Game Day: Out of Darkness

Second Darkness is ending. Our first-ever Pathfinder adventure path campaign, began in September 2011 and is concluding about two years later.

We played Pathfinder every two weeks, the exception of the occasional schedule cratering by holidays and summer vacations. We worked our way through the entirety of the first three books in the series, but skipped a good chunk of the fourth book (which takes place in a drow city) and the entire of the fifth (which involves unearthing an elven conspiracy).

The leap forward came through a wish granted to Jheru, the party’s high-flying, fists-of-fury monk. Jheru gained the knowledge needed to put an end to the threat, while the heroes found themselves endowed with the insights needed to fight to fight their hated enemies. In effect, everyone jumped a level and found themselves in the great cavern known as the Land of Black Blood.

As a group I think we enjoyed the adventure path, but as I mentioned before I think six books is too long for my group. One of my players aid that the end of the campaign became an exercise in punching the clock, and I agree.

We wanted to get to the end, damn it, and we were going to fight through every last bad guy to get there. The final act had its moments (including when the NPC Pathfinder, Zanril Loresinger, became a vampire and managed to turn the party’s barbarian into an undead) but there was a certain make-work quality to it.

The End of the Story

The players weren’t the only ones who wanted to fight to the end. I hate leaving characters stranded in their own stories, and after our Star Wars campaign went on indefinite hiatus and we chose to run an adventure path, I knew I’d want to complete the story. With luck, we’ll be doing that in the next two weeks, once we find a day when most of the players can make it.

It’s something we’ve only done a handful of times in our game group’s 16 year run. Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil was one. The Liberation of Geoff was another. It’s not surprising — both of those campaigns were tied to books, and had at least an implied narrative structure. Our freeform campaigns tended to end more ambiguously with dozens, if not hundreds, of story lines unfinished, but I think we’ve done a good job of going back and finishing up the important stories at our occasional Nuke(m)Cons.

Looking ahead, I don’t think my time with Pathfinder is done. In our immediate future we’re going to be play-testing Monte Cook’s Numenera and resurrecting our Savage Worlds-powered Weird Pulp idea.

Either one could lead to a campaign (and possibly both) but we expect them to be shorter duration, sandbox-style games with rotating game masters. I think everyone’s ready for a break from the routine of the last two years.

Returning to the Path

And yet … when I look over at my game shelf I see a collection of Pathfinder books that make me want to run something again. I initially wanted to run an adventure path because I thought it would save me time. In reality, it didn’t because my players were so good at bypassing story elements. That in turn meant I had to come up with new adventures to bolster their experience points and keep them on track.

Here’s the thing though — even as this was happening Pazio was helping me by releasing GM-friendly source books that made this a lot easier. Looking at my gaming shelf I see books like Ultimate Equipment, which is packed with cool and different magic items, NPC Codex, which has ready to run non-player characters, and three Bestiaries (ok, only two of them are really there, but I’ll buy the third eventually).

I feel like I finally have all the tools to run a fun, low-level, sandboxy Pathfinder game with a minimum of prep time. I’d grab NPCs from the Codex, monsters from the Bestiaries, and spend my time focusing on the story and world building. I’d also set it up so that it was easier for me to rotate out as the GM, something that a story-driven adventure path like Second Darkness doesn’t do well.

I’d also love to run an epilogue to Second Darkness revolving around the lost dwarven sky citadel of Akrafell and slaying the linnorm that rules it. Aspects of the Land of the Linnorm Kings have leeched into the campaign over the years, and I’d love to complete the story of the dwarven warrior Jorm and his mythical sword, Winter.

What Has Come Before

Here’s the big list of Second Darkness campaigns:

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