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Kingmaker: Rivers Run Red, Post-Mortem

August 6, 2015

And so ends book 2 of Kingmaker. It took us 26 sessions to get through, compared to 14 for Stolen Land, but there were numerous subplots and side quests thrown in the mix this time around. The PCs still have some of those subplots to pursue, but they are outside the scope of the published adventure, and thus it’s time for a wrap-up!

There were some hiccups this time around, as the group made the adjustment from explorers to part-time rulers and part-time explorers. The lack of a clear overarching plot from the start also hampered my players, who perhaps have become too accustomed to the railroad – or at least to clear signposts. This adventure, much more so than the others in the adventure path, really depends on the players setting their own goals and pursuing them.

Starting the Kingdom

First off, I would like to give a shout-out to Erik Freund’s Venture Capital ideas from the Paizo Kingmaker forum. Instead of the players getting 50 BP from Restov, they have to decide who to ally with, and who to spurn, to get their kingdom’s starting funds. I haven’t done as much with the fallout from their decisions as perhaps I should have, but nevertheless I really like that the PC kingdom has named allies and antagonists right from its founding as a result of the players’ choices.

Getting onto the actual running of the kingdom, the first hurdle that I encountered is that the portion of the adventure that talks about the beginning days is rather jumbled, in my opinion. This is what I interpreted the text as saying what to do:

1. Play out 12 kingdom turns with no adventuring in between.

2. Replace the first kingdom event (which will probably be the 1st or 2nd kingdom turn) with the “founding of Tatzylford” event.

3. Replace the second kingdom event (probably turn 2-4) with the “troll sightings” event.

4. After the first 12 turns are over, the players can start exploring again. Replace the next three kingdom events with those in the book (the werewolf, Grigori, and the Gyronna coven).

troll-sightingsThe problem with the above, for me, is #3. It’s a continuous event, which means that it happens every month until basically the penultimate encounter in the adventure. Including the 8-10 remaining months of that first adventuring-free year of the kingdom. Having to succeed at a Loyalty check or +2 Unrest, every month, is like a cumulative penalty to all future checks, and there’s nothing the players can even do about for most of a year since they’re “not allowed” to adventure.

My fix was to get rid of that first year of ruling without adventuring, and to have the troll sightings occur every 2d6 months for the first year, and then every 2d4 months in the second year, and then every 2d3 months, and so on. And the troll sightings would be something that could happen in addition to a normal kingdom event, instead of replacing it. But I would still have the 3 bigger events (werewolf, Grigori, coven) occur in kingdom year 2. Looking at it in hindsight, my solution doesn’t make much sense. And indeed, I had to scramble a bit to keep the players from wrapping up the trolls before we even got to the 3 big events. Also, by the time they got to the three pre-planned kingdom events, they had gained several levels, and I had to increase the challenge of those encounters.

I doubt that I’ll ever get a chance to do it again, but if I could, I would run the start of the kingdom as detailed in the adventure, minus #3 (the troll sightings). I think I would have the troll sightings event initially take place on turn #12 or #13 – basically it would prove as an impetus for the PCs to go out adventuring again, along with all of the other threats (Howl, etc.), now that their kingdom is established. And I would space out the event’s recurrence, much like I did this time. Perhaps I would get rid of the random element, though. The 2nd occurrence could be 4 months after the first, the 3rd at three months after that, the 4th time at two months later, and so on, until it was happening every month or until Hargulka was dead.

I Need a Little Help From My (Spellcaster) Friends

Once again, I am indebted to Alexander Kilcoyne over at the Paizo Kingmaker message boards for his 6-player conversion. I moved away from his version moreso than I did with Stolen Land, mostly to add some spell support to encounter areas that needed it. Namely, the lizardfolk and the trolls. To the lizardfolk I added a druid. I gave a hag coven to the trolls. Now that the group is entering the levels where spellcasters can dominate the battlefield, I thought it important that the PCs would not be able to just steamroll all of the opposition. And as my original plan of including the hags in the Hargulka’s stronghold ended up falling by the wayside, the party did indeed end up steamrolling the spellcaster-less trolls.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the additions worked out. The lizardfolk druid turned what probably would have been a lizardfolk slaughter into a stalemate, and I managed to capture two PCs as well. The hags bedeviled the PCs for a long time, and in the end probably overshadowed Hargulka, who unfortunately doesn’t get much screen time before being dispatched.

