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Beginners' Guide: Pathfinder Adventure Path

This column is for new players wanting to get into the wonderful world of table top gaming. We explain the basics and point you in the right direction if you want to learn more about a specific game.

Jade Ragent

Pathfinder is a Role Playing Game (RPG) system from Paizo Publishing. Like many RPGs, you get the chance to play as a figure from heroic fantasy, whether that be a human, a dwarf, giant, halfling, elf, ogre...the choices are vast. Whatever race you choose, you'll also have a class, choosing to specialize in being a warrior, a cleric, an archer, and so on.

Not everyone involved in an RPG spends their time as a player. One person in each group acts as the leader, the Games Master, or Dungeon Master. This person essentially controls the game, revealing the secrets of the adventure as it unfolds, whether that's hidden doors, traps, unexpected monsters, helpful innkeepers, or vast hoards of magical items squashed underneath a slumbering dragon.

In order to play or run an adventure, you need all the details to hand. Some books, such as the Neverwinter Campaign Guide for Dungeons and Dragons give you lots of background information, which allows the GM to construct an adventure of their choosing. The GM will construct a plot, a dungeon or local town maybe, and populate them with all the sets, props, and characters you'd associate with a hollywood movie. Think of it as a Lord of the Rings of your own imagination.

Let's step back for a moment though. Tolkien spent many years coming up with Frodo and chums, and maybe you don't have many years of your own to pull together your epic campaign, especially as your four friends are coming round to your house on Wednesday for Game Night. That's where individual off-the-shelf adventures come in. Housed in a single small book - they're usually large-sized pages, with 32-64 pages total - you get every scrap of information you need as a GM to run a particular adventure.

You'll get bits of text to read out to your players at key moments in the adventure. You won't have to dream up 'the key scrapes dully in the ancient lock, echoing round the steadily-darkening vault' like I just did, because it's there on page 17 for when the players finally get past the Cryptkeeper monster, all of whose vital statistics are there on page 16. Want to know what the vault looks like? It's there, with a map drawn for you. There are dozens of options on every page, covering what the players are most likely to try, and the possible outcomes following success or failure.

In short, an adventure module is a short cut to getting your game on. It puts a huge amount of effort into storyline, setting, place, feel, characterization, and also the nuts and bolts of what dice rolls players need to affect key decisions. You can find hundreds of adventures for almost any roleplaying system you care to name - sometimes you'll buy them in beautiful real-world paper format, and sometimes you'll simply download them as an e-book pdf. In either case, the core information is the same.

So, specifically, what makes Adventure Path different?

First, Adventure Path is the RPG equivalent of a really, really good TV series. Each campaign (or series, if you will) lasts for six months. Each month, you'll get the next 'episode'. They're designed to be played in a couple of decent gaming sessions, which is brilliant for many gaming groups who have assorted partners, children, and dental appointments to factor in to their gaming availability.

Each book in the Adventure Path moves the overarching plot forward, usually with a setpiece goal to accomplish as the central plank of the episode, but always with what's gone before and what's still to come firmly in view. In addition to all the important information for the episode itself, Adventure Path brings with it a wealth of supplemental material. There are new monsters, created specifically for the particular Adventure Path you're exploring. There are supplementary chapters filling out more detailed information on things as diverse as racial prejudices in the local town, religious schisms in the capital city, a history of ale in the five kingdoms, and so on. There's also a short work of fiction in the Pathfinder's Journal.

It's all designed to immerse you and your players in the world and storyline created for you within the Adventure Path. The extras also allow you, as a GM, to expand the campaign further, away from the main storyline, if it turns out that your players are having an especially great time adventuring in that setting, and don't really want to leave when they've finished the main adventure.

Right now we're up to what we might call 'Season 9' of Adventure Path. Jade Regent has an Oriental tinge to it, with a close friend to the players discovering that she's the heir to rule one of the ancient Dragon Empires of Tian Xia - the empire of Minkai. It's up to the players to get her there in one piece, and defeat the usurper, the Jade Regent.

That may be the story arc, but here's how that works month by month:

The Brinewall Legacy sees the players investigating the abandoned ruins of Brinewall, from where the entire population has mysteriously disappeared some decades ago.

In Night of Frozen Shadows the players and their destined-to-rule friend Ameiko join a Varisian caravan and head northwards. When they go in search of a powerful magical sword, the assassins known as the Frozen Shadows get involved...

You get the idea. Act three takes them across the Crown of the World at the north pole, act four sees them in the Forest of Spirits, act five sees them arrive in the capital city and begin political manoeuvrings to depose the Jade Regent, while the setpiece final instalment sees them seeking the blessings of long-dead emperors in order to stop the Jade Regent threat at an Imperial Palace showdown.

Now, let's suppose for a moment that the whole quasi-Chinese-mysticism vibe doesn't quite chime with you. First of all, part of the appeal of the Adventure Path is that it only lasts for a dozen or so gaming sessions from setting out to completion. Even if the setting doesn't light your gaming fire, you know that you're not going to be stuck there for two years if you want to continue gaming with the same group of friends.

Secondly, although Jade Regent is the current Adventure Path (with episode 2, Night of Frozen Shadows coming in September), there are already eight complete Adventure Paths which cover a wide range of genres. As examples, Curse of the Crimson Throne is an urban-based crawl through the political underbelly of a city on the verge of civil war, while Serpent's Skull is more of an Indiana Jones-style jungle-fest, and Carrion Crown is closer to classic horror, with the Lich King Tar-Baphon threatening to awaken. There is, in short, almost certainly an Adventure Path that's going to suit your group's play and aesthetic style.

One final thing to mention. We don't often talk about pricing here at GameHead. We believe that a product is as good or as bad as it is, and that price and value are two very different things. Nonetheless, it's worth saying that the nature of the monthly release lends itself ideally to saving just a handful of gaming dollars each week before receiving your next instalment, and if it turns out that you or your players really don't enjoy episode one, you haven't invested heavily in multiple source books and months of creativity on a campaign that will never be played.

We can't tell you which Adventure Path is going to be right for you. That's between you and your gaming buddies. What we can tell you is that when it comes to a great RPG experience, paced carefully over six months of intriguing captivating gameplay, Adventure Paths are hard to beat.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Just as any good TV series on DVD needs a DVD player and a TV to watch it on, so Adventure Path needs the players and GM to already own the core components of the Pathfinder roleplaying game. For more details, visit www.paizo.com/pathfinder.

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