Hello there readers. Welcome to another Behind the Screens! First off. I have a confession to make to all of you. And that is that I – the writer of a biweekly column dedicated to giving out GMing advice – haven’t actually GM’d a game of Pathfinder in over six months.
What?! How can that be? Whelp. Between moving, getting married, and a promotion at work I just haven’t had much time for hobby stuff. Which includes wrangling players and rolling dice. Bu all that’s changed now! Things have finally started settling down. I’ve got a group of players and we’ve set aside some time and we’re all itching to roll some dice.
While I toyed with the idea of homebrewing a campaign, I eventually settled on running Hell’s Rebels, the (as of now current) Pathfinder Adventure Path set in norther Cheliax wherein the players find themselves at the catalyzing event of the birth of a full on rebellion against the Thriced Damned House of Thrune. I wanted something where the PCs get to play good guys fighting against an obvious evil. Bread and butter type fantasy stuff. And in Hell’s Rebels I got it.
So how what does this have to do with the blog? Well I thought this be a good opportunity to illustrate how I prepare for games and campaigns using Hell’s Rebels as an example. I’ll also aim to provide readers with some ideas and solutions to potential problems when you too eventually run this Adventure Path. At the very least this will serve to help keep me focused during my prep work. So I’m introducing a new type of article, Prep Wit h Me. The goal of which is to help me get my notes in a single place as well as to provide readers with insight as to how I prep games.
So, shall we begin?
First things first. Hell’s Rebels is billed as a classic good vs. evil in an urban setting. The primary backdrop, in so much as has been published, is the metropolitan city of Kintargo in the archduchy of Ravounel (which will become important to the plot later) in the Inner Sea nation of Cheliax. For those of you unfamiliar with Golarion lore, Cheliax was the one-time dominant power in the Inner Sea its rulers claiming a divine mandate bestowed by none other than Aroden, the god of humanity himself. But when Aroden died the nation was plunged into an eighty year civil war. Finally one noble family rose above the rest. The Thrice Damned House of Thrune signed a pact with the Asmodeus, the ruler of Hell, and succeeded at uniting the fractured nation.
This brings us to present day. Cheliax is a nation ruled under an infernal fist. Laws are ruthlessly enforced, rebellions crushed, and dissidents silenced. But this changes suddenly in events that happen just prior to the beginning of the adventure, which catalyze a nation wide lock down of major and potentially seditious cities all across Cheliax. One of these cities is Kintargo where we find our adventure set.
All of this and more can be found in the Adventure Background section of the first book in the Hell’s Rebels AP, In Hell’s Bright Shadow. It’s certainly a must read for anyone looking to run the AP. There are more numerous and relevant details about the adventure there that are a mite beyond the scope of this one post. As soon as I read it I knew that the first step of my prep would be to familiarize myself with Kintargo.
Hell’s Rebels is billed as an urban Adventure Path wit h heavy elements of intrigue, social interaction, and resource management (in the form of fomenting and growing your rebellion). To me, much of that means that successful immersion and believable storybuilding can only happen if I can bring the city of Kintargo to life.
Urban adventures present a whole slew of challenges to both PCs and GMs that aren’t typically found in wilderness or dungeon based adventures. For example, PCs might not be so free to indulge in dangerous behaviors or flashy spell casting. But also, GMs might find difficulty in managing which NPC was at what location and why.
The key to convincingly vibrant cities and towns, for me at least, is two fold. First, is ignore the individual minutiae. It’s easy for a GM to get overwhelmed trying to figure out who lives in what house on which street. We get enough of that headache trying to navigate real life, never mind trying to figure that out in a fantasy world. Instead, focus on generalized regions of your city. Every city, both real and fantastical is broken up into different regions, districts, wards, burrows, etc. that are distinctly different from one another. These distinctions can be financial, commercial, religious, or any combination thereof. Imagine the disparity between Hightown and the Lower Slums, or the Theater and Financial Districts.
Kintargo is divvied up into eight regions: The Castle District, the Greens, Jarvis End, Old Kintargo, Temple Hill, Villegre, and Yolubilis Harbor Each of these regions have about a half page write up in Hell’s Bright Shadow which also includes details on specific locations in each region. We’re going to ignore the specifics for now. Instead, I want to come up with flavor text that describes this region. Something visceral that appeals to the senses. In a dungeon, when the PCs enter a new room, you’ve got to convey what’s in there in 25 words or less. Same thing here. The first time PCs transition from one district to another as they travel. I want to have a bit of text to read them to mark the change.
The second key to a vibrant urban environment is that there’s always something going on. Cities are densely populated. There are a lot of individuals living in very tight confines. There is always something happening to someone somewhere. The potential problem with this is that the GM can lose track of details and players can get overwhelmed with things to keep track of. The goal is to create the believable illusion of hustle and bustle without actually slowing down the game.
Fortunately there’s a trick here. Just as I want a distinct description for each region, it’ll also be useful to have region specific random encounters. This doesn’t have to be combat encounters. It could be something as simple as a mendicant being harassed within a PC’s line of sight. Or a PC witnessing a pickpocket target another NPC. Anything to add depth to the PC’s’ experience as they travel through the city.
I’m going to have to do some more reading into Kintargo before I feel like I’m actually ready to run the first part of the adventure. I better hurry up because we’re supposed to be playing next week. I still plan on documenting they steps I take to prep. And hopefully putting it up here proves beneficial to both readers and myself.
I hope you enjoyed this first installment of Prep With Me. While I’m probably going to be sticking with Hell’s Rebels for the near future, I’d love to hear what you think and what areas you’d want me to cover. Let me know in the comments section below!