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Shemhazian

Ravenmantle's page

Goblin Squad Member. Pathfinder Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Roleplaying Game Subscriber. FullStar Pathfinder Society GM. 697 posts (1,410 including aliases). 17 reviews. No lists. 3 wishlists. 2 Pathfinder Society characters. 2 aliases.



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*****

I recently found myself in a situation where I needed to populate the town watch in a small town for a campaign. I'd purchased Urban Dressing: The Watch a while back and I figured it might be time to put the book to the test. The book is a valuable resource in theory, containing as it does quite a few tables and some relevant stat blocks, but how well does it actually work when doing on-the-fly GMing?

FLUFF
The book contains five tables - Rank & File; Informers & Watchers; Sergeants & Captains & Specialists; Experts & Specialists; and Hooks, Complications & Opportunities. The entries in the first four tables contain information on sample watchmen, whether they be rank and file guardsmen, sergeants, and specialists. In addition to name, alignment, race, and class, each entry contains a two-sentence description of the sample NPC. These descriptions are varied and quite flavorful, setting each entry apart from the next. When using several tables to build the local town watch, you will end up with a rather diverse group of watchmen, the result being plenty of opportunities for fun roleplaying. The last table - Hooks, Complications & Opportunities - presents a set of hooks that involve the town watch in some way. I can see most of these leading to small side quests or maybe entire campaigns in some cases.

The NPCs featured in the tables offer a wide range of personalities and quirks, from the arrogant nobleman who looks down on the common folk to the paranoid specialist who believes a shadowy conspiracy lurks in the town's dark places. Not only do these NPCs provide plenty of roleplay, they are also hooks in their own right.

CRUNCH
The crunch in Urban Dressing: The Watch consists of three stat blocks: Watchman (warrior 2), Sergeant of the Watch (warrior 3), and Captain of the Watch (fighter 4). These are pretty standard martial NPCs with appropriate equipment for their CR. While the three stat blocks are not groundbreaking in any way, they come in very handy when setting up impromptu encounters with the town watch, either as allies or adversaries. The stat blocks are in the low end of the CR spectrum but that is okay, since they are meant to represent generic city watchmen. I would have liked to see a wider range of stat blocks, possibly for low-level spellcasters and experts. Sine the stat blocks represent town watchmen, I was somewhat surprised to find no signal horns or whistles listed in the gear entries of the stat blocks.

CONCLUSION
Urban Dressing: The Watch is a great resource for on-the-fly town watch generation. With a few rolls of the dice you'll have enough material to represent the town watch in any encounters in which they are featured, whether it be the initial encounter at the town gates, encounters created by the characters' actions, or hooks for further adventuring in the town they are in. The three stat blocks increase the effectiveness of this on-the-fly GMing as you have the stat blocks readily available. For me, this product has proven invaluable, and it is now my go-to resource for on-the-fly town watch generation.


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Knights Galore!

*****

When I first learned that Paizo was working on a book about knights in the Inner Sea region, I was thrilled beyond belief. As a fan of the Dragonlance setting, I've been using knights in my games pretty much since my first game as a GM and I still do, fascinated as I am by the notion of knightly orders and the wide variety of motivations that drive these knightly orders and the individual knights within them to excel.

Fast forward a few months and I've finally had a chance to actually read Knights of the Inner Sea. I'm pleased with the result and I'll tell you why.

LAYOUT
The book follows the new format introduced in Varisia: Birthplace of Legends. 32 pages jam packed with information to help gamers bring the subjects contained in the book to the gaming table. Each topic in the book is given 1 page (For Your Character, Rules Index, Knights and Religion, Knights and Race) or 2 pages (Knights Overview, Eagle Knights, Hellknights, Knights of Ozem, Mendevian Crusaders, Other Knightly Orders, Anatomy of the Knight, Squires, Mounts, Cavalier Orders, Knightly Codes and Traits, The Spells of Serren, Magic Items), providing a fast and furious pace to the information given.

This, of course, requires that the text is clear and well written, and I feel that's the case in Knights of the Inner Sea. The text is easy to understand and written in a way that certainly inspired me. I also like that each turn of the page presents a new topic relevant to knighthoods in the Inner Sea. In a product as short as the books in the Player Companion line are, you can't afford to spend too much time dwelling on a single topic.

