Pathfinder Adventure Path #33: The Varnhold Vanishing (Kingmaker 3 of 6) (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Chapter 3: "The Varnhold Vanishing"
by Greg A. Vaughan
The Stolen Lands consume many wanderers—the perils of its rugged wildernesses and hidden mysteries prey upon even the wariest of travelers. Founded upon one of the most savage frontiers, the colony of Varnhold defied the many dangers of this harsh region. At least, it did until all the residents of the fledgling community completely disappeared. Now it falls to the PCs to discover what became of their eastern neighbor, a secret steeped in generations-old hatreds and the mysteries of an empire long crumbled to dust. Can they uncover the terrible secret behind this shocking disappearance before the same calamity befalls their own land?
This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path includes:
“The Varnhold Vanishing,” a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 7th-level characters, by Greg A. Vaughan.
A gazetteer of Iobaria, frigid land of savagery and fallen empires,
by Steven Schend.
Six new sites of adventure and mystery to expand your Kingmaker campaign, by Ed Greenwood.
A new Pathfinder’s Journal in which Pathfinder Ollix Kaddar and Phargas discover the price of gallantry, by J. C. Hay.
Five new monsters, by Ed Greenwood, Colin McComb, F. Wesley Schneider, 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.
A free web enhancement including a map and timeline of Iobaria was feature on the Paizo Blog.
The Good: -Awesome villain, sells it for me.
-Ok this is based of what is perhaps the most interesting mystery in US history.
-If you use Varn right he adds an amazing element to the story (intro him by book 2 invests your PCs.)
-Some great traps and pitfalls.
-Noman Centaurs are awesome despite the terrible name.
The Bad: -Hexploration, again, can't we just hire surveyors?
This adventure suffered from too much push to go straight to the end (which might be too hard for the unprepared). In our group, we didn't do very much adventuring to explore until after we'd defeated the end boss. This is because, as a good aligned party, we felt fairly obligated to try to save the missing villagers, and it was pretty easy to track them.
Still, taking back Varnhold from its new occupiers, and then eventually restoring its villagers was an epic tale. The final nemesis was appropriately evil and it felt like we were really started to have an effect on the world by eliminating him before he became a major threat, not just to us, but to the world.
I must say that these reviews have been TREMENDOUSLY helpful to me for running this module so as to have less of the 'railroad' effect straight to Vordakai that so many have criticised. The reviews have enabled me to enhance the payer's enjoyment of this third instalment of the Kingmaker series immensely by avoiding these pitfalls... As a result I have changed quite a lot in this module, starting off the adventure saying that 'the powers-that-be' have granted the players the rights to search the lands East to the mountains, but not over them. This gave the players some time to search these lands and complete a handful of the Quests including Silverlake, giving them time also to return to their home City in order to pick up more Quests, rest and recuperate, and then get the news of the loss of contact with Varnhold...
I also turned a random encounter with a Stygira into a more detailed mini-adventure as this ancient hag ominously met the party one night and demanded they trespass not into the mountain lands (where her labyrinthine lair is), and tell her more about their City. Utterly evil, she plans to scare the PCs into 'swaps' of information and yet imprison some Cityfolk to help her extend her lair until finally the PCs realise she is in fact not helpful to their cause and despatch her from the realms...
Finally I have added a series of running encounters with a travelling Dogcutter Goblin raiding party which will cumulate in a huge battle at their encampment featuring Bugbears and all manner of Goblins with PC levels (using the immensely helpful Goblins of Golarion and Lazy GM - Goblinoids .pdf available through Paizo).
Half-way through, this module is now going swimmingly well...
As is this adventure is good. I wouldn't say that it railroads the PCs so much as it has a definite destination the PCs will end up going to. That isn't a bad thing. Not all adventures are open ended, especially mystery adventures.
So I will say this. I added a bunch of interaction between the group of creatures and the PCs. I created a 'Kankerata Run' chase scene as well as an awards ceremony/festival of the moon. I realized pretty early on that many of the quests the PCs would need to accomplish couldn't be given to them while they were out in the wilderness. So I had the group of creatures give most of the quest to them. This basically extended the amount of time that the adventure took and provided a lot of decision making scenarios for the PCs and hid the 'railroad effect.' One side effect that the extension of the time frame provided was that it also allowed several more scenarios for the 'what lurks in darkness' to make appearances which built a lot of dread and tension.
All in all this adventure was my favorite kingmaker adventure to run so far! (Granted I put A LOT of work into it, but that is the nature of these sandbox paths though.
I gotta agree with the other negative reviews. While I really like the AP, I was expecting better. I was excited for the dungeon, but the adventure does railroad you strait to it. The land is too empty and honestly, just bland. The Varnhold lacks the flavor of the first two paths. I ran it and I didn't pull any punches, but my players didn't really struggle with it.
Last thing you should know. The big, bad monster at the end. The guy on the cover. His spell list should be modified. Nearly every spell listed is a "save for no effect," spell. It can be frustrating when everything your big monster does gets answered with a good roll for a saving throw and therefore nothing happens. This is the reason one of my players actually said, "Well that was anti-climatic". Of course if my players had rolled poorly, it probably would have TPKed. So I suggest changing some spells out for flat damage spells or something else.
I like the Kingmaker AP, just this one let me down.