Adventure Paths are adventure modules linked together by an interconnected story arc, with each adventure moving the players through a pre-written campaign from beginning to end. The term was popularized by Pathfinder and Paizo's earlier Dungeon Magazine adventures, but predates it; perhaps one of the oldest examples of this was the Dungeons & Dragons AP "Against the Giants", a linked series of modules that led to the players fighting multiple species of giants before ultimately battling against the drow who had roused them to war.
The original Dungeon Magazine Adventure Paths went from level 1 to 20 (possibly hitting 21). Most Pathfinder APs only go to 16/17 (Wrath of the Righteous and Return of the Runelords go to 20). Starfinder instead decided to experiment with AP length. Rather than have six books form one continuous story for a character's entire career, some of Starfinder's APs are only 3 parts but the next three part AP begins at the same level the last one ended at.
One related thing is the Player's Guide that accompanies all the Pathfinder APs. This free digital guide gives the players enough information to make a character that actually fits the campaign's story and provides common knowledge of the area it is set in. These typically include the rules for any AP specific subsystem so it doesn't take up space in the books.
Dungeon Magazine ListEdit
The Shackled CityEdit
Someone thought an inactive volcano was a good place to make a town. The PCs start of by looking for some kidnapped children and stumble into far greater conspiracies. Mostly based around a single city, with the outlying areas mostly being fluff and where you can make shopping trips to. Was later compiled into a single book with some fixes and new content.
The Age of WormsEdit
In the shithole mining town of Diamond Lake, some newly unearthed archeological finds threaten to unleash some long sealed horrors upon the world once more. Centered around a "Free City" which is really the Free City of Greyhawk with the serial numbers filed off, but can be replaced by any campaign specific large city with Waterdeep and Sharn given as examples.
Since the majority of the campaign is urban (though unlike The Shackled City, not all the same place), and travel is either off screen or teleportation based, it's less setting dependent than other adventure paths. Indeed, unlike most published adventures that aren't explicitly Eberron based, it works surprisingly well in the setting. The official conversion gives instructions for an interesting twists on generic ally NPCs (and explains where they came from). The name of the disaster the players are trying to avert also plays well with Eberron's epoch naming.
The Pathfinder ListEdit
Rise of the RunelordsEdit
Pathfinder's 'flagship' AP, RotR hits a lot of more classic tropes. Starts off with the party fighting goblins and an evil Aasimar, moves on to fighting ghouls and a Lamia, then it becomes a mild wilderness game to fight your way to a big ass dam and fight several types of ogres and giants, save a few towns, then go off to fight dragons and ancient evil spellcaster. Initially released for 3.5 before getting an official second edition for Pathfinder.
Curse of the Crimson ThroneEdit
When the ruler suddenly up and dies, a new queen takes over and it's very clear that she's nothing like she appears. Popular enough to get an update from 3.5 to Pathfinder just like RotRL did. Also fucking impossible. Do not attempt if your GM has any sort of malicious intent. Fucking bards, man.
Drow want to blow everything up, and the elves who send you to stop them are kinda jerks. Not one of the most popular APs.
Legacy of FireEdit
Genies and Arabian Nights the adventure Path. The final 3.5 AP. Among the very few modules set in a desert that is not Egyptian themed and isn't Dark Sun based. Though this is mostly accomplished by setting everything in ruins in the desert and restricting the actual desert to overland travel. Not technically a full campaign since as an experiment the modules have XP gaps that the GM is supposed to insert sidequests into.
Council of ThievesEdit
The first AP written for the Pathfinder rules instead of 3.5. Be a hero and help the Nazis against the Mafia. Huge city but a total shithole. Has some major issues with player involvement because a lot of shit happens behind the scenes and the AP doesn't think much of informing the players about it. Needs some work from the DM. Starts off like a rebellion story, but does a hard turn into something else the last two books so if you wanna do that, play Hell's Rebels instead.
Make Your Own Kingdom: The Adventure Path. Introduced the idea of an AP specific minigame. Unlike the future ones, this one actually works well enough to bother with it (it was updated in Ultimate Campaign to plug a few issues). The main complaint outside of the kingdom rules being imperfect is lack of foreshadowing for the true big bad: For the first few books the only clue you'll find is a non-decaying, carrion repelling unicorn corpse in the middle of the wilderness (Not an exaggeration).
Probably best known because Owlcat Games (a Russian game developer), with Chris Avellone leading the narrative design, got the rights to make a CRPG based on this and released it on October 2018.
Is getting a hardback rerelease in 2020 with the rules updated to Pathfinder 2e. If, however, you want to run the game in the original 1e format or in D&D 5e, additional splatbooks are being made available to convert it. Will also have additional content such as stats and quests for the companions and others from the video game adaptation.
