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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures

***½( ) (based on 13 ratings)
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Horror Adventures
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There are things that dwell in the dark places of the world, in long-abandoned crypts or musty attics—terrible things that can destroy your body and shatter your mind. Few individuals would think to seek out such nightmares, but those drawn into the darkness often find it infecting them, corrupting them in ways both subtle and disgusting. Some believe those who die facing such horrors are the lucky ones, for the survivors are forever scarred by their experiences.

Pathfinder RPG Horror Adventures gives you everything you need to bring these nightmares to life. Within these pages, you'll find secrets to take your game into the darkest reaches of fantasy, where the dead hunger for the living, alien gods brood in dreams, and madness and death lurk around every corner. Rules for players and GMs alike pit brave champions against a darkness capable of devouring mind, body, and soul. To prepare to face such torments, the heroes can take new feats, learn powerful spells, and even acquire holy relics—for they'll need every edge possible to survive!

Pathfinder RPG Horror Adventures includes:

  • Corruptions that can turn your character into a powerful monster, from a blood-drinking vampire to a savage werewolf. The only cost is your soul!
  • Character options to help heroes oppose the forces of darkness, including horror-themed archetypes, feats, spells, and more!
  • A detailed system to represent sanity and madness, giving you all the tools you need to drive characters to the brink and beyond.
  • Tips and tools for running a genuinely scary game, along with an in-depth look at using horror's many subgenres in a Pathfinder campaign.
  • Expanded rules for curses, diseases, environments, fleshwarping, haunts, and deadly traps.
  • New templates to turn monsters into truly terrifying foes, from creatures made of living wax to a stalker that can never be stopped!
  • ... and much, much more!

ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-849-6

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Subscription.

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Product Reviews (13)
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***½( ) (based on 13 ratings)

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An Endzeitgeist.com review

*****

This massive hardcover clocks in at 255 pages - if you take away editorial, index, etc., you still arrive at 249 pages of content, which is A LOT.

I was gifted a copy of this book for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. My review is based on the hardcover of this book.

Now, the first thing I'd ask you to do, is to read the series of Miscellaneous Musings I wrote on horror gaming in general. Or least the last one. Why? Because it is my firm conviction that one has to establish realistic expectations in order to review a book such as this.

(The articles are fully linked on my page.)

Alternatively, if you already own it, there is a sentence in the advice chapter on running horror games that should be taken to heart: "Pathfinder is not designed with horror in mind." I'd like to elaborate on this, at least briefly. As I have established in my long, long rants on the subject matter, it is my firm conviction that you can run horror in PFRPG, even purist horror, but that the base system per se is more conductive towards playing the angle of pitting horror against the angle of heroism, of allowing PCs to have a shot against the darkness. While you can modify PFRPG to play akin to CoC, the game is simply more conductive towards the heroic angle.

It is a testament to PFRPG's versatility that horror of any way works in the first place, in spite of the focus of the game. Now secondly, I'd like to address two aspects of the game and what we can expect, with the first being character options. We are all aware of the vast array of built-options available for PFRPG and thus, it should come as no surprise that yes, we do receive a significant array of player- (or at least character-)centric options. Which would bring me to the first observation: It is my firm convictions that players should stay out of this book.

No, really. You see, quite a lot of the new class options, like the blood alchemist, elder mythos cultist, hexenhammer or medium spirit-variants like the butcher or lich (for champion and archmage, to give two examples) scream "NPC" for me. I know, it is perhaps not what you'd expect me to do, but ultimately, I consider the material here to be mostly intended for the GM. Yes, we have martyr paladins with stigmata and bloody jake slayers and serial killer vigilantes. Yes, some players will want to play these...but from my experience as a horror-GM, it may actually make sense restricting these...or simply not telling the players about the rules. Before you're asking, btw.: From a min-maxing perspective, you'll probably find better options anyways...but if that's a consideration for you when playing in a horror game, I'd strongly suggest thinking about priorities and of what makes for a fun game for everyone - see my long, long posts on the necessary contract/gentlemen's agreement between the GM and player.

