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Starfinder Charter Superscriber. *** Pathfinder Society GM. Starfinder Society GM. 1,104 posts (2,825 including aliases). 342 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 8 Organized Play characters. 8 aliases.



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Memorable, Original, and Super Fun!

5/5

NO SPOILERS

True Dragons of Absalom is a rare PFS scenario to be found offered for play, as it can only be run by 5-star GMs. I was lucky enough to get a chance to play in a game at PaizoCon AP in 2019, and it was a memorable experience. There's a couple of big things that sets the scenario apart. First, it was written by Thurston Hillman, one of the best PFS writers in the stable. Second, instead of regular PCs, everyone plays a pre-gen kobold! The scenario has memorable NPCs, some really clever encounters, and makes good use of the setting. I think a couple of the plot premises might be a bit shaky, but otherwise it's an all-around winner. If you get a chance to play it, seize the opportunity--it might not come around again for a while!

SPOILERS!:

The PCs are members of Absalom's Sewer Dragon tribe of kobolds, a group that has a mutually-beneficial relationship with the Pathfinder Society. The PCs are ordered to traverse the sewers and find Hats, a (hilarious) otyugh who says he has an important captive. The "briefing" proper starts when the PCs meet Hats' prisoner--Venture-Captain Drandle Dreng! Dreng explains that enemies of the Society known as the Onyx Alliance have been building a portal to the Shadow Plane in the sewers nearby. Dreng says the Onyx Alliance will clear out all perceived threats in the sewers, including the Sewer Dragons, and that he needs their help to stop the portal before it's too late. Dreng himself, however, was badly hurt in a battle against the Onyx Alliance, so it's up to the kobolds to save the day! It's a fun, original concept for a briefing and one thing that's particularly cool is that with a sufficient bribe (one of the PC's magic hats) Hats will join the kobolds for the first half of the adventure.

Finding the portal isn't hard, but overcoming the defenders is far more challenging. In addition to several fetchling rogues, there's a shadow mastiff whose baying can easily send some of the PCs fleeing in panic. I remember it being a hard but fun encounter that made good use of sewer terrain to complicate things.

The next encounter is the most clever in the scenario, and makes excellent use of the fact that the PCs are kobolds. The idea is that the PCs know that Onyx Alliance reinforcements are on their way so it's time to switch from offense to defence and build some traps! There's a wide variety of traps that can be built (with successful skill checks) and there's a really fun, cooperative strategy element involved in figuring out how to best funnel the incoming waves of attackers and destroy (or at least soften them up) before they get into combat range. I wish more scenarios could contrive this sort of "reverse dungeon crawl". It was used perfectly here.

Soon after the portal is secured, it opens from the other side. It turns out that the Sewer Dragons are going to have to venture forth to the Shadow Plane to figure out how to close it. I thought it was a bit unrealistic that a handful of sewer kobolds would tackle a mission like this, but I placed that thought to one side and moved on. The rest of the adventure takes place in Shadow Absalom, a dark and fascinating alternative version of the city. The scenario does a great job making the place feel strange and somewhat creepy, and good GMs (and they better be good if they have 5 stars!) will be able to add to the atmosphere of the setting. After some open-ended exploration and information-gathering, the PCs will be approached by a member of the Light-Weavers' Guild (an organisation opposed to the Onyx Alliance) who explains what needs to be done to permanently close the portal. It turns out that the PCs need to take on an umbral wyrmling dragon!

The confrontation with the umbral dragon takes place, quite cinematically, at the top of a massive spire. Getting to the spire holds some additional challenges (traps and potential encounters). The wyrmling, Shadrixis (cool art!), can actually be negotiated with to give the PCs what they need to close the portal--but it's far more likely that a battle ensues. It was a thrilling, difficult battle. Afterwards, the PCs can close the portal after jumping through one last time.

The pre-gen kobolds all come with backstories and full-colour art, and they were fun and distinctive. The scenario has a sidebar for GMs that gives some guidelines on how far is too far if players decide to go crazy with running PCs with an evil alignment. There's a pretty cool boon for completion that allows you to play your kobold once the next time you need a 4th level pre-gen for a scenario--I'm saving mine for a special occasion.

I thought True Dragons of Absalom was a real treat. It continued to advance the long-running storyline of the Onyx Alliance, had some original encounters, and provided a unique opportunity to see life from a kobold's perspective. If I get another 100 or so tables under my belt someday, I'll return the favour and run it for another group!


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A Fitting Capstone!

5/5

NO SPOILERS

Siege of Gallowspire is the conclusion to an eleven-year-long campaign, which is something incredible itself. The scenario offers two modes of play: Soldier (slightly harder than a normal scenario) and Champion (much harder than a normal scenario). There are also no four-player adjustments. An interesting feature unique to the scenario is that each player can bring three other PCs along as Aid Characters--these PCs aren't run in the traditional way but (off-screen) contribute to the success of the mission by taking a supporting role. However, Aid Characters can be put at risk and even die! I think the idea was to allow players to have a final send off to more than just one PC, but I tend to find aid mechanisms in these specials a bit clunky and usually unnecessary. Apart from that, the scenario is well-written and elegantly structured--even at 107 pages(!), it's easier to navigate than a lot of specials I've seen.

As the formal capstone adventure for Pathfinder First Edition, a lot of PCs are probably going to die (mine did--though he got better!). However, it's not a pure meat grinder (at least at Soldier level)--which is a good thing, because I still see a lot of life in PFS1 and plan to keep playing until I've experienced all of it. I got a chance to play Siege of Gallowspire with my half-orc paladin, Trokkus, at a Subtier 10-11 table at PaizoCon AP in 2019. It was definitely a memorable experience.

SPOILERS!:

As the name implies, Siege of Gallowspire ties into the events of the Tyrant's Grasp adventure path. The Whispering Tyrant (the legendary lich, Tar-Baphon) has finally escaped his fortress/prison at Gallowspire. However, he left behind a potentially devastating collection of unholy servants who are now conducting a dark ritual to create an army of undead to serve their master and sweep over the Inner Sea. Almost the entirety of the Pathfinder Society has been assembled to storm Gallowspire and stop this from happening.

In mechanical terms, the scenario is structured as having three substantive parts. In each part, tables will face a "primary encounter" which, if they win, counts as one success reported to the overseer. Once a certain number of successes are reported, the entire room moves on. There is a (real-life) time limit to each part of the scenario and if this is reached, the game advances as well but there's an impact on Chronicle boon rewards at the end. In addition to each part having a primary encounter, there are also two sets of optional encounters to be run at the discretion of the GM if their table is quickly mowing down the opposition. Each of these optional encounters also contributes a success to the overall part.

Part 1 is the general briefing and mustering. Unlike some specials which give the PCs some skill checks to do to accomplish minor tasks (and earn small advantages) while mustering, that time is taken up with filling out the Aid Characters sheets. The briefing, delivered by Marcos Farabellus and Siege Lord Wynsal Starborn, is short and straightforward. The stakes are clear. I do find it interesting how much the Pathfinder Society has moved into a general "do-gooder" group from its much less idealistic Season Zero roots. This seems to match the entire setting's gradual shift to a more black and white "good vs evil" morality from an original view that was much more cynical or realistic (depending on your point of view). Anyway, the actual mission into Gallowspire will be led by Venture-Captain Shevar Besnik and Silver Crusade leader Ollysta Zadrian.

Part 2 covers the Pathfinders' difficult approach to the crater that now exists after the prison was destroyed during the Whispering Tyrant's escape. Foul necromantic energies from the release have corrupted and altered the landscape and created a sort of unholy jungle. The primary encounter for each subtier is versus some kind of plant monster that's a couple of CR above the subtier. For my group, it was a tough battle that lasted longer than I expected and made clear to me that my poor paladin was outmatched! After the primary encounter, there's a role-playing encounter with Sarenrae-aligned orcs of the Burning Sun tribe.

Part 3 is a long section of the scenario that sees the Pathfinders venturing into the catacombs underneath the crater. There are a lot of advantages (and risks) to be gained by using the Aid Characters. The primary encounter for each subtier is against either oozes or constructs (or both at the same time). For example, my subtier 10-11 table fought an augmented alchemical golem and something called "gravesludge" at the same time. After the primary encounter, there's a sort of skills-challenge to disable wards that Tar-Baphon had left that bar further descent into the heart of Gallowspire. Successfully bypassing the wards allows entry into the Silent Shrine, which makes good use of the Arcane Library Flip-Mat. There's a second primary encounter here versus monsters that aren't (as far as I can tell) really themed across sub-tiers. There's some free-form exploration here and a chance for PCs to get some "Clue Successes" by figuring out more about the ritual that is being conducted while realising that there's also a powerful holy relic (a statue of Chaldira Zuzaristan) hidden somewhere below.

Part 4 has the cool idea of alternative pathways for the Soldier and Champion tables. Soldier tables go with V-C Shevar Besnik to try to retrieve the relic, while Champion tables go with Ollysta Zadrian to disrupt the necromantic ritual.

The Soldier mission (which is what I played) was set in a cool underground canyon with cliffs overlooking a river of negative energy below. This is the big climactic encounter of the special, and the encounter is both epic as a descriptive term and in mechanical terms: each subtier faces a monster at least 4 CR over their level. At subtier 10-11, we fought a nasty advanced nightwing that made excellent use of its flying ability to make life hard for melee characters. I learned (with the "aid" of a very snarky player) why every PC needs to have ranged weapon alternatives. My poor paladin died in this battle, but in a suitably epic way, and fortunately I had just enough prestige to bring him back. It was awesome.

The Champion mission requires the destruction of a massive pillar that pulses harmful necromantic energies each round while lending particular advantages to its evil defenders (most significantly to stop cheese, the pillar makes the defenders immune to the dazing condition and makes their Touch AC the same as their regular AC--I wish there were more things that did in this in PF1!). These encounters are 5-6 CR over subtier! Champion tables at the highest subtier (15-16) get the choice to take on an even crazier challenge, which the GM is required to tell them goes beyond epic: and it turns out to be against the freaking CR22 Grim Reaper! Whether your PC lived or died, that would be a pretty cool story to be able to tell as a player.

To add to the epic, cinematic feel of the final battle, both Shevar Besnik and Ollysta Zadrian are killed. They had a fitting send-off, and I thought it was an effective story device.

