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Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-23: Shadow's Last Stand—Part I: At Shadow's Door (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Some Assembly RequiredChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
I've run this scenario four times now. While the reviews below note that there are parts missing from this adventure, a GM can connect the dots and create a good time.
1) Emphasize the time-critical nature of the situation. True, the PCs have hours to reach the villain and rescue the hostages, but they don't know that.
2) The other reviewers correctly note that there's some encounters here that don't immediately connect to the captors: golems? elementals? Neither the hobgoblins nor the Spider herself could have these at ready disposal. But one of the Pathfinder wizards would, and the Spider has powerful mind-influencing spells. At least, that's how I've been putting the backstory pieces together.
3) There are several connections that can be made between this adventure and Shadow's Last Stand, for the GMs that run them back-to-back. Where did the rest of the party attendees end up? On the slaver ships, perhaps?
There's work to be done, making sense of all this, but the encounters here are cool, the challenges are diverse, and they payoff for work makes this worth the trouble.
Great work, with hints of something extraordinaryChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Jim's review mentions the Village of Hommlet. I can also think of Monte Cook's Brinderford, or Waterdeep, or Greyhawk: established communities with mysterious dungeons underneath. This product continues a proud tradition, and it holds up that weighty responsibility.
My one concern: the levels are, well, too small, too briefly described. I understand about page-count, and I have read that a lot of material was cut. That's a shame. As this product stands, it's a great little campaign. As it could have been, with more generous resources, it would have been legendary.
Good background for a beginning group of playersChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
I started a local group of players in a Pathfinder Society weekly campaign last winter, and I gave each player one of these novels as a gift. I was rewarded by having a play group all of whome knew something about the world setting, both the details and the unwritten social customs of the people of Golarion.
It provided not just several hours of quality fantasy reading, but also a more engaged play group.
ServicableChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
I picked up a brick of miniatures, and received the chimera. I'm a big fan of the monster, and I've used the miniature from the War Drums se. I'll still be using the War Drums figure, which is more detailed and nuanced than the Paizo figure. But this new one is fine on its own merits, and its base is appropriate sized for a Pathfinder chimera. It's just not as menacing.
A Textbook Example of Adventure DesignChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Years ago, when I was an active freelancer, I would give workshops on "how to write an adventure", intending the talk to be for game-masters rather than people looking to break into the industry. This adventure, written for a single player running Superman, was the textbook example I used for a "sandbox" adventure.
There's a villain. He has goals, and a timetable. The author explains what happens if Superman does nothing -- it's bad -- and what happens if Superman acts. The villain reacts, the plot changes, and the hero can work towards averting doomsday.
Nowadays, a lot of adventures are scripted, with plots that the PCs follow along. This is a different type of adventure.
Part of This is Very NiceChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Always remember: That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Except for oxygen deprivation.
The box comes with a book. I don't know who would be interested in a set of five new classes for AD&D 1st Edition (Generally, people who play 1st Ed. these days aren't interested in 3rd party products.) So, don't worry about the classes.
But the combat cards are very slick. They move fantasy RPG combat (from AD&D to Gurps to Pathfinder) farther from being a combat abstraction and more towards being a combat simulation. Essentially, your character selects a particular defense each round, and a particular style for attacks. If your defense matches the attack (blocking high against a high thrust) then the attacker suffers a penalty to her roll. If your defense doesn't particularly help against the attack (blocking high against a leg sweep) the attacker enjoys a bonus.
Well, there are two advantages to this system: it keeps combat from being a lot of toe-to-toe dice-rolling, and the styles of an opponent ("Hey; he's using double-riposte maneuvers, which we were lead to understand were specific elven techniques. Where did this guy learn them?") can advance the story-telling of the game.
However, there aren't enough cards in the box for everyone to use. Each player needs his own set of cards.
Now, THIS is an adventure!Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
In his own review, Bret gives an idea about the plotline here. I'll save you re-reading that.
I want to speak of the quality of this product. Tricky Owlbear has gone far out of its way to make this product as useful and friendy for the GM as possible. Details include how the outside world reacts to the situation, the characterization of the NPCs, and some terrific red herrings.
