Refreshed and Reenergized or “Why I don’t like Adventure Paths”

Two weeks ago, we began a new Pathfinder campaign. Prior to that, we were playing the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. We were at the last end of the second module, out of six, and one of the PCs had just been killed and the rest of the PCs were running away, licking their wounds. It was at that point that I finally realized something important; we weren’t having fun. I stopped the proceedings and asked the other folks at the table if they were having fun. I got a very tepid response, so I knew it wasn’t just me. And that was the nail in the coffin. No more adventure paths.

Let me give you a little history about campaigns I have run. A few years back, I ran a 3.5 Eberron campaign that lasted 1.5 years and took the PCs from first to 21st level. That campaign consisted of me cobbling together separate adventures and tweaking them to fit the personalities of the PCs and the storylines that I had interwoven into the overall plot. I’m actually using the same adventures in the Eberron PbP I’m currently running, tweaking them as necessary and swapping complete adventures out as I see fit.

After that, a friend of mine ran a short campaign before having to turn over DMing duty to me since he was back in school. I decided to run the Savage Tide adventure path. The first session should have been a clue to me since it was a TPK. But, no, I just reset the campaign and went on from there. It was the deadliest campaign I have ever run with the PC death rate numbering in the twenties by the time we quit. We bounced around between other folks DMing until 4E came out. Once again, I decided to run an adventure path. This one was Scales of War. Unfortunately, it was miserable and, partially because of the AP and partially because we decided we didn’t like 4E, we stopped after the third adventure in the path.

Fast forward to a few months ago and I was DMing again. I decided to try out Pathfinder and run the Rise of the Runelords AP. We found that we really liked Pathfinder and even updated the PCs after the final rules came out. But, just as with previous AP’s, we ended up not liking it and stopped playing it.

To be fair, part of that is, of course, my fault as the DM. While AP’s are a good idea, there are problems inherent to them that I was unable to overcome.

1. It’s a huge railroad.

This actually became an issue in the very first session. With the way that one of the character’s background was written, it didn’t make sense for her to go along with the plot. It wasn’t that she was trying to be difficult, it was just that the AP clashed with her background. In the end, she changed her background to better fit but I hated the fact that she had to do that. In fact, during the second adventure, another player announced “But why would we do X? So far, we have no motive beyond find the macguffin.” That’s paraphrasing, of course, but he had a good point. There really was no reason for them to do it beyond “the town is in trouble and the sheriff is gone and we need you to do this.” But the problem was that if the PCs didn’t go from point A to point B to point C, it could throw off the rest of the Adventure Path.

2. It’s very hard to tailor the campaign to fit individual PCs.

This is especially true if you play the AP as it is published. So if you start with module one before module two is published, you may end up changing something in module one inadvertently that has an effect in module two or in a later module. And even if you wait until all modules have been published, it will take a lot of effort to change things because so may pieces rely upon one another.

3. If the adventure sucks, you’re stuck.

The first half of the second part of Rise of the Runelords, The Skinsaw Murders, was awesome. The scene with the cornfield and the farmhouse was intense. And the Manor itself was incredibly well written. I had a great time running it and my players had a great time playing it. Unfortunately, a half does not make a whole. The rest of the adventure was meh at best. But, in order to advance through the AP, we were stuck having to slog through it, hoping it would get better.

So, yeah, we trashed it. We decided to start over and I vowed, yes vowed!, to never run an AP again. I’m going back to my tried and true method of picking individual adventures, making the characters more a part of the world, and tailor the campaign to fit the PCs rather than having to tailor the PCs to fit the campaign.

So far, the PCs are about halfway through Crypt of the Everflame, the first Pathfinder module based upon the final rules. It’s a fun little module and really gives the PCs a chance to become part of the community, rather than just write it into their background that “so and so really get along.” By the time they finish, they’ll be third level (we use the “Fast” leveling chart) so I needed to come up with a third level adventure. I also knew that I wanted to introduce the Pathfinder Society into the campaign. So I checked my resources and, lo and behold, I have an adventure that is not only really cool but it also has the perfect tie-in to get the PCs into the Pathfinder Society.

I’m still looking at other, higher level, adventures for the rest of the campaign, but the PCs haven’t established themselves enough for me to tell which ones would fit. But that will come in time and I’ll have fun trying to find the next “perfect” adventure for the group. As it stands, I’m more jazzed about this campaign than I have been in a long time. :)

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4 Responses to “Refreshed and Reenergized or “Why I don’t like Adventure Paths””

Guy October 6th, 2009 at 1:23 PM

What I want to know is who playtests these things, and what are they doing different?!

As you mentioned, Savage tides was a killer campaign, and the last adventure of Rise of the runelords expected us to fight a Naga and her minions immediately after a golem.
(not to mention the naga staying in the tower while we rested was a bit unbelieveable)

Do they expect players to die? how many, and how often? Are our character builds really that sub-optimal, or are the playtesters’ min-maxed in ways that would make Ryan jealous? Do they give the playtesters d20s that only roll 10 or higher?

Alex Schroeder October 6th, 2009 at 1:31 PM

I feel your pain. My Hagfish Tavern game (Rise of the Runelords) is being derailed again because the players felt they weren’t up to the challenges. I’m trying to deal with it by introducing extra adventures (The Secret of Smuggler’s Cove, Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale), skipping big chunks of the adventures (such as the farm of the Skinsaw Murders!) and generally treating the Adventure Path as a suggestion, a background, an inspiration. I’m not yet sure that it’ll work, but as it stands I’m also unhappy with the Adventure Path format. I also find that the knowledge of the Adventure Path to come inhibits my improvisation.
.-= Alex Schroeder´s last blog ..My Next Campaign =-.

Alex Schroeder October 6th, 2009 at 1:50 PM

@Guy: My players decided to not fight the Lamia when they realized that the minion at the bottom of the tower was not the big boss. This can be handled by a DM, however. I introduced a different adventure, and had the Lamia reappear later (where she continued undefeated). The module just gives you plenty of TPK opportunities. It’s up to the party and the DM to avoid it. :)
.-= Alex Schroeder´s last blog ..Details Considered Harmful =-.

skade October 8th, 2009 at 11:55 AM

Runelords was my group’s second ever AP and for whatever reason they took to the format and style immediately. We’re in the second AP now, The Curse of the Crimson Throne and the players are maybe a little too concerned with the progression of the AP for my taste. One of them is concerned that they are straying from the path too far, when in fact they have been investigating and pushing to discover elements that the AP doesn’t actually reveal until later. They’re treating it like a mystery and investigating accordingly. The only failing, and I hesitate to call it that, is that I am using some information in later modules to facilitate this. So in a way I am treating these like sourcebooks for a city setting than individual adventures linked in a chain.
.-= skade´s last blog ..Olvia Munn On Dating the Undead =-.

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