A Look Back at the Legacy

I started running Legacy of Fire in the winter of 2008/09, after my Spycraft game crashed and burned at inception. Tenandys and Matt started heckling me to run Legacy as something to do, partly because it looked awesome, and partly because they knew I was a fan of Al-Qadim and Arabian stuff. When we were at FanFare in Kalamazoo, I found the complete set, and picked them up at list-price, and things went from there. After a heavy turnover rate, with a lot of gaps and pauses, and with both Matt and I leaving the area for various periods of time, the game finally finished in July of 2011.

At the end, we had a grand total of eleven player characters, of which only five—Malak, Muji, Ashnale, Yantar, and Karek—were worth noting (e.g., played for at least one module).

In terms of character deaths, nobody died until End of Eternity (except Cedrik); between it and Final Wish, we had around ten deaths. Yantar managed to die at least four times in Impossible Eye alone. The players tell me he died a fifth time, which I don’t remember: basically, that he took a lot of damage from the AoO’s of the fire elementals guarding Shazatharad. This would be doubly humiliating since the killing blow would have been from Rayhan’s cone of cold, which the other PCs had him cast to wipe the room of elementals. Malak died twice fighting the bronze giant, and was Breath of Life’d back instantly. I think Karek died three times; the first was retconned, and the second two I were in Jhavhul’s lair, and again, remedied by Breath of Life. Ashnale didn’t stay long enough to die, and Muji avoided death at all costs.

Originally, I’d figured to run the adventure path as a lead-in to the City of Brass adventure box. Two things are preventing me. First is the fact that the group is scattered all over: I’m on the other side of the state, Tenandys is trying to move away, and most everyone else but Matt are college students who go home for the summer (and every few weekends).

The second is the simple fact of power creep: I assumed I’d have to do a lot of conversions from 3.5 to Pathfinder going into the series. Now, with the experienced characters equipped with some amazingly powerful equipment (and abilities), there’s no way I can run City of Brass and have it be anything close to challenging; the amount of work I’d have to do is more than most people would be willing to put in. Amongst other things, the PCs are a level or so higher than they should be to start, and their power level is way above what City of Brass starts at, so it doesn’t offer much in the area of rewarding challenges unless I go about reorganizing every encounter’s balance of monsters.

Without a challenge, I’m not sure it’s worth running: look, we can run it now if the players want. You all run into a building and kill everything, blow a few channel energies and here’s what you found. I don’t look forward to a sea of 5′ squares and AoO’s where the players always act first and kill the monsters in record time. It’s the same reason I don’t play mumorpugers: pointless grind. And the players are pretty attached to their characters and builds, so I’m not sure we could pull off one of those “these are the original PCs’ heirs, operating out of their parent’s manse” or something.

Thus the completion of the Legacy of Fire arc concludes this epic journey, with the PCs as legendary heroes whose renown will quickly spread from their home village of Kelmarane, and will spend the rest of their days performing the everyday duties of high-level adventurers in a small trading post.

The Good

  • The Path has a pretty cool epic storyline, and like all Paizo paths, gives a strong sense of accomplishment: here, the PCs have not only fought back one major rival from an earlier age, but have saved Golarion from one of the primal terrors. (Having a very pious Saranrae-based group really helped.)
  • The setting is wonderful, and it really comes through in the art. Golarion is pretty much the best of all worlds; yeah, I still love Dark Sun and Eberron, but Golarion is my new favorite stomping ground. Katapesh more than fulfilled its promise of being the go-to Arabian fantasy setting. It feels lived-in, and interesting, yet broad enough to drop anything I come up with into it. It has a great pedigree, from all the stuff Wolfgang Baur did on it, being the guy who did a lot for Al-Qadim.
  • Like all Paths, things are already laid out for you: while I love coming up with my own plots and settings and stuff, there isn’t always time for that. Everything here felt very complete: you get new monsters, a complete module which is tied to other modules, and big chunks of Golarion fluff (along with game mechanics). Very well-rounded product line, and the best looking Path they’ve done to date.
  • There was a very nice balance between combat and not-combat in the early modules, with plenty of interesting locales, plot points, and the like. I get bored with pointless combat, and find high-roleplay pretentious and non-productive. Legacy blended things very nicely: there are some dungeon crawls, and a lot of traveling, and NPCs to deal with, and so on.
  • The first module is one of the best I’ve ran in a while. It had a great diversity of challenges, the best being the pugwampi gremlins: not dangerous in and of themselves, but a real threat, which made them really fun to use.
  • It’s also worth noting that the transition from 3.5 to Pathfinder was very, very easy; converting monsters and other mechanics on the fly wasn’t hard, and with two Bestiaries, most of them were already statted up. Still, there lurk a few problems with the rules set…

The Bad

1.) Things became very tedious later on and the fun started to dry up. I’m not just bitching about combat being tedious, like I have been with the past posts; the game started to feel too long in the tooth for me. There wasn’t as much emotional investment: when the players started off, they injected a lot of personality in their characters, which made things awesome. Later on, this just vanished: roleplaying felt forced at times, Yantar and Karek came in too late to have the same established depth as Malak and Muji, and things fell into the “we’re going here and doing/buying/killing that” mode. More of a focus on watching XP tick up until the next level, so people could build their characters kind of thing. We ended up sticking to it just to finish it, which leaves me nostalgic for the first few modules, which had fantastic party cohesion and atmosphere.

