Framework for Analysis

Before I start analyzing adventures, I need to establish what I am looking at and how I am approaching things.

For my purposes, an Antagonist is going to be any monster or NPC who has a goal, plan or story goal that leads them directly into conflict with the PCs. I am going to leave out the un-named cannon fodder and creatures that are simply part of the environment. Even doing this, I suspect I will find there are often a handful of key antagonists in each adventure driving things forward.

Each adventure will be looked at to identify the antagonists, and then each antagonist's plot and goals will be examined. After that, I will comment on the structure and presentation of the actual encounters and events in the adventure, and try to determine how well they support and expose the antagonist goals to the PCs. I feel that this last element is vital for gaining the players' interest in pursuing an Adventure Path campaign, since they need to be involved in the outcome enough to accept the limitations put on their ability to roam freely through a campaign world. Or, to put it another way – I'm going to count the interesting ones as antagonists.

I am going to use the structure of the adventure as presented by the authors as the structure for my analysis. I did think about converting things into the Act Structure, but adventures have their own rhythm that is different from the film/play/drama structure that supports the Act. Instead, I think using the presented "Part" and "Chapter" structure that Paizo has used will allow me to examine properly the development of the adventures. I might also look at "level breaks" as well… where the party should be crossing a level up point in the adventure could also be an important marker.

My qualifications for this are… well, nil. I have been playing D&D and other RPGs since 1978, so that is 30 years under my belt now. I have written a little for White Wolf, so have dipped a toe into the publishing side of things. I have long had an interest in the craft of writing, having read many books and articles discussing the constructing of stories and plots. I am not an academic – just a dilettante dabbling in some criticism.


Critical Analysis of an Adventure Path

My plan is to start up a campaign running the first Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rise of the Runelords, using the Pathfinder RPG Beta rules. The Beta rules are due in August, so I have started making game notes and re-reading through the adventures. At the same time, I discovered Todd Alcott's blog, "What Does the Protagonist Want?", where he analyzes film and breaks down act structures and character motivations. The result is a desire to experiment and see if I can gain a better understanding of the adventures that make up the campaign if I examine them with a critical eye towards their story and structure, and see if this provides insights into how better to run them for my players.

Naturally, this is going to mean SPOILERS and more SPOILERS and even more SPOILERS. I will include the following disclaimer at the start of any post dealing with these adventures, to give warning to folks who are planning to play to stay away.

WARNING: The following discusses details of the plot, characters, encounters and events of the adventure. Do not read further if you intend to play as a PC in these adventures.

First up will be an examination of Pathfinder #1, the adventure "Burnt Offerings".


Media Influences

Over on Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward makes the challenge of revealing the primary influences on the personal RPG game. I figure that might be a good way to get my mind on gaming, and off work.

Robert E. Howard (and Lin Carter and L. Sprague De Camp) When it comes to gaming, I think REH is the biggest literary influence on what I like in my play. The mash-up of history in the Hyborian Age, with each nation being recognizably based on some historical reality, but existing as its own fantasy realm, really captured my imagination. It was the drive of REH's language, and his ability to construct a world or character from a few elements, that really drove my early gaming. Of course, I later discovered that much of what I thought was REH's work was the work of L. Sprague De Camp and/or Lin Carter. Thankfully, the new editions of the Conan stories have corrected this and revealed how much stronger are the original works. His influence lives on today, as I tend to favor sword-swinging characters of the wild over the effete city-born types. Other elements that have been absorbed in my general play are the Picts (how I typically run Orcs in my games), the fact that dark sorcery has terrible costs, and the frequent descriptions of heroes being thumped on their thick-skulled heads.

Fritz Lieber Another strong influence – I usually have a corrupted city in my campaigns. Newhon is another realm of mixed history and reality, grounded half in fantasy and half in the weird fantasy and that mix has popped up more than once in my games. Fafhrd is another barbarian that has strongly influenced my choice of characters – but more complex that just a stick-jock. The inherent corruption of authority also makes frequent appearances, as does the tendency for heroes to get in over their heads and back out again.

Lord of the Rings A no-brainer, I guess. Strider is the third leg of the stool of almost all of my characters (Conan, Fafhrd, and Aragorn… not a bad mix), and the Tolkien portrayal of elves is pretty much my go-to position. I am also usually striving to have the same sense of encompassing history and past in my campaigns. I like the players to feel like their characters exist in a world that existed before they rolled up their heroes, and will likely exist after their gone. One of the reasons I like Pathfinder's setting of Golarion quite a bit is that it captures that sense of ancient history.

Bullfinch's Mythology All the Greek and Norse myths, with flawed gods and tragic heroes who do great things but often for the most petty of reasons, held my attention pretty much from the moment I could read. The obvious influence is on my portrayal of gods in my games as non-omnipotent, non-omniscient figures with their own agendas who need the PCs to help them. I have also tried to capture a lot of the wonder and epic feel of stories of Jason, Perseus and Theseus. Monsters need to feel unique and dangerous but exist outside the realm of civilization; the monsters inside the walls are entirely too human.

Three Hearts & Three Lions Probably one of the biggest influences on my gaming is this book, with its story of a hero fighting against evil (in the form of Chaos), no matter the cost to him. I suppose the most direct result of this book is my focus and effort to run games where good will win, but only if it takes up the fight against evil. I'm somewhat biased against evil, and in the one game I ran where the PCs were evil, they had a tough time of it – when they made mistakes, the forces of good were paying attention and responded rapidly. Another influence the book has had on my game play is to try and cut players of Paladins a little slack, while still challenging them to do better.