Pathfinder: Picking An Adventure Path

So, as you might’ve guessed from my previous post, the attempt to run a two-person campaign collapsed in on itself. As such, I’m in the process of scavenging for new players to pick up a campaign, and it looks like I’ll probably run a Pathfinder AP to save myself a little prep and energy. Mind, I never run things exactly to spec, because no plan survives contact with the players – particularly players who’ve played, run, or read the APs in question – so there’s a limit to how much my prep time diminishes.

So today I’ll go over the Pathfinder Adventure Paths that I own presently, and consider which ones are in the running to be used for a first-time-together group of players. I know that at least one prospective player, while not new to the system, is new to the setting, and so that itself has to be something to keep an eye on. I’ll only be looking at those using the Pathfinder system, in addition, as I’ll have enough to do without conversion from 3.5 on top of it.

Rise of the Runelords is basically the go-to AP for that Welcome To Pathfinder feeling; it has the classic adventure vibe to it, plenty of enemies from a wide range so no one gets bored, an ancient evil looking to make a return, and an epic-feeling scope. It’s set in Varisia, and it’s the AP that set much of the tone and feel of the campaign setting as a whole. From the creepy chanting goblins to the giant legions commanded by extraplanar forces beholden to the Runelord, you never lack for variety or flavor. With the PFRPG 5-year update, it made the whole campaign stronger by tying each book together and adding extra foreshadowing. The problem, of course, is that this is the AP that everyone not brand new to Golarion has probably already played in; if I want to use this, it’ll take extra effort to tweak and modify so that no one uses meta-knowledge, even accidentally. Still, it’s in the top three of APs I’m considering.

Council of Thieves was the first Pathfinder system AP; unfortunately, it shows, as all too often the campaign is a little disjointed-feeling. I like the urban adventure effort, but I’ll wait for Curse of the Crimson Throne to be updated later this year if I want that. Still – it’s heroic freedom fighters in devil-inclined Cheliax, and that’s something worth considering. Getting it to really work well will probably take more effort than I want to sink into it for a first-time group, though, and so I’ll put this one on the back burner.

Kingmaker is one of the two APs I most want to get to play in, and if I were doing this offline Kingmaker would be my choice in a heartbeat. It has room for all kinds of adventuring parties, kingdom-building, heroic escapades to rescue the innocent and not-so-innocent, military battles, extraplanar threats, and more. You – and the players – can set the pace to whatever you want, and even do side games where you play the role of low-level characters hired to deal with nuisance threats by your high-level kingdom-rulers. The sole reason I have not to do it is that I know perfectly well how players tend to faff about on the book-keeping part of things like this, and there’s a lot of that in this AP.

Serpent’s Skull has, to put it politely, a reputation. That reputation is that it’s rough, ugly, and prone to killing entire parties in ways that can dishearten even veteran groups. Even with support from the Paizo forums, I’m going to write this one off as a Someday Project to polish up and run.

Carrion Crown is another top-tier pick for me, not the least because of the horror elements in it. It’ll likely require some polish to really form it up; some bits of it have connectivity issues, a few NPCs need fixing up, and the ultimate foe needs telegraphed earlier and more clearly to make it feel less out of left field. Even with that, the strange and gloomy ambiance of Ustalav is great, and you can easily play here without needing to know about Varisia, Avistan, Garund, or Tian Xia. It’s in the top three, right there with Rise of the Runelords.

Jade Regent is a no-go, partly because of the callbacks it does to previous Adventure Paths, and partly because the players would need to know a fair bit more about the world and lore than I really expect anyone (except perhaps my wife) to know. Add to that the problem that there are a lot of complaints about the NPC cast coming off as the stars rather than the PCs, and this is something I’d need to fix up and make sure the group has a good grounding in the world before trying to run. It can go with Serpent’s Skull for now.

Skull and Shackles can really be summed up by singing “Do you wanna be a pirate?” to the tune of “Do You Wanna Build A Snowman?” Aside from the railroading built into the campaign – which can be made to feel natural by a reasonably skilled GM – it just needs a bit of polish to make it fit a given group and it’s ready to go. Don’t bring your paladin or your inquisitor of Iomedae, but feel free to cheer for Cayden Cailean, really. Be as heroic or nefarious as you want, as long as everyone agrees on it. I’d need to do a bit of work, but I’d put it in the top three pick with Carrion Crown and Rise of the Runelords. You don’t need to know much about the world beyond the Shackles to play this campaign, and you get to be a pirate. What’s not to love? (Unless you manage to get sick of pirates, that is.)

Shattered Star  is another no-go, but that’s only because you need to be able to recognize the call-backs to previous APs to really appreciate it. It’s an AP I want to run, but not as the first-in for a group. It’s also a bit dungeon-crawl-happy, so I’d need to make sure a group was down for delving in old crypts, tombs, catacombs, and the like before busting this one out. It’d need the absolute least amount of work on my part, though, as the group is predestined to all be members of the Pathfinder Society. Perhaps someday, but not now.

Reign of Winter is one that the malevolent part of me sincerely appreciates. After all, anyone who knows their mythology knows exactly how deep you have to be in it for Baba Yaga to need you to mount a rescue mission to get her out of a mess. That’s exactly what this AP is, and I dearly love the concept, plus the presence of the age-old question of how D20 fantasy characters would fare against Earth’s military forces; in this case, the weirdly modified forces of Russia during World War One. On the other hand, it’s exactly the kind of thing that could easily go horribly awry and take entirely too much trouble for me to make work when a player does something absolutely absurd and causes a mess. Alas, Reign, perhaps another time.

Wrath of the Righteous is the only AP that I desperately want to play in more than Kingmaker. Mythic-level power, epic heroism, a fight against at least one demon lord, if not more, and a struggle to rid the world of a cancerous evil? Wrapped up in a campaign themed around redemption and heroism? Sign me right up. Unfortunately, those same tropes are exactly why I hesitate to even touch Wrath with anything but a carefully vetted group of players that I know I can trust to play genuinely heroic and noble characters. We set it aside with my last group because the characters that got pitched were much more in line with a pack of vaguely heroic murder hobos than a group of mythic champions of good. So, as much as I want to yell “YES!” and swing this AP around, I’m going to set it aside again. One day, I will get to play in this.

And so it comes down to three real options – Rise of the Runelords, Carrion Crown, and Skull and Shackles. Each of them have the advantage of being part of a strongly thematic part of Golarion, each one gives some measure of freedom in gameplay and/or character design, and each one has a vibe that can get players excited without them needing to be strongly tied to Golarion already.

We’ll see which one it shakes out as being, once I manage to work out synchrony between the schedules of prospective players.

Pathfinder: Picking An Adventure Path

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