Granted, a large part of this is because I was trying to plow through the Path to get done with it. Being out of the area meant that I was driving three hours, running a game all night, crashing on somebody’s couch, and doing the same thing the next day, which added more of the “feels like work” atmosphere. But taking it slow and steady wouldn’t have finished off the module series, especially if Tenandys finally manages to detach himself, so it was a catch-22 either way. Still, I’ve seen this complaint mentioned in other reviews of people who ran adventure paths—usually the really, really long ones in Dungeon—so I’m not alone on this.

2.) Power creep is still a major problem with the system. I didn’t add in much in terms of treasure, and the PCs sunk everything they earned/found into making their weapons as powerful as possible. This is D&D; you expect that. Still, the sheer amount of power creep surprised me, and I can see why everyone says 10th level is the sweet spot to stop gaming. Having fewer players meant that everybody could sink a lot of money into their individual gear. Aside from the ludicrously expensive equipment they built, the players did the standard thing of power-building characters: this is d20, you expect that. Apparently the designers didn’t, because I got sick of seeing mobs of mooks which posed no threat at all.

3.) I have very mixed opinions on the APG. There’s a lot in it that I like, and a lot that I want to like, but seeing it in action tarnished it in my eyes. Most of the stuff the players used from it were godawful powerful. Notable was Karek’s Hunter’s Surprise rogue talent; he had five attacks per round at the end (via 2-Weapon and Improved 2-Weapon Fighting), and added +7d6 on top of his base weapon damage. To each attack. Didn’t even need to flank or deny Dex. Some things are also very badly worded; the worst one we found was Perfect Strike—compare its entry in the feats list with its description—which I see has yet to be clarified.

4.) Monks are still hit or miss. At one point, we had three players with monks; my guess is this is from their reputation in 3.5 as a broken/most powerful class. It’s still possible to break them in Pathfinder, but it takes work; none of the monk players power-built their monks, and generally didn’t know what to do with them, so by the end one had dropped and the other had dropped his monk levels. Yantar’s player spent a long time badmouthing monks to me a few weeks back, and sounded pretty bitter. On the flipside, he never bothered doing the staple “broken monk” things (using his dancing meteor hammer’s reach and trip abilities, getting secondary monk weapons to overcome DR when his hammer was dancing around, using ki points ever), didn’t have good enough stat rolls to have the necessary high Str, just the high Wis, and was the whipping boy in terms of treasure allotment. (I think he had a Ring of Prot, and a monk’s robe or a belt of strength, but that was about it.)

5.) I’ll get to some issues with CRs and party balancing—I’ve been meaning to do a series of posts on it, and that was before Tenandys and I talked over it. But let’s start off here. Designers have this idea that a group of low-level CRs constitute the same challenge as a single high-level CR of the same numerical value. Like, 4-5 CR7s being the same challenge as a CR 12. That just isn’t the case. Even CRs one or two higher than party level weren’t much of a challenge, such as the Get of Iblis, and the demon at the end of the first module. Again, it’s based around my party’s balance, lack of certain classes, abundance of others, and the fact we rarely had more than three people playing consistently.

My other big problem with CRs is looking at it from a logical metagame angle. Basically, the way the Challenge Rating system is set up, having one monster take on the group is akin to having Muji the cleric fight the other members of the party. We don’t expect the monsters to win, because otherwise the game ends, but is it really a challenge for the other players? The way the CR system is set up, it’s supposed to be: Muji’s a CR 14 creature (perhaps slightly higher from those bloodlines); the party is APL 14. Therefore, he’s a decent, but not great, challenge.  To have an adventuring party attack another adventuring party doesn’t work in the CR system, because that would be a CR about 5-6 higher than the APL. According to the way CRs are devised, Muji is a threat to the party, in which they should expect to expend 25% of their resources (a combination of hit points, spells, per/day abilities, etc.) to defeat. That’s just not the case.

Things I Learned

1.) This Adventure Path, like most others and most modules, was built for four PCs. Each challenge rating is based on the concept that it will be challenging to four PCs. The unsaid expectation is that these four PCs will fill the standard roles of “frontline warrior, skirmisher, magic-user, priest.” For most of the game’s life, we had two or three PCs, and never, ever had a real magic-user. Instead, we had a plethora of monks and roguelikes, meaning we were full up on skirmishers who were backed up by a priest.

As such, the PCs leveled faster (having less mouths to feed, as it were), and were pretty powerful by the end of the first module. Many combat encounters were either too easy or too hard: the PCs were high-enough level that they weren’t a challenge, but without a proper fighter or wizard, meant that things didn’t always go very smoothly. A lot of encounters ended with Malak nearly dead, but we managed to go through most of the path with relatively light (“relatively” “light”) death rates.