I cannot recommend this highly enough.
The Heart of the Product is MissingChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of the PDF.
I understand that there are tens of thousands of people who have enjoyed the on-line version of this campaign setting. But whatever they found didn't make it into this sourcebook for a tabletop game.
The rules are inconsistent with the Pathfinder RPG. The prose for the fluff is amateurish and rife with obvious spelling errors. ("hoard" for "horde", "lightening", etc.) The world as it is described has a great deal of fantastical history but no plot hooks. Everybody kind of gets along.
There's nothing in this book I can recommend.
A Specialized ProductChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Three times now, I've seen GMs use this product, unaware of its power. Twice, the campaigns were destroyed; the third time, the DM made the considered choice to throw out the Fumble deck and re-run the combat.
This product, and the Criticals companion deck, are very well-designed for what they do. And what they do is add a level of chaos to your game. Combat becomes very much "swingy-er".
Which is fine for people who like that sort of thing: witness the reviews lauding this deck's careful design. It's fun and a lot faster than, say, the old RoleMaster charts.
But using these decks makes it possible for, in one instance, two members of a 9th-Level party to die (as in, all the way dead) in the first round of combat against a pack of zombies.
Use with discretion.
Pathfinder Module D4: Hungry Are the Dead (OGL) Print EditionPaizo Inc.
Add PDF $8.99
Print Edition Unavailable
wow. Just... wow.Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
I admit, a lot of Tim Hitchcock's writing isn't my cup of tea. (That's because I don't like threads of spinal fluid and mostly human eyeballs floating in my tea...)
But I am very pleased to recommend "Hungry are the Dead". It starts plainly enough, with a zombie attack on a village, and just ... keeps ... getting ... weirder. This is the pay-off of a series of four modules, and I found it to be a satisfying conclusion.
Why only 3 stars? Craftsmanship and balance.
There are many points in the adventure where encounters don't work right or the plot derails if the party doesn't succeed in some chancy die rolls or doesn't choose particular actions. The text is long on Lovecraftian adjectives and lurid descriptions, and light on crunch when crunch would be useful. (There are "traps" with no DC and no means to avoid or disable. Other traps trigger even if the party avoids them completely.)
Too, this module completes the "Falcon's Hollow" adventures, at least, for the DM. There's no good way for the player characters to discover how these all tie together.
And, if someone decides whether the forest is Darkmoon Vale (map) or Darkmoon Wood (text), that would be helpful.
This is a tricky module to balance. The pregenerated characters include a paladin and a cleric, and that's good, but neither of them have a Charisma above 12, and that's bad. Parties without clerics will find "Hungry are the Dead" very difficult. Parties with, say, two high-Charisma clerics will find it much easier.
The plug promises "handouts to enhance play". None that I noticed.
Dungeons & Dragons RPG—4th Edition: Dungeon Master's Guide HardcoverWizards of the Coast
Our Price: $31.46Add to Cart
Good Advice, No Matter What Edition You UseChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
I currently have no intention of buying the rest of the 4th Edition books, or playing in a 4th Edition campaign. But there's a lot of experience behind the DMing advice in this book. (For example, Bruce Cordell gives advice on pg 32 about when it's useful to bend some rules when demonstrating or teaching the game.)
Nic Logue strongly recommended this book, and his judgement was spot-on. Reading through this book has made me a better 3.5 Dungeon Master.
Pathfinder Companion: Second Darkness (OGL) Print EditionPaizo Inc.
Add PDF $6.99
Print Edition Unavailable
Korvosa Culture ShockChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
If your Curse of the Crimson Throne players are chafing at the Lawful nature of Korvosa, and are wishing they could hang in a looser, more swinging town...
...they should be careful what they wish for.
This is a Player's Guide to Riddleport and the Second Darkness, expanded to 32 pages. The production values are top-notch. Riddleport is a great place to adventure, or run afoul of the thieves. The prestige classes and spells are cool.
The traits, sadly, are incomplete, but the text promises there'll be other traits, in another product, soon.
