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Not as bad as some people are saying, still mostly terrible

***( )( )

This is my second swing at this, the first got eaten by the webform.
First off, the Shifter isn't as s%@%ty as it seems. There are ways to play it that are pretty fun, and it gets a sweet heap of feats that druid can't take, because they are busy taking feats that make them better at assuming their role as literal god of the prime material plane, while the shifter merely becomes adequate. 'Rush and 'Finesse are especially good, especially with the new totem series of feats to get a MOUSEPOUNCE out of absolutely nowhere for a pretty solid amount of damage. I wish it was something other than a huntermonk, that Aspects were not just a mathfinder prereq for something that druids get infinite choice in, and that they put the DRAGONSHIFTER here, rather than holding it hostage for whatever player companion is going to show up in a month or two, but whatever, class works as well as any other martial(NOT WELL)
As a side note, if you are playing a wild shape druid, don't sweat about having your throne jacked. If you don't need to be crafting wondrous items or taking metamagic, those feats are equally available to you, which is nice, considering you can use them when you turn into a g@!~*#n ALLOSAURUS or ELDER AIR ELEMENTAL, unlike the shifter. Shifter would make a better skillmonkey, if he didn't have such massively limited choices of aspects, and he got bonuses to things that weren't moving around and perception, but that's pretty much the same as any other martial, so whatever.
What sucks about the shifter, in addition to being one of those red-headed-stepchildren who want to make attack rolls at full bab that paizo seems desperate to get back into the closet with extreme prejudice, is its Archetypes. Holy s*$@, these are beyond terrible. Like, the mantra of "It's for npc's, not for players!" is out the g@##$@n window, since some of these aren't even half as able as a vanilla Shifter at just combat, and every single one gives up ALL THE NONCOMBAT S%~+. Elemental Shifter is the closest thing to useful, except it's still just combat numbers, and even then it's just worse than a druid doing the same thing. At least it says that its Elemental form alters Wild Shape, rather than replaces it, so support still exists. Not true of the others.
The fiendflesh is the big "no whining for garbage because it's for npc's!" and honestly, it's a fair cop here. If you want an NPC to become a demon and be completely useless at everything else without just being a demon casting Alter Self, THIS IS FOR YOU.
OOZEMORPH: This archetype alone took a star off this book. Just kidding, it's this and the next one. Instead of having a form of your race, you are an ooze. And can't use magic items. At all. The art for this class has a plucky girl with a huge, terminator 2-esque chrome morningstar in the place of her arm. This mace must be hollow, because it never deals more than 1d6 damage. Instead, you get more 1d6 noodles that don't fully stack with your lategame transformation, BEAST SHAPE 2 AT THE SAME LEVEL WIZARDS CAN TURN INTO TWELVE HEADED HYDRAS WITH POUNCE IN THIS BOOK.(if you want to be a polymorphous gish, holy s#%* wizards with this crap are NUTS) Mechanically, the class also has no capstone, and the oozeshape doesn't count as wildshape, so mythic is also 100% out of things for this goofy nerd.
Rageshaper: Literally the worst archetype printed for anything in the history of pathfinder(please correct me if you find one worse than this) You give up every single class feature, in exchange for FULL ROUND ACTIVATION, PROVOKES, LEVEL ROUNDS/DAY BARBARIAN RAGE, WITH NO RAGE POWERS. You do get to grow a bunch of size categories, but since someone forgot to make the defense increase from DR 2/-, and you only get TWO MINUTES of rage at level 20, you're probably dead already? Cherry on top, you have to will save out of your rage, shifter is a poor will class, and this archetype removes wisdom scaling. If you don't manually exit out of your rage and you run out of rounds, you are autoconfused, but rather than simply hurting yourself in confusion until sun's down, big guy, you have DOUBLE chance of randomly punching things, which is fine, because your punches are hilariously bad. Oh, and starting your rage breaks all your items. I'm not even sure that you get stats from growing three sizes, since it just says you get big, much like the kineticist talent, but without the line about natural attacks getting bigger, so at least your slamclaws will get to be vital strike ready? Come to think of it, paizo seems to put vital strike on everything, maybe they actually think that's the only way characters work, and wanted to build an archetype around it!
