Well, we’ve been enjoying the Paizo Publishing Adventure Paths quite a bit. We played through Rise of the Runelords and Curse of the Crimson Throne. Unfortunately, there we got stalled. We have a large extended group of gamers and there are other campaigns underway with some of the same people, and so Legacy of Fire and Council of Thieves were already being used. We evaluated Second Darkness but pretty much hated the latter parts of it. Earlier Dungeon Magazine-era APs like Savage Tide and Age of Worms had been read or played or run by people in the group as well.
So I decided so step in and run one myself, cobbling an AP together from various bits. An aside on terminology – a “campaign” is any game with the same characters progressing through multiple adventures, but those don’t have to be linked. The meaning behind calling this an Adventure Path is the assumption that there will be an overarching plotline that covers all levels of play.
Below, I go into some detail on how I put together and ran this campaign. The Net is full of GM advice and stuff but I thought it would be interesting to get a longitudinal look “behind the scenes” all the way through a real campaign.
I knew I wanted to do something pirate-themed. My first 3e campaign was a pirate campaign set in Green Ronin’s Freeport and we all loved it; that gaming group, Wulf’s Animals, is still active in Memphis, TN to this day! I mentioned “Pathfinder Pirates” to the group and got good response. So I went off and came up with two different coherent options to run by them. One was a traditional pirate campaign, somewhat sandboxey, with an equal focus on the life of piracy and more organized adventures. The second was an Eastern pirate, or “wako,” campaign, where we use Asian races and creatures, with more of a supernatural spirit-hunter aspect to it.
After discussion, we went with Western pirates set in Golarion, but there was strong enough response to the plot of the Wako campaign I decided to port it over, after a fashion.
I wanted to run one of favorite tones, the gritty, realistic, “don’t know who to trust” kind of campaign. I am a big ol’ simulationist at heart and like a world that feels like a real world where people act like real people. I polled the old Wulf’s Animals players about what their best memories were about the Freeport campaign I ran and here’s some of their comments:
“The best part about Freeport was your DMing and keeping us guessing as to who was our friend and who wasn’t. Keep up the mystery.”
“…the paranoia you inspired was probably the best part of the campaign.”
To have something to work with, I took the first chapter of Second Darkness, with its grimy pirate city of Freeport, and really played up the underworld aspect of it, taking a good bit of inspiration from The Sopranos. Riddleport’s a cold, grimy place where everyone has a cold, grimy agenda and you can only trust them inasmuch as your agendas align.
This also provides a nice contrast when the group finally goes pirate and hits the sea and its more straightforward challenges. Then as you go back and forth between city and sea, the profit and contacts (and intrigue) to be found in town are balanced against the freedom of a ship, a sword, and an ocean to ply them upon.
Besides normal character backgrounds and the character questionnaires below, I wanted to proactively hook the PCs into the plotlines and make sure each player was getting the kinds of things they like in a game. So I asked each player to email me privately “Three things you want to see in the campaign, and I’ll make sure to get in 2 of the 3.” What kind of things? Anything. Specific plots, locales, items, powers, whatever. I got loads of great input, much of which I was already planning to include or was easy to include. Responses ranged from “Flying mounts!” to “My character gets to take bloody revenge on people from his past” to “Nothing taken from those damn Pirates of the Caribbean movies.”
I decided to put together a proper player’s guide, like the Paizo APs do. Here it is! It include chargen rules, what bodies of rules are acceptable, and has a setting briefing.
- Reavers on the Seas of Fate Player’s Guide (15 page pdf)
Cannon and firearms (which do exist in Golarion) clearly needed to play a part in a pirate campaign, but I was dissatisfied with the existing rules to that end. So I did a lot of research and read through pretty much every existing set of d20 firearms rules and came up with this.
- Gunpowder in Golarion (4 page pdf)
Each player does some amount of character background on their own, but I thought I’d help them out and focus their minds by sending out a short character questionnaire as homework to get them to think through their character’s life and personality more thoroughly.
- Character Questionnaire (1 page pdf)
I designed my own take on “action points” – for this campaign, they are called Infamy Points, and are pretty juiced up but rare. I bought some plastic pirate coins that I give to the players when they earn one.
- Infamy Points (2 page pdf)