It’s the one year anniversary of my Pathfinder campaign, Reavers on the Seas of Fate. Let’s take a look back and see how it’s gone!
We have every session written up in multipage glory if you want to read the blow-by-blow. I hope some of the folks who wrote some of the adventures I used – Second Darkness, the Freeport trilogy, loads of the Bleeding Edge (Green Ronin), Wicked Fantasy Factory (Goodman Games), and Penumbra (Atlas Games) modules – do, and see how they come out in play!
The short form is that our brave would-be pirates have:
- Lived through an encounter with a ghost ship
- Avoided being slain by the Chelaxian Navy (several times)
- Gone to Riddleport and got in with Saul Vancaskerkin, a minor crime lord, and help run the inn and gambling hall the Gold Goblin
- Run afoul of other factions in Riddleport – pretty much all of them
- Uncovered a hidden temple of serpent men and eventually rooted it out
- Nearly gotten assassinated (several times)
- Gone to join a pirate crew to infiltrate and assault a Chelish manor inhabited by a creepy degenerate family
- Been framed for the assassination of a crime lord and weather an attack on the Gold Goblin
- Been blackballed by the crime lords of Riddleport, to some degree at the behest of Elias Tammerhawk, leader of the Cyphermages, and have to go on the lam
- Gone to the ancient ruins of Viperwall and endure loads of voodoo to get some idol that Serpent’s Cyphermage girlfriend says will prevent some kind of evil ritual involving the Riddleport Light
- Fought a Hellknight
- Gone to help Jaren the Jinx, son of the infamous pirate Black Dog, grow his arm back, over the bodies of Shark God cultists and druid witchy women with mutant hulks in tow
- Fought Black Dog’s ghost, during which Tommy accepted his geas to fight the chosen of the Shark God, and looted his pirate treasure
- Broken into the Riddleport Light during a storm and massive supernatural outbreak, and fought their way to the top
The characters are fourth level. That’s about right for a year of play. I ran a five year campaign once that topped out at around level nine. If you want to powerlevel, play WoW. I like a more realistic progression, and to me D&D is the most fun in the levels 1-10 range. Outside that it breaks down. And in my experience, it is extremely, extremely seldom anyone goes past about level 14. I’ve been in a lot of gaming groups over time and NONE of them have. Class design that focuses on level 12+ and “epic level” stuff is all a waste to me.
Even though the characters are fourth level, and I’m also not hugely generous with the loot, they are master killers. That’s what really “settling in to your level” gets you. All the players know how to make the best use of what they have, and also understand that fights aren’t always level appropriate. Any fight can be a fight for your life, so even at level four these boys are in it to win it. I have to make bosses 8th level now to stand a chance. Heck, they took down a level 12 ghost last session. I think the fights against the really powerful serpentfolk early in the campaign, while scary because the party felt so overmatched, really helped orient expectations well and their routine tactics are well done.
The art Paul did for the characters has really helped bring them to life (we use paper standup minis with the art on them, too). And everyone has really embraced the scheming life of a Riddleportian, and all have their own cool agendas going on. I’ve tried to help stress the ethnic origin of each of them, too, to keep them nice and distinct – Sindawe being Mwangi (African) and Serpent being Ulfen (Viking) are the easiest, though I need to do more with Serpent’s. Tommy as a halfling, which are seen as a slave race in Cheliax, has worked out well. Wogan is Chelaxian but doesn’t really play up that part of his life, he’s more about god and guns, which is also fun.
We’ve had our rough spots. We lost Ox when Bruce moved out of town, which was sad. We also had a time where Chris (Sindawe) was very frustrated with the game, but we talked through that. I try to run a lot more realistic/organic game, and a lot of adventure paths as written kinda have the obvious “clue bar” you press to dispense clues, and so he thought that he/the party was doing something wrong when they were banging on the clue bar (and/or a hapless captive) and the answers weren’t falling out. But since we’ve aligned expectations he’s been enthusiastic.
And the NPCs have been colorful. They often have 1-3 NPCs with the party, which is a challenge for me from the time-share point of view but is gratifying in that they see other people in the game world as somewhat “real” and helpful, people you can actually make friendships with or fall in love with, not “dialog tree” soulless automatons out of a computer game.
The Pathfinder rules have served us well. I could deal with them being a little less complicated – maybe take a half step back towards 2e from 3e – but no bad balance problems. Note that they don’t have a wizard, except for Serpent’s girlfriend Samaritha. Serpent is powerful and his snake Saluthra is super powerful, but he’s a good sport about me enforcing the whole animal intelligence thing on Saluthra; it doesn’t just wade into combat and fight like it’s a PC. When Serpent specifically sics her on someone, she’ll grab them and squeeze them to death; then sometimes it’s hard to coax her off that victim and on to another. Sindawe is impossible to hit with his super-AC, but tends to flurry misses (monk disease). Tommy doesn’t do much damage at all, unless he is sneak attacking, but that’s fine. Wogan casts/heals and uses his guns; he needs another feat or so to get good enough at the guns to be hitting reliably though. He doesn’t channel as much as one would think. Samaritha sometimes does clever things when that’s needed, otherwise she belongs to the “magic missile it until it stops moving” school of thought, which is quite effective on the balance really.
I have set the expectation that my rulings on specific situations trump “what the rulebook says,” and everyone’s not always enthusiastic about it, but I think it is an important driver to the overall feel of the game. I value realistic response over rules and organic over predictable.
And it’s so easy to run 3e and 3.5e adventures with little to no conversion. Rules wonks can be such bitches on forums and whatnot. Treat 3.5e adventures as 1 CR lower and 3e as 2 CRs lower and you’re done; I’ve done it with like ten modules successfully now. I sometimes convert big bosses but mainly that’s because I want to use some specific new cool thing from the Pathfinder rules.
I’ve also used the opportunity to make some new rules. Chases, mass combat, naval combat, gunpowder weapons, Infamy points… I’ve been happy with them.
You’ll notice there’s a lot of sex and violence in the Reavers’ lives. We all watch R-rated movies and so our game is R-rated. I am somewhat concerned by people who are all about Human Centipede but then demand their D&D to be squeaky clean – that seems a bit mental to me. I’m striving to have Reavers qualify to be the next big HBO series! I actually take a lot of inspiration from the TV show Sons of Anarchy for the campaign.
Next session, we will complete the first big plot arc, and along with it the first chapter of Second Darkness (Shadow in the Sky) and the Freeport Trilogy. I have some places I can go from there but I want to cue off the players’ interests. I can head them into the new Serpent’s Skull adventure path, Razor Coast (if Nick Logue ever gets his crap together and gets it to the printer), more Freeport stuff…
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading along. Feel free and chip in below with questions, comments, etc. If you’re one of my players, I hope you’ve been enjoying playing as much as I’ve enjoyed running! You should also feel free to share your likes and/or dislikes about the campaign below.