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Having finished my detailed read-through of Hell's Rebels, I've decided that it's one of the best AP's and is entering my favorites list, taking 3rd and moving Kingmaker out of my top-three.
That puts my top-grade AP's list at:
1. Curse of the Crimson Throne
2. Iron Gods
3. Hell's Rebels
5. Reign of Winter
Opinions on Hell's Rebels:
+ It delivers the best urban adventure path. Curse edges it out in terms of APs overall thanks to Scarwall and having higher high-points, but Hell's Rebels is better at being specifically-urban (it does leave the city too sometimes, but not for the same sustained duration). HR also doesn't have the same size of large-dungeons that a lot of other APs have; I like those when they're executed well, but there's probably some players who would prefer an AP that keeps the dungeons smaller or more city-building-integrated like HR does.
+ It is the best AP for social interaction. I like some of Curse's NPC's better than the ones in Hell's Rebels, but Hell's Rebels has a very strong set and offers more social-encounter opportunities throughout the path.
+ It seizes the crown in terms of best villain integration. Barzillai is by far the most integrated-through-the-campaign villain out of all the APs.
+ It has no low-point adventures. Every installment is quite strong. Every other AP has parts that are worse than the weakest parts of Hell's Rebels.
+ Infernal contracts!
- It doesn't have the same sort of high-point moments that my top two APs have. It stays consistently very good, but doesn't reach quite the same levels of exceptional as Crimson Throne or Iron Gods.
- The atmosphere of the final battle is weird. I like the dungeon, and I think it fits in with the plot well. The weirdness comes from how the PCs are up against Barzillai, trying to prevent his triumph, but Barzillai doesn't *feel* on the verge of triumph during the fight. He *is* on the verge of triumph, but physically, he's bound in chains and being tortured. Mephistopheles is letting the PCs in to fight him, and Barzillai, once his manifestations back in Kintargo are shut down, can't really do anything about them attacking until they're physically in the room with him. There's a strange dichotomy going on between re-fighting the villainous mastermind on the eve of his ascension and mercy-killing an in-many-ways-impotent threat that you've already beaten. This isn't entirely a complaint. Narratively, it makes sense. There's just something weird about the vibe it would give me as a player.
An additional plus that's more specific to the AP at present as opposed to the AP in the long-run:
+ I like how Hell was presented and think it serves as evidence that Paizo hasn't backed down from a willingness to go 'dark' sometimes.
On the note of items:
I'm sort of questioning the decision to drop the magic-item double-page section from the APs. Having read APs with it and now having gone back to APs without it, I find that it has actually been something I've used to absorb some of the 'flavor' of the areas the APs take place in. Having locally-related items adds another layer to the places the adventures take place in, adding to their overall character. I'm not sure what I'd want it to go back in at the expense of, but I'm kinda missing it.
In reply to Cole:
I agree that order matters and has probably had some impact on my views of Adventure Paths. Crimson Throne probably reduced my opinion of Council too. What I'm finding almost more-interesting, though, is that Hell's Rebels, despite being a much better AP, has actually been slightly *improving* my opinion of Council. It adds better perspective on Cheliax as a whole, provides some interesting parallels between Kintargo and Westcrown, carries some similar themes that end up being handled in different ways, and delivers on some of the 'gaps' that seemed to exist in Council. I'm actually starting a re-readthrough of Council based on this and may post some comparison between it and Rebels once I'm done (or I may wait for Vengeance to end and do a three-way comparison).