Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-19: Shades of Ice—Part III: Keep of the Huscarl King (PFRPG) PDF

**½( )( ) (based on 19 ratings)

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for 1st to 5th level characters (Tiers: 1-2 and 4-5).

Information in the Shadow Lodge headquarters in Whitethrone leads you into the Realm of the Mammoth Lords in search of an abandoned tower of a lost Ulfen king. The powerful weapon rumored to be there could be disastrous if it falls into the hands of those who plot the Pathfinder Society’s destruction; who will find it first?

Keep of the Huscarl King is part three of the three-part Shades of Ice campaign arc. It follows Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-15: Shades of Ice—Part I: Written in Blood and Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-17: Shades of Ice—Part II: Exiles of Winter. All three scenarios are intended to be played in order.

Written by Jesse Benner.

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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Average product rating:

**½( )( ) (based on 19 ratings)

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Average, not bad - some RP, some combat, some illogical spots

***( )( )

Average PFS scenario. Unfortunately, there are some logical encounter gaps at the end that you could drive a mammoth through - my players kind of paused and gave me funny looks when I told them about one of the middle encounters.

There's some great RP opportunity (which my players enjoyed, but didn't fully embrace) - the end fight would be a challenge at Tier 4-5, but at Tier 1-2 it was too easy (as is the case with many Tier 1-2 scenarios).

Definitely better written and scripted then a 2-star scenario, but not a 4/5 star adventure. There are some points where you can let players steer around fights, and I'd suggest doing so (don't steamroll the party into fighting needlessly, it's nonsense and also a big logical/storyline gap).


Winter is coming.. to an end

***( )( )

After the previous two parts, I was looking forward to finish this storyline in style. This part does a better job at setting the mood and scene. Though it's a railroad of scripted fights, which sadly have to be fights and can't be solved otherwise, part 3 of Shades of Ice provides the players with a good indication of what the surroundings are like. You get to meet local clans, diverse creatures and you are forced to deal with the inhospitable lands themselves. I quite enjoyed learning more about this corner of the world.

The fights are either really scary, or a walkover. There's no middle-ground, which is a little disappointing. The fact that you can't solve encounters multiple ways really annoyed me though. You're told that if you do X, they won't fight and when you act upon that information, you still get attacked. While I can understand why they're acting like that, it contradicts well-meant help given to you earlier. I spend an entire fight only spamming Stabilize and trying to use Diplomacy. It does not make for a fun or memorable encounter.

What is a memorable encounter though, is when you meet the leaders of a tribe and then face the big bad evil. Sadly that big bad evil isn't as scary as the first encounter in this scenario and ended abruptly when an NPC managed to crit the BBEG. That said, and combined with the boon, there's a lot of flavour to it and I'm thinking of getting a follower based around that.

Overall, it's probably the part of the series I liked the most, though the bar-fight in part 1 is the most memorable experience. It's not the best series out there, but it's still not bad. The boon is worth all the effort as well, so in the end I still recommend this questline albeit weakly.


Great story, otherwise average.

***( )( )

(I GMed this.)

I must say, I adore the backstory to this adventure, and I love that it features so prominently in the scenario. I do think that it's a bit infodumpy, but it's much better than what I get from a lot of other scenarios, where you barely get to know anything.

Other than that though, it fails to really excite me. It's a big boring railroad that doesn't give players many options. People kept attacking the group for no reason and the way it's written, Diplomacy doesn't work, which is a shame.
There's an encounter in the middle that I sort of liked. It's set up as a trap and it makes sense, but is maybe too easily avoidable if your players have half a brain. I set the scene and took my time explaining, but once my players solved it, they had this "that's it?"-feeling I couldn't really alleviate.
Fights are either pushovers or life-threatening. First combat is pretty explosive, but then nothing ever really came close to that. If monsters had slightly more HP they would've posed a challenge, right now they're just a speedbump.
The environmental challenges were a bit weirdly worded, which didn't really help for me as a GM. This could've benefited from some more editing.
Something similar happens with the roleplay encounter. There's a big chunk of text devoted to it and it's hard to filter out the necessary information. A bit more structure would've been appreciated.

I do love the help you can get in the final fight. It's something that made sense and it's something that I haven't seen yet, both of which are pretty big pluses. In the end, it wasn't really necessary, but it was a nice addition.

It's a nice way to end a trilogy, but I'm not sure why they thought this would make for an epic story. With multiparters I'd expect something above the norm, but this series felt really below par. There's nothing really there that stood out for me, which is a shame, because the last part did a valiant attempt to save it.


Played it twice! GMing it next!

***( )( )

This review has tons of spoilers. Watch out!

I had the weird opportunity of being able to play this twice, and mostly not even remembering the first play-through. So I have two different impressions of the module, and both are terrible.

My first play through happened maybe 3 years ago. The trilogy was my very first experience with Pathfinder, at KublaCon. In the first module of the trilogy, I had my brand new level 1 bard, and I was playing with level 3 & 4 characters, and they wanted to "play up." I had no idea what that meant at the time, but they assured me that they would keep me alive.

