Like a lot of GMs, I run adventure paths. Sometimes I change a few things here or there, and sometimes I make pretty broad alterations, but no matter how much I change or how much player actions alter the story, I appreciate having everything laid out for me on the page with a pre-written epic adventure on hand and all the tools I need to run it. Which is not to say there isn’t some work on the GM’s side to get it ready. Everyone has different preferences, but here are a few things I like to do before I get a new AP started.
Talk to Your Players –
Most groups are pretty happy to play what the GM wants to run, but you do want to get a feel for what your group’s play style and interests are. It can be as simple as “Hey, I want to run X adventure path, do you want to play that?” Just try to match the adventure to the group a little. If they like to play a bunch of lovable scoundrels with a penchant for petty theft and arson, they may not want to play an adventure path of epic questing against the forces of the underworld, but are probably going to love one where they play a bunch of pirates that get to have their own pirate ship.
Read the AP –
This does not always mean read the entire AP, a fairly daunting task, but at the very least I read through the first book of the AP and the summaries of all the other books to get a feel for the story being told and what kind of characters might work well in it. I honestly would prefer to read the whole thing, as being able to thread the player’s stories into the story of the AP is a lot easier if you know how the whole of it plays out, but that can also be a mistake – tying a player’s back story into events and characters that don’t show up until 3 or 4 books into the adventure path may seem cool when you think of it, but that is going to be MANY game sessions before it pays off, and in the mean time that player may feel like they aren’t getting as much of the spotlight as other characters who have already had their moments of tie in.
Planning and Substitutions –
Some of this may come after your session zero, when the players have their characters and backstories ready to go, but some of it you may be able to do before that. Adventure Paths are great, but they are also something of a time capsule, in that if the AP was written before a new Alien Archive or similar book came out, and had creatures of challenges in it that might be better handled by content that came out after they were published, it’s often a good idea to go ahead and sub that in. This is also the point where if you are going to make a significant alteration to the plot, you need to get the background of that down here. I had a game where I switched out an ongoing Cult antagonist group with a Drow House, which meant I had to change plot hooks and stat blocks for essentially every book of the AP. I feel like it payed off, giving some of the players with backgrounds tied to the Drow a richer play experience, but I’m glad I figured out the scope of the work before I decided to take it on.
One of the great thing about the Paizo boards is that they are an excellent resource for GMs. A quick perusal of the AP forums for the AP you are about to run can give you a heads up for possible trouble areas, available maps and resources that might make a better game, and even additional encounters, monsters, puzzles, and other add ons to give it an extra punch. Depending on your available time, it can also be rewarding to listen to actual play podcasts or watch play streams where another group is going through the same adventure you are about to run. You’ll get a better feel for the story, pacing, and what story beats to may want to highlight to keep your players moving along smoothly.
Image Prep –
At the game table you can often get by with having the AP illustrations and possibly an Alien Archive or two on hand to show everyone what strange aliens and dire threats their characters are about to face. In online sessions that can take an extra bit of prep, but the added immersion is worth it in my opinion. I typically run my online games with a Google Slides presentation for maps and illustrations, and save those directly from the AP by opening it in Adobe Acrobat and using the Save Image option when right clicking.
This isn’t for everyone, but Syrinscape is a thing and for the right group it can definitely add to the immersion. They do an excellent job of having music, ambient noise, and appropriate sound effects for multiple systems and play styles, and may even have a premade set for the AP you are interested in running. If Syrinscape isn’t for you, but you still want to have music or similar, it’s time to start getting those sound clips sorted in one place. No one wants to wait 5 minutes at the table while you track down that perfect clip you had for the Gelatinous Cube.
That’s my process. Hope that helps you in planning your own games!
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Until next time Starfinders!
Artist and Writer