There are always changes to adventure paths. No plot survives contact with the players, after all. I don’t want to do a session write-up, here. Not exactly. I do want to record some of the changes and left-turns that have been made. I’ll probably spoil some things, although I’m pretty sure that none of my players read this blog, so I’m not worried about it for them. Still, consider this fair warning. What follows is a brief session-by-session breakdown, with some thoughts about each, particularly places where we diverged from the adventure-as-written, why that happened, and what came of it.
Our first two sessions were all character-building and relationship-building. Almost all of the characters were connected to Khonnir Baine, in some way.
The party consists of:
Maya, a half-elf bard whose family was killed by Blood Gar raiders, sponsored by the Technic League. She was taken in by an wandering aratomin warrior, who taught her to fight. A little crazy, a little sneaky, and a lot of fun. (Yes, based on Arya Stark, a bit, but going in interesting and different directions.) Maya tends to forget that there are other people to consider, and often forgets to ask for help when she needs it. She’s learning the value of teamwork. No one has yet asked why the Technic League would want her family dead, or whether the Blood Gar, known for taking their victims as slaves, really would kill them all. Maya lives as an urchin, now, although she has set up separate identities and bolt-holes to escape any given location. Her mentor was recently captured by the League, maybe, and sent her to Khonnir Baine for safe-keeping.
Tansy, a thrake gunslinger (spellslinger), started the game as a Technic League apprentice who looked human. Then she was sent on a mission down the pipe in Blackpipe, and when she came out she had four arms and didn’t look human anymore. She blames the League for what happened.
Alex, Tansy’s sister, in a human cleric of Brigh. She has a hammer, passed down from her grandmother (who may or may not actually be Brigh – she’s starting to think there might be a connection). She was training under Joram Kyte when the torch went out, although mostly she wants to be a smith more than a priest and likes things a little more than people. Had a relationship with Gammeth that ended badly.
Gammeth, a toru ranger who really, really hates robots. A lot. He and another character had a romantic relationship once, and it ended badly. He is driven primarily by his relationships with humans: Khonnir Baine is a close friend, and he his relationship with Alex and Tansy drives his choices about putting himself in harm’s way.
W0 is an android who was designed as a sex-bot, and has lived in Torch since it was founded, has been life-long friends with Dolga Feddert, and is currently sleeping with the captain of the town guard. W0 knows everyone, but isn’t close to anyone, in part because of his ability to be forgettable. Unless he wants to make an impression, the memory of his exact face, name, and voice seems to slip away after a little while. This would make the mentalist the perfect spy, if he had any interest in being a spy.
In the first session, we made characters and set up relationships. No one was familiar with 5e, so it took a long time to build the characters. In the second session, the we spent more time on the relationships. Khonnir, Maya, Alex, and Gammeth rescued Tansy from her Technic League “mentor,” who was about to dissect her. As they arrived back in town, the torch went out.
The third session was a lot of exploration of the town. The characters were all from Torch, so they all knew it pretty well, but none of the players did. They talked to Joram Kyte. They explored the Black Hill (and Tansy drank Numerian fluid, because she’s a GM’s dream). The players were aware of how squishy their characters were, and played that up. They avoided trouble whenever possible. They did get to meet the followers of Brigh before the group descended into the Mound, though. They fought a tsaalgrend. Khonnir Baine disappeared.
In our fourth session, they headed in to the caves, each looking for something different. Gammeth was after his friends Parda Garr and Khonnir Baine, who had both gone into the caves and not come back. Tansy was hoping to find a cure for her “condition,” and she and Alex were both looking for Gerrol Sonder, on behalf of his fiancee and her mother, respectively. The mother was less interested in having him back in one piece, but her daughter was very sad. Maya wanted to help Val find her father, and W0 was doing a favor for Dolga Feddert, an old friend, whose granddaughter had gone with Baine. The party was excellent at avoiding combat, and managed to get deep into the skulks’ lair without fighting anything.
In fact, they managed to avoid fighting anything but robots until will into the fifth session. The skulks wanted to get rid of the gremlins, and the gremlins considered Tansy a “changeling,” a creature who was foretold in their legends to return from the bright world and lead them to victory against their enemies. They did what she told them to do. (So she sent them to Blackpipe to haunt the Technic League expedition, there.)
The fought robots and ran from the skeletons, and still didn’t have a serious combat until the sixth session, when they fought and killed Hetauth after activating the habitat dome. They talked the cerebral fungus into not eating them (and Tansy still wants to try to make a pet of it). They killed some more robots and saved Baine, then left the ship. In all, the managed to complete their first quest with just two real combats. They slept in the ship, but barricaded themselves in and completely avoided any room that looked dangerous, unless it had Khonnir Baine in it.
