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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber. 1,521 posts. 11 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.



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Alien meets Aliens (but not Alien 3)

****( )

To be clear, this is a Lovecraftian adventure, and that can be a polarizing thing. People either love his stuff or hate it, and there's usually not much middle-ground. That said, I think Valley strikes a good balance. The antagonists are aliens that want to do unspeakable things to the PCs, yes, but they lack the "eldritch horror" element often found in Lovecraft's work. These creatures are invaders and they want your brains. There are no books bound in human skin, no mystical symbols, no creepy hillbilly wizards - just terrifying beasts from outer space and a healthy dose of body horror. So much body horror. Now that my Lovecraft apology is out of the way, on to the adventure itself.

Valley of the Brain Collectors is a typical Pathfinder sandbox. Which is to say, you have a large region to explore, a few self-contained dungeons, and several fun encounters, all loosely tied together by a theme (which in this case could probably be summed up as alien weirdness). There are some specific goals for the PCs but for the most part they will need to be self-motivated. This could be a stumbling block for some parties, as the region is large and diverse enough to be overwhelming. The author addresses this, but I still got a "finding the needle in a haystack" vibe.

The adventure's antagonists are its definite highpoint. If Iron Gods is sci-fi, than Valley is the sci-fi horror episode, and in the hands of a motivated GM, the PCs will be in for a gruesomely good time. This is Alien(s), The Thing, and Predator, except that this time, the Predator might be on your team. In fact, my only real complaint would be that the author didn't delve into the horror aspects enough. Except for the Fungal Caves - those are awful in the best possible way.

This is the least technologically-heavy adventure yet in the Iron Gods AP. There are robots and high-tech treasures, but nowhere near as many as previous installments. Valley could easily be stripped of its techno aspects if the GM wanted a more standard fantasy adventure.

The two companion articles detail alien technology and the Dominion of the Black, respectively. The alien tech section is serviceable but I would have preferred less story (fluff) and more actual items (crunch). The Dominion article, on the other hand, is pure story and I loved every bit of it. Longtime Pathfinder fans have been waiting years to finally learn the truth behind this malevolent alien empire, and though there are still a lot of mysteries surrounding it, I think readers will be satisfied with what they learn. In a way I'm almost disappointed that the curtain has been pulled back, if only partially. On the other hand, Mike Shel did a great job and absolutely met my expectations.

The volume concludes with a Bestiary featuring a new robot and three aliens associated with the Dominion. Not too much to say here, except that we finally get to see what neh-thalggu evolve into when they've consumed enough brains. Hint: it's big, ugly, and still very much interested in taking your brain.


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Weird, Wild Stuff

*****

Every once in a while a product comes along that strikes a perfect balance between mystery and discovery. The sort of thing that hands over all sorts of enticing facts and even more enticing hints, but never goes so far as to show you the whole, naked truth. This would be one such book.

Divided into four chapters, Occult Mysteries begins by detailing six of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting's biggest enigmas. There is some rehashed info for those very familiar with the world of Golarion, but even so it's nice to have all that material collected together in one place. And while we never learn for sure why the gnomes left the First World, or how life began, each of the Big Six mysteries has its own "theories" section that offers excellent new avenues of possibility. It would be tough to read through this chapter and not walk away with a half-dozen awesome new ideas for your campaign.

I found the second chapter to be my favorite. Here we have eight secret societies, each with a two-page writeup with details on joining and operating within the cult. The mechanics are the same as those used for organizations such as thieves' guilds and mage colleges. Although most of these cults are evil - or at least freakin' creepy - there is one group where paladins would feel right at home. I was particularly delighted with Conference Z, and all its subtle and not-so-subtle nods towards that 90s phenomena, the X-Files. I'm only disappointed that the mad scientist illustrated along with this group wasn't smoking.

Chapter 3 has the most new rules and mechanics. Five esoteric traditions are presented, along with ways to incorporate them into your game. I have to say I was a little annoyed to see Harrow (Pathfinder's answer to Tarot) get yet more coverage, and would have much preferred some other weird tradition in its place, but oh well. My favorite bit of crunch was the section on self-mortification, in particular the Pain Tester prestige class. This guy/gal absolutely oozes with creativity and potential. Really disturbing, icky potential.

The final chapter was a stroke of brilliance. In the tradition of games like Call of Cthulhu, we are given details on six infamous and forbidden tomes. If you aren't a Lovecraft fan, don't worry - only one book is Mythos related. Others deal with subjects such as diabolism, prophecy, and the mysteries of the human body. There's even an Osirion Book of the Dead! All in all, a very neat chapter.

A book like this can only succeed if its source material is sufficiently appealing. It is very much "meta," working because Golarion's creators have carefully developed all sorts of mysteries in their fictional world over the course of years. The fact that something like the Aucturn Enigma, first mentioned six years ago in the Entombed with the Pharaohs module, has drawn enough attention from fans to warrant its very own product, just goes to show you how successful they have been.

