Welcome to Guidance, Private Sanctuary’s source for tips and techniques for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, written by Everyman Gamer Alexander Augunas. Today, we’re going to be talking about parallel storylines.
So I gotta be honest, folks. My brain is shot. Over the past week, I’ve had to survive lower back pain, a developing sinus infection, crippling writer’s block, and the most infuriating Presidental election that I have ever seen. My brain is shot and drained.
So today, I’m going to share with you the only GOOD part of the past week—the Pathfinder campaign that my buddy Justin GMs once every month or two. I promise that there’s a relevant point for both players and GMs, but this was also a REALLY great session and I want to indulge in it to get my mind off of the crippling anxiety that is surely tearing me apart mentally and physically.
So, let’s get started!
Justin’s jungle campaign takes place in a homebrew campaign setting that he’s been writing and growing for the past two decades or so. Our main characters are Kyr’shin Yilenzo, Dyne, Saladin, and Sirrix.
- Kyr’shin (Alex): A kitsune fighter/cavalier who grew up in a decadent elven city. Although kitsune mostly live in the jungles surrounding the equator in Justin’s setting, Kyr’shin’s parents
stowed him away on a northbound ship in infancy and he was adopted by elven aristocrats on account of his exotic he looks. Unlike most warrior types, Kyr’shin is quick-witted and has a silver tongue that has helped him aid a generations-long blood feud. Currently, he is the king of our PC settlement, which consists of a weird mix of hobgoblins, elves, kitsune, and OTHER (with most of OTHER being humans). Despite his flirtatious ways, Kyr’shin is not in a significant relationship.
- Dyne (Adam): An elven magi who met Kyr’shin when the kitsune was apprenticing as a blacksmith under his “brother.” Dyne comes from a nation where young elves and dwarves are mystically paired with one another in a process called “twinning,” and he is the heir to a powerful family relic called a black blade. Dyne’s sword is inhabited by the consciousness of a copper dragon named Hrothgar, who’s purpose is currently unknown. Dyne is a glut for knowledge and lore, especially involving the arcane and the mysteries of the world. Dyne is married to Sister, an ancient elven druid whose soul was bound into an ooze. Dyne figured out how to save her with Sirrix’s help.
- Saladin (Tim): The inquisitor Saladin is a member of a special subrace of half-elf that is entirely mercantile. They live in giant cities on the backs of massive sea turtles, and they largely control maritime trade. After founding their kingdom, Kyr’shin and Dyne made a number of trade deals with Saladin’s people, and Saladin has come to protect his kind’s investments in Kyr’shin by defending both Kyr’shin and the settlement and influencing policy in a way that increases the settlement’s wealth and influence.
- Sirrix (GM NPC): Sirrix is a half-elf of the same race as Saladin, and was Kyr’shin and Dyne’s first contact with that race. He was a ship oracle who has since become shorebound, meaning that he is bound to a specific settlement (Kyr’shin’s kingdom) as a symbol of ongoing relations between nation and half-elf. Sirrix is extremely powerful—he is a conduit of positive energy the likes of which has never been seen before in the world. For storyline reasons, Sirrix and his wife were not present in the story.
Currently, Kyr’shin, Dyne, and Saladin are at a wedding that Kyr’shin accidentally consented to. Local elves in the region have a megaraptor ridding tradition, and as a cavalier with a tribe of jungle elves under his rule Kyr’shin wanted in on it. However, the right to ride a raptor is available only to tribe members, so Kyr’shin’s representative took his claims as a desire to officially join the tribe, and the only way for non-elves to do that is through marriage. So Kyr’shin took part in a duel with an elven monk named Gea whom he has had contact with throughout his time in the region and ultimately beat her. Barely. Kyr’shin was staggered at 0 hit points, he attacked her and knocked her unconscious with his attack, and then he fell unconscious from taking the action on account of having 0 hit points. When he woke up, he found himself at his own wedding, which apparently EVERYONE knew about except for him!
Justin ran the wedding as a social encounter, using the influence rules from Ultimate Intrigue. There were a very large number of guests, and each of the three of us (myself, Tim, and Adam) had our own unique list of objectives that we had to accomplish during the wedding. We also had two actions each (a “move” and a “standard”) as well as some support from our cohorts. (We play using the “Leadership for everyone” rules that I wrote in Everyman Gaming LLC’s Ultimate Charisma.)
The goals were as follows:
- Kyr’shin (Alex): Jungle elf society is matiarchial, and had Kyr’shin lost the combat he would have had to marry Gea with no questions asked on her terms. Since I won, however, he could accept or refute the proposal and negotiate with her as he desired. My goal was A) figure out all I could about Jungle Elf wedding traditions and cultural acceptable and B) to try and build inroads between my kingdom, the larger jungle elf nation, and the representatives of a human nation that had shown up at the wedding.
- Dyne (Adam): Dyne has been researching this extremely powerful elven wizard who lived in the area thousands of years ago known as the Wet King. He has left ruins of his dealings across the jungle, and Dyne wants to understand as much about the Wet King and his secrets as possible, and the wedding has brought a number of extremely old elven tribal leaders to the area, as well as learned scholars from the human lands. Dyne needed to A) learn as much as he could about the Wet King and B) try to discover more about the strange ruins that dotted the area.
- Saladin (Tim): Word had gotten around about the wedding (even if Kyr’shin himself was oblivious), and a gang of racist pirates learned of it. The pirates are all about purity of blood, and they hate demi-races—including half-elves like Saladin. Saladin’s people have a “kill on sight” policy regarding these pirates, but Saladin has learned that they are planning to infiltrate the wedding to prevent the possibility of any heirs being born as a result of Kyr’shin and Gea’s marriage (despite the fact that no one knows if kitsune and elves can interbreed in this campaign setting). To that end, Saladin has to A) “protect his people’s assets,” aka Kyr’shin, by preventing the pirates from either castrating or outright murdering him and B) gather enough evidence to indict the people perpetrating the plot.