After enough successes (or the time limit is reached), an earthquake starts to swallow the remnants of Gallowspire. Players can volunteer to have their PCs die in a suitably cinematic way if they want them to have a heroic (though narratively delivered) ending here. The conclusion text is short and sweet.

Overall, I really enjoyed Siege of Gallowspire. I probably would have been even more impressed if I had been playing since the beginning of the organised play campaign (instead of just the past few years) and if I had more invested in the Whispering Tyrant storyline. I guess one could say that the scenario essentially amounts to a dungeon crawl, with one scripted encounter after the other. Sometimes that would bother me, but for something like this, it seemed appropriate. I hope this scenario is something everyone who loves PFS gets to experience at some point.


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Awesome, Exciting, Hilarious

5/5

NO SPOILERS

Featuring Varian Jeggare and Radovan, Killing Time is a four-part series of free web fiction available on the Paizo website here. Canonically, it fits after the Master of Devils novel and before Queen of Thorns. It's a fantastic, dark story, and one that bridges the gap between the two novels nicely. If you like any of Dave Gross' Pathfinder work, you'll almost certainly enjoy this story.

SPOILERS

Killing Time consists of two unrelated plot threads--one for Varian, and one for Radovan.

For Varian, we get to see a part of his life that isn't often dwelled on in the novels: his life as a Pathfinder. Set in the Grand Lodge just after his return from Tian Xia, the story involves tons of intrigue. We get a member of the Decemvirate as a character (!), references to notables like Eando Kline and Ollysta Zadrian, a tremendously exciting battle in a library, and the first appearance of Prince Kasiya--which helps King of Chaos make much more sense. I really wish I had read this story before reading that novel.

Radovan is such a delight as a character. His story takes place in a brothel. I won't go into details, other than to say the scenes are hilarious and surprising.

I would happily have paid to read Killing Time, and Pathfinder (or fantasy fiction fans in general) are in receipt of a real treat since it's free.


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Fast and Straightforward

3/5

NO SPOILERS

I played Slave Pits of Absalom at PaizoCon AP 2019 using the Iconic Gunslinger. It's a scenario that very much fits the norm for Season Zero scenarios: it's on tight rails, the combat encounters are solid (and occasionally deadly), and the morality of the story (especially with the faction missions) is sometimes more grey than black and white. It's also a very fast scenario to run (I'd guess around 2-3 hours) and not one that will tax the GM at all. It's not a particularly amazing or memorable scenario, but it's perfectly fine for a few hours' gameplay with little prep. Hence, I'm giving it the score of average.

SPOILERS!:

The briefing is *very* quick and to the point: Osirion's ambassador to Absalom is an important contact for the Pathfinder Society, and his wife, Lady Anilah, has just been kidnapped! In order to improve their standing with the ambassador, the Society is going to try to find her, and quickly. The PCs are told that a possible lead is a "grit den" (grit is an illegal drug that sounds a bit like PCP) in the Puddles district of Absalom where a junky who earns cash by assisting in the slave trade can be found. Unlike most later seasons, there's no time for questions--indeed, if the PCs try to ask any, they get yelled at! I found it awesome (and funny), and I really like the Venture-Captain: a fiery and definitely no-nonsense Galtan named Alissa Moldreserva. I'd like to see more of her.

The name of the grit den is the Second Chance, and when the PCs arrive, there is a full-blown brawl going on. Yes, it's a cliché, but I think every fantasy RPG player should get to experience a bar brawl now and then. As is traditional in such things, if the PCs stick to fists then no one bats an eye--but if they draw weapons, then the bartender draws a scimitar and sics an angry dog on them! Either way, once the PCs win, they'll find a grit addict named Fredrik who admits he was hired to kidnap Lady Anilah and sell her into slavery through a local slave merchant. In true Season Zero fashion, the PCs miss out on a hefty chunk of change at the end of the scenario if they don't steal the grit den's strongbox from behind the counter. I sometimes think the Society and the Aspis Consortium weren't too far apart in those early days!

The name of the scenario is the same as the in-game nickname for a large slave market in Absalom. At this time in the setting's history, the slave-trade is fully legal in Absalom--though, of course, the nobility are exempt from being bought and sold. The PCs need to (quietly) break into Pildapush's Chattel, an import/export house for slaves, and persuade or browbeat (or otherwise beat) the merchant into confessing that a Taldan spy hired Fredrik to kidnap Lady Anilah (hoping to embarrass the ambassador, since Taldor and Osirion are major rivals). The merchant says Lady Anilah has already been sold to a Katapeshi slave ship currently moored at the docks. The scenario actually does a good job of providing an array of information depending on how well the PCs do at changing the merchant's attitude.

If the PCs weren't discreet about breaking into the merchant's shop (which, knowing PCs, is fairly likely!) the official security guards of the slave district arrive and order the PCs to leave. And if the PCs don't comply, then the city guard arrive; and if the PCs still resist, the GM is instructed that this simply results in the PCs' death or imprisonment (with the latter likely resulting in their being sold into slavery for being a petty thief!). It's hardcore!

What the PCs won't know is that, prior to interrogating the slave merchant, he already took out a contract on Fredrik to silence him and anyone he talked to (including the PCs). This means the PCs will get ambushed by a quintet of halflings along the docks. It's not a particularly dangerous encounter, and mainly serves to soften the group up for what's next.

What's next is raiding the slave galley, which is crewed by gnolls! The foreman of the ship fights on the main deck and uses a whip to try to knock PCs overboard, while the captain of the ship fights below deck and uses (at high tier) a magical greataxe. A crit with this thing is going to do 9d6+24 points of damage, so even at Tier 4-5 some bad luck could easily end someone's day! Chances are, however, that a modern party of six Pathfinder PCs is going to be okay. After these two quick battles aboard the ship, the PCs find Lady Anilah and can call it a day.

It's obviously a very quick and compact scenario that has four combat encounters and just a little role-playing in the form of interrogating the slavers for more information. I would definitely encourage GMs to use the faction missions, as they at least give the PCs a little extra to think about and could add a fun element (a couple of the missions tend to be in opposition to one another). I think of a scenario like this as the "beer-and-pretzels" computer game equivalent for Pathfinder. It won't take much time or deep thought, and it's easy to run with little prep right out of the gate.


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Fantastic Sourcebook

5/5

Published under the "Pathfinder Chronicles" line (that would evolve into the Pathfinder Campaign Setting line), the Guide to Korvosa is a 64-page soft cover gazetteer of the city. Its release was timed in conjunction with the release of the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path, but the text carefully avoids any spoilers. Indeed, it was written so that players could take advantage of it as well--only a single small chapter at the end contains any secret GM-only information. The book is also almost completely mechanics-free so that it could be used with any ruleset. Although an older book (2008), it's still the best singe source for information on Korvosa that's available.

The interior design of the book is quite nice, with plenty of sidebars, maps, and headshots of important NPCs in the city. The inside front- and back- covers are an in-depth timeline of events in the city's history. One of the best things about the book is that it comes with a four-panel pull-out map of the city--I had mine laminated as it's still the best visible representation of the city I'm aware of.

Chapter One is a four-page introduction It summarises some very basic things about the city, such as its symbols and motto, Korvosan slang, punishments for different crimes, and a useful few paragraphs about the "Korvosan Mindset". Did you know Korvosans respect order, look down on Varisians and Shoanti, and that there's only one thieves' guild and that it's fully registered with the government? Things like this are crucial for figuring out the "feel" of a fictional city, so when I run some adventures in Korvosa I'll do my best to make use of it. I'm still trying to figure Korvosa out--it's not an "evil" Cheliaxian city, but comes across as darker than Magnimar while still being cosmopolitan.

Chapter Two comes in at a hefty 28 pages and covers various areas and buildings within the city. The chapter has a good explanation of Korvosa's role in the region and a summary of its external holdings (Korvosa is essentially a city-state and controls several small towns and villages in the region). Each of the city's neighborhoods are described and given individual inset-maps. Key buildings are fleshed out, with particular attention to the Acadamae (Korvosa's most prestigious school of magic) and Castle Korvosa. I could totally imagine running an Acadamae-focussed campaign someday! There's good detail about Eodred's Walk, a plaza of fourteen shops that will likely handle most of what PCs will need when making purchases. Neighborhoods like the Shingles and places like the Church of Aroden and the Pantheon of Many are memorable features. Having read Curse of the Crimson Throne, I can tell how well locations that feature in that AP are incorporated here, but again in a completely non-spoilery way that wouldn't flag their importance to players. Overall, it's a well-written, detailed, and interesting overview of the city.

Chapter Three is a 14-page overview of important people and organisations within the city. It's here you'll read about the city's government, military orders, prominent families, religious groups, and criminal gangs. There's a complex separation of powers when it comes to the city's government, and with the influence of noble houses and legacy of the city as a Chelaxian holding, there's tons of rooms for intrigue, factionalism, and politics. In short, it's a great setting for a non-hack n' slash campaign. However, the chapter doesn't focus exclusively on the powerful elements in the city: there's a good description of what "normal" people are like in Korvosa. The chapter provides important insight and is done well.

Chapter Four is a short, four-page history of the city. It contains an account of the long series of clashes with the Shoanti after the city's founding, its origins as a Chelaxian colony, and how internal disputes in Korvosa led to the founding of Magnimar.

Chapter Five is a ten-page section on the city's secrets, and is best read only by a GM. It goes into more depth on what's really happening in the Acadamae, on the ins-and-outs of dangers within the city (such as cults and underground vaults), and more on the city's criminal organisations. I particularly like the idea of the Darklight Sisterhood, a Chelaxian-only rival to the Pathfinder Society! I should note that there are some spoilers for Curse of the Crimson Throne (particularly Chapter Three) in this section.

The book ends with a little three-page appendix that contains the only game mechanics in the book: a list of what classes and levels notable NPCs are, a stat block for the Sable Company Elite Marines, and a (frankly not very good) random encounter table for different parts of the city.

Overall, I think the Guide to Korvosa is a fantastic sourcebook on the city. It contains essential information on pretty much everything I would want. I know some folks will differ, but I actually didn't mind the lack of "crunch" at all--there's so many feats, traits, spells, and NPC stat blocks scattered across hundreds of other Pathfinder books, so I was happy to just get a focus on the description I need in order to make the city come alive. Although the book is long out of print, it's available for purchase as a PDF on the Paizo website, and I'd strongly recommend it.


