A Beginners Guide to Every Pathfinder Adventure Path
The Pathfinder RPG by Paizo can handle a large number of adventure styles due to its fantastic “kitchen-sink” setting of Golarion. To make it easy for game masters (GMs) to run a sweet campaign-style adventure for players, Paizo innovated (and then perfected) the “Adventure Path” model.
A Pathfinder Adventure Path is a series of six monthly 96-page softcover books. Each volume provides one part of an adventure path, as well as several fantastic background articles to help GMs implement the adventure path. The six parts have a connecting theme and story that links all the parts into one epic campaign that starts at 1st level and takes players to the mid to high teens.
The Pathfinder Adventure Paths are the “flagship” of the Pathfinder RPG. Indeed, the adventure paths were the first to bear the name “Pathfinder.” The first four adventure paths (24 volumes) were published before the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game was released, and were written with D&D 3.5 rules.
Ten years later and the Adventure Paths have a myriad of story options to choose from. Indeed, there are now *gulp* 22 APs to choose from! Below, we give you a brief intro to each of them!
Pathfinder Adventure Path
Rise of the Runelords (August 2007) The very first Adventure Path is still–in many ways–the very best, particularly because it has been updated and re-released as a single volume hardback.
Rise of the Runelords begins with silly goblins, but quickly introduces horror elements as well as epic combats with giants and more. In fact, the story stretches up and down the Lost Coast, a key geographical area of Golarion. Not only does the story offer wonderful variety but it is also thick in the lore of Pathfinder, making it great for understanding the setting. As a result, RotR is THE AP to run for first time Pathfinder players.
Curse of the Crimson Throne (February 2008) Whereas RotR was a romp across the countryside, Curse of the Crimson Throne (CotCT) is a city-based adventure steeped in duplicitous intrigue. CotCT has also received an updated hardback re-release that is just as impressive as RotR.
The storyline features a beautiful yet sinister queen who has usurped the throne of Korvosa, a key city in Golarion. The adventure takes players from the seedy underbelly of the city all the way to the throne room itself, then introducing cool new encounters for players, such as rules for chases across rooftops.
Second Darkness (August 2008) This AP begins in the grimy streets of the town of Riddleport, then takes a tonal shift at the start of book 3 as the adventurers interact with drow, the dark elves of the Darklands (Underdark).
If players are into creepy portents of doom, SD might be interesting. Just be warned, it hasn’t received the hardcover update to full Pathfinder rules and, as a result, requires some balancing work. For that reason, I’d recommend starting with another AP.
Legacy of Fire (February 2009) Legacy of Fire (LoF) was the last AP to use the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 rules set, as those that follow fully utilize the very similar yet updated Pathfinder rules. Legacy of Fire was also the first AP to really show off the variety of adventure types that are possible in Golarion.
The story of LoF begins in the exotic desert nation of Katapesh, a land of fortune and wonders. From there, the story grows to include gnolls, genies and even bizarre demi-planes. It’s a great AP, particularly if you enjoy an Arabian Knights flavor to your adventures.
Council of Thieves (August 2009) The nation of Cheliax is ruled by the devil-worshipping House of Thrune, which is about the most engaging set-up as I can think of! The Council of Thieves (CoT) is a gritty, urban adventure of organized crime, corrupt officials, and ancient curses that culminates in the heroes facing down the hordes of Hell itself.
Kingmaker (February 2010) Paizo did something fresh with Kingmaker. As a a result, Kingmaker is often held up as an exemplar of what a wide-open “sandbox” adventure can be.
The AP is set in the infamous Stolen Lands of the River Kingdoms, where there is a bit of a land rush. Players are tasked with growing and managing their very own kingdom (using rules that would later be incorporated into Ultimate Campaign), while they also defend it from monsters and bandits. If your playing group might be interested in more than hack and slash, and want to create and rule their own stronghold, then Kingmaker is the AP for you.
Serpent’s Skull (August 2010) This AP launches from a shipwreck into a race to find a lost city deep in to the jungle of the Mwangi Expanse (Congo), inhabited by powerful serpent folk. Now, let’s pause here to recognize the nice variety in theming that Paizo uses for their Adventures Paths. No two are similar!
Carrion Crown (February 2011) Described as Golarion’s most notorious villain, the Carrion Crown AP asks the heroes to take down the Whispering Tyrant. It is set in Ustalav, the region of Golarion that plays homage to Transylvania, allowing Paizo to present Carrion Crown as their entry into the gothic horror genre.
Jade Regent (August 2011) The Jade Regent (JR) AP does a lot, first of which is to re-introduce NPCs from the Rise of the Runelords AP, making Jade Regent a sequel of sorts.
The familiar NPC discovers her birthright is to rule one of the ancient Dragon Empires of Tian Xia—the Pathfinder homage to eastern Asian cultures. As a result, the players embark on a caravan through Viking country to complete the long trek to Tian Xia. Once there, the current ruler–the cruel Jade Regent–has no intention of giving up his hold over the throne.
Skull and Shackles (February 2012) This is the Pathfinder pirate adventure that allows players to command their very own pirate fleet, battling rival scalawags for plunder. This AP (along with JR) is when Paizo really began to fully support their APs, releasing oodles of map packs, painted miniatures, and more.
