Black Dragon

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One Giant Step Backward


Eek. Big step backward on these, guys. Makes me sad. After seeing how nicely done the paint jobs were for Wrath of the Righteous I was really looking forward to this set. But Reign of Winter might have Legends of Golarion beat for just how terrible some of the minis turned out.

The highlights:

The fox, falcon, owl, goat and crow are all awesome. I am *really* happy with those. My Rasputin and my Padosek also look good (not excellent, but good). And I love the winter wolf. I will happily be replacing all my DDM winter wolves with these.

The lowlights:

Most of the humanoid figures leave a lot to be desired. Misplaced eyes, mouths, and clothing detail paint make the figures look sloppy, at best, and absolutely ridiculous, at worst. For instance:

Queen Elvana is obviously supposed to have blue lips (with the paint job taking advantage of the clear blue plastic she was cast in). Instead, she has a blue chin, a rather silly feature compounded by the fact that her eyes were painted onto her cheekbones. An otherwise gorgeous figure ruined.

Nazenha's paint job makes her look like she went to Clown School to learn how to apply her face in the morning. Her lips stretch from one side of her face all the way to the other, touching her hairline on both side. Her eyes are massive black holes surrounded by a reddish wash. She was then given a highlight, making her face look like she just dipped herself in powder. There is also a bit of plastic connecting her chin to her chest, conveniently painted a nice flesh tone color to give her some sort of strange tumor growing off her face. Again, the rest of the figure is gorgeous. It's completely ruined by her face.

Freiya's face I don't know that I can describe well enough to do justice to how bad it is. Remember in the 80's version of Robocop when one of the bad guys gets a bunch of toxic sludge dumped on him and his face starts melting off? And he's clutching at his boss screaming, "ellll eeee! leeees, elll eeeeee!" Yep, that's what she looks like. I look down at that figure and I just wish a car would come along to hit it and explode it so that it would be out of its misery. So bad...

All of the furry elves (don't remember the race's name) don't look anything at all like furry elves. Instead, they look like someone threw grit into the paint and shellacked it onto the mini. Nothing about that style of surface is attractive on a 28mm mini. The rares (the monk and the commander) escaped the worst of the sandblasting. But the commons (the Drakelands barbarian and the Dragon Legion dragonrider) are so bad I can't imagine using them for anything.

The rest of the minis get a profound shrug from me. Some are passable and serve their purpose (the dragonkin with the rider or the catoblepas). Some are very spoiler-y and feel misplaced (the Russian soldiers). Others could be interesting, but are done in a nonchalant or boring pose (Greta, the giant weasel, Polkovnik).

Overall, I'm a bit upset that quality control seems to have once again gone out the window.

Save your money and pick up the singles you want. Be sure you get photos of the ones you buy so you can avoid the atrocious paint jobs. But definitely avoid buying boosters of this set unless you want to spend a lot of time fixing terrible paint jobs.

PS - Bonus points are given for fixing the packaging problem. The larges now are put into a blister while the small and medium minis are each individually wrapped in bubble wrap. No breakage on any miniature. Hooray! Sadly, two of my little bubble wrap baggies were empty. ):

Finally, I have enough demons


Long have I sought demons and various demonic figures from all the D&D Minis sets of the last decade. And always those figures have been hard to come by, and very expensive on the singles market.

This set of minis fixes that, in a big way.

And, wow, by the way: are the minis ever nicely done. Paizo and Wizkids have obviously listened to feedback, and made up for the issues from the last couple sets. My expectations have been blown out of the water. This set is awesome.

The paint steps are all present, with well placed base coats, washes pretty much across the board, and textures exactly right on the minis that need it. The slime demon, for instance, actually looks slimy, and all the armor on various minis looks like armor. Even the Vermlek is wet and gross where he is popping out of his host body, while the rest of the figure has a nice matte finish.

Packaging was much better than past sets, with any figure that might be "delicate" wrapped in a bag, and many of the larger winged figures getting their own custom molded interior packaging.

Very few of the longer pieces (pikes, swords, bows) have any bend to them and are (mostly) positioned correctly; I would only quibble with Arueshalae's bow with regards to that. Plus, her head seems a the rest of her sculpt.

Only one figure had "face blat" for a paint job, a massive improvement from prior sets. And that figure is in an action pose (Queen Galfrey), so I can see how it would get mussed up.

And, once again, I am doubly pleased by the niches that are being filled in my collection that all the D&D Minis sets never did: drakes, annis hags, demodands, an outrageously disgusting looking wizard (worm that walks), and female heroes in this one, all of which I love.

My only wishes:

1 - Better "action" poses for the NPCs (Staunton Vhane, for instance: it is the pose from the cover of book 2 - which is fine for a cover painting. But for a mini who is the "big bad" of an installment, he needs to be in a more threatening pose). The poses from the creatures are excellent; I cannot find fault with any of them. Do the same with the NPCs.

2 - That the little bit of breakage that occurs would stop. As mentioned with prior sets, it is usually fixable; still, it is frustrating. I had three, by the way. Less than some sets, more than others, but it really should be zero 99% of the time.

