Running the Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path for a Large Group

We just started Paizo’s Serpent’s Skull Adventure Path. Over the last couple of years my group has finished the Counsel of Thieves AP, and almost completed Kingmaker before we had to put the game on hold because the GM got too busy. So now the baton fell to me once again to run something. I decided I’d run the Serpent’s Skull AP, because I was already familiar with the material. In general I liked the flavor of the AP: an expedition into the dark heart of Mwange (fantasy Africa) to explore a lost city 1000s of years old. It beats your typical dungeon crawl in terms of flavor.

The AP opens with a Lost style adventure on a desert island. The island is as mysterious as it is dangerous. Disease, predators, and the islands indigenous tribe of cannibals provide a challenging atmosphere that most experienced fantasy RPG players have never seen before. Not only is there no town to return to to replenish your supplies, there’s no place to rest that’s not threatened by things that go bump in the night. It challenges a lot of preconceptions like home base that a lot of groups come to the table with.

Apparently, a lot of Pathfinder players also thought this a good looking game, because we had 10 players show up to our first game. Fortunately, I knew this ahead of time. What I did was use one of the players from the last two APs to be co-DM with me; it was his turn to run a game anyway. So we decided to try to run the adventure with a large group and two DMs.

The Smuggler’s Shiv is a sandbox. The players start on the beach of an unknown island and try to figure out how they where they are and how they got there. The island has many locations that the players are more or less free to explore in any order. The adventure also assumes that the PCs will establish a base camp. So why not split encounters between the two DMs with having one DM handle the away team and one DM handle the activities and encounters at base camp? While the adventure doesn’t call for it, it’s not hard to imagine some base camp raids made by the cannibals or the occasional predator deciding that the PCs look tasty.

Because we really couldn’t allow the PCs too much idle time because a party of that size might degenerate to boredom, we have to direct the adventure like a Michael Bay picture: constant action and lots of explosions. We ended up harassing the party do much that the players started to get quite paranoid- which was not a bad result. “Screw this island man!” became the parties sentiment.

This model turned out to be rather successful. The players seemed happy, and everyone indicated that they would return. This posed a problem, because it’s hard to imagine running a Michael Bay campaign forever. So my co-DM and I sat down and tried to figure out the shape of things to come.

The next two modules, Racing to Ruin and City of the Seven Spears, involve a multifaction race to the site of a lost ancient city that was newly rediscovered. We saw a real opportunity here. What if we split the PCs into two separate factions and have them race against each other to reach the destination? Suddenly the players are posing a much more dynamic challenge to each other.

We both agreed we liked the idea. At the point that the AP calls for a single group to kill the big bad evil guy, we will presumably will have lost a few players to attrition. At that point we can prompt the factions to join forces against a common foe. This is our tentative plan. Anyone who’s run this AP before who would like to offer us any advice is more than welcome to do so.

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