On Running Published Adventures

Since I don’t have a session recap this week, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts and things I’ve learnt while running my first campaign and using the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. 

As you will probably already know if you’ve read my blog before now, I’ve been running the Rise of the Runelords adventure path with my home group for a couple of years now. We are finally entering the last chapter in the anniversary edition. Over those two years, I’ve learnt a great deal about Pathfinder and about game mastering in general. Since I don’t have a session recap for this week, I thought I’d share some of my thoughts on this adventure path, and published adventures in general. It’s worth noting that there will probably be a fair number of spoilers related to this adventure path in the follow discussion!

Preparation

I’ve found that using a published adventure has at times decreased my prep time significantly, while on other occasions, it has led to more prep. I believe there are several reasons for this. Prep time is increased by the fact that you as the GM need to have read far enough ahead in the adventure to know what everything is leading towards. This is, of course, easier said than done. I must admit that I had been running RotRL for quite a while before I was able to find the time to even skim over the entire book.

This advanced preparation is especially important for foreshadowing future events and the larger plot. I found this a bit lacking in this adventure, as the first couple of chapters don’t directly relate to the Runelords at all. In fact, there’s a whole lot of stuff related to the goddess Lamashtu in the early parts of the story, which really confused my players. To make matters worse, the Lamashtu connection simply vanishes in later chapters. If I had to do it all again, I’d either remove the Lamashtu stuff or add some elements to make it more interesting and relevant.

Extra preparation also came in the form of needing to adapt encounters to suit my group. Despite being smaller than the four-man traditional party, they breezed through many of the encounters that I ran as written. There were just too many bosses who were mostly or completely alone, leading to their swift demise. Once I realised that I needed to make changes, things improved a lot and the fights became more balanced.

Still, as I mentioned earlier, there were times when my preparation time was positively influenced by the fact that I was running a published adventure. Having monsters that had already been chosen for me, and just needing to adapt them rather than build from scratch or spend hours pouring over the bestiaries was definitely a timesaver. It also saved me from needing to come up with story stuff on the fly. Once I had an idea of the overall plot, things became a lot easier.

Imparting information to characters

This is something that has bothered me from the very first chapter. The book has wonderful descriptions and explanations and history about characters, locations and so on, but often gave no way to impart this knowledge to players. As an inexperienced GM, I struggled with this a lot and would often get caught out as I realised that my players were clueless with regard what to do next or even what was going on. What was clear and interesting to me with all my knowledge of the backstory was useless to the players and their characters because there was often no way for them to figure things out. Oftentimes, as written, there was only one person who had the desired information, or one clue the PCs needed to find. Or worse, a PC would cast a spell like comprehend languages, and I would not be able to find anything about what was in the books or scrolls or whatever.

Even with more experience now, I sometimes still struggle to think of ways to share interesting or useful information with the players and their characters. It’s definitely one of the more frustrating issues I’ve run into.

Murder hobos

While the adventure path tries to tie the heroes to Sandpoint, and suggests that they take Fort Rannick as their base of operations, there is very little to stop the PCs from becoming murder hobos. That is, characters who spend their time killing monsters for loot or quests and having no place to call home. I ended up allowing my PCs to live in the Kaijitsu villa while in Magnimar, which gave them a home of sorts. After defeating Mokmurian and his army they took over Jorgenfist and are currently building it into a little bastion of civilisation on the Storval Plateau.

A learning experience

Running a published adventure path, and a well-known one at that, has helped me learn how to run a game, make adjustments to suit my players, and work with an overall plot. It’s also taught me what I like and what I don’t like as a game master. The fact that so many people have already run Rise of the Runelords did mean I was able to find plenty of information and opinions regarding some of the situations that arose in my game. Overall, I’d say it has been a great learning experience, though for future campaigns I will probably end up using bits and pieces of published adventures for ideas, rather than following one directly.

Feel free to share some of your thoughts on published adventures in the comments below.

Abigail Holden

Gamer, geek, LEGO fanatic. I also love Pathfinder RPG, The Sims, cross stitching, crochet and sci-fi and fantasy movies, games & books. And animals.

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