While starting out strong, the Council of Thieves adventure path became a bit overly conventional during the middle portions and (in my opinion) did not really make use of the city environment. This fifth part of the tale, Mother of Flies (written by Greg A. Vaughan), fixes that problem to some degree.
It’s slightly ironic that this adventure makes use of the city setting… by leaving the city altogether for small while. The initial portions here assume the PCs want to recruit the support of a presumably-crazy and possibly-evil witch (the titular Mother of Flies) who lives in a nearby wood, so in order to do that the PCs need to go on a short wilderness spree. This might result in hilarity if the PCs are totally city-bred and not too comfortable with the great outdoors. It turns out that the PCs aren’t the only ones interested in the witch, and a large battle is likely unless the players figure out something really sneaky.
In any case, the action soon returns to Westcrown, and the setup becomes more like what I had hoped from this series in general: a semi-freeform set of events and locations which the PCs can experience and/or visit, while trying to drum up support for their cause or to foil the plans of the Bad Guys. There are vampires on the loose, and the old problem of mysterious “shadow beasts” stalking the city night may finally get a solution (depending on the PC actions, naturally). All along this series the PCs have been getting “fame points” if they succeed in doing various things, presumably these will be important in the next & final part of this thing.
While not being anything spectacular, this installment is a nice toolkit for advancing the plot along, and is a quite welcome change of pace after the confined and dungeon-crawly mid portions. Running this adventure path will require PCs who really care about the city, otherwise I can easily see them packing up their toys and moving somewhere else. To Paizo’s credit, this was discussed at length in the initial setup of the series. GMs who ignored that advice will have to figure out their own sticks and carrots to keep the PCs interesting in saving the city.
Masks of the Living God (by Jason Bulmahn) is the second part of a new Pathfinder adventure trilogy which began with Crypt of the Everflame. I really liked that module and thought that it was an excellent 1st level starter adventure… and I’m happy to report that this “part two” keeps up the good work.
Here the PCs follow the clues about a new somewhat menacing religion centered around a “Living God” (clues found in the previous adventure), and find that the nearby city of Tamran houses a chapter of that cult. Here it’s assumed that the PCs will try to infiltrate the cult, posing as new recruits – but enough info is given here to fuel a more straightforward assault too (or a sneaky thief-style approach). Since the default is infiltration, a lot of good info is given here about NPCs and the normal operating procedures of the cult.
I always appreciate adventures which are something other than just “see-monster-kill-monster”, so this one gets high marks from me. The straightforward violence option would probably result in a total party kill anyway; both because they’d be fighting a full cult, and because the authorities (such as they are) would probably look very dimly on an armed assault on a (supposedly peaceful) religious cult in the middle of town. While infiltration is probably the most fun option, I can see a sneaky spy approach working pretty well too. The cult headquarters is well mapped out, and the key NPC personalities should help in fleshing out the place.
The adventure provides clues which lead on to the next and last part, the upcoming City of Golden Death. Based on the high quality of these two first installments, I have high hopes for that one. Regardless of that, these two should provide a very nice kickoff to a Pathfinder campaign, should you need that.
With The Infernal Syndrome, Paizo’s Council of Thieves adventure path moves into its second half. Written by Clinton Boomer and James Jacobs, the basic idea here is pretty fun: an ancient mansion in the city has been powered by an imprisoned devil, and the mechanism in charge of that is slowly breaking down with bad consequences for the city around it. Unfortunately, like the previous installment in this adventure path, this too ends up being one big dungeon crawl. It’s not a bad one, but still… one of the major points of this adventure path was supposed to have been the city setting. Even though the first parts used that to good effect, these middle ones could pretty much have been set anywhere. The city is supposed to slowly be sinking into anarchy, but here that’s only on the “tell, don’t show” level. Sure, the GM can add stuff to make that point, but… Curse of the Crimson Throne did that sort of thing much better, there the city really did feel like it was at the verge of collapse.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t bad, and the city around the mansion(s) does figure into things; it’s just seriously underused as a setting element. There’s more combat here than I’d like, but that’s a standard complaint I have about almost all “D&D”-style pregen adventures. It’s natural, these games are mostly fantasy combat simulators… but still. It gets a bit old.
