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Reads like the first draft of a flawed premise


Pixar has a creative process whereby they iterate on ideas, often ones referred to as "ugly babies" - ideas that seem troublesome at first, but with time and refinement can glow.

The City Outside of Time seems like an ugly baby that was never refined, a first or second draft of an idea that in order to work, would have taken FAR more time to refine. To begin with, any time one delves into time travel, one is wading into murky territory. Indeed, in this module, if you begin to actually think about the ramifications of the time issues, the internal logic of the adventure rapidly breaks down.

What's more, much of the adventure seems like a distraction from the main course - the party has to perform a ritual for some reason in the frozen realm of a kyton demagogue. Both here in this icy setting, and throughout the rest of the module in the titular City, one of the main issues comes to the fore - this particular writer should not be writing adventures. Her style is more well-suited to technical or scientific writing. She uses terms such as "food-based refuse", sounding very sterile and robotic.

So as you'd expect, the module comes to feel that way too. Prose lacks energy and verve that would elevate it and inspire readers. Every location feels the same. Characters are one-dimensional. Location names are cheesily alliterative - "Emerald Enlightenment", "Covetous Chorus". Dialogue is stilted, cheesy, and child-like. Plot points are communicated in non-creative ways. And most concernedly, Bellimarius - the ancient Runelord of Envy - she of Intelligence 38 and Wisdom 22, comes off as a completely incompetent villain.

All of this has become a recurring issue for Paizo - bland writing, incompetent villains, and plots with holes a mile-wide.

Unsurprisingly, Paizo's gender-discriminating, feminist writing and artwork is also present in spades, with all personal pronouns defaulting to the feminine for some reason. Are all of Paizo's players now female? (-1 star, though it doesn't matter in this case).

If you're interested in kytons, this is a 2-star module. Otherwise, it's a boring, illogical adventure that I wish truly existed outside of time, so I could get back the hours I spent reading it.

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A Missed Opportunity


The Flooded Cathedral could have been a great adventure. It has all the necessary ingredients there for the taking. But the execution is flawed.

Fresh off uncovering the faceless stalkers' incompetent plot to impersonate and kidnap colonists, the PCs must search for clues as to where the stalkers fled. This provides some rudimentary role-playing opportunities for the party as they piece together the path of the stalkers to an adjacent island. In transit, the party's boat is wracked by a storm. Once on the new island, they search until uncovering a flooded cathedral where the stalkers dwell. Then, down they go...

Sounds good, right? Problem is, most of the encounters are very basic, and many of the opponents just seem out of place. There is no sense of place or verisimilitude until the party reaches the cathedral. Moreover, there are some downright silly creatures encountered.

Once at the cathedral, one of the main issues in this AP so far rises to the fore - Azlant was destroyed 10,000 years ago in a direct hit from Earthfall, yet much of the Azlanti ruins the PCs come across are in amazingly good shape. It seems like the AP director thought about this for a minute and then just decided to handwave it. The rationale is that "preservative magic" keeps things in tip-top shape...except when it doesn't. It just comes off as one big plot contrivance and reduces immersion.

What reduces immersion even more is the manner in which some amazing Azlanti lore is communicated to the players - for example, finding 10,000 year old books in an Azlanti library, really?

The author also seems to have forgotten that the bottom half of the cathedral is...umm...flooded (psst, check the name of the adventure), and descriptions are given as if things are NOT completely submerged in water. There are no reminders or inclusion of rules for adventuring and combat under water. Ancient, complex machinery still functions despite being completely submerged in water. Dangerous underwater creatures live right next to one another in perfect harmony, until the moment the PCs show up. If being underwater makes no difference, why even have this adventure set under water? This kind of lack of attention to detail reduces immersion and engrossment in what would otherwise be a nice setting.

The final, climactic encounter with the aboleth could have been amazing, but the writer reduces him to giving a banal evil speech to the PCs. What should be, for all intents and purposes, an alien mind the party is facing comes off sounding like any other mundane human villain.

Post-victory, he PCs rescue colonists and a Mordant Spire elf. These elves are sworn enemies of the aboleth, but when this elf learns that a veiled master is behind all of this, he tells the PCs to go kill it and sends them to an underwater city that the elves are allied with. So, instead of thanking the PCs for the information and doing it themselves, the elves send total strangers against their sworn enemies? Uh-huh...right...

Additionally, the skum inhabitants of the cathedral are said to have discovered it millenia ago. So in all those thousands of years, they never discovered any of the treasure just sitting around waiting for the PCs? *rolls eyes*
It's also pretty silly that the Skum leader, who's thousands of years old, is a 6th level barbarian, but if he survives the battle with the PCs, he'll gain five additional levels (in a matter of weeks) by the time he faces them again.

If I plan on including elements of this adventure for my campaign, I'll have to do a LOT of work to incorporate the good stuff here without having my players rolling their eyes or scratching their heads at the things that just don't make sense.

As usual for Paizo, the gender discrimination is present, with all personal pronouns defaulting to the female for some reason. Are all of Paizo's players now female? (-1 star)

This is a bad adventure. Lack of attention to detail is glaring. What saves this from being a 1 star is that there is some great Azlant lore in the book and the old Azlanti pantheon of deities is outlined as well.

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Excellent follow-up to Howl of the Carrion King


Tim Hitchcock's House of the Beast is superb. As with many earlier PF modules, it is more flavorful, evocative, and descriptive than more recent adventures. Tim is not afraid to take chances and be a bit edgy, and his descriptive text makes Pale Mountain and the House of the Beast come alive.

One year or so after they've conquered Kelmerane, the PCs are approached by a stranger, telling them that they should rid the area of the gnoll warlord known as the Carrion King, before he raises an army and takes back Kelmerane. Venturing forth, the PCs discover warring factions, a flavorful, interesting setting, dangerous traps, and challenging, setting-appropriate opponents. The House comes alive and as the party delves deeper, more secrets are unearthed.

The regional gazetteer in the back, In the Shadow of Pale Mountain by Steve Kenson, is equally as evocative and well-written, with inspiring adventuring locales.

I loved this adventure and wish more recent PF modules had this level of flavorful description and immersive detail.

Being an older module, there is also far less politically correct narrative present, feeling like a breath of fresh air.

Well done, Tim Hitchcock and team.

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Run of the Mill


This module functions as a serviceable intro for Pathfinder 2nd Edition. It also suffers from the same issues almost all Pathfinder products do these days - it's bland.

That said, it's better than Hellknight Hill. It's clear the author took time and put effort into thinking through the plot and character reactions. While the plot isn't perfect, it's a nice rudimentary mystery investigation followed by a search for the culprit. This involves uncovering layers of subterfuge to get at the core. The story and mystery involve a poisoning that leads deeper into uncovering someone with an old grudge against the town.

The problem for long-time gamers may well be that they've seen this all before. There's nothing new here, save for it being Pathfinder 2nd Edition.

Naming conventions can be a weak spot - "Cooky" for a cook, "Flonk" for a bard, etc. Although the cover art from Setiawan Lee is spectacular, much of the interior art is subpar (illustrations for Bort, Targen, Farmer Eallom, etc.).

As well, the goblin-inclusion retcon continues here, with nobody reacting negatively towards a goblin or evincing any bias or animus, despite the relatively recent Goblinblood Wars. This is a big strike against verisimilitude, especially considering that this is occuring a small, insular village.

Character development is rudimentary at best, and character descriptions are parsimonious. Pathfinder seems hell-bent on becoming Hasbro/WOTC - designing everything in the safest possible way to appeal to "All-ages" and the mainstream.

God Bless Them.

