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Dune Reaper

Laric's page

Goblin Squad Member. Pathfinder Society Member. 314 posts. 8 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 2 Pathfinder Society characters.



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Uneven

***( )( )

Ever the innovator, Richard Pett gives us an adventure centered around the PCs doing research in old libraries, a concept which fits perfectly within the Ancient Egyptian theme. So let's see how Shifting Sands measures up.

Likes
1) As I mentioned above, the idea of an adventure focusing on scouring libraries trying to find clues about an ancient mystery fits really well into this adventure path. I like the Research Rules that are presented here and think that they are a clever way to resolve things in a way that avoids giving the players a massive information dump. Unfortunately, I do have concerns that the overall design of this adventure will detract from the excitement of the Research Rules. (see below)

2) This is the first Mummy's Mask adventure that deals directly with the main storyline of the AP and this elevates the adventure in my view.

3) The main NPC introduced in this adventure, "Her Excellency Muminofrah of Sothis" is a very memorable character and I imagine some great roleplaying moments are going to come out of the PCs trying to get into her good books. The reason that the players need to be nice to Muminofrah is that she represents the only legal option available to the PCs to gain access to the ancient libraries of Tephu.

4) I was also intrigued by Udjebet, a medusa who is encountered in one of the libraries. She is obsessed by rings, magical or otherwise, and is looking for an artifact called the Uraeus Ring. Things could become interesting if the PCs don't just treat this as a combat encounter.

5) We also get a chase scene reminiscent of Ben-Hur and Indiana Jones when the PCs are ambushed by enemies during a chariot race.

6) The player handout called "Excerpt from the Scrolls of Inquiry" is very well done and really sets the tone. Unfortunately, it also points the players in a direction that the adventure is not ready to explore. (see below)

7) My favorite part of the adventure has to do with finding the entrance to a hidden library. Without giving too much away, let me just say that the Tower of Ra's Glory presents the players with an interesting problem which cannot simply be resolved by rolling dice but forces them to think creatively. Personally, I find puzzles that are designed to challenge players and not characters more rewarding and I would like to see more of them in future adventures.

Dislikes
1) The transition between part 2 and 3 assumes that the PCs tell a specific NPC that they have acquired the Mask of the Forgotten Pharaoh and that they should travel to Tephu to do research. Though not terrible, I think this is a weak hook. For instance, what happens if the players decide to keep it a secret that they have the mask?

2) NPCs: The adventure only has one NPC (Muminofrah) that the PCs can interact with in a meaningful way, and while she is a great NPC, the adventure overuses her. I suspect that most groups will grow tired of her before the end of part 1 due to her incessant need to be appeased. Her ending is also somewhat unsatisfactory as she is just whisked away on her barge. What if the PCs suspect that something is wrong and take it upon themselves to rescue her? It also isn't clear whether or not she is meant to play a greater role at some later point in the campaign.

The adventure introduces another important NPC who can provide access to the libraries but interactions with her are likely to be extremely frustrating to the players as the adventure states that all non-magical attempts to convince with her automatically fail. Her only role in this adventure seems to be to block the PCs progress. In a different adventure that might not be such a big deal, but when the only other NPC that the PCs can interact with is a pampered prima donna the potential is there for things to quickly go sour.

3) As I mentioned above, I like the new Research Rules. However, a big problem that I see with the adventure is that whether the party handles the research well or poorly makes little difference to the outcome of the adventure. There is no race against time or against rivals to make the players want to do their research more quickly. There is no irrevocable cost for doing poorly on a research roll except that it takes longer and the PCs might have to appease Muminofrah for more time. The risk then is for the Research Rules to become a mere formality or a dice-rolling chore rather than a subsystem where success and failure are truly meaningful.

4) The "Excerpt from the Scrolls of Inquiry" which is obtained in the second of three libraries that the PC will visit in Tephu mentions the exact location where the Heart of Hakotep was hidden in the city of Sothis. This is a problem because the adventure provides no guidance at all for what to do if the PCs decide to go searching for this artifact. The adventure assumes that the PCs will put this vital piece of information on the back-burner and keep looking for further clues in Tephu. It is hard to imagine that a group of PCs would not be tempted to immediately go looking for the Heart of Hakotep given that they already have the Mask of Hakotep.