That being said, there is one aspect I am holding against this book, in spite of the aforementioned previous considerations, and that would be that there is no dividing line between content obviously designed for players/good guys and that for villains - it does show in the archetype-section and, more than that, in the feat-section, where we can find REALLY cool Story-feats alongside a bunch of feats intended for evil characters or monsters - in the latter case often enhancing universal monster abilities and providing further numerical escalation - which would be less of an issue, if PFRPG didn't have this many options to gain access to precisely these abilities. In short, we are catering to a mindset here that kinda undermines the horror premise the rest of the book is trying hard to set up. In short: We also get a lot of alternate racial traits for the core races, which generally fit with the themes of horror, though the fortification they offer against these challenges don't really fit my personal vision of what I like to play in the context of such a campaign, but your mileage here may obviously vary. These are my least favorite aspects of the book.

But let's move back to the very beginning: The advice given for players when making characters for horror adventures is extremely sound and should most certainly be read carefully - the book spells pretty much out what I did, minus the advice on Achilles heels, but I guess you can't have everything. The notes on making a compelling personality etc. makes sense, and so does the advice of roleplaying fear. I am a big fan of the note that the book emphasizes conspiration and communication with the GM here.

One of my favorite parts herein would be the more diversified take on Fear: We are introduced to a 7-step progression tree of various states of fear, including rules on immunity to fear and how it should be used in conjunction with this system. It works pretty seamlessly, though I honestly wished the already widely in use cowering condition had been implemented here as well - considering the effects of the highest fear-level "horrified", the differences are not that pronounced. And yes, I am aware that this adds a bit of potential complexity to some options, but here at least, I consider the trade off worth it.

Sanity...is a bit more clunky. We get a relatively simple system: Add mental attributes together and you have the sanity score; half of that is the sanity edge. This determines the severity of the madness incurred when something exceeds your sanity threshold - which is equal to the bonus of the highest mental attribute bonus. When you incur a sanity attack and its damage exceeds the threshold, you gain a madness - simple, yes...but it does ultimately reward characters that are SAD on a mental attribute, whereas in my opinion, sanity-shattering effects often are made worse by understanding them properly, perceiving them properly, etc. The system is not bad per se, but it requires managing three scores and for that, it doesn't deliver the results I'm personally looking for in such a system. Your mileage may vary, obviously, but yeah.

The star-subsystem here would be basically PFRPG's take on dark powers-checks, so-called corruptions. These tie in with character flaws of the PC and represent a dark and malevolent stain on the character that slowly mutates them, granting benefits, while at the same time driving them further down the dark path. Where previously, in Ravenloft, you ultimately became a darklord, corruptions now have 3 stages, with the final stage usually turning you NPC. Progression along this path is via a variety of actions and they generally have a catalyst to first spring them on a character. These corruptions also feature tempting powers, so-called manifestations, which also come with a stain, a drawback, that is in relation to the behavior in question.

Now, first things first: At one point, I wrote a pretty long essay on how to tempt both players and PCs at the same time with horrific power and the psychological reasons to do so - while it has been cut and never been published, let me summarize: I argued that a weakness of the monster-transformation aspect championed by Ravenloft was, that on the one hand, the PC should be horrified by what he does, while craving the power in question. Similarly, the player should feel the same.

If there is a disjoint between player and PC, roleplaying suffers. The corruptions, when looking at them, are surprisingly tame - not in their visuals, mind you: The hive, for example, is really icky. Still, it is somewhat surprising to see the heavy penalty of corruption stage 3...and at the same time, the significant array of manifestations each corruption offers. Now, some folks have complained about the risk of being turned NPC being too high (it's a sort of game over, after all), but from a meta-design perspective it can be a motivator for munchkins to take heed.

There is another aspect to the system pretty much every review I read did not pick up on - and I don't get why. In my third essay on horror gaming, I talked about the realities of being a big publisher and not one of the underground one-man operations. I also talked briefly about the witch hunts our hobby is subject to, one that continues in some regions and circles. More than that, moral and aesthetic limitations vary within persons - more so between folks. As the big dog that Paizo is, it is pretty hard to sell "play a monstrously vile thing and the descent into evil" to a part of their demographic - though, in particularly the hardcore horror fans will want exactly that, the teetering on the edge of damnation experience, for from this precipice, the best redemption stories are woven.

