My gaming group is three sessions back from our Kingmaker hiatus I mentioned in a previous post. We have had a good start back and will be starting in on part five, War of the River Kings, of the six part Adventure Path next session. We came back from hiatus with part four of the AP, Blood for Blood, though we were already halfway through that module when we came back from the hiatus. The fact that it took three sessions to wrap up what was essentially the bulk of the exploring in that installment is the topic of this post!
We have really enjoyed the Kingmaker campaign so far. The sandbox nature of the adventure path, while trickier to GM, allows plenty of room for a GM and players to make the campaign their own. Kingdom building has been quite entertaining and it has been fun to watch the kingdom grow over the many months.
The part that I find most difficult as a GM running the adventure path is the monotony of the exploration. Exploration and the quests associated with the exploration was fun for the first two books of the adventure path. It was pretty easy to come up with varied terrain descriptions and travel. The early quests were enjoyable and provided some of the early interaction with the locals before the characters were more of a driving force.
From book three, The Varnhold Vanishing, on though it has felt like a real slowdown to me as the GM. By this point in the Kingmaker campaign I had a harder time making the descriptions of terrain and travel entertaining enough. I tried of course, but after two books worth of travel and exploration of hexes this task began to feel monotonous.
I have also found it harder to get the quests properly introduced without it feeling like a laundry list of tasks. With the kingdom growing and more interactions from the characters with their neighbors the action within the adventure path by book three was steady enough that quest introductions felt shoehorned in.
And finally, it seems that several of the quests are a much better fit for adventurers hired by the rulers of the kingdom, not the rulers themselves. Giving some of the quests out just seems silly sometimes given who the characters are within the scope of the kingdom.
What to do?
Admittedly given the exploration necessity in Kingmaker to grow the kingdom it can be difficult to handle this. The need for exploration in the campaign means we cannot drop it completely from the adventure path.
I felt exploration worked well in the first two installments of the adventure path. As noted above the adventure path was fresh, it was easier to come up with unique terrain, weather and travel descriptions and the quests helped introduce the characters to the locals.
Moving past the first two installments of the adventure path I think the number of quests given should be dropped significantly. The quests that are left should be ones that the rulers of the kingdom would have real motivation to pursue. Additionally tying some of the quests together with a related thread between them could help make them more interesting.
GM prep can certainly help some with the exploration monotony by having terrain descriptions and such at the ready. This becomes a touch burdensome after time though as I can only think of so many ways to describe a grasslands and such. Several of the hexes with encounters do have some terrain description included which helps to a degree.
In my own group I have even suggested that we could bypass some of the exploration and focus on the meat of the campaign more if they wanted to hire some adventurers to take care of the work for them. They voted this idea down, rather unanimously. So maybe I am doing a better job at running the exploration than I give myself credit for!
Kingmaker has been a great campaign so far. The group is enjoying it and I have been fun running it. This post has focused on exploration being one of the parts of the Kingmaker adventure path that I have found more difficult to run.
Despite this complaint the adventure path of a whole is a very fun one. It gives the GM plenty of room to work in as well as the players. It takes a bit more work to run because of the sandbox nature, but the rewards are there.
How are other people’s Kingmaker campaigns going? Have you had more success or ease at running the exploration bits than I have?