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A Strong (and free!) Introductory Adventure

4/5

NO SPOILERS

Hollow's Last Hope is a 16-page module for first-level PCs that was released as part of Free RPG Day in 2017. It can be run as a standalone adventure or as a prelude to the first full adventure released in Paizo's module line, Crown of the Kobold King (the two adventures use the same setting, but have different plotlines). I ran this as part of my "Roots of Golarion" campaign and thought it was a solid adventure in the classic "quest through the wilderness" vein. The writing is really good, though the interior artwork is more of a mixed bag. There are hundreds and hundreds of modules out there for first-level groups, and I can't say Hollow's Last Hope is necessarily among the best of the lot. On the other hand, it has the advantages of being completely free, is set in Golarion, and serves as a perfect introduction to several other Pathfinder modules. It's definitely worth a look.

SPOILERS!:

It's a bit weird to be writing this review during the coronavirus pandemic, as the premise of Hollow's Last Hope is about a disease known as the "wheezing death". Also called blackscour, the disease has infected dozens of people in the small logging town of Falcon's Hollow. The PCs will have to undertake a quest for ingredients necessary to cure the disease, and this will take them into the depths of the dangerous forest known as Darkmoon Vale.

The module gives the GM several suggestions on why PCs might have come to Falcon's Hollow and how to get them generally interested in seeking a cure for the plague. The adventure proper begins with the PCs waiting in line to visit a local healer and herbalist named Laurel. Laurel's shop, Roots and Remedies, is nearly overrun with people seeking folk remedies to help deal with blackscour. The module contains a good description of the shop and of Laurel's personality. After some conversation, she'll reveal that her grandmother's herbal recipe book contains a purported cure for blackscour--but the ingredients are incredibly rare. The curing brew would require Elderwood moss which only grows on the oldest tree in the forest, a specially pickled root called rat's tail which might be in an old witch's hut in the forest, and ironbloom mushrooms which are most likely found in an abandoned dwarven monastery on the far side of the forest. The "find three ingredients to cure a disease" is a bit video-gamey as a plot device, but otherwise the writing is strong in the opening scene.

The town of Falcon's Hollow is not mapped or really described here, so having Crown of the Kobold King or Towns of the Inner Sea (which contains a full gazetteer) is helpful in case the PCs decide to buy supplies or try to gather more information about these places before departing. The module does make provision for the PCs to find an experienced woodsman named Milon Rhoddam who can give them more specific advice on where to find the cure ingredients in Darkmoon Vale. The little scene also serves to introduce the Lumber Consortium, which is good if the GM plans to run other adventures in Falcon's Hollow.

The PCs will need to plot their own course through Darkmoon Vale, and paying attention to overland speed and terrain modifiers is crucial because the group is on a time limit: every day, a randomly-determined number of residents of Falcon Hollow die from the disease (until it "runs its course")! The three destinations can be approached in any order, and the module includes a good section on random encounters--only a couple of the encounters are combat-based, which I like. There's also one fixed encounter as the group travels through the forest--a fight against a hobgoblin ambusher.

The first ingredient, Elderwood moss, is found in a clearing deep in Darkmoon Vale. A new monster called a tatzlwyrm guards the tree. The back of the module contains a bestiary entry for the tatzlwyrm; it's a sort of wingless drakonkin that looks like a snake except for the fact that it has arms. The idea comes from real-world mythology, but I didn't find it particularly interesting and a standard constrictor snake would have worked just as well.

The second ingredient, pickled rat's tail, requires finding the hut of a witch named Ulizmila. Ulizmila isn't home when the PCs arrive, but it's good for the GM to play up her legend as she's further developed in other descriptions of the region. Once the PCs start snooping around, they'll be the victim of a surprise attack by the hut's guardian: an animated object in the form of a cauldron, complete with the swallow whole special ability! It could come across a little cheesy, admittedly, but I liked it anyway. There's a unique magical item to be found in the hut called a soulspeaker, and I particularly like the (ghastly) artwork for it.

The third and final ingredient, an ironbloom mushroom, is the hardest to obtain. This requires searching the grounds of a ruined dwarven monastery. There's really nice exterior shot of the monastery that perfectly fits the gridded map on the inside front cover. Several encounters are here, including wolves, a monstrous spider, a kobold rogue, darkmantles, a bat swarm, some traps and hazards, skeletons, and the "boss" of the module, a worg named Graypelt. Honestly, I think it's probably too many encounters in too quick of succession. This is a module designed for first-level characters, so it's very possible some of these PCs will be walking around with just 6 or 7 hit points as a maximum. Smart and cautious groups will explore the monastery over a period of days so they can heal overnight, but the fact that there's a disease raging in Falcon's Hollow could pressure groups to press on. In general, I really like tough decisions in gaming and external time constraints to keep the tension high--but I think for an introductory adventure like this, it's probably too much. I do like how much lore about Torag and Droskar the monastery subtly introduces. As a side note, the GM will have to decide how to address the connection between the monastery and Crown of the Kobold King, as the monastery has the entrance to the subterranean dungeons in that adventure.

Hollow's Last Hope is an adventure in the classic mode. As a standalone module, it's a solid product and would work well to introduce new gamers to the genre (with perhaps some subtle guidance from the GM about the need to heal in the final section). And as a free product, you can't beat the price! The module works even better as a prelude to the multiple other Paizo modules that use Falcon's Hollow and Darkmoon Vale as a setting. With those adventures as the skeleton of a homebrew campaign, a budding GM could tell some great stories and introduce players to their own little piece of Golarion.


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Strong Season Ten Adventure

4/5

NO SPOILERS

I played Fragments of Antiquity with a Level 7 Iconic, Quinn, and thought it was a really solid and satisfying scenario. It makes good use of a variety of skills, and cerebral PCs will have a good occasion to show off what they can do. There aren't a lot of NPCs to role-play with, but the plot is interesting and furthers a long-running PFS storyline. Overall, I'd say it's one of the better Season Ten adventures and definitely worth playing.

SPOILERS!:

Fragments of Antiquity continues the story of the Pathfinder Society's efforts to salvage as much of the Hao Jin Tapestry demiplane as possible, and to discover the fate of its creator. Venture-Captain Ambrus Valsin delivers a straightforward briefing explaining that the PCs' current task is to enter a special library that was taken whole into the tapestry centuries ago: the Shen Province Imperial Archive. With the tapestry demiplane unravelling, Valsin says it's crucial to retrieve as many of the rarest and most valuable books as possible before it's too late. In addition, the Pathfinders are asked to keep an eye out for any clues as to what happened to Hao Jin herself. It's a solid hook for Pathfinders "in service to lore".

What the Pathfinders don't know, but will very shortly find out, is that a kobold tribe known as the Scalebreakers have long used the library as the place for its rites of passage: becoming an "adult" requires entering and surviving the myriad of traps that others in the tribe have placed inside it. The PCs first encounter the Scalebreakers after entering the demiplane and crossing a trapped bridge. It's possible to fight the kobolds, but they're a friendly tribe and are happy for the PCs to enter the library and take the rite of passage. In fact, with some diplomacy, the PCs can even get them to draw a map of the interior and describe where many of the traps are. However, the Scalebreakers also ominously state that there are evil spirits in the library. I thought the kobolds were handled well here--they're fun without being silly.

The bulk of the scenario consists of exploring several different sections of the library arranged by category (such as Poetry, Religion, Warfare, etc.). The Arcane Library Flip-Mat is perfect for this. The PCs will need to spot and disable (or suffer from) the half-dozen traps the kobolds have scattered throughout the library. It's a nice reward for those PCs who have invested heavily in trap detection and removal, and better than the more common situation where a dungeon contains a single trap, the PCs set it off, use a wand to heal the damage, and continue on without a care in the world. My favourite trap is one that contains an acidic gas that both hurts living creatures but (unintentionally) starts damaging books in the section and requires the group to take urgent action to dissipate the fumes or lose the information there entirely.

In each section of the library, the PCs can use skills from a different specific list in order to help determine the most important books to remove. Being able to read Tien is really useful in this scenario! In addition, they'll come across a list of books that Hao Jin was specifically interested in, and these ultimately provide clues that she may have been headed to Axis (the Plane of Law). I liked the free-form nature of this investigation of the library, as the group can examine the rooms in any order they'd like. In addition, they'll soon start to get glimpses of what the kobolds referred to as "evil spirits"--something seems to be watching them and intentionally setting off some of the traps as the Pathfinders approach!

What's really going on has a bit of a complicated backstory. Essentially, after the library was first transported to the tapestry demiplane, its original librarians continued their work. After waiting over a year for Hao Jin's promised return, the librarians used dimension-crossing spells to try to find her--but instead, the magic created a conduit to the Shadow Plane and drew forth a group of "soulslivers." Soulslivers are extradimensional shapechangers who can see through (and travel through) mirrors. It's the soulslivers who haunt the library today, having slain some of the original librarians. As the PCs explore various sections of the library, they'll realise that there is a hidden section that can be entered--but here, they'll have to directly confront the soulslivers. I remember the battle as a fun one, with the soulslivers having some cool special abilities.

After having explored the library, the group can exit the demiplane without incident. The epilogue is brief, but it does nicely set up that the search for Hao Jin has received a major boost.

I don't have any complaints about Fragments of Antiquity. Although it's not amazingly memorable or epic, it is a strong adventure with a solid plot and a good mix of encounters. And as a continuation of the Hao Jin metaplot, it builds nicely towards that storyline's conclusion.


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Strong Conclusion to the Series

4/5

NO SPOILERS

This is the sixth and final instalment of the Rise of the Runelords audio plays. You’ve no doubt memorized my reviews of each of the previous five instalments, but I’ll give a capsule overview anyway. Each of these is a relatively short (45 minutes to an hour) adaptation of one chapter of the adventure path. The voice acting, sound effects, and music are top notch. The audio plays dramatize the key moments of the adventures, but this isn’t anything like a novelisation or an audio book in the traditional sense, so you shouldn’t expect to find a room-by-room account of each dungeon or that every fixed or random encounter will be depicted. Because there’s no third-person narration, what’s happening in the combat scenes can be rather vague and confusing. And, they’re pretty pricey considering their length. This adaptation of Spires of Xin-Shalast has all the strengths and weaknesses of the other chapters. It’s a satisfying conclusion to the series, and if you enjoyed the previous entries you’ll enjoy this one as well. I wouldn’t complain, however, if someday this epic story received a true novelisation like it deserves.

