Kevin Weiser on Pathfinder and the Skull & Shackles Adventure Path

Kevin, you are GMing Pathfinder! What is your campaign’s premise? How did you begin the first game?

The main premise is “Hey, Virtual Tabletops have sure come a long way, haven’t they?”

I wanted to incorporate a virtual tabletop at the actual tabletop. My friend’s game room has a nice big table with a 80″ HDTV that fits perfect at one end. So a couple months before my turn came up to GM in our group, I fired up Roll20, the group picked a Pathfinder Adventure Path, and I set to work importing the maps, monster tokens, and art from the Skull and Shackles Adventure Path PDFs into Roll20. I wanted the visual aspect of the RPG to actually be pretty, and the battle map itself to help play: easy to measure distances, easy to move tokens around, automatically calculating lighting and fog-of-war, stuff like that. Computer-aided RPG.

So, this is my first campaign I’ve GM’d with a strong visual component. I also wanted to highlight the nitty-gritty tactics of Pathfinder, as I’m a firm believer of System Matters, and the Pathfinder system does tactics very well, go big or go home. I wanted the other players to be challenged, and to feel clever for overcoming those challenges. So far, so good!

Also, pirates. YAR! It’s been fun learning more about historical pirates, and thinking about how a high magic setting like Golarion would affect piracy. It doesn’t hurt that there are so many gorgeous works of art around the Age of Sail. So I’m really glad we decided to go with Skull and Shackles.

Skull and Shackles! Nice.

Tell me more about piracy in Golarion, please. What makes them different from Earth pirates?

Sails are much more vulnerable in Golarion. Sure on Earth we had chain shot and a good hit to the mast can really ruin the mobility of a ship, but a single fireball will evaporate the mainsail and all the rigging. A flying wizard can hit all three masts from 600 feet away, well out of the range of any cannon or ballistae, and now that ship is a sitting duck. Another big factor is attacks can come from many more directions. Mostly on Earth you just have to watch for sails on the horizon. On Golarion, there are many intelligent creatures that can swim faster than most ships, likewise flying creatures can increase the scouting range of a pirate crew by many miles. It becomes much more about not being seen at all than it is about losing any possible pursuer. It actually feels a lot closer to modern naval combat in that regard.

What is the coolest (or what are some cool) nitty-gritty tactics moments?

I’ll give two, one GM side and one Player Side.

As the GM, I had a LOT of fun when a player introduced a Aboleth in the backstory for his Hunter. GM: “A hunter, eh? What do you hunt?” Player: “I HUNT THE WHITE ABOLETH.”

This was super fun for two reasons: 1) I got to unleash a wicked pun when I changed it from White Aboleth to Wight Aboleth, oh man the look on that player’s face when he realized why that tentacle slap gave him negative levels… Priceless.

2) Aboleths try to raise slave armies through mental domination, so I got to thoroughly muck with the pre-written adventure by introducing a monster that’s running around dominating all these important NPC’s. There are limits, though. The domination lasts 16 days and works from unlimited range, but has to be renewed in person. So, how big of a network can one undead Aboleth create? Well, since they don’t tire and can swim all day and all night, the answer is “pretty big.” Watching the players discover, then dismantle this network of thralls was very rewarding. Working out the logistics of all this made my brainmeats happy.

From the Player side, a little while ago they rolled up on a fortress of Cyclopes. The Adventure Path suggests compartmentalizing the encounters, but I didn’t like that idea. If the alarm is raised, why wouldn’t everybody come? So what was supposed to be 4 or 5 encounters with Cyclopes was in fact one encounter with 16 Cyclopes, a Big Boss Cyclpse, and his 2nd in command. If the PC’s had played it straight, they would have been paste. But they were super smart about it. A combination of area denial, crowd control, and blocking line of sight with spells forced the Cyclopes into a kill zone. I did my best to play them smart, but there just wasn’t much they could do about it. It was amazing to watch the players organically develop a strategy that was absolutely devastating. System mastery at its finest!

Sweet. It was the Moby Dick of Aboleths. Love it.

I ran the Kingmaker Adventure Path a few years ago using BW and really liked it. How are you liking Skull and Shackles?
What is the AP providing?

I like Skull and Shackles quite a bit. The rags-to-riches revenge story of a group that started their pirate career drugged and press ganged then gradually rise in power and reputation to the most fearsome pirates in the sea!

