1. - Top - End - #226
    Ogre in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2008

    Default Re: DM's campaign log- Wrath Of The Righteous (PF & spoliers!)

    In this post I'll try to discuss some issues that relate to the campaign, our own experience in it, and potential future plans, both in the campaign, and in our gaming group. I will divide this to several sections
    In this post I'll write about:
    1. Why did we stop?
    2. Challenges in running and playing the campaign.
    In the next post I'll write about:
    3. My rough sketches as to running the rest of the campaign.
    4. Our group's plans for the future.

    So... Why did we stop? What went wrong?

    So... Our group have stopped playing the campaign. We might continue some day (All were quite invested) but there is a good chance that we won't as well. Checking the first post, It was written in December 2013, so we have invested a significant amount of time and effort into this, and for the most part it was great fun! So what happened?

    Well, running (and playing) this campaign proved challenging on several levels. Through the campaign some of these were touched upon, and some I realized in our discussion in the two weeks after the last session. I have had some time to think of these, and i will try to summarize. I think the difficulties in the campaign stem from a few sources:
    Our group's composition, circumstances
    The ages of our group members range between 35 to 40+. This means we are all quite busy- families,careers, jobs, and other projects we're involved in. Which means we meet about once every 4-5 weeks or so. (though when we meet, we play for 8-10 hours, and we PLAY!). this has several influences: First, people forget stuff- mostly long term story lines, more minor NPCs, or even their character capabilities (Spells, powers, magic items, feats and such). This can lead to frustration, but our group has dealt with this in many ways, to a partial success.

    Yet for the DM in this case, this is tougher. I like DMing, and my group likes me DMing, but for the past several years, my real life has become more and more busy. I was a med student, but now I'm nearing the end of my internship, and will start my residency. I've been involved in some volunteer projects, and more. We tried different approaches in the past trying to deal with this- Julian's player DMed for awhile (But he got too bust as well), We tried FATE core (A simpler game from the mechanics perspectives), but didn't quite manage to understand it yet, and so we decided to try using someone's else work- a published campaign. My initial thought was: "Hey, someone already did all the writing, stats, treasure and such, I'll just need to read a bit before we play, and that's it!" But, as Andera's player warned me- Running a published adventure actually requires MORE time in order to run well (I'll touch on that later). Though I did love the process of figuring out the designers intentions, finding a way to better them to fit my group, and so on, it did take a big toll,in terms of time spent planning ,of effort, and though a lot of it was fun, a lot of it was frustrating. As we ventured into higher levels, and into less well designed portions of the AP (Again, I'll touch in it later) The burden has become more and more...

    And I've met a woman nearly a year ago, and fell deeply in love, and we moved in together, plan on getting married, and she is pregnant. that and starting a residency, means my own time slims more and more, and I can devote less and less time for the party. My group used to laugh that I always over planned, and that they never came close to the end of my prepared materials. in the past year they started getting real close. In the last session they did. I didn't even have Melazmera's treasure, barely a hastily scratched map of her cave, in case they come in. Other than ideas, I didn't have anything in terms of game mechanics actually planned for the mine.

    And I got less and less time to develop and implement ideas that my players wanted to explore, from Sena's interaction with the gods, his vision and Arulashee, Julian's rise to deity-hood, or Andera's growing character. And yet, I didn't want to disappoint my players. I liked playing with them, giving them a good session, seeing them happy, having fun. Yet there were signs of burnout... usually after DMing a session, I was exhausted,but felt elated, but in the few instances where things didn't go well, and the party left unsatisfied, I felt utterly drained.

    In the discussion in emails after the session, Sena's player said he'd quit the group (Due to reason of play style being problematic with the adventure, I'll get to that), At first I was upset, and wanted to find a way to solve this, but a part of me was relieved... A part of me longed to stop DMing,to rest for awhile. But I was hesitant to disappointing the group. Luckily, I have great players, and better friends. Julian's player (Who is quite savvy about people) felt what I was going through, and talked with me, with the others and at the end we decided that mostly for my sake, the groups sake, and some other problems, that we will stop here, and change the system, and change the DM! I took a bit of time off, and Andera's player ran an introduction adventure to the group in Shadowrun, which went fantastic! This went quite well, and I joined a session after. Tell the truth? it's great relief to me, and I have more time to breath, and enjoy, and so does the group.

    Group's play style vs. Running an Adventure Path
    This is the first time we ran an adventure path. Yet after conquering Drezen, some of the party started having new projects, new ideas, things they wanted to explore. Be it from Sena's many conversations, interactions, and his vision for the future, Julian's Sleepless eye, or ascension to godhood, or even Andera's interaction with tieflings. Yet, I couldn't quite find a decent way to put these in the context of the campaign, as the campaign NEEDED TO GO THIS WAY, and the characters more personal goals needed to be put aside, or downplayed for this to happen. Now, some groups are more fine with this, but at least two of my players (Sena and Julian) got frustrated more and more, about their core issues not being addressed. I think this is a problem with most APs, who have to deal with more general groups, but for my particular group this was a big problem.

