Pathfinder Adventure Path #44: Trial of the Beast (Carrion Crown 2 of 6) (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Chapter 2: "Trial of the Beast"
by Richard Pett
The rampaging abomination known as the Beast of Lepidstadt has been captured! Yet rather than destroy the monster for its countless murders and untold crimes, the city council demands the creature receive a fair trial. Upon traveling to Lepidstadt, the adventurers find themselves caught up in the anger and investigations surrounding the Beast’s judgment. Soon it’s up to them to discover whether the legendary monster is truly a killer or merely the instrument of some greater evil—and either way, whether it’s too dangerous to be allowed to survive.
This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path continues the Carrion Crown Adventure Path and includes:
“Trial of the Beast,” a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 4th-level characters, by Richard Pett
An investigation into the secret society called the Esoteric Order of the Palatine Eye, by Brandon Hodge
Revelations on the faith of Pharasma, goddess of birth, death, and fate, by Sean K Reynolds
Terror upon terror for Laurel Cylphra in the Pathfinder’s Journal, by F. Wesley Schneider
Four exciting and deadly new monsters, by Rob McCreary, Patrick Renie, and Sean K Reynolds
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.
This book is what would happen if Frankenstein's monster got his day in court. This book is mostly an investigation but there's plenty of combat and tons of roleplay, especially in court, for the characters to experience. I loved the urgency of a time limit and if you manage to complete the investigation you will enjoy learning the truth behind each crime.
1) I still love anything to do with Ustalav. This time you're in Lepidstadt, home of the world famous university.
2) You meet a circus troupe of "freaks" known as the Crooked Kin. They are portrayed with dignity and as being afflicted by real disorders. Our GM had us watch the movie "Freaks" to prepare for meeting the Kin, which I also highly recommend.
3) Yet again, the plot is interesting and pulls you along to the end of the book. You are allowed more hints about the Whispering Way and transition easily from the first book to the second.
1) I think the themes inspired by other media blended well except for a clumsy cameo by what could only be the Candyman later in the book.
2) Perhaps we didn't investigate every tiny detail (our GM later told us we found everything but who knows) but there are still unanswered questions about the crimes. I can only hope there will be tie-ins later in the AP.
There is much to love in the second book of the Carrion Crown Adventure Path, but it’s impossible to convey just how goofy the whole experience is. I suppose I can attempt it, though.
Richard Pett and the other writers appeared to have two goals in mind when writing Trial of the Beast. The first was to create a lawyer simulation adventure, pretty much beat for beat a copy of the Nintendo DS game series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, while the second was to create a horror scenario about Frankenstein’s monster. I’m not sure if these two disparate elements were ever meant to be placed together in the same adventure, but just like Frankenstein created life out of random strips of body tissue, Pett cobbled a game that is both fascinating and fun (if not really all that scary).
I’m a huge believer that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system is best suited for two different types of game sessions: investigations and dungeon crawls, and Trial of the Beast offers up both in spades. The first half of the book was the attorney simulation portion, where the PCs play the role of a detective determining what crimes that a hulking golem has committed and defending his role in court. It’s strange that Pett decided to turn the story of Frankenstein into a courtroom drama, but hey, it works. The second half of the game involves a pretty epic dungeon crawl, viciously deadly and likely to kill characters, with lots of traps and terrain challenges. Both halves of the game almost felt like its own adventure and took about 8 sessions to complete (16 sessions overall)
Time is of the essence in all books of Carrion Crown, which adds quite a bit of suspense to the festivities here. Unless your group plays really regularly, though, this momentum can easily be forgotten, as first the group will experience many, many sessions of mostly roleplay and investigations, and then many, many sessions of only combat and exploration. When asking my group what they did and didn’t like about the adventure, the biggest comment was that the game would have felt more satisfying if it was written in a way so that both parts (the dungeon-delving and investigating) could be more throughout the entire book, balancing it out so players don’t get bored. Also, there was one battle about halfway through the book that turned out to be perhaps the most frustrating combat session anyone had ever experienced. The terrain in this battle consisted of a three story room and creatures that could create darkness and had climb speeds, and the whole experience left the group frustrated and exhausted. I played it out about how it was written, but I felt like I should have simplified the tactics a bit for player enjoyment.