::SPOILERS!::

The audio version of Spires of Xin-Shalast starts in media res, with the adventurers in the frozen Kodar Mountains fighting yetis and looking for the Vekker Brothers’ cabin. Valeros, Merisiel, Harsk, and Ezren are the protagonists for this chapter, with Harsk getting a starring role and Ezren providing excellent narration to tie scenes together and provide background exposition. I thought the haunting of the cabin was extremely well done—quite effective (and ghastly!) in portraying the cannibalistic horrors that befell the Vekkers. In fact, I like how it’s handled here better than the more scattered and inferential presentation in the actual written version. On the other hand, the attack of the wendigo falls flat and doesn’t amount to more than “just another monster.”

I was really curious to see how the audio version would portray the legendary Xin-Shalast, City of Greed. Unfortunately, I don’t think it does the setting justice. I knew it would be hard to try to describe the exotic cyclopean wonders of such a lost city of gold, but most of the city itself is skipped past in favour of battles against some generic giants. If you’re keeping track, you won’t see anything about the Hidden Beast, Ghlorofaex, Shahlaria, or any other elements in this adaptation. Even in the depicted battle against Leng Spiders on the slopes of Mhar Massif, the creatures don’t receive the creepily uncanny description they deserve.

Karzoug is depicted as the nearly the lone inhabitant of the Spires of Avarice (there’s no Khalib, Ceoptra, Viorian, etc.), but the battle against him is exciting and suitably epic. The voice acting for Karzoug is strong, and there are enough elements of the final fight (like his using wail of the banshee and the vulnerability of the soul lens) to make it recognisable. And after the battle, there’s a nice little epilogue in Sandpoint. And a coda that reminders the listener that Karzoug was just one of the seven Runelords—and the others are stirring!


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Inessential

2/5

About a decade ago, under its GameMastery line of game aids, Paizo came out with the Invisible Character Pack. The premise is that it'd be ideal for GMs and players to be able to tell at a glance if a character or monster were under the effects of an invisibility spell. I'd always just placed a transparent dice case over the associated mini, but a different solution is presented here. Frankly, it's a bit bizarre. The Invisible Character Pack consists of a small baggy containing very thin, transparent, completely flat plastic tokens intended to represent most fantasy archetypes: there's a couple of halfling/gnome rogues with daggers, an archer, a wizard with a spellbook, a fighter with sword and shield, a dwarf warrior with a hammer, a cleric holding a holy symbol aloft, and so forth. Two enemies are also included, which the packaging describes as a "Demon-kin" and a "Dragon-kin." Because the tokens are flat, standing them up requires using some sort of adhesive to attach them to the included thin plastic bases. Acrylic cement is recommended, though for ease of storage and assembly/disassembly, I just use Blu-tak.

I've tried these out a few times in games when someone has turned invisible. They create a bit of a delay while the player tries to pick one that most closely represents their PC, but then they work okay afterwards. I'm not convinced they're really worth the trouble, however. I'll probably keep using them occasionally just because I have them, but I can't really recommend them.


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A Legendary Campaign Receives the Deluxe Package it Deserves

5/5

NO SPOILERS

I honestly don't even know where to start in reviewing this book. It was my bible for the longest campaign I've ever ran, and I've paged through its 428 pages so many times, I'm surprised my copy is in as good of shape as it is. Equalled only by the Curse of the Crimson Throne hardcover compilation, the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition is the most detailed, impressive, and gorgeous presentation of a campaign I've ever seen. It's a testament to James Jacob and the wonderful visual and art design folks at Paizo for putting it together. In addition to the core adventures, the book includes an incredible array of supplementary material throughout its appendices: gazetteers, bestiaries, new magic items, and more. And interspersed throughout are full-colour, detailed maps, high-quality artwork of NPCs and monsters, handouts, useful sidebars to help the GM in running particular scenes, and more. I really can't rave enough about it.

I've already reviewed the substance of each of the six chapters of the adventure path in my reviews of issues # 1-6 of the monthly publication they originally appeared in (available on the Paizo website). This Anniversary Edition is no lazy cut & paste compilation or mere updating of the original 3.5 rules to Pathfinder. Everything has been refined, revised, polished, and packaged together to make a whole that is even better than the sum of its original parts. James Jacob read through countless posts on the forums about the original adventures and added encounters, explanations, and more to help everything flow even better. I've compared the original versions to this revised package, and with only a couple of exceptions, the revisions are a sound improvement.

As far as I'm concerned, this is the best presentation of a classic fantasy role-playing campaign available. You'll get hundreds of hours of gameplay out of it, experience characters growing from battling goblins at level 1 to battling the greatest threats the setting has to offer at level 18. It's a satisfying, meaty, epic campaign, and this Anniversary Edition does it full justice.


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Great Back-Matter, but Use Anniversary Edition

4/5

NO SPOILERS

Alright, here we go! The final book in the Rise of the Runelords adventure path, a campaign I spent three years' of Sunday nights and uncountable hours of prep to run. It was an amazing ride and an unforgettable experience, and I'm really glad I got the opportunity to take part in it. But I'll have more on my personal experiences later--for now, I'm here to review specifically Chapter 6 of RotRL as published in the monthly AP format. I'll discuss the (mostly) non-spoilery back matter of the issue first, and then move onto the adventure itself in the Spoilers heading below.

First up is "Hazard's on the World's Roof: Adventuring at High Altitudes." This section builds on and expands the (then-DMG's) rules on topics like mountain climbing, cold weather, and altitude sickness. The PCs are headed to the very extremes of the world, and perhaps past the point where humans can be expected to survive. The section is very detailed and very useful, and I used it extensively as a supplement to the shorter treatment in the Pathfinder Core Rulebook and RotRL Anniversary Edition. There's a lot of detailed tracking involved, and some GMs probably just handwave thinks like climbing checks, nonlethal damage from cold, fatigue from thin air, and so forth--but I went all out on the theory that these things are crucial for rewarding "wilderness-ready" PCs and making it clear how dangerous this terrain is. (My group of players definitely didn't fall in the "wilderness-ready" category, so they made up the shortfall with extensive spellcasting every morning).

Next is "Of Endings and Beginnings", the last serialized entry in the fictional escapades of Eando Kline (for now). The noted Pathfinder has been trying to figure out what's in a mysterious puzzle box, and in this chapter he takes it to a wizard at Korvosae's Acadamae for help. There's a betrayal, a Hellknight, an exciting escape, and a very satisfying conclusion to the tale. Though, I do wonder . . . what's in the box! I'd like to sit down and read these all in order one day (I think they've been collected as e-books). I'll definitely use some of the flavour from them for my next big campaign.

The issue's bestiary is quite extensive, with seven new monsters, all but one of which receives a two-page entry chock-full of background and description. There's only one bland entry (a crag spider), while the others all expand on the creatures the PCs might meet in their quest to stop Karzoug such as the dreaded wendigo, the massive rune giants, and the creepy-cool denizens of Leng. Three of the entries and much of the shared background in the section fleshes out the "lamia" category of monster. Here, we have kuchrimas (birdlike scavengers), harridans (the leaders), and hungerers (amorphous, terrifying monsters--sometimes the classic artwork is better than the new stuff!). With the one exception, this is a winning collection of new monsters that incorporates a great deal of setting lore.

Last up is a four-page preview of the next adventure path, Curse of the Crimson Throne. This is for GMs only, as it's quite spoilery. But I'm convinced!

SPOILERS!:

A brief foreword explains the inspiration for this chapter: a lost city along the lines of Shangri-la or El Dorado. There's also a bit about why a wizard like Karzoug was chosen to be the big-bad for the entire AP.

Part One, "On the Trail of Xin-Shalast," explains how even finding the legendary City of Greed is incredibly difficult due to its location on one of the highest peaks in all of Golarion (Mhar Massif) and its proximity to a thinning in the dimensional wall with another plane known as Leng. Although the PCs may know the name of the city they need to find in order to face Karzoug, actually locating Xin-Shalast is another matter entirely. The adventure assumes the PCs call on Brodert Quink, a local sage in Sandpoint who has always had a fascination with all things Thassilonian. If they do, Quink is able to dig up a story about the Vekker Brothers, dwarven miners who claimed to have discovered a lost city of gold high up in the Kodar Mountains. However, the Vekkers disappeared decades ago. The PCs will need to travel to the Vekkers' old mining cabin to see if they left any hints about Xin-Shalast's location behind. This part of the chapter is mostly exposition and role-playing, but it worked perfectly (and quite organically) when I ran it because the PCs had already built up a rapport with Brodert Quink. It's always nice when those connections with NPCs, built up over many sessions, pay off.

Part Two, "Whispers on the Wind," starts with the PCs at the Vekkers' mining cabin. The cabin is in a remote part of a treacherous mountain range, and the adventure leaves it up to the PCs to figure out exactly how to get there. My group had a fun, brief detour in Urglin and then made their way into the mountains. The GM can start implementing the rules for mountainous terrain (discussed above) at this point. The bulk of this part of the adventure is essentially an elaborate variant on a haunted house. An extremely grisly tale involving starvation and cannabalism will be slowly revealed to the players through encounters with haunts. But they're extremely flavourful, creepy haunts that work well in the atmospheric setting. Until re-reading the book for this review, I had never noticed the (obvious) thematic connection to greed in the backstory. Events in the cabin gradually dovetail in a nightmarish, multi-step haunt and the looming presence of a battle against a wendigo. I think it was one of the most memorable parts of the campaign, as one of the PCs (the only one with a low Will save) fell under the sway of the cabin's evil. I was blessed with some excellent role-players in the group, and this section of the adventure can really bring out some quality storytelling if your group is up for it. This part could also easily be adapted a standalone story arc for high-level PCs who aren't in RotRL. Interestingly, the original version of the adventure here doesn't have the encounter with the frost worm that appears in the Anniversary Edition--something I noticed because that thing killed half the party when I ran it!