We also had the following help:
- Shira (Alex): Kyr’shin’s cohort, Shira, prowled the wedding grounds, secretly moving information back and forth between Kyr’shin and Dyne (and later Saladin once he revealed the plot to Kyr’shin).
- Sister (Adam): Dyne’s wife mostly kept herself busy with keeping the revelries going and keeping tabs on high-interest people throughout the wedding grounds. This enabled us to make a free discovery check each round to figure out where people are and to identify him, which Shira passed around via her network.
As you can see, it was a very cool, very complex set up that was a LOT of fun. While I won’t bore you with a turn-by-turn recounting of everything that happened (this took roughly 16 glorious hours of gameplay across two sessions), I will give you the highlights and the “end game.”
- Kyr’shin met with most of the people in Gea’s bridal party and learned that while she had political power to gain, she genuinely liked Kyr’shin and wanted to marry him in order to help him further his own goals in the region. By tribal law, a non-Jungle elf can’t rule a jungle elf tribe, so marrying Kyr’shin would make her a tribal leader while giving him a more legitimate claim to the Jungle elven sovereignty. He met with many different people who gave him pros and cons for marrying her, the most powerful being, “You can’t grow old with her,” and “You deserve a proper queen that you can spend the rest of your lives with.” In a plot twist, Kyr’shin’s adoptive sister showed up at the wedding and pointed out that he was restricting himself to Jungle Elven marriage traditions, and technically he lie to everyone and say that whatever he wanted to do was a kitsune marriage tradition (since as far as anyone knows they don’t exist yet). Kyr’shin ended up telling the elves that in kitsune marriages, husband and wife sit down in private and have a long talk about their relationship before deciding on whether or not to get marriage. Boom, instant tradition! Ultimately, Kyr’shin and Gea decided to call each other their “second husband” and “second wife,” basically playing off the marriage as “Political friends with benefits” so they would both be free to marry someone who could cement their legacy via a proper heir. Kyr’shin also made tremendous inroads with the other kingdom through diplomacy and a bit of staged oration—he counter-intuitively fights kitsune slavery by taking part in the slave trade, which has given him a reputation as a slaver in this other nation, and he worked hard to try and state his argument. He ended up winning that case with some very tact diplomacy. (I rolled a 35 on one such check!)
- Dyne met a number of wizened folk, including an old jungle elf granny that apparently is somehow immune to all forms of psychological attacks. (We joked that she was immune to giving any F.) Dyne ended up learning that while most people don’t believe the Wet King ever existed (he was very much a boogeyman figure to most people), there are strange consistencies in all of the different stories that point to some sort of corruption that might exist. Also, the one person who did acknowledge the Wet King’s existence (granny elf) warned Dyne of the dangers that he was investigating. Ultimately, however, we think Dyne might have accidentally gave more information to other people than he got in return.
- Saladin managed to hunt down the pirates and foil their plans. He discovered that they had infiltrated the camp of the human guests and have established a number of contingency plans to assassin or subdue Kyr’shin before the wedding’s end. However, Saladin was being stalked spy-versus-spy style, and while Saladin avoided capture or combat, his adversary warned the pirates of Saladin’s presence. As a result, the pirates dropped the nonlethal plans and instead created a contact poison that would be scrawled on a contract and delivered when Kyr’shin touched the paper. Saladin intervened and ultimately stopped the assassin from killing Kyr’shin by striking him so hard that the assassin spilled the poison all over himself. Then, he and Dyne managed to save Kyr’shin and the diplomats from death by exploding powder keg. (The fact that Adam had hydraulic push prepared BOGGLES my mind!)
All in all, a very awesome game!
There is a LOT of good tips and advice that you can learn from watching Justin run a game (or reading about him running a game), but in this instance, the one idea that I think you REALLY want to take away is the concept of “the looking glass.” In our game, we all sat around a table and were aware of what the others were doing. I knew that Tim was actively trying to save Kyr’shin’s life, and as weird as it sounds it was a lot of fun to watch someone ELSE talk about my character and interacting with others in ways that affected my character without my ability to be involved. It was a cool moment because I stopped feeling like a player and started feeling like a spectator—it was a moment that normally would be reserved for NPCS. Heroes go and try to stop the NPC King from being assassinated. Except it wasn’t an NPC this time, it was ME. And I couldn’t participate because if I let on that I knew what was happening, we wouldn’t have been able to stop the assassins because they wouldn’t make their move.
It was FUN. It might have been one of the most fun experiences I have ever had in a roleplaying game, the moment of just letting my character go and watching someone else interact with him in ways I had never expected.
When you roleplay with people that you’ve known for years, using characters with developed backstories and motivations, and allow one another to freely make decisions that can have major repercussions for your character, great things happen at the table. It’s a lot like the, “Give GMs the freedom of tell you what your character did for a small period of time,” experience that Strange Aeons offers. The willing and ability to share the agency between PCs is what makes roleplaying a shared story experience, and what ultimately makes the most powerful stories between friends and characters.
Alexander “Alex” Augunas has been playing roleplaying games since 2007, which isn’t nearly as long as 90% of his colleagues. Alexander is an active freelancer for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and is best known as the author of the Pact Magic Unbound series by Radiance House. Alex is the owner of Everyman Gaming, LLC and is often stylized as the Everyman Gamer in honor of Guidance’s original home. Alex also cohosts the Private Sanctuary Podcast, along with fellow blogger Anthony Li, and you can follow their exploits on Facebook in the 3.5 Private Sanctuary Group, or on Alex’s Twitter, @AlJAug.