Here we go again. Shadow in the Sky (written by Greg A. Vaughan) kicks off Paizo’s third adventure path, Second Darkness. As always, there’s an ancient evil awakening and the PCs are initially small fry who are (probably) expected to save things. Skipping that cliche, things do look quite interesting – there is a science fiction-ish twist and the promise of lots of drow as the bad guys. Not “misunderstood angsty dark-skinned folk”, but “evil, murderous bastards”. All this is tied to a big chunk of elven history and politics.
This first installment places the PCs in Riddleport, a Freeport-style wild and rowdy seaside town. After participating in a gambling tournament the players get the chance to get a slice of the business for themselves, with all sorts of potential problems. The big plot is mostly in the background, in the form of a weird phenomenon in the sky and some dark rumors. The action here revolves mostly around small-time crime and lots of shady dealings, which in fun in itself; it’s quite workable to have the PCs all be small-time crooks, for example.
Paizo has again tweaked the format a bit. The main adventure is a bit shorter, but that’s compensated by a bonus standalone adventure that can easily be plugged into the “main” adventure. The practical reason for this is resourcing: this format lets Paizo divide the adventure writing between more authors, and the small “standalone” adventure bit is a good place for new authors to try their legs (so to speak). I like it.
Hard to say much about the whole thing yet, but the setup seems pretty cool. Waiting with interest to see where this one goes.
Crown of Fangs (by Tito Leati) provides the conclusion for Paizo’s Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path. It’s pretty good, though not quite what I was expecting; I was ready for a grand assault on the castle and a climactic fight against the main villain. Well, we get that… but not quite in the format expected. I don’t want to spoil too much here, so won’t go into details on that.
The castle is (understandably) left halfway as a sketch, since it’s huge and there’s no way to map the whole place in detail. I liked what the author had done here, in that he’s provided detail on the most critical parts and given enough info on the rest for the GM to be able to make things up as the situation demands. There are also some fun hooks to alternate adventures that could be expanded on by the GM. The castle should provide the players of lots of castle storming fun, and a nice fight – but as noted, not everything is as it appears.
The continuation (second half of this installment) has the PCs set out for the wilderness again, and I can see it possibly providing some problems unless the players pick up some vital clues. I’m not sure I buy the logic of what the main villain is trying to do here, and why that specific place… but whatever. Assuming the players stay on rails, the whole things looks like a lot of fun, once again.
In retrospect, I think Curse of the Crimson Throne is a stronger campaign than Rise of the Runelords (which was by no means bad). I liked the fact that about half of the story happens within one city, there’s a lot that can be done in the context of “urban” adventures. The PCs can no longer throw fireballs around with total abandon, there’s always the risk of serious fire and the general problem of innocent bystanders. Of course, some players may not care about those things… in which case it’s the GM’s job to make sure the PCs start having approriate reputations.
On the minus side, this adventure path also suffers from a very linear storyline (I suppose that’s a hard thing to avoid). At times while reading this, I’ve honestly had to question why the players would ever do what the writers expect them to do. Of course, all that is fixable with proper foreshadowing and generous distribution of clues, it’s just something that you have to focus on right from the beginning.
Looking forward to the next adventure path, Second Darkness. It sounds interesting.
Now this is more like it. Not that Paizo’s “Pathfinder” adventure modules have been bad in any way up to now, quite the opposite in fact… but they have tended to be made in the D&D adventure format, with lots of combat being the core “content”. Paizo’s modules have tended to be a lot better than most others, in the sense that they have usually had stuff other than combat and the opponents have usually had motivations and such instead of just being walking clumps of exp… but still. At their core, many have boiled down to “go there, kill everything, gather the loot”, as that’s the game type D&D tends to promote.
Tower of the Last Baron (written by Stephen S. Greer) is something a bit different. Here the PCs are actually spies, attempting to infiltrate a potentially hostile town and assassinate the Baron running the town. Instead of “save the world from ancient evil”, here the motivations are a lot more realistic and down to earth – the Baron is apparently dealing with an enemy faction, and it is feared that he will help them initiate an invasion. In other words, the PCs’ “higher ups” want an inconvenient local ruler “taken care of”. That’s not something that you see in D&D every day.
