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A Good Example of the GenreJhaeman —
Almuric is almost exactly what you'd expect from a "sword and planet" adventure written by Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan) and serialized in the pulp magazines of the 1930s. The hero, an earthman named Esau Cairn, gets teleported to a savage planet called Almuric in the course of just a couple of pages, and spends the rest of the book proving his worth to one group of natives before leading them in war against another (much more evil!) group in order to rescue his cardboard-personality love interest. I'm making it sound worse than it is, as it's a straightforward, enjoyable romp that can be completed in a couple of hours. It's very much a product of its time (and has the thoughtless sexism and racism to prove it), but it's a good example of what the genre had to offer.
Very Playable (with a few flaws)Jhaeman —
I was pretty excited to play Arclord's Envy because I've never had a chance to play an adventure set in Nex, one of the under-detailed countries in Golarion. As a land full of architectural marvels, unparalleled arcane power inherited by one of the setting's greatest wizards, and exotic, fantastical things treated like everyday occurrences, I was really looking forward to seeing what a scenario set there would be like. I can't say Arclord's Envy met all of my (admittedly high) expectations. On the other hand, there is one encounter that was great fun and unlike anything you've done before in a Pathfinder game, guaranteed. On that basis alone, there's something to recommend in playing this (converting the mechanics as desired, since the Playtest is over).
I should also give a nod to that cool cover art--very evocative of the setting.
The scenario takes place in Quantium, the capital of Nex. The Pathfinder Lodge in the city, Nexus House, gets some really nice background (apparently, it was the second lodge created after the Grand Lodge in Absalom) and description (such as cool reverse waterfalls, doors that open into places other than you'd expect, etc.). The Venture-Captain, Sebnet Sanserkoht, is given a good personality as a friendly, easygoing figure who is so used to the wondrous that she forgets newcomers to Nex may not be.
The gist of the mission she gives the PCs is that one of the famed Arclords of Nex (a cabal of wizards that holds a high position in the country) has been murdered, and the Pathfinders need to find out whodunnit. The Arclord, a wizard named Kefanes Ahmakt, had just discovered a rare tome called the Collected Directives that contained some of the writings of Nex himself. On the suspicion that another Arclord may be behind the murder, the local guard brought the book to the Pathfinder Lodge for safekeeping and asked for assistance. I liked the implication here that, unlike in many other countries, the authorities trust and rely on the Pathfinder Society. My only qualms with the briefing is that there was a *lot* of information for players to try to process about this new place, much of which won't be learned unless someone happens to ask the right question.
The PCs start with a couple of leads to follow up on in investigating Ahmakt's murder. The first is the wizard's workshop, which has been sealed off by the local guard on account of a flesh golem having broken into the place! It's a bit *too* coincidental that the flesh golem breaks free of its restraints just as the PCs arrive to investigate, but I understand dramatic license. The flesh golem was pretty tough, and it probably didn't help that I was playing Seoni and chanced shooting it with a lightning bolt (which of course healed it). After defeating the creature, the PCs can get some clues that this was probably the scene of Ahmakt's murder.
The second lead is the body itself. In some way or another Ahmakt's corpse ended up squished between the toes of one of the pair of legendarily massive golems (the size of a castle tower) that have patrolled Quantium's perimeter for millennia. I'm not exactly sure about the sequence of events here (did the flesh golem break into the workshop, kill Ahmakt, take his body out into the path of the gargantuan golems, and then return to the workshop?). The patrol golems are huge and fast, and the PCs have to somehow figure out a way to keep up with them and dislodge Ahmakt's corpse without getting stepped on or swatted away! This was a really fun, original sequence, and I liked that the scenario gave the GM flexibility on the different ways PCs might try to dislodge the body. I think more creative, cinematic sequences like this would be good for PFS scenarios.
Assuming the PCs are successful in dislodging the body, they can conduct an examination and will probably end up at a local magic shop (with a suitably interesting-looking proprietor). More clues follow. One of the interesting touches about this scenario, that I'm not sure works, is that the GM gets to choose who the murderer is! The GM is given two options, each an Arclord, and is supposed to choose clues to suit the killer. Each of the two suspects is described well. The idea of leaving it to the GM to choose isn't bad (and I guess it would aid replayability), but the downside was that the clues didn't fit together all that well for a satisfactory mystery (and I think it was hard for our GM to think on their feet to make everything consistent). At least when I played the scenario, the group just kind of bumbled along until inevitably the murderer was revealed.
On their way back to the Lodge to report what they've learned, the PCs are ambushed by agents of the murderous Arclord. The flip-mat chosen here was a good way to give a visual representation of the feel of the place, and the elevated rooftops made for a good encounter.
