Adventure Path’s Are Railroads

Responses to yesterday’s post about getting rid of the Murder Hobo from Pathfinder and the post before it about me being disappointed  have me today talking about a topic that a lot of people espouse which is not exactly true in all cases.  I am not sure if this comes from people that just make assumptions about adventure paths or that they are coming from an informed position with a bad adventure path (like Shattered Star).  I got comments on both of those posts that said things like;

One problem with adventure paths is that they are railroads…  …So you tend to end up with prescriptive encounters (meet Creature A, insert Sword B in Slot A, rinse, and repeat or meet Questgiver, download quest, proceed) in order to ensure the players catch the next train on time.


I’m not sure what’s the bigger red flag, 8 hour combats or a geas that lasts for a six book campaign.

Now, both of these quotes come from good online buddies and I am sure that they will be happy for me to bounce off them to illustrate my point rather than take it as anything personal, as I respect these people.  One thing that I know though is Paizo and Adventure Paths and so I have to address this issue.

Rasputin Must Die
Cover of Rasputin Must Die

Some of the best published sandbox adventures that I have run have been Adventure Path modules.  Plain and simple, unless you have a Kevin Crawford game like Stars Without Number or Silent Legions to help streamline a sandbox or you go it alone and build your own I have not ever in my time come across better sandbox adventures as the following modules from Paizo for Pathfinder.  In the ‘Serpent Skull’ adventure path we are looking directly at Souls for Smuggler’s Shiv, The City of Seven Spears, A Thousand Fangs Below and to a lesser extent The Vault’s of Madness.  In the ‘Skull and Shackles’ Adventure Path most of the modules apart from the first (Wormwood Mutiny) have a major element of sandbox style around them.  ‘Reign of Winter’ adventure path also ha a couple which completely depend on how the players want to play it, especially The Frozen Stars.

Sure, they can not be pure open world but in most of these modules the players get to do whatever they want and eventually through exploration and play they will come to where they need to be to move along to the next adventure.  In Raiders of the Fever Sea for the ‘Skull and Shackles’ adventure path we sat down and I said what do you want to do?  They looked at me stunned and I said – “You have your own ship, what are you going to do?”  I suggested to them heading directly for the Shackles without a reputation would probably see a pirate steal their ship but that is the only guidance and so they went on to refit their ship and pirate away for many, many sessions.  There is no structured ordered encounters, there are just guidelines in the module and it gets them to where they need to be to become proper pirates.  After the repressive nature of the first module the players blossomed and realised that this truly is a great adventure path after it nearly broke the group with the first module.


Sure, there are some atrocious railroad adventures in the adventure path series.  In ‘Serpent Skull’ the second is a travel module that is atrociously railroaded, but that kind of is what a travel scene is like.  The designers actually incorporated a race element in it to make the players take choices and choose factions to try and break it up but it was encounter after encounter.  But they are not all like that.

I used to be a subscriber to the adventure paths and got six full adventure paths in that time.  I used to read each module as it came every month and there were a great variety until I hit the ‘Shattered Star’ adventure path.  The “spiritual sequel” to the ‘Rise Against the Rune Lords’ adventure path.  This was (and is still) the worst adventure path that I ever bought and I gave it to my daughter simply so it did not have to sit with the rest of them.  It was simply dungeon after dungeon after dungeon after dungeon very loosely connected by a dull plot.  I am sure there are people that are out there that played it and loved it but this adventure path continuously put me to sleep after reading a single encounter.  So there are ones out there which are complete railroads, I get it.

But do not write all adventure paths off as such.  In fact most of them have a good deal of breadth built into them for the players to explore and expand their own character within the scope of the setting, which to me is pretty much a description of a sandbox.  Comments like the one made above about the geas are not overly accurate.  I never said they could not remove the geas, and if the players sought out that I would allow them to.  There was once a paladin among the group who sought to remove the ice from Golarion and then when that was done he fully intended to kill Baba Yaga for her crimes.  I kept adding the Geas, as I mentioned in my earlier posts and was probably wrong in doing so.  There was no guidance really as to what to do in this circumstance, but it is not a failure of the modules because the players do not seek to free themselves of it.  They fully have that capability.

The adventure paths are popular because they reduce work the GM has to do to reading the module and thinking about repercussions that may occur and plan for them.  They are not all linear modules that take you from a through to z in a sequential manner and I thought I would write this piece so others can realise that this is the case.  I hope I have cleared a few misconceptions up along the way.  Have a good one and keep rolling!


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