5) I found the encounters for the Hex Crawl in part two to be the least interesting of the adventure because of their lack of connectedness to the overall plot and to each other. Also, the sole encounter map in part two (the hive) was sort of bland.

6) Although most of part 3, the Tomb of Chisisek, is ok, I didn't like the final encounters of the adventure which involve the PCs fighting two different types of golems in back-to-back rooms.

Other Comments
I meant to touch on these things in my earlier reviews:
-I love the new fiction format that provides more adventure content and maps.
-Kudos to the team who designed the inside covers for this adventure path as they are very nicely done. The front inside covers usually provide a short narrative and piece of artwork relevant to the adventure in question while the back inside covers is an ongoing narrative in 6 parts about how an ancient pharaoh's tomb would have been built.

Overall Impression

Because it deals more closely with the main storyline of the AP, I enjoyed reading Shifting Sands more than the first two parts of Mummy's Mask. As I mentioned, the theme appeals to me and some of the encounters make very strong set pieces. However, the adventure does suffer from having too few NPCs to interact with in the first part and from unconnected sandbox encounters in part 2. While there are quite a few ideas that I could see myself using in another campaign, I would not run the adventure from start to finish so I give it three stars.


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Decent but ultimately unexciting

***( )( )

As is clear from the title of my previous review I was not impressed by The Half-Dead City. However, being a fan of Egyptian-themed adventures, I thought I would see what the rest of the AP had to offer.

Likes
1) It's a nicely laid out urban sandbox that showcases the different locales of the city of Wati in an organic way.
2) "Save the city and solve the mystery of the undead plague before it's too late" is a cool premise for an adventure (but, as mentioned below, there are potential issues related to this hook in this particular adventure path).
3) The set-up of the opening scene at the auction and the event that signals the start of the undead plague is done in a memorable and dramatic fashion
4) This adventure provides more opportunities than most for resolving conflicts in a non-violent way. I'm especially intrigued by the possibility of the PCs talking their way through the final encounter of part 1.
5) I was pleasantly surprised by the encounter of the crystal dragon in part 2. The fact that she can serve as "a sort of shopkeeper in the heart of the Necropolis" is the icing on the cake. Very creative!
6) I also liked the inclusion of the crypt thing in the final dungeon crawl, as its teleporting burst ability really adds some unpredictability to the dungeon and has the potential to spice things up quite a bit by splitting the party.

Dislikes
1) Awkward Transition: In part 1 the PCs are supposed to be tomb raiders who are more or less in it for themselves. In part 2 they are all of a sudden expected to save the city from hordes of undead. A PC whose personality and motivation works well in part 1 will not necessarily fit in well in part 2. If the PCs actions in part 1 had somehow triggered an ancient curse that unleashed the undead horde upon Wati, it would make sense that they would feel responsible for what's going on and would want to take action. As it is though, there's no justification given that works with the assumed PC motivations in part 1.

2) Challenging Issues: This adventure seems to be under the illusion that a group of six to eight CR 1/2 enemies is able to challenge a group of 4th to 7th level adventurers. Take for instance the first combat encounter which features a horde of six Zombies, all CR 1/2 (EL 4) followed 6 rounds later by another six CR 1/2 creatures (EL 4) and then 10 rounds later by a CR 5 undead creature. Now do you really think that six zombies are going to last 6 rounds and then another six CR 1/2 undead creatures are going to last another 4 rounds against a group of 4th level PCs? By the time that CR 5 creature shows up the PCs will not even have broken a sweat and may have been waiting around for a few rounds doing nothing. Things get even worse if the group features a cleric who could potentially destroy six CR 1/2 undead creatures in one standard action by channeling energy.

And that's not the end of it, consider the following three stand-alone encounters:
page 14 - eight CR 1/2 creatures
page 16 - six CR 1/2 zombies
page 19 - one CR 3 undead with four CR 1/2 undead
This is not going to challenge a group of four 4th level players.

In fact, this challenge issue seems to be present throughout the adventure:
-In part 1 of the adventure, where the characters are assumed to be level 4, not counting the Psychopomp duel which is optional (see below), I count a total of only two enemies with a CR greater than 4.
-In part 2, where the PCs are assumed to be level 5, not counting the good dragon and a neutral NPC, I count only three enemies with a CR greater than 5.
-In part 3, where the PCs are assumed to be level 6, I count only three enemies with a CR greater than 6.

