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Friday, February 8, 2013

The Serpent's Skull and Adventure Paths

"Temple of the Serpent" from the Serpent's Skull AP.
I really dislike this adventure path and for so many reasons that it might be worth it to me to delineate them so I can record my own dissatisfaction as a reminder of what to look for in the future. This also isn't a slam against Paizo, 3E, or the Pathfinder RPG. I'm a fan of all three, so put your swords and shields away please! It actually pains me to continue...

Before I go into more detail about my dissatisfaction with this AP, let me offer some key tips for anyone considering running any sort of adventure path-type product, whether authored by Paizo or a 3PP. First, check their forums to see what issues other people are having with the product from a practical stand point. Had I done this, I would have learned that *at least* the third part of the AP is considered unfinished (in general).

If you're still on board with the AP after checking the forums, I highly recommend reading the entire path before committing to it. This is something I've had difficulty doing because we're talking about reading 600 hundred pages, if you read all of the bonus material as well. Who has time for that these days? Anyway this also doesn't fit the "serialized" subscription model Paizo has set up, so if you're a subscriber (I'm not because I want to pick and chose), you'd either have to wait 6 months to review a brand new path (assuming there are 6 parts, which is the usual) or pick a path that's already complete. Otherwise you're trusting that the publisher's next issue is worth playing. Honestly, you can *usually* trust your favorite brand. The Serpent's Skull is an exception...

There's also another few good reasons to read ahead. Even though you're buying a product of this type to save time, you'll still have to prepare for each session and knowing what epic end the path has in store will allow you to decide if that's the direction you want your campaign to go. APs also seem to have a lot of "filler" encounters and by knowing ahead of time what those are you can trim out non-essential details or stuff you just flat out don't like. This also let's you know where to put in your own player-personalized campaign or plot material. Replacing a bad guy with a player's misguided cousin can make players feel more a part of their world, increasing the depth of play. They'll be more engaged if the campaign has that sort of depth. Finally, you'll know what the balance is between combat and roleplay encounters if you read ahead. If you prefer more roleplay, you can reduce or replace whatever encounters don't fit your vision or style of play.

Abandoned wealthy merchant's
mansion in the lost Azlanti city of Savith-Yhi.
Be aware that APs are usually designed for a certain advancement level, usually moderate, middle or whatever it's called (lol), and a certain number of characters, usually four (aside: which is sort of dumb because I don't think I've ever run a campaign with that small a party and older versions of "D&D" were meant to run larger groups. using a party of four as the base is a relatively recent idea. I've heard that Mr. Gygax, ran games with 20+ people and a lot of the older AD&D modules were typically designed for 6-8 player characters. Of course, we can't please everyone... my optimal party size is 6, including NPCs.). If you play the fast advancement track and/or have more players, again you'll want to trim away some of the fat from the AP or add some opponents. The CRs are precalculated for a party of four though so keep that in mind. By the way, this information is excluded from the pages of all APs because, the logic being, why print that same information over and over?

Finally, if you use dungeon tiles or other special effects, consider the maps in the AP and whether you have the materials you need to represent the maps they present. If you use a plain old vinyl mat or game paper, consider whether you can draw what the AP has in store. Very often I find that the flashy garbage around a lot of the maps in APs makes it harder to translate during play, but then I prefer function over form whereas most people seem to want more flash than function.

That's it for now... I'll decide whether to layout my dissatisfaction with this particular AP in blog form, if I get any responses...

4 comments:

Dithering Fool said...

Hehe...I was looking forward to your "review". I'm a freak Paizo fan and Charter subscriber to most of their product lines but I'm also very realistic - I haven't found a single Adventure Path I would run As Is (and the closest would be The Savage Tide if you count the Original Three). So, at least I'm curious what have found...

Richard A. Hunt said...

It's funny you mention the Savage Tide AP because I totally love it! I Have that one sitting in notebooks on my bookshelf with the intent to painstakingly convert and run it one day. I thought Serpent's Skull would be very much like it, but it's a far cry from it, unfortunately. Sad really because Serpent's Skull had such potential. I see it as a victim of publishing constraints, timelines and trying to do too much with too little. I would have been far more interested to see Paizo republish Savage Tide for Pathfinder than an expensive Rise of the Runelords hardcover, but then they can't because it's D&D IP.

Obiri said...

We played the first two parts more or less as is, and then a heavily modified third part to end the AP. I still think the first part is great, the second part is ok as written but can easily be made great. Part three is a total loss. There is nothing exactly wrong with parts 4-6 but I always find the second half of APs to be weaker. The stat blocks take up so much space it gets harder to squeeze other stuff in. The competition and alliances built up during part 2 kinda fall by the way side. The final battle was pretty good though.

Richard A. Hunt said...

I'm working on my next post, but the first adventure is a gem and stands up alone as a really good adventure. I thought the second part was too dry, dull, and boring. Total filler. Part three is the weakest and part four seems like more of the same, although the opponents do get more exciting. I'm with you on the faction stuff. It's barely there... the players just don't care about factions.