There is another way to enjoy the Skull and Shackles AP. The fantastic Called Shot Podcast is a live play podcast that is playing through the AP and recording it for the enjoyment of your ears. You really should check it out.
Shattered Star (August 2012) Whereas Jade Regent has familiar elements with Rise of the Runelords, Shattered Star is a straight-up sequel, giving more of the story of the mysterious Runelords of Golarion, while also incorporating elements of Curse of the Crimson Throne and Second Darkness.
The story sees agents of a new Pathfinder Society lodge in Magnimar learning of a fragmented artifact scattered throughout the old lands of Golarion. So it falls on the players to step in and gather up the seven fragments of this Shattered Star with some classic dungeon crawling.
Reign of Winter (February 2013) This is a fey-filled winter-based AP, pulling heavily from the legends of Baba Yaga. It’s a sort of twisted fairy tale (sprinkled with time travel!) that allows the players to thwart the Witch Queen Elvanna, preventing her from taking full control of the realm. This one is also well supported by Paizo.
Wrath of the Righteous (August 2013) This is the AP that introduced the mythic rules of Pathfinder, allowing the players to advance to very high levels, becoming almost akin to gods.
In order to provide a challenge for high level characters, the AP features ravenous demonic hordes and demon hosts aplenty.
Mummy’s Mask (February 2014) Set in the Golarion region of Osirion, the Mummy’s Mask AP can most succinctly be described as Paizo’s homage to the legends of Ancient Egypt. The story goes that modern Osirion has opened its vaults and tombs to outsiders for the first time in centuries, and many of those lost treasures and secrets are now emerging—one more troublesome than others.
Iron Gods (August 2014) is an homage to Barrier Peaks, a classic D&D adventure. It takes place in Numeria, a region of Golarion that long ago hosted an event called the Rain of Stars that scarred the land. The event was really fragmented remnants of a starship from beyond the stars that fell from the sky, scattering strange technological ruins across the land. Today, those sites are occupied by barbaric tribes and coveted by the sinister spellcasters.
Giantslayer (February 2015) is an homage to Against the Giants, another classic D&D storyline. It begins deep in orc country in the village of Trunau and the story grows bigger and bigger until it reaches the Storm Tyrant, a storm giant bent on bringing all giants against the small folk of Golarion.
There is another way to enjoy the Giantslayer AP. The fantastic Glass Cannon Podcast is a live play podcast that is playing through the AP and recording it for the enjoyment of your ears. You really should check it out.
Hell’s Rebels (August 2015) is another city-based campaign. It has as its setting a rebellion in Cheliax, starting with the formation of a group of ragtag resistance fighters. The fourth book of the AP–A Song of Silver–is notable for being the 100th volume of the Pathfinder Adventure Path line, and features an additional 32 pages of content, including a longer-than-normal adventure and a 32-page retrospective on the past 16 adventure paths, which includes a new NPC to be added to each.
Hell’s Vengeance (February 2016) What if we rooted for the bad guys to win? The premise of this AP is that it takes place concurrently with the events of Hell’s Rebels and is written for evil-aligned characters.
Strange Aeons (August 2016) This is Paizo’s Cthulu-themed adventure. As a result, it features Lovecraftian elements, including elder gods and the Necronomicon. It also explores rulesets that allow for players to slowly succumb to insanity as the tendrils of deep horrors reach out to overtake them.
Ironfang Invasion (February 2017) is an homage to Keep on the Borderlands and other classic wilderness adventures. We say more about Ironfang Invasion here, but it features hordes of invading hobgoblins that force the players to be on the run through the wilderness, utilizing guerrilla warfare as they scramble to mount a counter-offensive and retake conquered lands.
Ruins of Azlant (August 2017) This AP is a mashup of the lost city of Atlantis and the colony of Roanoke. Players serve as a second wave of colonists, only to be forced to investigate the mysterious fate of the first wave of colonists.
War for the Crown (February 2018) As the political scene in the Golarion kingdom of Taldor diminishes into chaos, players take on the roles of agents and saboteurs for Princess Eutropia, who is trying to secure her claim to the throne and prevent the nation from collapsing into civil war.
Return of the Runelords (August 2018) This AP will mark the conclusion of the “Runelords Trilogy” that began with Rise of the Runelords and continued with Shattered Star.
Untitled Pathfinder AP (February 2019) With the announcement of Pathfinder 2.0 the first edition of the Adventure Path line comes to a close, but not before Paizo promises to squeeze out one more. This is curious because a Runelords based AP would be a nice bookend to how it all started, but that just means that Paizo has something up its sleeve for their untitled AP.
That will be followed by future Adventure Paths that utilize the second edition ruleset, which will be exciting.
Paizo has created an adventure path for virtually every flavor of fantasy tabletop roleplaying, the above being evidence of that. It’s a commitment to orchestrate a multi-year campaign that brings characters from level 1 all the way to almost level 20, but Paizo has already done the hard work for you. All you need to do is pick out an AP that sounds fun to you, then invite your friends to play.