To the writers’ credit, many of the encounters here can be solved by other means (than combat, that is), and some of the encounters are quite interesting. It’s an ok adventure module, but fails to really be anything special.
Carrion Hill by Richard Pett is a newish Pathfinder module, with a somewhat unusual heritage: it’s a Pathfinder Cthulhu module. Sort of. It’s directly and deliberately influenced by Lovecraft, to the extent of using names from Lovecraft’s fiction and in having sidebars which direct people to also check out Chaosium’s “Call of Cthulhu” game. This isn’t the first time that Paizo has done something like this; there are lots of Lovecraft fans among the Paizo folk and some of the earlier modules have also contained some Cthulhu references. However, this is probably the most directly “Cthulhu” thing Paizo has done to date.
I have mixed feelings here. On one hand, it’s fun to mix and match genres a bit, and there are lots of nice scenes here. Also, the mechanic of the Big Bad’s strength depending heavily on what the PCs do is a nice one – if they just barge along without thinking, they may get their asses kicked.
On the other hand, D&D and Cthulhu are an uneasy mix. Cthulhu relies heavily on the PCs being totally out of their depth and generally helpless versus cosmic horrors, whereas D&D (which Pathfinder is a version of) is firmly in the see-monster-kill-monster genre. As a result, a lot of the potential creepiness is lost since the PCs can usually just draw swords and carve up the beastie into bite-sized chunks.
The story concerns what seems to be some sort on monster, rampaging in the misty small town of Carrion Hill. It may devolve into just a “bug hunt” but there is also food for a bit of investigation and non-combat playing here. The plot isn’t the most original of plots, but does read like a good bit of fun to play or run. The main problem, as noted, is the dilution of the horror elements in the D&D genre assumptions (i.e. “if we see it, we can kill it”). The lack of any sort of sanity mechanic in Pathfinder is also a small hinderance to this sort of thing.
What Lies in Dust (by Michael Kortes) forms the midpoint of the Council of Thieves adventure path. After the quite fantastic previous installment this is more pedestrian fare; not bad by any means, but much more standard.
Here the PCs are expected to follow clues from the previous part and do a raid on a long-abandoned Pathfinder stronghold in the city. Reputedly full of traps and cordoned off by the authorities, the PCs have to both make their entrance without raising much commotion and then survive what’s inside. To add to the mix, there are some other groups on the move, with plans that involve violence to the PCs.
As usual for these adventure path things, the PCs are expected to do some very specific things, following at times quite slender clues. If the PCs don’t do the expected thing, the GM needs to juggle things quite a bit. Here I got the impression that this “encounter” could happen at various points in the plot, which reduced GM headaches quite a bit. No idea how much the later parts depend on stuff here, of course.
This adventure is essentially one big “dungeon crawl” set inside a large mansion. As such it’s quite nice; the writing is crisp and lots of the ideas contained here are interesting – it’s not just a random selection of traps. Without spoiling things, some of the inhabitants of the mansion are.. unusual. In a good way. It’s a decent adventure, though it lacks anything to make it really stand out. As always, it might play a lot better (or worse) than it reads.
Crypt of the Everflame (written by Jason Bulmahn) is the first standalone Paizo adventure module to use their new Pathfinder rules (instead of D&D3.5). I don’t currently use D&D or Pathfinder rules myself so to me it looks pretty much the same as the earlier modules ruleswise, but of course it’s a milestone for Paizo. The stat blocks do look a bit cleaner now, and in general the layout is nice and neat. A number of sidebars are included, with conversion notes back to D&D rules and some explanation of new Pathfinder rules mechanics. Very nice job there.
