Pathfinder Adventure Path #38: Racing to Ruin (Serpent's Skull 2 of 6) (PFRPG)

***( )( ) (based on 9 ratings)
Pathfinder Adventure Path #38: Racing to Ruin (Serpent's Skull 2 of 6) (PFRPG)
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Chapter 2: "Racing to Ruin"
by Tim Hitchcock

Finally reaching the port city of Eleder, the adventurers arrive with knowledge of the route to the lost city of Saventh-Yhi. But new rivals are also on the trail of the legendary metropolis, and soon the race is on to reach the fabled ruin and claim its unimaginable treasures. Will the adventurers ally with ambitious explorers like the treasure-seeking Pathfinder Society, the unscrupulous Aspis Consortium, the gold-hungry Shackles Pirates, or others on their quest into the jungle's depths? And what dangers will they face as they enter the Screaming Jungle, one of the deadliest wildernesses on all of Golarion?

    This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path includes:
  • "Racing to Ruin," a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 4th-level characters, by Tim Hitchcock.
  • A tour of the exotic and tumultuous port city of Eleder, by Tim Hitchcock.
  • A look into the calm and calamity of Gozreh, unpredictable god of nature, by Sean K Reynolds.
  • Bar brawls and noble quests in the Pathfinder's Journal, by Robin Laws.
  • Five new monsters, by Tim Hitchcock, Patrick Renie, Sean K Reynolds, and Neil Spicer.

Pathfinder Adventure Path is Paizo Publishing's monthly 96-page, perfect-bound, full-color softcover book printed on high-quality paper. It contains an in-depth Adventure Path scenario, stats for about a half-dozen new monsters, and several support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes use the Open Game License and work with both the Pathfinder RPG and the standard 3.5 fantasy RPG rules set.

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-273-9

Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Sanctioned Content
Racing to Ruin is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild.

Download the rules for running this Adventure Path and Chronicle sheets — (495 kb zip/PDF)

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Product Reviews (9)
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***( )( ) (based on 9 ratings)

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A diverse overland-adventure with garundian flavor.

***( )( )

The description of the 5 factions (if a little short). The fight against the "Freemen" revolutionists. The quests the Priest of Gozreh gives the PCs.
I like the most encounters along the way, they really evoke a jungle vibe. In the ruins of Tazion is where this adventure really shines.

The Eleder gazetteer could be more detailed - 8 locations marked on the crude map of this small city (pop 8,900) is not enough.
The Bestiary section is uninspired.

The rival faction attack in Kalabuto can very easily result in a tpk. In our game it didn´t because my paladin was the one standing watch at night, the 3 other PCs were almost killed in their sleep (one was).
The fight with the possessed dire ape was the same - without smite evil the shadow demon (CR7) would have tpk´d the party (level 5).

I had the fun of being a player in this book (Thanks, Elisabetha). I strongly suggest the GM read book 3 of the AP before running this (as the leaders of the factions are statted, shown and described more thorough there) and replacing the generalized faction agents with the real NPC stats from the INNER SEA NPC CODEX
If the GM invests a little time and likes the "african" flair, this can easily be a 5 star adventure.

Some good encounters unimaginatively strung together.

**( )( )( )

I am starting to think I may have a personal issue with the author of this one, Tim Hitchcock as I tend to dislike The adventures that he writes. In this case I read the adventure and realized it needed work so I went online and found tons of advice as to what other gm's did to fix this one. There is a wealth of good ideas out there and the rest of the adventure path is worth slogging your way through this one.

In this case I took about 75% of his encounters and changed the narrative to make it better for my players.

my suggestion for gm's:
do yourself a favor and instead of focusing on a single opposing faction to the players.. Have each faction mess with them in a different way. The mantis try an assassination. The government holds an inquiry into the ship wreck of the Jenevere keeping the players in town while the rest of the factions leave. The Aspis hire away a bunch of their local help. The pirates can steal a their supplies. The pathfinders break in and steal all their expeditions notes and maps. Give the players a reason to compete with all the factions. Not just one.

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.

Needs a Good DM To Be Awesome!

