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Pathfinder Society Scenario #7–99: Through Maelstrom Rift (PFRPG) PDF

****( ) (based on 9 ratings)

Our Price: $3.99

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A Pathfinder Society Special designed for 6th-level pregenerated characters.

Even the limitless Plane of Air is at risk of eldritch instability, and a cult dedicated to the planes' integrity has sensed an imminent calamity brewing deep within a primal storm. In this special adventure, the players portray a diverse coalition of elemental guardians that must embark on perilous journey into the maelstrom’s heart and avert a disaster that threatens the Inner Sphere.

Written by Linda Zayas-Palmer.

Note: Through the Maelstrom Rift is a limited release scenario. It may be run anywhere, but only by 4- or 5-star GMs. Venture-Officers may only run this scenario if they meet this star rating requirement.

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Product Reviews (9)
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Average product rating:

****( ) (based on 9 ratings)

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The League of Extraordinary Planar Characters

*****

First we had Goblins. Then we had Kobolds and Aspis. And now Paizo took it one step further: We Be Something Elemental. It’s Paizo’s latest scenario using a concept that has worked well in the past and it continues to do so, albeit it with a little twist this time around. Compared to the other scenarios, this time the pregens truly differ from another. Some are a bit more traditional, others are just unlike anything the majority of players have ever played or even heard of. They even have completely different personalities and motivations as well, making it an unlikely, but hilarious party.

The plot is fairly straightforward, but the location isn’t. That last part is important. In order to feel immersed in this scenario, the Plane of Air has to be brought alive. This is a difficult task since it’s completely different from real life, but the author did a great job providing plenty of examples of everyday life on that plane. They were quirky and playful. It really helped to set the stage.The encounters were are interesting as well. From finding transport to being adrift in the sky and the final encounter, they were all unique and fun. I enjoyed visiting this plane and I hope to do so with my PFS characters.

That’s not to say that the pregens weren’t fun. I had a great time playing Ember, and I think everyone else at the table had fun portraying their characters as well. They all contributed, though I feel like Zephyr and Rhyol struggled the most. I don’t believe I saw Zephyr cast anything other than Produce Flame during the final encounter, simply because the rest wouldn’t work according to him. I didn’t have time to check, but if that’s true, that’s a pity. Rhyol, on the other hand, did shine in battle. It’s a shame though that was only once. It left the player a tad disappointed as it somewhat felt like an anticlimax. At the end of the day, everyone enjoyed their pregen and their unique abilities, though some were sadly not used.

This pregen-scenario was a lot of fun. The location was excellent, the plot straightforward and the encounters diverse. Some characters might have a tendency to outperform others, but in the end they all played their part. Since we all did our best imagining ourselves to be those pregens, we ended up laughing to the point we could barely breathe. I suppose that is both a warning and a recommendation.

Just be aware that you need to prepare in advance as a GM, but also as a player. It might even be best if the party decides on who plays what pregen, just so they can get used to the relatively complicated and unique skills and mechanics. It's not newbie friendly. You will also probably need a bigger timeslot than normal, but in the end it’s worth it as there will be plenty of laughs to be had.


Fun and Interesting, if Oddly Paced

****( )

Through Maelstrom Rift is an interesting adventure that everyone involved in Season 8 should have a chance to play, which is why it's a shame that Paizo has made it one of their restricted adventures. It has a good mix of somewhat-unique challenges, though that occur in a bit of a strange order that left me wondering whether I needed to save some of my abilities in what might or might not have been the final fight.


GM's and Players be prepared...For Fun!

***( )( )

This scenario can be taxing on both players and GMs, but it can be equally rewarding. If your table wants to drive through it as fast as possible, it will not be fun. The sandbox like qualities of the first half of the scenario requires the players to be willing to get into the spirits of their characters, and the GM must be willing to improvise. Fortunately, the scenarios length is such that there is adequate time for roleplay and the players should be encouraged to explore this strange world and all its wonderful creatures. The GM should do some extra homework prepping for the adventure in the strange new plane, but most of all should be ready to let the players spend some time getting a feel for their characters.

The second encounter was extremely difficult to prep. Even the most experienced GMs at Gencon were running from table to table asking one another how they planned on doing it. I saw velocity charts and additional rules handouts and numerous other aids, and I wish the module would have given some optional tips to GMs, or even a photo of how the table was set up during testing.


Cool lore, but some mechanical problems

**( )( )( )

First, let me echo the warning others have made: DO NOT GM THIS WITHOUT SUFFICIENT PREP. Just don't do it. It's a "SPECIAL", so it should be special for the players (and can be, as evidenced by all the high ratings). It is also the hardest scenario I've ever prepped. If you want to run this at the level it deserves, you need to prepare thoroughly, and there's a lot of special rules, environmental bits, and stuff from Occult Adventures here.