This is a first level scenario, intended as the springboard for a larger campaign if needs be – there are two follow-up adventures in the works which can be linked to this. I have to say I liked the module quite a bit; the end does go a bit more in the stereotypical D&D direction but the first half is pretty damn cool. There’s actually a reason for the PCs to get together and “go adventuring”, and it’s a very good one with lots of extra story potential. Even though the players will of course suspect that things are not quite what they seem, the PCs themselves go into this with somewhat… misguided expectations that have to do with (their own) coming-of-age ritual.
Small warning: the description of this module on Paizo’s site contains some spoilerish info, so if you intend to play this I suggest you at least try to ignore that.
Good crisp layout, nice maps, good story… this one reads like a winner, as far as starter “D&D” scenarios are concerned. I suspect this module will become quite popular with people starting up a new Pathfinder game, or just wanting to run a test game / oneshot.
The Sixfold Trial (by Richard Pett) is the second part of the Council of Thieves adventure path, and is also perhaps the most un-D&D -like adventure I’ve yet seen from Paizo. I mean this in a very good sense. Looks like the first part, which promised more social interaction instead of endless combats, wasn’t just a fluke.
What makes this adventure unusual is that the PCs are expected to become actors and perform a play to a select audience of nobles. The reason has to do with infiltration into a noble household, but the play is the main event here. Since this is Cheliax and the court of a decadent noble, the play is far from safe… in any fashion. There is an actual expected death toll, and the PCs will need to scramble if they don’t want to become “acceptable casualties” in the process. Sure, the PCs might also decide to do the more conventional thing and do a ninja sneak foray into the household (more like “fortress”) in question, but that could become very tricky very fast. Being invited guests makes many things so much easier. To the author’s credit, the possibility of the PCs deciding to skip the theater part is mentioned… but of course, if mostly boils down to “well, in that case you won’t be able to use half of this stuff”.
As an additional fun point, the actual script of the (short) play is provided, so the GM/players could actually go through the thing line-by-line if they feel like it. Not sure how many will do that, but in any case including the play itself gets points from me.
It’s not all theater and woe, of course. The second half of the adventure is more conventional “sneak around and dodge traps and monsters” stuff – but even that is quite interesting, since the locale is… a bit unconventional. Don’t want to give up too many spoilers here.
This is a very strong scenario, at least it reads that way. If Council of Thieves keeps this up, it may just be the best adventure path so far. Or, of course, if might tank suddenly. For some reason, the lower-level stuff almost always manages to be more interesting, later on it usually devolves into a boring high-level combatfest. Most D&D writers (and to be fair, most D&D players) don’t really grasp the idea that you don’t have to challenge PCs just via combat – in fact, if the PCs are very good at combat you need to give them anything but combat if you want to keep things interesting. Exalted teaches you this, because challenging Exalted PCs with just combat becomes pointless fast. Other types of challenges, especially moral dilemmas, tend to work much better. I’m not saying “don’t do combat”; it’s fun now and then and of course it’s (still) the core gameplay of D&D (and yes, Pathfinder is D&D). I’m saying “don’t do just combat”… and that seems to be the direction Paizo is taking this one. Me likes.
The Bastards of Erebus (by Sean Reynolds) kicks off the latest Pathfinder adventure path, “Council of Thieves”. It’s supposed to be a more-or-less city-based path, so I’m looking forward with interest to see how this one develops; city-based adventures are much rarer in D&D -type games than wilderness stuff or the ever-present dungeon crawls.
The beginning is very promising, at least. The thing is set in the city of Westcrown, the slowly decaying ex-capital of the Cheliax empire (which has now turned to demon worship). The players are expected to be “concerned citizens”, ones with deep ties to the city and reasons to care about it – otherwise, the moment things get rocky the PCs might just decide to head off somewhere else. Which might make sense for the PCs, but would sort of kill this adventure path dead. It probably works best if the PCs aren’t too wealthy and don’t have connections outside the city. In other words, don’t have easy ways to flee or secure their own safety.