Every inch of the book has been utilized, including the inside covers. The front inside cover provides an overview of 4 knightly heritages, showcasing the differences within knightly heritages from various regions in the Inner Sea. This overview is just that. It's not a detailed essay on the history and personalities of each house, but rather a few short nuggets of information to inspire players and GMs alike to explore the notion of noble houses and knighthood in their own games. This, I think, is what Paizo does best. They provide us gamers with nuggets that allow us to add depth to our games. The back inside cover is all about mounts, focusing on the mundane sort such as horses and hounds. Once again, the information is precise, providing a brief description, a reference to a relevant stat block and book, and a game mechanic associated with the mount.

Following the trend started by Varisia: Birthplace of Legends, Knights of the Inner Sea is all about making things easy for the players. From the sidebar Questions to Ask Your GM through the Rules Index to the centerfold providing a visual breakdown of a knight's armor and equipment (as well as that of his mount), Knights of the Inner Sea does its utmost to ensure that any player contemplating playing a knight has as much information as he needs to get started. I really like that. As a veteran player, I like to think I know my way around the game, but even so, the book makes my life much easier when it comes to knightly characters. For instance, before Knights of the Inner Sea, I didn't know the name of every single component of a typical knight's arms and armor. I do now. The Questions to Ask Your GM segment is just common sense. Don't create a mounted knight if your GM intends to run an all-Darklands campaign for your group, for instance.

The greatest thing about the layout in the new format is that it no longer follows a set formular with specific sections that have to be in each book (such as Social, Faith, etc.). The content and the way it's laid out is adjusted to the needs of the subject matter. Of course you'll still see certain things in each installment going forward, such as the centerfold, but this seems far less forced than was the case with the old layout for the Pathfinder Player Companion Line.

FLUFF
If you're looking for obscure knightly orders or even detailed essays on the major knightly orders of the setting, this is not the book for you. There are two reasons for this. First, this book isn't big enough for that kind of thing, considering the large topic the book tries to cover. Second, Paizo's strength when it comes to fluff lies in whetting the appetite. In planting countless sparks with which to ignite the creative fire.

So what can you expect from the fluff in this book? Knights of the Inner Sea discusses what it means to be a knight in the Inner Sea region, covering such topics as types of knights, how religion affects a knight, and racial differences. In addition, seven specific knightly orders are presented. All of this with enough detail to help a player create a knightly character. So somewhat basic, well-written information. If you're a living Golarion encyclopedia the amount of new fluff is limited but, considering the purpose of the book, that's not a bad thing.

My personal favorite part of the fluff in the book is the centerfold. I've mentioned this before but it deserves a second mention. The Anatomy of the Knight section is brilliant and it's something I'll be referencing a lot both as a player and as a GM.

CRUNCH
There are several interesting crunchy parts to this book. We get feats, traits, cavalier orders, spells, and magic items. But while these are, for the most part, cool and tailormade for knightly characters, I want to focus on roles, squires, and mounts.

Roles are a new feature that was premiered in Varisia: Birthplace of Legends. Some of you may not have access to that book so here's a brief description of what a role is. Basically, it's advice. Want to play a Gallowspire Warden (Knights of Ozem specializing in the patrolling of the Hungry Mountains and the prison of the Whispering Tyrant)? The Gallowspire Warden role lists options that help you build a fitting concept. Classes, archetypes, skill, feats, prestige classes, and equipment are suggested and the persona typical to Gallowspire Wardens is described.

Roles are clearly meant for new players and veteran players who don't have the time and/or the desire to go through the many books published for Pathfinder (the game AND the setting). As such, it's an invaluable resource, certainly for new players for whom the prospect of browsing through thousands of pages just to find the right game mechanics can be a daunting one.

The disadvantage, I think, that roles have is that, for a large portion of the player base, myself included, they fill a lot of real estate. Space that many will think could have been put to much better use either fleshing out some more fluff or presenting more new game mechanics. In the case of Knights of the Inner Sea, 4 pages have been dedicated to advice on how to build specific character concepts. I don't see myself using roles to create my characters and as such, I would have prefered something else. I realize, though, that I'm far from the only customer Paizo has to take into consideration, and roles serve their purpose quite well, I think.

