image courtesy openDemocracy at Flickr
Last week my local gaming group finished up the Kingmaker Adventure Path from Paizo. We started the campaign very near Gen Con 2010 and just finished last week. I was the GM for the campaign as it was my turn in the GM’s chair. The campaign was certainly not without its challenges, both in character and purely from the getting the group together perspective.
This was one of the longer-term campaigns our group has completed and the first Adventure Path we have completed. It was a fun campaign and I think the group had a fairly positive feel about the experience.
This post is a reflection on the campaign from the GM’s chair touching a little bit on the out of game factors to a successful long term campaign and from the in game perspective.
As I noted above, we started this campaign right around Gen Con 2010 and just finished last week for a total of about 19 months from start to finish. During the course of play we did have a couple of extended scheduling issues.
The first was an event at home that necessitated a gap in play where I could not GM. During this time the other major GM in the group stepped up and ran us through a mini-campaign arc of Star Wars. This Kingmaker sabbatical allowed me the time from GMing to focus on the more important issue I had going on at the moment. Luckily the other GM in our group was able to keep the group with some momentum by running another game at this time frame.
The second extended break which lasted about five weeks ironically enough happened just before the finale of the sixth book. It did not have a single significant event but truly was a set of continuous scheduling difficulties between various group members. In fact for the last session we were actually short one player, but with another on vacation this week we as a group felt it best to simply continue forward rather than lose more momentum.
Despite these two scheduling issues we were still able to take the campaign to its completion. I attribute a lot of that to our group being a good set of friends who are all very patient. Each is aware that scheduling issues and other matters sometimes surface and we as a group just roll with them. That is a huge factor in the success of any long-term campaign in my opinion.
Having another GM within the group to help keep the group gaming when I had the first extended absence was also quite helpful. It helped keep the game on everyone’s schedule and keep things fun instead of simply missing session after session when I needed the sabbatical.
The Kingmaker campaign was a lot of fun, though not without its challenges. One of the early challenges was the small number of encounters per day aspect of Kingmaker. During exploration it was frequently the case that the players would only face a single encounter, maybe two if they had a random encounter as well. This allowed the characters to use the best of their resources in most combats as they did not have as much motivation to hold back a little. This seemed to make a lot of the encounters relatively easy. There are several mini-dungeons in the AP and those were the more fun sessions for me. The party seemed more challenged and the fights seemed more interesting.
A lot of people will say use the random encounters more to keep this one encounter per day from being an issue. That works when used occasionally, but it just didn’t feel right to repeatedly throw random encounters simply to scale up the daily challenge. I simply decided that letting the characters be heroes on a regular basis was not a major issue.
My other recommendation for GMs running Kingmaker is to read all six of them well ahead of time before running the campaign. Several people find fault with book six because it seems to come from out of nowhere. If you know what is in book six it makes it much easier to foreshadow certain events and make sure book six fits in a little better. I think this was one of my stronger points of the campaign, making sure that book six was adequately foreshadowed so it didn’t seem so out of left field. In fact book six was my favorite one to run out the whole AP. It really helped make up for the single encounter per day issue noted above.
Now one of my shortcomings for the campaign was not developing the NPCs thoroughly enough. Kingmaker is quite sandboxy and ripe for the creation of interesting and fun NPCs. I dropped the ball here and too many of my NPCs felt like cardboard cutouts. I am taking this as an opportunity to improve my GMing for the next campaign though and learning to put more time in NPC development to add that layer of depth to the campaign. So if you are running or planning to run Kingmaker, make sure you have a good method of building and creating NPCs with some depth. I think it will really add to your campaign.
The group I ran for did do the Kingdom building. Only one player really handled the Kingdom side of things and a lot of the building was done outside of our face-to-face sessions and done on the message forums we use between sessions. It worked well for us and let them build a kingdom without necessarily consuming face-to-face game time. If your group does not seem to interested in the Kingdom building portion of the AP, I would encourage you to use the Kingdom in the Background rules and not feel pressured to make your players tackle a portion of the AP they have little interest in doing.
The Kingmaker was a fun time for our group. Here I have tried to outline some of things that contributed to the campaign’s success – both at and away from the game table. Several of these thoughts could easily be applied to your own long-term campaign, whether it be a published module or a home brew.
What have you found to be keys to your long-term campaign’s success? Downfalls?
I am a long time RPG gamer with a heavy slant towards fantasy RPGs. I am currently running and playing Pathfinder. When I am not keeping computers running, tending chickens, playing games or out for a run, I write about RPGs. You can follow me on Twitter or see more from me at The Iron Tavern.