Part Three, "On the World's Roof," is all about the journey from the Vekkers' cabin to Xin-Shalast. The process is rather complicated the way it's laid out here (and in the Anniversary Edition), so I had to take careful notes in prep. There's a possible encounter with a sort of icy swamp nymph who, if befriended, can give the group some useful information about what they'll encounter in the City of Greed. But for the most part, this section of the adventure is where the PCs will be hit the hardest by the rigors of travelling through the foreboding Kodar Mountains. My group made things easier on themselves by wind-walking much of the way, at the cost of missing out on some encounters and clues they might have otherwise come across. But all choices have consequences, and I can't blame them.

Part Four, "Xin-Shalast," is probably the meat of Chapter Six. This section sees the PCs reaching a city of truly gargantuan scale (it was built with giants in mind, after all) and incredible age (ten millenia since it was largely abandoned!). There's a lot to take in here for both the GM and the players. The adventure addresses it by providing an overview of different sectors of the city and brief description of some major landmarks, and then devoting more content to a few particular events that will occur as the PCs explore. As the PCs will discover, their ultimate goal is to defeat some of Karzoug's minions in order to gain magical items needed to safely pass through the "occluding field" around his headquarters. Much of the adventure here is open-ended and freeform, which I appreciate from a "lack of railroading" perspective. The difficulty I found, however, is that there's too little detail for parts of the city, and passing mentions that this area here is full of strange and terrifying forms of plant life and that area there is full of strange undead beings makes a lot of work for the GM at a point in the campaign when coming up with custom content is at its peak difficulty. Another annoyance is that too much of the limited description of the city is about what particular areas or buildings were like 10,000 years ago, when I what I really need is more information about what they're like *now*. Every GM needs improv skills, but this was probably the one part of the whole adventure path where I really wished I had more detail and guidance to work with. Even more artwork of what buildings look like from "street level" or a sample encounter map for random encounters would have really helped convey the scale of the place. I don't need extensive handholding from adventures, but this was more in the line of "here's some seeds--go plant some crops".

The next part of the adventure, "Scaling Mhar Massif", is also labelled as "Part Four". This section details the full effects of the occluding field (nasty!) and gives capsule descriptions of the buildings around Karzoug's headquarters. Again, I felt like I didn't have enough to work with here. It's a very brief section that's fleshed out slightly in the Anniversary Edition with an encounter with Leng spiders that provides more insight into what's happening inside a particular part of Karzoug's palace.

Part Five/Six is "The Pinnacle of Avarice." This is the final "dungeon" of the campaign, and it's quite the affair. The sheer scale of Karzoug's fortress is difficult to represent (I combined several blank flip-mats and we had to play on the floor!), and what's inside is a cascading series of battles against Karzoug's upper echelon of servants. A really useful summary is provided, however, of the inhabitants, their response times, and their replenishment rates. One thing the PCs may or may not be aware of is that Karzoug's ascension to freedom really is imminent, and if they take too many rest breaks in between assaulting the place, they might lose by default. There are different routes through the Pinnacle of Avarice, and through happenstance some groups could go the "hard way" and fight almost everything (which happened to my PCs) or go the "easy way" and only have a few encounters before the big finish. Either way, the GM really needs to prepare well for this considering how many lengthy and complex stat blocks they'll have to deal with at any given time.

And the climactic showdown? First, I have to say that the Anniversary Edition handles it *much* better than the original version does here. In the original version, the battle takes place in a bland circular room and Karzoug is all by himself. Whereas in the Anniversary Edition, the battle is in an awesomely-described throne room and Karzoug has bodyguards in the form of a blue dragon, a rune giant, and some storm giants. This is crucial because even a level 20 wizard can get cornered and locked down in a confined space by a couple of melee brutes and beaten much easier than he should be. This is much less likely in the Anniversary Edition, and the resulting battle in my campaign was much more epic and memorable (even though it sadly ended with Karzoug victorious).

So all in all, Chapter Six as originally presented has some flaws: Xin-Shalast is described in too cursory a manner, and Karzoug probably wouldn't be challenging enough for most groups. On the other hand, there's a fantastic horror story inside the Vekkers' cabin and the issue contains excellent back-matter entries. I'd recommend a RotRL GM buy and read this issue for the useful content, but should use the Anniversary Edition for the big finale.

And don't forget the hidden message in the credits: "The runelords will return."


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Great Characters & Action, Too Many Twists

4/5

NO SPOILERS

Stalking the Beast tells a new adventure featuring the protagonist of Howard Andrew Jones’ previous Pathfinder Tales novel, Plague of Shadows. But in addition to elven archer Elyana and half-orc warrior Drelm, several new characters are introduced here as well. The chapters alternate between different characters’ points of view, and while it’s not quite as effective of a contrast as Dave Gross’ Varian/Radovan books, it still works well. This novel starts off near the small town of Delgar in the River Kingdoms, but there’s some local travel later in the book. The plot is certainly not predictable, and contains plenty of action and drama capped off with an excellent ending. Although it’s not my favorite Pathfinder novel, it’s an above-average entry in the series and definitely worth reading.

SPOILERS

The first part of Stalking the Beast concerns a mystery: what strange, invisible monster is murdering people near Delgar? The cover art unfortunately gives it away, but the protagonists have to bring together adventurers and bounty hunters from all over the River Kingdoms to form a search party capable of tracking and slaying the strange beast. I particularly liked the scene of Elyana and Drelm testing the applicants, though the eventual search party ends up being so large that I had trouble keeping track of all the participants. And this proves something of a problem as they start being killed off, and one of them ends up being the beast’s master! It’s a “twist” that fell flat to me because I couldn’t remember who the character was before he was revealed to be behind the murders to begin with. Anyway, that’s far from the end of the story: the plot also involves tensions between the fey and druids of the forest of Sevenarches (in an excellent portrayal) and several further twists that are almost dizzying. There may, in fact, be one twist too many.

What makes Stalking the Beast work as a novel are the exciting action scenes and the interesting, well-rounded characters. Drelm, a half-orc warrior who worships Abadar (god of law and civilization) is a great character, the emerging subplot of how Elyana is realising that the time may have come for her to leave the town and Drelm behind (she’ll live for centuries after his death, after all) is bittersweet, and a new major character, a bounty-hunting gunslinger named Lisette, keeps things fresh. And whereas a lot of novels fall flat when it comes to the ending, this one nails it perfectly.

I think Stalking the Beast has some room for improvement, but it’s enjoyable and probably superior to Jones’ previous Pathfinder novel.


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Fit for Purpose, but not Exemplary

3/5

Death Shrine of the Ninja Cult was another set in Paizo's short-lived "Compleat Encounter" line of products, each of which included a short adventure, some flip-cards that connected together as a battle-mat, and three pewter miniatures. Some sets were sold at a reduced price without the miniatures in "adventure only" form, and I either got one of these or the miniatures were lost before I picked this up used.

This set represents a nice little evening's drop-in adventure for any campaign in an urban area. As the title indicates, the adventure takes place in a secret shrine to a death god operated by a trio of ninjas (one of whom is a doppelganger!). Because this uses 3.5 rules, the enemies mostly have rogue levels with some use of the assassin prestige class. The adventure is pitched at levels 6-8, though there are scaling adjustments for various other levels. I didn't think the scaling was handled well though, as it basically just adds additional monsters of an easier or harder level while keeping the main antagonists (the ninjas) exactly the same. In any event, I stuck with the default range and it worked fine for PCs who were around level 5--and may have been a bit too easy (sneak attack damage can only take enemies so far when fighting in confined quarters).

There's not a firm hook to get the PCs involved here, so the GM can come up with pretty much anything that will get the group to stumble upon the ninjas' secret lair. There's a cool (and fair) trap at the entrance, and some of the treasure is seeded with potential hooks for further adventures that a homebrew GM can use to continue the adventure. For the most part, though, this adventure is a setting (the lair) and three enemies (the ninjas) and the GM can pretty much improv from there. I love the artwork by Wayne Reynolds for each of the ninjas, and two of the three (Eseldrin Nightstar and Kelzerin Thoughtstealer) have interesting backstories.

I did find the product confusing in how the numbering of the encounter cards jumps unintuitively (a requirement, I think, so that the grid cards can be double-sided). In addition, I didn't really get the difference between what the two sides of the grid cards were supposed to be showing: as far as I could tell, one was a "neat and orderly" presentation of the lair and one was a "bloody and messy" presentation--I guess the latter is for after the battle is over? Again, it was just confusing during the session and complicated the matter of figuring out which sides to use.

On the whole, the product is okay. It's definitely useful in the way in which it's intended (as a quick encounter for a busy GM), though it can be a bit harder to use than it should be. It doesn't have any ties to cool early Golarion lore like some of the other Compleat Encounters packs. I also can't judge the miniatures since I don't have them, though there are painted pictures online.


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Challenging but Cool

4/5

[SPOILERS]

Before Pathfinder was a thing, Paizo made all sorts of accessories for D&D 3.5 One thing they experimented with was a line of "Compleat Encounter" sets that included a cleverly-designed set of 10 double-sided cards that could be laid out to form a gridded encounter map--like a small version of the map pack sets. The other side of the cards contained a small adventure (maybe three or four linked encounters) using that map, along with artwork of the adversaries. Finally, they included three pewter miniatures of creatures or objects encountered in the adventure. There was truth in advertising here--with one of these sets, you really had everything you needed for a "compleat encounter."

Today these things are long out-of-print and hard to track down, but I got lucky with spotting a few dusty ones at a gaming store while on a business trip a few years back. Then, someone who was giving all their PF1 stuff away (to get ready for PF2) gave me the other ones I needed to complete my collection.

Throne of the Gorilla King is an interesting set designed for 5th-level characters (though there are instructions on how to scale it for other levels). The encounter takes place in the ruins of an ancient, foreboding temple to a dark god somewhere in the depths of the jungle. Here, the Silverback King, leader of a tribe of feral, carnivorous ape-men called charau-ka, rules his domain with the aid of a powerful magical artefact devoted to an evil deity: the totem of Angazhan. A few different adventure hooks are given for why the PCs may have come here--they could be treasure hunters after the artefact, heroes trying to stop the predations of the charau-ka, or simply travellers who take an unlucky path in the dense jungle.

