Kingmaker Oddities

So, I’ve been running the Kingmaker AP from Pathfinder — and I’ve been tweaking things to make it my own, and make it fit the players I have (we’re running Kingmaker with only 2 PCs). I’ve been reading some other people writing about it — a blog and forums. And it’s a fun adventure, don’t get me wrong — my players really enjoy this kingdom thing, and I’ve wanted to run a “set up a colony” game for a long time, so we’re all happy.

But — Kingmaker has some oddities that keep me scratching my head. To be clear, this is my first experience with running a Pathfinder Adventure Path, so maybe they’re all like this, but I’m wondering — has anyone else who has run this thing noticed what I’ve noticed — because I don’t really seem to see anyone talking about it.

First, the adventure path (AP) seems to assume that PCs will build certain types of buildings as their priorities in cities. For example, in part two – Rivers Run Red, two of the “kingdom” events assume the presence of an inn in the PCs town (or possibly more than one). After a year, my players had barely accomplished establishing the basics of their kingdom, like a few blocks of houses, and had other priorities besides inn and tavern service.

Second, the AP has some very “a reward for ourselves” kind of stuff going on. In the front cover of part two are several quests all offering rewards – which are to be paid by the kingdom – for doing certain things. Assuming that the PCs are actually in control of the kingdom (which seems to be the default assumption for the AP) this means that the quests PCs are going on are being posted by themselves, for themselves, to be attempted by themselves and then when they succeed they pay themselves… that just doesn’t really work for me. As a related problem, the AP also has some very weird quests. Part three has a guy who wants you to get him an exotic egg to make special omelets… wtf? I mean, I’m not above doing a weird quest — but the quest (and the others like it) have two problems — one, it’s without context, this guy just pops up and asks the PCs to do this, and two, the PCs are approximately level 7 at this point and in charge of a budding kingdom — is this really the kind of thing they would spend their time on?

The pieces all don’t really seem to connect well either, when it comes to kingdom building. By this I mean, when looking at Tatzlford, this other town that the PCs are approached about that an NPC wants to set up, my players were a little confused as to what its status would be floating around their budding kingdom. And then, even with the possibility of annexing it at some point, when I looked ahead to the fourth installment of the AP, where the town plays an important role, the town is developed by the writers in a very specific way, offers very specific buildings to a PC kingdom, and doesn’t seem to follow the established rules for population for the kingdom. And one of my players is already annoyed about the way population simply explodes once you begin to establish even the basics of a kingdom. After all, the PC kingdom in my game is still pretty small, with only ten hexes and a fairly conservative first city and the population is 6000 inhabitants, roughly. That seems like crazy talk. To get back to Tatzlford, it actually seems likely that the PCs should have annexed it long before part four, but reading the adventure, it’s far more in the PCs interest not to.

Along with this issue, the perceptual shift between part one and part two has been difficult. I realize this is not really the fault of the AP, but it bears mentioning that along with the kingdom building mechanics, it might have been nice to provide some player guidance for how to shift from full time explorer/adventurers to suddenly being part-time adventurers and running a kingdom. The AP assumes that the PCs will go out adventuring throughout part two – and sets events around their continued exploration – but doesn’t really guide the PCs toward feeling at all like they are “in charge” or what that all means. I’ve been taking it slow and trying to role-play with their fellow members of the court they’ve established and all that, but as the kingdom grows it is difficult not to remember that they have city guards, a standing army, a town full of people doing business, etc. My players enjoy the kingdom building aspect but the shift from adventurer to ruler is thinly set up in the AP. And I sense that part three is only going to make this divide worse and as we reach the end of part two I’m trying to prepare for the next set of events to lessen the disconnect. I can’t imagine what running this must have been like when you didn’t have all the parts ahead of time. Related to this issue is the sudden appearance of aristocracy… Part three, for example, has a side quest that mentions an “aristocrat from one of your cities” but wait, um, where the heck are these guys coming from? Who appointed them? When did the baroness say it was okay to set yourself up as an aristocrat in her city? My point, again, the AP assumes a lot of things for your players without ever setting up any situations to play any of this out or give them an expectation that such things are happening. I mean, if I were to suddenly spring aristocrats on my PCs right now I’m pretty sure they’d go along with it (they’re great folks) but it would really make no sense at all…

And considering the nature of the events to come, it is also difficult to reconcile the benchmarks of the kingdom building process with the adventure itself. The introduction of Part three implies that the PC kingdom should reach a size of 50-60 hexes by the beginning of the third part. We’re two years of kingdom building in and we’ve only reached ten hexes. My PCs would need to take about three more years to get to that size – and the initial map barely offers enough territory to reach that goal if the PCs take every hex on the thing – and possibly even start to expand onto a map they haven’t even begun to explore yet by that point. It’s a little frustrating for me as a DM to try and set the appropriate pace and guide them to these decisions without taking a heavy hand.

Anyway — this is long — and really, it’s not so big an issue when handled carefully — but it does make the experience behind the screen much more frustrating.

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3 responses

  1. I can only speak as a player of several of the AP’s Our group has done all of the AP’s up to Kingmaker and that’s the one we’re playing know. We just started the Varnhold book. I’d say our two favorite AP’s so far have been Rise of the Runelords and Curse of the Crimson Throne.
    I think the kingdom building is what sets a part Kingmaker. I’m not sure what changes and improvised things our DM has done but I have the feeling the feeling that he’s improvised a lot to match the way the party is headed.

  2. I’ve been very curious about this- though our group doesn’t play Pathfinder or any kind of d20 game. Are the mechanics and ideas for kingdom building in this material “portable”? Would they be useful as a model for other games? How detailed are we talking?

  3. @Chuck — You’re posts about Kingmaker have been really fun to read, I hope you keep them up. Your group seems to be about two sessions (ish) ahead of mine, so your experiences are great to read.

    @LowellFrancis — I find the kingdom building mechanics in Kingmaker to be pretty easy to get along with and after two years of building the PC kingdom in my game, they’re working pretty well. The rules really center around the nobles of the court and the expansion of territory and settlements. Overall, very clever. They would be portable to most systems with very little work actually — but they are very ‘fantasy’ focused and would require a little tweaking to use elsewhere.

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