Saturday, 17 November 2012

Carrion Crown vs Kingmaker: a comparison

So we played Pathfinder again last night, and it was a late one, but somehow quite satisfactory. We are still on the second story arc of the Carrion Crown campaign, which seems to be inspired by Frankstein, with plenty of constructs and mobs of enraged peasants to deal with. But it also got me thinking about how Carrion Crown compares with the Kingmaker campaign, which our group played back in 2010-11 and has returned to sporadically.

I have to say that I enjoy Carrion Crown more than Kingmaker. The latter campaign was a domain building game, where the party was tasked with pacifying and settling an area of wilderness. This required plenty of exploration and the defeat of various factions within the assigned zone of conquest, as well as defending our domain against external threats. In the middle of all this, there was plenty of book keeping which was ably managed by Manoj, as we expanded our core settlement of Staghelm, and founded others around the realm. It felt a bit like the Romans arriving in Britain, defeating the local tribes of Celts, and then building new towns around their new province.

In the early stages, Kingmaker does feel like an old school Dungeons and Dragons hex bash, which is quite fun. Once we passed 8th level it changed into something different, and at around this point it began to feel as if the party of PCs was becoming overpowered. I was ruminating last night - having difficulty getting to sleep after playing Pathfinder - about whether this was the fault of Pathfinder itself, or the fault of the writers of the Kingmaker campaign. By 13th level we seem to have reached the point where we won't even play it when Ric, our absent player, is in town on a visit. But is this an issue of Pathfinder, or a failure of Kingmaker, or because PCs started Kingmaker with their attributes set too high? Does Pathfinder begin to break down once your characters pass 10-11th level?

Last night, our Carrion Crown campaign experienced a very challenging encounter with an erinyes, which summoned a trio of bearded devils to support it. Our point man, the half elven ranger/rogue Tarion, triggered a summoning trap while on a rope bridge over a 200 foot waterfall. It led to an intense battle which I was not sure we would even win. This followed an encounter with trolls last week which also proved so draining for the party that we were forced to rest overnight. The campaign seems capable of generating tough and tactically interesting encounters for the adventurers to deal with, which at 6th level seem to be capable of taxing them to the hilt.

This is not to say Kingmaker did not also have some challenging encounters - my barbarian character Artemisia was almost killed in a battle with trolls (again!) in the second story arc of Kingmaker. But in many cases, the Kingmaker writers seem to have simply thrown bigger and bigger solo monsters our way, forgetting that a large, mid-level party with plenty of hangers on (charmed monsters, animal companions, followers, etc) can be launching literally dozens of attacks at them, to the extent that even a fearsome critter like a hydra would only last a few rounds of combat.

Carrion Crown, by contrast, uses a combination of difficult terrain and multiple creatures to make life harder for the characters. The presence of a cleric in this campaign has meant we are able to restore PCs to full health relatively quickly, so that even a damaging encounter like last night's can still leave us standing on our feet at full hit points within a matter of minutes of the battle finishing. But the challenges are hard. The same can be said for the first story arc, which featured ghosts as its primary theme.

However, the PCs are approaching 7th level. Tarion will, I believe, have an animal companion and our necromancer Nicodemus could well have an NPC retainer following us around. Plus monster summoning spells are beginning to come into their own - my PC Veneticus summoned a pack of air elementals to our aid last night which effectively stopped one of the bearded devils from being an offensive threat, forcing him to abandon his evil glaive and fight with claws against the wind entities. It looks as if summoned creatures will be playing a bigger role for us in the future. We will have to see how the next story arc for Carrion Crown holds up for us once we get up to 9th or 10th level. It should prove interesting.

I should end by also saying that Carrion Crown has a more compelling plot than Kingmaker. Many encounters happen because of that plot; there is a logical sequence of events; plus there is increasing evidence of an overarching scheme by the necromancers of the Whispering Way. Clues do play a role in piecing together a bigger puzzle, which is great, but the game does not become too bogged down with investigation and opaque mystery. It gets the balance right.


  1. This is an excellent summary Stuart. I quite agree with your comparison of the two campaigns. We'll see how Carrion Crown does when we get to level seven and above, where the game system seems to go a bit wobbly.

  2. I think I have also learnt lessons...I did not allow you an over powered point buy...

    But, overall I agree. The fights are in often interesting terrain which can put pcs on the back don't have time like in Kingmaker, to create magic items by the shelf load. The balance so far is good. I think this should continue! Esp since Manoj is not playing the mage ;) That's not to say it won't get silly with all your retainers, animal companions and summoned creatures!! Bring it on!! Am enjoying it loads, and am looking forward to the showdown!

  3. I know this is an old post, but double check monster descriptions next time.

    A summoned erinyes cannot summon additional monsters.

    We just fought this encounter last week. The Erinyes with her Greater teleport at will, near perfect fly, Ranged weapon, and Decent Will save or be feared into running over "TWO make acrobatics check or die" bridges while running in fear make her plenty hard enough without summoning backup. Our DM plays the monsters very smart if they are able to be smart.

    Even still.. Yes Carrion crown is way harder than Kingmaker