    Oddly enough, in previous campaigns, where there was no strict PATH, we felt far more at ease to explore the characters own goals, motivations and such. But when there was an adventure path, Andera and Mad Dog's player seem to desired more to move the campaign along, to proceed on it's path. This was a goal unto itself- to finish the campaign and the main story. This caused some friction within the group, which I've touched upon at times. The need to adhere to the AP just didn't fit with my groups play style.

    Campaign design problems
    I took a lot of effort to redesign stuff, which might have been avoided in a better designed product. I'd like to note right here, that I think some of the problems are inevitable when designing APs (I'll touch on that later), and that i really appreciate and commend Paizo's stuff for the work they did. Still, some things either could be better designed, or didn't fit my group. I'll touch on these later, when talking about challenges running this campaign.

    Long pauses, infrequent sessions
    Due to our ages and busy schedule, we met rarely. This meant that when people did come to play, they needed their "Gaming dose". I've talked about this a bit before, but designing such session is quite different from designing weekly meetings, since each session needs to provide a full enough experience, and the "dose" until next time. People come with some expectations, and a want for escapism. If that is not meet (and it means different things to different people), then the player gets frustrated, and the experience drags on till the next session, which is a long way off. This means that a session played mostly "On the way to somewhere", that doesn't get the players a feel of competence, and of some closure, often ends up as a not successful session. but this is a lesson that took ae some time to learn, and it is quite hard to implement, mostly in the terms of a long ongoing story, with goals quite different apart. Our group probably needs shorter, more tangible, more accessible goals, and resolutions, that can be done in 1 session.

    Challenges running the campaign

    I'm talking about more general challenges, not strictly ones for my group. I'll talk about 4 layers here: Running a Paizo AP, running a high level game, running a game with mythic rules, and running this specific AP- Wrath of The Righteous.

    Running a Paizo AP
    I'll start with saying that this is the first Paizo AP I've ran, and I've only read some others, and talked about others with other forumists and gamists. I haven't ran any other modules or campaigns of other sources as well, so this may not be true of other material.
    Paizo APs usually cater for a group of 4 players, with low- mid optimization level. They do try to give focus on a specific theme for a campaign, and they divide their campaigns to about 6 modules, each spanning about 3 levels or so, give or take. They do seem to pose some very specific problems though:
    1. As a DM, you are basically running someone's else material, which means you are nto well familiar with it, nor the design purposes always. As no group is like the other, this means that except for very rare cases, you ALWAYS have to adjust the AP to your group. This may mean little tweaks, or larger ones, but rarely you just run the AP exactly as written.
    2. Lack of long term continuity and themes: This stems from different writers writing different parts, with a different focus, and different ideas. This also stems from the fact that the modules are also meant to be potnetially played on their own. This leads to a significant lack of inter connection between modules, or keeping major themes going. There are many examples in this campaign:
    - The 4 major NPCs of the first module get more and more downplayed as the campaign progresses, with later designers almost writing them off.
    - No real buildup for major antagonists (Vorlesh appears briefly in the first module, and then as one battle in the end? The Major opponent of the campaign? Really?)
    - Factions and accomplishments get forgotten/ trivialized when inconvenient:
    We saved Kenabres! Ok, time to move ahead.
    We conquered Drezen! Well, now others rule it, go back to dungeon delving!
    We rescued Arulashee, which is built to be a romantic ally! Well, she leaves you on the next module.
    We made A demon lord ally! Yeah, forget about her...
    It takes a real hard effort to build enough consistency and continuity for players who want it.
    3. Many parts are railroaded: Yora touched upon this in another thread, but most of Paizo's modules have a very strict order of things that happen, with only very small places that can be more freely played, and then with quite... crappy support. The ruins under Kenabres have ONE path. The road to Drezen has ONE road. and so on... More then that though, as the modules all assume that the game will progress one way, and demand success at previous efforts. This leaves very little, if any, wiggle room. In our Campaign this mostly became evident after conquering Drezen. The party had a base, with resources, people and more. They had plans, but the modules basically had their idea of what the PCs should be doing, which really didn't fit most.
    4. A big problem for our play style, and that of quite a few others I've talked with, is that we have little time for play, and so we value it, and like things to matter. Many of the modules seemed to have quite a great deal of "filler encounters"- which means just battle encounters, usually with little actual threat, just for the sake of earning XP. They aren't important for plot development, they aren't really challenging, not even interesting. Just... Fodder battle XP. A certain kind of play style promotes this, even benefits from this, but not ours.

    Running a high level game

    We never before reached beyond level 12/13 in previous campaigns, and even then it felt to us like this was quite epic already, and heavy magic effects were already evident. I've heard the claim that high level games tend to breakdown or lag, and this in some way proved true with us as well. In the later parts, battles dragged on considerably. But more than that- with the vast options (Mostly of the casters), Planning a suitable challenge became quite difficult .The Modules didn't deal with this well, as it seemed that they basically continued to play practically the same game (Quests to reach a place, find something/ kill something/ save something), but put quite railroady limitations on the high level magic that enabled passing these problems. And the party still felt like "fetch boys"... At these high levels, the game itself should feel... different. Maybe it's just our group, but the game got very complicated rules wise, and very lethal as well... Which we don't quite like, as coming back from death feels like it cheapens the challenge. (Both Mad Dog and Sena wished to quit playing their characters after dying, but ended up to keep playing, due to requests of the party).