Second, the good news, since the low rating might seem harsh: This scenario is not a typical PFS experience. It's extraplanar, for starters, but the encounters are definitely non-standard. It also has a HUGE amount of backstory and lore, which is fantastic - I love it when a scenario allows me to use campaign material and encounters to make a setting feel different than the usual places. The pregens are unique, with interesting backstories and even some secret mission-type stuff that really allows for some great roleplaying moments. It even has room for a GM to add some cool stuff of their own devising, which is a rarity in Organized Play. If I could run this in in a home campaign situation, I think I'd give it 4-5 stars.

The problems arise from the fact that all of this is supposed to happen in a standard PFS timeslot where people are playing on a table that can often barely fit a regular-sized flip mat, using very complicated pregenerated characters.

We'll start with that last one first: the pregens are complex. Non-standard races, lots of newer classes, abilities that aren't commonly used... There's only one PC I would give to a new player, and even that one is using rules that are beyond basic. That makes them fun for experienced hands - but dropping a class from Occult Adventures on a player unawares is not setting them up for success. Luckily, we had a player at our table who knew the class in question and offered to switch - without that, I think we would have bogged down as the new player read and re-read 40 pages of OA during the game, and still didn't play at full potential.

Spoiler:
It doesn't help that this PC is one with a "secret", so you can't even warn players about the class in advance without spoiling some stuff.

Another issue is getting "buy-in" from the group. People know what Pathfinders do, and they know enough about the Aspis to make that work, but this is a new organization with vague goals, and so my players didn't have much of a framework to hang their roleplaying and decision-making off of. Thankfully, the pregens all have inicredible backstories and handouts, which helps.

To me, a big mechanical issue was the physical space needed to run the first encounter properly. Without getting into details, the space involved is larger than any table I've ever gamed at. That's fine when you're running Call of Cthulhu or even AD&D, where the GM could just "ballpark" distances and narrate results, but in Pathfinder most players are used to dealing with the grid. You can't really use the grid in this one; even when using the tricks suggested on the GM thread and PFSPrep.com, the GM will be making some estimates and playing fast and loose with some of the rules. Not all players (or GMs) are readily accepting of this.

After the first encounter, the scenario seemed to proceed more smoothly - most players had gotten to know enough of their pregen that they could be effective. The second encounter is interesting in a way, since players expect A to happen when in fact it doesn't, and then doesn't happen again, and again... and then suddenly B happens, triggering a neat encounter. Unfortunately, there is a lot of GM box text and uninhabited rooms to get through before B happens at all, which loses momentum.

The climax is really good, though - first, because no one is sure if it will be the climax or not, and also because of some neat mechanical stuff that makes it more than just "fight the BBEG". This ends the scenario on a really high note, which is always a good thing.

I wavered between 2 and 3 stars for this one. The pregens and the complex first encounter took for us more than half the slot, and it's hard to recover if that part isn't fun. There are a lot of special rules that pop up at different points, and some of them are game-changing, so it's a big deal if you miss something. The prep aspect is a significant impediment. I spent about double my usual amount of prep, and I still had some issues in keeping everything running smoothly. I don't think I'd want to do that again for a game at a con where you don't have any flexibility in table size or time limit, and where lore and story can't always cut through the noise. That's the situation this rating is based on. If I run this again, though, I will do so as a home game, perhaps over two "slots", and really use all the suggestions and options in the first part to bring the setting to life - I think that will make it a truly "special" scenario and worth 5 stars.

I hate to provide non-glowing reviews of people's work, so I hope this is taken in the spirit it is intended, as useful feedback for future endeavours. Ultimately, this felt like adventure path material, crammed into a PFS box.


Kind of meh

**( )( )( )

Having run this twice, I'm really not impressed with this. There was next to no challenge throughout, and really minimal effort to really allow the different character to really show off their uniqueness. That was really the one big thing this one had going for it, but it sort of feels like all efforts where made to make sure everything was just sort of normal or trivial.

The story was ok, and has the chance to be epic, if PFS Golarion deviates significantly from normal Golarion's year zero concept, but I also have a strong feeling that the potential setting evolutions implied here will simply go nowhere instead.

The mechanics where very clunky throughout, and while I really miss the old school Faction Missions and handouts, it just was not handled here at all, serving to remind us how cool it used to be and then not delivering.

So far, Season 8 has been a lot more miss than hit from what I've read and run, but I'd rank this as the least interesting scenario of the lot. It also felt like a really poor choice to leave the characters nearly completely in the dark from the beginning in regards to their own affiliations, when this could have been a good opportunity to introduce a new organization or even possible Faction and have the Players discover things as their characters do.


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