The big finale of the scenario takes place at one of the all-too-frequent galas that Pathfinders are asked to attend. (I think I've been to galas of various types in PFS and SFS more often than I've actually had to mark off rations from my inventory sheet!). My biggest beef with the scenario occurs here, though I admit part of it may have just been the table and the GM. The PCs are expected to ask questions and try to confirm who the murderer is. I was *not* expecting that a gala would be the place for a massive battle to try to apprehend the Arclord, nor that an Arclord would necessarily be something that low-level Pathfinders could conceivably take in a fight (in my imagination, they were like Level 15, not Level 7), nor that the Arclord would animate statutes to try to murder *anyone* who strayed into the garden. So when my PC went off to follow one of the Arclords to ask questions without taking the other party members with her, I got a lot of crap from the table for messing things up and triggering multiple encounters, etc., when it all seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. I think the whole section of the scenario needed some work. I will say that the big battle against the Arclord and his apprentice felt suitably epic, as we blasted that guy a *lot* before he finally went down and it was a close call. The map for the garden was great, and I'd buy it as a flip-mat.
Arclord's Envy has some flaws. The "mystery" doesn't really work and is more of a device to get the PCs moving from place to place. There were some nice touches of the fantastical, but I would have liked to see even more. The ending seemed forced. But those flaws shouldn't detract too much from what's otherwise a strong, fun adventure in a cool setting with at least one great encounter. It's not a home run, but I'd call it a solid double.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-16: Fallen Family, Broken Name PDFPaizo Inc.
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Needed another round of developmentJhaeman —
I played through this at high-tier at a convention using my (badly out of subtier) Undine Psychic/Monk. I had an okay time, but there's not much that makes Fallen Family, Broken Name stand out from the pack. I like it even less now that I've read through the scenario and have learned that a lot of the checks and choices we made were completely meaningless. Although it's always handy to have Quests as options when there's not enough time for a traditional scenario, I'd definitely recommend others before this one.
This scenario has a very complex backstory centering on a family in Isger (one of the few nations in the Inner Sea that still lacks a sourcebook). The Irrica family was reported to have gained control of a powerful supernatural creature before the family's fortunes turned irrevocably for the worse during the Goblinblood Wars. The PCs are given a mission by Venture-Captain Brackett to try to discern what this supernatural creature was and whether it can be safely contained or controlled by the Pathfinder Society.
1. "ESTATE": The first Quest has the PCs traipsing around the Irrica's ruined old summer house in search of clues. I don't know why Brackett thinks answers would still be there (fifteen or so years later), and the action feels somewhat trespass-ery (since family descendants are still alive), but I guess Pathfinders are known for often falling on the grey side of the moral spectrum. Anyway, inside the abandoned mansion, the PCs will encounter bandits using it as a campsite and a haunt that creates a vision of a winged monster murdering someone. Smart PCs will recognise the monster as an erinyes devil, the first confirmation that the Irricas did indeed have supernatural assistance. In addition, the PCs should find a will that indicates four items are needed to control the devil (a hellfire rod, a locket, a signet ring, and a mace). It was a solid little introduction to the adventure package.
2. "SCORCH": Having learned that a local goblin tribe, the Scorchfeathers, had stolen one of the items needed to control the devil, the PCs are dropped off by a caravan to head into the Chitterwood in search of them. Finding them allegedly requires Survival checks, but the consequences for failing them are so trivial as to be pointless. (one of my pet peeves in adventure design is when writers are so afraid that PCs won't succeed on a task that they make the outcome of success or failure pretty much the same) Goblins are a Pathfinder mainstay and its hard to do much with them that's original at this point, but the inclusion of a mounted chieftain (on either a gecko or a vulture, depending on tier) and the presence of an angry giant bird called an axe beak kept things lively.
3. "MEMORIAM": I have no recollection of playing this one--maybe our GM skipped it for lack of time? It involves the PCs talking to a distant relative of the Irricas, a woman named Delara, in order to find the locket. Delara has the locket and can be persuaded to let them examine it (a Diplomacy check is asked for, but again there are no consequences for failure). The locket, however, is possessed by the ghost of its previous owner (Althea Irrica), who won't let it be opened unless the PCs reunite it with her engagement ring. It's a bit goofy, frankly. Getting the engagement ring involves rushing over to a merchant caravan and getting into a fight with the lead merchant. Oddly, the dozen caravan guards "are unwilling to intervene in any fight between their employer and the PCs"; some guards! By reuniting the ring and the locket, the locket can be opened to reveal the true name of the erinyes devil and theoretically give the PCs control over it. Weirdly, we don't actually get to find out what the true name is and there's no way to actually control the devil when it (spoiler!) appears in the final quest. You can see that there's a lot of little details and plot points that just don't make much sense, and I think another round of editing or better coordination by the developer would have been useful.