So, CRs are still as buggy as they ever were, and without having a balanced party (number of players and classes), things can go out the window right quick. It ends up with this irony: while things could be deadly, they were rarely challenging. (This is all from the GM’s perspective; I’m looking at monsters thinking “It lives for three rounds, always acts last, and at worst can kill one PC,” while the players are all recoiling from the huge Get of Iblis with untold horrible powers crawling forth from the pit.)

2.) I know that most monsters have a lifespan of five rounds or less, but most of them had a chance to do one thing and one thing only. Many of them—like the bodak with its death gaze—failed horribly. The most memorable ones to me were the ones that succeeded: the undead with the symbol of discord in Jhavhul’s manse’s throne room, the dragon turtle and its breath attack, the stegocentipede with its AoO range and chainsaw-template spines.

3.) The assumption I had about Adventure Paths was that they were like most modules: yes, you need to tailor bits to your party and group, but for the most part, you can get by with the adventure as written. After this, I don’t think that’s the case. The challenge level of each module ebbed and flowed; module 4 was a cakewalk, while module 5 had some true challenges (and PC deaths), and module 6 was pretty easy until we got to Jhavhul. After seeing this much power creep, I’d take things slower next time, and try to balance things so they’re a good challenge without being a.) a pushover or b.) deadly.

4.) Big monsters are a pain in the ass for players to fight; this is something I’ll keep in mind for when I’m playing next. It was rare for a PC to tumble against something huge, unless you’ve sunk a feat into skill focus (acrobatics), and while CMB/CMD streamlined everything, it makes tripping or grappling (the monk’s forte) nearly impossible.

Three Things I’d Do Different Next Time

1.) The Jackal’s Price needs work. A lot of work. The gnolls tracking the players would turn into a group of the Carrion King’s Rovagug-loving fanatics, which would make some more sense and tie them to the previous path. The end parts, with Father Jackal, the Seed, and the Captain of the Sunset Ship, is a fantastic story, but not a good adventure seed: it left the players confused and wondering what the hell just happened. I’d revise a lot of it, and beef up the rogues that attack Rayhan’s place, and try to tie them into the larger theme of Rovagug worshippers attacking the PCs.

2.) In general, I’d streamline a lot of the Path’s bits to fit together. In module two, I’d put the House of the Beast in a hidden valley or something, and use its set piece as the main entrance to it. (Not that this set-piece couldn’t use some work, but it’s the most memorable to me because of its floating lava-rock battle, which was awesome.) The City of Brass could use some tightening up; fewer low-level lizardfolk and more higher-level threats, for example. And I’d block off where Jhavhul is in the last module, so they actually have to fight through everything to get to him.

3.) The Final Wish also needs some revision. Unless the PCs were having trouble—like, a lot of trouble—those Janni would end up replaced by bigger and more powerful monsters. The cinematic battle in the church could use a lot of beefing up… like, doubling all the dice values, or making it last more than four rolls, or something.

Most likely, if I ran this again, it wouldn’t have nearly as many problems I as did with this run through. (What’s the only thing faster than a diviner? A diviner with a dread commando.) Between the power creep and the weird 3.5/Pathfinder balance, I don’t think I’d have the same issues if I had a different party. Well, instead I’d have different issues.

Would I Run This Again?

Anytime in the near future? Probably not; I’m still a little burnt out on d20 overload. Somewhere down the road? Definitely. There’s a lot I’d want to do differently, namely balancing it, and trying to squash down any power creep. And it was, overall, really fun and worth it. The first two modules are amazing, and I still love many of the ideas in the last three.

The path cost a chunk of money at $120, but overall it was worth it. At this point, I’m pretty burned out on the various aspects of d20 mentioned above, but this is more of a personal thing and less a problem every other GM will face. Most of my problems with the Path come down to the following:

  • Mechanical issues such as balancing and power creep, the Legacy of 3.5
  • Not having enough time to tailor the modules to my group, or to add more depth/description/fluff bits
  • My love/hate of tactical D&D, where combat becomes very tedious

Again, all of these relate to my personal circumstances. If you’re interested in running it, seriously, go for it: this is a fantastic adventure path, filled with all sorts of awesome stuff. It’s my favorite story line out of all the Paths I own, which is a fair number. My players had rave reviews of the first half, which didn’t diminish as much as mine did for the finale. And that’s about all you could ask for in an adventure line: everybody had fun.

2 thoughts on “A Look Back at the Legacy

  1. I’m currenty playing the Kingmaker AP with some friends and it’s our first Pathfinder experience (we are all 3.5 veterans). It turned out so great that i’m looking into other Paizo’s AP to run myself, and this review helped a lot in deciding for ‘Legacy of Fire’. Keep up the good work!

    1. I played in bits and pieces of the first two Kingmaker modules, and have read through them extensively, and was really impressed by it. It’s a totally different direction than Legacy—hex crawl exploring and kingdom building instead of a more story-based plot.

      Legacy is still the high-water mark I compare all other adventure paths to; some of its elements are absolutely amazing (the first module and the first three set-pieces). Others were a bit of a letdown—most obviously because of my group build and mentality, but others like the final module could have used polishing. But yeah, I’d heartily recommend Legacy as one of the best Pathfinder campaigns I’ve played in.

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