This last weekend I got an email from Paizo. It's the most exciting and nerve wracking email a GM can get. "The Show Must Go On" was shipped and I could download the PDF of book 1.
Now, we were in the middle of recording snippets of our session 0 for Extinction Curse. Talking about the new characters, how they know each other, and exactly how much Jeb(Spencer) hates the Celestial Menagerie. It all came to a screeching halt. I was up until 4AM that evening, reading. There are some awesome Archtypes, Feats, and Spells in here that are just dripping with circus flavor. All of them have the [uncommon] trait, but we'll see what happens.
For me, two things caught my attention, and I want to talk about them. First, was the lack of an NPC gallery. Initially, I was flabbergasted. The circus AP doesn't go into detail about the NPC stories, backgrounds, and motivations? Seems like a choice. But, I've been running Paizo APs for years, there must be some reason it was left out. That's when I stumbled on the second thing that caught my attention. The rules for running the circus.
Now, I'm no stranger to additional rules being included into APs. In the past, as a group, we've navigated ship combat (Skulls & Shackles), caravan rules (Jade Regent), and kingdom building rules (Kingmaker). The additional rules that come out with these APs are always relevant to the adventure (obviously), but they've been hit or miss at our table.
Ship combat and kingdom building were big winners. You could say those were the things that drew us to those APs (except Skulls & Shackles, PIRATES! was the only reason we really needed). And they were a huge hit! Jade Regent's caravan management however, was quite the flop for us. Was it the minutia involved with keeping things running smoothly? Maybe. But kingdom building was intense in the micromanagement department, so it wasn't that (on it's own at least). Was it a poor set of rules? Not really. Looking back on it, it was a solid rule set for what it applied to. So what was it missing?
Expectation. It was about expectation. The party was excited to travel to Tian Xia. They were excited about the destination, and Jade Regent promised all sorts of Asian inspired locales. Traveling to Tian Xia was expected to be a big part of the adventure, BUT it's not the reason WHY we started playing Jade Regent. It was an obstacle to the players enjoyment. I'm sure there are enough of you out there thinking, toss the rules! it's your table! don't let it come between your tables fun! Y'all are absolutely right, and it did take a backseat for us. But I'm going to circle back around here...
Something had to be removed from "The Show Must Go On" in order to make room for a key piece of the Extinction Curse AP. Could Jason Tondro and the Paizo editors have left out those rules in order to flesh out the NPCs more? Sure they could have. For what it's worth, I agree with the choice made here. For two primary reasons: How can the players run a circus without clear rules direction? (This is Pathfinder after all...) and I have agency over NPC personalities.
I'll go over our view of TTRPG rules in general in a later blog post, which will lend to why I feel having rules for this is important.
The NPCs though, I welcome creating fantastical stories for the troupe! There's a certain joy in adding small NPC details to APs. I don't have the time to create homebrew worlds like I used to, and Paizo's APs are Desna sent in that regard. But that extra time gives me the oppurtunity to make the NPCs more memorable with mannerisms, relationships, and direction. And now I have all that leeway and more!
Here's to a long and exciting trip down the road to the Extinction Curse. Filled with circus troupes, whimsical RP, and as always: rules driven play. Can't wait to take that trip with y'all.