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Seagull

The Weave05's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 203 posts. 11 reviews. No lists. No wishlists.



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Use this as a Framework

***( )( )

My players and I just finished City of Seven Spears (CoSS) last night. We actually genuinely enjoyed it for the most part, but as the GM I made some radical overhauls for my group. This review will contain SPOILERS, so be warned.

As an AP, CoSS isn't great. It's not even really good - compared to most other APs I've seen, it's shockingly bare. It seems to be missing a bunch of substance and is just festooned with combat encounters (none of which have any maps for them) with a little narrative fluff placed between them to give them some precedence. There's no puzzles, no traps, the rivalry of the factions (which was already something a GM would've had to put into effect in the last installment since that AP hardly goes to any lengths to establishing any sort of rivalry besides one meagre assassination attempt) doesn't even come into play unless the GM explicitly tries to tie them in (you should). However, what this AP does provide is a decent framework for a personalized sandbox adventure. The downside is that it requires a bunch more work than most APs should, so I can understand why people buying it would be suddenly put off by the lack of, well, plot or information or anything. I actually liked this approach for the city since it allowed me to customize it based on my players actions and desires.

Here are some things I did and would recommend:
I changed it so that the existing tribes and factions within the city were constantly warring with one another and vying for territorial control - admittedly I kind of tossed the idea that the spires were magically keeping them sated and happy staying in their own districts in favor of something way more interactive and dynamic. I also established the various faction's methods of exploring and where they'd start first upon entering the city. In this sense, I had to keep track of the days and nights on when the other factions were arriving, what they'd do, where they'd explore, and even made the PCs' decisions as to what districts they conquered have weight (since rival factions might conquer another district given the right amount of time). Along with that, I used the Kingmaker mass combat rules when the PC's faction went up against Olujimi in the Military District (which they actually lost, and in turn they had to strike a deal with the malicious Akarundo to offer serpent folk troops in exchange for various "favors"). Even when meeting the Radiant Muse, instead of rolling a performance check that none of them could hope to succeed on, I allowed them to actually make an impromptu play to earn her favor. All in all, there's a lot to work with here, given what little they provide. Use it as a framework and it'll work well, but played as is this installment is terribly boring and monotonous.

It's also worth noting that our group (and I assume most other groups as well), did not technically "complete" CoSS since they hit level 10 before exploring the last 2 districts (boggards and troglodytes, specifically, and even Egizmora, who I altered to be an enigmatic fungal beast that's infected a treant and seeks to cover the whole city in spores, was hardly touched and is still at large. I fully plan on incorporating them into the next installment as events that happen between the exploration of the crypts so they don't just suddenly not matter anymore.

If you go into this installment with the right mindset and the willingness to put some work into it (maybe a lot of work), it can be very rewarding. If not, prepare for a series of barely linked combat sequences and the thinnest drippings of a plot.


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I wish this was better

**( )( )( )

Be warned, this review will contain SPOILERS.

Here's the TL;DR: It's not the worst thing in the world, but it needs work. Use it as a skeleton for your campaign and adapt what you need to. Customize it and liven it up to your players' liking and you should have a pretty awesome adventure on your hands. The bad part is that it takes a lot more work than an AP should.

Here's the full review: Getting some details out of the way, I am the GM for this adventure path and I have 3 regular players plus 1 addition "per diem" player. All in all it's a pretty standard party. I'm also a very "let the chips fall" type of GM and prefer to roll out in the open, so what happens, happens. I've been GMing for many years (and in many different systems, including FATE, Star Wars, Iron Heroes, Guildschool, and other more narrative systems or custom created ones), so I like to think I have some weight to my opinion. Regarding Paizo APs, I've GMed the first 2 installments of Kingmaker, played through Books 1-5 of Kingmaker, GMed the first installment of Legacy of Fire, Jade Regent, the first 3 books of Rise of the Runelords, and played/GMed in countless other homebrews - all pretty awesome stuff. There, that's my gaming background in a nutshell.

Onto the review. The first installment of this AP was awesome; likely our favorite AP introduction as of yet. I actually think that's why this one fell so short of the first book; the semi-open sandbox island was so jarring against the incredibly railroady plot of this book that it came off as that much worse by comparison. The campaign shifts gears in such a sudden and dramatic way that none of us really saw it coming. The matter-of-factness in the way it's presented is also irritating: in some places, it just reads as "and then this happens, and then this happens, because PLOT." What if the PCs were tight-lipped about their discovery of the location of Savinth Yhi, as mine were? How does word just get out all of a sudden? Right off the bat, before the book starts, it assumes the word spread. I don't have a huge problem with this per se, and I believe some railroady details have to happen to get a plot moving in the beginning, so whatever. No big deal, but it is a little irritating.

The whole "pick a faction" thing was really poorly done. To put it short, the PCs have to pick a faction (5 factions, each one conveniently lining up with the backgrounds and motives of Book 1's castaways, which came off as a little campy to me) to ally with to go and find Savinth Yhi. Cool. Except that each faction is just a cookie-cutter of the other with a tiny bit of different flavor. Ultimately, no matter who they pick, nothing really changes. That really bugged me. Not even little things were altered, you just pick faction X and get rival faction Y. Even the "rival faction agents" are all just generic rogue/fighters no matter who your rival is. That got on my nerves, but with some good GMing you can really spice it up. I would add roleplay scenes for each faction as it chooses to try and sway the PCs to their side - this was actually really fun. I also altered the faction agents to the enemy faction a bit more.

