The Manyfaced One

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A disappointing book...

2/5

After over two long years of waiting, I finally got this book in my grubby dwarven hands a month ago. I lovingly put it on the shelf to wait for a couple of weeks, so that I could savor it in peace. When I eventually had a whole evening to spend on reading it carefully through, I felt confused. I had had really high expectations for this book, so why didn’t I feel excited and inspired by its contents?

The book begins with a nice history section, and then describes all the major players, guilds, houses and factions in the city, including the participants in the War of Strings. I also like the parts about architecture and culture, and the glimpses at what a typical day and a year will be like for average residents of Absalom. All of this is great material for GMs, although honestly, I thought something similar to the ”Entwined Destinies” section at the end of Lost Omens : Legends would have been super helpful, perhaps even mandatory part for a book about Absalom. And in my humble opinion, that is where the good stuff more or less ends, on page 77, unless you count those chapter-opening art pieces of each district, which are great.

I had expected something like Worldwound, City of Strangers or Rule of Fear, with loads of inspiring locations, story hooks and NPCs. In secret I had even hoped this book would be just like the excellent Sandpoint : Light of the Lost Coast, which includes quests and adventure seeds for every location and NPC mentioned in the book. Well, I should have realized that it’s probably not going to happen in a book that describes over 250 locations and 400 NPCs.

And that is kind of my point; this book was (obviously) a very ambitious and time-consuming project. It is also a prime example why sometimes less is more, and why deadlines are deadlines. The number of NPCs and locations in this book is just overwhelming, and sadly, I think most of them are not very inspiring and some may even be completely irrelevant in many campaigns. In my opinion the writing feels very ”forced”, and thus many locations feel like boring landmarks, and almost all of the NPCs lack interesting goals or ways to hook them up with PCs.

And that brings me to another major failure in this book: the lack of any real adventuring content. There are many sidebars containing brief story quests and encounters, but IMO most of these are tired old clichés or outright jokes. Even the better ones are not very imaginative, either; there are living mushroom threatening a fungi farmer, and a kobold tribe harassing sewer workers, and… that’s pretty much it.

Where are the Key-lock Killers, Choppers and other local boogeymen and legends of Absalom? Where are the local haunted alleys plagued by shadows, ghosts or ”mystery slayers” such as Walcofinde or Living Graffiti? Where are overall the mysteries, enigmas and secrets of this metropolis for the PCs to discover? I even felt a bit cheated to see those ”ready-built Undercity locale” maps, all of which were first published in Last Watch. I have a hard time believing there are no unpublished dungeon maps lying around in the Paizo office, but for some reason they recycled maps from a previous Adventure Path.

To be honest, there are a couple of decent campaign seeds mentioned in the book, but both are no more than just short ideas revolving around a single NPC, who suffer from the same lack of details and methods for their plans than the rest of the NPCs do. And what of Starstone? I was really hopeful to get additional information on the Test and the Cathedral, but instead there’s a nasty surprise in the book for GMs and players who might have dreams of deityhood as the endgame of their campaign. And I think there’s also other crucial stuff missing, such as a proper description and map of Shadow Absalom, or descriptions (and maybe even some maps) of new siege castles.

The book describes a very Utopian city with almost a Disney-like feel to it, and the goal was likely to evoke a sense of wonder in players. In this city residents brush shoulders with marble-hewn and gem-studded gargoyles, and tourists ride prehistoric giant birds or elephants to sunset. Here monstrous crime lords weep at the thought of visiting fancy restaurants and the opera, while moustache-twirling villains snarl helplessly at PCs engaging in witty philosphical debates and games of chance on flying carpets with visiting efreeti noble ambassadors. There’s even a list of NPC ”Kite Enthusiasts” and another of ”Children”, but not one for high priests or wizards. And that sentence alone describes to me what is kind of wrong about this book, at least from this veteran GM’s perspective.

I see this book as a big pile of wasted potential. I think this could have been a LOT better, but maybe I’m not just part of its target demographics? Maybe it’s meant to be a family-friendly book without too many darker or offensive elements, and primarily targeted at (younger) newbie players?

"The city is yours"? It's not mine, sorry to say.


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One of my favorite Paizo modules ever

5/5

Ruins of Gauntlight is a fantastic adventure, and a textbook example of how to write a great dungeon crawl. I love that it starts in media res, right outside the gates of Gauntlight, with minimal background exposition. You’ve been hired to do a job, and you're already on your way to do it. In this regard it reminds me nicely of many old skool D&D adventures, specifically Castle Caldwell and Beyond, which was the very first D&D module I ran back in the day. This method also leaves a lot more space for the actual adventure.