3 - Slight tweaks to the rarity would be nice. Getting three CR 15 Seraptis demons or Imrijkas is probably unnecessary, as is getting two CR 18 and 16 demodands. I would vastly prefer to have more than two of the Baphomet Cultist, Demoniac or Mongrel Huntresses, instead. Likewise, put Queen Galfrey and Faxon at uncommon, as those types of figure are more useful than their singular appearance as NPCs implies.

I will be ramping my store's purchases back up to account for this increase in quality. I could not be more pleased.

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Delightfully Demented


I have a new favorite scenario to run, and it is The Golemworks Incident. I "slot zero'd" it for a group of convention GMs today, and I can't remember the last time I had so much fun running a scenario for a group of guys who weren't hand-picked, home campaign players.

To sum up:

The Story: One of the most coherent I've seen in a PFS scenario, with plenty of vehicles to deliver it to the players so they aren't simply going through the motions. Every time I was able to reveal a little more I had a table of shocked faces or knowing looks/winks/nudges, and rampant speculation on just how bad the bad guy was going to turn out to be. The best part? No one saw it getting as bad as it got. Demented, indeed.

The Combats: Challenging, varied, and fun. There are plenty of unique situations, with all kinds of environmental effects that will keep players on their toes. Environmental effects, by the way, are one of my favorite methods for changing how an encounter "scales" in terms of difficulty, and this scenario pulls them off masterfully. Even the "push over" combat (which is optional) was highly entertaining due to the effect its place in the story had on the group.

The Role Playing: So happy about this. I had no less than 4 absolutely delightful NPCs to play with. All of them had aspects to their personality that I was able to build on and really try to leave an impression with the players. One of them being a minor bad guy, and another being the BBEG (hell, TWO of them being the BBEG) was just icing on the cake. Add in the creepy factor with some of the encounters, and I had my players literally squirming in their seats on multiple occasions.

The Faction Missions: Open ended and very satisfying. Most had something to do with the story, and none of them were "gimmies." Exactly how it should be.

Overall: If this is the new direction for Season 4, I am incredibly excited. The scaling of the encounters, the use of terrain and hazards, and the presentation of the story were all stellar. I cannot recommend this scenario more highly.

Well, okay, I have exactly one quibble: the title. It's a spoiler in and of itself.

Paraphrase of opening sequence:

GM: We're playing The Golemworks Incident today.

Players: Excellent. I've bought my adamantine weapon. Let's get started.

GM: Okay, first thing I need you to do is place these constructs around the manor grounds in defensive positions. They're brand new and just got delivered from Magnimar's famous Golemworks.

Players: Really? I ready an action to attack when one goes berserk.

GM: Roll initiative.

Obviously, it didn't go that way for my group. I played a little misdirection (which is encouraged in the opening of the scenario, admittedly) by opening with a speech about finding missing Pathfinders that gets interrupted by a delivery, instead of using the boxed text, and was able to get a little bit of surprise in. But I can see most groups going the direction of the spoiler. Which could be easily avoidable by calling it something else.

But, if an obvious title is my only quibble, I can pretty easily say I'm extremely happy with the scenario.

Awesome job on this one. Keep it up.

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I played this series a year ago, and remember being underwhelmed by this finale. Having prepped it, now, that impression is very much reinforced.

The encounters feel like a series of random happenstance with no flow, including one specific one that comes out of left field and makes no sense, at all (see spoiler below). The last encounter is a pushover at either tier, with the unfortunate side effect of being very deadly if the bad guy gets off a lucky critical hit - which will only happen on a 20, and then she actually has to confirm it with her terrible attack bonus. There is nothing interesting about that kind of "danger" when you are fighting it.

Encounter details:
So, what in the world is up with the dinosaur encounter in the middle of the snowy wastes? I just can't get by that. Thermal vent explanation or not, it's just silly. Couldn't this have made a bit more sense? A crystalline cave with a crysmal that wants the gems the PCs surely have on them from previous encounters would make for a far more interesting idea. Or even a batch of ghouls/ghasts left over from trapped, starving barbarians. So many options exist that would make so much more sense and fit the flavor of the region so much better. This one encounter completely kills the mood of "arctic adventuring" and destroys immersion in story.

And by linking it to a faction mission the ability to punt it as an optional encounter and leave it on the sidelines where it belongs is removed, as well. Even worse, that faction's missions in the first two scenarios led us to believe that this mission would be the penultimate item for this faction member to get. A quote from the previous scenario's mission: "Should your journey to the north next send you to the Realms of the Mammoth, the thought is too exciting to finish." So it finishes with, "Oh, by the way, get a piece of a dinosaur, would you? Not that you should find one in the snow and cold..." Ugh.

Then, to have the Snowmask Clan do their utmost to destroy the party with a stampede, at the end of which they say, "Hey, can we tell each other a story?" while surrounding them with an overwhelming force? I realize we're playing a fantasy game, here, but being asked to check my sense of realism at the door like that is going too far.

