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.
The Demon Within (by Stephen S. Greer and Tim Hitchcock) continues Paizo’s “D” series of modules, focusing on dungeon crawls and such. While those can be tiresome combatfests (and this one does have a lot of combat), here it’s thankfully not the only content. There’s an actual plot, and a pretty interesting one at that.
Presented is an order of knights who stand vigil over the “Worldwound”, a demon-infested wasteland. An ancient artifact (what else?) has kept the demons at bay, but now the demons have discovered a weakness in the defenses and are preparing to invade. Guess who gets to visit the place just as the demons attack? Right. No surprises there.
There’s a lot to like here. NPC motivations are key to several things, there are quite a few important non-combat encounters, and in general there is more a sense of plot than the usual “go to this dungeon and get the loot”. I’m not even sure if “D” is a fitting classification for this module… but be that as may, this is good stuff (assuming you’re ok with a lot of combat, too).
Seven Days to the Grave, by F. Wesley Schneider, continues the “Curse of the Crimson Throne” adventure path. The city of Korvosa is slowly adjusting to the change in rulers, when a new danger appears: a deadly disease which kills in about seven days (thus the title), with an extremely high fatality rate. Where did the disease come from, and why is nobody able to do much about it? Naturally enough, it falls on the PCs to figure things out.
A good continuation to the adventure path, this chapter features a wide variety of encounters and situations (like the first part). It retains the small problem of “how do I get the PCs involved in all this”, but it’s assumed the GM has figured out a way after running part one – the default scenario has the PCs involved via the town guard, perhaps being a part of it themselves. If your game has a different setup, be prepared to do a bit of extra work in setting things up. As before, it’s assumed the PCs have some reason to stay in town (patriotism, personal ties, etc) and not just get the hell out of a plague city – otherwise this chapter will prove to be very short indeed.
Not much to fault here, the adventure part of the book(let) is very good and the other chapters are also good reading. This chapter gets extra points for being the first semi-serious look (that I’ve seen) at how large-scale plagues would work in a fantasy environment which has things like Cure Disease – and for providing lots of reasons why magic alone won’t save the day. So far, this adventure path is shaping up to be quite excellent.
One of the things I like about most of Paizo’s adventures is that they don’t all automatically assume that things will be resolved via combat – a common failing of all so many D&D adventures.
…and so begins a new Paizo adventure path, The Curse of the Crimson Throne. Judging by beginnings, it looks to be at least as good as the previous one; Edge of Anarchy (by Nicolas Logue) sets up the action quite nicely. It’s also an urban adventure set, which is a nice change of pace and provides lots of varied encounter options.
Without giving away too many spoilers, the story is set in the city of Korvosa, where the failing health of the king is about to cause civil unrest and worse. The players are people who originally just set out to get revenge on a certain crime boss, but quickly get sucked into higher-level dealings.
It’s quite nice. On the plus side, it’s a set of loosely connected mini-adventures, which gives the thing quite a bit of flexibility. On the minus side, that same flexibility can be a problem; the players are expected to do some very specific things based on sometimes very flimsy clues and prompting. Also, the beginning link from the crimelord thing to bigger issues is extremely tenuous, I can easily see players either missing it entirely or deciding to ignore it. I’m pretty sure that this thing needs quite a bit of extra GM work to make it play naturally, because you have to have a “plan B” and “plan C” ready for every time the players do something other than what’s expected. Which will be “most of the time”, most likely. So, unless you want to blatantly railroad things, read this through at least twice and do some extra prep before running it.
Is it worth that? I’d say yes, easily. The main plot is quite interesting here, and the whole urban environment thing opens up tons of opportunities. In addition, the encounters themselves tend to be pleasantly varied (no, it’s not only combat all the time). In order for this to work the PCs also need to have approriate motivations, but to Paizo’s credit that’s discussed at some length in the Player Guide to this adventure path. It’s actually nice to see a D&D adventure that takes a stance on what types of motivations the players need in order for things to work, not just “generate some characters and declare them a ‘party’”.