Verdant Shifter is a Plant Type Fiendflesh, except it keeps support, so it's marginally better, especially when you take the immunities it gets.
Weretouched: You give up the ability to choose anything. This is a poor decision.
Things that Aren't the Shifter:
Races! Gathlain and Ghorans get a ton of love, and their features are all really fun. The plantmanplantshifter is also pretty decent, mostly because it doesn't surrender the tiny pool of features it gets to specialize in being bad.
Other Archetypes: Uh, crap. A whole bunch of these give Shifter things to non-shifter people. They are, as you can probably imagine, quite s@!~. Don't use them. Special shoutout to the Strawberry and Blue Raspberry Ranger Archetypes(the first two, you'll get it) both of which are crazy narrow, but pretty entertaining, the AVALANCHE SLAYER, which corrects a dnd classic to "Slayers Fall, Everyone Dies" Seasonal Witches are damn near strictly better than normal witches, don't know why they don't have to give up ANYTHING, Barbarians got a HEAP of aesthetic an interesting rage powers, including the HOLY S@*& build enabling Spring Rage(If you've ever wanted to play Cohen the Barbarian or Billy the Hero, this is how). Altogether, some good, some terrible, some bad, some GREAT, as per usual in a hardback.
Feats: G*~%*&NIT PAIZO YOU WERE DOING SO AVERAGE. Holy crap, this section might have been put together by someone who had never played pathfinder before? Animal Ferocity is the new worst feat in the game, STEP ASIDE MONKEY LUNGE, as, as written, it unambiguously gives a -5 penalty on some rolls. The description in the grid says it does something different, which makes me think Editorial has some 'splainin to do. A whole genre of feats in this book are "things players could do before because this is a trpg and not an mmo, but now require a feat." Make fake tracks? There's a feat for that, but now rather than an opposed survival check, or whatever your dm chose, they can break it with a roll that a ranger of your level, not even a CR appropriate ranger, will 95%, and they autobreak it as soon as they get to the end of the trail, which is comically short. Make a birdcall? THERE'S A FEAT FOR THAT, that you need to take for EVERY TERRAIN OF ANIMALS YOU WANT TO PRETEND TO BE, and also people can roll perception or sense motive to oppose your bluff check. Apparently my second cousin is CRAZY high level, because he can make not just a pigeon coo, BUT ALSO AN OWL HOOT AND A DUCK CALL, that's three feats, dude could have picked up Animal Ally in those slots! There are a bunch of reprints, errors, etc here, section is generally trashy. Except for one feat(BRANCH POUNCE) which helps enable my newly beloved Avalancher Slayer, that one is great.
Spells: Some are cool. There is a pounce spell, but it's a standard action, and you can only use natural attacks on the subsequent charges. Ooze form is cool. Magical Beast Shape was a mistake. Pretty much everything else is without consequence.
Systems: Exploration is bad, more narrow mechanics that can define a campaign, but leave people hanging around doing nothing while Ricky Ranger gets to apologize for every roll for half an hour. Magical plants are TRASH, holy s%!# they are bad. Like, one of them is a Heroes feast for ONE PERSON, ONCE A YEAR, for TEN THOUSAND GOLD. Herbalism is neat though, even though the preparation makes it a free upgrade for alchemists and investigators. Trophies are fine,not really earthshaking that you can make a demon into an evil item, or a big, hearty thing into a defensive effect. The companions and familiars section has a TON of reprints, but whatever, it's a good section, just know next time paizo released a player companion that's good from cover to cover, the whole g+@%!%n thing is getting reprinted in a hardcover book a year or two down the line(hence the FAR FAR above)
Campaign: Great, a whole s$*$load more tables for finding what the weather is like while the party waits for the ranger to finish doing the exploration. Green Faith gets some stuff, but no crunch at all other than two archetypes that seem to have lost their way. This also has the second little jump of plagiarism, with "Druids of the Fang," the first being the Blighted Defiler Kineticist, who is literally a Dark Sun defiler, in addition to being a musclewizard.
Anyway, book is never great, hyperbolic love for Falling to Victory with slayers aside, and where it's good, it's aight. Where it's s~$!, it's IRREDEEMABLE s*@&. Starts at 5, loses one for shifter being the spirit of mediocrity and reprints, loses another for unusable and untested options, and more power for wizards and alchemists, and witches than rangers, druids, and hunters.