Considering the build-up in story to this point from the first two scenarios, I'm left with the impression that the author of the first two in the series decided to not write this one at the last minute and Paizo was sent scrambling to meet a deadline. Poor Jesse Benner was left holding the ball, and did his best, but didn't have enough information to work with to make a satisfying end to the arc. Unfortunately, it's his reputation that takes the hit, but I feel like it was just poor timing on a series of other events that led to this point. If that is not the case, then I sincerely hope Mr. Benner uses the criticism in these reviews, and the threads about this scenario, to improve his work.

Paizo, I know you have done better since this point in PFS scenario development, so I hope to never see another "fumble" like this, again.

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Unique All Around


Well done, Mr. Groves. You stated you wanted to create a scenario that utilized all the feedback you solicited while discussing PFS on the messageboards with all us players, and you have succeeded. I am looking forward to running this on Saturday.

I have given a 5-star star rating based on what I believe I will be able to do with it, given the correct circumstances and group of players. With enough time, a good atmosphere, and a group of players who are fun and want to role play, this scenario will be a blast. Moreover, its themes spoke directly to my background in fantasy gaming (my favorite book as a teenager was Silverthorne, by Raymond Feist - hopefully that is enough to clue you in on what this scenario deals with).

I especially like the different treasure that can be gleaned from this scenario, though I will not list them all due to spoiler issues. It will keep a detail-oriented group very busy, and hopefully the boon will come into play for some people. I suppose that last item will be singled out be some as being narrow in application, but GMs will certainly appreciate being able to assign credit to an appropriate character.

Now, having said that, I dread the possibility of getting short on time due to the opening role playing. I also dread the possibility of the game getting derailed early as players immediately focus on completing their faction missions rather than worrying about what is going on to open the scenario. A lot of possibilities for how to resolve all the missions were written in, and that is greatly appreciated, but a wise man once said that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and the RP heavy nature of the opening encounter is likely to lead to chaos for many GMs. It can also short-change what should be a different (and very fun) final encounter by taking away the time needed to run that encounter.

Additionally, given all the odd little bits of treasure, that can be a time sync, as well. I don't know that I have ever tracked what was found vs. what wasn't, and have usually just awarded max gold on successful completion as all the treasure is usually found on opponents during the scenario. As a lot of the treasure in The Golden Serpent lies in odd places, tracking becomes necessary, and that can be hard to pull off in a convention time slot.

All these problems, of course, are "good" problems for a scenario to have. It can lead to a lot of fun. But many people will be frustrated by them. Essentially, this scenario is not for GMs who are less than fairly well experienced.

Finally, I LOVE the alternate TPK that was presented in one of the "development" sections. Anything that can turn a dangerous encounter like this into a fun story is worth highlighting. Bravo for that.

Keep up the good work, sir. This one was certainly worth the time you devoted to it, despite what may be construed as "problems."

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River Based Adventure


This is a well set up overland travel adventure. There are plenty of opportunities to introduce unique characters and stories, and lots of role playing options for creative GMs. Moreover, it works perfectly as a vehicle for introducing players to the wonders of the far east (Tian Xia), and is an excellent bridge between parts 1 and 3 of the series.

It's only challenge is overcoming the "one encounter per day" syndrome that all travel adventures have, but with a little creativity, all the encounters can be made challenging enough.

To see a complete account of how I ran the adventure (minus NPC embellishment), go to this link: PFS thread about Hostile Waters.

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There be Dragons!


The scenarios I enjoy the most involve dynamics: dynamic encounters, dynamic NPCs, and dynamic plots. Sewer Dragons of Absalom has all of the above.

The encounters run the gamut from brute force melee combatant to ranged attackers to spell casters. Every one of them utilizes terrain to their advantage, allowing the GM to put his own spin on how they will play out. Add in the Raiders of the Lost Ark throw-back, and I was positively giddy while both playing and then running this module.

The NPC motivations are among some of the most well placed I have seen, and are not difficult to relay to the players. Often enough the "why" of a module is impossible to get across to the people playing it, but not so with this one. Due to the suggested NPC interactions there is plenty of opportunity to deliver the story without resorting to the Bad Guy Soliloquy. Although, there is an opportunity for the BGS in this one that must be taken; another rarity executed to perfection.

Speaking of that encounter (the final one, of course) there is so much build up during the game about what it will entail that I had more fun with the outcome than I can say (seeing as I only get 1600 words). The final encounter bad guy's abilities go right along with what has been hinted at throughout the scenario, and a clever GM can use them to keep the players guessing right up til the end whether they are actually going to have to deal with what the title suggests.

Of course, a true kobold never doubts that he is, indeed, the descendant of dragons. Do not hesitate to play that up, and use this module to convey just how fun that can be.

I enjoyed this so much that I am planning on working it into both of the home campaigns I run. Considering the quality of writing, this task will not be difficult.

Well done, Mr. Baker. I will assume you have more up your sleeve, and Paizo will be publishing it soon. I look forward to it.