Other than the adventure, the book(let) contains the usual assortment: an article (this time on the local gypsy variants), a fiction “Pathfinder journal” piece, and some new monsters. I’ve always liked the fiction bits in these, and this one was especially good. I’m a tiny bit annoyed at Paizo’s near-1:1 copying of some things – the Varisians are (fantasy) gypsies down to styles of dress, then we have a people who are pretty direct Native American copies, and then there’s the fantasy Egypt copy of “Osirion”, etc etc. It probably wouldn’t have killed them to throw a bit of extra originality into those. I like Exalted’s style of mixing things up a lot more – you might get a vaguely Babylonian culture that’s mixed together with African tribalism, or a people who combine bits of Viking culture with Native American stuff. It creates cultures that are a lot more interesting and have recognizable “handles” without being copies, whereas here they just seem like generic copies with little flavor of their own. It’s not a huge problem, just a small gripe I have.
Overall, a good start to a new city-based adventure path, we’ll see where it goes.
The first of Paizo’s “urban” standalone adventures, Gallery of Evil by Stephen S. Greer is a fun little romp.
It’s set in a high-class district of Absalom, a city in the Pathfinder game world of Golarion, but it could be transplanted to pretty much any D&D city with minimal effort. The plot is nicely nonstandard and involves paintings with murderous intent (yes, really). The villain of the piece is not just another stereotype “evil guy”, there are actual motivations involved… nice, for a change; all too many D&D adventures have “bad guys” doing bad stuff “just because they are evil”. Also provided are some pages of detail on the part of the city the events take place in, with a list of important people and places with some plot hooks – very nice in case the players go into freeform mode, and also useful in case you want a pre-populated section of city for some other game.
It reads like it should provide a fun evening or two of play. It’s fairly straightforward, and as written the players are almost spoon-fed clues about what’s going on. Were I to run it I would probably tweak it to make it a bit less linear and to involve a bit more actual player investigation. Matter of taste, I guess.
In any case, this is yet another classy stand-alone module from Paizo. I can’t find anything much to complain about here; the straightforward nature of the scenario can’t really be called a “fault”, since it does make this runnable with minimal prepwork and it’s easy enough to provide more complications if needed.
Spires of Xin-Shalast, written by Greg A. Vaughan, is the conclusion to the Rise of the Runelords adventure path. It starts out very strong, with a great sequence involving dwarven ghosts and a Wendigo spirit. After that, the party is supposed to make their way to the ancient city of Xin-Shalast, and while it’s pretty good it has some problems. To be fair, though, most of those problems are due to the fact that it’s a huge place, and the page count limit here just doesn’t allow the writer to do it full justice. A GM running this would either have to keep the players on a very tight railroad or do quite a bit of prepwork. The final confrontation reads like it should be a titanic battle – which may or may not be your thing.
Overall, I’d give this whole adventure path something like a “four stars out of five” rating. The first half is excellent, with varied moods and encounters and fun subplots. The second half is still ok, but suffers a bit in my mind from being a combatfest most of the time. Maybe that’s the way D&D adventures tend to go as the level increases, but still…
Besides the high amount of combat, another problem crops up in that some of the plot connections between the parts of the “path”, and even within the parts themselves, are quite vague. The players are apparently expected to follow the plot with very meager leads at times, and I found myself wondering at times “why on earth would the players do what’s expected here?” With a good GM and some prepwork I’m sure that those problems would be minor (and ideally not even noticed by the players), but I think it’s fair to warn prospective GMs of this “adventure path” that it would be a good idea to read the whole thing, or at least some parts in advance, before starting a game. That way you can start dropping hints early, and provide lots of alternate plot hooks for players in case they miss the “default” ones. As they will, more often than not.
As far as main plot went: pretty standard “ancient bad guy is waking up and needs to be stopped” thing. I found the use of the seven deadly sins as a central power motif to be a bit hokey, but hey… this is D&D, hokey is part of the game. It worked well enough, though I’d love to see a main plot that wasn’t a variation of “ancient evil rises”. That’s… been done. A lot.