In the very first round of the very first combat of my very first game, I died. Even worse, the players blamed me. They said I didn't know how to build a good character, and therefore it was my fault. I really wanted to quit. I left, didn't stay for the rest of that game.

However, I had signed up for the entire trilogy and was stuck at the hotel, so I played part 2 with a new character. I lived. So, I got to part 3, this module. I remember nothing about the module, except the end.

Spoiler:
At the end, we fight a girl with a flaming sword. I charged in with my "barbarian who was built well and should live." The girl got a swing at me, got a critical hit, and killed me instantly. I remember thinking that the amount of damage she output was brutally unbalanced for a module of our level. I couldn't believe anyone was intended to survive it. I was scheduled to play more days at KublaCon that year, but I left early. That was too much of "not fun."

A year after that, I found a local group doing PFS and began playing regularly. And a year after that, I had a chance to use my GM star to replay a module. All I remembered about the Huscarl King was that I died, and I intended for that to NOT happen again.

This time, what a difference.

Spoiler:
The end fight was mostly trivial. I don't really even remember it. But I remember something else. I remember being actively upset with the GM, the module, the module author -- anyone who was involved with that ambush in the gulch. When the GM laid down a map of the "ice alley" and said we were going through it, I said no. I said, "That's a kill box, and enemies will rain arrows down on us, and we will be helpless to stop them. I am not taking my military guru into an obvious ambush."

The GM said that there was no way around it. We could travel for weeks and we would never find another way to get to our location, he said. (It turns out, that is a total lie, and the module has text right in it for people who go around.) OK, so I said that "I refuse to be on the ground, then. I have ice picks and a climber's kit, and I intend to 'walk the wall' all the way to our location." The GM insisted that was also impossible -- the ice was shattering and falling apart any time I tried to climb; the only way forward was on foot.

At that point, I said out loud, "This feels really bad. This feels railroaded. I don't like this." The other players chimed in, goading me to get on with things. So, I did. "Fine, I'm on foot, heading into a certain ambush, like an idiot." And of course, there was an ambush, although it wasn't arrows, it was cattle or bison or something. And then the most spectacular thing happened: everyone climbed the ice wall to escape! Everyone but me, that is. Everyone but the guy with the climber's kit, the guy who had just tried to climb the wall previously but was told IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE. They all look at me like, "Get up on the wall!" but I'm refusing. I tell them this makes absolutely no sense. I tell them that my character just tried that and it was impossible, so his choice would be to stand his ground and die honorably. They tell me to just get up on the wall. I draw my axe and begin swinging against the onslaught of the stampede. Everyone shouts that I will die, that the module has a clear way to escape the danger. I reply, "I'd rather lose the character than have him live by doing this bizarre, broken, railroaded nonsense."

Next month, I'm slated to run this trilogy. I have for the first time begun to read it. And it's disappointing to see that some of the railroaded garbage actually IS in the module. However, much of it is not. A lot of the problems with this module appear to come from swingy fights and GMs who don't read. So I have hope that the module CAN be a good game. I intend for that to happen.

EDIT (June 5, 2017): I've run this multiple times now. I'm not changing my review rating, but I do wish to make a few notes. First, the module isn't that railroaded. That was bad GMs. The module has plenty of text to accommodate players who wish to go around things, try other options, etc. Also, the final fight really IS weak. I found a way to sorta "rules lawyer" the mechanics of the final fight so that it could at least try to present a challenge (mechanically, you should almost always be able to survive long enough to get the villain's super-strike into action). However, if the players enjoyed the role play with the tribe at ALL, they will have help and cakewalk the BBEG. It bothers me that even a rules expert cannot salvage what should be an epic conclusion. It almost always ends in a whimper.

So, module text is better & more open-ended than my initial impressions. Final fight is much weaker than my initial impressions (unless you crit, in which case the players will howl about how unfair it is, as I did).


Fun story, bad design

***( )( )

The Good:
Gives a well fleshed-out glimpse into the Realm of the Mammoth Lords. The roleplay towards the end that can actually get you tangible aid was cool; it's not something you see in many scenarioes.

The Bad:
The story just railroads you from one combat to the next. To add insult to injury the combats are far too easy even for a party of 5. The environmental hazards are also pointless because the scenario just gives you what you need to not care about it.


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Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

Announced!

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

This has a nice "Against the Giants" feel to the title. Presumably, though, the Venture Captains won't be sending their 1st and 2nd-Level operatives against frost giants...

The Exchange RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16

Speaking of which: What's a "huskarl king"? Huscarls are Norse nobles, something like a king's honor guard of earls. Is a "huskarl king" a combination-rank like a "lieutenant colonel" or more like "the king that the huskarls guard"?

Paizo Employee Franchise Manager

This scenario's eponymous Huskarl King was a huskarl who used the riches gained in the service to his liege and set out to form his own kingdom deep in the savage Realm of the Mammoth Lords.

