The always-open tables of Pathfinder Society are great for helping players get into games more accessibly, but a lot of that ease comes from limitations—limitations that are less prevalent in an Adventure Path. Today we look at ways to maximize the advantage of a more consistent party composition.
Dear DovahQueen: I’m a long time Society GM but about to sink my teeth into my first ap. Any tips????—Anonymous GM
Dear Anime Moose: I think you might be better prepared for the AP than you realize. For me, I spent the first 10+ years of my tabletop roleplaying experience running and playing in only homebrewed adventures. The idea of running a premade adventure was quite daunting to me since I’d never really seen one and I was afraid I’d allow it to go way off the rails. It wasn’t until I started running with the Society crowd before I started to understand the best practices for published adventures. Since you already have a ton of time GMing for Society, I’m willing to bet that you’re going to have a remarkably easy time making the switch. The basic “meat and potatoes” for the game is stuff you’re already intimately familiar with; you should have no trouble describing scenes from the page and guiding your players through dialogue. The only “tips” I think might help you are ones that decidedly do not work in Society play.
For starters, at a PFS table, you kinda never know who you’re gonna get since scenarios and party-comps change every session. Since an AP is going to last many months, at the minimum, you’ve got more wiggle room to make some interesting magic happen. When your players are making characters, ask them to go just a little bit deeper than race and class. I like to “suggest” that my PCs each have some kind of romantic connection and some legitimate source of income in the starter city. I find that asking them to lay down roots makes it a bit easy to directly involve their backstories in the narrative. Sure, some players are going to be invested in saving the day because “it’s the right thing to do,” but more players are going to be on the edge of their seats when their 5-month pregnant wife lives in the city too. But don’t stop there! Flip through the book a little bit and familiarize yourself with the major NPCs. Then, give your players a watered-down description of some of them with the intent of having preestablished relationships. For example, if Yarrick Orkslayer’s uncle (who raised him till he was 18) turns out to be the BBG, he’s gonna be a bit more invested in the story than if he was merely mix up in the current events.
As the game goes forward, don’t be afraid to tweak stuff if you feel like your players would like it. Society gives players and characters the downtime in between adventures to purchase gear relevant to their builds. Characters don’t always get that luxury in an AP so you may have to pay a bit more attention to the kind of gear it intends to hand them. If the martial specializes in reach weapons or something, and the game is handing out +1 Longswords like Halloween candy, don’t be afraid to throw a +1 Longspear in the pile. That’s just for starters though; if you really wanna make the game last in their memory, make some kind of unique item after an important scene to reward them with. One of my players really invested heavily in the defense of their home time. When the orc army finally hit the walls of Barding, they were met traps of flaming pitch and impressive hidden formations at their flanks. In a battle that was supposed to be a pyrrhic victory for the town, barely any of the defenders lost their lives. For his cunning and bravery in defense of the town, the Lord ordered the weapons and armor of the invading horde melting down and forged into a Bastard Sword (since it’s what he specialized in). He was presented with “The Blade of Barding” in a big ceremony and it was described as being “of exceptional quality despite the obvious inconsistencies of the metal sources from which it was forged.”
When possible, I’d say do that kinda stuff because it helps a player feel like their specific and unique choice of actions mattered. Winning is all good and cool, but winning your way feels way cooler.
If you’re not playing at a game shop, I’m gonna always recommend you experiment with playlists of appropriate music. It doesn’t work well for every group, and it doesn’t work well in a chaotic-audio environment, but if you’re able to maintain control of the surrounding levels, it can really enhance the mood of your game. I like to have a baseline ambiance known for each location and a little bit more dramatic something ready for each unique scene. For me, I don’t much like to use battle music, but some of my friends swear by it. If you’re interested in trying it out, I recommend pulling each song up in its own tab on Youtube and pausing it after the ad is done. If you pull up these tabs while you’re going over your notes pregame, you might be able to get them in a real easy order. Bonus points if you get practice mixing several different tabs as needed.
I honestly think that most of the mileage you’re gonna be able to get from the AP comes down to just understanding that it’s a chance to do more than you usually could as PFS. Don’t get me wrong, I love PFS for what it’s good at, but those things don’t include being able to tailor the story to the specific characters participating. So take this chance to do all the things you’ve wanted to that weren’t realistic in Society play; that’s the strength of the adventure path.
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