I have spent a lot of my recent gaming years running adventure paths. The series of linked modules designed to take characters from first level right through to the high levels. Honestly, this is not a new thing. TSR were doing this in the 80’s and 90’s but it was a lot less formalised and the modules they used tended to be a lot more modular (i.e. could be played standalone or in a run of other modules). I have run one to completion in person and one to completion online. I am now running two others in person and am only a week or so away for running the first episode online for a new one. But what do I think about them? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
There is one major strength to these that I can put my finger on. They are brilliant if you are a GM strapped for time or imagination. These modules you can almost run on auto pilot. They lay up all of the stats, the advice on how to run, what pacing and the like as well as the overarching plots that are involved. All you really have to do as a GM is read them before you play them. Sometimes you can go all out with them (I often do) but in reality there is nothing to be added apart from players and a GM.
These modules can also be used to highlight new additions to rules. For example, I am running the Wrath of the Righteous campaign which was created to highlight the Mythic Adventures book. I actually feel it does this very poorly as every Mythic battle they have come across so far has been a walk in the park that their characters, had they been non-mythic, still would have breezed right through. Still, it allows the players to use the rules and get extra abilities that they do love using.
They are great for a strong static core of players. If you have a group that is just rock solid, these can be great. I have lost count of the times where one of the players has told me that they have never taken a character from first through to 20th level before. It gives them, and I a grand sense of achievement from the game.
The one major weakness that I have noticed in these games, and this is possibly due to my GM style, is that they assume that the players will have the same character from 1st through to x level. In my games I allow the dice to fall where they fall and for the players to suffer the results of their characters actions. The Adventure Path’s tend not to factor this in though. Take, for example, the Wrath of the Righteous where the players have ascended to mythic abilities because they were part of a massive rush of divine energy. But what happens when they die? It has happened and what is occurring is they just make a new mythic character – why? This character was not there when the divine rush occurred so why do they get mythic ability.
Another I ran – Reign of Winter, was premised on the fact that the players pursued the agenda of the evil witch Baba Yaga because they had a powerful Geas on them. Many of the characters voiced their hatred of this but when they died the new characters got all the boons from that and the Geas as well. These plot devices just fall in a heap through poor design in reality.
Vagrant players also cause issues. If your group is not solid then you run the risk that I now have in the Skull and Shackles adventure path. All of the players are not the players that began the game. recurring villains and themes are lost on them and the players actively go out of their way to ridicule the game because of this. This can be quite confronting when you have spent many hours prepping for a game in a week, only to have a player going out of their way ridiculing the whole game to all the players before you sit down.
I do not much like these games. I use them though as I run a store professionally and they are the answer to small lead up times and the like. heck, I do not even really like D&D (it is too customisation light) or Pathfinder (it is a bloated monster and players feel they have the right to play anything they can find online). Really, my play style is Dungeon Crawl Classics, FATE, or Lords of Gossamer and Shadow. I just would not be gaming as much as I do if I stuck to those systems alone.
But I run these games and I do like the idea that I am helping players to be in a stable campaign. This is what they really want to experience – something where their characters grow and they can talk about the development points of their character. It is something that I really enjoy. But on the opposite side of the coin, these Adventure Paths do not allow me to explore as a GM. I know I could expand out laterally where ever I wanted BUT they are actually pre-balanced to advance at a certain rate and that does not really present as a viable alternative.
In short, these are a great thing, as long as you are aware of what you are getting yourself into. I am a firm believer that you really should create your own worlds and run your own adventures and use modules at a later date just to prop up GM block or the like. But these products do exist and if you have a hectic shedule then they can be a great alternative for you to keep things on the move. Just make sure that the players are on the same page also. If you have people coming in to the group then there may be some work to do. Involving them in an ongoing campaign, especially if it is themed with some kind of mechanic that appears in the very first module, may be a bit hard to do. Let me know your experiences with this style of game and what you think. Keep rolling.