I’m impressed at so many things, I don’t know where to start! James has managed to cram a lot of great content into these pages. The whole place feels very organic and natural, and the maps are well-designed and ”logical”. This is a place where *everything* is there for a reason, and a great deal of thought has been put to hazards, encounters and treasure distribution. I also love how the history of the place is present everywhere, and there are many minor and major mysteries for the PCs to discover. I won’t go into any detail, you want to discover them yourself. In many ways it also reminds me of the Ruins of Undermountain boxed set, which in my opinion is the best AD&D era superdungeon.

I strongly feel Abomination Vaults should have been a flagship product and the first Adventure Path for 2E. As a whole it is the best AP Paizo has put out in years, and Ruins of Gauntlight is definitely one of my favorite Paizo modules ever. It showcases all the best 2E mechanics in a fantastic fashion, and (IMO) this AP is way more approachable and easier to run than Age of Ashes. It takes place in a contained environment, yet close enough to smaller and bigger settlements, so that the PCs have access to lodging, gear and information. It has a well-written plot that probably fits most groups as is, without any modifications. It is just hands down better in every aspect than any of the previous 2E APs.

Even if you don’t like dungeon crawls, you should check out this adventure. The ground floor alone is worth the full price, and the rest of the levels are also chock-full of the same goodness! This adventure absolutely ROCKS, so gear up and haul your asses to explore the mysterious depths of Gauntlight!


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A decent book but not as good as I expected...

3/5

There are a lot of good things in this book, but there are also things that I found confusing or even contradictory to previous lore. And there are a few things I would have left out completely.

I love the new feats, some of them really make the most of the new action economy, and the Pantheon rules and Divine Intercessions rock! I also love the aphorisms, but I wish all the core gods would have received an equal amount of them (many only get 2). It would have been great if this book would have also listed at least the most common and/or daily rites for each faith, such as the "Bloodbinding" for Kuthites (mentioned by Jason Buhlman during an episode of Knights of Everflame).

It is a bit disappointing that most spells in the book are not for divine spellcasters, and there are no new Golarion-specific ritual spells. I see this as a wasted opportunity, even though it's likely due to page count. Yet it still feels underwhelming to me that quite a few of the new spells are for Bards, Druids, Sorcerers and Wizards.

Most of the new domains are good, although in my opinion they would have belonged in the Core Rulebook. There are also some domains which (at least to me) exist only to justify the presence of certain deities, and some are just plain weird or marginal, granting very niche-type spells that will rarely get used in an "average" campaign. I also wonder why certain deities don't grant ANY access to domains that belong in their portfolios, such as Urgathoa with Plague or Zon-Kuthon with Sorrow -- not even as Alternate Domains. These need errata, I think.

It is a bit sad there are only a couple of new domain-related feats and only one new background. Another missed opportunity, IMO, but it's another sacrifice that had to be made due to including as much "fluff" (lore) as possible into a modest page count.

Art is mostly fantastic, there are some really good illustrations in the book. However, that weird decorative "double-squiggly" on the background is both ugly and impractical, as it makes the borders of some holy symbols look smudgy.

Summa summarum, it's a good book that I feel had a lot of potential to be an EXCELLENT book, especially in the light of not being constrained by the needs of "non-religious" lore. I would have gotten rid of the faith-related magic items; I never liked them, not even in 1E, and it would have made it possible to expand on certain sections to make this book really shine.


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Amazing set!

5/5

All the flip-tiles published so far have been fantastic, and the Darklands Starter Set is no exception. It is amazing. Although the previewed tiles only show corridors and tunnels, this set includes all kinds of underground tiles, including (naturally) various cavern and ledge tiles. I suggest buying two copies right off the bat, although you can easily create any sort of Darklands environment with tiles from one copy alone. I highly recommend this set and rate it 5/5.


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Not worth my money...

2/5

I have to say I was very disappointed in this adventure. I loved the town map and the full-page illustration of the citadel, and I thought a few the new monsters in the toolbox section were interesting. However, if you ask me, that's pretty much all the positive stuff in Hellknight Hill.