A couple things I like in particular: I really enjoy how much of the adventure path is about reputation, infamy, and the political realities of piracy. Like the fact that in the beginning, other pirates are just as much of a threat as the occasional Pirate Hunter sent down from Chelliax. That is, until the PC’s have made a name for themselves. I also enjoy the political intrigue of the pirate council, and the major plot thread that involves sniffing out a traitor, with the looming threat of a massive invasion.

Another thing I’ve been enjoying is the lack of large dungeons, but instead there are many small dungeons, some just 2 or 3 rooms. They’re quick but very flavorful: a sunken temple here, a mysterious Black Tower there, and the obligatory series of clues written in poem form on a treasure map. These smaller locations are much more believable than a multi-trip large dungeon, and they cram in only the best stuff, very few filler rooms.

Also, this AP lets aquatic themed character builds really shine, and that’s rare.

Any favorite dungeons?

I really enjoyed the finale to the first module: Riptide Cove, a sea cave lair of Grindylows on Bonewrack Isle, where the PC’s have been shipwrecked. It’s a dungeon that varies widely depending on what time of day it is: during high tide it’s almost entirely underwater, but low tide most of the time it’s only ankle deep. There’s also a nice mix of encounters in there, Grindylows, a Devil Fish, and some Lacedons.

I also really enjoyed the Sahuagin Tunnels in Mancatcher Cove, completely dark and underwater, the PC’s had to play it smart to get in and out alive. That’s also where the final showdown with the Wight Aboleth was, as he’d dominated the Sahuagin and was using them to grow his nascent undersea empire.

I’m fascinated by Chelliax. They worship a devil, right?

Yes! Chelliax’s ruling family signed a multi-generational deal with the Archdevil Asmodeus, which has been re-negotiated twice since then, and so the throne now has the most metal name ever: The Thrice-Damned Throne. The overarching geopolitical situation in Skull and Shackles is that Chelliax used to have a colony down in the south called Sargava (analagus to Rio De Janeiro) which fought for and claimed independence a little while ago. The only reason Chelliax hasn’t reclaimed their colony is because those pesky Shackles Pirates cut a deal with Sargava, and pick apart any Armada that comes through. Chelliax is fed up with that, and plans to send an invasion fleet to deal with the pirates once and for all (in about 4 months game time in my campaign, we’re close enough to the end that I’ve actually set a hard date.)

Creating a good build is a big part of Pathfinder. What are your thoughts on grabbing an optimal build?

I do think optimal builds are important in Pathfinder. System mastery is one of the primary reasons to play a game of this complexity. While I definitely am not a fan of the idea of the antagonistic GM, I do feel that one of the most important aspects of Pathfinder and games like it is the feeling of being challenged and overcoming that challenge. The stakes need to be high, and the players need to be able to say “Man, we would have been so screwed if we didn’t have X” where X is a class ability or spell that the player took, or the exact right magic item they sought out and acquired.

Which is not to say sub-optimal builds don’t have a place. I just think it’s better suited for very experienced players who are deliberately handicapping themselves. “You say Bards suck? Let me see what I can do with one.” That kind of thing.

What does an aquatic character build look like?

One of the cool features of Pathfinder is over the years each class has accumulated dozens of variants called archetypes. Each one swaps out a base class ability for something else along a theme. Every class has a “aquatic” variant or two, plus spellcasters can often take specializations or patron deities that are sea-related and those convey special abilities too. So far we’ve had a Pirate Rogue, an Aquatic Druid, a Mer-folk Monk, all of which would be a poor choice almost anywhere else in Golarion, but they all got to shine here.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed adding my own details and spin on Golarion. How are you feeling about making Golarion your own?

Oh man I love it. The wiki(s) has just the right amount of information on a region or faction to get you started but it’s all there for the taking. It took me a long time tog et over my fear of established settings and pre-written modules. But now I’m finally comfortable with the idea that these things are tools in my toolkit, not sacred texts to be followed.

In general, I the credit for overcoming that fear to discovering indie games. In fact, a lot of how much I can enjoy Pathfinder now comes from what I learned from indie games. And part of that comes from finding the Sons of Kryos all those years ago. So, thanks for that. 🙂

What advice would you give a GM trying to find their own angle/toehold on this huge world with so much published material?

For the love of God, don’t try to remember all of it or even READ all of it. Fall into wiki-holes related to whatever’s relevant for your campaign, and just dig around. Don’t be afraid to hand over lore-dumps to a player at the table who might know more than you. We’ve got a guy at my table that LOVES the Golarion Lore. He knows it way better than I do. I let him narrate when our party Bard inevitably gets an insane Knowledge (whatever) check.