Here's the beautiful thing about the corruption system: The increase of manifestations is not tied to the corruption stage progression. At all. You can retain the whole save mechanics, variants and the whole rest and just throw out the three stages. You can introduce as many stages as you'd like (perhaps 7 or 5, as previous editions of the game did - perhaps 13, if you want to go an occult angle...) - the system's validity remains. And yes, I'll confess, my kneejerk response was like that of many out there, to complain and curse about the 3 stages - but know what? This is by far the best and most detailed (and balanced) such system I have seen for a d20-based game. It covers the company and at the same time, easily allows for PCs and NPCs, for GMs and players alike, to enjoy a system I never expected to see in this shape or form from a big publisher. Now personally, I would have actually increased the potency of the corruptions if you're running with the stage-limit and NPC-threat...but, once again, that is if you're planning on playing a relatively tame campaign. The fact that each manifestation has its custom gifts and stains, completely divorced from the stages, means that you retain maximum control when tweaking the system to your needs. The fact that the save to resist progression is tied to compulsive behavior means that even it, as an aspect, remains valid, its tie to further manifestations in the save-calculation providing a roleplaying catalyst even without the presence of the threat of NPCdom.

The chapter on magic provides a wide array of thematically fitting spells that range from the subtle to the in-your-face blunt - sleepwalking suggestions, massive, gory blood effects and cursed terrain generally make sense and even otherwise pretty standard damage spells included herein sport nice visuals: Screaming flames? Yes, I can see that working. I am honestly more in love with the fact that we get a 5 pretty neat occult rituals here that all are amazing in their own way, with each having the potential to act as a proper plot-cornerstone. I wished we got more of them!

Now, I mentioned that I consider this to be a GM-book and indeed, the GM-section is a bit of a treasure trove in some aspects: We get a couple of new curses and advice on making more, as well as notes on cursed lands and items - if the topic interests you: Both Legendary games and Rite Publishing have released whole supplements dealing with curses, often in really creative ways, but that as an aside. Curse templates allow for the customization of curses herein. Now, the disease chapter gets my full-blown applause for disease templates - and e.g. the one named "incurable." It actually does what it says on the tin! (minus the usual wish/miracle-caveat) - this is amazing. I mean it. Diseases have, in pretty much every d20-based system, been afterthoughts, crippled, lame and ultimately were the lame brothers of poison. This changes that. The sample diseases like "brain moss" or "gore worms" also make me tingle and twitch in a good way.

Speaking of things I like: We get a vast number of cool terrain hazards, haunted spots and the like to add to encounters, allowing for quick and easy eerie customizations. Domains of Evil can also be found. You know. Domains. With dread fog. That modify how magic works. With hazards and potentially different flow of time. That are haunted. Yeah, let's stop teh pretense here: If you're like me and a sucker for Ravenloft, then this chapter will have you smile from ear to ear, even before the rules on nightmares and the couple of traps. These, btw., unfortunately are the roll to see and disable kind - particularly in a horror game, team effort, complex traps that require multiple tasks make for the more compelling option, but I digress.

Now, the next section of rules is something that I was looking forward to, since it had been featured, but never codified properly in rules at least not by Paizo (there are a couple of 3pp-forays into that territory)- fleshwarping! And yes, it is cool. It sports a ton of nice effects, but the system is, to a degree, a double-edged sword: On one hand, fleshwarping works really well and on the other, its price is perhaps a bit too high: Let me elaborate: Fleshcrafts can either be permanent grafts or temporary mutations, instilled by an elixir that requires succeeding a Fort-save to gain the benefits. The temporary prices and benefits and being keyed to slots etc. makes sense for the elixirs, but since the effects also sport a penalty, the price for the respective fleshcraft grafts is still pretty high when compared to magic items - baseline for the grafts seems to have been 1/2 of a comparable item's base price to make up for the drawback. Considering the disfiguring nature of these options, that may still be pretty high, though. It depends a bit. Chaotic fleshwarping mutations can also be found - and unlike the chaositech mutations of yore, these generally are detrimental.

The extensive section on haunts that follows includes templates for them (called haunt elements) as well as variants like dimensional instabilities, maddening influence, magical scars and psychic haunts. The array presented ranges from humble Cr 1/4 to CR 20, including classics like being buried alive or the twisted wish. Madnesses are codified in lesser and greater madnesses - big plus here: For once, a supplement does not confuse schizophrenia with dissociated identities. (Seriously, if I had a buck whenever I saw that being confused...)

