Pathfinder Adventure Path #43: The Haunting of Harrowstone (Carrion Crown 1 of 6) (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Chapter 1: "Haunting of Harrowstone"
by Michael Kortes
When Harrowstone Prison burned to the ground, prisoners, guards, and a host of vicious madmen met a terrifying end. In the years since, the nearby town of Ravengro has shunned the fire-scarred ruins, telling tales of unquiet spirits that wander abandoned cellblocks. But when a mysterious evil disturbs Harrowstone’s tenuous spiritual balance, a ghostly prison riot commences that threatens to consume the nearby village in madness and flames. Can the adventurers discover the secrets of Harrowstone and quell a rebellion of the dead? Or will they be the spirit-prison’s next inmates?
This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path launches the Carrion Crown Adventure Path and includes:
“The Haunting of Harrowstone,” a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 1st-level characters, by Michael Kortes
A tour of Ravengro, village of mystery and suspicion, by Michael Kortes
Expanded rules for creating and running horrific haunts, by Brandon Hodge
An ancient revenge is reborn in the Pathfinder’s Journal, by F. Wesley Schneider
Six new monsters, by Adam Daigle and Patrick Renie
Each monthly full-color softcover 96-page Pathfinder Adventure Path volume contains an in-depth adventure scenario, stats for several new monsters, and 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.
Though the kick-off to the Carrion Crown Adventure Path is a great one in concept, ties superbly to following chapters, and features all sorts of early opportunity for players to invest in a community, I feel that it gets bogged down in the execution of the prison of Harrowstone itself.
While the plot elements and five powerful spirits are all well-crafted, the place is so saturated by haunts that they became extremely predictable and, sadly, even wearying. Though it is traditionally a bit harder to find interesting enemies for starting parties to combat, this module does well in that regard. I feel this could have been far more effective with a few better-chosen haunts (like the furnace on the first floor) that have more dire consequences.
I felt that the interaction with Ravengro and its inhabitants, and the slow unraveling of the prison's past were the real draws to this AP, and I would recommend it, although with perhaps a few noticeable tweaks.
A lot of people seem to like this adventure very much.
I didn't quite as much.
For me it seemed less about horror but more about hack and slash dungeon crawl with undead.
The trust mechanic is terrible.
And I think throwing one big, powerful magic weapon at the PCs instead of letting them find several weaker ones lead to PCs sitting around during fights doing nothing because the enemies where immune to mundane weapons.
As the title states, this was by far the best of the first three parts of carrion crown.
There are many good things to be said about The Haunting of Harrowstone, as you can see in these reviews. I have just finished GMing it with my group, and I will join the choir. Sure, there are things that need tweaking - the trust point system for instance - but they are minor, to my eyes.
Depending on your group, the module can be played like a railroad or like a sandbox. You can give the players information that shoot them straight towards the mysteries, or you can let them explore the town and slowly uncover things. In my case, I have players that love a good mystery, and that actually want to bond with (or provoke, or quarrel with) the NPCs I put in front of them. And it has worked well.
The atmosphere is great, the writer created a good gothic feel to the monsters and the events. The NPCs are memorable and the hidden facts are possible to decipher without being too obvious, I think. The locations are dark and gritty, the monsters challenging and fun.
I like the fact that the prison actually influences the town. Instead of a dungeon far away in the woods, with the occasional raid or missing travelers, this dungeon makes a difference in town. In the tavern, in the town hall. As a GM you can increase the tension step by step, until the PCs realize that something precious will be lost if they don't act. And that makes the dungeon feel like it's actually a part of the game world. This is a really good thing.
An amalgamation of popular horror stories and themes in the land of things that go bump in the night may sound cheesy but so far has been excellent. It's like an RPG version of American Horror Story...everything that's ever creeped you out, even a little, is included but with brand new twists.
The vivid setting of this AP is the nightmarish country of Ustalav centuries after the fall of the Whispering Tyrant. Your group will be called for a seemingly straightforward task of attending a funeral but will quickly find yourself intrigued and repulsed by the strange happenings in the town of Ravengro. Soon your group will begin investigating a horrific mystery involving long-dead murderers and a possible link to the Whispering Way.
My favorite things about the first book of the AP:
1) Intrigue – The Gothic setting and the whispers of cult involvement piqued my interest in unraveling the plot lines.
2) Challenge – There are some genuinely dangerous encounters in the Haunting.
3) Writing– The game is supposed to be horror themed and it does not disappoint. The descriptions are well-written and add to the overall atmosphere of the game. Our GM chose to play spooky music during most games which also added to the feeling of delightful unease.
4) Originality – Many of the characters and events in this book are roughly based on popular movies and books. Still, each character manages to be unique and memorable. I didn’t feel like I was experiencing a string of copied and pasted stories with a new name tacked on.
Least favorite things:
1) Trust points – I don’t know what these are really but I’ve seen them mentioned in other reviews. If our GM used them she did it without our knowledge. We were told to have a secret in our character’s history that he or she would not share with the party right away. The secrets have added a really interesting dimension to the game.
2)A few loose ends – At one point some children in town were chanting a truly gory, disturbing song while playing jump rope. I was curious about if they were possessed or doing it intentionally and hoped to find out. After we cleared the prison we never really found out what the deal was so I assumed the kids were affected by the darkness from the prison. I think the little details like this could have been tied more neatly into the overall story.