A couple of weeks back, Paizo kicked off their ninth Pathfinder adventure path, Jade Regent. I’m pretty excited about the campaign and I’m all set to run it after we’re done with the Serpent’s Skull (11th session done, just started the third book). It revisits the town of Sandpoint, where Rise of the Runelords kicked off all those years ago.
Along with the first installment of the adventure path, they released the Jade Regent Player’s Guide as a free download. It’s a cool thing they do with the APs – release a short document briefing the players about what sort of thing they may expect, how different races and classes may fit in the campaign’s beginning setup, what sort of skills or archetypes are recommended and so forth. There are also the campaign traits. These are small mechanical bonuses that are come with an explicit background element that ties the character into the campaign. For example, in Serpent’s Skull, these were all about how the character had come to be on the good ship Jenivere whose shipwreck kicks off the first adventure. In Legacy of Fire, they all gave motivations for the characters to join the Trade Princess Almah in her quest to reclaim Kelmarane. In Jade Regent, the traits all outline relationships the PCs have with the four key NPCs of the campaign.
Jade Regent is a campaign on the road. It’s about taking a caravan from Sandpoint, through the Land of the Linnorm Kings, over the Crown of the World, and into Tian Xia. Accompanying the PCs – or, really, it’s more a case of the PCs accompanying them – are the former adventurer Ameiko Kaijitsu, the caravan’s owner Sandru Vhiski, the elven ranger Shalelu Andosana and the Desnan priestess Koya Mvashti. At least one of the NPCs is absolutely crucial to the campaign’s plot, two of them are familiar from Rise of the Runelords. All four will be accompanying the party on the caravan.
The campaign seems to really emphasize interaction with these four NPCs, to the point where the Jade Regent Player’s Guide also includes a couple of pages of relationship rules for them. You know, like in Dragon Age: Origins (or a number of other, older computer games, but the system in DA:O seems to be very close to this one).
The rules outline the relationship score, the different relationship levels and ways the score can go up or down. The first module, The Brinewall Legacy, contains the GM’s half of the rules, with the specifics of each NPC – what are their turn-ons and turn-offs, what sort of mechanical boons they grant when you hit Relationship Score 31, and so forth. Each one also has the Romance Score, how big your character’s Relationship Score must be before they can try initiating a romance with the NPC. The boons differ depending on whether you count the NPC a friend or a rival.
I’m not really sure how I should feel about these rules. They take interaction with NPCs to a very mechanical level. You can optimize a character to have a better chance at getting it on with an NPC. You can even play an entire romance just as Charisma rolls and Diplomacy checks. Also, they’re pretty much the single most videogamey rules element I’ve ever seen in a D&D game, and that includes 4E. This is BioWare CRPG material, served straight up. I am deeply suspicious.
However, even playing the numbers is still playing it, and we don’t run combats by just rattling off numbers, either.
Well, except for that one time, but we suddenly got a non-gaming audience and the halfling was in a compromising position with the succubus (and it was exactly what it looked like) so I made the conscious decision to drop the flavour and play the numbers so we’d get the session done on schedule.
Anyway. NPC interaction and the roleplaying thereof is not a strong suit of mine. It’s something I need to work on, and this just might help me with that. Much like combat rules provide a framework for lively action scenes, such relationship rules can serve as the mechanical structure for interpersonal drama. The associated boons may motivate even the players who are there just for the numbers game to take the bait. Rules such as these may be an excellent motivating tool.
It’s still videogamey as all hell, though, which I’m not too happy about. But I will be giving the rules a whirl, once my Jade Regent campaign kicks off in the distant future. If they don’t work, we can always drop them. Same thing with the caravan rules in the same guide.
In general, I think this kind of thing is a strength of 3E and Pathfinder RPG. There’s a crapload of different rules subsystems in supplements and accessories that you can choose to use or ignore and there’s one for every situation (though I think this is the first one I’ve seen for this particular situation). Someone, I think it was Lizard, said it pretty well on RPG.net a while back – it’s easier to ignore a rule than make a new one up on the spot.
But Jade Regent is still months in the future. There are still four books left in Serpent’s Skull and hordes of serpentfolk and Satanic apes to kill.