In case the above sounds too negative: I found this to be a high-quality set of linked adventures, with lots of really cool ideas and settings. Some GM tweaking will be needed, but that’s the case with pretty much anything.
I’m looking forward to the next adventure path, the city-based Curse of the Crimson Throne. It sounds interesting, and urban scenarios often offer lots of nice social interaction. The second half of Runelords took place mostly in the wilderness, which may also have been a factor in my feeling that it was combat-heavy.
On the other hand, the main plot of Crimson Throne seems to be… wait for it… “ancient evil rises again!”. The goggles! They do nothing!
Sins of the Saviors, by Stephen S. Greer, is the fifth and penultimate part of the “Rise of the Runelords” adventure path. It’s not perfect, but it’s better than the last part in that it’s somewhat less straighforward. It’s also mostly “just” a dungeon crawl – granted that it’s a fairly interesting dungeon, but still… a bit too little social interaction there for my taste. Some parts are very cool, though; the beginning is nice, and the dungeon itself has some nifty parts and some internal politics which could be expanded in fun directions. I’m not completely sold on the “seven sins” motif that the adventure path uses a lot, but it’s used to fair effect here. Overall, quite solid.
Other than the adventure, the book contains some notes on “rune magic”, mostly 3.5DD crunch which doesn’t interest me. The (to me) more interesting part was the rest: a writeup on Lamashtu, a “Mother of Monsters” god (good stuff), some more Pathfinder travelogue (also fun), and some more strange creatures to pit the players against.
I’ll reserve comments on the whole of the adventure path until I read the last part, but so far it’s looking like a nice package with lots of varied stuff thrown into the mix. I remain sold on the overall quality of Paizo’s “Pathfinder” stuff, even though I still don’t play D&D.
Fortress of the Stone Giants, written by Wolfgang Baur, is the fourth installment in Paizo’s “Rise of the Runelords” D&D adventure path. As a concept, an “adventure path” is a set of linked adventures which can either be played stand-alone, or linked together to form a longer campaign. Sort of like the old TSR “Against the Giants” modules, or the “Slavelords” ones, or many others. I like the concept myself, it provides quite a bit of versatility in how you use the things. Of course, since there is a long-term plot involved there is a fair bit of inevitable railroading, or at the very least some behind-the-scenes GM headscratching to the tune of “how on earth do I get the PCs to do this next?”. You can’t really avoid that, unless you create a totally “sandbox” adventure setting – which has problems of its own.
Anyway, this is part four of a six-part series. After the crazed macabre goblin mayhem of part one, the horror trappings of part two, and the inbred mutant hillbilly splatter-horror of part three, this one is much more straightforward and does what it says on the tin: an assult on a stone giant fortress. It’s intentionally written as a sort of “spiritual successor” to the old “Against the Giants” adventures. Maybe because of the straightforwardness I didn’t find it quite as good as the first three parts; it’s mostly a combatfest and doesn’t offer many clever twists unlike the previous parts. To its credit, most of it is quite logical (though some parts of it feel a small bit like a zoo dungeon and are a bit incoherent), and the main bad guy has a nice backstory (though it’s likely that the PCs will never uncover it).
Other than the adventure, the book contains essays on the stone giants and dragons of Golarion, one more Pathfinder travelogue piece, and a bestiary with some nice, otherplanar antagonists. The add-ons overshadow the adventure itself this time around; I especially liked the stone giant writeup, it made them quite interesting instead of just “big hostile piles of hit points”.
As an interesting aside, this book incorporates some beasts from Cthulhu into D&D; some of the Paizo guys have a love of CoC, and this isn’t the first time Lovecraft has made side treks into their D&D creations. While some purists may yell in horror, I find it rather cool – especially since they go to great lengths to credit CoC and Lovecraft, and to say how good a game CoC is.
As a whole, a solid if not exceptional addition to the “Runelords” series.