Now, one of the most useful sections regarding GM-considerations would be the massive chapter that deals with running horror games - which not only classifies and quantifies horror sub.genres, their tropes, etc., but also mentions all the classics like lighting, music, creating an undisturbed environment, etc. - tricks for dealing with various snags, how to encourage horror roleplaying etc. - and it is sad, but obviously necessary that, beyond talking about what does and does not fly with individual players, overdoing it does not work. HOWEVER, I do actually disagree with one aspect - involving outside people. To have an unrelated accomplice like a spouse play with the light on e.g. a stormy evening - not all the time, but once or twice, can be rather effective...but I generally get why these disclaimers are here. This section, obviously, is targeted at less experienced GMs in the genre - and in particular such GMs will also appreciate the section on improvising rules for e.g. being buried alive, crumbling structures, etc.

Part II of my review can be found here!


Subpar book, mostly for GMs

**( )( )( )

This book has a lot of systems, mechanics, archetypes, feats, spells, environment challenges, haunts, curses, etc. While most of it is clearly presented and has enough flavor text to give you some ideas on how to use it, everything just seems to fall flat.

My two biggest gripes (I have more than just two):
1) The sanity system is horribly balanced, heavily penalizing martial characters, and it's effects are easily cured by powerful spells. Really poorly executed, why make the gap between martials and casters even worse?
2) Most of the Archetypes are realistically for GM use only, as they are very niche. I wanted to give my players a lot of cool horror themed archetypes to play with, instead they got a scant few.

This book really could have been SO much better. Disappointed.


Paizo Knows Horror and Here's Their New Toolkit!

*****

Paizo reviews come in two forms: players that whine because they wanted something other than what was in the book (^^^)and then gamemasters/players that actually review the material provided. This is a review from the latter.

Paizo has created some of the best horror themed adventures for Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons over the course of their existence. In this book, they round it all up and spell out all of the tricks and tips they use to make it happen.

I have written everything from adventures to comic books to film scripts and I would easily hand this book over to a non-gaming writer that needed advice on how to create horror. This book goes to great lengths to provide players with archetypes for classes to use in horror themed adventures as well as giving gamemasters tools they need to create horror in session after session.

Players get archetypes, feats, spells and new gear with which to battle the horrific forces of the multiverse. GMs get a ton of new tools including a nifty new Bestiary that brings us Pathfinder versions of Alien-style xenomorphs called the Hive AND a nice analogue for the Slender Man called the Unknown. Horror requires more than monsters, so you also get new rules on corruptions, curses, diseases, horrific environments, fleshwarping, haunts, madness and more!

Creating horror is more than giving players more 0's they can add to their attacks. It involves setting, tone, atmosphere and management of expectations. If you want to run a game that makes your players fear for their characters lives, then pick up this book and give it a read. Follow up with the recommended reading and required viewing and you'll get a feeling for how to instill dread in everyone sitting at your table.


More Like Evil Adventures

***( )( )

This book feels more like Pathfinder's version of the Book of Vile Darkness then horror themed adventures. Also this is a very DM heavy book though I thought it would be 70% player 30% DM but is actually the other way around.

The Good
-I loved the Dread Lord, Hive, Trompe L'Oeil, Unknown, and Waxwork Creature.
-I like the Corruptions.
-I like the reprint/expanding of madness rules.
-I like some of the magic items like mantle of life, monster almanac, and elder sign.
-I liked a few archetypes like the two for witches.

The Bad
-Too many evil archetypes, spells, etc.
-Do not like the sanity rules.
-Do not like the fleshwarping rules for characters.
-Most of archetypes were lacking or unusable for players.
-Very few interesting spells that are player friendly.
-Very few interesting feats.
-Not enough character options related to specific class features like wild talents, bloodlines, rogue talents, oracle curses/mysteries, etc.

I feel this book was a missed opportunity for same great horror based player character options. Such as expanded options for void kineticist like fear effects, controlling/creating undead, etc. new psychic disciplines, sorcerer/bloodrager bloodlines, oracle curses/mysteries, hexes, phantom emotion focuses, etc. I could even see some interesting ideas for rogue talents, rage powers, slayer talents, etc. I would have been fine with reprints like the pestilence sorcerer bloodline, kineticist void element, and other fitting options from past books.


