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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber. 1,888 posts. 13 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.

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A solid - if convoluted - adventure

****( )

House on Hook Street is the first time Paizo has put the rules from their Occult Adventures hardback in motion, and it is dripping with nightmarish goodness.

The adventure begins as a slow-burning horror/mystery set in the urban sprawl of Korvosa. The PCs are called to investigate a spate of recent deaths, uncover the new source of a mind-altering drug, and find out just why everyone seems to be experiencing the same collective nightmare. The author really drives home how desperate the impoverished people of the Bridgefront neighborhood are, with even many of the villains being victims in their own way. It's a fun, grimy romp.

The climax has the characters venture into the Dimension of Dreams. I have always been leery about adventures that involve dreaming as an essential element, but House does a pretty good job. Yes - PCs who die in their dreams die for real. No - they can't decide to dream themselves up as dragons and kick bad guy butt with impunity.

PCs do gain a few benefits in dreamland however, and may be able to shape its nature to suit their needs, but that means their antagonists are capable of the same feats. A GM will need to be familiar with the rules for lucid dreaming and the Dimension of Dreams from Occult Adventures to fully take advantage of the weirdness of this setting.

My favorite part of the adventure is the titular House, for it is destined to be explored both in the waking world and the dreaming one. The House is unpleasant enough the first time through, but should be downright terrifying once the PCs revisit it in their dreams. The author has made an effort to reskin standard monsters such that even veteran players are going to have trouble figuring out just what is trying to murder them.

Now for the bad parts. A lot of House's plot felt convoluted to me, with so many twists and turns that it might be hard for PCs to really grasp what is going on. I understand that part of an Occult Adventure is creating a complicated plot that requires PCs to peal back mysteries layer by layer, but this adventure had a few too many layers for my taste. The villains are split into three different factions: a standard cult, some "excommunicates," and a band of mercenaries. Each has their own motives and methods. To further complicate matters, there are two major artifacts in this adventure, and both of them serve as secondary villains with their own goals as well.

My second gripe concerns the PC's initial employer, who happens to have hidden desires of his own. And normally that would be fine. However, the adventure ends with him maybe gaining access to one of the aforementioned artifacts, and then... he's never heard from again. Even a few sentences in the Concluding the Adventure section would have been appreciated. To be fair his ultimate goals are noted earlier in the adventure, but I still felt like this end was a bit too loose.

As long as the players are motivated and interested in solving mysteries (perhaps with the aid of a notebook), and as long as they don't need the plot to wrap up at the end in a nice, neat little package, House on Hook Street should be great fun.

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Why was this in the Campaign Setting line?

***( )( )

In the past, the Campaign Setting line has taken a look at six individual sites - be they castles, cities, or mega dungeons - that could inspire whole campaigns. These products have also expanded on the lore of the Pathfinder Campaign Setting. While Tombs of Golarion accomplishes the latter, it fails pretty terribly at the former.

My main complaint is that, although the six tombs were interesting, they felt like set pieces more suited for the Module or Pathfinder Society Scenario line. Of the six selections, only the Prismatic Lantern feels beefy enough to build a greater adventure or even campaign around. The others are too self-contained and stunted to be anything more than throw-away sidequests.

Where Tombs does succeed is fleshing out some thus-far neglected regions of Golarion. The Golden Ossuary offers us a glimpse into the wealth-obsessed Kalistocrats of Druma, the Tomb of the Necrophage is a gruesome microcosm of the cannibalistic Koboto people, and the Prismatic Lantern proves once again that we need more information on the nation of Nex.

In summary, compared to the possibilities offered by Dungeons or Castles of Golarion, Tombs was a huge disappointment. On the other hand, if you're looking for a few story-rich sidequests with some interesting opponents, you could certainly do worse than this.

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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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