They may make a ton of money, but they'll alienate and isolate many of their longtime fans, who fell in love with the company due to products like Rise of the Runelords, Kingmaker, Curse of the Crimson Throne, et al. - flavorful, edgy, interesting adventures that pulled very few punches.

Whether Paizo will ever regain that "edge" is dubious. If you are a fan of taupe, mauve, average, mainstream, oatmeal without any toppings, whitebread toast without butter, or are new to the hobby, you may enjoy this adventure.

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Not a Good Value Unless You're New to Pathfinder


Against my better judgment, I've been excitedly looking forward to the Lost Omens World Guide.

I should have known better.

Before delving into the issues here, let's focus on a few of the positives:

- The art is gorgeous and very high-quality (for the most part)
- The layout and appearance of the book is excellent, with helpful tabs and indexing
- The section on Absalom is especially well-written - flavorful, evocative, and inspiring
- For those who have been following the changes that have taken place to Golarion since the Inner Sea World Guide was released, it's nice to have everything condensed in one place

Ready? On to the myriad issues:

- There is a startlingly low amount of new information in this book for existing players of PF who are porting over to 2E. As a comparison, the section on Varisia in the ISWG from 1E was 4 pages. In LOWG? Try 1.5. If you've been following Pathfinder, you may not read a single thing in this book that you didn't already know.

- The Paizo team decided to break the world down into "zones", where ostensibly things are similar and you can explore certain adventure themes. So Varisia is now part of a zone called "The Saga Lands" for some reason. The book focuses on each of these zones while paying short thrift to countries or city-states within them. The one exception is Absalom. Other "zones" include: Broken Land, Eye of Dread, Golden Road, High Seas, Impossible Lands, Mwangi Expanse, Old Cheliax, and Shining Kingdoms.

- The book bills itself as a "World Guide" and is 135 pages long. Compare this to Pathfinder first edition's "Inner Sea World Guide", which focused on the Inner Sea, a portion of Golarion's "world" at 318 pages and you'll begin to see the lack of detail in this book. Bear in mind, D&D 5E's Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide is 159 pages. That's 24 more pages for a small area of the Forgotten Realms. Yikes. So, one wonders why Paizo chose such a small page count. Would Paizo fans have not purchased a 300 - 400 page World Guide? Of course they would have. They just purchased a 620 pound doorstop of a Core Rulebook. A cynic might say that Paizo was looking out for their bottom line and wanted to hold a lot in reserve to sell again to their fanbase.

- Why is Tanya Depass involved with this book? You would be forgiven for not knowing who that is. As far as I can tell, her only qualification is that she's a self-proclaimed "diversity consultant" to the gaming industry. What exactly does that mean, you ask? Tanya is a Queer Woman of Color (TM), checking three virtue-signalling diversity boxes for Paizo, and she wants to see more people like herself in gaming. You might be asking whether this is self-serving or perhaps racist and sexist, as Tanya herself would likely conclude if a straight white male was fighting to see more like himself in gaming. Well, no, of course it isn't! Why? Shhh...don't think too hard... (-1 star)

- No map for Absalom? Very unfortunate considering the neighborhood by neighborhood breakdown for the city. It would be nice for readers to know where in the City a 'hood is located. Visuals people, visuals.

- Apparently, all countries are exemplars of racial and gender equity. Yes, even city-states that just banned slavery. Yes, even devil-bound nations: "We may be evil, but we aren't /monsters/!" (-1 star)

- All of this detracts from the verisimilitude of the world, making Golarion feel less like a real, living, breathing place and more like a fantasy simulacrum of utopia for the current American ultra-left, where everyone who is not pure evil gets along, with no animus or bias towards anyone as a result of their race or sexuality. Unfortunately, real people have biases, and differences of opinion, and interpretations of goodness, and yes, some are even racist or sexist. But not in Golarion! Oh no. If you cross that line in Golarion, you're a moustache-twirling villain who also happens to eat babies and gut puppies and cast away rainbows from the sky and steal iced-cream from children.

- It's one thing to hold extreme political views, on either side. It's quite another to infest a fantasy role-playing game with said leanings. For me, fantasy should be just that, a chance to exit the everyday, and explore a world different from our own, not one that seems like its run by Jezebel, the #METOO movement, or MSNBC.

- Now, all of this would be well and good if there were some in-world rationale for all of this perfect gender and racial parity and equity (though curiously, Paizo is still fine with wealth and class disparity). But there's not. As a matter of fact, in Pathfinder's early days, the world contained much more racial animus and tension, more traditional gender differences, and all manner of bias. Yet, all of that has mysteriously vanished over the last few years as the real world political winds have shifted. This leaves Golarion feeling less like a fully realized fantasy world and more like a shadowy reflection of real world American left-wing politics, fickle and changing as real world politics change. Suddenly, in the last few years, Golarion's races, some of whom have millenia of racial hatred between them, are all either besties or on the verge of reconciliation, and from all indications, Golarion is well on its way to having every major city and nation ruled by a woman. Not because anything shifted in-world - there weren't Golarion-wide "Me Too" or "Goblin Lives Matter" movements for example -, but because the foul winds of real world political-correctness have blown. Pathfinder developers live in fear that if they portray races of Golarion evincing racial hatred or animus that someone in the real world will take that as a cue that Paizo thinks its ok for real-world racial hatred to exist. That's the warped mindset here.

- This strange mindset is also reflected in the fact that Paizo plans on having slavery completely expunged from the Inner Sea. Why? This is due to the creative director's fear that not doing so would potentially cause someone in the real world to believe that Paizo approves of slavery. So, as a public service, Paizo really, REALLY wants you to know that slavery is bad and they don't approve of it, OK???

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They Don't Make 'Em Like This Anymore


Howl of the Carrion King is one of Pathfinder's best adventures. Erik Mona is a superb adventure writer and it's a shame he doesn't produce more.

Here, he crafts a flavorful, evocative adventure with a true sense of place. He makes the "exotic" nation of Katapesh feel exotic, with distinct sights, sounds, smells, foods, creatures, and customs. As the PCs begin serving a merchant princess in reclaiming the ruined city of Kelmarane, they uncover much more than simply gnolls inhabiting the town. Mona does a masterful job at anticipating varied PC reactions and planning accordingly. Exquisite attention to detail is paid, and PC actions actually feel as if they matter.

As well, this is an older Pathfinder module, so there is (blessedly) FAR less political-correctness present. You can tell Mona is just telling a great story instead of getting distracted and wasting energy with trying to send real-world social messages through his fantasy game. The result is verisimilitude. Kelmarane and environs feels real, lived-in, and exciting.

James MacKenzie's excellent set-piece adventure, The Refuge of Nethys, in the back of the book is also noteworthy. James' descriptive text is magnificent, compared to which, much of the descriptive text of recent Pathfinder modules pales in comparison.

This AP entry should serve as a template for inexperienced authors. Well done, Erik Mona.

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A Disappointing and Acute Regression in the AP


Given my dissatisfaction with this module, I'll forgo an intro and dive right in.

Part 1: Fresh off their defeat of Runelord Zutha's fragment on an island of Xin, the PCs are contacted via Dream by Sorshen, who congratulates them and asks to meet. Fast forward to an apparent meeting the PCs have with Sorhsen's Blood Simulacrum. Where does this take place? Who knows. The module completely glosses over this.

During this meeting, Sorshen asks the PCs to kill Runelord Xanderghul. Why? Because although Alaznist killed him and Sorshen felt it, she just /knows/ that Xanderghul wouldn't let death stop him. So how to begin? Well, travel to the Temple of the Peacock Spirit of course. Nevermind that nobody knew that Xanderghul /was/ the Peacock Spirit. Very immersion-breaking.