The sad thing: this will never get used as a Player's Guide. My players loved the $2 book introducing Ptolus. They loved the 16-page guide which introduced the Savage Tide, and the Curse of the Crimson Throne. I plunked down $10 and got five copies, to hand around the table for my players to keep.
This is a $10 item. There's no way I could pay $50 to hand it out to my players. I'd have to make 5 copies of the PDF and hand them out.
So the affordable 16-page player introductions to the campaigns are a thing of the past. Here's hoping that they'll become a thing of the future, too.
Good crusty detailsChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Just yesterday, I was discussing Ed Greenwood's old "Pages from the Mages" column in DRAGON magazine. Crusty old Elminster would explain the origins of a couple of spell-books from the Realms, and details the spells in them, with rough edges, aspects of the dwoemers that didn't work quite the way the originator had intended, and such. Even the "standard" spells in the books were sometimes variations (usually slightly deficient) off the standar PHB versions.
I'd been saying that I liked that, and it was one aspect of 3rd Edition I missed, and that (in my opinion) the shininess of 4th Edition had moved further away from: the feel that these spells were part of some imperfect reality, perhaps, in some cases, kludges or "panda's thumbs".
Well, these "Behind the Spells" give us all of that back. I've read six pages on the history and qualities of dispel magic, and it feels more "real" to me. These 38 spells are going to be drawn up into a hardcopy book, and I'm going to loan it to the people who play Wizards in my campaign and say, "Write something like this for a couple more of your known spells."
Wizards should know this kind of trivia about their spells. (Sorcerers, or rogues reading scrolls, not so much.)
Why only 3 stars? Most of this 6 pages is backstory, and it could have been summed up in a page, and the back-story may not fit everybody's campaign.
Fun for a brief period of timeChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
So, here's the idea: you have a little paper map of Catan tiles, and six dice, with icons for wheat, ore, bricks, wood, sheep, and gold. Two gold icons are one wildcard. (In good light, the gold glitters. In poor lighting, it looks unfortunately like the black ore icon.)
You roll, you re-roll the dice you don't like a couple of times, you use the results to buy stuff. You try to accumulate a high score after 15 turns.
It's a fine solitare game. As a multi-player game, there is no in-game interaction at all: essentially, we passed the dice around the table, taking turns at our independent solitare games.
Here's an example of the level of strategy: For an ore-wheat-sheep, you can buy a "knight", which gives you a single resource you can use later on. In an interesting twist, the first two knights you buy give you ore and wheat, resources you'll need for cities. If you use them quickly, it makes getting cities later in the game harder.
You know the really slow guy, who takes for-ev-er on his turn at Settlers of Catan? This is a fine game to play while you're waiting for him to take his turn.
Good for Designers, and Good for GM'sChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Did you like Wolfgang Baur's "Adventure Builder" series on the WotC website? Did you like his (short) run of "Dungeoncraft" articles? Consider these kind of like the graduate-level semester.
These essays were written for a specific audience:
My recommendation: get the print version. It's well-assembled and a nice size.
When Mystery Science Theatre comes to D&D...Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
...this will one of their easy hits.
Woooh. There's a lot of stinky little encounters in there, as people hilariously note, and there's a lot of bad editing there, as people hilariously note.
But the overall scope of the adventure is worthy of comment, too, in its breath-takingly poor handling. An area is blighted. You need to see the local druids to fix it.
The head druid has an amazingly powerful potion, at hand, tailor-made to take care of the problem. But he won't let you have it until you do a task for him. Apparently, he's like a firefighter who won't extinguish your burning house unless you first do a favor for him.
Everything else in the adventure --including the dopey dryad, dopey wererats, dopey brigands, and dopey river rapids-- is filler, side-quests, and incidental encounters that don't progress the storyline at all.
Here's a gemChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
If you're at all interested in game design, here's an incredible article that'll get your attention: customizable character classes. (Remember that in earlier editions, each class had its own XP chart.) Design your class, and then use the analysis in this article to assign the XP necessary for level advancement. For example, a character with d4 hit dice rises in level faster than a similar character with largr hit dice.
There's other good stuff in this issue as well. DRAGON writers were firing on all cylinders during this year.
