With the first Under the Hood, I gave a general rundown of the background behind the campaign Let Sleeping Tsars Lie with promises to talk shop behind the screen; somewhat belatedly, let’s get to the meat of just that! On the grand scale of things, the idea was to run the overall story in two sections–the primary goal being reaching and running the Slumbering Tsar Saga by Frog God Gamesin its sizable glory; if you’d considered tackling such a campaign yourself or dabbling with your group, I’ll share along the way the directions we’ve taken ours.
At its base, the Slumbering Tsar Saga kicks off with seventh level characters in mind and promises for plenty of player character death–cautioning that individuals may wish to shelve characters that they are fond of before climbing aboard. Depending on your individual gaming group, it’s entirely possible that jumping directly in with both feet loaded for bear and getting right down to it may be your chosen approach–perhaps simply taking the mindset that you want to embrace as much of an old-school feel as you can muster (which Greg A. Vaughan brings to the table unabashedly.)
For our group, we’d decided unanimously that the trek from first to seventh level was also important however: we wanted folks to have a chance to get a feel for their characters, to form party chemistry together and–beyond the role-playing side of things itself–we had several people at the table for whom this would be their first foray into the Pathfinder rules after 3.5 and so they simply wanted to take that span to grow accustomed to the changes. With this in mind, it was down to a question of content and what best to run for an entertaining experience that might segue well into Tsar.
If you’re unfamiliar with it, the Price of Immortality is a trilogy of modules comprised of ‘Crypt of the Everflame’, ‘Masks of the Living God’ and the finale, ‘City of Golden Death’; if you’ve read the session summaries along the way provided here, you’ll have gotten peeks to each of these as our party progressed through them. My reasons for picking the Price of Immortality were numerous, but the general gist was this:
1st) Crypt of the Everflame itself was put together in part to introduce ‘new’ players to the Pathfinder RPG rules–while in the process, rolling out a fairly straightforward dungeon dive and a quick premise to get the band together, as it were.
2nd) From a flavor approach, the three modules shift very nicely between samplings of different scenarios: you begin with a dungeon romp, roll into a river trip and urban adventuring with the role-play heavy infiltration of a cult–and then race against the clock onto an exotic and terribly dangerous isle of evil into a rather extraordinarily cool set-piece in the titular City of Golden Death.
3rd) The three modules kick off strong story ties to Tar-Baphon, the infamous super-lich extraordinaire and consummate baddie of Golarion. One of my goals for tying the Tsar saga into the Golarion campaign settings was to incorporate connections with the Wizard King.
4th) As a matter of practicality, the trilogy had been run through the wringer by numerous others already and in such, plenty of insightful session logs, discussions and GM notes were available.
This fourth point was particularly appealing to me, as in order to approach the campaign as a whole I was going to need to effectively field-strip the content down to the skeleton and rebuild all of the encounters and many of the map layouts. There was also the matter of tweaking the overall storyline so that it would flow fairly naturally into the Slumbering Tsar Saga–and so accommodations would be made in NPCs, hints and clues picked up along the way and so forth.
I had what I needed though: a first act and ‘prologue’ out of the Price of Immortality, and a second act (as huge as it was) in the Slumbering Tsar Saga. Now it was time to prepare for the former so that the journey to the latter could ideally be fun, flavorful and challenging–and so commenced a lot of reading, tons of notes and the burning of plenty of midnight oil.
Seven party members is beastly, it simply is what it is; the action economy of seven player characters is extraordinarily challenging to work with and by no means do I say this to pat myself on the back. To be honest, I strongly recommend that if you’re going to run for a large group of players, I would suggest setting the cap at six.
Nevertheless, seven players were on the road to Tsar–among them, in Anselme, we have a druid who also brings an animal companion to the table. Eight player-controlled combatants, eight sets of actions each turn; a little bit daunting, really, and presents a lot of considerations to keep in mind. This brings us to the first focused Under the Hood: Encounters, Obstacles and Challenges.