4. "TROVE": I recall thinking at this point in the session that the Pathfinders are going to a *lot* of work to try to get control of a single erinyes devil who hasn't been seen in fifteen years and may or may not even be in Isger. It's a lot of fuss for a single CR 8 creature, but I digress. This Quest has the PCs visit the gnome settlement of Umok to try to track down the mace named in the will. The writer does a good job of describing the town and its distinctive features, and offering two different ways for the PCs to figure out the mace's location: visiting a local butcher shop to ask the owner or visiting the town archives for research. My scholar PC was delighted to have some archives to pour through. It turns out that the mace became the possession of a hobgoblin living out in the foothills. Finding the trail while out in the foothills is said to require a skill check (5 options are offered!), but again there are no consequences for failure and no reason the PCs can't just keep rolling dice ad infinitum. Similarly, Climb checks are listed for the trail but the consequences for failing them are laughable. I just don't get it. Anyway, the hobgoblin is long dead but the path leads to a cavern containing a monstrous creature. At high tier, this was a flame drake and its fiery breath was almost lethal for my PC and another who were playing up.
5. "EPITHET": The series comes to its conclusion with the PCs sent to a ruined old outpost from the Goblinblood Wars in search of the last item mentioned in the will, the ring. After fighting past an ettercap (and maybe some giant spiders), the PCs will be able to retrieve it. But the action doesn't end there, as a member of the Irrica family, Pava, arrives with an armed contingent demanding the ring. Simultaneously (but separately), the erinyes devil appears and demands the ring. The ring offers the bearer and those around them complete protection against the erinyes (convenient!), so the PCs have to decide whether to keep the ring for the Pathfinder Society, give it to the Irricas, or give it to the erinyes devil. My PC, who was Lawful, argued that a family member was clearly the rightful heir of the items (or at least had a far better claim than anyone else). There was some very good role-playing amongst the group, and I really like it when scenarios put the PCs into interesting moral quandaries. What I *didn't* like was later reading the scenario and realising that the choice is illusory: whatever the PCs do, the erinyes flies away and combat with the Irricas starts. Aggravating!
Overall, I wasn't very impressed with Fallen Family, Broken Name. Its plot just doesn't hold together (too many authors without enough coordination), it coddles players by having them effectively automatically succeed on meaningless rolls, and it gives them the feeling of making a big moral decision while simultaneously making the choice meaningless. A scenario like this one passes the time if you don't have anything else to play, but there are better Quest packages out there and this one is mediocre and forgettable.
Pathfinder Society Playtest Scenario #1: The Rose Street RevengePaizo Inc.
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Solid Mix of All the Good Stuff!Jhaeman —
In order to help play-test the second edition of Pathfinder, four Pathfinder Society scenarios have been released. The first one, The Rose Street Revenge, is actually a collection of four Quests designed to each be played in an hour or less. The first three Quests can be done in any order, while the fourth Quest is designed to be finished last. I played this at a con, running Valeros. I thought the scenario did a nice job of maintaining the feel of a PFS scenario, while cleverly introducing the players (and GM) to the new rules-set. The story is satisfying, and there's plenty of opportunity for role-playing. In many ways, this is what I what thought the disappointing Doomsday Dawn was going to be like: playing regular adventures, just with different rules.
The Rose Street Revenge picks up where a past PFS Special leaves off. In the backstory, Absalom narrowly withstood an attack by an army of constructs and undead in what became known as the Fiendflesh Siege. As part of the defense effort, the city's slaves were offered their freedom in exchange for helping to defend the city. The gambit worked, obviously, since the City at the Center of the World is still around, but that doesn't mean there weren't any complications. Although the freed slaves were ecstatic, their former owners lost a great deal of invested wealth--and some of them want revenge. When a cleric of Milani named Wennel Ardonay helped one slave too many, a cabal of slave traders had him murdered. And this is where the story begins, because Ardonay has returned as an undead seething with anger from his unjust death. The problem is that he's targeting the only names still in his consciousness, a group of people who aren't the murderers but former slaves he helped!
