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…


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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.

11 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?

    1. 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.

        1. I think that’s a pretty cool idea. If I was designing it from scratch I might do some kind of Epic 9 variant. I’ve always seen old “name” level as a bit of a cut-off point for me. It’s the point when abilities really start to become super-heroic and spell casters in particular can start to break the game. It’s also when characters “should” start thinking about setting down and founding a fief.

          1. E9 would be rather nasty for sorcerers -stuck on 4th level spells whilst wizards get 5th. I think even numbers would work better.

  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!?


  3. I sound like an ass. But I look at your stuff, and that’s the type of game I run. I mean, take out the tent city immigrant stuff from my metro areas, and the reflections on today’s European crisis…and I run a game that is a happy hex crawl.

    No offense, CB. Please RUN YOUR CAMPAIGN AND TELL US ABOUT IT. I’m reading your stuff for the last two years, thinking, “This guy’s got an amazing campaign!” And you should run it! Why aren’t you giving us the meaty documented pieces of what happens at your table? What the hell is wrong with your imagination which flares to life, which gives us convoys of inspiration! Your game looks awesome! That’s the type of game I want to see!

    I don’t want to see some shitcrawl where you bash a door, you immediately find a monster! And it’s got a key for you. And then you find a trap, then you find two more fights, then there’s a bedroll, and there’s no random monster encounter, so your mages and sorcerors can get a good night’s sleep! And then shortly after the cleric uses the loo in the morning, the party walks forty feet and finds a minotaur which tries to kill them but they all level up on it’s pints of blood spilling everywhere like crappy beer at a county fair! What the bloody hell are you thinking! I don’t want to see some crappy homogenized campaign written by people who pepper their lives with starbucks coffee! I want to see some game in action, that was written by a person who loves a medium rare or bloodier steak! I want to see a game story written by a person who has had life experience! It’s okay to have a dungeon that has EMPTY ROOMS!

    1. Hey Bruce! I’ve got over 170 session summaries here on the site for you to peruse. Just check out the Borderland of Adventure or Shattered Star sections to immerse yourself into our games! I’m taking a break at the moment and playing in Skull and Shackles (as the amazingly talented, handsome and brave Vilimzair) and I’m also blogging those summaries here.

      Good luck with your game and thank you for the kind words!

  4. I had a very similar experience in my Shattered Star/Runelords mashup, which ended just after yours (29th October) after 2 years & 64 sessions, finishing at Book 4 of both – – mostly enjoyed SS but the endless series of fights got distinctly repetitive. Runelords was certainly stronger overall, with more interesting and proactive antagonists.

    I do feel I made the right choice using 5e D&D rather than PF this time (used PF for Curse of the Crimson Throne) – fights felt well balanced and somewhat threatening throughout.

  5. Very much enjoyed the recaps, particularly as our group has pretty much matched yours for progress on Shattered Star. The party only survived the ghost (after losing three members to the prismatic spray) owing to an epic diplomacy check mid combat from the party bard using his last hero point to +20 to the roll. But then they’ve come a cropper slightly further on, losing both the druid and the shard he carried to the abomination in the underground lake. Now, depleted of members, resources and supplies, they are unable to proceed.

    I do agree that this AP is very combat heavy, and combat is my least favourite part of the game in Pathfinder and 3e derivatives. Like you, we’re getting to the stage at 13/14 level where a significant fight can take two or even three sessions, and that’s not what I really want to be doing. But I do like the twists and turns and have shaken things up a bit by throwing in sub plots, rival parties and the Cult of Lissala story line from the pathfinder society scenarios. It’s taken three years of gaming to get this far, and everyone wants to push on to finish book 6, which at least allows some scope for adventuring outside the dungeon.

    Love reading your summaries, solutions and thoughts on gaming.

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