****( )

I see a lot of people here are complaining about how linear the whole campaign setting is, as well as a few problems with how boring a lot of the journey seemed to be. I played this as a player and we had a blast. While we did have a minor complaint about the linear path we were to take to get to the destination it didn't take long until we were simply having a blast journeying through Gorund.

The random encounters proved to be something that everyone hoped for since it boosted our XP bonuses, and allowed for us to feel like we were back in the turn based RPG days where we would farm for hours to get to the next level by walking in circles in one room. While few people enjoyed that portion of those games I loved it since it enabled myself to get to a much higher level without fighting higher level opponents.

The various NPCs that you meet and travel with are interesting and fairly unique. Add in some of the difficult weather encounters and it feels like you're looking into an actual epic journey instead of just fast traveling there. It gives you respect and perspective on what your asking your characters to do. With an interesting group and a good DM this can be a really great AP, but since it's a little hit and miss for those purposes I can't give it five stars. I guess my group just lucked out with a DM who has run this campaign before, and a group of fairly evil individuals who made the journey seem very strange compared to a lot of other APs we ran before.

Not a bad adventure, but it fails to deliver on it's premise

***( )( )

Racing to Ruin accomplishes what it sets out to do, to connect Souls for the Smuggler’s Shiv with the City of Seven Spears, and completing that task without strange unexpected jumps in the narrative is all that we really ask for in an adventure. I have two complaints though, and both involve the premises set up in the title. Review behind the spoilers:

First of all let me address the number one complaint: this adventure is a railroad. Yes it is, most travel adventures are, but getting around that simply involves presentation. The complaints that most GMs get about rail roads are there’s no options, and sadly, as written, this is the case with this adventure. The PCs don’t get to choose the guide, the travel route, even something as personal as a PCs spirit animal seems to be random rolling of the dice. This doesn’t need to be the case. You can use the adventure as written and still give the PCs the illusion of choice. If the PCs decided to go a different route many of the encounters could take place anywhere. Do yourself a favour and if you have picky players let them feel like they’re in control. It will make your life that much easier.

Also, for a railroad adventure this adventure has the potential for jumping the tracks pretty early. Two problems pop up straight away, first the adventure assumes that the player’s discovery of Saventh-Yhi becomes common knowledge, hence the factions organize to race to the ancient city. But what if the PCs are tight lipped about their discovery? What if they don’t share their discovery with any of the NPCs and are capable of doing the translating and planning for themselves? Forcing this angle onto the players might leave a bitter taste in people’s mouths. The second problem is a slave revolt that a rival faction harnesses and aims at the players. Now in my experience if you have a good or altruistic party this encounter could spiral into a full fledged side adventure as the PCs try to over through the corrupt government of Sargava.

As for encounters, I found them varied and interesting, albeit somewhat predictable. My PC, for example, was always rewarded with being completely untrusting of any and every friendly local she met. She had the suspicious trait but it’s hard to play a paranoid when every friendly villager is secretly out to get you.

My ultimate complaint though is that Racing to Ruin neither feels like a race, nor does it feel like you’re discovering ancient ruins. The problem with the race concept is that you seldom see your rivals at all, there’s no opportunity to turn the tables on them and slow them down, there’s no encounters where you strive to out pace your opponents. Supposedly they’re somewhere in the back ground but your never really made aware of them except for when your rivals are able to lay pitfalls and assassination attempts on you (without fear of retaliation I’ll add). This just doesn’t feel like a race.

The second problem is the idea of ruins, when I see the cover of this adventure, and think of classic adventure movies of this genre, I had imagined that the reward and capstone of this adventure would be exploring some ancient Azanti ruins filled with death traps and puzzles. This was never delivered. But what I got was a monkey village that had already been well explored and pilfered by the natives and the PCs were left to pick through the crumbs. Worse still, if the PCs had their eyes on the big picture and where thinking only of the campaign ark, assumed that the serpentfolk were the true villains you were racing against, well you were sorely disappointed as these slippery are already here.

In summery, no race, sad under whelming ruins. Still I can’t call this adventure a failure, I had fun, and there is potential for expansion. This adventure does what it needs to do and does add a bit of tension to the campaign. You could do a whole lot worse.

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