That Pathfinder Campaign Josh Keeps Mentioning
By Tom Mannering
If you've listened to the Unlucky Frog Gaming podcast for any length of time, you've probably heard mention of the Pathfinder roleplaying game campaign that Josh participates in. You've maybe heard snippets of his adventure within that campaign. You've even maybe heard my occasional appearances where I mention my fondness for the tabletop roleplaying hobby and my experience as a games master or within the Pathfinder community.
But there's a lot that you haven't heard, like where the campaign that Josh plays in comes from, how it came about and what it takes to make it work. So, when the guys asked me to start writing blog content for them I thought it makes sense to go into some of the background and detail of the aforementioned Pathfinder campaign.
I've been running roleplaying games for almost twenty years, and I've been running Pathfinder in one form or another for the last seven. When I moved back to Glasgow about six years ago I set to putting together a roleplaying group out of people I knew and friends of friends. That group have played a few different campaigns over the years and while players have dropped in and out over time (due to other commitments), the group has prevailed. When we decided to start a new campaign back in early 2017, I decided to move away from the default Pathfinder setting of Golarion and revisit a setting from a couple of previous campaigns.
Before I began running Pathfinder, I'd been a massive fan of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5. In the mid-2000's I ran a couple of campaigns in a world called Ashtar. I refer to Ashtar as my "own setting", but factually this isn't correct. Ashtar is more as a 'world of combination". While some elements of the setting are of my own creation, many more are taken from other sources and added to the world to flesh it out. The world map and nation names for Ashtar came from a third party sourcebook for 3.5 called 'The Drow War Book', except I misread the name of the world (which in the source material was called Ashfar) and decided to just stick with Ashtar when I realised the mistake. The pantheon of deities for the world came from the world of Greyhawk, a classic D&D setting. I tied the setting into the gothic horror elements of the Ravenloft universe and introduced threatening winter witches from the Pathfinder setting. Ashtar began to take on a life of it's own, fusing interesting and exciting aspects from different materials and becoming something of a Frankenstein’s Monster, except it hasn't killed me... Yet. When the new campaign sprung to life in early 2017, it did so within the world of Ashtar.
The Common Cause
Whenever I start a new campaign, I run a Session 0 with the players. This is a chance to sit everyone down and discuss not only what characters they will play, but also what they want from the campaign. What tone do they want the story to have? What role do they want their characters to take? What types of adventures do they want to go on? If you run a prewritten campaign, you don't have much control over these elements. That said, if you play a campaign book called 'Horde of the Dragon Queen', there's an implication that you want to play a game that features dragons and treasure. After our Session 0 I named the first book of the campaign 'Common Cause'. The characters in the party were united by a common cause (see what we did there) to survive the destruction of their home village, learn about and overcome a swelling orc threat and reclaim their place in the frontier landscape of their home nation. It was a simple concept, but one that worked surprisingly well. I strongly recommend having a Session 0, even for pre-written campaigns. Understanding how your group ties together and what they as players and characters want, better allows you to interact and support the narrative as the story unfolds.
The Universe Expands
I am but one man, and for all my alleged skill as a games master, I have never been able to run a decent campaign with more than six players at any given session. Honestly, I don't really think it's viable in all but the most idealistic situations. So, when I was approached by more people wanting to join in the existing campaign, I knew the reality was that I would have to turn them away. I had five players, I had a comfortable narrative that was progressing well and I didn't want to rock the boat, over egg the pudding or add another metaphor to this sentence. Instead, I collected the interested parties into a second group and began running a 'sister series' called 'Ages End'. Unlike 'Common Cause', which was played around my table, this campaign was played online using Roll20. There were other differences too, 'Ages End' was a much darker game, with a more oppressive and horror driven narrative. Where 'Common Cause' was set in the wilds of the nations of Boskenland, it was set in the corrupt and questionable Eagle Nations. Finally, 'Ages End' began thirty years earlier in the timeline of Ashtar.
Making It Work
Running a campaign is a lot of work. Running two is obviously more. But I'm able to make it work through some degree of planning ahead, understanding and supportive players and using all the tools available to me. While some of the adventures the groups of 'Common Cause' or 'Ages End' would go on would be written and planned by me entirely, others would be alterations and adjustments to scripted adventures from Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, 4th Edition and Pathfinder. Even some of their most daunting villains would be farmed from one sourcebook or another, and adapted to fit the narrative. Much like the setting, these adventures and characters would take on an identity of their own, and would likely be better for it.
'Common Cause' came to a hell of an end, with the heroes defeating the orc horde and its leaders, rallying the survivors of several towns behind them and while their victory came with painful losses, the lives of hundreds were spared. Now they've moved onto the next book 'Darkness Divides', which has started with them using the remains of the orc keep as a base of operations to start building their own settlement and eventually, kingdom. The storyline of 'Ages End' continues as they battle the nightmare creature of the infernal realms and the dread of an oppressive and unknowable enemy on the horizon. With two campaigns running in the same world, even divided as they are by time and distance, the temptation to run a crossover of the two is tempted. Almost... too tempting.
Hopefully you'll continue to hear about the adventures on Ashtar through Unlucky Frog and other sources. If you'd like to know more about the campaign, the characters or what goes into making it happen, let me know. Equally, if you're interested in roleplaying and looking for support, I can likely point you in a couple of directions.
Tom Mannering is involved with the Scottish Pathfinder Society and has run a plethora of TTRPG campaigns for a multitude of systems. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org