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Pathfinder Society Scenario #51: The City of Strangers—Part I: The Shadow Gambit (PFRPG) PDF

***½( ) (based on 19 ratings)

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for 1st to 7th level characters (Tiers: 1–2, 3–4, and 6–7).

The Pathfinder Society sends you to Kaer Maga, the City of Strangers, where you are ordered to find a local Pathfinder associate who sent a strange letter to Venture-Captain Drandle Dreng in Absalom. When the local associate turns up dead and you find evidence linking his death to a mysterious organization called The Shadow Lodge, it's up to you to track them down and solve the man's murder.

The Shadow Gambit is the first scenario in the two-part The City of Strangers campaign arc. Pathfinder Society Scenario #52: The City of Strangers—Part II: The Twofold Demise is the sequel.

Written by Joshua J. Frost

This scenario is designed for play in Pathfinder Society Organized Play, but can easily be adapted for use with any world. This scenario is compliant with the Open Game License (OGL) and is suitable for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

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Product Reviews (19)
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Average product rating:

***½( ) (based on 19 ratings)

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All on the GM hands

****( )

This adventure can be pretty boring or an excellent adventure depending entirely on how the GM prepares it.

In my opinion, completing the adventure with a full background on the City of Kaer Maga taken from the Pathfinder Campaign Setting City of Strangers is a must, and gives the adventure the flavour it might be lacking.

Only downside are the encounters which can be quite easy for some parties. Big room for role playing on this one.

**( )( )( )

An 'Investigation' Where Nobody Knows Anything

*( )( )( )( )

The upside of the scenario is that Kaer Maga is an interesting location with colorful NPCs, and that several of the faction missions are funny (although Silver Crusade asks you to murder a civilian for some reason). The combats are nothing special and are all very easy.

The downside of the scenario is the absence of plot. Your goal is to locate the Shadow Lodge, but nobody in town knows anything about it. The various colorful NPCs don't know, gather information reveals nothing, divinations don't help, the crime lord who ambushes you early on doesn't know either, even the Shadow Lodge goons that also ambush you don't have any info. Only after spending enough time getting no results whatsoever, you get the attention of another crime lord who knows where the Lodge is. After meeting him, you get ambushed again by Shadow Lodgers, who apparently followed you the whole time with no chance of being noticed. And then you easily defeat the leader in his lair, although the sequel reveals they have a second lair, that nobody has information on either.

I did have a pleasant time roleplaying with my teammates, but must note this is not because of the scenario, but in spite of it. So while I hope there are other missions to vibrant Kaer Maga, I really can't recommend this one.

An awkward combination of sandbox and railroad

***( )( )

I had the pleasure of running this scenario earlier this week for a band of misfit pathfinders. Above anything else I agree with some of the others below that the scenario is hard to rate. It's essentially an investigation-based railroad with a lot of role-play opportunity.

And that's exactly my issue with it. It's a railroad, meaning players can not easily deviate from it. You have to accept a certain favor in order to progress and to proceed to part 2, but my players had valid in-character reasons to not do so. You can have all the fun role-play you want, but in the end certain things have to happen and there is no way around it, mostly due to the second part. It's basically frustrating and I could see the disappointment on the faces of my players. They specifically said they didn't blame me, but I as a GM still feel like I failed to some extent even though I probably shouldn't be feeling that way.

The scenario started on a great note. The players had fun dealing with the first encounter and loved role-playing with each other. They had the chance to really show off the quirks of their characters and enjoyed the first couple of acts. They also enjoyed meeting Dakar - the Taldor faction mission is weird and awkward, but still amazingly memorable - as well as the way they got to him. The freedom they had to talk to NPC's was appreciated as well, though it had to be cut a little short due to time constraints, but the way they had to progress through the story ruined the mood at the table a fair bit.

In short, I'd say that the scenario has a lot of things going for it, but that it fails to be an actual sandbox. It offers the room for it by having a bunch of fun NPC's the players can talk to, but in the end they still are forced to follow a certain path no matter what happens or what they want. It basically ruins the freedom they get. It has a huge amount of potential, but is limited by actions that have to take place regardless of what the players want to do. I know that's partially due to the premise of the second part, but it feels awkward.

Starts out great, then limps to an ending.

****( )

(I both GMed and played this.)

Kaer Maga is a fantastic city, and when I explained to my players what it was, they were eager to explore it. The scenario starts out with two great combats, then gets bogged down by social encounters. I like roleplaying, and so did my players, but in the end there's too much pressure on those encounters and not enough attention to making this scenario fall together.

Plot spoiler:
Me and my players found it difficult to actually find some useful information through regular roleplaying. My players wanted to interrogate the goons, infiltrate the Kiln, and wait for Ardoc back home, but the first were unreasonably unhelpful and the latter two seem reasonable option, but are never explained. I kept having to point them back at the scenario and tell them to ask random people on the street. And even then, they kept asking the same character over and over, rather than jumping to a new target.

The social encounter part fell a bit flat, as you can read in my spoiler. Two sentences isn't enough to make memorable characters, especially if they're implemented in such a clunky way. I'm reminded of Shades of Ice 2, with a similar disappointing mechanic. You'd think that a season later they'd have learned from their mistakes, but apparently not.
The meeting with the information broker was very memorable, though, and I would have liked to see more of that, impress the hostile nature of the town on the players. The Taldor faction mission is great, though silly.

And then the final encounter. Hoo boy.

Final encounter:
When will Paizo learn that one big guy isn't a proper challenge? I'd rather have three or four enemies of roughly equal skill, rather than one overly specialised enemy three or four levels higher than the APL. Players will just wade through the summons as if they're nothing, then face a horribly outmatched opponent. He was statted in such a way that he could maybe take out one or two party members, and then be out of juice. Now he blew his wad and then he was helpless against a full party heading his way.

I did like the encounter difficulty. I've mostly GMed earlier seasons, and there they just wiped the floor with every encounter. Here, (barely tier 3-4), every fight was a challenge (though also through terrible rolls by the party, I must admit), though not insurmountable. I did see quite a bit of errors in statblocks, though. Also, why are there so many potions? In the second encounter, all enemies have three potions of CLW each, that's way more than my party needed, especially since they also got seven from the first encounter.

In short, great adventure with amazing atmosphere. Too bad it sort of petered out in the end.

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