The jungle exploration path with lizardfolk, normally considered one of the weakest APs alongside Second Darkness and Wrath of the Righteous due to the tremendous amount of padding.
The classic horror monster path.
Travel to Tian-Xia to overthrow the current regime of a dictator and install its' proper inheritor, who happens to be one of your NPC bffs. A lot of the path is just getting there. Includes rules for managing a caravan, but they're so totally pointless you can just ignore them and the campaign is completely unchanged. Indeed, you should, since the caravan combat part was blatantly not playtested and effectively TPK city. Also includes a romance system for NPCs, with the particular odd bit that it is easier to get in a relative's pants because your relationship starts closer and nothing actually states the obvious to stop it.
Skull & ShacklesEdit
Pirates! You start pressganged on a ship, and after breaking free you need to make a name for yourself on the high seas. Awful for a GM that doesn't want to spend hours voicing the dozen or so important NPCs appearing in just book 1. Uses naval combat rules, though ship HP is so inflated boarding is the only practical option without house rules.
Semi-sequel to Runelords, you need to assemble a powerful artifact and a different villain of ancient Thassilon threatens to rise. Almost pure dungeon crawl.
Reign of WinterEdit
Somebody turned down the thermostat in Taldor, so you go and investigate. Things get out of whack when you fight winter fey in the middle of summer, get teleported to Bumfuck, Icy Nowhere and get roped into a date with a Winter Wolf, and it only escalates from there when you go to another continent, another planet, and another galaxy on your quest to rescue damsel-in-distress Baba Yaga from her uppity daughter and son, Rasputin, and his army of tear gas elementals, WWI Russian soldier zombies, and magically-animated tanks.
Includes a Winter Witch class in the player's guide, but don't play that. The title alone should tell you half the bad guys are ice themed.
Wrath of the RighteousEdit
The Demons of the Worldwound have decided that being trapped in the area around the Worldwound is a bum game, and break free, inadvertently giving your party mythic power in the process. You progress deeper into the Worldwound and eventually to the Abyss itself to save the world from demonic invasion. Dependent upon poorly balanced mythic rules (essentially a redo of 3E's Epic Adventures) and notorious for some very mismanaged NPCs. Unlike most APs, this one goes all the way to level 20.
By the time you get to the later books, this adventure path goes balls-to-the-walls loony with its monsters and setups. Things like Dragon-Riding Worms that Walk with tons of cleric levels become the foot soldiers of the big bads, and most of the powerful NPCs have statblocks that read like warped poetry ripped out of the anuses of the world's most sadistic GMs (the...thing on page 52 of City of Locusts is an exercise in absurdity).
Something that this adventure doesn't get enough love for is the utter nightmare scenario detailed if the player's lose. Rather than getting a vague description of the villain's plans, the players are treated to a play-by-play of every nation in the northern half of the inner sea getting torn apart by the immense rush of demons. These two pages contain seeds for at least six awesomely brutal campaigns for any GMs who somehow accomplishes the herculean task of slaughtering a team of high-level, high-mythic adventurers.
On December 4th, 2019, Owlcat Games announced that this AP is their next CRPG. After teasing fans for a few short days, it leaked very quickly and so they stepped up and admitted it is coming out. It will feature Seelah the Iconic Paladin and add the Witch and Oracle classes. They've announced they're reworking the Mythic system, though it remains to be seen if they'll fix the first book sharing an author with Siege of Dragonspear.
Ancient Egyptian/Osirion path with ancient tombs, mummies, and floating pyramids. In case you thought this would be a serious AP, book three is spent entertaining an obese female bureaucrat who has fallen for one of the PCs and is the only one willing to authorize them to visit the library they need to do research at.
Spiritual successor to Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Travel through Barbarians and scavenged technology land fighting aliens, an organization that wants to monopolize all high technology, and face down an AI that wants to make itself a god. Do not charge the final boss if it's linnorm is still alive. Learn from others' mistakes.
Big Stuff. Kill it fast before it kills you. Do not attempt to make giants fail will saves. The GM will fuck your ass.
Plays the homage to Against the Giants a bit too well, and winds up with a plot that is largely frameworked on "go kill the next tier of giants". Also, the 5th book is just a fire-themed version of the 4th.
In a city at the edge of Cheliax, the Thrunes moved one of their family that even those devil-worshipers find too much. As he cracks down, you rise up. Well developed city. This AP actually is what most people thought Council of Thieves was going to be. Takes place almost entirely within one city, with a trip to a neighboring one, a few underwater segments, a visit to the outskirts and the finale being the only parts not to.