Squires are handled via a feat. It's basically a minor version of the Leadership feat that allows you to gain a single cohort. When you reach seventh level, the Squire feat upgrades to Leadership. Pretty cool even if the prerequisite level seems a bit off. The really cool thing, though, is the addition of squire-specific archetypes that come along with the feat. While the archetypes can certainly be taken by any character of might qualify for them, they're intended to be taken by squires. The archetypes are Combat Healer Squire (paladin), Gunner Squire (gunslinger), Herald Squire (cavalier), and Weapon Bearer Squire (fighter). All in all a fun way of handling squires in the game.

Any self-respecting knight rides into battle on a war-trained steed and Knights of the Inner Sea has that aspect covered quite well, I think. The book divides mounts into two categories - Animal Mounts and Monstrous Mounts. We'll get to the animal mounts in a bit but first let's discuss the monstrous mounts. 13 monstrous mounts are featured in the book (blink dog, dragon horse, young dragon, dragonne, giant owl, griffon, hell hound, kirin, pegasus, shadow mastiff, sleipnir, unicorn, and worg). Although no new game mechanics dealing with monstrous mounts are introduced, the section does a nice job of describing how each monstrous mount might serve a knight. In addition, a page reference is given, allowing the reader to quickly look up the monster in the relevant book, and a Cohort Level is given. Very useful to any player contemplating getting a monstrous mount.

Animal mounts are featured on the inside back cover of the book. In all, 5 horses (chiadmar, Dort charger, fell pony, Lastwall jasper, and Taldor jennet) and 3 non-horse mounts (Chernasado riding elk, Erutaki husky, and Qadiran dromedary) are listed on the page. Each entry contains a short description, a page reference, and a trait. Not only do we get a bunch of Golarion-specific mounts to add some flavor to our knights (as opposed to the standard Core Rulebook heavy or light horse), but each mount comes with a trait. While this trait counts against a character's total traits, whenever you switch to a new type of mount (say, from Dort charger to Lastwall jasper), you also switch traits, losing the trait you with before and gaining the trait associated with the new type of mount. I absolutely love this, as it adds a nice bit of crunch to campaigns and adventures in which mounts make sense.

CONCLUSION
So how does this 32-page book on knights handle itself? Quite well as it turns out. The book's purpose is to provide players with enough material for them to be able to play knightly characters. It does that perfectly, I think. Knights of the Inner Sea provides details on some of the most popular knightly orders on Golarion, it contains rules for mounts and squires, it provides sample knightly heritages, it breaks down the importance of religion and how the different races approach the concept of knighthood, it visually describes a knight's arms and armor as well as that of his mount, it provides magic equipment and spells, it provides plenty of suggestions through roles, and overall it does so in a well-written and inspiring manner. If you expect the book to go deeper, providing material on more obscure knightly orders or game mechanics to really take your knight to the next level, you'll be disappointed. But if you expect this book to equip you with enough fluff and crunch to create that archetypical knight, this book has you covered.

My only two sour grapes are roles and some of the artwork. While roles work very well for what they're supposed to do, for me personally and the kind of gamer I am, its usefulness will be limited and it'll take up a lot of real estate that I might have wanted spent differently. Again, if you're new to Pathfinder or you're one of the MANY gamers who don't think it's particularly fun to browse through book after book after book to find the fitting game mechanics, roles will be a boon. As such, it's not something that'll detract from my overall impression of the book. Roles may not be useful to me personally but for a lot of gamers, they certainly will, and they work well.

The majority of the artwork in this book is quite decent. However, there are three pieces that did not sit well with me, specifically the artwork for the Hellknight, the Knight of Ozem, and the Mendevian Crusader. Artwork is a very subjective part of any roleplaying supplement, and for me those pieces did not do a good job at all visually describing typical representatives of the three orders. Other than those three pieces, the artwork in the book worked well enough, particularly the centerfold and the three panoramic pieces.

All in all, a very useful book that should help a lot of players realize their knightly character concepts. It's certainly inspired me.


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****( )

This review is based on a playthrough with a group consisting of a druid, a rogue, a sorcerer/cleric, a magus, and a ranger (the ranger died and was replaced by a paladin) and the experiences we had playing the adventure.

<--POTENTIAL SPOILER WARNING!-->

The Carrion Crown adventure path begins with a classic ghost story, a tale of an old prison haunted by unspeakable evil. While The Haunting of Harrowstone has its issues, it's a good mix of atmosphere, story, and creepy action.

