~ This post contains spoilers for the Council of Thieves Adventure Path. Do not read if you do not wish to be spoiled. ~
After we finished Kingmaker the DM and blog owner Jeff wanted a break. I stepped in and we talked about what Adventure Path to try next and we decided on Council of Thieves. It was my number one pick as I really enjoy city based campaigns. I did not do a lot of research on it to know what was going to be in store for us. I thought it looked fun and interesting and knew I could really make it shine. There will be spoilers so readers are warned. I’m not going to talk about everything in each book but I will discuss some things good and bad about the AP and some of the changes that I did.
To start with I encouraged my players to make skill based characters, as skills were going to be a bigger focus in the campaign. They chose an Inquisitor, Rogue, Urban Ranger, and a Bard. I wanted to limit spellcasting and that really did it. Also, the campaign is designed to go to 13th level, but I only advanced them to 10th level for the end. Magic was not a powerful factor for the players and it helped the game tremendously. The AP is the first written for Pathfinder and it shows. The stat blocks for the enemies were not well done. This how an adventure that went to 13th level could be completed by a group of weaker classes levels behind where they should have been. Also, the content in the books was lacking. We made it through most of them in two sessions verses the five to six sessions a Kingmaker book took us.
The main thing I did was help my players come up with good backgrounds for the setting and flesh out some NPCs they knew that I could use. I like to flesh out the setting and add in side plots for the PCs that don’t revolve around the main campaign plot but can cause complications and offer allies. I know many gamers don’t make backgrounds as the GMs never use them and they never serve a purpose. I always use them and if a player doesn’t supply the information I will supply it for them with their approval.
The first book is the Bastards of Erebus. It defines some of the city. Westcrown used to be the capital city until the civil war and the Devil Worshipers took over. Sadly, the repression and evil government is not shown much and if I were to do it again I would do a better job of establishing that. Part of the city has been abandoned and that is where gangs like the Bastards have set up. I did move the events of the book as it starts with the group meeting a second society and then during that meeting bad guys come in and break it up. I don’t think PCs would go back to that group after the first time they almost get killed and don’t have any real ties to them. So, I set up some small adventures using some options the book provides to do afterwards and had them happen first. This established a greater connection between the PCs and the group so when the leader of the group needs rescued the PCs would do that.
One major change I did was giving the group a powerful item in their first adventure, a Helm of Brilliance. The city has a curfew because shadow beasts rule the night. People who venture out after dark have a habit of never being seen again. The problem has existed for over 30 years. I included more history of failed attempts to fix the problem then the books do because by the books the people of the city just accepted it. The Helm gives power versus the undead and some spell ability that can really damage and kill the things. But the Helm is a charged item so the group was conservative and made it last much longer than I expected.
The Sixfold Trial is book two and might have one of the most famous scenes from all the Adventure Paths in it: the Play. The characters are hired to put on a dangerous play in which the characters of the play are tortured through trials. The trials though are real so the PCs have to live through these potentially very dangerous trials. I thought it was fun. It introduced some great NPCs and allowed the players to do some things they don’t usually do in our games. I had each PC audition and have the director yell at them and it was fun. When we got to the play I was shocked that my group wanted to read through all their lines. I was really expecting some of them to refuse. No one is going to win a Tony Award for our performance but I enjoyed it. Afterwards they are invited to the evil Mayor’s estate to steal stuff and sadly this wasn’t as good. I was shocked the PCs didn’t try to rob the house blind. Also the dinner party had other NPCs and my players at the time just didn’t engage them. It wasn’t an issue with the adventure or anything it was just an opportunity missed.
I really like that the dungeon crawls in here and short and there are not many of them. It is also a reason why the AP went as quickly as there is not a lot of filler that consume time. I inserted material from the setting books about the city and different NPCs from different sourcebooks that were part of the city. I even included a dragon that seems to be ignored now in the setting. Strangely, the PCs never realized it was a dragon. I kept track of different books I used for this AP and I think I hit over 60 Pathfinder and non-Pathfinder books that were referenced by me to enhance the campaign. It is the most work I’ve put into a campaign for using mostly printed adventures from start to finish.