This adventure entangles the PCs in a resistance movement of sorts, one which wants to do something about the corrupt nobility which is letting the city slowly slide towards ruin. An initial incident forces the PCs to flee into hiding, after which it is assumed they start to form “ze resistance!”. So yes, like in all pre-plotted longer plots, some railroading is needed… but here, I think the smartest thing would be just to talk with the players beforehand and establish what you’re going for.
The adventure is pretty good, and is noteworthy for including a lot of NPC details. Not stats, but important things like personality etc, for people who normally are “nameless lvl1 cannonfodder” in D&D games. Paizo is clearly trying to push the normal D&D envelope a bit here, since this one is very far from the usual combat fest. Oh, there is combat,. but even that is of the interesting sort: the PCs are expected to stage an ambush, and are given pretty free rein with that and multiple (good) options. Nice, that.
This looks like a very cool adventure path, assuming the style stays somewhat like this first installment, with more focus on non-combat skills and social stuff. Also, the whole city of Westcrown is pretty nice as a locale… a city in a state where the state religion is demon worship, but which is still a perfectly functional environment for the inhabitants. Something like that could easily go in a stupid cliched “we’re evil, waaagh!” direction, but thankfully none of that is present here. It’s just a city, with a somewhat unusual structure for religion and law.
So… off to a good start.
The Final Wish concludes the Legacy of Fire adventure path, and is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it revisits some old locations (now greatly changed), which is nice and establishes continuity and the actions-have-consequences thing. On the other hand, it has the same problem that many (most?) higher-level D&D(ish) adventures have: it throws huge monster after huge monster at the PCs, in an effort to challenge them. For groups that enjoy combat this is probably cool, but I’m much more a fan of the Exalted style of challenging powerful characters – give them stuff that they cannot just blast away, give them hard choices to make, concentrate on social stuff. Oh, give the combat too, but don’t make that the main point. This module tries to do that a bit, at times, but it’s a bit too much of a high-level combatfest for my taste.
The PCs return to Golarion after an extended planar jaunt, and things have gone from bad to worse. In addition to seeing “their” own town under military occupation, it seems that some Big Bad is about to wake up. Cue fight scenes.
On the whole, I think the whole Legacy of Fire adventure path was a very mixed affair. The start-up adventure is excellent, and the pocket dimension planar excursion was also pretty damn cool (almost Exalted-like in feel at times). However, the background plot was very much in the background, and unless the GM explicitly spells things out, I fear the players could feel that they are just shuffled from one place to another with little rhyme or reason. There are lots of cool components here, but I don’t feel they quite fit together as a whole. It feels a bit incoherent. It might be that this one plays better than it reads, of course.
I have high hopes for the next adventure path, Council of Thieves, since it’s supposed to be more or less completely city-based. Curse of the Crimson Throne was also be supposed to be that, but wasn’t really (it still was the best one so far, in my opinion).
After the quite wonderful End of Eternity, the fifth installment of the Legacy of Fire adventure path (The Impossible Eye by Greg A. Vaughan) is both not quite as good and also a bit more pedestrian. Now, seeing as it’s set in the legendary City of Brass, that’s maybe a bit weird. You would expect a planehopping adventure to present weird and wonderful scenes galore. Here the problem is the main setup: the PCs end up in a huge temple building located in the City of Brass – but said temple is the locus of a dimensional trap and is totally cut off from the rest of the city. So the fact that it’s located in a huge, legendary location doesn’t really matter in any way, and the PCs are essentially stuck inside a big dungeon with no access to the city.
In the end the PCs are assumed to escape and to interact with the city, and the book does give some small bits of help for that: there’s a “set piece” adventure detailing one way to return to their home plane, and then there’s an article detailing the City of Brass in general. Still… I sort of feel this was a missed chance, a lot more could have been done with this setting. In addition, there are some head-scratchers: fire-based traps in a place where most of the population is immune to fire, for example.
All that said, it’s not bad by any means. As a dungeon crawl it provides a nice variety of encounters, and not all are of the “see monster, kill monster” variety. There are multiple ways for the PCs to approach the scenario, and a social-based approach may well work (depending on who they talk to and ally with).