The next bit about the Freeman Revolt isn't too bad, but it's written in such a matter-of-fact, linear fashion that it pained me. A fire starts at the PCs supply warehouse just as the combat ends. There's not even rules to put it out, and then as their doing that someone important to them gets kidnapped that they have to rescue. I like to inject a few more elements of player control, or even at least the illusion of player control to feel like they're not just chugging along the plot rails. All in all, this isn't too bad, but again, irritating.

Then there's this weird part about finding a guide to lead them into the city. The book doesn't mention other guides for the other factions, so I guess we assume they either somehow know the way or they got guides of their own, which is also odd because the PC's faction says that this Nkechi hermit dude is the only one around who knows the terrain really well. Hmm. Nkechi can be really fun if you play him up as some half-crazed hermit, though, and he can be a great character to keep around.

Then comes, in my opinion, the worst part: the "race." There is no race. Each faction has a set number of days it takes them to reach Tazion and the only interaction the factions have are when they stop in a midway town and get ambushed by generic copy-and-paste rival faction agents. There's no real sense of time or urgency unless you take the effort to inject it, which I tried to do. I tried to have at least one meaningful interaction with each faction throughout the journey and kept track of days and gave more options for dangerous shortcuts to cut back on time and lured them with treasure to have them take more time. Also, I scrapped almost all the encounters along the way, which are really pointless. One encounter per day hardly challenges even the worst prepared PCs and a lot of them are completely random or have little to know backstory. A necromancer with a troll? Why? A swarm of CR 1/2 zombies? Really? At level, what, 5?

The last bit is okay. The part about entering Tazion is decent and we didn't have much trouble, but we also heavily adapted the dungeon crawl to a more Indiana Jones style place with traps and puzzles. All in all, not bad here.

I realize this review comes off as a bit scathing. I love Paizo, but some harsh criticism is in order here. HOWEVER, this is by no means a reason to stop at this installment. We're knee deep in Book 3, which has issues of its own but is a lot easier to salvage, and Book 4 & 5 look pretty awesome. This Book is really better used as a framework for a properly customized adventure for YOUR game, which should really be true for any AP installment. This one will take some work, so if you're not interested in spending some extra hours outside of each session altering things, then maybe it's not for you. Then again, maybe you're players will really jive with the linear adventure. Use your best judgment here, but I'll have you know that despite the fact that I, personally, disliked this Book, we had a ton of fun playing it after I spent some time altering it to their game.


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This AP is HARD

*****

Spoiler potential ahead, so be warned.

My players and I (the GM) loved this book. Having played through Kingmaker and experienced the sandbox style they presented there, I can safely say Souls for Smuggler's Shiv (SfSS) balances that sandbox exploration feel with what I think Kingmaker lacked - a good sense of progression. Certainly you can go around the island and kill off random encounters and animal lairs and explore shipwrecks, but you very quickly pick up on the hooks of a plot and an idea of how to progress it at the pace the players want. And trust me, they should pace themselves, because this AP is hard as hell.

The DCs are a bit too high here and there (Swim and Climb Checks of 20 at level 1? Knowledge DC 25s?? DC 30 Perception and Escape Artist checks???) but that's easily tweak-able. The Cannibal camp really ramps up the difficulty if they're not careful, and Mother Thrunefang was an almost TPK if you run her as it describes tactically. Also, 6 skeletons vs a level 1 party with minimal means of dealing bludgeoning damage is extremely deadly; proceed with caution. Endure Elements is a must have (luckily there's an NPC with the capability to cast it if the PCs can't), and I even threw in the rules about getting lost, which made for some desperate (and fun!) struggles in the island. All this, combined with the dangerous wildlife, gives a very visceral feel to the deadliness of the Shiv, and my players and I loved it.

The mystery as to how they got there and why is also a fun little game we had, and any GM worth his/her salt should take time to read up on each of the NPC castaways and play them according to their personalities. Gelik and Ishirou remain two of the more memorable NPCs they encountered, mostly because both of them gave them the most trouble. Jask was almost immediately helpful when the paladin convinced everyone that he was innocent, Aerys was also convinced to be more helpful especially after they got the berries, and Sasha got her animal companion but unfortunately contracted Red Ache early on and was mostly incapacitated for the adventure (I plan on detailing her further in the coming books).

The "Campmaker" rules were a little too gamey for my tastes, but it worked out after we assigned roles and started getting back into roleplaying. Trying to win over the favor of the NPCs was quite fun as well. Overall, a very fun AP, especially if they're looking for a challenge. I highly recommend it!


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Some flaws

***( )( )

I'd really love to give this 3 and a half stars if I could. So far, this is the weakest link of the Kingmaker AP. The exploration is much less lively and there's just less to do. Some encounters are trivially easy and mostly serve to eat away at time rather than challenge the players. Exploration became a slog towards the end, and we were ready for this much awaited dungeon crawl.

Speaking of which, this AP led us right to the dungeon crawl right off the bat. At our level, we nearly TPKed. I'm not sure if that was intentional, but it seems oddly punishing for following the story as it's given. Instead, we backed off and explored the hexes for experience so that we could finally go in and survive the crawl. The story suffered a bit from that.

The dungeon crawl, however, makes up for most of that. Despite its strange layout, the encounters are challenging, the mapping is extensive, and the final boss was a really blast for us, if incredibly hard.


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Building it up

*****

This is a great adventure. I can't speak for everyone when I say some of the final encounters are tough since we lost a player during this AP (bringing us down to 3). The city creation rules were great! At first, some of the events that can occur are devastating, but we managed to outlast them and build up our kingdom so that we could shrug off the bigger hits like earthquakes and hurricanes and whatnot. Aso worth noting, this may be the first and only time the age rules for characters could come up; we spent months and years making kingdom checks and building up our city. It was a lot of fun until the resident paladin had to start worrying about reaching middle age sooner than he expected!


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