Gallows of madness could be an excellent low-level module; however, certain issues undermine it.
First, the positives - the adventures are generally thematic, fun, and well-connected, with interesting players in the plot. Connecting the three short adventures is also seamless.
However, issues with gender activism (discrimination) and editing (a recurring issue for Paizo) prevent me from being able to recommend this module, or playing it without modification for my party.
Gender Discrimination - All of the positive hero-type characters are female, while the villain is a white male. Ugh. Very blatant and ham-handed gender discrimination, likely the work of the development lead. As well, Nixa and Nolaria are not major players in these adventures, yet get huge write-ups in the back of the module, with extensive and overdone backgrounds. By the way, these backgrounds also speak to the gender discrimination rampant in this module. For instance, Nixa's mother fought in the goblinblood wars, while her father stayed home to care for the kids.
Editing - Editing issues plague nearly ever Paizo product. They really do need to get better editors. Here are a few examples:
- In area K18, the secret door is said to be to area C19, which does not exist. Should read to area K9.
- In the same flooded cellar, K18, it's a DC10 swim check to swim under a barrel, yet in the Collapse challenges, doing exactly the same thing is listed as a DC12 CON check.
In short, if Paizo would simply focus on the story, and stop trying to make social statements with their products, they would likely appeal to a broader audience, and sell more products. As it stands, they are undermining their own otherwise worthwhile products.
Disappointing ending to a disappointing adventure path.
Major issues in this series continue with this installment. Again, the module start off strong with evocative, flavorful encounters upon the party's arrival in Carcosa, but again, as with its predecessors, it falls apart.
However, the highlight of this adventure, as with many installments of this Path, is the absolutely amazing Pathfinder Journal entry by Adam Daigle. Huzzah, good sir.
- Major issues with descriptions matching art: two "pureblood Azlantis" look like completely different ethnicities, Armel is described as being overweight, but is illustrated as quite thin, and with a revolver, despite one not appearing in his description.
- Potentially epic battles are not appropriately foreshadowed and built up, leaving them falling flat.
- The sudden and unnecessary inclusion of firearms into the campaign is jarring and off-putting.
- Not enough of the encounters are directly related to the main plot thread, and instead waste the party's time on errands and sidequests.
- The formulaic nature of these adventure paths is again a weakness, with an over-reliance on violence and battle forced upon the party.
- In what has become a recurring issue for Paizo, creature descriptions do not match illustrations (eg. a creature described as having crimson eyes is illustrated with green; a creature described as having a small mouth has an enormous maw in the illustration).
- Most importantly, the "feel" of the adventure is nothing like you would expect from an elder mythos module. If you aren't going to inject that dynamic and sense into the adventure, why even bother making this path?
While there are some gems here, the Bestiary 6 is example #1 of the perils of pure money-grabbing. The number of downright silly or derivative creatures here is mind-boggling. Do we need more (X)-giants? Or more female sin demons? Speaking of gender, Paizo's blatant gender discrimination against males is on full display here, with far more creatures that are female-only or described as "A woman..." than there are for males.
If you take all the gems from bestiaries 3-6 and get rid of all the silly or repetitive creatures, you'd have 4 bestiaries total, instead of 6. Instead, Paizo treats these like cable subscriptions, filling these books with numerous "channels" you don't want or need, while giving you a few you'll actually watch.
What Grows Within gets off to a strong start, with good background and intro from John Compton. The journey through the Parchlands is very atmospheric, setting the tone for what is to come, and communicating a feeling of isolation. The rivalry between the Ash Giants and the Girtablilu is well done, though derivative of Feast of Dust.
Additional strengths: Evocative primary NPCs, with fleshed out backstories, excellent articles on Xhamen-Dor, its cult, and the Necronomicon, and a nice Pathfinder Journal entry.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the adventure isn't nearly so good. It's the lost city of Neruzavin where things fall begin to fall apart:
- There are far too many denizens and happenings occurring in a supposedly "lost city", with even an otyugh merchant retailer to assist the characters with their magical marketplace needs (ugh).
- The politically-correct gender activism so rampant with Paizo is ramped up here, with attempts to break stereotypes by only having females NPCs as aggressive warrior types with ridiculous STR (20-25) ,breaking verisimilitude and inducing copious amounts of eye-rolling.
- There is far too much reliance on "haunts" to illustrate for the PCs exactly what Lowls did and the route he took. Lazy, lazy, lazy.
- Calling the excsinder archons LG is an odd choice, considering they care not for individuals' lives. That's analogous to saying that those in the real world who are concerned with winning a war for a just cause, but do not care how many civilians die, are somehow good. This is wrong.
- Apparently /flying/ alien polyps, when they build a city, make sure to include convenient human-sized stairs to access all the relevant rooms, despite much of the rest of the tower not conforming to standard geometry/physics.