Reflections on a Shattered Star

After 101 sessions, over 400 hours of gameplay and two and a half years of real time my Shattered Star campaign has come to a premature end (at least for now).

 

If you’ve been following the session summaries you’ll probably have noticed the fights have become harder, more balls-to-wall than in previous adventures. They’ve also been taking ever longer to resolve. Our last fight—which lasted about 15 rounds—took almost two whole sessions (about six hours of game play). I’ve never been a particular fan of high-level play in Pathfinder (or 3.5) and recent sessions have borne out my view. The sheer complexity of various spells and abilities (and how they react in unexpected ways) coupled with the profusion of choice (for spellcasters in particular) has slowed progress to a crawl.

After the last fight, when the dust had settled and the survivors had regrouped we had a chat. Eventually, we decided to move onto the next thing—a chum will be running Skulls & Shackles while I take a break from GMing (which I’ve been doing pretty much continuously for five years). I’m very much looking forward to being the other side of the screen for a while.

While we’ve enjoyed the Shattered Star thus far, some frustrations had become evident. Luckily, we are all friends and mature enough to discuss most things calmly and rationally.

One of the main concerns several of us had was the general sameness of the various adventures. The vast majority of the campaign takes place in small dungeons stuffed full of things to kill, traps to dodge and treasure to loot. All these things are good in moderation, but its got to the point where it seems every time the players open a door combat immediately ensues. Chances for diplomacy are few and far between. As the dungeons are all also pretty small there were comparatively few areas that didn’t feature something that immediately needed killing. Progress through the maps was pretty slow and rather demoralising.

From a GM’s point of view the rationale for the presence of some of the monsters/opponents has been tenuous at best. They seemed geared to simply providing a good mix of monsters to kill (which is good) but with little regard to the dungeon itself. (Or the text justified the monsters’ presence in some convoluted, clever way to the GM but gave the PCs no way of working out why the monsters were there in the first place).

All that said, I don’t view the last couple of years as wasted time. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of the time we’d spent trying to reforge the Shattered Star. If we enjoyed 90% of the time that’s a win in my book. There’s no point shooting for the perfect campaign as it’s unachievable.

Beyond all that, this is the campaign in which my eldest son starting playing “properly”. It’s been fantastic to share my hobby with him and to pass the torch to the next generation. It’s been one of the highlights of the game for me. (He’s even volunteered me to run a campaign for his friends).

So for now we are taking a break from the Shattered Star. We might—or might not—be back to finish the story (which is rather tricky given the events toward the end of the last session). Even if we don’t returned to the Shattered Star, the way we’ve paused the campaign (half the party dead, permanently lost in the planes or petrified as statues) gives us a great hook for the continuing story. In particular, as the party have now irrevocably lost one of the shards it seems Ratik will have to come up with some other way of defeating the death knights’ growing power…

 

Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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7 thoughts on “Reflections on a Shattered Star

  1. Being an active and avid reader of every recap (and often hitting refresh a few times a week on the landing page to see if the next one was posted), I was really hoping that your title of session 101 was untrue. That said, thanks for the recap and the potential for closure on this grand story.

    To me as a gamer/GM, the unfinished story is even more dreadful than the TPK, especially since I tend to run my world/story and not a module. The players obviously dictate the tale, but it’s admirable that you are able to pause/stop and not have to finish this out, regardless of the questions of what happens to Ratik and such.

    I agree with you that my favorite games tend to stop being my favorite as the players levels increase and the world changing powers rear their ugly heads. It creates a problem with balance in the story, the character classes and what you have to throw at a group (and it’s even worse when a caster can handle something in a round or 2 and a fighter would take 15 or so and death is on the line).

    Have you ever contemplated running Epic 6? I imagine it would really lend itself to Pathfinder though it’s a 3.5 based platform as the 2 are very close. I’ve yet to convince any of my group to run it, but to me it would solve the high level problems you and I don’t enjoy when the game increases in level and would still provide players with a chance to grow their characters. Thoughts?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed our recaps!

      Have no dear–I don’t see the story as finished; rather, it’s clearly going to change direction a bit. The “hilarious” end to session 101 simply means the campaign will evolve and change once we return to it. I’d add at this point that the AP had got rather “samy” in that no matter how good any one dungeon is, all the shards were essentially hidden in a small dungeon complex which after 101 sessions got a tad repetitive.

      I haven’t heard of Epic 6. I’ll go take a look now. Thanks for the recommendation.

  2. I loved reading your game recaps. I did notice the in the earlier recaps the players were able to accomplish more gaming in them. It was apparent that as levels increased less stuff happened and fights took more and more time. Were I a Pathfinder player E6 or E9 would have to be it for me. In my experience high level play is fun sometimes but becomes time consuming and tedious as a main campaign. Of course your mileage may vary!!
    I think it is interesting as you have chosen to use the slow EXP table , as a way to hold onto that player fragility/gaming expediency. I would love to see y’all play an OSR game like Basic Fantasy RPG or Swords & Wizardry or FMAG. It is good to be in front of the screen it always teaches me something about being a GM but dang is that hard for me to do for very long. Let us know how it goes for you!?

    Kirwyn