Pathfinder Module: Down the Blighted Path (PFRPG)

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Pathfinder Module: Down the Blighted Path (PFRPG)
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It Runs in the Family!

More than a hundred years ago, Delbera Axebringer—a mighty warrior and dwarven leader—slew the necromancer Audalot Karexin, but spared his young apprentice Zohir. In the ensuing decades, the bitter survivor brooded and plotted her revenge. Now, descendants of the Axebringer clan are vanishing, dragged screaming into the darkness by the animated bodies of their fallen kin. The Axebringers and their hometown of Davarn need heroes to break this family curse. What mysteries lie sealed within Delbera Axebringer's ancient abandoned fortress? And what challenges lurk along the Blighted Path winding through the Darklands beneath Golarion's surface?

"Down the Blighted Path" is a deluxe adventure for 5th-level characters, and includes 64 action-packed pages of exciting battles, supernatural mysteries, and monstrous foes, plus a gorgeous double-sided poster map featuring an overview of the dwarven trading post of Davarn and a miniatures-scale battlemap! The author of this adventure, Monica Marlowe, was the winner of the 2015 RPG Superstar contest, in which hundreds of unpublished authors competed for the chance to write a Pathfinder Module. In addition to her adventure, this book contains a host of new monsters and magic items designed by the contest's runners-up.

Players can expect to reach 7th level upon completion of this adventure—if they can survive its deadly haunts, Darklands horrors, and furious villains both living and undead!

ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-815-1

Down the Blighted Path 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 (418 kb zip/PDF).

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Modules Subscription.

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Product Reviews (1)

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Solid Darklands Adventure

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For an explanation of how I use the five star review method, see my entry on So What's the Riddle Like Anyway? HERE.

Before I begin this review, I should point out that I consider Monica Marlowe a friend. We shared hosting duties on the RPG Superstar New Viewers Guide and have stayed in communication outside of that thread. Having said that, it is my belief that honest criticism is important in helping people grow as artists. So I will be looking at this adventure with as honest a point of view as I can give. I mention my friendship with the author so anyone who reads it may judge for themselves whether I let my connection influence my opinion and weigh my words accordingly.

I will also point out that in reviewing this adventure module, I will be giving out parts of the plot. So if you plan on playing this adventure be warned that there are SPOILERS AHEAD.

Down the Blighted Path is the winning module design entry for RPGSuperstar 2015. The main adventure covers a revenge plot by an evil fey creature named Zohir Totek, who is a death obsessed type of faerie called an orphne. She wishes to revenge herself for the loss of her mentor and potential mate by destroying the family of one who killed him: Delbera Axebringer, a famous dwarven hero. Though the hero is long dead, Zohir plans on raising Delbera as an undead servant and—using the dwarf’s magic axe as a focus for her ritual—kill and do the same to the entire Axebringer clan.

The adventure starts with a cool little mini-adventure in which the PCs can participate in a friendly competition to celebrate the coming of spring in the dwarven town of Davarn. The attached foldout map has the obstacle course used in this part of the adventure detailed out for miniature use, making for a great start. I wondered at the decision to make a minor part of the story the fold-out map, but most of the other encounter areas are very straight forward and this one is somewhat complex. So I’ll give it a pass, but given what comes later I’m really not sure this was a great idea. Still it’s a fun opening mini-game of sorts and a good way to get some connections made with the NPCs

At the feast afterwards the town is attacked by undead dwarves, skeletal warriors made from the guards of Firebrand’s Redoubt. After defeating the undead, the townsfolk ask the PCs to investigate the old fortress/tomb while the town guard mops up any remaining skeletal dwarves. The Redoubt is a very cool fortress designed like the dwarven axe it is named for (and based off the absolutely amazing map done by Monica as her Round Two Entry). It has duergar, a forlarren spy, and the shattered spirit of Lady Delbera Axebringer. There are a series of haunts that not only are very cool and evocative, but help the GM gives clues to the PCs about how to get to Lady Delbera’s ghost and get important information from her. This whole area is a really neat mini-dungeon with a great combination of role-playing, problem solving, and combat. I really appreciate the information in the sidebars to help with tying the party emotionally to the adventure in addition to the usual background expansion.

The second chapter takes the party down the Blighted Path itself, a series of caves, tunnels, and mine shafts polluted by an unusual outcrop of radioactive lazurite. This substance is usually only found in the lower reaches of Sekamina and anyone who dies within its radiance has a good chance of rising up as a ghoul. This is what gives this route its name. There are a good number of interesting encounters on the path to Phaedextrin’s Maw, a massive underground canyon where Zohir Totek’s fortress lies. They are for the most part combat or hazard encounters, but there is an unusual cleric of Rovagug who can actually be —somewhat—helpful if approached properly. A touch of roleplaying again amongst the combat and problem-solving.

Among these is a modified version of Monica’s encounter entry submission. That original encounter has been divided in two: the dread glutton (now renamed a fear eater) is moved to the Blighted Path itself while the Hanging Gardens of Karexin have a whole new set of monsters to fight. I like this as it keeps the hanging gardens a significant encounter, but not the penultimate one that it felt like from the original submission. It also lets the fear eater shine in all her repulsive glory without taking from the plot.

