In a little over a month, I will turn 30. It’s a major milestone year for me; I’ll be ending my time in the Army, some major changes are going on in my personal life, etc. Frankly, I’m looking forward to it; my twenties, with the exception of the birth of my son, wasn’t a good decade for me. I’m determined to make my third decade on this planet a good one.
It has occurred to me that, at 30 years old, if I had survived that long I would likely be a fairly powerful adventurer. I’ve got two combat tours under my belt, which definitely gains me a few levels. Or I could just as easily be dead. The adventuring life has a lethality even greater than the wars in Iraq and Afganistan.
All that navel-gazing kinda made me melancholy, so I sought solace in the latest issue of my Pathfinder Adventure Path. The premise of the Kingmaker Adventure Path is rather simple on the surface: the party is chartered by a nearby nation to clear, colonize and settle a wilderness area. Of course, it’s not that simple (it never is), but that’s the core concept. Considering the way my brain was already wandering, I stopped to ponder the repercussions of this campaign’s theme on an adventuring party.
One of the subsystems of the Path is an abstract rule set dealing with building, maintaining, and ruling their new nation-state. As the PCs gain levels and time goes on, their kingdom can flourish or fall as a result of the PCs’ decisions in managing their resources and rulership. But here’s the cool thing: each “turn” of the kingdom building process takes a month of in-game time. An entire month. In adventuring terms, that’s a monstrous amount of time, considering that most traditional campaigns push the characters from 1st to 20th (now 30th) level in what can amount to a matter of weeks. These rules make the assumption that the encounters set forth in the Adventure Path can take part with months—maybe even YEARS—in between. That’s just a staggering thought, and a break of standard fantasy RPG assumptions that I applaud Paizo for. If played for effect, the campaign could take place not only over the course of an adventurer’s career, but also possibly their entire lifespan. This is especially true for any character who doesn’t choose one of the longer-lived races.
The characters might start the campaign when they are in their late teens or twenties, but end it grizzled and grey with a family and children, decades down the line. I think military service is one of the few lifestyles in our modern world that comes close to approximating the life of a standard adventurer: harsh climates, long periods away from home and family, a tight-knit group of comrades-in-arms, lots of time in the elements and under the stars… the list goes on and on. There is an old saying in the military: it will either keep you young or make you old before your time. Considering the similarities of military and adventuring life, I think the same would be true.
Rare is the adventurer who lives to a ripe old age. Sure, they exist, but the mystique and fascination so many of us have is at least partially related to the fact that these characters live dangerous, often short (depending on the GM) lives. The number of corpses the monsters of the world accumulate from young, inexperienced adventurers (or even experienced ones who get in over their heads) is staggering. Or at least, so the tradition of adventuring since the dawn of D&D tells us. But Kingmaker turns all of that on its head, deliberately separating events by massive amounts of time in the adventuring paradigm. Which I think is really cool.
Imagine the attachment and involvement your players can develop if they are playing a character through entire years of their life. Relationships with NPCs can develop far beyond what traditional campaigns could provide. I think these kinds of interactions might be best handled on a messageboard or via email so it’s not taking up time at the game table when the dice can be rolling, but if played right this kind of a campaign could encourage an incredibly immersive style.
Taken even further, you could develop a series of adventures that fully embrace and utilize the fact that the PCs are aging between adventures or even aging between encounters. What if the Heroic Tier took place over a span of, say, 3 years of in-game time, but the Paragon Tier picks up after a lull of ten peaceful years in between before the adventurers are called back into service? What would that kind of game look like? What were the PCs doing n the meantime? What kind of machinations has your BBEG been brewing and plotting in those ten years? When the PCs begin adventuring again, what changes have developed in the places and NPCs the PCs interacted with in their early career? And possibly most importantly, what has brought them all together again after their supposed retirement?
This could be a fantastic opportunity for the GM to really show the kinds of impact the PCs actions have had in their career. Peasants they saved from rampaging monsters have rebuilt their homes and new children will have been born (some, perhaps, named after the PCS!). Villages will have grown and prospered or possibly been abandoned entirely. People move, so they might run into PCs originally from one village in a big city instead. Older NPCs might have died from natural causes, and even relatively healthy and hale NPCs can succumb to a disease or sudden accident. Perhaps a street-rat rogue they met is now Master of the Guild of Thieves. How they treated him a decade ago can go a long way to determining his reactions. An adventure could be built using that premise alone, in fact. If the PCs are asked to help stop a guild war between two rival factions is interesting. If the PCs know the leaders of the factions and are (or were) friendly with both is even more interesting.
Here’s an idea: the first Paragon Tier adventure that pulls the PCs out of retirement is based around the death of a beloved NPC from the Heroic tier campaign. Maybe the NPC has a “in case of my mysterious death” letter that gets sent by his children upon his demise, asking the PCs to look into what appears to be death by natural causes. Their investigation reveals that the beloved NPC was, in fact, murdered, and the clues lead the adventurers to (of course) minions or servants of the enemy they thought was defeated at the end of the Heroic Tier. Maybe the minions are trying to resurrect the BBEG and that becomes the focus of the Paragon Tier, or perhaps the BBEG has already come back from the dead (or maybe never really died in the first place) and is seeking revenge against the retired PCs by picking off their old allies and friends one by one. Or perhaps a new villain has taken up the guise of the old, using the fear of the original to mask his own identity.
Either way, this style of campaign borrows heavily from the previous one, and the GM should be focused on building and reinforcing the PCs ties to a particular region that they call home, the NPCs in that area, and the people they interact with on a regular basis. Gaining a companion character in the Paragon Tier that is the grown son of someone you saved in the Heroic Tier can be its own reward for good storytelling and creative players. These kinds of rewards and benefits can outweigh any treasure or magic items you hand out to your players. It’s this kind of thing that your players will talk about a decade later in real time, sharing drinks around the table in your favorite tavern.