But hold the phone, before traveling to the Temple, Sorshen sends the PCs to theTherassic Library in Jorgenfist, to research the Peacock Cult. Fast forward to Jorgenfist, the trip to which is - once again - completely glossed over. Outside the library, the PCs encounter a Time Dragon ousted from the Dimension of Time. He keeps flashing forward and backward through time, unless the PCs attack him. Then, due to his "anger", everyone experiences time normally. This entire section is a muddled mess and feels completely unnecessary.

Once inside the library, the PCs find everything frozen in time. Shades of prior inhabitants can be seen in some rooms, and in others, time ripples mar the architecture. Yet, somehow, there's a clockwork assassin left over from Thassilon (10,000 years ago) apparently immune to the time disruption. In the library, the PCs discover a valuable book. This entire section again seems immersion-breaking, as if no attention to detail was paid, and has an "anything goes" feel. The entire "time distortion" feels more a plot contrivance than an actual part of the world.

Once the PCs take this tome out of the library, the temporal disturbances cease. They are then confronted by Hounds of Tindalos. Once those are vanquished, the party conducts research in the library. Not a strong start to the module. Combat feels forced, very few role-playing opportunities, plot contrivances abound, and travel is glossed over.

Part 2: Cultists in the Clouds

Using a ritual found in the book from the library, the PCs teleport to the Peacock Temple high in the Kodar Mountains. They first encounter medusa guards. This is a hum-drum encounter and a letdown. I hate what they've done with medusas. What should be an epic and mythical creature has been reduced to just another race. The art makes them simply look like humans with snakes for hair.

Next, what would be an otherwise interesting encounter with dueling hobgoblin and wereboar guards feels completely out of place and nonsensical in this context. This is all followed by an encounter with an evil (??) treant. Finally, the PCs face off against shining children and a scaled-back mother of oblivion.

Part 2 was a disappointment. The whole premise of the other runelords helping Xanderghul build this complex doesn't make sense, nor does it make sense that he'd trust them or even need their assistance. What's more, the current denizens of the complex feel like they're just sitting there, waiting for the PCs to encounter them. This breaks immersion, and hinders the Temple from feeling like a living, breathing location.

Part 3: Pride's Heart

The sense of everyone's existence merely being for the PCs benefit continues in this section, with bland encounters in the Temple's heart. The library is notably poor. It's supposed to be an amazing repository of knowledge, yet no specific books are mentioned other than "a few copies of the Pathfinder journal". Yet, the module than spends paragraphs going into detail about the soulbound shell temple librarian. *shakes head sadly*

The nonsense continues when the party meets with the High Priestess, Zuria. She offers them a great treasure if they can lift on the curse on paintings in the art gallery, something she could easily do herself. The Priestess then attempts to convert the party to the Peacock Spirit. Unfortunately, the adventure does not provide detail about the Peacock Spirit faith for some reason...

Pressing on, the PCs descend to the "Dungeon of Fiery Fury", apparently named by somebody's child. The PCs discover some ancient skeletons, still intact, preserved by the power of their souls (?). These aren't undead, mind you, though detect undead says they are. If the PCs release these trapped souls of Pharasmin worshippers, they are rewarded by Pharasma's blessing, and also by somehow knowing that the ancient Pharasmins were seeking to prove that Xanderghul was actually the Peacock Spirit. *rolls eyes* Ham-handed plot reveal.

In yet another example of nonsense, there's a prisoner who's been kept here for thousands of years (don't worry, he's fine). Apparently Xanderghul had /no idea/ that this prisoner suspected the Peacock Spirit may be Xanderghul, despite a major reason for this prison being built was to house those who suspected this truth. The text even reads that if Xanderghul had suspected, he would have had this prisoner killed. Frustratingly ridiculous writing and indicative of the lack of creativity by the writer in communicating plot reveals.

Once they've defeated the Head Jailer / Inquistor, the PCs descend into the "Vault of Crimson Longing" (who comes up with these cheesy names?). Here, they run through a series of hum-drum encounters with giants, who - again - seem to be just sitting around waiting for the PCs to show up and fight them. In one especially galling instance, a fire giant is actually simply sitting in a chair, sighing and staring at a painting when the PCs encounter him. This entire complex is where Xanderghul turned giants into slaves. It makes no sense that he would have this under the Peacock Temple, which he didn't want associated with him. Another example of poor writing. This writer seems to be just throwing spaghetti on the wall at this point.

Finally, the party descends into the "Refuge of Violet Vanity" (extra cheese with that please) where Xanderghul resurrected after being slain by Alaznist. It's here that he's recovering his powers whilst being attended to by his shadow servants This is the most interesting of the module's locations, with Xanderghul liable to be encountered in any room, and information given both if he's prepared or distracted.

Lack of attention to detail becomes evident: in an arcane laboratory filled with notebooks, no detail is provided about the notebooks PCs will inevitably wish to look through. In a library filled with ancient books, not one is detailed, other than a generic magic item.

Convenient plot contrivances also rear their ugly heads: the party encounters a creation of Xanderghul, a shadow librarian who has developed her own personality and somehow become a 12th level sorcerer, despite being trapped in a library reading and sorting books. She's now nearly as powerful as Xanderghul himself. Absurd. If Xanderghul isn't in the room (10% chance), she gives out plot information if the PCs answer extremely basic questions for her. Ham-handed. Eventually, the PCs likely kill Xanderghul and learn that their next step is to travel to Belimarius' City Outside of Time to learn how Alaznist is changing the past using the Scepter of Ages.

NPC Gallery:

Ninuron the time dragon
Xanderghul, for whom a dismissive lack of detail is provided. He gets 2 paragraphs, 1/3 of that provided for Ninuron, Zurea, and even Sorshen's Blood Simulacrum in Runeplague
Zurea, high priest of the Peacock Spirt

Ecology of the Azura article: Frankly, a ridiculous choice given that so little information is provided about the practices of the Cult of the Peacock Spirit, which was begging for an article to be written about it.

Rituals of the Runelords: fine

Bestiary: Hishandura Asura, Japalisura Asura, Basavan, Bolla, Time Dimensional

Temple of the Peacock Spirit was an extremely disappointing adventure and a huge step down from the prior two in the AP. This is my least favorite of the first four adventures in Return of the Runelords. Setting locations lack all but superficial - almost cheesy - flavor, enemies feel out of place and aren't given proper characterization and motivation, and Xanderghul is (unforgivably) presented as a caricature, nearly completely incompetent. Not sure how he remained in power for thousands of years if he's such an imbecile (with an INT of 28).

Finally, the ever-present Paizo gender issues are present here with all personal pronouns defaulting to female and all leaders being female, including all priests presented for the Peacock Spirit cult, lessening verisimilitude and making Golarion feel not like a living, breathing place, but like a dim reflection of a modern day leftist political utopia (-1 star).

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Master Class in Adventure Writing (for the most part)


Richard Pett is one of the most talented adventure writers of all-time, and one of my personal favorites, so to say I've been looking forward to this module would be an understatement. He does not disappoint. Let's dive in, shall we!?

All told, this adventure offers a balance of combat and role-playing with myriad (perhaps too many actually) opportunities to travel across Varisia.

The beginning, with the time-traveling Steward is just odd. Tack onto this the PCs "remembering" knowledge from their future selves, giving them boosts to ability scores, and it's a weird beginning. Feels unnecessary, but perhaps will make more sense later in the AP.

Part 1: Polymorph Plague

Fresh off their exploits in Hollow Mountain, the PCs return to Magnimar to consult with the Sihedron Council. In the Mountain, the PCs discovered cultists of Yamasoth who intended to unleash a virulent plague upon an unsuspecting populace. Having foiled part of this attempt, the PCs have the advantage. While meeting with the Sihedron Council, the party is introduced to a talented local artist some readers may recall from AP #100. This individual has been having visions and noticing strange happenings near her home under the Irespan. She leads the PCs to an entrance to one of the Irespan's pilings, and it's here that the real adventure begins.

