Rise of the Runelords had been good fun as well as being a great introduction to running an adventure path, and using the 3.5 + Pathfinder RPG Alpha rules system. I’ll try my best to summarize the problems we ran into, and some possible solutions.
- The rules system’s strengths are not in character development. The mechanics don’t really support things like personality, or ethical and moral dilemmas. On the other hand, the so called combat engine of the system is quite elaborate and supports the kind of game where the character’s combat prowess develops exponentially. The main source of entertainment of character building arises from the existence of a near infinite number of possible power combos. In order to play a game that emphasizes the first kind of character development it should be at the expense of the second kind, ergo, you’ll have to hand waive a lot of the nitty-gritty of the combat engine.
- Group composition is integral to an enjoyable gaming experience, especially when running a pre-constructed module. If you give your players free reign at character creation, you might end up with a group that won’t survive the modules.
- Character backgrounds are essential. The group should have reasons for working together from one adventure to the next. The “a mysterious stranger you met at a tavern hands you a treasure map” -approach just won’t work more than once. Preferably the groups should be constructed with linked backgrounds (how much linking is up to personal tastes), and the adventures themselves should contain numerous character hooks to keep the group motivated and on course.
- Some emphasis should be placed on between-games upkeep. This goes double for long-running campaign, where the players need to be able to backtrack. Otherwise you’ll have the players asking the same questions over and over: “So, who’s this guy again, where did we meet him, and why are we interested in the fate of these villagers?” Regular re-caps of past events, campaign journals, and character bio’s are all great tools for keeping the players invested in the campaign arch.
- You need to work out with your players just what kind of game you’re running. This is called a gamers’ social contract. Write a list of questions and get the group together to discuss. Some possible questions: Is the game about fighting monsters, and building unstoppable killing machines? Or is it about character personalities, and personal odysseys? Is the emphasis on the story or on the character? What kind of power curve do you want in your game? Is there magic and magic items aplenty in your game world, or is magic rare? Is it a sandbox-type game, or are the characters supposed to focus on the main plot-line as much as possible?
- Make sure your group of players gets along and is interested in playing the same kind of game. Your campaign won’t survive if Player One constantly whines about his/her character not being powerful enough, Player Two constantly power games and argues rules issues, Player Three has his character constantly off doing something not related to the main plot the other characters are following, and Player Four thinks Players One, Two, and Three are complete dickwads with whom he/she wouldn’t be caught dead in a public place.
Next up, more campaign stuff.