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Kingmaker: Varnhold Vanishing, Post-Mortem

February 24, 2017

Kingmaker 3With Vordakai’s demise, book 3 is officially over, although there are still some loose ends to deal with. I am anticipating maybe one session to wrap things up before starting book 4, which will be a much shorter inter-adventure period than last time. We completed the adventure in 16 sessions, compared to 14 for Stolen Land and 26 for Rivers Run Red, so I consider that a success – RRR went on for way too long and I would like to actually finish the campaign at some point in our lifetimes. The campaign has been running for almost 3 1/2 years so far, and we’re only halfway done!

So here is a quick review of what I felt worked and did not with the adventure…

The Paradigm Has Shifted

Book 3 (and 4, and 5) somehow thinks that the PCs should still be out exploring the map and dealing with random wilderness encounters, not to mention random fetch quests from nameless NPCs. At the point that this adventure is supposed to begin – when the PCs’ kingdom is 50-60 hexes large – the kingdom should be in a comfortable enough position that such tasks would be beneath the rulers. It’s bizarre to me that the adventures continue to use so many pages to detail the sandbox du jour, especially when there aren’t any locations of interest that aren’t plot-related. A “true” sandbox would have all sorts of interesting side-plots scattered around, but it’s really only the first two chapters of the AP that provide even an inkling of that. At this point in the PCs’ careers, I think, the focus should have shifted away from exploration and towards politics.

The System Breaks Down

When I say the kingdom should be in a comfortable position at the time of the adventure, I wasn’t kidding. The way the Ultimate Campaign kingdom rules are designed, the kingdom’s early days are rocky, and as it expands it will probably experience some growing pains. But by the time it’s 50-60 hexes, it’s probable that the players will have figured out how the system works and will subsequently only fail kingdom checks on a roll of a 1. Needless to say, this removes a lot of interest in maintaining the kingdom.

As someone who considers himself a bit of an expert on the kingdom rules, I don’t think there’s any fixing it without a complete re-write. The problems are baked into the system. To wit:

  1. The players control both their bonuses and their target numbers. The Control DC for the kingdom is 20 + size + districts + unrest. The first two variables are entirely under the player’s control. Unrest isn’t, but it’s also pretty easy to get rid of with Houses. It’s also easy to avoid once you only have a 5% chance of failing a check. And once the BP are rolling in from static income (mines, quarries, sawmills) and tax collection, stacking up your bonuses is simple. This is the first and most important failing of the system, because there’s no clear way to fix it.
  2. Very little happens in the kingdom. Regardless of how big it is or how many cities there are, there’s still only 0-1 events each month, with a very slight chance for more. The bigger the kingdom is, realistically, the more problems there should be. And the more events that happen, the more chances that “1” could come up in a d20 roll. Instead of one roll for events each turn, maybe the DM should be rolling once per settlement, and then rolling again for every 10-15 hexes in the kingdom.
  3. Most events don’t have much impact. In the early days, a +2 for a turn can be a lifesaver, but it’s meaningless once the kingdom has matured. And since even continuous events are resolved with kingdom checks, which are rarely failed at that point, they don’t stick around for more than a turn or two. I would like to see more events with minimum lengths, but also events that have more of an impact on the kingdom. Ore veins get tapped out. Extreme logging leaves a forest hex depleted. Resources disappear, landmarks vanish, rivers get dammed, labors go on strike, border regions try to secede. International events wreak havoc on your exports, hurting your economy. Your nobles demand a war against a neighbor. Enemies stir unrest within your borders. And so on. And maybe some events just happen, and can’t be resolved with a too-easy kingdom check.
  4. More specific to Kingmaker itself, the adventure path itself doesn’t interact with the system much. You get some BP as treasure, and maybe a kingdom bonus as a quest reward, but aside from the pre-planned events in book 2 (and some in book 6) the whole AP runs almost parallel to the kingdom building, instead of being integrated with it. I suppose they did this on purpose so that groups uninterested in the kingdom could still enjoy the AP, but if that was the reason then I strongly disagree with it. If you’re playing Kingmaker, it’s because you want to be kings, dammit.

Perhaps one way of dealing with the bonus/DC issue is to cap settlement bonuses based on size, as the Base Value already is. So your settlement of size X can only contribute a maximum of +Y to the kingdom’s Economy, Loyalty, and Stability. Settlements are really where the kingdom bonuses get run-up, as they can provide some truly huge numbers relative to their impact on the Control DC. Conversely, or maybe even additionally, a settlement’s Control DC and Consumption impact could be larger than 1 per district. One could use a larger multiplier and/or tie it to the settlement size rather than the number of districts.

Coming Up

Vordakai and his undead servants have been defeated, but what does this mean for the Nomen centaurs and their fragile peace with the humans? And what’s been going on in Brevoy, anyway?

Next: devoured!

  1. Excellent observations. And a bit sad – I was hoping I was wrong with these predictions.

  2. Pinkius permalink

    yea, the kingmaker kingdom building rules are pretty bad. By which I mean they’re not BAD, it’s just they’re not good enough and they’re imbalanced.

  3. somesaycubbish permalink

    Cool encounter! Was the Flytrap in the AP, or did you make it up? If it was in the published AP, did you enhance it in any way? I’d love to have the stats on it. Thanks!

    • I’m guessing you meant this for the next post? It is from Varnhold Vanishing; hex location “U”. The giant flytrap is in the PF Bestiary, page 134 according to the adventure. I didn’t modify the encounter at all, as we only had 3 players present for that session.

      • somesaycubbish permalink

        Whoops yes I commented on the wrong post 😛 thanks. Thought you might have modified the Flytrap, I don’t have book #3 (V V), so I couldn’t check.

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