This portion of the piling is referred to as "The Gecko" due to the gecko-headed gargoyles surmounting balconies, and it's served as the recent home base for the Cult of Yamasoth, who happen to be away on another mission to further their foul aims. This lets the PCs explore this noisome lair, discovering undead creatures, witness experiments gone wrong, and unearth the cult's evil plans.

This area is EXTREMELY well done. Shout out to the confrontation with the unfortunate survivor of the cult's experiments with the polymorph plague. This is one of the most well-crafted encounters I've read in a while. Well done, Mr. Pett. Samsarru is also very flavorful and interesting. By the way, Mr. Pett may well be the best I've seen at devising intriguing, flavorful treasures.

Part 2: The Zincher Siege

Having learnt that a large contingent of cultists is traveling to Riddleport to steal scrolls of true resurrection from the crimelord Clegg Zincher, the PCs follow. This section is fantastic - fast-paced, interesting, and flavorful. The PCs must convince Clegg that his scrolls are under threat and that they need to help him defend. Clegg has an auctioned he must attend, so it falls to the PCs to plan defense of his (very well mapped) tenement, which already employs various traps and defenses. Having done so, the party must fend off waves of attacking Yamasoth cultists, led by Leptonia, bent on claiming the scrolls of true resurrection.

This is a masterful section. My only slight quibble is that I would have liked to have seen more detail provided about Zincher's auction of his arena (auction bids, personages who are present and interested, etc.)

Part 3: A night on the Town

Next, the PCs travel to Korvosa to meet with Sorshen. After a LOT of combat in the prior two sections, this part focuses on role-playing. Although the book presents it as such, it's doesn't seem as if it would be an obvious next step for the party to respond to Sorshen's dream sending way back in the previous adventure (It Came from Hollow Mountain) by traveling cross-country to Korvosa at this point. Nevertheless, off they go.

Though interactions with Sorshen can seem a bit forced at times, the scenarios, events, and role-playing opportunities here are quite fun.

My quibble with this section is that Sorshen doesn't seem like a Runelord. Whilst most of the other Runelords have been written as caricatures of the sins they are associated with, Sorshen is not. Instead of seeming full of lust for life, she seems conservative and careful. Caution is not a synonym for lust.

As well, during a certain Truth-or-Dare-like game, the module makes a point to mention that nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable by this. Good lord, is this the standard? Nobody should ever feel uncomfortable while roleplaying? There goes the acting industry! Seriously, it's PC crud like this that sullies and lessens art, dumbing it down and blanding it up.

At the end of the night's festivities, the party is confronted by a very cool foe - a time flayer who has stopped time in order to prevent the character's from meddling with its flow. Very cool and flavorful and the art for the time flayer is amazing!

Part 4: The Sundered Seal

Next, acting on intelligence provided by Sorshen, the PCs are off to Kaer Maga, in pursuit of a Whispering Way cultist, who means to awaken the Runelord Zutha. This section seems rushed. The trip to Kaer Maga is completely glossed over as is the trip to The Seal within Kaer Maga. As well, who the Brothers of the Seal are and what The Seal is not explained. Paizo would do well to remember that not everyone reading their books is familiar with prior works.

Part 4 is the weakest section thus far, seeming rushed with details glossed over. However, it does end on a high-note, with the PCs battling the necromancer Erigantus and hopefully recovering the Bone Grimoire.

Part 5: Death Rising

In this brief, 2 page section, the PCs travel to a small island on the coast of the risen city of Xin and conduct a ritual at an ancient shrine to summon and defeat and weakened, shadowy fragment of Runelord Zutha. Doing so destroys his phylactery and thus, him as well. This section is very condensed with much detail glossed over. It feels rushed. The battle with Zutha's simulacrum could be great though.

NPC Gallery:

Clegg Zincher, Erigantus, Sorshen's Blood Simulacrum, Zutha's Fragment

Yamasoth, the Polymorph Plague:

Magic Pools:

For some reason, Paizo thought it beneficial to include an article on Magic Pools of Golarion, a subject only tangentially related to the adventure. Far better would it have been, IMO, to have dedicated these 6 pages to fleshing out the last few parts of this adventure.


The encounters provided (which are for Kovosa) are haunts for some reason. Seems odd and out of place. Would have liked to have seen not combat-related encounters (revelers, shopkeepers and wares, etc.). Aside from this, the bestiary is a strong one: Ardoc Moilant, Ashullian, Kasthezvi, and Misery Siktempora

To sum, the relative weakness of the last two parts of this module are more than compensated for by the near-perfect brilliance of the first two parts. Some politically-correct narrative about creating a safe space where nobody feels uncomfortable as well as Paizo's ever present feminist agenda - nearly all leaders and NPCs encountered are female and personal pronouns default to the female, instead of "he or she" - mars the believability of the world. Sadly, this gender activism results in a lowering of the final grade. (-1 star) All told, a highly recommended adventure.

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Better than Roderic's Cove


This is a better adventure than Secrets of Roderic's Cove. Plot and NPC characterizations/motivations make much more sense, and much more attention is paid to detail. Maps are fine and a regional map listing key locations is blessedly provided (unlike in Book 1 of the AP)! Cover art is excellent, and while some interior art is fine, much of it is pretty bad (bugbear assassin, boag-hok, etc.). Things tend to shift from role-playing to combat as the adventure progresses, giving a shifting sense to the module. Personally, I think the strengths of the adventure lie in the first two parts. Other than the rampant gender-activism issues sullying verisimilitude, it's a 4-star adventure.

Part 1: Sailing the Lost Coast

Gets off to a great start with the party sailing from Roderic's Cove to Magnimar. Here the party board the ship for the ride down, get to know their fellow passengers, are beset by a storm, make a stop in Sandpoint, witness an operatic performance, and fend off an attempt to abscond with Baraket. Opportunities for combat exist with this attempted theft as well as when certain dangerous cargo escapes its crate, and when the PCs are in the water assessing damage to the ship's rudder.

This is a juicy section, with flavorful NPCs and many opportunities to roleplay and uncover mystery. Mike Shel does a tremendous job here, and pays exquisite attention to detail (something lacking in Part 1 of the AP), going so far as to reveal the names of and tidbits from various operas and Varisian poetry and songs, as well as making detailed political references.

Unfortunately, this section is marred by Paizo's gender activism and apparent misandry: all the leaders are female, and the only relationship highlighted is a lesbian one. It's curious that, as of the end of this AP, all of the male runelords have been effectively killed off, leaving only the females. Odd, that. How convenient that this falls neatly in line with Paizo's gender-activist narrative. As well, all of the indefinite personal pronouns default to the female, evincing bias and discrimination. (-1 star)

Part 2: The Sihedron Council

In this section, the party meets with the Sihedron Council to hand over Baraket, help remove a haunt, and have quite a night at an inn where they receive a dangerous gift and attempt to survive an assassination attempt.

Mike Shel's excellent writing and NPC characterization continues here, for the most part; the exception being Sheila Heidmarch's dubious acquiescence to allowing the PCs to keep Baraket, if they so choose. A Pathfinder Venture Captain would never allow such a dangerous and valuable artifact to remain in the hands of such as the PCs without taking surreptitious steps to acquire it from them, at the very least.

Part 3: Under the Mountain's Gaze

In this section, the PCs charter a boat to Rivenrake Island, are contacted by Sorshen, and obtain the guidance of a Pathfinder who decided to make his home on the island. They then can come upon a shrine to a dead demon lord and finally fight cultists before entering the Forges of Wrath.