The first Quest, "Snippets", has the PCs briefed by the ever-meticulous Ambrus Valsin. Valsin explains that a series of disappearances have set the city on edge, and that one of the missing is a recent recruit of the Society. Valsin suspects that the city's most prominent thieves' guild, the Bloody Barbers, may be involved. He sends the PCs out to find a local meeting house of the Bloody Barbers to knock some heads together and find out the truth. As their name implies, the Bloody Barbers really do work under the guise of a legitimate trade, and the PCs are given a variety of possible skill checks to use to try to find a lead. They'll have little trouble finding a barbership called The Smiling Cut, but questioning the barber on duty goes nowhere (in a nice twist, she's a jerk but not a member of the guild at all). The young shop sweep, however, seems willing to help the PCs--only he's in it to make a name for himself in the guild by leading the adventurers into an alleyway ambush! I liked that clever PCs can figure this out and launch a counter-ambush. The Quest does a nice job introducing skills and basic combat. Assuming the PCs are smart enough to keep one of the thieves alive (my group wasn't), they'll learn that the Bloody Barbers aren't responsible for the murders.
The second Quest, "Dragons", has the PCs venturing into the elaborate sewer network under Absalom. Valsin has arranged for them to meet with the largest kobold tribe there, the Sewer Dragons, to see if they've come across any bodies dumped down from above. The hook is kind of weak, but I'm willing to let it slide. The Sewer Dragons expect a quid pro quo, which is help from the PCs in ambushing a rival kobold tribe, the Dragon Sharks. A member of the Sewer Dragons leads the PCs through the sewers, narrating how they need to look out for various traps and hazards. This is cleverly done with in-character dialogue to reinforce an out-of-character mini-tutorial about Exploration Mode. It's a little like how video games often start with a guided tutorial to make sure players know what they're doing before sending them off into the world. The combat itself is nothing memorable, but again, the purpose here is just to learn and test out the system. One of the things the PCs will come across in the sewers is Wennel's journal, and from here they'll start to suspect what links the victims together.
The third Quest, "Puddles", does a really nice job with the atmosphere and setting. It's a rain-soaked day in the long-flooded area of Absalom called Puddles when the PCs arrive to talk to the local guards about the disappearances. There's a couple of good role-playing opportunities here. As an aside, I loved that one of the guards is an ex-War Hounder (a local gang with magical tattoos that appeared in the very first PFS scenario, The Silent Tide)! Anyway, clues lead the PCs to the crash pad of a freed slave in an abandoned house. The place is well-described as falling to pieces, and there are encounters against bats and a nasty acidic ooze. The body of the escaped slave can be found here, and several clues point to the work of an undead creature.
The last Quest, "Haven", has the PCs sent to investigate an abandoned tavern in an earthquake-ravaged part of the city. The tavern, the Sanguine Thorn, was used as a safe house for all of the freed slaves that have gone missing. In a clever setting for the big finish, the tavern has fallen into a muddy sinkhole. The PCs will get some more experience with terrain and hazard rules as they descend into it, ready to encounter the skeletal champion that used to be Wennel. Wennel has some weaknesses the PCs are supposed to be able to take advantage of as a result of completing the earlier Quests, but I didn't think these were organically integrated into the plot and felt rather forced. Still, the climax is satisfying (as is the surprise recovery of the missing Pathfinder who was the reason for the Society's involvement to begin with!).
The artwork and production design is solid, despite this being a free product. There's original artwork for the major NPCs and a handy full-colour map of Absalom with marked locations.
I really liked The Rose Street Revenge. The mystery and investigation aspects were done well, the encounter settings were interesting, and there was a good mix of role-playing and combat. Even if the play-test rules themselves were clunky at times, they didn't detract too much from what was otherwise an enjoyable scenario.
A Solid Prequel to Blood of the CityJhaeman —
In the Event of My Untimely Demise is a four-part series of free Pathfinder web fiction available on the Paizo site. Set in Magnimar, it features an "urban druid" in Magnimar named Luma. Part of a family that hires themselves out as trouble-shooters, Luma is a really interesting character. Author Robin Laws shows a real knowledge of the city and Pathfinder lore. The story serves as a prequel to the excellent novel Blood of the City, and it's worth reading on that basis alone.
Seen as too gauche for a job guarding a noble's party, Luma instead undertakes a solo mission to investigate an explorer's death. The deceased, an adventurer, was involved in a mission that led to the acquisition of a valuable treasure; but he didn't share it with his companions and now, upon his death, they all want it back! There's a few different suspects, with my favourite character being a cleric of Hanspur named Rieslan the Drowner.
I got a bit fuzzy on the plot and the story itself isn't fantastic. But Luma is a well-drawn protagonist, and the way Laws describes her idiosyncratic magic is very cool. This is one to recommend for readers interested in Magnimar, how to play a druid in an urban setting, or Blood of the City.