Good things first:

1) The atmosphere presented in the adventure is awesome. It's gloomy and tense from the get-go and the tension only increases as the adventure progresses and the characters realize what's going on up in the old prison.

The physical description of the prison itself added a lot to the atmosphere as well and the players really felt that this was a spooky ruin and that terrible things had happened there in years past.

2) The story, while not unique, is engaging and flavorful. The plot is revealed gradually and the big reveal, an encounter with the ghost of the warden's wife, was a pleasing way to reveal the final pieces of the puzzle to the players and set up the final encounters.

3) The research felt like a page right out of a Call of Cthulhu adventure which, to my players and me, is a good thing. Although the characters failed to learn everything there was to learn about the prison and its prisoners during their initial research in the temple's archives and the townhall library, the prison itself offered additional means of research.

4) The use of haunts worked very well in this adventure. Haunts make for excellent low-level encounters and the game mechanics mixed with the flavor inherent in any haunt makes for a fun way for the characters to learn more about the adventure's background while keeping them looking over their shoulders. For a ghost story set in a ruined prison, the haunt mechanic is perfect and the haunts presented in The Haunting of Harrowstone were very well written.

5) Artwork. Overall, the artwork in The Haunting of Harrowstone was top notch. Especially the half-pagers done by Craig Spearing were phenomenal and really helped me as the GM to set the mood.

The Bad Things:

1) Pacing. We felt that there was an issue with the pacing of the story. As the adventure is written, the characters have roughly 30 days before the evil spirits haunting the prison escape and wreak havoc upon the town of Ravengro. It took the characters 7 days to wrap up the adventure and move on to the next adventure in Ravengro. Since the major clue to what was going on, a name written in blood, was spread out to match those 30 days, we felt that the 30 days was overkill. Half the time would have worked better, we felt, and might have added a bit more urgency to the adventure.

2) Trust. I didn't use the Trust Points system at all. I felt that what the Trust Point system was meant to achieve was just as easily achieved through simple roleplaying. To me it felt like extra book-keeping, and so I didn't bother with it. The adventure worked quite well without the system.

3) Artwork. As mentioned earlier, most of the artwork in The Haunting of Harrowstone was top notch. The exception was the Bestiary section. The artwork for the critters presented in that section didn't work for me at all.

The Verdict

A very good start to the Carrion Crown adventure path. There were some minor issues but those were minor and didn't take anything away from a solid ghost story filled to the rim with atmosphere and classic horror. My players felt that their characters were challenged and I felt that I'd successfully GMed a storytelling genre that, in my mind is somewhat difficult to pull off in a game like the Pathfinder RPG, namely horror. That wouldn't have happened if I didn't have a well written adventure to work with.


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Incredible horror story by a master writer

*****

Our group just finished playing through The Skinsaw Murders and it was an absolute blast. The adventure oozed creepy atmosphere with well written locations (high corn fields, haunted house, old clock tower, etc.) and it was a brilliant mix of horror, investigation, and action. Playing an inquisitor, I really felt that my character was useful, both in the investigative parts and the more action-packed sections of the adventure and we were all thoroughly entertained and creeped out throughout the adventure.

Mr Pett has firmly cemented his posision as a top adventure writer for me and with Skinsaw Murders he gave me the best roleplaying experience I've had in a very long time, as a player at least.


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Excellent Start to the Blood Of X Series

*****

Blood of Fiends is an invaluable resource for anyone playing tiefling characters. It expands on the tiefling article featured in Council of Thieves #1: Bastards of Erebus, providing no less than 12½ pages of fluff that brings great detail to tieflings in Golarion as opposed to the 3 pages of fluff presented in the aforementioned article (not counting the article's Random Features table which is also present in Blood of Fiends).

In addition to the expanded fluff, the book features a bunch of game mechanics, some of which were included in the Council of Thieves article as well. The variant tiefling heritages are more detailed in this book, providing descriptive text and awesome portraits showcasing a sample version of each heritage. One of the feats presented in the Council of Thieves article, Fiendish Heritage, has been ommitted from Blood of Fiends. So if you want a variant heritage for your tiefling character, just choose one. Don't bother with the feat.

Overall this is a great player resource with lots of useful fluff AND crunch. Some of the material has been presented before, sure, but that was as an article in a primarily GM-focused product. Blood of Fiends presents all the information players need to play tiefling characters without having to borrow their GM's book. Artwork is, for the most part, phenomenal.


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