Has the unfortunate flaw of predating Ultimate Intrigue. This means it can't take advantage of all the sabotage and social stuff that book introduced and has zero support for playing a Vigilante when it really should, a lesson that was not repeated when Curse of the Crimson Throne was re-released.
The bad guy path - Cheliax can't focus on the Hell's Rebels rebellion because they're dealing with one of their own, an ill-considered attempt at their capital. You work for the Queen in helping put it down and restoring order in the lands in a manner befitting the iron grip of a dictator. Pretty damn great if you have an average to good GM.
Lovecraft the adventure path, now made possible thanks to Occult Adventures. Lethal as fuck. Bring backup characters (which is weird, because the plot is heavily dependent upon the original PCs) and do not, I repeat DO NOT have any mental score below 10. You'll be insane by the end of the first book. Also bring a tank along with you everywhere.
One of the more "traditional" adventure paths. This one involves stopping a massive hobgoblin army, though it does have some relatively unusual twists in the later books. Set in Nirmanthas, the country of Robin Hood (or Wood, for those of us who live in T.H. White's books).
Ruins of AzlantEdit
Visit the ruins of not-Atlantis and fight evil psychic fish (Aboleths), lots of nautical themes and aquatic monsters. Also, there's a magic theremin as an optional treasure. Like Council of Thieves, it makes the mistake of setting up the players to care about a settlement that's almost a non-entity for the second half of the plot. Likewise the player's guide and first three modules imply the players will be isolated from civilization for long periods and may need to craft to get their needed magic items, but book four introduces a what is effectively a large city for magic item purchases and the players don't really have time to craft much in book 3 onward.
This is unique among adventure paths in that the last section actually deals a little bit with the legendary city of Absalom. By that, I mean that there's a footnote saying that it gets nuked to shit if the players don't defeat the final boss within a certain time frame.
War for the CrownEdit
There's a Succession Crisis in Taldor, so it's time to play the Game of Thrones... or it would be if it could decide what the hell the main conflict is supposed to be. Women can't inherit, except half the characters are women who inherited their position. A dozen factions are involved in the power struggle, but you are literally only given more details than the names of three of them, and one of those three doesn't show up till almost the end.
Also development made Taldor fit the AP instead of making an AP to fit Taldor. Taldor previously had stuff like sumptuary laws against beards (which has been an actual plot point in an older module, where Taldor's aligned PCs are ordered to shave a disgraced noble as part of demoting him to commoner) and bans on Sarenrae worship, since she was the patron of their worst enemy (and this ban actually had large amounts of crunch behind it, devoted to how worshipers hide their faith). This was dropped because it supposedly made them a "joke" and it made it unfriendly to potential PCs respectively. Despite these being established in fluff that was supposed to reflect the present day it was retconned into weird shit in the past people vaguely remember. This was even though the AP itself portrayed the current emperor as increasingly erratic and mad with age, leaving a perfectly reasonable explanation for ditching them without retcon. Also added to Taldor to make this AP was heavy institutional sexism, something that was never alluded to before. Oh and even though Taldor has a colony in
Kara Tur Tian Xia, one that is explicitly its only actual accomplishment in centuries and most productive part of the empire, it is never mentioned (not even as a potential homeland of a PC).
Return of the RunelordsEdit
A sequel to Raise of the Runelords and Shattered Star. You know those ancient max level wizards who ruled the world millennia ago? They're back! Goes to 20, which it does by excluding a lot of the non-adventure parts of each book that were previously included.
The adventure deals with five Runelords in total (Greed was dealt with in Rise while Sloth either had his ass kicked or kicked stratospheric ass in a Pathfinder Society Adventure), although you only ever fight two of them at full power. Two of them have been weakened by various forces (read: other Runelords) smacking the gravy out of them before the players have a chance to fight them (granted, these weakened versions will probably take at least one or two PCs to the grave with them). The last one gets a redemption arc that no rational GM or party should fall for (A Chaotic Neural 20th-level 10th-mythic-tier Full Caster with +41 to both Bluff and Diplomacy is an extinction-level event in any campaign, and that goes double for somebody who's been built up in a decade's worth of lore as being a sadistic and manipulative tyrant).
Paizo attempts to run Survival Horror in Pathfinder. Poorly. So poorly nobody realized it was supposed to be one till the final part said it was. The first two parts don't have any opportunities for shopping, but that's described as being so the action "flows quickly" and to make the PC feel "out of their depth" rather than resource management. It turns out a game with super human heroes, math that means mobs of enemies rarely being much of a threat to mid-level heroes and completely falls apart without the heroes getting proper gear is a bad system to make a survival horror game in.