The other big change was the owlbear. I wanted to do something more interesting with it than just have a huge bag of hit points and weak attacks. Instead of adding another HD onto it as the 6-player conversion suggests, I gave it the Fey Creature template, minus the wings. I figured that without the flying, the template only warranted a +1 CR bump instead of +2. The spells and special abilities made the owlbear more interesting to run, although it still only lasted 2 or 3 rounds and didn’t pose a huge threat. The party is 7th level now, and their damage output has increased much faster than the monsters’ hit points have.

Where There’s a Whip…

I also drew a lot of invaluable inspiration from Dudemeister’s Monster Kingdom ideas, also over at the Paizo Kingmaker boards. I liked the idea of the trolls as an opposing force in the Greenbelt, organizing the monstrous species against the players’ human kingdom. I also liked the idea of introducing the mass combat rules at this stage. Those who played through the adventure path when it was first coming out didn’t have that option, since the rules weren’t released until book 5, but those of us coming along years later can incorporate it much sooner.

Unfortunately, the mass combat turned out to be a bit of a dud. None of the PCs actually wanted to lead the troops into battle, because that meant that they couldn’t join the others. And they couldn’t afford to field so many armies that each PC got to lead one. And the spellcasters are already so powerful that they wouldn’t want to be tied up leading armies anyway. At this is at 7th level! It’s only going to get worse from here. So I’m guessing that the clash of armies will remain a sideshow in this campaign. If you could do it at first level, it would be something special. But once you hit that D&D “sweet spot,” the spellcasters can just about wipe out an army of low-HD creatures/soldiers on their own. So why go through the added trouble and expense of raising an army and then trusting your fate to its success in battle – a battle that you can’t use all of your nifty abilities in?

Coming Up

The players are going to attempt to rescue Iofur’s parents from the evil and mysterious Brevoy lord who has held them captive for many years. Then we will probably race ahead by a few years before investigating the mystery of the Varnhold Vanishing!

Next: wrapping up loose ends!

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8 Comments
  1. Pinkius permalink

    Yea, yea armies aren’t great. By the fifth book, all our armies did was encircle Pitax and siege them until they surrendered, then we went in and fought an armies worth of soldiers ourselves.
    I imagine our gm just wanted to avoid the mess that was army combat at that point.

    • Mei Yu Lian permalink

      That’s so much a ‘thing’ in D&D (including Pathfinder), that I’m forced to consider it a feature, rather than a bug.

      • Pinkius permalink

        I’m pretty sure the army of guys we fought was part of the book, as opposed to a made up encounter to replace army combat. there were some armored trolls, a whole bunch of mid level fighters, his general, and an oni… it happened inside his castle, but they got messed up by summons and aoe handily.

  2. Chris M permalink

    Thanks for writing this blog. It has gave me a lot of ideas. My group is just about to start RRR although I have been converting the AP for 5th edition D&D. Reading through has been very enjoyable.

    • The Ineffable Cheese permalink

      Agreed! I found this blog just before I started my own Kingmaker campaign, and I’ve already found your detailed analysis of what worked and what didn’t very, very helpful. It has definitely colored how I’m prepping for the campaign, and what pitfalls to watch out for.

      You’re doing good work here. Thank you.

  3. Mei Yu Lian permalink

    Reading your own list of things, how could the “Loyalty check or +2 Unrest, every month” occur before the characters could interact with it? The way I read your analysis, the “werewolf, grigori, cultists” chain of events do not start until after month 12 – that is, until the PCs are actively in play again?

    • I mean “interact” in the sense that the players can’t do anything about it, in that they aren’t supposed to go adventuring for the first year, and the troll sightings is supposed to replace the 2nd random kingdom event (which will be in month 2-4, most likely). That’s how the book lays things out, by my reading.

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