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Holy S%*#

*****

I'm going to preface this by saying I haven't run the adventure yet, at least not fully. My party have gotten their gear and brought back a few softened skulls for a place to sleep, but then it was 1am and ain't nobody got time for that. I'm writing this after that session with a few beers in me, so my profanity might not be on point.

Let me start off with the two worst things in this book. James Jacobs cites the book in the book(I’M ONTO YOU M@&+$&@**+*&! I'LL ONLY FORGIVE YOU IF WE GET 5 MORE BOOKS LIKE THIS!) in the cheekiest use of notation since House of Leaves. That's number one. The second thing is the short fiction has a sleepless detective who isn't playing like a paranoid schizophrenic in a factory working on the development of invisible mouse traps and landmines. Everyone who knows a Sleepless Detective knows they can't go ten feet without rolling two perception and one sense motive on a neighborhood cat. The fiction is still great though.

I love everything in this book. I love that nyarlathotep gets a floating fifth domain for every one of his different aspects. I love that even though the book says something is outside the scope of the adventure, it tells you exactly what's there, what spell it has on it, how far down it is, and what bestiary to find it in. Beyond the scope of the adventure, my entire A*#. I love how this book uses haunts to put together crazy encounters that can actually threaten a pc even if they're armed for bear and expecting a half-illithid choker behind every door. I love that the boss fight isn't spoiled by the cover, and when it comes, it has two, very different stages that are teased throughout the entire story. I love that one of the gnarlier fights is an enemy who has had one of its attacks removed, rather than just sticking some class levels on a humanoid monster. I love that it's the right combination of elements from Amnesia:The Dark Descent and Fallout New Vegas: Dead Money.

2/10, the player's guide doesn't know the definition of nonplussed, refund, cancel subscription, and start buying up 4e minis.


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Still better than Inferno Gate

***( )( )

At this point, I'm figuring it went something like this:
"Hey man, I noticed in the warehouse we have like ten boxes of paladins, and they're still unloading more, what's up?"
"Dude, it's going to be radical. I ordered up like 500 identical paladins for the big battle at the end of Wrath of the Righteous! You can't have an epic battle without hundreds of identical paladins, pretty sure gygax said that."
"We cancelled that battle bro! Oh man, we're so fired when the Golem finds out!"
"What? No dude, hold on, I have an idea. We pitch an evil adventure path! Every encounter in the last two books can just be a s*%~ load of paladins, problem solved!"
"Man, I don't know about you, but I don't know how to write an evil adventure path!"
"I got that covered too! We just make the party a bunch of government agents for the legitimate authority! They won't actually do much evil s@~! at all, but they can still be hellknights or whatever."

So you set off the artifact bomb you spent a whole book building, only to find it's two or three delayed blast fireballs with a ridiculous summoning caveat that the game encourages you to let the party play as some ridiculous undead, which sort of defeats the purpose of role-playing? The head of an adult gold dragon, blood of a bunch of peasants, the desecration of a holy spring, and the destruction of an ancient monastery of evil for roughly as much power as the level 14 sorcerer's 6th level spell slots. Once the tiny warhead has been dropped, you sneak into the city, conduct some more silly rituals while fighting a whole bunch of paladins. Your old friends from Castle Dinyar are back: An endless fountain of paladins, minibosses that can be summoned by the final boss, and making knowledge checks to identify which devil is best at standing on a bridge. Okay, that last one is new, but it's absurd enough to fit it with the Scourge of the Godclaw, or even The Inferno Gate. You identify some other devils to delegate to, because there are no Chelaxian troops or Hellknights anywhere on the planet. Then you fight the biggest paladin of them all(or make a reasonable diplomacy check), and you're done!

This book answers one of the great mysteries of the adventure path. We finally discover why Iomedae left Heart's Edge behind when she ascended: It wasn't very good. This is a good book for mediocre artifacts. The quest to corrupt it is pretty extraordinary, if you choose to follow it, in that it's way harder than just leaving it with the court of Zon-Kuthon to torture evil s!+% for a thousand years.

All of this is not to say this book is without redeeming value. There's a sequence I haven't mentioned with some awesome, thematic monsters in a sensical sequence, and the Solar form of the Angel Knight is going in my folder for all eternity as a 'Melee Solar.' The combat maps are pretty great, all the non-paladin fights are solid, and most of the art is awesome. While I would rather have had more evil s#~% to do, perhaps actually invading heaven with an Archon who was uncomfortable with the unlawful actions of the Glorious Reclamation and their indifference to the pain caused by their actions, perhaps destroying a major good city as vengeance for them taking Westcrown, the book works, and is far better than The Inferno Gate.