Don’t forget that Pathfinder is a long-form game. There’s very little you actually need to know from session to session. Plenty of time to research related stuff as you go along.

That might be a great place to end it.

Anything else you wanted to talk about?

Just a thank you for asking me to do this, it was a lot of fun!

Thank you!

Traditions of the Swordlords: the Murk

To the west of the Riverlands is another Swordlord with his own charter to worry about. Swordlord Grahl has been a peripheral NPC, father of Squire Irenka, first mentioned in this blog post. He has two other daughters with him. He married a matriarch of a local swamp clan to strengthen his ties.

Now his daughter is a knight who has given birth to a demi-goddess, her home has been sacked by orc and he has rallied the Murk-folk to support his neighbor. He will join the effort to take back Spearpointe after its fall. It was time to think about where he is coming from and who he is bringing with him.


The Murk-folk are a group of quasi-feudal swamp tribes. They pray to their own fickle swamp gods, a few sword saints and sometimes they are known to call on the Dragon Gods. In the troll-haunted swamps, you call on whatever works.

Once they prayed to one of Erastil’s siblings but he died centuries ago during a war with the Brevosi that ended in blood and dragon-fire (oddly, I made that up BEFORE Erastil died). That sibling was said to have given them the gifts of slingstones, axes and druidic magic in the same way that Erastil gave the Riverlanders the bow, spear and hunting.

A few tribes claim to be “descended from the Sword-Crowns” and some worship that descendant as Rostlanders would pray to a Sword Saints. Swordlord Grahl has married into one such tribe and they see his sword as a holy relic, a tether to their proud, lost heritage.

Their highland tribes in the nearby mountains are their constant rivals with feuds often nearly becoming wars until cooler heads prevail.


Note: The above image is from NYPL’s Digital Image Collection.

Situation Mining: Shattered Star

Situation Mining: Shattered Star

I’m looking at the Players’ Guide to Shattered Star and it is an adventure where the players are called upon to retrieve an ancient artifact:

The Shattered Star Adventure Path draws near, and bold heroes are needed to track down the scattered parts of an ancient magical relic in order to save the land of Varisia from disaster.

The guide provides a sweet map of Magnimar, a city built in the shadow of ancient cyclopean monuments that cast shadows over entire city districts, leaving the slums in perpetual shadow. Huh.


The guide also provides details for the Pathfinder Society and the manor where the local chapterhouse resides, no doubt to welcome the gold rush of adventurers who will be coming to Magnimar to seek out the shattered star and be big ole heroes

Slums in perpetual shadow.

Incoming adventurers looking for artifacts, prestige and gold.

The players are vultures.

Forms: α. ME volture, ME vowlture, ME– vulture (ME fulture), ME voultour, 16 vultour. β. ME–18 … (Show More)
Frequency (in current use):
Etymology: < Anglo-Norman vultur and voutre, Old French voltour, voultour, voutour (French vautour), or Latin vultur, or < Latin vulturius. The Old French forms, like Provençal voltor, voutor, and Italian avoltore, avoltojo, represent Latin vulturius, while Anglo-Norman voutre, Spanish buitre, and Portuguese abutre are from Latin vultur.
In Maundeville (1839) xxii. 237 the form veutour is probably inexact for voutour.

a. One of a number of large birds of prey of the order Raptores which feed almost entirely upon carrion and have the head and neck altogether or almost featherless.
The American vultures belong to different genera from those of the Old World.

c1374 Chaucer Troilus & Criseyde i. 788 Ticius yn helle, Whos stomak foughles tiren euere mo, That highte volturis as bokes telle.
1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomew de Glanville De Proprietatibus Rerum (Bodl.) xii. xxxvi, The vulture haþ þat name of slowe fliȝt.
1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomew de Glanville De Prop

b. One of a number of thieves, reavers and rogues who make their living stealing the treasures and gold and artifacts from adventurers, tomb-delvers and would-be heroes.

“vulture, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, December 2015. Web. 2 February 2016.

Here are player-characters, natural-born vultures:

Muscle Character Sheet (switch his crossbow skill to firearms)

Write a belief about making your name ring out on the streets of Magnimar.

Write a belief about following Wolf’s orders and carrying out the heist just right.

Write a belief about what you feel about violence and what adventurers do to your neighborhood when they come back from their adventurers, drunk and rich.

Puppy Character Sheet

Write a belief about making your name ring out on the streets of Magnimar.

Write a belief about learning from Wolf’s example.