When they emerged, Garmen Ulreth invited them to his casino with the promise of free credit as a reward for their good work, and none of them went. They didn’t want to gamble, or didn’t trust Ulreth. They’re so paranoid.
When they got Baine home, they found that his mind was still deteriorating, so they went to Sanvil Trett, the only person who knew technology well enough to do anything. They didn’t try to sell him anything, and hadn’t come up out of the Black Hill caves early enough to meet him. All the same, they offered to pay him to come help Khonnir Baine, and when he did, Trett sensed something fishy, so he used a truth serum and learned Baine’s real name.
Trett didn’t have an long-range sending spells, so he wrote a note to his superiors and contracted an urchin to take it to Starfall. In a great bit of character work, Maya made she that she was that urchin, and the note never left Torch. Meanwhile, the sisters fixed the elevator part easily.
Thanks to the council and the reward they offered, the group convinced Trett to go into the caves with them as an expert in technology. They all wiped out the vegepygmies in the name of Brigh, and Trett betrayed them when they were attacked by thylacines. He almost killed them off, too, but they narrowly beat him, tied him up, questioned him, and the killed him, slipping just slightly towards evil.
They took a long rest and decided to go into the Engineering deck right at dawn. At dawn, when Meyanda was having her prayer services. Fighting all of the enemies on the level might have been a challenge if the party hadn’t just lobbed a stun grenade into the room and taken out just about everyone, when locked the door and gone around the other way.
When ensued was a campaign of attrition: they deactivated the robots, killed the remaining allies (in a surprisingly brutal combat).
Here’s the thing about 5e combat: single opponents go down in two rounds, no matter how powerful they are. Combats have to be larger than one-on-group, and Pathfinder combats aren’t built like that. Gruethor had to have rat allies (rats that ran away as soon as the battle turned, and led to a great RP interaction). Meyands had allies, but the party dealt divided and conquered them: deactivating the robots, luring Meyanda out of the room (the android convinced her that he had switched sides, and that she could get more power if the habitat module were powered down) and killing Two Ton, her rat ogre ally. In the end, she wan on her own, so it was a good thing I bumped her up to a 9th level caster, giving her a 5th level spell to play with. She still went down, but it wasn’t easy.
The party had a good fight over whether to kill her or not, with Alex sacrificing herself to keep Tansy from killing Meyanda (an act that helped turn Meyanda against Hellion after the battle was over).
Throughout the adventure, the group has worked hard to avoid unnecessary combats, and to make any combat they do get into easier by depleting enemy resources ahead of time. They’re also completely uninterested in side-treks (they didn’t deal with Ulreth’s warehouse before Meyanda – so now it’s just sitting there on the edge of town, doing nothing).
I’ve added quite a few things, like Two-Ton, to make things more dynamic. I’ve also focused hard on character connections: three of them owe Baine big favors, and others have ties to other NPCs.
I’ve tried to make the combats bigger set-pieces, rather than the trickle of little fights that the adventure proposes (two rat-folk in this room, two orcs in this one, etc.). Those fights are all going to be over in seconds, and not feel draining at all in 5e. A big set-piece for control of the bridge, with a lot of moving parts, is going to feel more challenging, and more interesting. Less like busy-work.
Because level 1 is so deadly, I wanted to make it possible for them to talk their way out of all those combats, but they got used to that, and are always looking for non-combat options. This is great, and will serve them well, later, but it means that if an opponent really isn’t interested in conversation, I have to telegraph that. “My Persuasion roll was 27!” “He’s psychotic!”
Val is going to be interesting. Instead of a wizard-in-training, she’s going to be a kineticist, using a kind of magic no one knows anything about, but that is close to what W0 does. Her parents were kineticists, as well, until the League dissected them to figure out how their “magic” worked.
I’ve learned that high AC makes a huge difference in a fight. The fight with the ghelarn (when they finally explored the habitat enough to find it) was incredibly hard, because the ghelarn retreated into its shell. Until they destroyed that, they weren’t sure they’d survive.
Now I have to figure out how to get a group that’s reluctant to put themselves into danger to go to Scrapwall. They’re not spending coins, so money isn’t going to motivate them. Experience points don’t mean anything to the dead, so levels aren’t going to motivate them. They’re all kind of homebodies, so exploration isn’t going to motivate them.
I may have to put Torch in more immediate danger, although if I do that, they will ignore everything but the objective and miss some of the story along the way. I’m sure I’ll figure something out, but they’re definitely not making it easy (which is half the fun).
What do you think? How did our experience differ from yours?