In addition to the non-standard setup, the module also manages to be very well put together and interesting. There’s a big emphasis on social interaction within the town and on subterfuge; if the PCs wade in swinging their weaponry they’ll get their ass handed to them by the local militia (in all probability). Same if they carelessly blab about their mission to random strangers. The PCs have to figure out how to infiltrate the town castle, who to trust, and how to perform an assassination – if they want to follow their orders, that is. Interesting stuff.
This is probably my favorite from all the Paizo modules I’ve read so far, and that’s putting it against some tough competition. I’m actually thinking of trying out this thing with the Burning Wheel ruleset, to see how it would work.
Skeletons of Scarwall (written by Greg A. Vaughan) is the next-to-last installment in Paizo’s “Curse of the Crimson Throne” adventure path. It’s a combatfest, but for once it looks to be a good combatfest. Set almost entirely in the brooding, ancient castle of Scarwall, there is a definite air of old Ravenloft here – boosted by the all-too numerous undead that inhabit and guard the place. There are lots of nifty ideas and encounters and the whole thing reads like good fun. Assuming you’re ok with lots of combat, of course, the idea here is that the PCs need to fetch the McGuffin… err, I mean the holy weapon “Serithtial” from the depths of the castle, since it looks like that weapon is key to defeating the queen. Ancient evil that requires an ancient artifact to defeat it… we’ve seen this one before. More than a few times. Still, ignoring the cliche setup the whole module seems very well put together, so I won’t complain too much. Besides, you can always get rid of the artifact and replace it with something else – maybe just key information. As long as the PCs need to fetch something from the castle, it really does not matter much what it is. Thus, McGuffin.
The book also contains a very nice article about the (nasty) god Zon-Kuthon and its almost-as-nasty followers, and the usual fun “pathfinder journal” entry plus some new monsters.
Flight of the Red Raven is another strong adventure module from Paizo, this time set up in the snowy north… though the writer has said that it actually ended up being placed further south (in Golarion, Paizo’s game world) than he had intended. Due to that “up north” setting, the writer has decided to use Finnish and pseudo-Finnish names for town inhabitans and sites. While there is nothing wrong with this (Finnish is an obscure language that sounds quite alien enough for a fantasy game), it does cause some hilarity for Finns. A house called “sahtisauna” is quite ok, especially since it’s what it claims to be: “a combination of bathhouse and brewery” – but I have a hard time believing Finnish players will manage to keep a straight face when NPCs have names like “Antero Ikonen”… so some renaming may be in order, for Finns.
The adventure itself is good. There’s a mystical artifact that gets stolen and the PCs go after it. So far so good. The motivation of the thief is understandable and leads on to other complications, and the motivation for the PCs is also well-realized: the artifact was protecting the town from the ravages of winter, and now that it’s gone the town faces real danger from the elements. There is a nice bit of social scenery in the town to set things off, including a celebration with lots of opportunities for mayhem. After that, the action moves on into the wilderness (as befits the “W” designation) and ends up in a very interesting and challenging situation.
One of my favorites from among the newer Pathfinder modules.
Revenge of the Kobold King was Paizo’s offering for this year’s Free RPG Day. People lucky enough to have a participating shop nearby could pick up a copy for free, the rest could either download a (free) PDF version or buy a print copy for $5. I went for the “buy a copy” option, since that was the only way for me to get a print copy. Me likes print copies.
The module is a sequel to Nicholas Logue’s earlier popular scenario, Crown of the Kobold King, and it’s a lot of fun. In the first part, an up-and-coming Kobold warlord was laid low by a bunch of “pink-skinned sword-waving psychopaths” (from the Kobold point of view). Now, the humiliated (and dead) warlord is given a new lease on (un)life and a chance for revenge. It doesn’t even matter if your players played through the first part or not – one pink-skin looks pretty much like another to a pissed-off undead kobold, anyway.
The action starts off with an attack on some lumberjacks and escalates to the PCs once again assaulting the poor would-be ruler. There’s lots of dark humor involved and it seems like a great little romp, either by itself or as a continuation to the earlier scenario. Either way, good stuff. It’s a quite compact module, clocking in at only 16 pages, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.