Attention to detail falters in this section, with neither events included for the 4 day trip to the island nor a regional map of the island provided. Not a fan of the dual Kelhuuds, as it seems a bit silly to me and doesn't add anything to the story.

This whole section just becomes a bit muddled. For instance, at the shrine to the deceased demon lord, you not only encounter his iconography, but also that of a deceased runelord of wrath. The Peacock cultists also were here, and nearby are Cultists of Yamasoth. There's just too much. Not enough focus. The dual blood oozes at the demon shrine don't really work for me either.

Part 4: Under Hollow Mountain

Long dungeon delves can be a repetitive slog, and this module does a fairly good job of keeping things interesting in Hollow Mountain, with varied challenges (traps, haunts, corporeal foes, etc.). There is an excellent confrontation with the cultists of the Peacock Spirit, with multiple outcomes possible based on the PC's actions.

The problem with Hollow Mountain in general is that is seems in far too pristine condition to have borne witness to Earthfall. The module handwaves this, attributing it to ancient preservative magic, which keeps things in tip-top shape...except when it doesn't. This results in the "preservative magic" feeling like a plot contrivance, woefully reducing players' sense of immersion.

As a sidenote here, one of the rooms Alaznist designed is intentionally made to look worn-down in order to "...give the room a greater sense of history..." Pathfinder adventure writers would do well to follow her lead.

Simply put, it seems like Earthfall would have done far more damage to this structure, as some of Alaznist's servants here who committed suicide just prior to the catastrophe thought it would.

However, the module has an extremely strong ending, with a flavorful, thematic encounter with the trapped Runelord Thybidos. Well done.

NPC Gallery:

Magga Szuul, Sursha Antefalle, and Viralane Barvisai - all extremely flavorful, interesting, and compelling.

Ashava, The True Spark:

Fine, I guess, if you're interested in Asahava, an Emyreal Lord. A couple new spells, a magical dance, and Obediences are included. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this space used to include more, and better, maps.

Ecology of the Sinspawn:

Again, fine, if you're interested in Sinspawn, who apparently survived Earthfall by...wait for it...going under ground. If only the Runelords had thought of this clever solution instead of what amounted to putting themselves in stasis for 10,000 years. Waste of space for me.


A couple nice encounters provided here. I found the Slave Ship encounter especially flavorful. As for monsters - Choking Shade (a completely unnecessary new undead), Ashava, Vexenion Qlippoth, Shriezyx Queen (yet another matriarchal species; virtue signalled, Paizo), and the Thassilonian Sentinel.

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Starts poorly, picks up a bit midstream, and ends with a whimper


This is, unfortunately, a mediocre adventure. It's blandly written, with poorly thought out plot and character motivations, and lack of attention to detail. An unfortunate trend with Paizo is the bland nature of their module writing, such that nearly every location feels the same. Roderic's Cove becomes easily interchangeable with Breechill in Hellknight Hill or Etran's Folly Fall of Plaguestone. Sense of place and immersion has fallen by the wayside.

Cover art is excellent. However, though some interior art is decent, much of it is cartoonish and subpar.

Maps are fine, though they all are encounter maps. Given the number of disparate encounter locations throughout the adventure, the absence of a regional map is unfortunate and notable. Paizo would also do well to start including a small map, as they did with their early adventures, illustrating where on Golarion the setting is to be found.

Part 1:

Let's highlight a positive to start: The young boy Kynae's motivations and characterization are very well thought out and written. Nicely done.

Jana's actions make no sense, and her motivations are not sufficiently explained. It defies credulity that anyone would follow her or try to better themselves and their station by forming a gang called "The Horned Fangs" while living under the town.

For some reason, the town authorities are blithely unconcerned about the murder of 6 people in town. However, they encourage the PCs to investigate, naturally!

Part 2:

Spiders and cockroaches aggressively attack the PCs when the characters enter the room the creatures are in, running contrary to any evolutionary survival instincts the creatures would have. Far better would it have been for the critters to only attack PCs who invaded their specific homes - investigating under floorboards, etc.

Other than the faux pas with the vermin, Roderic's Wreck is very well put-together, flavorful and evocative, with well-placed and appropriate haunts, though the sewing haunt is a bit much.

The intro states that Roderic didn't realize the sword he found in an ancient Thassilonian ruin was Baraket, the sword of pride. Curiously enough, the sword case he kept the weapon in is labeled "Baraket". Oops. As well, in his conversation with the PC's, Roderic's ghost warns them about Baraket controlling them. Double-oops. Later, he even refers to Baraket as a Sword of Sin. Triple-oops.

By the way, the module insists that PCs won't earn XP as normal if they happen to defeat Roderic's ghost. Extremely lame.

Some creatures encountered can seem a bit forced. For instance, attic whisperers form as a result of a lonely or neglected child's death and linger in the places where they were formed. Since this module states that Roderic's children were well-loved, the attic-whisperer, as cool as it is, doesn't seem to be thematically appropriate here.

Part 3:

This section is mixed consisting of initially trite encounters with bandits and goblins followed by very solid encounters at Stonehouse and Alaznist's Armory. Generally well-done here, though it's extremely weird that the Roadkeeper bandits are led by an old woman.

Part 4:

Peacock Manor is fairly well crafted, but rooms are not properly described, with a lack of attention to detail. This is especially notable in the scriptorium and library, where not a single specific tome is listed. Poor show. Adventure designers, take note: if space is an issue, simply have fewer rooms, but describe each remaining in detail.

As well, morale becomes an afterthought, with singular opponents apparently not at all caring for their lives while facing off to the death against a full party of adventurers.

Completely weird and out of place that Corstela has an assistant who's a cambion. Apparently, they formed a friendship for some reason long ago. No information is given as to the cambion's motivations. At least he has an incredibly cheesy name: "Pridebound Assistant". As if anyone calls him that.

Part 5:

And now we arrive at the Underflume, where the plot issues rise to the fore. To begin, it makes no sense that Galeena, the owner of Creekside Tavern, would rent out her storeroom, which connects to her valuable and secret cold storage room (kept at a constant 40 degrees F by the way) to Jana, a drunk who was allowed to "sleep off a bender" there. As well, the "secret" door that Jana discovered in the cold storage room, while drunk apparently, is labeled as a normal door on the map.

Jana's actions based on her motivations make no sense. She wants to get Roderic's Cove on her side to help gain revenge on the criminal elements in Riddleport that doomed her mother? Ok, then why does she form a criminal gang called the "Horned Fangs" and live under the town?

The room descriptions and encounters in the Underflume are very underwhelming. Far too much effort went into describing what the rooms were used for 10,000 years ago vs. focusing on making them interesting places to explore now. As it stands, the place seems like it was far more interesting 10 millenia ago.

The Alaznist haunt in H20 is extremely cheesy and ham-handed, treating the players like children in the manner in which it forces plot reveals down their throats.

Roderic's Cove Gazeteer:

Very bland and not believalable. The town is described as being small and insular, full of gossiping, superstitious people, but is presented as exactly the opposite, full of people completely tolerant and accepting of gender and racial equality.

This illustrates one of the primary issues with Paizo products these days - since Paizo takes pains to virtue-signal political-correctness, all of their non-evil towns feel exactly the same. All are exemplars of racial and gender harmony and equity, unless they are explicitly matriarchies. This really ruins the verisimilitude of the world, instead making it a pale reflection of our own real-world left-wing politics.


Notably poor, full of silly creatures.

As with all Pathfinder products, the unfortunate gender activism is present here, with all leaders being female. Yes, even the gang leaders are female. Makes perfect sense! Pretty soon, every Good-aligned nation, city, town, and village in Golarion will be ruled by a female. This falls once again in-line with Paizo's verisimilitude-shattering habit of assigning gender-equality or matriarchy to seemingly all non-evil communities. (-1 star)

The relative quality of Roderic's Wreck saves this from being a 1-star review.

