Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Rise of the Runelords – At the Half-Way Point

With the completion of our last Pathfinder session we have now closed out Chapter Three of Pathfinder’s Rise of the Runelords adventure path. There are a total of six chapters, with each chapter having 5-8 modules, so we are essentially at the halfway point. The reviews are in and everybody is really enjoying it. The adventure is extremely well-written, gives the DM the flexibility to mix and match and to make adjustments along the way, and best of all it really keeps the players guessing as to what is coming next. Not all encounters require fighting, and not all fighting requires killing, all in all a good mix that challenges all involved.

Rise of the Runelords was the first adventure path that Paizo released ten+ years ago and we are playing the Anniversary Edition, which includes the six chapters along with ten years of tweaks, corrections, and updates. As this was Paizo’s first adventure following initial Pathfinder RPG release the adventure effectively serves as an introduction for Pathfinder players to the world of Golarian, introduces the rules and concepts of the game itself, and really allows for a gentle welcome into the new world in which their characters will be inhabiting. Even though several of our group have been playing DnD steadily for 20+ years it was nice to essentially be given a primer on the mechanics of this new game at the same time.

It took our Friday night game group just a little less than a year to reach this point, although we meet only every second or third week. I have no doubt if we met steadily once a week we would be done by now. I am not sure what the experience of other Pathfinder players, but the new adventure path chapters come out once a month, six chapters to a full adventure. Is there an expectation that Pathfinder players, at least theoretically, should be completing a chapter each month in time for the next chapter to be released? Regardless, speaking for the group I think we are moving at a comfortable pace, allowing the story lines to unfold and allowing the players enough time to let their characters do their work.

The adventure provides a lot of background, a lot of story detail, and provides various potential side paths and ideas for allowing the players to pick up additional encounters and the corresponding XP. I have incorporated some of these into the story line, but I have not taken advantage of all of them. If we met every week I might be more inclined to make the players absolutely earn every bit of XP, but since are meeting only every second or third week I have stuck more to the basic story line and adjusting the XP rewards to allow the players to stay caught with the levels set by the adventure.

When we started we decided to use the default (Medium) level progression path (see the chart below), but in hindsight we probably should have chosen the Fast progression path. The adventure often states “if you are this point in the story your characters should be level X,” so we are getting close to doing that with the XP awards as is, so a little bump for “successful completion of a module” is not a big deal.
Advancement Chart, Core Rulebook, Pg 30
There have been several highlights (or low-lights) so far, among the most memorable:

I particularly enjoyed that Selinor was able to carefully save his Fireball spell for the big final encounter and then proceeded use it to completely destroy an illusionary demon flying over the party.

I also got a chuckle out of Kheo, having opened the front door to let in the bad guys, then opted to run upstairs to let the sleeping party members know that trouble was coming.

Stike got caught in the store basement with the half-dressed daughter of the store owner and then was able to successfully talk his way out of trouble (Diplomacy roll of 20!).

Reynard was able to use his carefully enhanced running ability to run even farther away from the party when he failed his Save versus Fear check.

The best though, the absolute best, was after having seen Aldern and Iesha Foxglove effectively kill each other in the previous session to then encounter both of them at their house, alive, well (i.e., not zombiefied), friendly, and insisting that the heroes join them for dinner. Of course it was a trap, but there aren’t too many times a DM gets to see all of the mouths on the party members drop open in stunned disbelief. I wish I could have taken credit for that little twist of the tale, but that is the way it was laid out in the adventure and it worked really well.

I am still not the world’s best DM, but I do enjoy it. I enjoy the prep work, the maps, the story telling, the set-up, the pay-off, and blogging the results. We, and especially me, still make mistakes upon occasion, but our general philosophy is as always to play the game, not let the rules get in the way, and if we make a mistake along the way, well, so be it, we’ll do it right the next time. I am still not convinced I am always getting the best out of the monsters I am playing as the DM, but that is something else I just need to continue to improve upon.

Technologically-wise all the players have the Herolab Character tool for updating and maintaining their character sheet. There is a forum on the Herolab website where users have submitted character files for all of the NPC’s in the adventure, and while some of them do not work with recent upgrades to the tool, this is still very helpful for the DM. Several players use the Herolab IPad tool as part of their game play, that including the ability to add conditions as well as letting the tool do their dice rolls. I use the PFRPG RD app on my IPhone and IPad to look up spells or items as needed, and there is a Google Drive we have set-up for the players to share content as well.

While there may be minor mechanical differences between DnD and Pathfinder, the real difference between the two games is the involvement of the Pathfinder community. There are still plenty of people who play DnD, but the wealth of third party material, including the tools I mentioned previously, are provided and maintained by dedicated Pathfinder fans. Wizards chose to keep all of their DnD 4E material in-house, so for all of those who wished to continue to write and supplement their RPG game of choice with their own materials – like they did prior to DnD 4E – were able to find a new home when Pathfinder was introduced.

So stay tuned – the hits (and slams and bites) will just keep coming.

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