Poor Falcon’s Hollow. That place has been subjected to more than a few menaces so far by Paizo’s modules, and it never was a very nice place to begin with – which has always been quite refreshing, for once we have a D&D “campaign base town” which isn’t an idyllic, boring collection of farmers and the required pub (in which to meet dark strangers and be offered quests). Falcon’s Hollow owes a lot more to Charles Dickens than it does to most D&D inspirations.
In A History of Ashes, Paizo’s second adventure path goes over the halfway point – and it’s quite fitting that the so far city-based game takes a hike for the wild lands, as our heroes are forced to flee Korvosa (or so at least the default plot says, who know what actual PCs will want to do).
This is a nice segment. It’s mostly set in the Cinderlands, an utterly inhospitable wastelands inhabited by the Shoanti (a people heavily patterned after Native Americans). The players will need to make friends with the Shoanti, or at least stop them from attacking long enough to plead their case. This will involve a series of quests which read like they should be a lot of fun, but the author does point out that different groups have different tolerances for “go do quest A, then do quest B” stuff; some of this may need tweaking for some groups. There’s a lot of varied social interaction with native tribes, and of course a lot of action and combat, some of it against a group of assassins the PCs will probably have encountered before.
So far, I’m liking this second adventure path more than the first, and the first was already pretty good. Paizo keeps producing interesting D&D stuff, with some surprisingly adult elements included amidst the hack & slash.
Conquest of Bloodsworn Vale is one of the first published Pathfinder modules and the first of the (W)ilderness series. I’d rate is as “ok”… it’s a collection of mini-encounters with a “taming the wilderness around a logging town” theme. The town itself is featured in many Pathfinder modules, so you could well build a mini-campaign around events in this area of the Paizo campaign world.
The encounters are mostly interesting, though of course they follow the standard D&D “go and kill the monsters” theme. Some parts are a bit illogical, but no huge problems. The end Big Bad has enough flavor to be interesting, even though he is only featured in a small part of a fairly compact adventure module. I get the feel that how this one plays will depend a lot on the player group itself. The adventure is more of a sandbox than anything else, so plot coherence and advancement are largely things the GM will have to improvise on the fly. At least it’s not too railroady.
So… nothing exceptional, but reads like it should be fun with the right group of players.
If we’re honest, for a Paizo module Seven Swords of Sin (by James Sutter & the Paizo staff) isn’t all that good. The module’s origins as an Paizo-internal “let’s write a list of deadly traps!” project shows all too well; while I like good deathtrap dungeons this isn’t a very good one – it’s just a random series of deathtraps strung together with an extremely vague plot.
It’s not strictly bad, I’m sure a fun evening of dungeon crawl could result from this. It’s just not very good either, there are better variants of this theme available. Some of the rooms/traps are inventive, though, and I suspect the best use for this module would be as a trap resource to insert into other adventures.
The plot, such as it is, deals with yet another evil sorceress trying to awaken ancient powers through yet another ancient artifact. Film at 11.
In Escape From Old Korvosa, the PCs are expected to exit the city of Korvosa for the first time. As before, this points to the biggest problem with this adventure path: getting the players to follow the plot. Before this, you’ve had to give them reasons to stay in the city even though things have gone downhill fast. Now, you need to get the thinking about leaving. Fortunately you are given lots of help and player motivations, so it’s not as doomed an endeavour as you might think – but still, the GM will have to come up with Plan B (and C, and D, and…) in case the players don’t follow the breadcrumb trail.
This installment is half event-based urban encounter (like the previous two parts) and half dungeon crawl. The dungeon does seem quite interesting and has a reason to exist, so I suspect it would work pretty well in practice to break the game flow a bit. As before, the city encounters are very nice and varied – the players are given the opportunity to play Blood Pig, among other unsavory entertainments.
The whole thing seems pretty solid, with the disclaimer above about a fairly linear plot that needs to be followed in some fashion.
The rest of the contents are good, as always – we have some more new monsters (this time with an Indian style, because of module plot reasons), a new Pathfinder Journal installment, and such. The overall quality remains high.