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Look, I'm not Dave Meltzer

*****

Okay, I absolutely savaged the previous book in the Path, so I feel like I have to write another review. A big part of the reason I was so very angry at The Inferno Gate was one of the party was excited to continue playing his new favorite class, the Vigilante, and was chapped in extremis when he found out he would have to wander around all the time in his Luchador mask. When they had gotten to the point at which the party is accosted by a tired paladin, I had ask for a redo, as the Glorious Reclamation still managed to recognize him, despite him being in his secret identity for that day, which was literally too dumb to comprehend. I improvised, and they ended up killing the group through magic and grapples, laundering their uniforms, and hiding their corpses. All of this might be unnecessary background, but I felt like preceeding the following with my last drop of anger at the previous book:
For Queen and Empire is GREAT.
The social interactions all work well, showing off different flavors of evil, and really working the selfish manipulation aspect that had been totally missing in Inferno Gate. The allies in the first half of the book are so unambiguously vile, from their willingness to believe the worst in everyone around them, to their highly evocative jargon when talking about halfling slavery, that they act as great counterpoints to the PC’s, who are probably somewhere between out and out psycho killer and religious fascists at this point in the Path. Through the course of this book, the PC’s have the listed option to A. Spread lies about people who offered to help them. B. Murder someone completely unprovoked C. Steal rightly bartered for and purchased valuables from someone who very much needs them D. Butcher a bunch of someone’s herd animals in their pen E. Participate in a massive NE party F. Betray every damn thing
All of these are exclusively for personal gain. This book fulfills every single thing I wanted at the start of the path, and haven't really found. What's more, all of the social activities of the first half pay off in a big way at then end, with three massively interesting and difficult encounters back to back. I'm not totally satisfied that they went with a similar “good character on a good aircraft” solution for one fight, but they swapped the formula by making the F-16 the real threat this time around.
I do have some complaints. Once again, paizo plugs the npc codex every third page, which remains a useless waste of dead trees and electron movement. Despite the ultra-dense social encounters, we never get to use the social combat rules presented in Ultimate Intrigue. The art is also a little bit silly, because at two points, it talks about striking features on NPCs, height and facial similarity to another character, but the art very much does not back it up. These are very much nitpicks, as this book is my current favorite in the Path, and would honestly have made a pretty excellent conclusion.


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Fails to live up to the premise of the Path

**( )( )( )

After two solid books, the third breaks down into a slog through a videogamey map, with the players having to wander at random at times to fill the fetch quest. Literally, the whole book is a fetch quest, and an extremely convenient one at that. I hate missions that describe themselves as sandboxes, especially when the book reminds the GM to throw the accuser devil at the party every time they do the reasonable thing and try to figure out where the hell you are going to find an azata in the middle of the LAWFUL good enemy forces, only to find there is just one hanging out, awkwardly making smalltalk with some archon.

Furthermore, there is wierd railroading at times. More than once, the book says "the [enemy] recognizes you as an agent of thrune immediately," despite the fact that the previous book heavily encouraged subterfuge, and, at least for my party, we're casting undetectable alignment like it was going out of style. Any betrayal feats you might have invested in, any Bluff or stealth skills, all gone in the face of the Glorious Reclamation's magical ultrasight. Another strange moment occurs deeper in the path, when the party is given a powerful option, but are told that they are just not smart enough to pull it off.

Finally, there is one moment that I reread twice to believe. A random encounter has the party run into one of said Glorious Reclamation intelligence agents whose detect evil and keen wit cuts through Bluff checks, disguise, polymorph, and undetectable alignment like a hot knife through butter. He is a Paladin of Iomedae, and is accompanied by a group of s*%~ty fighters, made s!!#tier by the fact that all of them are Fatigued. This Paladin of Iomedae hails you(!), acknowledges you as agents of thrune(!!!), and offers surrender, because his troops are so tired. In exchange for leading them back to the path, he promises the contents of a chest his idiot buddies are carrying ten feet behind him, as well as his solemn vow that he will go back and tell the other Glorious Dudes to back off, Thrune has this whole Gate situation handled. What casts this into the realm of complete and total insanity is that he is LYING. In this course of this adventure path, you will be lied to by a paladin of iomedae, with the game noting that he will seek atonement later. They do not say this causes him to fall.
Okay, what. First, the whole premise is bent from the very beginning, since the book assumes that the Lawful Evil, Bad guy, Puppy Punter, Back Stabbing maniacs in the party will EVER accept surrender. If the situation was reversed, and you were a posse of paladins who ran into an Antipaladin who had run out of underlings to cannibalize, you would be expected to murder him! What's more, paladins of Iomedae have specific tenets in Inner Sea Gods, two of which are "I will suffer death before dishonor," and "I will not be taken prisoner by my free will. I will not surrender those under my command." According to paizo, this particular example should have fallen THREE TIMES, once for lying, once for surrendering, and once for surrendering for his troops! Really, this path assumes the players are more LN than LE, and presents bonus exp for letting most of your potential victims live. Other than the most basic pathfinder evil act of all(killing a good creature/outsider), there isn't much wiggle room to work in anything else.

The book reclaims one star for having good production values, and solid work in the bonus section. I hope to God the next part significantly more evil, (Oh God, it's called For Queen and Country) or this path might be remembered as the one where you had to collect 4 boar asses to progress to an actual enemy.