This One's Not BadChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
Unlike the similarly-boxed D&D Player's Guide (which includes introductory materials, a paperback copy of the 3.5 PH and...inexplicably, a booster set of miniatures for a different game) this is a product that new players, even pre-teens, could learn and play. It provides enough rules to really capture the spirit of D&D, while whetting the players' appetities for more.
The miniatures and map tiles are high quality, and will see use well after the players move over to the 3.5 (or Pathfinder, I guess) rules.
Depends on your tastes ...Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
80% of this book is going to be worthless to almost everybody. It lists page after page of random NPCS. For example, page 26 lists 45 thieves, in no particular order. You find out their race, gender, alignment, attributes, hit points and equipment. That's it. Page after page.
There's some terrific art by Erol Otis, Jeff Dee, and other early TSR notables.
And then there's the "personalities" section, where you get to meet 19 of the characters that Erol Otis, Ernie Gygax, David and Helen Cook, Rob Kuntz, Harold Johnson, and even Gary Gygax, and others had actually played.
(And you'll find out what alignment Robilar actually was, back in 1979).
If you like Dungeon Grrrl's Campaign Log...Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
...it plays to this game's strengths. Blue Rose is a "True20" (very similar to d20) game that emphasizes all manner of social interactions and intrigue. Combat is still around, but a Blue Rose campaign should be focussed more on non-combat aspects of adventures.
It has an amazing world history/ creation myth. The four Gods of Twilight gave physical bodies to the spirits of the world, as a desperate attempt to save them from the Shadow. Intelligent psychic animals are a PC race.
It's the only game I've seen with a patron god for caria daunen (gay relationships).
If you're more of a fan of Mercedes Lackey or Diane Duane than Robert E. Howard, this game might interest you. It's the kind of thing that people who like this kind of thing, like.
Oh, yeah.Chris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
This game has become one of our favorites.
There's some real strategy in the gameplay; there are better choices than just ganging up on the leader. The game can get tense, as your hit points drop and BAC rises.
But then someone steps on Pooky, or makes a cheap remark about Fiona's chainmail, or starts a round of drinking, and hilarity ensues. It's fun, even if you're losing.
Replay value is high. My friends and I've played dozens of games, and it's still fresh.
Why not a "5"? The gambling rules don't work as well as they should. (How well you do depends on what cards you're currently holding, and the gambling cards are dross if your character's doing anything else.) And there are cards which play out differently if you're an orc or a troll. Hmmm; I smell an expansion.
Great ideas; sloppy editingChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
This adventure has several great ideas: rotating dungeon sections, a "Russian doll" construct that must be defeated several times, and some surprises I won't spoil.
However, running this adventure requires a fair amount of work. I have only read through the text once, but I noticed several errors: dire things happen if the players try to "work around" the rings system, requiring a saving throw every round; no DC for the saving throw is ever given. Another example: the outer ring spins in the module, but not on the handy "spinny map" included in the module.
If you're careful and you fix all the sloppy errors, this would be a fun adventure.
A Camel is a Horse Built by CommitteeChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
There's a lot to be said for the individual components of this product. I like the softcover Player's Handbook. The introductory adventure explains the essential d20 mechanic very well, and provides for both combat and non-combat encounters. (There's no need to use miniatures / battlemat set-ups in this very short adventure, unlike the similarly boxed Basic Set.)
But then someone went and bundled this with a set of "Abberations" miniatures, which has to be the most bone-headed marketing idea for 3.5. Why introduce random monster miniatures, with DDM stats, in a product intended for beginning players?
Or is this an additional softcover PH, dice, and a beginning adventure, for folks willing to pay $30 for an unopened box of "Abberations" figs?
Well-worth the workChris Mortika (RPG Superstar 2010 Top 16) —
These adventures are all designed for a party of 2nd-4th level characters. You remember 2nd Ed. 3rd-Level mages, right? A couple of spells and maybe nine hit points.
So these adventures reward more character interaction and investigation than outright slaughter.
When converting these to 3.5, you'll need to set DC's for the skill checks. My advice: err on the side of low: there will be a lot of skill checks, and these early-2E modules simply assume that the party will investigate, convince, and track things as they please.