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Solid but flawed


Starts off strong, then fades.

Art is a mixed bag, with some hits and many amateurish, cartoonish misses. As well, the decisions about what to illustrate are questionable. This is a recurring issue, IMO, for Paizo. There are some amazingly described locations in this module that are just begging to be illustrated. Instead, the vast majority of illustrations are of people and creatures (many of whom are already illustrated in the bestiaries, etc.).

Part 1:

Robert Brooks needs to get more work from Paizo. He's easily one of their best writers. Here, he's crafted a believable, lived-in corner of Golarion and imbued it with a true sense of place. Side-quests and locations were generally believable and it's clear Robert paid attention to details (having ancient clockwork creatures left behind rust and calcify).

Paizo's unfortunate politically-correct gender activism is present here, with all the strixes described that the party can encounter being female, and the leader, and only described locathah being female. (-1 star)

As well, having the locathah act as a magical marketplace, somehow aware of the market value of items on the mainland, for the PCs comes off as forced and lessens verisimilitude.

Side quests lose steam after the first couple, degrading into scenarios that could exist on any coastline or island. What's lost is the sense of place, of uniqueness, of exploration of the ancient past of a ruined empire. Too bad.

Maps are present for most side-quests but are conspicuously and inconveniently absent for others, despite having lettered and numbered locations.

Part 2:

This is a missed opportunity. The setting of a (somehow) still-standing Azlant observatory in a dormant volcano crater has potential, and there is some neat lore about its occupants and ancient Azlant. However, as with many Paizo settings, this degrades into simply going room-to-room fighting opponents. That's ok, I suppose, if the adversaries are interesting and flavorful. Here, they are not. Again, these opponents could appear anywhere, and have nothing to do with Azlant. Part 2 was a letdown.

Part 3:

The main plot so far of these first two adventures centers around faceless stalkers impersonating colonists. The stalkers come off as nearly completely incompetent and this plot as a whole is boring and uninspired IMO.

The NPCs outlined in the back are throwaways, and Azlant Gazetteer is a mixed bag. While the history, climate, and geography are all very well done, the additional Points of Interest are a mixed bag. Some are flavorful and high quality, but many others seem like spaghetti thrown against the wall, not seeming to have been crafted specifically for the Ruins of Azlant.

The Magic of Azlant section is fine, but more of a missed opportunity. It seems like the author was trying to hard in this section.

The bestiary is ok, but contains some pretty silly creatures and was a missed opportunity.

All-in-all, a decent PF module. Could have been better, could have been worse.

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"Woke" Monsters


Before I delve into the politics of "woke" monsters meant to appeal to the ultra-left, indulge me, if you will, to comment upon the non-political aspects of this tome...


- Book is gorgeous, with mostly excellent art and layout.

- There are some new, surprising monsters in here, and a lot of good old classics. The number of monsters packed into this book is huge - 414.

- Statblocks are, blessedly, much shorter now, and it's very cool that monsters now have individualized reactions, and aren't beholden to the same design parameters as PCs. This leaves more room for "fluff" and descriptions of the monsters' places in the world of Golarion. This space is usually taken advantage of, making it all the more glaring when it is absent, as in the case of the wendigo.


- Too much space is wasted on basic animals, such as horses. For some reason, Paizo felt it necessary to illustrate these as well, as if we don't know what a horse looks like.

- Too many "Good" creatures are included, unlikely to be opponents for many gaming groups.

- Flavorful and traditional creature names have often been replaced by much more generic ones (e.g. replacing stirge with "bloodseeker", ettercap with "web lurker")

- While much of the art is quite good, a number of the interior art choices are middling to poor at best (bugbear, hobgoblin, ogre, troll, vampire, etc.).

- Not nearly enough of the creatures have specific sizes listed, simply "small", "large", etc. How big is a typical frost drake, gogiteth, etc.?

- Locations where creatures are most likely to be found is missing from statblocks and only occurs sporadically in descriptions. Big drawback. Paizo could have even leaned in to their embrace of Golarion and indicated where within their world specific monsters can be found. To add insult to injury, there are no encounter or location tables in the back of the bestiary!

- There is a lot of gender activism in here (all tilting towards feminism), and you'll find immersion-breaking statements concerning gender stereotypes, certain female creatures being stronger than the male versions, and a number of societies that are matriarchal, while you'll find none that are patriarchal. Odd, that. Apparently, within Golarion, all societies are either perfect exemplars of gender equality or tilt strongly towards matriarchy. This is silly and a huge blow against verisimilitude. (-1 star) Personally, I'd find it far more interesting to have characters explore a world of true diversity, reflective of the myriad and divergent cultures of its inhabitants, some of whom will craft matriarchies, and some patriarchies. Some might be ruled by Elders, some by the wielders of the arcane, others by seers and oracles, some ruled by those unburdened by base sexual desires, and perhaps some by gifted youth whose talents fade as they age. But having every culture reflect gender parity or matriarchy is just goofy.

- As well, the usual Paizo paternalism and puritanism is present - apparently females aren't allowed to visibly express their sexuality anymore. This manifests, as an example, with the illustration for the succubus, which is now apparently a Modesty Demon. (-1 star)

In sum, Paizo allows their desire to "include" everyone and engage in gender activism to lessen what would otherwise be a decent product. It's pretty clear at this point that most of Paizo's leaders do not respect masculinity, perhaps even being misandrists. Nonconformance to masculinity seems to be placed on a pedestal, save for, ironically, when Paizo is attempting to subvert stereotypes by portraying female versions of aggressive, strong warriors. And thus, we get nearly every female crafted to "play against type", subvert stereotypes, and change the thinking of their, apparently, neanderthal readers who can't think for themselves. This is completely ineffectual, for in order for stereotype subversion to be effective, you need stereotypes to exist, and people to harbor biases. This apparently does not occur in Golarion, where every community seems to be either an exemplar of gender equality or a matriarchy. Without a foundation of stereotypes, you can't play against type and subvert them. What you're left with is a world without a sense of mooring or verisimilitude, just a shadowy reflection of some modern, ultra-liberal idea of utopia.

For those who have followed Paizo for a while, none of this should be surprising. For those new to Paizo, you'll find these viewpoints infesting nearly every Paizo product these days. Paizo apparently lives in such fear of offending or angering the far-left that they find it impossible to creatively portray a fantasy world where male versions of a creature (not just humans) are physically stronger than females, or where a patriarchal, non-evil society exists. Of course, all of this runs contrary to our own history of humankind, but never mind that!

If you consider yourself ultra-liberal politically, want this portrayed in your purchases of fantasy RPG producs, and don't mind a lack of verisimilitude, this bestiary is for you. For all others, there's not nearly enough positive or new here to outweigh the negatives.

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Nonsense ruins what is good here


Ruins of Azlant was released around the time that Paizo stopped taking risks with writing, meant to create a "safe space" where no uncomfortable emotions are present. As well, the format for the APs had recently shifted, with the Pathfinder's Journal being dropped, and a plain white background being used for pages. Both are negatives in my book. Always using the same background contributes to all adventures always feeling the same.

All of this results in an exceptionally milquetoast module. What should be an expedition to a vanished colony, full of mystery, foreboding, intrigue, and drama is instead hollow, written in an extraordinarily bland manner.

First, the pros:

- Although the cover art is pedestrian, most of the interior art is excellent. However, far too much of the art centers on characters, some of whom don't even matter, instead of illustrations of the settlement, island, terrain features, or any of the amazing Azlanti architecture/buildings.