The story also ends with all the PCs dying irrevocably and they only stop the big bad's current scheme, not kill him, because he needs to survive to be a major figure in 2E. This makes it a pretty shitty send-off to the edition.
The Pathfinder 2E listEdit
Age of AshesEdit
The first 2E AP. Finally delivers on the long standing fan request of having a dragon as the big bad instead of just the big bad's sidekick. The general premise? An abandoned Hellknight citadel's starting to get all active and burning, and the squatting tribe of goblins present are worried about things attacking them. As it turns out, there are other squatters as well, and their intentions are far more malicious.
The Starfinder ListEdit
An omnicidal cult and a renegade faction of the cyber-lich planet of Eox are on the hunt for a weapon so powerful it can blow up suns. It's up to YOU (a small group of recruits to the Starfinder Society) to find the clues as to where that weapon is and make sure it doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
Against the Aeon ThroneEdit
The Azlanti Star Empire's been trying to colonize a frontier world, and a friendly NPC's been kidnapped. The only thing to do is slap those purple-eyed space-fascists right in the face and rescue that NPC!
Signal of ScreamsEdit
You got invited into a swanky as hell resort. That'd be all fine and dandy...if there isn't some seriously fucked up shit hiding in here. Welcome to another horror-themed AP, this time with more shadow-things.
Dawn of FlameEdit
No don't delay, act now 'cause time is running out/ Riots will try to go far, go diving into a star/ If lost bubbles you follow, you'll see tomorrow/ But if your Party's done, an Efreeti will take over the Sun
Attack of the Swarm!Edit
After all the intrigue and sabotage and all the other stuff, here comes a straight-forward AP with a straight-forward enemy: The Swarm, that discount Tyranid race who were essentially relegated to the backstory on why the warlike Vesk decided to join the Pact Worlds and all. You, the party, are part of a Planetary Defense Force tasked with defending the latest target of the Swarm for long enough until everyone can evacuate and, perhaps, find a way to turn the tables.
Non-Paizo Adventure PathsEdit
Dawn of DefianceEdit
A free series by Wizards of the Coat for Star Wars: The Roleplaying Game Saga Edition. Shortly after Revenge of the Sith Bail Organa gathers allies to make the first strikes against the new Empire, starting with dealing with the Empire's mysterious "Sarlacc project". Since at the time (and even afterwards) the intertrilogy era had little going on in it the writers were allowed to go nuts and make a love letter to the Star Wars Expanded Universe.
Scales of WarEdit
After taking over Dungeon Magazine from Paizo and continuing it as a digital only publication, Wizards of the Coast tried their hand at an AP of their own called Scales of War. It's largely forgotten because it was published in the digital only Dungeon issues and for 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. Even those that did like 4E weren't too fond of it, calling it disconnected, repetitive, and pure dungeon crawl.
Way of the WickedEdit
An adventure path devoted to playing evil characters. Notable not just for being made for evil characters, but portraying various evil schemes from the other point of view. Break out of jail! Sabotage a town from the inside! Run an evil lair and conduct evil rituals! Slaughter towns! Rule over your conquered kingdom! A shame the art isn't that great.
Predates Hell's Vengence and indeed likely part of why the latter exists. This series repeatedly topped the best selling third party Pathfinder products.
The same creator made two books into a second all underground adventure, but it since wound up vaporware.
The Northlands SagaEdit
Relatively low magic viking adventure with a strong emphasis on Norse culture. Latter books are weaker than the earlier ones because they were made from an outline and notes. Includes time skips of significant length (several years). Since it's light on magic items and high on money, bring a crafter wizard.
Printed in Pathfinder and 5E flavor.
Trail of the ApprenticeEdit
Intended for much younger players and absolute beginners. The first part is as much cliché as possible: Village hires the PCs to kill some orc bandits who live in a cave. The following parts however are much more original with backdrops like a haunted museum, the trap filled labyrinth of a master thief and a dungeon where every room mimics a different plane.
Printed in Pathfinder and 5E flavor.
An homage to the old Sword and Planet subgenre of fantasy. The PCs have been kidnapped from their fantasy planet(s) by aliens intent on dissecting them and/or turning them into mutant mind slaves. They escape, but can they find a portal that will take them home? Notably the Player's Guide says the PCs could play almost anything without issue since no organization the PCs know of exists in the plot. Uses the mythic rules, but with fewer problems than WotR due to slower rate of gain mythic tiers and Legendary Game's own fixes/expansions to the Mythic rules.
Printed in Pathfinder, Starfinder and 5E flavor.