3) Psychopomp Duel: One of the Events in the adventure has the PCs battling a monster for the sole benefit of convincing one NPC that it's worth giving the PCs a chance to save his miserable city. I'm not a fan of this encounter and from the perspective of the PCs, I imagine it might come across like a big waste of time and resources.

4) Red Herrings: The adventure introduces a lot of red herrings as the players attempt to find the source of the undead uprising. I think there are too many red herrings and not enough real clues to what is actually going on and that players will get frustrated feel like they are running in circles. I think a good mystery adventure needs to have the players feel like they are making progress on solving the mystery most of the time and throw in a red herring once in a while, not the other way around.

Overall Impression

Despite my concerns above, I can tell that a lot of effort went into writing this adventure and I do like it more than I did the previous adventure. Unfortunately, while there is a lot to like, at no point while I was reading Empty Graves did I feel excited enough to want to run it so I can't give it more than three stars.


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Disappointing Start

**( )( )( )

When I learned that Paizo was going to put out an Egyptian themed AP, I was excited. When I heard that the first adventure would feature dungeon-delving and a rival adventuring party I was ecstatic. Unfortunately, having now read The Half-Dead City, I feel it could have been much better. So what went wrong?

Likes
1) Exciting themes: Egyptian tomb-raiding featuring lots of death traps and a rival adventuring party
2) The author does a good job with room descriptions which are lush with detail and give the adventure an atmosphere of mystery and dread that is appropriate to the themes
3) The first dungeon-crawl features a very evocative Water Flooding Room Trap.
4) The third dungeon-crawl has clues to the fact that the PCs are not the first ones to explore the temple. It's a nice mystery which is related to the rest of the adventure path

Dislikes
1) Slow start: The opening of the adventure seems like a huge time waster with lots of speeches and a sham tomb selection lottery (i.e. there is no real element of chance with regards to which dungeon-crawl the PCs will enter first). The PCs also cannot gain much in the way of meaningful information from this opening scene. Since it's the start of the campaign, why not just start with the adventurers standing outside the Tomb of Akhentepi with a short explanation of what went on before?
2) The first two dungeon-crawls have little to no bearing on the rest of the adventure which makes them feel more like a series of linked Pathfinder Society Scenarios than the start of an adventure path.
3) Unfortunately, as written, the Water Flooding Room Trap (mentioned above) malfunctions and leads to the room being filled to a maximum of 2 feet of water?!? As stated in the adventure texts "There is little danger of drowning, even for Small creatures, but smaller creatures such as animal companions or familiars might require assistance, and any PC who falls unconscious into the water will require immediate aid to avoid drowning." Seems really anti-climactic even for a 1st level party.
4) The ambush encounter is bland and unavoidable
5) The other Rival Adventuring Parties: The adventure introduces a half-dozen other adventuring parties. Unfortunately, they are featured in a single roleplaying encounter, the sole purpose of which is the introduction of The Scorched Hand, which is the main rival party of the adventure. It would have been nice to have these other rival adventuring parties to be encountered in the first two dungeon-crawls because there is currently little chance to do any roleplaying during the first two dungeon crawls given that the enemies almost exclusively consist of vermin, constructs or undead.
6) The Scorched Hand: I was hoping that the adventure would provide a timeline and guidance on how the main rival adventuring party would explore the dungeon in parallel to the PCs. As it currently stands, the DM is given no guidance for how to play the rival party beyond "You should deploy them wherever makes the most sense for your story and campaign " and as a result, it is assumed that the Scorched Hand merely waits patiently for the PCs to arrive.
7) The fact that there is only one way to access each and every level of the three dungeon-crawls makes the adventure feel like more of a railroad than it should. A good dungeon-crawl would allow the PCs to approach from several different directions. Yes, in this adventure, the PCs can choose to go left instead of right, but there is only a single entrance on every floor and the PCs must find this entrance in order to proceed.
8) Finally, because the rival party is not showcased enough in the rest of the adventure, it didn't feel satisfying to me for it to be the last encounter and it's quite possible that a party completing this adventure might feel as if they had not really achieved any meaningful milestone. Sure, the Scorched Hand paid off some thugs to ambush the PCs earlier in the adventure and their leader has ordered some sort of temple guardian to block the PCs way, but there's a good chance that the PCs may not even find out that the Scorched Hand had any roll in this until they actually come face to face.