The first battle takes place against Prince Tekawhan (a "normal" charau-ka) as the PCs reach the base of the stairs leading to a throne room. Although this ape-man only has 3 hit dice, it's a tougher encounter than it first appears because he stands at the top of the stairs throwing rocks and dangerous concoctions. When the PCs naturally try to close to melee, they set off some really nasty spear traps while ascending the stairs.

At the top of the stairs, they'll see the gorilla king, Ruthazek, reclining on his throne next to the totem of Angazhan. Ruthazek is a combat-beast when he starts power-attacking, and is as dangerous unarmed as he is with his sword--he's got the rend special ability. (the GM will have to make some quick adjustments from 3.5 rules to Pathfinder for this encounter) But even more dangerous than Ruthazek is the artefact he's guarding: apart from a panic-inducing fear aura, it can cast phantasmal killer once a round at any creature within 30'! Suffice it to say, this is a *really* tough encounter for 5th level PCs--they'll likely be wounded from the trap, some with poor Will saves will have fled from the artifact's aura, the gorilla king is a tough melee foe, and the artefact itself can spam a lethal spell at will. When I ran this, the PCs were only 4th level so I didn't use the artifact's magical attacks, and the gorilla king still took out all but one of the PCs before being finally dropped.

The artwork on the cards is really well-done and perfect for clipping to the GM screen to show players what they're encountering. The pewter miniatures are heavy and well-sculpted. I usually stick with pre-painted plastic miniatures because I have no artistic skills, but in the right hands these could be made into something really impressive. Regarding the cards, I did find it a bit awkward to flip back and forth, and the way they're numbered can make them confusing to use. Still, it was pretty cool to get a chance to see some of the early versions of characters and concepts (like Ruthazek the Gorilla-King and Angazhan the evil deity) that would later be incorporated into the official Pathfinder campaign setting. It's too bad these sets must not have sold well enough, because they're a fun (and handy) addition to a gaming collection.


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Ugh! So . . . many . . . problems . . .

1/5

NO SPOILERS

Ugh. I played through this at low-tier and was not a fan--I think it's one of the worst of the Season Ten scenarios. It's one of those scenarios that tries, awkwardly and unsuccessfully, to redeem goblins to get them ready for PF2. It has a "Pathfinder Junior" sort of tone, with no consequences and a simplistic plot. In my opinion, this one is safely skippable. They didn't even both to update the placeholder cover, which is maybe fate's way of telling us something . . .

SPOILERS!:

Breath of the Dragonskull is best understood as a product of a very specific moment in Paizo history. PF2 was just about to come out, it was going to include goblins as a core race, and some sort of justification had to be given for the radical change in setting lore that changed goblins from almost universally despised pyromaniac psychopaths to loveable, socially-acceptable scamps. Unfortunately, this was not a change that had been foreseen and developed over time, nor was it the subject of some sort of major story arc in an adventure path. Instead, all of the heavy lifting was dumped onto PFS Season 10--and that's why we have multiple scenarios in the season that suddenly include perfectly nice goblin tribes. It's frankly bizarre, as if learning that brain-eating zombies aren't so bad--you just have to get to know them! Breath of the Dragonskull is a good example of this issue, but it has several additional faults to boot.

The scenario starts with a briefing by Venture-Captain Jorsal. He tells the PCs that he's received a letter from the leader of a village called Mishkar in Iobaria. The letter indicates that the village is being threatened by raging forest fires, and urgently asks the Pathfinder Society for help. This scenario is a sequel to # 9-18, Scourge of the Farheavens, in which the Society apparently promised to aid the villagers of Mishkar. So, with little more to go with, V-C Jorsal arranges for the PCs to get teleported to the outskirts of the village.

When the group arrives, they see a town in chaos. Fire and smoke is everywhere, villagers and goblins are trying to fight the fires, but a troupe of centaurs seems to be attacking. Before doing anything else, the PCs have to deal with the centaurs--either through violence or diplomacy. They can then head to the village and help stop the flames from engulfing the town, or visit the (apparently nearby) centaur encampment. The choice seems an obvious one, but the scenario treats them as equally acceptable. Indeed, there are no consequences for going to the centaur encampment first and the town second--I guess the fires weren't that dangerous after all!

When the PCs go to the centaur encampment, they'll have a chance to parlay with Kaana Korag, their leader. It seems they're convinced that goblins have set the fires, and they want the villagers of Mishkar to turn the goblins over for justice. During negotiations, fires break out in the encampment and the PCs can earn some goodwill (and awkwardly dropped loot) by making some skill checks to help put out the flames.

When the PCs go to Mishkar, they'll be greeted by a cool bearlike eidolon of the village's "god-caller" (summoner) and meet goblins from the nearby Dragonskull tribe. Apparently, all it takes to save the town from imminent destruction are a few skill checks by the PCs. The leader of the Dragonskulls explains that they've always used fire to carefully maintain the health of the forest (by burning sick trees, etc.), but one day an old stone monument in their own village caught on fire and started burning everything around it. The PCs are asked by the leaders in Mishkar to accompany the goblin chieftain back to his village and stop the "burning stone" from spewing additional fire into the forest.

So the PCs head into the burning Finadar Forest. I thought the issue of smoke inhalation was handled well, as each PC has to make a check before each encounter or be fatigued. Encounters in the forest include wolverines and a chance to rescue a personality-free druid who was trapped in a "flame-shrouded bower." Dang druid, this fire has been raging for (according to the scenario) two weeks now--you really need to prep more create water and spam as needed!

Once they reach the goblin village, the PCs will realise that an ancient cyclopean monument was somehow reactivated and it's responsible for spewing burning skulls--essentially, small fire elementals. By destroying the flaming skulls and deactivating the monument, the PCs save the day. There is some potentially interesting negotiations afterward where the PCs are supposed to persuade the centaurs that the goblins weren't responsible for the fires. However, it doesn't really matter, because even if the PCs utterly fail on the Diplomacy checks, the centaurs grudgingly leave the goblins alone. Actually, one of the interesting things about this scenario is that the PCs aren't really needed--even if they fail on all the skill checks to put out the fires in the village or the encampment, nothing bad happens to either.

I'm a Negative Nancy in this review, but there's really just a lot about it that irks me. The "goblins are great" ret-con, the safety rails everywhere, the story deficiencies, and more. It has the sort of plot and tone and lack of real danger or consequences that would make it a perfect fit for a sort of "Kid's Track" adventure designed for pre-teens. But for an adult, it just comes across as kinda dumb and cheesy.


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Confusing

2/5

At first glance, the Bigger Keep flip-mat is really impressive. The "front" side is a top-down view of a castle built entirely, I guess, on an island, with the only land access through a drawbridge--pretty secure! There's a large courtyard, some buildings, and some towers, along with what I think is a central well. This side could work well if you needed a big "king inspecting the ranks" scene. It's less useful for a traditional "castle siege" encounter because of the water surrounding it--you'd need some sort of flying or amphibious assault to capture this place. Some of the problems with this side is you can't see where the doors are into the buildings, it's a bit confusing to tell whether the stairs are going up or down, and it takes some thought to understand the different vertical levels in different parts of the keep. If you stare at it long enough, you can figure it out--but it's not intuitive. The "back" side is a representation of the interior of the different parts of the keep--there's a mess hall, a shrine, and some offices (oddly, no bunks or barracks). The problem I had with this side is that it's a shifted top-down view and hard to match up with the "front" side. The interior of the towers, for example, are abstracted elsewhere--I guess--and there are some rooms that I can't figure out how they're accessible to the rest of the keep. I can see what the designer was going for, but I just don't think it works well--flip-mats are supposed to make encounters faster and easier, not require puzzle-solving.


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Library Side is Great

4/5

The Arcane Library flip-mat is really nicely designed. The front side cleverly uses multiple levels of elevation to create a really interesting space for encounters (and it's clear where stairs start and stop and how the levels related to one another, which isn't true for all flip-mats!). There's plenty of bookshelves (obviously, a must!), but also worktables, statues, and a large orrery in the center. I use this side of the mat to represent Mad Multivar's house in my Roots of Golarion campaign and it's worked well. This side of the mat doesn't even need to be an "arcane" library, and could function perfectly well as a normal public library--though perhaps a bit of a messy one, with some books scattered on the floor here and there.

The other side of the mat is one I've only ever used in PFS as it contains "magically separated practice and experimental spaces"--essentially, a collection of rooms separated by what looks like walls of fog. I'm dubious.

One great side and one okay side still add up to a pretty good flip-mat overall though. The usual advantages of Paizo flip-mats (folds easily, clear gridlines, wet and dry erase, etc.) are here as well.


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Solid Introduction to the Neutral Faiths

4/5

Faiths of Balance is a thirty-two page introduction to the major "neutral" faiths in the official Pathfinder campaign setting of Golarion. The eight faiths covered are Abadar, Calistria, Gorum, Gozreh, Irori, Nethys, Pharasma, and (more a philosophy than the deity) the Green Faith. The introduction explains that this book isn't so much about the gods themselves but about their average worshippers. I occasionally found a minor bit here or there that expanded on what we already knew about these faiths from major books like Inner Sea Gods, but for the most part this companion book is better thought of as a readable, capsule summary for players than any attempt to introduce "new" lore into the setting. Still, it's much more reasonable to expect the average player to read a page or two about their new cleric's god in a companion like this than a lengthy treatment in a hardcover book.

The inside front cover depicts the holy symbols of the eight faiths covered in the book along with their alignment, domains, favoured weapons, and centers of worship. The inside back cover reproduces the covert art, sans logo. The interior artwork is generally of a high quality, with the depictions of individual priests of each god a highlight.

The first part of the book is on the faiths. Each of the eight faiths gets a two-page overview that includes a discussion of its goals, identifying symbols and tenets, taboos, how they interact with adventurers and other faiths, how different (core) classes are or are not represented, and two new religion traits for characters who worship that deity to select from. Unfortunately, most of the traits are rather mundane and unimaginative--very much in the "you get a +1 bonus to a skill, and it's a class skill for you" vein (which can be useful, but doesn't exactly spark creativity and distinctive backgrounds). I was originally going to go through each of the eight faiths in this review, but it's probably more useful for me to sum things up by saying the entries are generally well-written and informative. I didn't know, for example, that Nethys rarely pays any attention at all to his worshippers, that Gorum believes that those who surrender on the field of battle should be spared, that Pharasma has some surprising beliefs about abortion, or how well Abadar plays into the old-school D&D idea of advancing civilization and bringing order to the dangerous wilderness. There's also a two-page summary of minor neutral deities in the setting (like my favourite, Groetus, the God of the End Times)--each of these gets a paragraph or two of description and one new trait.

