Now that Blades in the Dark is out of the way, I’m considering what to run next. I have a couple of ideas, one of which is to continue my City of Monuments Pathfinder campaign. This was a low fantasy game, based around more urban, political adventures. No XP for killing monsters, and low on magic items.
One of the plot hooks that I’ve seeded has been for the Jade Regent adventure path, and I think that could be interesting to actually do. However, the party is already mostly 5th level, and I’d want to keep the low fantasy vibe. This though fits in well with something else I’ve been thinking about.
I have several shelves worth of Adventure Paths for Pathfinder, some of which seem quite interesting. However, our experience so far is that it takes about five years to get through one. GMs like to take breaks, and players like to play other games, so we’ve had either low intensity games (once a month), or high intensity with breaks between chapters.
I’d like a way to run them without taking so long, or crowding out all the other RPG options. So my idea is to possibly run a cut down version of an adventure path (e.g., Jade Regent), keeping things relatively low fantasy whilst I’m at it.
One thing I’ve noticed with the adventure paths is that they have a lot of filler material, put in just to make sure that PCs have enough things to kill in order to level up suitably. They generally take PCs up to 17th – 20th level, and combat (and preparation time) gets noticeably slower at the higher levels. It’s definitely fun to run a character from 1st to 20th level, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
So why not just cut out everything that doesn’t actually add to the story? Combat only encounters can be removed, and those which are needed for plot or flavour (or just to add some risk) can be simplified. Since characters will gain XP for story progress, they don’t need the right number of combat encounters.
Since they’re currently 5th level anyway, they should be able to get through the first couple of chapters relatively quickly, especially if I concentrate on the main story points. After that, progression can be slow, maybe one level per chapter (there are six chapters to an adventure path, each normally covering 2-3 levels of progression).
The question comes about how to handle the big bosses later on. I’d expect PCs to get to maybe 9th-10th level by the end – so reasonably powerful, but not capable of taking on CR 18-20 encounters.
For levelled creatures, removing the levels is the easy way. And that is definitely true of bodyguards and other creatures that would reasonably be present. Or just replacing them with non-supernatural humans. Standard Samurai or Ninjas would fit the setting just as well as oni or powerful undead.
But there may be another way.
Finding clever ways to avoid combat altogether, or starting a fight with a huge advantage might become necessary. Maybe there is a CR 20 demon encounter that needs to be defeated – but if characters can find its True Name, then they can banish it without a fight, or maybe protect themselves from its magic.
Also, with a low magic setting, most of the items that make powerful creatures powerful can also be removed. Which is another risk to consider – even thought PCs might be 10th level by the end, they will have a much reduced amount of magical equipment so will be weaker than their level would suggest.
Whether I will end up running Jade Regent just now I don’t know. Traveller is another option, and may be more likely. But at some point I’d like to give this idea a try.