Overall Impression

I feel disappointed by this adventure and think that this is a missed opportunity on many fronts. I would have much preferred that the three dungeon crawls be combined into a single larger one that required multiple forays to completely explore. I would have also preferred it if the adventure allowed the PCs to interact more with the rival adventuring party and featured more puzzles and obstacles that needed to be solved by thinking on the players' part rather than just rolling dice.


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Best. Module. Ever.

*****

I haven’t written a product review in almost 2 years, but after reading this module I felt compelled to do so.

Tomb of the Iron Medusa is the best adventure that Paizo has ever published in its Pathfinder Modules line and it deserves to be read and played by more people.

I’ll admit I’m late getting to this. I got this module through my subscription when it first came out, but it wasn’t until I was looking for some additional content to insert into my Kingmaker campaign that I started flipping through the pages of my many Paizo modules.

As I picked up Tomb of the Iron Medusa and started casually reading the introduction, I was immediately impressed by the refined quality of the narrative. I became intrigued about the mystery of the Adella Curse and felt engaged by the large cast of complex NPCs. The more I read, the more possibilities I saw for how the adventure might play out and by the time I finished it, not only could I imagine myself easily fitting Tomb of the Iron Medusa into my Kingmaker campaign, I also felt a real sense of excitement at the thought of doing so.

The Story

The adventure takes place in Taldor, a country desperately trying to hang on to the echoes of its former greatness. However, having said that, I think the adventure could very easily be set in any other country under the rule of a monarchy.

A merchant who claims to be the last surviving heir to a disgraced Taldan noble family known as the Adellas contacts the PCs and asks them to venture into his family’s ancient necropolis, the Tomb of the Iron Medusa. Legend has it that the Adellas were stripped of their titles under mysterious circumstances by one of the previous rulers of the Taldan Empire and that the family then proceeded to fade into obscurity. The merchant suspects that the Adellas had been framed and believes that the family sword, Infensus Mucro, is the key to proving his family’s innocence and he wants them to retrieve it for him.

This may sound like your run-of-the-mill adventure hook but, as the players will slowly discover, things are not so clear-cut. For buried in one of the ancient and dusty vaults of the Tomb of the Iron Medusa lies a secret, that if exposed, could shake an empire down to its very foundations.

The Adventure

Overall, the encounters in Tomb of the Iron Medusa are interesting and provide a good mix of combat, role-playing, skill use and even some old-school puzzle solving. Over the course of the adventure, the PCs will have the opportunity to have such wildly disparate experiences as fighting hordes of undead and outsiders, answering the riddles of a proud and angry ghost, and even laying back and enjoying a break in a cozy study found inside a portable hole.

The traps are well crafted with some going beyond the usual predictable scope of such game devices. One encounter that I found especially refreshing features the reliquaries of two feuding twins that, depending on how successful the players are in dealing with the wrath of the twins, can very much impede or facilitate the PCs’ progress through the dungeon.

One thing that really stands out as you read through Tomb of the Iron Medusa is how very much content has been stuffed this module. No space is wasted, no opportunity missed and every page practically oozes with interesting details and possibilities. Consider, for example, that most important crypts found in the necropolis feature the name, dates of birth and death and on occasion even a fitting epitaph for the deceased. In most other adventures this would be inconsequential fluff of little importance. In this case, however, in addition to giving the module extra flavor, the writings on the crypts often provide clues to attentive PCs on how to bypass difficult encounters or point the way to the secret entrance to a set of hidden catacombs.

Yet, despite the astounding amount of content, the module does not overreach. It elegantly accomplishes what it sets out to do, which is to build an evocative site-based adventure that is part sandbox, part dungeon-crawl and part narrative. I suspect that the Paizo developers who edited this module are as much to thank for this show of restraint as the author.