The remainder of the book is a series of two-page entries on topics including religious organisations, feats, magical items, spells, and holidays.

The religious organisations covered are The Companies of the Red Standard (a knightly order sworn to Gorum), The Reborn House (adventuring spellcasters sworn to Nethys who try to right wrongs caused by magic), The Sacred Order of Archivists (scholars of Irori who try to preserve history from destruction), The Sea Dragons (Abadarians who maintain civilised seaways), The Voices of the Spire (militant Pharasmins totally devoted to the destruction of undead), The Wasp Queens (female thieves who worship Calistria), and The Wind Callers (worshippers of Gozreh who work with ship's captains). Although there's only a couple of paragraphs of description for each of these organisations, they're really flavourful and interesting--and I could definitely see entire campaigns premised on every PC being a member of one of these groups. Certainly could be a fun change from the "a bunch of random adventurers meet up" tradition.

The feats section contains a reasonable selection, and (appropriate for a book like this) they're reasonably balanced. This section also contains new "channel foci" (a concept introduced in an earlier book) which allows clerics of particular faiths to use channel energy on a special holy symbol to create a particular effect. For example, Abadarian clerics could channel through small gold-plated scales to influence creatures' attitudes (through Diplomacy) as a swift action instead of the normal rule of a minute's interaction. I like the concept.

The entry on magic items is interesting, as the items can be used by anyone (even non-worshippers), but have an extra effect that only works when used by worshippers of the relevant faith. The clockwork key, for example, leads constructs to avoid attacking its wielder, but a worshipper of Abadar can use it to try to paralyze a construct entirely. (I think this particular item is really cool, but overpowered given its price.) This section also contains a sidebar detailing a code of conduct for Paladins of Abadar.

The spells section isn't clear on whether they can be cast by anyone or only worshippers of the deity they relate to. The only spell that jumps out at me as being particularly interesting is one called early judgment, which shows the target what their fate will be in the afterlife!

The section on holidays provides just a brief description of different special events within the eight faiths--I don't think there was enough room to do this topic justice here.

Overall, Faiths of Balance is a solid, concise introduction to the eight major neutral faiths in the Pathfinder pantheon. It's very surface-level material, so don't expect major revelations or deep analyses. But for what it is, it's good.


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Interesting Character

4/5

The PaizoCon 2015 Pint Glass is one of the more interesting ones they've released. In stereotypical fortune-teller vibe (with headscarf, loose robe, earrings, and a crystal ball), "Zordinni, the Great and Gobbly" is here to predict that in just four years goblins will somehow become a core race! I don't know if Zordinni relates to something else in Pathfinder or was just a random idea. I like the little details on the glass, like the symbol of "pi" on the crystal ball and the Paizo logo and "PaizoCon 2015" in small print at the bottom of the design. And as with all of these pint glasses, I've used it several times and it stands up well to the dishwasher. Not a bad little addition to a collection.


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Poorly Plotted and Not for Level 1s

1/5

NO SPOILERS

Into the Haunted Forest is a sixteen page adventure that was originally designed to be bundled into Paizo's "Treasure Chest" product along with a deck of item cards (Elements of Power), a flip mat (Woodlands), and a map pack (Inns). All of these products (which were also sold separately) are used heavily in the module. My conclusion is that the need to incorporate all of these elements into a short adventure is part of the reason why it's just not a very good module.

I ran this for a group of two level 1 PCs and two PCs that were a little higher. The plot barely holds together and relies heavily on events that are either contingent and simply may not trigger for every group or on some heavy-handed GMing to force recalcitrant groups to take part. The background and some story elements come across as more cheesy than I think they're intended, and there's a poor use of Golarion and the tone of the setting. Last, as an adventure designed for four level 1 characters, there are a lot of encounters that could be quite deadly and they occur in a short duration with a "race against time" element that means taking rests is not optimal--the cumulative effect could easily be a sad TPK.

Paizo was putting out some *really* good modules during this time period, and I've liked some of the author's other work, but Into the Haunted Forest can be safely skipped. It doesn't add to setting lore in a significant way and there are a lot better adventures for level 1 characters out there.

SPOILERS!:

The backstory involves a druid named Willowroot recovering the magical regalia of Narven, the last forest king of Arthfell (in Andoran). In the spirit of respect, Willowroot then scattered the five parts of the regalia in different parts of the forest so that each would be in a context that best matches its elemental affinity. But soon after doing this, the druid was murdered by a tribe of goblins, one of whom has now come back to the forest (with new companions) hoping to find the Panoply of Narven and become powerful.

The adventure starts with the PCs on a road somewhere in the Arthfell--no rhyme, reason, or possible adventure hooks are given as to why they're there or where they're going. I think the way adventuring parties form is one of the most interesting parts of a campaign (the group's "origin story" as it were), and that adventures for level 1 PCs should at least offer the GM some ideas. Anyway, the PCs come across a murdered hobgoblin on the road being torn apart by a pack of wild dogs. After defeating the dogs, the PCs can examine the scene. The key thing here, and the entire rest of the adventure depends on it, is that someone in the group has to make a skill check to spot a dagger in a nearby bush. The dagger is pretty cool in appearance and has a name, Brightflame, but if no PC sees and takes the dagger, then the GM really has their work cut out in figuring out how to continue the plot.

The PCs next reach a place to rest just before sunset. The Travelers Stop Inn is nicely described in the module and served well by the Inns map pack. Shortly after the adventurers settle in at a table for some drinks or a meal, they're accosted by another (evil!) adventuring group called the Company of the Black Banner. The Black Banners were responsible for killing that hobgoblin in the woods earlier, and although they were scared off, they recognize Brightflame on one of the PCs and claim it as their rightful possession. Inevitably, a big tavern brawl starts in which everyone is supposed to use nonlethal attacks--because if they draw weapons or cast spells, the sheriff will use lethal force in apprehending malefactors. The sheriff is a level 4 fighter, and one crit from his longsword could insta-kill any low Constitution spellcaster types in the party. During the brawl, a lantern gets knocked over and sets aflame a scroll being read by a travelling scholar--this detail becomes important shortly.

As an aside, although I'll be complaining about plenty of things in Into the Haunted Forest, I should say the interior artwork is really good--the sheriff, the rival adventuring party, the magical items, and more receive high-quality artwork.

As I mentioned above, finding and having the dagger is key--without it, there's no brawl. And if there's no brawl, then the sheriff can't seize Brightflame and arrest both the PCs and the Black Banners and tell them they're confined to the inn overnight while he figures out what to do next. There are no guards or locks keeping the PCs from fleeing in the night, so although the module says the sheriff will put up wanted posters throughout his "shire," I imagine a lot of groups might happily go on the lam and seek adventure elsewhere. I think the module assumes Brightflame is the lure to keep PCs involved, but many groups might not have the right makeup to tell it's magical to begin with.

Anyway, sometime in the night, the dagger is stolen from right under the sheriff's pillow! The next day, he assembles the PCs, the Black Banners, and five other NPC suspects in the common room of the inn to hear the testimony of four different NPC witnesses. This is way too many named NPCs to introduce in a short period of time (fourteen if we include the sheriff, the Black Banners, the suspects, and witnesses). The idea is that the PCs will undertake an investigation to clear themselves of the theft. Clues on the windowsill to the sheriff's room will, hopefully, lead them to the barn, where they're attacked by an owl. The owl turns out to be the familiar of a traveling gnome sorcerer who is revealed to be the real thief, but he confesses and returns the dagger. The concept of PCs investigating to clear up a mystery can be a really good one for low-level adventures, but it's poorly handled here because there's way too many NPCs for players to wrap their heads around in a short period of time and success in figuring out the culprit all comes down to finding one clue.

The next phase of the adventure involves some forced plotting. The sheriff introduces the PCs to Professor Krane, the scholar whose work was accidentally destroyed in the previous night's brawl. The work was extremely valuable, so to avoid debtor's prison the PCs have to agree to a deal: undertake a search for what Krane explains are five magical artifacts scattered about the forest. If they do this, the sheriff offers to throw in Brightflame as well. However, he's also offered the same deal to the Black Banners, and whoever gets back first gets the dagger (and if both groups appear with some of the artifacts, the sheriff keeps the dagger!). An adventure hook is an adventure hook and I'd guess that most groups would grumble but swallow it to keep things moving, but, in-character, they could be rightly incensed by all of this--after all, the PCs are the ones who were assaulted by the Black Banners and there's nothing they could have done to stop Professor Krane's work from being destroyed. If they were just to "accept" the deal and leave the forest to seek adventure elsewhere, I wouldn't blame them.

The Black Banners have an hour's head start on the PCs, so the latter will need to hurry if they want to catch up. The first thing they'll need to do is follow directions from Professor Krane to a druidic altar in a grove in the woods. There, if they can cleverly avoid an assassin vine (another hefty threat to Level 1 PCs!) they'll be able to read a series of riddles, each of which contains a clue to the location of the five parts of the Panoply of Narven. (regarding the backstory, I have no idea why Willowroot did things this way) The riddles aren't too hard, and, indeed, the PCs can find one of the five items sitting atop the monoliths they're presently reading. The Black Banners missed it, and have already moved on.

Finding a second artefact requires battling a black bear in its cave, the third requires making a deal with a nixie, and the fourth is reached by climbing a tree and defeating a giant bombardier beetle. I don't think these encounters are necessarily bad on their own, but the cumulative effect on level 1 PCs is going to mount pretty quickly given the urgency of their mission. Each of these encounters uses the Woodlands flip-mat, though the GM is instructed to fold it so only a 1/4 of a side is visible at a time--a weird idea that doesn't work so well in practice because it's hard to keep it flat.