Despite these complaints, I felt like this book was something unique, and overall I think this gamble paid off and created an extremely memorable and fascinating experience. I also prefer this game over The Haunting of Harrowstone, as that one had a lot less humor and surprises to it. If your players would love to play through just a good, old-fashioned murder mystery with a twist, Trial of the Beast may very well be the perfect backbone for your adventure experience. I’m excited to begin book 3.
Has very strong roleplay and hack and slash elements. Both sides of my group enjoyed it, until the end. The fina; battle is a huge let down, as is the battle in book 3. I use map tools, so I'm mostly just programming stuff in, and if its really horrible I usually notice when I'm running it;) Anyway, if I could do anything eover, it would be the boss battles of book 2 and 3, and rewrite them myself.
The Carrion Crown Aventure Path promises to deliver a survey of classic gothic horror tropes, and in this installment, gives us an excellent examination of Shelley's classic (which for you non-readers tells a very different story than Universal Studios did).
The story of the module is brilliant. Yes, the party is railroaded, but the road is built in such a unique way that my players actually would have engaged it without the monetary reward. By established pattern, the second part of an adventure is generally where the PCs begin to interact with the overarching story and this one brings them in strongly.
The encounters are challenging, on the whole. One early encounter has the potential to be rather harsh (this would be the one that the other reviewers complaining about ability damage refer to), but if the group has just completed The Haunting of Harrowstone (and learned even a little bit from it), they've likely developed solid tactics for dealing with this manner of threat. A challenge, sure, but nothing insurmountable.
On the topic of encounter design, I'd like to spend a moment discussing the "middle boss" fight (V&G for other GMs). Wow. If there were any one thing in print that the publishers of 3D dungeon terrain could point to and say, "Look! This right here is why you want to purchase our products!", the three-level combat, with obstructed sightlines, narrow footing, and dynamic environment of this encounter is it. Markers on a battlemat simply cannot do this fight justice. 5of5.
The story overall mixes a healthy dose of investigation into the combat however. This is one for thinking PCs who know how to fight; a pack of combat monsters who depend on the story to feed them clues will go hungry (and the design of the story allows for that, too). The fact that the party is on a rigid and unforgiving schedule throughout the first part simply adds another challenging dynamic: they'll have to manage resources in a way they aren't likely accustomed to.
The second half is also well-designed, though by this point it is much closer to a traditional dungeon crawl than the first part. Our heroes' reward for meeting the challenges of the first half is another cinematic, tough, confusing boss fight, with a very thematic and story-inspired surprise element that will challenge their teamwork in a very unique way.
If I were doing the same story, I'd be hard-pressed to come up with any suggestions for improvement. The Hergstag encounter area does have the potential to either be a TPK factory, or a repetitive tactical exercise depending on how (and when!) the party approaches it. The second part is likewise somewhat flat until the final encounter begins, but when it does, the players are likely to stop complaining about having an easy time up to there!
Interesting, but lacks strong hooks. The caravan of freaks felt tacked on and unnecessary. The PCs have no connection to the questgiver other than money. PCs not motivated by a conscience could care less about the Beast. PCs are after the necromancers who upset the prison and there is little connection to the questgiver, Beast and cultists. 2/3 of the adventure is the PCs trying to prove the Beast innocent by collecting evidence at different locals. This is also how the PCs get the majority of their AP--through deductions. Of the locations, the most interesting is Vorstag and Grines. Some variant monsters and unusual environments are the highlight here. Vorstag and Grine's also gives the PCs a chance to stretch their sword arms. The trial is heavily detailed, giving roleplaying parties a fun time, but for parties not into courtroom drama it is simply a series of skill checks. The lead-in to Schloss Caromarc is especially weak, with either the questgiver spoon-feeding it to the PCs or the Beast's "I have to go see my daddy now".
Nevertheless, the Schloss is the best part. Finally, a dungeon for hack 'n slashers! The map is beautiful and could be recycled into a Hidden Falls Dojo for your Tian Xia campaign. Parties without trapfinding may be disadvantaged. The estate is very atmospheric and holds the Frankenstein theme well. I like the final battle, but it steals the PCs thunder with a deus ex machina, where they cannot possibly beat the BBEG and survive.
Again, until Schloss Caromarc this is mostly a roleplaying adventure. There are foes to be fought as part of the investigations. Less detailing of the courthouse and removing the carnies could've given room for more motivation and connection between the PCs, Beast, questgiver and necromancers. Reccommended for a DM who knows his group and can better motivate them than what the AP has laid out, otherwise he may feel that he is railroading the PCs into forcing them to help the Beast.