Contributor

Description updated!

The Exchange

And then?...


Doug Miles wrote:
And then?...

I refuse to play your Chinese food mind games!

The Exchange

Perhaps you would like to debate me regarding how intelligent a squirrel is then? I challenge you to a pointless argument!

Contributor

Now available!


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Paizo Charter Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
Doug Miles wrote:
Perhaps you would like to debate me regarding how intelligent a squirrel is then? I challenge you to a pointless argument!
Liz Courts wrote:
Now available!

A pointless argument is now available?! Sign me up! This'll be even better than those epic level rulz warz.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting, Companion, Modules, Pawns, Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I got a chance to play this story arc, finishing with the third act just yesterday. I truly enjoyed the scenario with the story it provides and the game play elements implemented. This third arc, in my opinion, completes the story introduced in the first act which i enjoyed as it tied together from where we started. I also liked the expanded role-playing element with the story-telling aspect introduced in the third act as most scenarios, some scenarios more than others, favor combat over RP and I liked the balance with this story. Awesome job guys and keep up the good work!!


the Haunted Jester wrote:
I got a chance to play this story arc, finishing with the third act just yesterday. I truly enjoyed the scenario with the story it provides and the game play elements implemented. This third arc, in my opinion, completes the story introduced in the first act which i enjoyed as it tied together from where we started. I also liked the expanded role-playing element with the story-telling aspect introduced in the third act as most scenarios, some scenarios more than others, favor combat over RP and I liked the balance with this story. Awesome job guys and keep up the good work!!

+1 to HJ

I ran this for the first time yesterday. definitely the best of the trilogy. You can combat it, you can RP it, you can do both

Silver Crusade Contributor, RPG Superstar 2010 Top 8

Novalord, Jester...
Mad love for you both.
Thanks for the kind words, they are appreciated and I'm glad you and your Pathfinders had a good time and--hopefully--survived.
-JB

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Campaign Setting, Companion, Maps, Modules Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

There is one small error that I noticed in the PDF edition:

Spoiler:
The Beasts of Bygone Days has the map labeled as being part of the Temples map-pack, however the mushroom cavern is actually a part of the Caverns pack

Liberty's Edge

One question I had running it:

Spoiler:
If the PCs decide to give the axe back to the tribe, should I cross it off their chronicle sheet? That seemed correct, but nowhere on the sheet or in the adventure did it mention it, so I didn't.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Spoiler:
If it does not tell you to cross it off, do not. Chronicle rewards are a bit abstract, as shown by multiple people being able to have the same unique item.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar 2013 Top 16

I've just run Shades of Ice 3 a second time, after going through 1 and 2 with the same group. I just thought I'd reiterate what I said in my review: I think people are being unnecessarily harsh with this one. It's not as good as parts 1 and 2, but it is still a solid scenario. I've run two groups through it and they've both enjoyed it; some unfortunate rolls made it much more challenging for the second group. The impression from the reviews is that this is one to avoid and I simply don't think that's fair.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber

Running Shades of Ice while home in Ohio for the summer, my group consisted of my childhood best friend, his brother, my wife, my brother, and my brother's friends. They thought the entire series was a blast and enjoyed the huge amount of roleplay in this final installment. The problem of easy combats was mitigated by their party being varied in levels and having to play the high sub-tier. Table variation may be the culprit, but I have no complaints with this scenario.


Ooog... I don't plan to run this, I just want to use it as fodder for a solo campaign for my wife, the Barbarian Mammoth Rider yet-to-be (level 1).

I came across one part that I thought odd...

Spoiler:
The Snowmask Clan plans to use this area as a trap. What the heck? Does it bother to mention why the Kellids wanted to screw with the party and THEN invite them to parlay? Damaging your food base just to haze some stupid newbs? That doesn't make sense to me.

I hope Season 5 does more with Kellids and the threat of the World-Wound from the East. For my solo campaign, my wife has to decide if she's going to get a chunk of the Broken Shield of Aroden to the Pathfinders, try to remake it and claim it for herself, ditch the wood and pursue her own goals, fight the demonic threat in the East or what. Pre-written encounters I can use to get my Level 1 wife a good start are happy for me. :)

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber; Pathfinder Card Game Subscriber; Pathfinder Comics Subscriber
Romaq wrote:
I came across one part that I thought odd...

Spoiler:
Once the PCs survive the trap, the Kellids realize these outsiders aren't going to be dissuaded and seek to parley with them. If the Aspis agents hadn't outright attacked them when challenged the PCs might have been spoken to in the first encounter rather than attacked. If the PCs have spared or saved other members of the tribe in earlier encounters, this might also have helped convince the Kellids that they should finally speak with this separate band of outsiders.

Ah. I didn't quite read through the scenario at that point. In any case, I hope to see more Kellid material in Season 5. That might also force Paizo to come up with more "Mammoth Lords" map material. I'm not so enthused about the current winter offerings, but I lack the expertise to make up my own just yet. Thank you for commenting, TriOmegaZero! :)

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