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Pathfinder Adventure Path #82: Secrets of the Sphinx (Mummy’s Mask 4 of 6) (PFRPG)

***½( ) (based on 9 ratings)
Pathfinder Adventure Path #82: Secrets of the Sphinx (Mummy’s Mask 4 of 6) (PFRPG)
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Chapter 4: "Secrets of the Sphinx"
By Amber Scott

Forgotten No More

Deep in the Osirian desert stands the blank-faced monument known as the Sightless Sphinx. In search of the stolen mummy of Chisisek, the architect of the flying tomb of the Sky Pharaoh Hakotep I, the heroes track the cult of the Forgotten Pharaoh to its secret headquarters inside the sphinx. There they must face monstrous mercenaries and servants of the demon lord Areshkagal before finally confronting the masked cultists and their leader, the Forgotten Pharaoh, who has been possessed by a fragment of Hakotep’s soul.

This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path continues the Mummy’s Mask Adventure Path and includes:

  • "Secrets of the Sphinx,” a Pathfinder adventure for 10th-level characters, by Amber E. Scott.
  • An exploration of the sinister world of curses, by Russ Taylor.
  • Two exciting additional encounters in Osirion’s wastes, by Greg A. Vaughan.
  • Reptilian rage and unexpected rescue in the Pathfinder’s Journal, by Amber E. Scott.
  • Five new monsters to challenge player characters, by Michael Kortes, David Schwartz, and Larry Wilhelm.

Each monthly full-color softcover 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 world’s oldest fantasy RPG.

ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-591-4

Secrets of the Sphinx is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play. The rules for running this Adventure Path and Chronicle sheet are available as a free download (595 KB zip/PDF).

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscription.

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Product Reviews (10)
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Average product rating:

***½( ) (based on 9 ratings)

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Drags if run as written

**( )( )( )

It's been said somewhere that Mummy's Mask was planned out as three two-volume arcs rather than six individual adventures, for pacing purposes, but my opinion and that of my group is that somehow things didn't go according to plan.

This volume picks up after the player characters clear out a tomb and are in pursuit of a cult that's taken something. But there's no trail to follow, there is merely the second half of a desert hexcrawl that literally, and the only clue is that the cultists are hiding out in the northern half of the hexgrid page in the Player's Guide.

And running that hexcrawl as written, with the group checking each space, figuring out search patterns, just kills the momentum dead. Even if you're not running random encounters, the adventure stops becoming about the chase and more becomes about tediously filling in the map until you find something interesting. And while there are a couple of potentially interesting encounters to be had, roleplaying and otherwise, they're all predicated on your group choosing a path that finds them. As written there are no hints, no trails, nothing to break up the monotony.

And this becomes a problem, because without some of those roleplaying encounters the dungeon just becomes a series of rooms filled with enemies. The dungeon that makes up the last third of the volume is massive -- the map of the main level takes up almost a whole page of the volume at "1 square = 10 feet" scale (which means it won't fit on any reasonably-sized mat, and you're going to have to redraw at least a few rooms because halfway through you realized you screwed up the scale). There are two different factions jockeying for position within that dungeon, but unless you took the 'right' path and found certain encounters in the desert, there's no context for one of the factions. There's just, inexplicably, another group of cultists who don't like the other one. One encounter, unless the group would have the context, is nonsensical as written because it assumes the characters are familiar with the NPC's associates. The only option is to ignore all that story and turn him into a more talkative 'fights until dead' cultist.

As of this writing, my group is actually still in this volume, having gotten halfway through the dungeon, but between the hexcrawl and dungeon fatigue they're ready to just turn all of the macguffins they have over to NPCs and walk away. My players, openly dreading the possibility that the next two volumes of the AP will be more of the same, are ready to just give up and play something else.

The first two volumes of the AP go well together, because they get you invested in the city of Wati, and uncovering new layers of the necropolis makes for interesting exploration and keeps things fresh. The third volume, while a little all over the place in spots, at least has some flavorful mini-dungeon libraries. But this one, I'm afraid, is just endless desert and rooms full of nameless bad guys to kill. Maybe if the first half were a little more directed and linear, that would have helped keep the momentum up, but most of my players have rapidly lost interest in continuing the adventure path.


Let down by one major flaw

**( )( )( )

As others have said, this one is divided into two major parts.

The first part is a serviceable hexcrawl that takes place in the Nothern part of the Parched Dunes area the PCs started exploring the previous book. The goal, essentially, is to find the dungeon that is part two. This part is not particularly good or bad. The encounters are a bit ho-hum for the most part. I rewrote or discarded most of them to suit my group. There are also some optional encounters in the book that can be dropped in here and are more fleshed out and interesting.

The adventure falls flat on its face when you get to part two and the dungeon. The dungeon itself is not bad and has some fun,if occasionally excessively deadly, encounters. Where it falls down is the scale. It has a huge map done entirely on a 1 square=10' scale. Since the Pathfinder rules are written for 1 square=5', the map is actually 4 times as big as it first appears. The largest size Crystal Caste mat was not large enough for a small subsection of the map. I had to use a second, smaller mat to draw all of the rooms. This was less than a fifth of the dungeon. This map is just a huge pain to deal with. You either have to draw one part and lock the players in there or constantly draw, erase and redraw as the rooms they enter exceed the space available on your mat. The combination of a large map and the 1 square=10' scale makes things cumbersome and slow. The map is such a headache that I seriously considered just skipping the last part of the book entirely, cutting to the last fight, giving out the treasure from the dungeon, jumping the characters to level 13 and going straight to book 5 rather than hassling with it.