    Running a Mythic game
    Our experience with mythic is... odd. The mythic rules change the game, mostly the ability of casters to cast any spell on their list, and various other powers (Like Mad Dog's combos that made him a crit monster, or Andera's ability of undetection, which basically made him nearly impossible to hit). These abilities makes challenging players far more difficult. The first instance was in the trap room in Drezen. "Magical poison? Wait, I got just the spell for that". I think it quite bogged down the casters creativity, as later on,they just kept pouring through books to find the perfect spell for each situation, and didn't quite think with the tools they allready had. It makes the game very hard to handle.

    I'd like to point out a few of the abilities that seemed very themed for flavor, but had deep roleplay and campaign implications. Mainly the ability to become divine entities (Forgot it's name), and Sena's "Beyond Morality" ability. Sure, these can be played for mechanical benefits (Beyond Morality was SUPER effective in this campaign), but they also entirely change what the campaign, and the PCs are about. The ability to create legendary items/ artifacts also had great potential, and Chandi was starting to become an interesting minor character, and in ways developed Andera quite a lot. Thing is, These are usually meant to be (In my opinion), things the character develops into for a long time, and something that is supposed to be integral to the campaign design, and character design. But with mythic? "hey, it's part of the rules. It's an ability", which made it both unexpected, and felt like it should be a viable option. It felt odd though.

    Also an odd observation- the "universal path" abilities usually had more use, and more impact on the campaign than the path specific abilities. (Other than the signature abilities).

    Mythic also tends to vastly increase the speed of leveling. Why? Well, the characters have power beyond their level, and so the DM either lets them steam roll everything, or they upgrade the challenges, which grant more XP, to lower levels, which makes them level faster (Usually also gaining mythic tiers by trials), face even tougher challenges, and so on... The speed which we leveled felt at least to me and some players quite dazzling. You haven't even gotten used to all of the names of the abilities of the previous level, and you leveled again!

    In short, Mythic play to my opinion is intended for truly epic sounding games, tremendous stakes, but require very skilled DMs, not for every one.

    Wrath of The Righteous Campaign
    I have ambiguous feelings about the campaign. I think the basic concepts were quite amazing, quite inspiring, and a could at both be played as simple "good vs. eviiiilll!" or as something deeper. But, I think they fail at execution of many of their wonderful concepts. A few main problems, not covered in the "Running a Paizo AP":
    1. For a campaign that speak of mythic and epic deeds, they seem to coddle, protect and make sure the party succeeds, which... bugs me. From making the Gray Garrison a joke, Making Vorlesh feel like a moron when she fails to kill them (Note: I suggest not even putting her there. The players kept feeling smug about that for the entire campaign. Her first impression? A failure.), making Nurah so easy to spot, making Drezen defenses laughable, as well as Staunton Vhane, Minhago and more main adversaries, I've allready talked at length about Nocticula, and so on... I have no problems with the players feeling bad ass, but if you coddle the mall the way, some of the taste is lost, at least to us.
    2. Beyond the second module, the AP seems like it was not written with Mythic rules in mind. from the CRs (When the rules themselves note that the tiers count half their levels towards the party's APL), soem ability to replace a lost mythic PC (Since the AP links the mythic power to the singular event at the end of the first module). Actually ,other than throwing enemies with mythic abilities themselves at a time, the modules don't really deal with the PCs being different from others... They become something else, not just "stronger heroes"... They become mythic and... that's it. No other indication that this is a major part of the campaign, their very nature,their gift... This is a BIG miss in the planning...
    3. I feel that other than the second module, where the party leads an army, they are frankly quite left out of the major war... Up until a bit in the last module, the AP goes out of it's way to provide them tasks that are not related to the direct war effort. It's not that the task are not important, but the Player's guide, and the entire history sparks ideas of being in the military, fighting a war, and more. Heck, 3 out of the 5 characters built their backgrounds with that in mind! (Andrew, Sean and Andera)
    4. The campaign tries to promote a lot of their additional rules for "mini games" (Down time, exploration, mass combat), but does it quite poorly, and then neglects almost all of it. Which stings... like bad form. Out of these the mas combat, along with the previous rules, feels the worst. You put such a big emphasis on this in the second module, PCs expend resources on such abilities (Skills at the least), and even promise to have a big battle at the end module, only to... not have it?
    5. The campaign traits. I've talked about this at length before, but unlike other APs, here the traits are tied to specific mythic paths, and thus tie to very specific sets of classes, which kind of forces a trait on a character, not to mention forcing the story on her, which is bad enough. More than that, the resolutions in the 3rd module are... sorry, just plain bad. They feel like the writer there was forced to write resolutions for them, and came out with half baked ideas for each. This was not done well...


    Enough for now... Gotta go. next are rough plans I had for the rest of the campaign (Including major changes), and what otr gaming group plans on playing next, the changes and shifts we've made.
    Last edited by Kol Korran; 2016-02-27 at 12:54 PM.

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