Monday, February 12, 2018

Four Years of Kingmaker

This month marks the 4-year anniversary of my friend Paladin Steve's Pathfinder game using the Kingmaker AP. The plan was to play once a month and yesterday was Session 39 so we haven't missed too many sessions over that time. I don't post much about it here - since I'm not running it I feel like it's not my story to tell, but since it is the only campaign where I am a player I will share some thoughts.

First, it's the only Pathfinder thing I am doing right now and has been for about a year. With a month between sessions and the occasional missed session the rules do get rusty. In an attempt to help with this I bought the "Pathfinder Rules Reference Flash Cards" and keep them in the bag I take to the game.

These are pretty solid and each one covers a specific topic. I'm playing a cavalier so it's handy to have the "Mounted Combat" rules in front of me, occasionally the Bull Rush or Grappling rules come up too, the Dying condition, etc. One of the issues is "Edition Bleed" - we've migrated from 3.0 to 3.5 to 4E to 5E all over the last decade so sometimes a situation comes up and the default tends to be what was last encountered in play rather than what did we read about it in this particular rulebook. It happens in 40K too, so it's not unique to D&D type RPGs. As an example just yesterday we had one player insisting that constructs were immune to critical hits. I was pretty sure that was not the case in Pathfinder and that he was remembering 3E D&D so we had to make some knowledge checks and eventually look it up. I assume stuff like this would be much less frequent if we played the game more often but then again, the player who brought this up plays in another PF game and even cited that in the discussion and yet he was still confused - so who knows?

Character-wise I'm playing a Human (Taldoran) Cavalier and we're up to 8th level. Progress is slower when you only go once a month but we don't really mind because there's some re-learning of the character when we sit down to play after a month gap anyway! I have a warhorse that is similar to a druid's animal companion in some ways so he gets better as we get better too. If nothing else this means I don't have to go find a new horse every time we get fireballed which is nice. He has his own character sheet and all that so I can pull off some fun horse tricks when needed.

If I'm being honest here the cavalier is a fairly limited class mechanically. You don't get a bunch of unique things to do - the companion horse thing is about it - you mainly get some numerical bonuses when on horseback. So I hit harder on horseback and can move around more when I charge something, but it's mostly a Bigger Numbers thing, not a Cool Things You Can Do kind of class. Then of course when I'm not on the horse the numbers go down a little and I'm pretty much a fighter with fewer feats.  I'm usually OK with this as when I am on the horse and I get a chance to charge and I have a lance and I do hit my target I am the nuclear missile of the campaign doing ridiculous amounts of damage and annihilating all but the toughest targets. Honestly a lot of Pathfinder classes are like this so it's just part of the deal.

Kingmaker is a great place to play a cavalier - lots of cross-country travel and outdoor encounters mean I am on horseback quite a bit. There are some dungeons though and the dismounted cavalier is a competent if slightly less explodey combatant.

As far as the campaign goes I'd say it's a unique experience - even at low levels there's a strategic part of the game where the party is building a kingdom and while it can get a little tedious to work through that sub-system at times it is a thing you do not see in low-level games at all, really, even in the old days. We've had some mass combat too, a system I was already familiar with from my Wrath of the Righteous game. I still like it as it's not all that complex but still feels different than normal combat and at least puts some kind of playable system around it instead of just hand-waving the larger conflict around the PC's. I won't say it's perfect but they're completely playable and both of these sub-systems make you think about the campaign in a different way than just bashing monsters for the greater good.

The traditional part of the campaign is excellent too so far. It's not just "hey there's a ruined keep over there" but it's all built around hexcrawling and exploration. The players choose where they're going and then deal with what they find as they find it. We've found traditional enemies, allies, wandering NPC's, recurring opponents, native populations ranging from kobolds to various faeries, and interesting terrain features too. We've made deals, signed treaties, avenged wrongs, and hung bandits. The fact that you're not working for the local government, you ARE the local government, puts a very different feel on these things.

Overall I'd say it's a great campaign. It is literally a sandbox campaign so you can do what you want with it as both DM and players. There are different things you can emphasize in different amounts as a DM to make it better fit your party. Players will inevitably show more interest in some elements than in others.  Steve works hard to make sure the NPC's are memorable and have their own agendas to a degree and he does a great job. He's also worked in some other Paizo adventures that fit the campaign. I am not seeing the seams so I'd say he's doing a good job there too. I think we're somewhere in the 3rd book out of the six, maybe the 4th, and I don't care because we're not on some heavily plotted timeline - we're building a kingdom, making allies, planning for the future, and dealing with various threats as they arise. Sounds exactly like what I was hoping for when we started this campaign.

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