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Dune Reaper

Laric's page

Goblin Squad Member. Pathfinder Society Member. 328 posts. 10 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 2 Pathfinder Society characters.



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A Good Mix

*****

Michael Kortes, author of Entombed with the Pharaohs and The Pact Stone Pyramid returns to Osirion with The Slave Trenches of Hakotep. This adventure features lots of dungeon crawling, but also some exploration and role-playing as the PCs try to complete the ritual necessary to bring down the flying pyramid of the Sky Pharaoh, Hakotep.

Likes
1) Best Hook in the AP: Flying pyramid shows up over Wati demanding the PCs turn themselves in or it will destroy the city. What more do you need? This hook still doesn't necessarily work with PCs as tomb raiders hook from the beginning of the AP but most PCs would feel responsible for causing this given that it's directly related to them killing the BBEG in the last book.

2) The Five-Pointed Sun: In the first part of the adventure, the adventurers must confront the master of The Five-Pointed Sun pyramid flying above the city of Wati. This dungeon has a few interesting features including a shifting tunnel that the players can control to allow access to different parts of the pyramid. However it's actually possible for the PCs to surrender and be lead directly to the commander of the flying pyramid to be judged, thus bypassing most of the traps of the complex. I like this because it actually gives the PCs an interesting choice on how to proceed: surrender and bypass all the traps but face the boss with limited resources (i.e. they have to hand over their weapons), fight their way to the boss, some combination of those two, etc...

3) The Sekpatra statues are a nice touch as they provide some background for interested groups about the commander of the flying pyramid, Isatemkhebet who is also the first major villain that the PCs face in this adventure. Isatemkhebet had the members of the Sekpatra family petrified, disfigured and put on display. Although it is difficult to do, it is possible for the PCs to free the family from their ordeal after which they can provide useful information and even some assistance in their fight against Isatemkhebet.

4) Scrivener's Wall: The scrivener's wall allows the PCs the opportunity to have a written exchange with Hakotep, the BBEG of the entire AP, before the final adventure. This is full of possibilities and significantly increases the meaningfulness of the first dungeon-crawl.

5) The Slave Trenches: In the next part of the adventure, the adventurers travel to the Slave Trenches of Hakotep which are the key to bringing down the flying pyramid of Hakotep. The PCs must deal with both the surface inhabitants of the Slave Trenches and venture into three different mini-dungeons, but they are free to do so in any order they choose. I like that the actions of the PCs in one part of the Slave Trenches can have both good or bad repercussions as they explore the other sections. (See below for examples)

6) Tef-Naju: The main guardian of the Slave Trenches is a sympathetic, intelligent and complex NPC called Tef-Naju. The immortal shaitan's motivations are well developed and allow him to become either the PCs' greatest ally or most enduring villain in this adventure. Tef-Naju's disposition towards the PCs will be greatly affected by the choices that they make as they explore the Slave Trenches.

7) Interesting Adversaries: Aside from Tef-Naju, the PCs can interact and potentially even make deals with a number of adversaries in this adventure. For example they can decide to ally or not with a vulture-headed sphinx in its power struggle against a mythic level roc. Ptemoneph, the ghost sorcerer who trapped himself in a psychic centipede jar, could also provide an interesting roleplaying opportunity. Jeshura, a div who betrayed Hakotep, could become another unlikely ally in the PCs quest to bring down the Sky Pharaoh.

8) Awe-inspiring items and surroundings: In a similar vein to the Scrivener's Wall, the Slave Trenches contain many fascinating artifacts that the PCs get a chance to play with. Many of these encounters are optional but serve to give the PCs a glimpse about what life was like in ancient times or further underline the magical might of their creator, Hakotep. For example, the Obsidian Figurines in the Lantern Vault can allow the adventurers to get an advantage against several of the guardians that Hakotep bound to the Slave Trenches, while in The Hall of Crawling Thoughts, the PCs can risk consuming some psychic centipedes to gain perspective (and bonuses) related to the ancient world (but woe to the PC who would gorge himself on psychic centipedes!)

9) And the award for the Best Trap of the AP goes to: Telekinetic Enucleation Trap. Let me quote my favorite section "The telekinetic forces attempt to forcibly pluck eyes from sockets - on a success, the eyes drop to the ground and roll down the sloped floor toward area H5." I like that this adventure also features some non-standard traps such as the Haunted Items that can lead to some of the PCs becoming possessed. I also like the teleportation trap in the Guardian Vault that can lead to one of the party members being split from the rest of the group.

10) Great Ending: As the Slave Trenches are activated, the PCs have to battle hordes of giant skeletal creatures that rise up to stop them. The battle over, a giant flying pyramid comes crashing down next to the PCs. It's epic, it's cinematic and it leads right into the next adventure.