The Road Less Traveled

Apart from the plot and encounters, what really drew me into this adventure was Mike Shel’s knack for creating deeply flawed and tragic NPCs that you can empathize with. From Cadimus and Bartolomae to Micheaux the Magnificent, every important NPC, whether vile or conceited, is given a moment where you can glimpse their underlying humanity. The acknowledgement that the NPCs are capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions makes them more believable, and lends a realness to this adventure that I’ve never encountered in any other module.

For me, adventures like books, movies and music are at their most powerful when they can help me better understand another perspective. Tomb of the Iron Medusa achieves this transcendant quality through the character of poor, conflicted Cadimus who serves as the common thread to the saga of the Adella family. Did Cadimus make the wrong decision in the final moments before he was about to die? Of course he did, but going through this adventure, it will make sense to the players why he did what he did and how truly desperate he must have felt.

Mike Shel also does what few other adventure writers are capable of by bringing the full extent back-story of the module to the attention of the players. He chooses to do this through the effective and judicious use of cutscenes. I think this is a gutsy move, knowing that many RPGers (myself included) are strongly biased against cutscenes considering them to be a heavy-handed way of delivering the story to the players.

However, I like the cut scenes in this adventure. I think that the cut-scenes work because they are used sparingly, seamlessly (in most cases the players don’t even know that they are witnessing a cut-scene until after it is over) and allow for the players to make use of several skills while they are taking place. In fact, my favorite encounter in the entire module is the cut scene where the chilling and dreadful meaning behind the curious epitaph “Then Let Them Drink” is finally explained.

The Bottom Line

Mike Shel packs more adventure into Tomb of the Iron Medusa than I’ve seen in any other Pathfinder Module. He has masterfully crafted a fun, evocative and challenging dungeon-crawl that skillfully tells the tale of one family’s tragic fall from grace.

The Adellas are cursed! You owe it to yourself to find out why.


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Tsarrific! ***spoilers***

*****

I generally prefer to wait until I've actually DM'ed or played an adventure before posting a review of it, but the Slumbering Tsar series has been so consistently excellent and innovative that I feel that it deserves some early praise.

So far, each installment of Slumbering Tsar has been top-notch with great writing and good maps. What has been most interesting to me is that while the overarching focus of the series remains strong and consistent, each installment also feels like a mini-adventure that distinguishes itself from the whole and screams out "play me now!" Whether it's protecting a dwarven outpost from waves of undead creatures, facing the Master of the Crooked Tower in the heart of a ruined city or battling a massively giant gibbering mouther in an other-worldly citadel; Slumbering Tsar has got it all!

I'm a huge fan of Dark Sun and The Desolation (ST1-3) is simply the best wasteland wilderness exploration adventure that I've ever come across. I think this is mostly due to the consistency in the tone of this adventure. The encounters are dark and deadly and take place in sandy wastes, rocky badlands or around bubbling tar pits. There are dust storms, acid rains and other environmental threats. The dead rise from ancient battlefields and bandits hide in winding canyons. The Camp, which serves as the home-base for the heroes, achieves a perfect blend of frontier corruption and desperation. All too often, desert adventures are shoehorned into an egyptian or arabian theme and The Desolation does well in avoiding that trap. It takes the road less travelled and comes up with something new.

The second adventure, The Temple City of Orcus, sees a change in focus and locale but not in quality. The sprawling ruined city is detailed with gorgeous maps and presents many diverse and interesting factions. Most ruined city adventures that I've come across tend to focus on a few important sites in the city and leave the rest of the ruins undetailed. I have to say that I'm amazed at the level of detail that went into the development of the Temple City of Orcus. Every section of the city gets its own unique treatment. This is a place where adventurers could lose themselves. It's also a place where they could lose their lives... quite easily. Which makes sense, after all, you don't want a place with a name like "The Temple City of Orcus" to feel like it's just another place to visit.

The third adventure, The Hidden Citadel, has not yet been completely released but it features a mega-dungeon complex. And what a dungeon it will be! It will contain 419 rooms on 9 levels of a Citadel shaped like a gigantic statue of Orcus. Perhaps most exciting is the fact that as heroes progress through the citadel, actions that they take in one area will trigger events that will impact other areas of the dungeon. I can't wait to see the looks on my players faces when they return to an area that they have previously explored in order to rest only to find a Abyssal Gibbering Orb Lich waiting for them!


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