What Lies in Dust is the third book. The first half consists of gathering information and some oddly pointless fights leads way to one of the cooler places to adventure and that is an abandoned Pathfinder Lodge. It also featured our first really difficulty combat and one of the reasons the Helm of Brilliance was handed out so early in the campaign. The Lodge features some very cool and creative rooms the Pathfinder had. Much of it is creepy and magical and I would really like to see more places like this. The difficult combat was some Vampires that I did not foreshadow to keep them as a complete surprise. The NPC Paladin that was journeying with them was killed in one round by the vampires as by this time the group is only supposed to be sixth level (they were fifth) and the vampires have a great ambush place and class levels. Most of the NPCs are not well built, but these guys were especially for a group that did not have a Cleric. It turned into a great battle and was challenging and fun.
In the Infernal Syndrome, the fourth book, the Mayor’s house blows up. It was a fun scene of the PCs running through the city to get to the disaster and then trying to help. Our rogue had her favorite combat as there was a devil on a rooftop shooting arrows. She quickly climbed up attacked and then retreated. She knew she could not face the creature in hand to hand so used great hit and run tactics and made great use of her characters abilities. Then the group sees thieves going into the basement and that leads to what is probably the largest dungeon crawl in the Adventure Path. It is a large magical engine with a Pit Fiend as its battery. It is a neat idea and there are some interesting encounters and fun NPCs, but the last dozen or so rooms really dragged on making it tiresome by the time the group gets to the Pit Fiend.
My favorite encounter in here was a Lich (weak Lich, like the weak Pit Fiend) who used to be a former mayor of the city. He was of course Evil. He talked to the group and they talked back. He had good reasons for becoming a Lich. It wasn’t because he was evil but he knew that the only way he could live long enough to come back and rescue Westcrown from itself was to become a Lich. Every question the party asked him he came up with good and reasonable answers. They almost let him live which would have been just awesome and interesting. But one of my players realized what was going on and just attacked. It was pretty awesome and fun.
Mother of Flies is the fifth book. It has the only section that really takes the party out of the city. It’s probably less than a mile outside the city. A potential ally who happens to be an evil Hag is being attacked because she knows a secret. The group had fun planning out a counter attack and really getting in some larger scale tactics. The battle does not have to go that way but I have a player that enjoys that so we let him come up some plans and they executed them well. After that it is attacking a thieves’ guild headquarters. It went fast because I did not make the group do a room to room search because most of the rooms are empty. Also, most the opponents as written are painfully too weak. According to the AP the character should be level 10 and many of the normal thieves here had a measly +3 to attack. So, even with flanking they had a 10% to hit our Bard who had the worst AC in the group. There are some named NPCs here that can offer some trouble but mostly it was an easy book to complete.
The series ends with the Twice Damned Prince. Up to this point the group was not sure who the mastermind was as I was purposefully making it so it could be one of two NPCs. This book instead of a set path, has a lot of small encounters that deal with some of the NPCs and events around the city. It is an interesting way to finish the campaign. The part I hated was by doing this the group collects points and then depending on the amount of points determines how the populace reacts to them. There just is not enough points to be gained to get what most groups would see as a happy ending. I knew I was tossing out that system but told the PCs about it and let them see what would happen if we used it and they got a Martial Law result. We went with a happier ending.
Over all the AP was a lot of fun and a lot of work. I know it is not seen to be as good as Kingmaker but I’d rank it near there, though it is very different. In the campaign there is an artifact the PCs acquire and they still have it at the end. One of the reasons I just leveled the group to 10th level and had them play skill based characters was the idea they would go off into the world and find out how to destroy the artifact. With the artifacts history I did not change much to lead into the Serpent’s Skull adventure path. The Serpent Skull AP though just didn’t work out well for us.
Chris Gath. I’ve been gaming since 1980 playing all kinds of games since then. In the past year I’ve run Pathfinder, Dungeon Crawl Classic, Paranoia, and Mini d6. My current campaign is mini d6 and we are using that for a modern supernatural conspiracy investigative game. On some forums I’m known as Crothian and I’ve written a few hundred reviews though I took a sabbatical from reviewing for a few years as it burnt me out. I was also an judge for the Gen Con awards (ENnies) six times. Jeff, the owner of this blog, is one of my players and a good friend.