Write a belief about what you feel about violence and what adventurers do to your neighborhood when they come back from their adventurers, drunk and rich.

Wolf Character Sheet

Write a belief about leading the team and what leadership means to you.

Write a belief about setting up the heist and learning what you can before jumping out.

Write a belief about what you feel about violence and what adventurers do to your neighborhood when they come back from their adventurers, drunk and rich.

Here’s the punk-ass 1st level party that arrives in town full of condescending talk and hopes and dreams – The Bastards Adventuring Company. If you want to play a posse of adventurers, they will do well for that too:

Adventurer Fighter Character Sheet

Adventurer Ranger Character Sheet

Adventurer Wizard Character Sheet

Here’s the bad-ass party with the big score.

Elf Adventurer Character Sheet

Dwarven Adventurer

Adventurer Wizard Character Sheet (1)

Here are the Pathfinder Society’s own Vulture-Hunters. Yeah, this isn’t their first rodeo. If word gets out that thieves are taking down their Pathfinders in town, they are going to send these folk out and they mean business.

Elf Vulture Hunter Character Sheet

Human Vulture Hunter Character Sheet

Check out this design and more in the Monster Manual Heraldry Collection…

Situation Mining: Iron Gods

Paizo puts out these free PDF’s for many of their adventure paths and here’s the one for Iron Gods. They are chock full of art, ideas and a map or two. I used one like it and its accompanying Kingmaker adventure path as the inspiration, foundation and jumping off point our Traditions of the Swordlords Burning Wheel campaign.

This is about an adventure path called the Iron Gods, with lots of androids, lasers and other bits of science fantasy folks have salvaged from a spaceship that crashed in Numeria hundreds of years ago, offering lots of sci-fi artifacts and of course, the much sought after skymetal.

Iron Gods Cover

Torch is a small town in Numeria with a flame atop a hill that allowed its smiths to smelt and work skymetal. Through that industry, the town was able to scratch out a living in the shadow of the greedy Technic League, a confederation of merciless sorcerers who profit off of all artifact salvage.

Torch’s hilltop flame went out.

* BAM *

There’s the Situation.

The town’s flame went out. The town’s wizard has gone missing and the Technic League will be coming before too long to collect taxes.

Add in science-fantasy craziness to taste and there you go. I’d make Brigh, the Goddess of Clockwork, an actual Clockwork Goddess. Yeah, the Technic Wizards made their own Goddess.

To Disregard

There is a bit about not allowing players to play members of the Technic League. I’d let it. Shit, I’d love it.

You say the organization is a bureaucracy of sadists and bullies? The structure of the organization is probably set up to allow the wizards’ bullying and safeguard their position of power. That sounds like a great conflict to put the players in the middle of. Maybe the players are even bullies and are a little sadistic from having been brought up in the midst of this mess but then I’d encourage the players to make beliefs about where their lines are, about what they care about, not allowing them to be entirely evil.

How far will you go for your comrades in the league?

If you want more inspiration and give Paizo some money, you can pick up the Iron Gods Adventure Path or Numeria, Land of Fallen Stars.

Who would you play and what would their beliefs be?

And of course questions, comments and thoughts are welcome in the comments. I made up 4 characters and will find a way to attach the PDF’s of the sheets here when I can.

NOTE: This was also a post in the BW G+ community.

Burned Up Player Characters


Artifact Finder Character Sheet

  • Write a belief about your place in Torch and what you want to do for the community or your relationship with the Technic League’s greed and avarice.
  • Write a belief about what you want to accomplish or find in the Felldales or keeping your naive comrades safe in the Felldales.
  • Write a belief about someone or something you avoid in Torch but have to confront or settle before leaving for the Felldales again.

Iron Gods Wizards Apprentice Character Sheet

  • Write a belief about a strength of character you want to show in memory of your lost master wizard.
  • Write a belief about your place in Torch and what you want to do for the community or your relationship with the Technic League’s greed and avarice.
  • Write a belief about your gang or some heist or job you have brewing with them.

Skymetal Smith Character Sheet

  • Write a belief about your place in Torch and what you want to do for the community or your relationship with the Technic League’s greed and avarice.
  • Write a belief about something you want to craft out of materials only to be found in the Felldales.
  • Write a belief about taking on an apprentice.

Technic League Wizard Character Sheet  (Choose Spells)

  • Write a belief about the pressures the Technic League is putting on you.
  • Write a belief about something you want to find in the Felldales.
  • Write a belief about teaching someone a skill you have that you know would make an important change in their life.

Check out this design and more in the Science Fiction Collection…