First of all, I think the maps are just weird and don't fit the adventure at all. Angled rooms that make no sense, angles passages for no purpose other than to probably make them look outlandish and exotic, kitchen with no cellar stairs or access to pantry (for some reason you have to cross the training hall to get supplies), mess hall right next to a small lecture hall, very small towers that are only two floors high... and so on. Not to mention that the layout of the citadel looks more like a grounded spaceship than a Hellknight castle, and unfortunately it does not look anything like the illustration, which makes it pointless to show that cool picture to players.

What's even worse is that the cartographer has done terrible work with the maps, making them look really ugly. In my opinion these are amateurish maps that don't belong in a Paizo adventure path module.

There are a few interesting encounters and monsters, but I still feel I did not get enough "bang for my buck" with Hellknight Hill. I truly hope the next adventures will be better it terms of writing, design and maps.


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A very nice ending to 1E

4/5

I have been very disappointed in 'Tyrant's Grasp', and since a lot of people have criticized it, I did not have high expectations for 'Midwives to Death', either. However, I was positively surprised when I got the module a few days ago. In my opinion all the maps are very good, it's well-written, it has a coherent plot and contains a lot of interesting encounters. If you ask me, this is one of the best AP installments in a long while, along with 'Last Watch' and' It came from Hollow Mountain'.

I think John has done very good job with this adventure, and it's even more impressive when you consider the pressure of writing the last module for the First Edition! :)


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One of the best RPG supplements I've ever bought

5/5

Even after months I still feel a bit overwhelmed after reading it. If I could give this product more than five stars, I would; it's a textbook example of how to write a RPG guide to lost and ruined cities. Great maps by Rob Lazzaretti, well-written songs and poems and vignettes that work brilliantly as hand-outs, evocative language, inspiring adventure hooks and NPCs, very nice monsters, awesome flavour... and practically nothing to criticize. Nothing. Every city feels and looks very different from each other, and even though it's only 10 pages per city, you'll get more than enough juicy lore and game information to run a campaign in any (or all) of them! In fact, Lost Cities provides you with guidelines on how to use each city as an adventure site for all levels (low, medium, hight) of play. It’s just amazing how much useful information they’ve crammed into 60+ pages.

Perhaps it tells something if I say that this book made me feel almost as excited as watching the best torturers in Order of the Rack practise their craft on Taldorian dandies! ;)

I recommend this book for any GM, and I wish I had had something like this when I was a fledgling Dungeon Master so many years ago. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, this is a MUST-HAVE book, and not just for Pathfinder GMs; since there are not a lot of game mechanics in it, Lost Cities can actually be used as a sourcebook for any RPG!


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An excellent module that is a perfect way to start your Kaer Maga campaign!

5/5

Adventures written for 1st level characters can be tricky, especially dungeon crawls in a "contained" environment (such as the Godsmouth Ossuary). However, in my opinion the author pulls it off very nicely; it's a challenging adventure for 1st level characters, but rewards and monsters are well-balanced. And even though the PCs cannot “retreat” back to the surface, the author has taken it into consideration.

The author uses a lot of cool monsters and all of them have their motivations and place in the module; I especially love that he utilizes so many variants from 'Classic Horrors Revisited' (although he originally designed them, so it's no wonder ;)). Also, this adventure contains lots of juicy details (some of it relating to Thassilonian history and the Runelords), well-written and evocative descriptions and pretty innovative hazards/traps (some of which even aren't "real" traps). What’s even more important is that none of the encounters, traps or puzzles in the module are “showstoppers” – they shouldn’t grind your game to a halt. Experienced players may find a bit more treasure, but apart from that, even first-time players should be able to enjoy the adventure and have no problems with completing it.

The backstory may not be anything new, but it’s written so well that it should satisfy the needs of both seasoned and beginner GMs alike. The antagonists in this adventure are golden; without spoiling too much I’ll simply say that rarely have I seen such tragic and complex NPCs in published modules. My favorite is probably a run-of-the-mill guardian monster from the Bestiary, who’s "eager to taste the thrill of combat once again" after "millennia of boredom". Great stuff!

The only negative thing for me in this module was the map of the dungeon; it's quite boring for a dungeon, and it's way too symmetrical for my taste. But this is a minor issue for me; I often redraw or modify maps in published adventures anyway.

I can heartily recommend this module to all Pathfinder GMs, beginners and veterans alike. It’s probably my favorite low-level PF RPG module so far, and what's even better is that it’s written for Kaer Maga. Buy the excellent ‘City of Strangers’ along with this adventure, and you have the all the material you need to start a killer campaign!