- The encounter with the Speaker of the Dais is flavorful and intriguing. I wish more of the module were like this.

- Generally, things pick up in Part 3 (the last 3rd of the module), when more of ancient Azlant comes into play. This exploration is flavorful, intriguing, and fun!

- Greg A. Vaughan's Ecology of the Alghollthu is absolutely fantastic.

Now, for the copious cons:

- Maps, from a usually great cartographer, are subpar.

- Encounters are boring for the most part, with pedestrian opponents faced and banal quests undertaken (quicksand, killing boars, fetching reagents, calming bickering colonists, etc.)

- The quicksand encounter is notably poor, as it punishes clever PCs. The encounter notes that if the PCs skirt the areas with quicksand, the GM should just relocate the apparently quantum quicksand to wherever the PCs are. Just...terrible.

- Gender activism is on full display in this module, with nearly every "leader" being female, cover art only depicting females, and with multiple same sex relationships/love interests being explicitly highlighted. It's clear Paizo has an agenda beyond simply telling a story, wanting to "normalize" and "include" what they perceive to be marginal communities, and thus cement their Social Justice Warrior status. It only results in ruining the verisimilitude. If I wanted modern sensibilities and politics I can simply go online or turn on the news. I play fantasy games to get away from that, not indulge in it. (-1 star)

- In part 3, we meet yet another female goddess of battle, in defiance of all logic and rationality. Yes, I get it. Paizo is (as usual), attempting to subvert stereotypes. But, there's a reason 99% of societies have used male soldiers to battle - they're far better suited to it physically. This hints at a greater problem with Paizo - they disrespect masculinity and seem to revere non-conformity to masculinity. And thus, we get nearly every female crafted to "play against type", subvert stereotypes, and change the thinking of their, apparently, neanderthal readers who can't think for themselves. This is completely ineffectual, for in order for stereotype subversion to be effective, you need stereotypes to exist, and people to harbor biases. This apparently does not occur in Golarion, where every community seems to be either an exemplar of gender equality or a matriarchy. Without a foundation of stereotypes, you can't play against type and subvert them. What you're left with is a world without a sense of mooring or verisimilitude, just a shadowy reflection of some modern, ultra-liberal idea of utopia. (-1 star)

- After a nice buildup to a climax in Part 3, the final confrontation is a big letdown.

- Finally, I was disappointed to see party "diplomacy" devolve to lying in order to placate a frightened colonist scholar. Somehow, this is considered both lawful and good. I think that tells you a lot about Paizo. It's about the "feelz". As long as you can make someone feel happy, even if you lie to do so, you've won!

And so here we are, with a mostly monotonous adventure full of safe spaces and signalled "virtue".

Enjoy! :)

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Some pros, some cons


Gorgeous product, with excellent layout and art.

Cover is a bit flimsy. Could use more substance, given the weight of the product.

As for rules, there are pros and cons here:

- The ruleset is supposedly meant to make it easier for players to begin the game, but the whole process and rulebook is daunting.
- Flat stat generation leaves characters feeling very much the same, and limits player options.
- Adding +level to all trained skills ensures the same number porn that infested 1E.
- Switching from encumbrance to bulk was unnecessary, and a lot of the bulk calculations don't make sense.
- Three action economy for combat is fine.
- Knowledge checks in Combat now take an action. That's right. So thinking about what you perhaps have known for 20 years about wolves now apparently causes you to pause and consider, vs. simply reacting based on knowledge. Couldn't you be drawing your weapon and thinking at the same time? Weird. Not a fan.
- Crit and fumble system is cool and adds both fun and complexity.
- Item/spell Rarity is a good idea, but looks to have been poorly executed.
- Pure silliness that you gain racial traits as you gain experience - I kill evil guards, so now I'm more Dwarven?
- XP now resets at each level - fine.
- Economics is now based on SP instead of GP. Cool, but the magic item economy is still broken.
- 4 spell lists: arcane, divine, primal, occult. Very cool with lots of potential.
- Item quality now makes no difference - bad change.
- Huge skill consolidation, overly so IMO.
- Race is now called "Ancestry" - a solution in search of a problem.
- No more Initiative - instead you roll skill checks, including Perception or Stealth. I don't like this change personally. Noticing something is different than being able to quickly act on it.
- "Modes" of play - encounter, exploration, downtime. Unnecessary and feels overly gamey.
- The "symbols" for various actions and reactions is unnecessary and feels very video-gamey as well.

Unfortunately, there is some also politically correct narrative ("safe space", everyone has to always feel comfortable, etc.) being pushed, meant to accommodate the exceptionally sensitive or those who always seem to take offense at every perceived slight (-1 star).

Overall, worth picking up if you're a collector, but if you're playing Pathfinder 1E or D&D 5th, probably no reason to switch to this system.

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Not a strong showing for the first AP installment of 2E


I'm disappointed in this first installment of the Age of Ashes AP, and fear what this portends for 2nd Edition Pathfinder adventures.

First, the positives:

- The basic premise of the adventure is fine, and the overarching plot of the AP is intriguing enough.
- The maps are high quality and fit the module well, being more evocative of place than any of the writing.
- The art is generally well done, although mismatched to descriptions at times, and paling in comparison to that used in the Core Rulebook and Bestiary of 2E.
- The author does a good job anticipating the mechanics that can be used in various situations and giving the possible results, though there's a bit of an over-reliance here. Sometimes, if there's no real uncertainty, it's ok to just give a result without a meaningless dieroll.
- The interaction with Alak is very well done, and I especially like the ways you can curry his favor.
- The varying histories of Breachill was a creative touch.
- The Adventure Toolbox in the back of the module is very useful and well done. It's meant as a fluid amalgamation of the end-of-module pieces in 1E paths (bestiary, religions, institutions, etc.). Especially well done is Mengkare's story.

Now on to the issues:

- Writing is utilitarian and functional at best, with basic, un-evocative prose.
- Where is the city statblock for Breachill? Depressing that city statblocks have apparently been dropped.
- Ham-handed goblin-inclusion narrative, complete with "puppy-dog eyes" on illustrations of goblins. Apparently, everyone is completely comfortable around goblins, despite the Goblinblood Wars having taken place a mere 20 years ago. Compare that to the (at times) militant passion many residents feel about the town's founder, who left 170 years ago.
- Villains seem utterly incompetent, with nonsensical decisions and choices built into the plot.
- Nonsensical treasure inclusion in ruined citadel (ex A3, Bugbear has +7 Perception but misses treasure in its lair), with far too much of value left behind by the supposedly organized and vigilant Order of the Nail.
- Description for Alak doesn't match art - he's carrying a greatsword, not a halberd. He's also not wearing full Hellknight armor, though the picture depicts him doing so.
- The usual and unfortunate Paizo gender activism is present, with the vast majority of the "leaders" in the module being female for some reason, detracting from the verisimilitude of the setting. (-1 star)
- The feel of the module is very cutesy, with winsome kobolds as comedic relief, doe-eyed cuddly goblins, etc.
- Plot points are communicated in an overly simplistic manner, seeming spelled out in large, bold letters by characters, monsters, and notes conveniently left behind. It almost feels as if this was written for a child.
- The whole adventure has a feel of innocence (think G or possibly PG rating) and does a poor job of conveying any uncomfortable emotions, such as menace, dread, foreboding, mystery, thrill, or even drama.
- No return of the Pathfinder's Journal, which IMO was one of the real strengths of 1E adventure paths until its unfortunate demise. The Journal often succeeded in setting mood and tone better even than the adventures themselves and gave keen insights into the lore of Golarion.
- Breachill comes off as a very bland town, save for its ancient history. There is almost a dismissive lack of attention to detail with the town, as if players won't care or be interested, or as if gamemasters should do it all themselves. No, that's why we buy these products.