A huge missed opportunity

*( )( )( )( )

For the most part, I liked this product, though I do have a few concerns. I was a little disappointed that so much of the material presented is for the DM only. There is some stuff for the Players, and plenty that Players could use if they wanted to, but it's clearly there for the DM's to use against them.

One of the main issues overall is that this book, designed for running horror games or introducing horror elements into gaming just doesn't stand out from other products from other systems well. For DM's that do have other experience and products to draw from, there just isn't much here that is needed or that they couldn't do themselves with relative ease, or just port in. However, for DM's that don't have much experience with horror games, I could see this being a decent intro guide. Not so much for players though.

Primarily that there just are not a lot of options for Players to fight against "horror" monsters or encounters, and in particular one would think that there would be plenty in here for Clerics and Paladins. Unlike many other hard cover products that introduce a new system or theme of play, this one is pretty lacking on ways and methods to incorporate the basic game into the style of play, except for some very basic RP suggestions, (what is your character afraid of?).

I was also pretty disappointed that so much Occult Adventures material was included here, especially when there really isn't a great deal of crossover themes between the two products and Occult Adventures was already kind of poor at doing it's own thing or being very inclusive of much of the core material itself. It really felt like Paizo couldn't get a lot of the Occult Adventure's stuff finished on time for that product and so sort of inserted it here, except a good deal of it arbitrarily has "psychic" prereqs, meaning only some of the Occult Classes can take those options, which is stupid.

I also found it kind of annoying that there was little for the CRB classes, but also just gear in general, magical or otherwise was pretty uninteresting.

All in all, these things just make the book feel very incomplete, which is a trend I see being repeated in Pathfinders Hardcovers since the ACG was rushed out.

I wasn't terribly impressed with the Insanity Damage concept, and I don't really see how looks, power of persuasion, or book learning relate to your sanity or resistance to loosing it. I thinking going off of Con would have been a better idea than Int or Cha, and the system is just odd, because really, even in the book, it seems the only attacks that relate to insanity deal Wis damage, (or as an alternative Sanity Score Damage). I'm not a fan of either implementation or the intention here. It really felt like someone had a pet peeve that their high Cha or high Int character didn't want to worry about Wis, (or maybe to show that high Cha characters are more sane?), and tried to force the system to work around that, but it doesn't actually seem to work. Why wouldn't a high Int and/or high Cha be a NEGATIVE insanity modifier.

The book kind of comes in as a combination of 3.5's Book of Vile Darkness and the more DM focused sections of Heroes of Horror and Ravenloft, (the later two I'm extremely bias towards, so that is certainly boosting this books star rating, maybe more than it deserves). The main problem though, as that it really takes a bit more from the former, which was, well, not so great. The later two are some of my favorite d20 based books out there, but I think this could have used an injection of player options to make it glorious rather than good.

As a Player Book, this one is a 1/5, though as a DM book, a solid 3/5. The lack of much for Players, the majority of the population just really hurts this book a lot, and honestly, I think that it would have been better to focus on the Player's side for this book, and break tradition to make the normal Player's Guide that follows (Haunted Heroes in this case) the DM focus book for this case. Especially as it would have done a lot to keep the DM tricks and tactics concepts out of the Player's hands in general.

I'm just going to go ahead and say it. I hated Occult Adventures, on it's own merits. It felt forced, unready, and didn't mesh at all with Golarion, much less generic fantasy in the same way that non-transparency Psionics didn't. A lot of the issue was how little interesting material, or how incomplete that book was for it's own new classes. Horror Adventures was mainly a hugely missed opportunity in that it seems Paizo tried so hard to fill the gaps from Occult Adventures by putting them in here, except for, well it doesn't work. Too little, too late, and too not for players.

EDIT: Honestly , this is probably my 4th or so edit of this review, and the more I read it, the more the stars just keep dropping (4 to 1 at this point). I want this to be better. I really, really do. But after further reading, giving things little time to sink in, and reexamining it, (and this is including with Strange Aeons), this book just doesn't hold up. For either Players or DM's. It's doubtful, but hopefully Paizo will take this all into consideration, and just redo the book. It's very hyped up, but just doesn't deliver. You CAN do so much better.


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