**( )( )( )

GM's perspective:

This from the GM's side of things is a rather boring chapter in the campaign. It starts too sandbox and then becomes a series of short encounters followed by an overly large and dull dungeon exploration.
Some encounters are just way too tough even for characters of the appropriate level. Some fights are just not suitably balanced.

I was a little disappointed considering how well the whole adventure path started off.


Very good mix of exploration and grind

****( )

I will start by saying I approach whats written in the AP books are a framework by which I add or subtract bits here and there and shift them around to fit the backgrounds of my player characters. I ran it for a group of 6 PCs online. As such, I'll approach this review with a pros and cons framework.

Pros:
I love the hex crawl part of the adventure. I'm always fond of areas of a prepublished adventure where I have the freedom to add or subtract from whats given as I see fit. So in the first part of the game I had a lot of fun with the landscape.

I enjoyed that the NPCs were well flushed out with clear motivations and ambitions

I though the way the BBEG of the book was extremely well handled and does an excellent job of setting up things to come. It also was an area that allowed me to play around and add bits in for backstory.

Cons:

I am never a big fan of massive dungeons and that is exactly what the Sightless Sphinx is. It has several factions working against each other and to me felt a bit crowded. Perhaps if some bits of it had been moved to a desert mini dungeon I would have found that more to my liking.

The maps are just too bland. There are rooms that describe blood stains yet you wouldn't get a sense of that from looking at the map. Beds are simply boxes upon the maps. Really disappointing as I would hope that with a good number of people playing either online or printing these out there would be more attention paid to making the maps reflect how interesting the environment is.

Overall assessment: I really enjoyed this book. Some of the encounters were very tough, others easy which is a good combination. There is room for your characters to breathe and explore though the Sphinx, as fitting to the grammar of the AP setting is, was just a bit too long.


Excellent Dungeon-Crawl

****( )

In Secrets of the Sphinx, part 4 of the Mummy's Mask, Amber Scott gives us more desert hex-crawling in the first half of the adventure and a large dungeon-crawl in the second half.

Likes
1) Magic Items: The Bronze Sentinel is by far my favorite magic item in the first four volumes of this AP. Lots of cool scenes come to mind when I imagine the PCs making use of it and it is keyed into some of the areas of the Sightless Sphinx. Overall, I liked most of the new magic items described in this adventure better than the ones in earlier chapters of Mummy's Mask.

2) The Sightless Sphinx: The large dungeon that makes up the second half of the adventure is the highlight of the adventure. It's a well-constructed dungeon-crawl that can be approached in a number of ways, offers opportunities for role-playing and allows the PCs actions in one area of the dungeon to impact things in a different area. Also, not every room needs to be explored in order to complete the adventure, which I think is really good thing when dealing with a large dungeon.

3) Moving Encounters: The Sightless Sphinx also features a few different groups of enemies that move around in the dungeon and which can be sprung on the PCs when the game slows down too much.

4) Scrying Chambers: Another cool feature of the Sightless Sphinx is that several rooms of the dungeon complex are linked by magic scrying statues that allow characters to spy into other rooms that contain similar statues. This is a really nice touch and opens up some interesting possibilities for a group of PCs going through the dungeon to strategize about how they want to approach different sections of the dungeon.

5) Hex-Crawl links: Some encounters in the Sightless Sphinx can be affected by how much exploration the group did before entering the dungeon and who or what they have with them (e.g. the gynosphinx from the previous adventure or the Bronze Sentinel found in the desert). In my opinion this elevated the overall quality of the Hex-Crawl in part 1.

Dislikes
1) Desert Hex-Crawl: As with the previous adventure, I found most of the encounters in the hex-crawl in Part 1 to be not to my liking. I'm not a fan of encounters that feature one interesting feature that happens to be protected by a random monster and this adventure features several of them: A dead body protected by a Baykok (see below), a river protected by Stymphalidies (see below), a boulder field protected by a blue dragon and a clay golem. This last encounter with the neurotic blue dragon seemed somewhat ridiculous to me. Here's a dragon that would rather risk death than take the chance of harming his work of art. Couldn't he just rebuild it after he destroys the PCs? Anyway, not my cup of tea but the encounter can easily be cut or changed without impacting the rest of the adventure.

2) The genie fortress quest at the end of the Desert Hex-Crawl felt sort of tacked on and I fail to see the motivation that the PCs would have to clear it out in the first place. After all, the genies have not done anything against the PCs and the Maftets offer them very little apart from the location of the Sightless Sphinx. In fact, it would likely be quicker in game terms for the PCs to just find the Sightless Sphinx on their own through hex-crawling.

3) Weird/random monster overload: It's nice to have some fantastical elements in an adventure, but in my opinion there were just too many weird monsters and NPCs in this adventure, most of which I had never even heard of: Girtablilus, Maftets, Baykoks, Stymphalidies, etc… Girtablilus and Maftets probably make up close to a third of the encounters in this adventure and I would have a difficult time portraying them competently due to my lack of familiarity with these monstrous humanoids.

Other Comments
The encounters provided in The Perilous Wastes article by Greg A. Vaughan are great and can be easily inserted in the Desert Hex-Crawling part of the adventure. In fact, I liked the two mapped encounters presented in this article better than any of the other Hex-Crawl encounters described in the main adventure.

Overall Impression
I found the first half of this adventure to be somewhat disappointing, but the dungeon-crawl in the second part is really cool and even manages to elevate the first part of the adventure by its design. I think that Secrets of the Sphinx is the best installment of Mummy's Mask that I've read so far. If I could I would rate it as 3.5 stars, but since I can't I'll give it 4 stars.


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