Dislikes

1) Information dump at the beginning at the adventure: Within the span of a single encounter (when the PCs interact with Chisisek's mummy) all of the following terms are introduced: Aeromantic Infandibulum, Akhumen, Khepsutanem, Sekrepheres, Tekramenet, Sekrephrenet and Akhumemnet. This felt too confusing even for me, and I know all the background of the adventure, imagine how the players will feel.

2) Overuse of mummified template: There are just too many monsters in this adventure that are given the mummified template. In some cases it works, but in others it comes across like a weak attempt to add some Egyptian flavor to a monster that would otherwise seem completely out of place in this setting. I'm especially thinking of the mummified Gray Renders and Spinosaurus (although I do like what Sensuret, the Tribe-Eater is meant to represent, just not the templates that are stacked onto it).

Overall Impression
The Slave Trenches of Hakotep is my favorite installment in the Mummy's Mask Adventure Path and the best Paizo adventure I've read in a while. Michael Kortes has created an evocative adventuring site on a grand-scale that provides a good mix of open exploration, dungeon crawling, role-playing and epic storytelling. Great stuff. 5 stars.


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Excellent Dungeon-Crawl

****( )

In Secrets of the Sphinx, part 4 of the Mummy's Mask, Amber Scott gives us more desert hex-crawling in the first half of the adventure and a large dungeon-crawl in the second half.

Likes
1) Magic Items: The Bronze Sentinel is by far my favorite magic item in the first four volumes of this AP. Lots of cool scenes come to mind when I imagine the PCs making use of it and it is keyed into some of the areas of the Sightless Sphinx. Overall, I liked most of the new magic items described in this adventure better than the ones in earlier chapters of Mummy's Mask.

2) The Sightless Sphinx: The large dungeon that makes up the second half of the adventure is the highlight of the adventure. It's a well-constructed dungeon-crawl that can be approached in a number of ways, offers opportunities for role-playing and allows the PCs actions in one area of the dungeon to impact things in a different area. Also, not every room needs to be explored in order to complete the adventure, which I think is really good thing when dealing with a large dungeon.

3) Moving Encounters: The Sightless Sphinx also features a few different groups of enemies that move around in the dungeon and which can be sprung on the PCs when the game slows down too much.

4) Scrying Chambers: Another cool feature of the Sightless Sphinx is that several rooms of the dungeon complex are linked by magic scrying statues that allow characters to spy into other rooms that contain similar statues. This is a really nice touch and opens up some interesting possibilities for a group of PCs going through the dungeon to strategize about how they want to approach different sections of the dungeon.

5) Hex-Crawl links: Some encounters in the Sightless Sphinx can be affected by how much exploration the group did before entering the dungeon and who or what they have with them (e.g. the gynosphinx from the previous adventure or the Bronze Sentinel found in the desert). In my opinion this elevated the overall quality of the Hex-Crawl in part 1.

Dislikes
1) Desert Hex-Crawl: As with the previous adventure, I found most of the encounters in the hex-crawl in Part 1 to be not to my liking. I'm not a fan of encounters that feature one interesting feature that happens to be protected by a random monster and this adventure features several of them: A dead body protected by a Baykok (see below), a river protected by Stymphalidies (see below), a boulder field protected by a blue dragon and a clay golem. This last encounter with the neurotic blue dragon seemed somewhat ridiculous to me. Here's a dragon that would rather risk death than take the chance of harming his work of art. Couldn't he just rebuild it after he destroys the PCs? Anyway, not my cup of tea but the encounter can easily be cut or changed without impacting the rest of the adventure.

2) The genie fortress quest at the end of the Desert Hex-Crawl felt sort of tacked on and I fail to see the motivation that the PCs would have to clear it out in the first place. After all, the genies have not done anything against the PCs and the Maftets offer them very little apart from the location of the Sightless Sphinx. In fact, it would likely be quicker in game terms for the PCs to just find the Sightless Sphinx on their own through hex-crawling.

3) Weird/random monster overload: It's nice to have some fantastical elements in an adventure, but in my opinion there were just too many weird monsters and NPCs in this adventure, most of which I had never even heard of: Girtablilus, Maftets, Baykoks, Stymphalidies, etc… Girtablilus and Maftets probably make up close to a third of the encounters in this adventure and I would have a difficult time portraying them competently due to my lack of familiarity with these monstrous humanoids.

Other Comments
The encounters provided in The Perilous Wastes article by Greg A. Vaughan are great and can be easily inserted in the Desert Hex-Crawling part of the adventure. In fact, I liked the two mapped encounters presented in this article better than any of the other Hex-Crawl encounters described in the main adventure.

Overall Impression
I found the first half of this adventure to be somewhat disappointing, but the dungeon-crawl in the second part is really cool and even manages to elevate the first part of the adventure by its design. I think that Secrets of the Sphinx is the best installment of Mummy's Mask that I've read so far. If I could I would rate it as 3.5 stars, but since I can't I'll give it 4 stars.


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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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