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Pathfinder Adventure Path #145: Hellknight Hill (Age of Ashes 1 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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New Edition, Old School FeelCharlie Brooks (RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32) —
Despite providing some new twists (such as rescuing goblins from a crazed halfling instead of the other way around), a lot of Hellknight Hill feels like a callback to older dungeon crawls. The PCs have a large structure to delve through and numerous factions with which to interact. A desire for exploration drives most of the adventure, allowing the PCs to grow together as a group and figure out how to unearth the secrets of Hellknight Hill in their own way.
The factions provide a lot of potential for expansion and interaction. In a short amount of space, the text delivers a good feel for each monster and its motivations. This leaves a lot of room for expansion of the GM desires and lets the PCs choose many different ways to bypass their problems. Do the adventurers kill all the monsters? Do they work with some of them? Play the different factions off of each other? These choices seem basic, but the fact that the adventure doesn't push the PCs too hard down one path allows the group to find their own identity and grow together as a team.
This volume lacks a real big bad at the end (although one particular nasty foe can turn into a TPK if the PCs get too cocky). Technically, the cultists the PCs face do have a named leader, but he and his followers are in a desperate situation themselves and don't feel like end bosses. However, their presence provides enough foreshadowing that PCs should be intrigued by what the future holds.
In terms of feel, I think this module compares to old school D&D modules like In Search of the Unknown and Keep on the Borderlands. The story unfolds gradually, but in doing so it showcases the latitude and depth of options that RPGs allow. The adventure thus serves as a great introduction to new players without repeating so many old tropes that old players might get bored.
Hellknight Hill serves as a solid first volume to the Age of Ashes adventure path, but it can also function as a stand-alone adventure if desired. It's a fun adventure with a wide variety of challenges, interesting NPCs, and lots of room for expansion.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #133: Secrets of Roderic's Cove (Return of the Runelords 1 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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A Strong Start to an Epic CampaignCharlie Brooks (RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32) —
Secrets of Roderic's Cove serves well as the start of the Rise of the Runelords adventure path and is strong enough in its own right to serve as a stand-alone adventure if desired. Since it covers a level 1-5 range, it could even serve as an entire campaign for somebody using the Beginner's Box if desired.
The town of Roderic's Cove has many problems, from a mini-gang war to the appearance of the ghost of the town founder. The order in which the PCs solve these problems depends on their choices. All told, the adventure features several dungeons, a monster-filled wilderness, a haunted house, and a mansion whose infiltration calls for stealth and guile. This is in addition to several encounters in the town itself, from monsters that attack in the night to the chaos caused by a renegade grimple.
Secrets of Roderic's Cove is much more of a sandbox than most other 1st-level adventures, and it serves well to establish the PCs as individuals with their own agency. The adventure path calls for a group that is willing to be proactive and solve problems in their own way, and this adventure sets that tone nicely.
It would have been nice to see more guidance in certain areas - the aforementioned mansion could be difficult to run for a GM who doesn't handle infiltration missions well, for example. I also miss certain adventure path features such as the foreword and the fiction, but I understand that certain sacrifices have to be made for the line's first 1-20 non-mythic adventure path. Overall, this book is a strong start to a campaign and a good adventure to have even if you don't plan to run the full path.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #134: It Came from Hollow Mountain (Return of the Runelords 2 of 6)Paizo Inc.
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A Great Adventure with Many Different OptionsCharlie Brooks (RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32) —
After learning in the previous adventure that Alaznist may have returned, the PCs find themselves off to the Runelord's old lair of Hollow Mountain to confirm their suspicions. But first, they have numerous new NPCs and challenges to face as they journey to Magnimar.
The first part of this adventure is a voyage by ship with several suspicious characters and a chance for some great problem-solving and role-playing. One of the NPCs, a gregarious diva who mysteriously seems unable to perform on a stage, stands out as particularly interesting with the potential to enrapture and frustrate adventurers as they try to figure her out.
The journey is an interesting stretch of adventure for those who want more than combat and traps, but the meat of this adventure is Hollow Mountain itself. The dungeon contains numerous fascinating monsters and interesting NPC enemies, some of whom can become allies depending on the approach the PCs take. It also has lots of traps and puzzles to challenge the PCs' problem-solving abilities.
The puzzles in particular deserve special note because they serve as interesting challenges without completely shutting down players who aren't particularly talented or interested in that style of exploration. Each puzzle has multiple ways through it, including one where the answer is plainly written (albeit in Thassilonian - somebody read the Player's Guide and took that, right?) right in front of the PCs.
Of course, each solution has its price. If PCs choose to bash their way through a puzzle instead of relying on arcane lore, they face more monsters to battle. If they read the obvious solution in front of them, they face a dangerous creature before going through the rest of the complex. I see these different paths as a good thing - a skill with solving puzzles helps the PCs proceed, but the game doesn't grind to a halt if the PCs can't figure things out right away.
Similarly, the adventure features several foes, including some in the dungeon, who can become allies. It's rare for a dungeon crawl to offer so many solutions, but this adventure can effectively accommodate almost any style of group. You can bash your way through all obstacles, talk your way past multiple foes, make the path easier through puzzle-solving, or take a mixed strategy and still accomplish the same goals at the end.
Overall, It Came From Hollow Mountain is an excellent and well-paced dungeon adventure. None of the encounters feel like repeats or padding, and the PCs have the freedom to proceed through the adventure in whatever way they choose. I hope to see more dungeon adventures that offer the same variety of interesting creatures, compelling NPCs, and depth of options in the future.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: GameMastery Guide (OGL)Paizo Inc.
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Best for newbies, but useful for everyone.Charlie Brooks (RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32) —
Getting a Game Master's Guide together for a role-playing game is pretty hard work. Everyone has a different opinion of what it should include. Thanks to the fact that the Pathfinder RPG already has all the necessary rules information in its Core Rulebook and Bestiary, Paizo manages to dodge this difficulty a bit with their GameMastery Guide, focusing on advice and tools that both new and experienced GMs can use. While there's a little rules information, the book is mostly chocked full of advice and tools ranging from random treasure tables to dozens of ready-to-use NPC stat blocks.
Pathfinder Chronicles: Classic Monsters Revisited (OGL)Paizo Inc.
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I will never look at bugbears the same way again!Charlie Brooks (RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2015 Top 32) —
Too often in fantasy role-playing games, be they Dungeons & Dragons or another system, the most popular monsters end up being little more than clones or parodies of one another. Orcs end up being slightly tougher versions of goblins, and ogres are just bigger orcs. Classic Creatures Revisited seeks to put this problem to rest, and does so admirably.
Technically, this book uses the 3.5 edition of the Dungeons & Dragons rules. However, outside of a few sidebars, the book is almost entirely role-playing information and adventure ideas, meaning it can be used in any edition of D&D -- or, really, in any fantasy role-playing system. What this book offers is a chance to look at the old standards differently. Bugbears go from being big goblins to the bogeymen that hide under children's beds. Kobolds are sneaky, devious creatures that strike from the shadows using traps and stealth. Goblins are psychotic and dangerous, but somehow cute in their own gremlin-esque way. Each entry has details on a monster's culture, ecology, and how they can be fit into the campaign. While the book is intended to be used in the Pathfinder setting of Golarion, it is almost entirely generic, and can be ported over to any game.
This book offers the most valuable resources of all: the chance for Game Masters to get a fresh look on creatures and new ideas for all manner of terrific adventures. From a player's perspective, it's a wonderful read and a chance to get some insight on some classic fantasy monsters. I can't recommend it highly enough.