In closing, this is not a book of solving mysteries. It is a book that delights in the power of the unknown.


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Easily some of Paizo's best work

*****

People tend to have a love/hate relationship with prestige classes, and Paizo has been hit-or-miss with them in the past. I can honestly say though, that of the 30 prestige classes presented here, there's not one I would consider a "miss."

Each class begins with a short flavorful writeup, but for the most part this book is all crunch. None of the classes struck me as under- or overpowered, and the abilities gained really help highlight each class's theme. If you take levels in Daggermark Poisoner, you can be sure that your character is going to be a master of everything toxic. Want to take your illusionist to the next level? Than look no further than the Veiled Illusionist class, whose spells will keep the enemy guessing until it's far too late.

If you don't play in Pathfinder's default setting of Golarion, I'll say that some of the classes are thematically tied to that world. At the same time, it would take very little effort to customize these for your own campaign. For example the Hellknight Signifier is, at its core, an armored spellcaster with some creepy Hell-themed powers. I can't think of a setting where that wouldn't be neat. Also, many of the classes are quite generic (though by no means boring!). The Noble Scion is perfect for any royal court, the Sleepless Detective would work beautifully in a gothic horror or steam punk setting, and if there are drow in your world, you can bet there's a Lantern Bearer hunting them somewhere.

In conclusion, I could really feel the authors' attention to detail in each class. Nothing feels like a throwaway, with even potentially mundane themes like Pit Fighter gaining all kinds of creative, unique powers. Whether you're a GM or a player, you can bet there's something in here for you.


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An awesome toolbox for any GM

*****

As a GM it can be a struggle coming up with interesting, unique NPCs on the fly. Fortunately, help has arrived. "Rival Guide" offers a total of 40 NPCs, each fully developed with a background, unique personality, illustration, and stat block. A few of the NPCs are low-level, but for the most part they skew towards the mid- and high-level range. Each of the ten parties is well conceived, and as a GM I can easily see uses for every one of them - to put it another way, there are no flops here. So whether you want to throw a group of unique baddies at your PC, or just need stats for, say, a high-level Hellknight, you'll find what you need within.

And while the NPCs are the book's focus, there's a lot more here than just 40 stat blocks. Inside you'll find 8 new spells, 10 feats, and 19 new magical and alchemical items, poisons, and drugs. These new rule elements help make each of the "rivals" unique and interesting, but are also useful by themselves. Need a cool spell for your jungle druid? Try sheet lightning. Want to really baffle your PCs? Let them find Chomper, an intelligent bag of devouring.

There are also 2 new templates, but unfortunately neither really impressed me. I don't like how the Alchemically Invisible template functions, and the Haunted One template strikes me as unneccessary, as it could easily be accomplished through roleplaying alone. Ironically, the two NPCs afflicted with these templates are among my favorites. Oh well.

This is one of those resources that a GM will keep coming back to, time and again. It's an incredibly versatile product, and for that, easily earns five stars.


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An excellent debut from Graeme Davis

*****

This adventure focuses on the PCs exploring an ancient, ruined city. Which is precisely what they were doing two adventures ago in "City of Seven Spears." Thankfully, the underground city of Ilmurea feels far different than its counterpart in the world above, which means there's little chance players will be feeling much deja-vu.

The primary adversaries in "Thousand Fangs Below" are serpent people, and the PCs will be slogging through a small army of them. Fortunately there are a variety of other enemies such as morlocks, gugs, drow, intellect devourers, and daemon-spawned urdefhan to keep things feeling fresh. There are also several opportunities for diplomacy, intrigue, and shady alliances here, leaving sneaky or socially inclined characters with plenty of chances to shine.

I would also like to compliment the maps in "Thousand Fangs." The cartographer did an excellent job with Ilmurea, and the serpent people's fortress (the titular Fortress of Thousand Fangs) is well done. It's essentially an enormous, coiled, hollow stone snake - really cool in other words.

There are four new high-CR monsters in the bestiary. Three of the beasties come from African mythology, while the fourth is the mysterious herald of the magic god Nethys. All four monsters were unique and interesting.

Speaking of Nethys, he gets a full write-up in "Thousand Fangs" as well. The author, Sean K Reynolds, is known for his excellent treatment of deities, but I found this article to be among his weaker pieces. Nethys came across as a bit bland. Yes, I understand that he encourages his followers to learn/create/use magic, but to what end? I thought the previous look at nature deity Gozreh, back in "Race to Ruin", was a much more intriguing piece. Oh well.

To round out "Thousand Fangs," we have a gazeteer of Ilmurea - the city in which this adventure takes place. There are some great adventure hooks to be found here, and a creative GM could keep his players occupied for many hours exploring this nifty set piece.

All in all, this is a well done penultimate adventure.


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