Basically, Hellknight Hill is a very bland module. This is becoming a recurring theme for Pathfinder, and I surmise this may be due to fear of making even a single player troubled with portrayals of any type of uncomfortable emotion. To me, this is like a chef who is overly fearful of making a dish too spicy for his customers and goes to the opposite extreme. So what we are left with here is a bland mush, where everything feels the same and nothing stands out. There is no "truth" or special character to a place or person - everything regresses to the mean, in the apparent name of safety and not offending anyone.

It didn't have to be this way though. The aforementioned Mengkare's story is full of flavor, obscure lore, and riveting plot. However, this all gets lost in translation in the execution of the actual adventure itself.

In conclusion, as the first AP for a new edition of the game, Hellknight Hill pales in comparison to Burnt Offerings, many people's first experience with 1E, and makes me yearn for the early writing of Jacobs, Schneider, Vaughan, and Pett.

Compare as well to 5E's maiden offering, Mines of Phandelver - a flavorful adventure full of interesting NPCs, and numerous side-quests and factions.

I'm hopeful, but not expectant, for better showings in future installments.

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Near Masterpiece


A near masterpiece of an adventure, as a standalone. Eldritch horrors, finely crafted theme, story, plot, and ambiance. Challenging foes, and less politically correct narrative than more current PF products. Brilliant adventure, especially for anyone seeking to evoke an H.P. Lovecraft feel into their PF campaigns. Highly recommended.

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A Mixed Bag


Mixed Review for this product.

- The town of Sandpoint itself comes alive and is nearly fully fleshed out.
- There are interesting quests of varied levels linked to nearly every keyed location.
- Maps are superb.

- As the book progresses, things become more and more politically correct.
- Certain locations are not nearly fleshed out enough, with limited maps and only a general description given. IMO, it would have been better to mention fewer of these locations, but those you DO mention get fully fleshed out.
- Characters espousing "conservative" values are evil, while those espousing American far-left values are represented as being good. This isn't "diversity" "inclusivity" and "tolerance". Instead, it's a specific political agenda being pushed and only certain types of individuals are welcome. All others are either absent or evil.
- The Hinterlands become a "throw spaghetti on the wall" kind of place. With all of these evil creatures in such a small space (a region roughly the size of San Francisco), it's amazing they don't either team up or destroy one another. It detracts from the verisimilitude of the product and area. Just...too much.

All-in-all, a weird product. There is a lot of good here, and a lot of bad. If you are ultra-liberal and can easily suspend disbelief, you'll likely enjoy this. For everyone else, if you can tolerate the at times gag-inducing political correctness and don't mind a lack of verisimilitude, there are bits and pieces of greatness here to pick from.

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Sad Ending to a Once-Great Product Line


What a sad send-off to the Modules line for PF1. This once-great line has been progressively ignored by Paizo, culminating in this bland adventure - shockingly so, given the subject matter.

- The Owb and The Forsaken are amazingly cool creations, with riveting histories.
- The prelude and background to the adventure is compelling and well-written.
- The cover illustration and a few of the interior illustrations are superior, adding to the feel of the module.

- The adventure itself falls short, woefully so.
- Descriptive text is banal and uninspired. Compare to descriptive text from Paizo adventures from 2009-2012 for examples of rich, evocative text.
- Much of the interior artwork is subpar - amateurish efforts that result in cartoonish, overly saturated illustrations that do not reflect the tone, feel, or energy of the module, instead detracting from it. The Darklands should not feel bright and shiny.
- The execution of the plot is amazingly poor, with laziness abounding. Character actions don't matter in any serious way and the entire setting feels as if it simply exists for the characters to conquer. NPCs do not act logically or in self-interest, with one powerful NPC sorceror cowering while assassins try to kill him and the PCs, despite he having incredible power to bring to bear.

In summary, Paizo mailed this one in. With such a great concept for an adventure, why not do things right, and pay attention to the details? I expect the bulk of Paizo's creative energy is being funneled into PF2 for now, leaving potentially great products like this one to languish, and when Paizo finally gets around to putting the product together, it's in a cursory, rudimentary way. Ironically, the best Pathfinder products are no longer produced by Paizo, but by third party publishers such as Raging Swan Press.

This story deserved better and Paizo customers deserve better.

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Don't bother


In short, this story and plot deserved far better.

When this product was announced, I was so excited to see how Paizo handled this situation. Now that I know, my disappointment is high. Using the PF2 playtest rules, the entire module feels far too "gamey", almost like a video game, with not enough energy devoted to story, plot, and internal logic and consistency. What's more, while the cover art and some interior art is fantastic, much of it is far too cartoonish and amateurish for a module with the title 'Doomsday Dawn', and instead of adding to the feel of the adventure, detracts from it.

My, how far Paizo has fallen. Not recommended.

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Incredibly poor layout, making things difficult to find or look up. Amazingly dry text, making the book a slog to read through. Class and racial descriptions lack excitement and inspiration. Artwork is very cheaply put together for the most part, or otherwise recycled from past material. Disturbingly, this text is also a magnum opus of sexual and gender discrimination, only using "she" or "her" to the exclusion of all other sexes/genders.

What's worse, much of the information contained herein is already out of date!

Pass on this book.

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Incredibly poor layout, making things difficult to find or look up. Amazingly dry text, making the book a slog to read through. Class and racial descriptions lack excitement and inspiration. Artwork is very cheaply put together for the most part, or otherwise recycled from past material. Disturbingly, this text is also a magnum opus of sexual and gender discrimination, only using "she" or "her" to the exclusion of all other sexes/genders.

What's worse, much of the information contained herein is already out of date!

Pass on this book.

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Some good ideas, undermined


Positives - Creative theme and well set mood. Kintargo comes alive.
Bad - Gender activism is hyper-fueled here. Paizo is no longer even making a pretense of gender equity. Instead, it's all about girl (and trans) power.
Ugly - As with many Paizo products, editing is poor. Typos abound, and even some map descriptions do not match the maps displayed.

If you are looking for great adventures and adventure paths, look to Paizo's earlier products (Runelords, Kingmaker, Curse of the Crimson Throne, Carrion Crown). They were far better.

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Pure Money Grab


We all expect to spend money on items that are valuable to us, and I had no problem shelling out for this piece, as it looked as if it could be awesome.

However, when I received it and read through it, to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. Not only is a huge swath of information contained here rehashed, but the new additions are generally underwhelming.

As icing on the cake of disappointment, the usual Paizo sexism is present, with nearly every pronoun referring to players defaulting to the female for some reason. Are all of Paizo's players now female? Do they want only female players? As well, the vast majority of gendered art portrays female characters. Discriminating against men is just as bad as discriminating against women, Paizo. Shame.

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Uninspired, Bland, and Politically Correct


About halfway through, and as of now, I see no reason to continue the Path, and will sell this module.
The premise is...fine...but provides no meaningful motivation for the PCs to stick around, instead of simply helping the refugees flee, and trekking the 100 miles to a safe town. Instead, the PCs are railroaded into making a home in the forest right outside the occupied town, and somehow not being obliterated by the 1000+ troops right next door.

As with nearly all recent Pathfinder adventures, editing errors riddle the pages, creating distractions. What's more, distraction continues and verisimilitude fails as character after character is female, including nearly the entire troglodyte tribe encountered. So much for Paizo's claims of gender equality. Instead, this is gender activism, and detracts from the story (-1 star).

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Nearly Perfect


This is possibly the greatest module Paizo has produced, and it's one of the oldest. This has nearly everything you could want, is challenging, and incredibly flavorful. It evokes the Elder Mythos feeling much better than Strange Aeons did.

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