for social encounters is really freaking hard haha - I have no idea how to do better, and have been running for long enough that I just tend to wing it based on what the NPCs want and how I think they'd act, but I know that's not very helpful for newer GMs so I appreciate y'all putting the subsystems there to try to help folks out. I also know y'all have pretty tough space constraints and not nearly unlimited time for all of this, and I'm always impressed with what you do given all of that.
For this chapter specifically, though, it really didn't fit the pacing. The influence system doesn't fit an investigation nearly as well as it does convincing a series of diplomats - while one of the NPCs needed their trust earned before telling the party anything, the other two basically seemed on board pretty quickly but just... don't remember the relevant information until the party hits a certain amount of influence. It felt pretty arbitrary to me. Because I did not prep nearly far enough in advance haha, I ended up basically using the basic structure but speeding things along so fewer successes were needed (so the party wasn't just spinning their wheels having the same conversations for 3 days) and using the mercenaries as a proactive clue (as the sidebar recommends).
If I'd had more time to rewrite the chapter, I think it could benefit a lot from being restructured into more of an actual investigation, with different clues sending the PCs across the Grand Bazaar! Less detail on each NPC/location, but more NPCs/locations overall as they slowly put the clues together and hopefully reach the harrow barrow before their opponents! I'm a huge fan of the Alexandrian's node-based design / 3 clues rule for urban investigations like this, and I think it could've helped the chapter feel more like it should - a fast paced investigation as the players race to save a man's life and start piecing the clues together - while still keeping it as a primarily non-combat challenge.
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I ended up taking a quick stab at a remix, trying to bring out more of that investigative, city-crawling kinda feel - it's definitely pretty rough since I ran this chapter before remixing it haha, but if anyone has yet to run it I hope this is helpful! And if you do try it, let me know how it goes! https://weplayinasociety.blogspot.com/2023/09/stolen-fate-chapter-1-remix.h tml