Here I will bring up my first real problem with this module: a major lack of encounter maps. ALL of the areas between the Redoubt and Zohir’s tower in the third chapter have no encounter map. None. Now that said the descriptions of the areas are fairly straightforward as are the encounters themselves. Fairly easy to set up for miniatures or for general “theatre of the mind” style play. But it also means that the encounters lack any depth with cool terrain or hazards. Straight up fights are OK for some, but I like them frequently changed up with something more complex. We do get such encounters in the Redoubt and the tower, but having such a long section free from such variety is not a good choice in my opinion. That the fear eater’s garden doesn’t get a map is almost a crime. It is something I would have loved to see. If space was an issue, why not place the maps on the inside of the back cover instead of a retread of the cover image? It’s a beautiful painting, but not much use in a game session.

At the Maw, the party has an opportunity based on role-playing decisions to get help from a local Svirfneblin village. But it is also possible to lose that help entirely by not helping some desperate gnome rangers with a couple of redcaps. Regardless of how that turns out, the party then has to locate Zohir’s tower built into a giant stalactite and then figure out a way across. The way Zohir and her servants use to get across is provided (trained mobats), but other options are available.

Once across, the party makes its way through a fairly standard dungeon—albeit a fairly cool looking inverted stalactite tower. What works here are the characters and the logic of the whole set-up; these monsters are in their rooms for a reason and will respond to threats in a way that makes sense. The final fight with Zohir could be quite chilling if her undead and necromantic abilities begin to take a toll on the party membership. With the adventures conclusion, it is possible to use the maps and route taken to open up the campaign to the Darklands, or use Davarn as a base for adventures in the Five King Mountains, Andoran, or Druma. Very flexible and thus much easier to insert into an existing campaign.

Overall, I like that there are options at almost every point in this adventure to move in multiple approaches to the encounters. That said, the arc of the story is quite linear and the order of the encounters is fairly rigidly set—excepting Firebrand’s Redoubt. Unsurprisingly with a name like the Blighted Path, it moves in one solid direction. But enough options and variation are included that this feels very natural and has a good flow. Too many adventures end up with a locked down encounter series that feels like the party has no say in what happens. Not so here: the party can decide to go against the grain a little and the module doesn’t collapse. In fact it covers a number of the contingencies well in sidebars and other in-text suggestions. It feels organic and keeps the players in control of their actions. That’s good game design.

As for the story, it is tight and well thought out. That said its plot is very simple and has been done in various forms many times over the years: town threatened by evil force, players recruited to deal with the threat, investigation leads to journey to evil lair, kill the big bad. That’s fine; most stories and adventures follow along a few simple setups like this. One form—the Heroes Journey—has been used in everything from Star Wars to the Harry Potter series. The heroes and villains are what make each story unique; the players provide the heroes, so it’s up to the villains to make this adventure fly.

That is very well covered. Each antagonist from Sarxa, a forlarren spy, to Zohir herself is well thought out and acts in a believable manner. The orphne come across as David Bowie’s Jarod from Labyrinth with a death fetish. Regal disdain covering deep passions and twisted evil makes for a very striking and memorable final battle. In fact I will go ahead and say that between the description, write-up, and art the orphne have now become my favorite fey. They are the perfect blend of gothic glam and dark faerie tale. Wonderful!

The first appendix include a gazetteer on the town of Davarn which is interesting and can easily be used as a base of operations for adventures in the Five Kings Mountains. I like the above ground farms and villagers connected with an underground dwarven town. Most dwarven communities are all underground or great stone fortresses; this makes for a unique town and a nice change of pace.

The remaining second appendix covers monsters created for RPGSuperstar 2015 and the module, and the third is a collection of magic items from the first round of that season of the contest. I like the final monsters and items selected, but I am somewhat surprised by how few items made it in. Monica’s own spectre blight didn’t make it in. Limiting the numbers makes some sense and spreads around the credits, but with Monica’s monster entry—the narrik—in (and an encounter added to the adventure as well), it was just one spectre blight away from every entry she made in the contest being involved. That would have been a first and very cool.

The presentation is top notch with the interior art (especially of the monsters and NPCs) being as good as I have ever seen. My personal favorites are the duergar fighter on page 18 and that of Zohir on page 46. They really are amazing! I will have to point out to the negative that there are a number of typos lying around. The loss of an ‘n’ produces a “Dow the Blighted Path” in the sidebar on page 5 and there are a few “thes” and “ands” missing here and there making for awkward sentences, as well as a repeated “fire damage” on page 16 in the haunt description. I was startled by the number; usually Paizo’s proof readers don’t miss this much. But this is a quibble that hardly makes the module less enjoyable or useable.

Final Thoughts: Overall I really like this adventure module. It is beautifully put together, has an exciting and challenging adventure with cool villains and interesting NPCs. The flow is linear but not dominantly so and the visual elements in the encounters are very good. Lacking is map support which would have allowed for more varied encounters through the middle section (the Blighted Path itself). While not revolutionary, it is a very solid, well written adventure that can act as a doorway to the Darklands for a campaign or as a stand-alone adventure. I'm giving it 4 stars out of 5 as while it is a very solid adventure it has some definite deficiencies (Maps!), and doesn't have enough of new ideas and material to make it "must have."