The search for the fifth artefact leads to the big climax, and I have to admit it is pretty cool. The item is hidden at a (now long-abandoned) inn built at the center of the forest and guarded by a new plant monster called a Wooden Protector. Once the battle begins, the Black Banners (who had been hiding nearby following the classic gambit of letting someone else do the work and then robbing them afterwards) joins in the fight, but one of their members (the goblin from the backstory) wants everything for himself and attacks both the PCs and his former allies! So there's a crazy four-way fight between the PCs, the Black Banners, the goblin, and the Wooden Protector. It's a battle-royale, and only one side can win!

Assuming the PCs return to the Travelers Stop Inn afterwards, they'll be cleared of their crimes and debts. They'll definitely have earned a lot of XP--at least those that survived--and be in good shape for whatever adventure comes next.

I think some of the problems with Into the Haunted Forest would be ameliorated if it were designed for characters who were level 2 or 3. The problems with the plotting still remain, as there's not a lot of incentive for the PCs to go on the adventure since the sheriff comes across as a jerk and the lure of a (potentially unknown) dagger may not be enough. The backstory is bland and not wholly sensical. Simply put, this one is for completists only.


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Revenge is Sweet!

5/5

NO SPOILERS

Sometimes it's good to be bad! Serpent's Rise is a one-of-a-kind scenario, in which you get to play members of the Aspis Consortium and punish those annoying Pathfinders for years of their self-righteous interference with free trade and good business. It's not offered that often (only 4- or 5-star GMs can run it), so definitely jump at the chance if you get one. I got into a game at a play-by-post convention and it was a really interesting and memorable experience. This review is based on playing in that game and then reading the scenario afterwards.

SPOILERS!:

This is a big scenario, and it's clear a lot of time and effort went into it. The gist of Serpent's Rise is that the Aspis Consortium is ready to strike back at the Pathfinder Society for decades of meddling in its affairs. The PCs play pre-generated, 7th level members of the Consortium as they undertake a daring (and risky) plan: infiltrate the Society's annual Grand Convocation, penetrate Skyreach, rip a hole in the Hao Jin Tapestry to set free Consortium forces trapped inside, and then steal a legendary artefact called the Sky Key! It's a really cool way to see things from a different perspective.

One of the things that makes the scenario work so well is the pre-generated characters. Each has a distinctive personality and motivation for undertaking the mission, different skill-sets, and some cool artwork. Just look at that guy on the cover! In addition to the character sheet, each player receives a special handout at the beginning of the scenario that details their PC's personal mission(s) during the adventure. This is somewhat like the old faction missions from early PFS scenarios, but the ones here all require some significant time and attention and tie in well to the pre-gen's backstory. Each of the pre-gens has a particular role on the team, so there's not even a briefing in the traditional sense: instead, a particular pre-gen (Rataji) is the leader of the group and the handout for his player contains the mission goals and plans he's to share with the others however the player running him wishes.

The first portion of the adventure takes place during the Grand Convocation, an event where hundreds of Pathfinders from all around the Inner Sea assemble to discuss policy. The PCs have to wait until the keynote speech is given at an outdoor parade ground before they can infiltrate Skyreach, so until then they have preparations to make and personal missions to complete. For example, one of the PCs is tasked with stealing a set of keys from Janira Gravix, while another PC (the one I played, a brawler named Zurnzal) needs to steal a Pathfinder's identity and frame them for the heist to sow confusion. There's a lot of open-ended possibilities on what will happen here. The scenario is actually a really good introduction to the Grand Lodge, as PCs may visit the statue of Dervin Gest, the Wall of Names, the on-site menagerie, and more. There will be a lot of plates in the air for the GM to keep spinning as the PCs will likely need to split up to accomplish their various tasks. Success in this phase of the scenario makes the later parts easier, and I thought it was an interesting and exciting way to begin.

When it comes time to infiltrate Skyreach, the PCs have to sneak or bluff their way past various guards and patrols. The scenario handled this intelligently, as one bad roll wouldn't sink the entire team's efforts but blindly attacking everything isn't likely to succeed either.

The Consortium agents first task is to slip into the vaults below Skyreach to steal Aram Zey's (the PFS's Master of Spells) notes on the Hao Jin Tapestry (an entrance to a magical demiplane). The vault is protected, of course, by both traps and guardians (foo creatures, which are like giant animals capable of replicating stone statues). With the notes in hand, the PCs know the ritual to tear a rift in the tapestry--but first they have to get to it.

Reaching the tapestry requires getting past a trio of Pathfinder guards forced to miss the Grand Convocation as punishment for a previously failed mission. The three Pathfinders have surprisingly detailed (and interesting) backstories which, unfortunately, the PCs will probably never get to learn. I especially liked Ralirio, a Kalistocrat who uses firearms because he hates the thought of getting dirty from fighting "filthy miscreants" and because guns are so expensive they're an obvious sign of wealth. I might have to make a Ralirio for regular play sometime!

Assuming the PCs get past the Pathfinder guardians, performing the ritual is easy and the tapestry rips open to disgorge a veritable army of Aspis agents and native inhabitants that have been misled into believing the Pathfinder Society is their enemy. This all ties into previous scenarios and storylines. As the armies pour out to wreak havoc and destroy at will, there's a surprising twist. One of the tapestry's inhabitants, a young green dragon named Gazwyr, wants to join the infiltration team on the last leg of their heist. How this works is that one of the players can set aside their pre-gen and run Gazwyr, which is pretty cool--one doesn't get to play a dragon very often!

The big finale takes place when the PCs breach the remaining fixed defences separating them from the Sky Key. This artefact is a pretty big deal (there's a whole season named after it), though I have to confess I haven't played any of those scenarios and don't know exactly what it does. Anyway, the Society has one last trick up its sleeve: Aram Zey himself has caught wind of the heist and is going to personally fight, to the death if necessary, to protect the Sky Key. This was a really tough fight, as Aram Zey is an 11th level wizard, has time to prepare defences, has some clever tactics, and the GM is allowed to use any PFS-legal spell once during the battle through the character's arcane bond. It was an exhilarating encounter when I played it, with Aram Zey flying around invisibly, mocking us with dry condescension, and blasting us with chain lightning, fire snake, and more. I was running Gazwyr (the green dragon) at this point, and he got killed! But I figure, if you have to die, getting killed by the Master of Spells is a pretty good reason. In fact, we came very close to a TPK and only managed to pull out a victory by surviving the initial onslaught of high-level spells and then wearing Zey down when he only had the low-level stuff left. Interestingly, one of the PC's special missions is to trap the dead wizard's soul in a magical lantern so he can't even be brought back from the dead--I'm not sure whether/how this plays out in later scenarios.

With Zey dead and the Sky Key in Aspis hands, the PCs are successful and the scenario ends. There's not much of a written epilogue, which usually annoys me, but this is clearly a set-up to a big storyline, so I understood why.

I could quibble with a detail here or there, but really, I only have positive things to say about Serpent's Rise. Even speculative faults like players embracing getting to be evil to do gross things is headed off with good advice to the GM on how to remind players that these are serious professionals on an important mission. This scenario is a special treat for PFS players, and the writer really came through. Play this one if you can!


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The Posters Rise Again!

5/5

Since I spent a few years of Sunday nights running the adventure path, I figured I earned the right to prominently display the Rise of the Runelords Anniversary Edition Poster in my gaming room. It's a big, movie-sized poster proclaiming "The Runelords Rise Again!" (really just one in this campaign, but a bit of hyperbole is understandable) It's obviously a marketing poster designed for game stores, but I think the image of Karzoug fighting Valeros and Seoni is a classic bit of fantasy and I'm happy to show it off.


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A Perfect Night at the Museum

5/5

I've played or GM'd on the Museum flip-mat a surprising number of times in PFS and SFS. It's been the Blakros Museum in Absalom, the Museum of Natural Philosophy and History in Azir, a garden outside a tavern in Axis, a manor house, and at least one or two other things--Paizo scenario writers really like this flip-mat! But I have to admit, it's a really handsome and well-designed mat. Although a double-sided map, it cleverly contains three floors of exhibits, paintings, statues, a curator's workshop, an outdoor garden (complete with benches and a fountain!), latrines, a lecture hall, a cool room of taxidermied animals and monsters, and more. The interior rooms are diverse and well-detailed, with plenty of room for all sorts of encounters; but I appreciate there's just enough exterior to handle encounters breaking in (or spilling out) of the museum. The gridlines are clear but not distracting, and it of course features Paizo's patented formula of allowing pretty much any sort of marker to work. This is a flip-mat you're bound to get a *lot* of use out of in organised play, or in any urban-focused homebrew game. The only tiny caveat I'll mention is that the layout of the museum isn't 100% consistent with that of the Blakros Museum in some early PFS scenarios, so you may need to make some adjustments. With that detail to one side, this is a sure-fire winner.


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Clear Design and High Quality

5/5

I've only gotten to use this pin a couple of times, since my "Venture-Supply Agent" character, Tallossin Trailmarker, died and got zombified in The Mists of Mwangi early in his career. Still, I like the design for the Exchange--it's very clear what's being symbolized (unlike the designs for others). The pin comes with a clasp that will definitely keep it secured, though as a collector I keep mine in the original baggie and on the card. The back of the card contains a capsule description of the Exchange as well. It's a nice little product and the price is right.


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Solid, Straightforward Fun

4/5

NO SPOILERS

I just finished running The Prince of Augustana through play-by-post at subtier 1-2. It has an interesting premise/backstory and a couple of good NPCs to role-play with. Most of the scenario is a fairly standard dungeon crawl, and there's not much in the way of creativity with the encounters or antagonists. This isn't one that's going to tax a GM's prep time or a player's comprehension of the story. I had fun running it though, and, despite its age, it remains a very playable scenario. It'd be a good choice for groups looking for a fast, relatively straightforward experience.

SPOILERS!:

The briefing is delivered by an irritated Venture-Captain Wallace at the Pathfinder Lodge in Augustana (a major port and Absalom's second-largest city). Wallace explains that a dirty, dishevelled, and probably quite mad individual arrived at the lodge clutching a wayfinder and telling a ridiculous story. But the link to the Society means an investigation is necessary, so the group is introduced to the individual, Gandros. The man, obviously stinking of the sewers, raves about being the "Prince of Augustana" and of a "portal to the demon lands" that drove him from his "palace." The PCs' mission is to track Gandros' trail to its origins and figure out if there's really a portal and how he obtained the wayfinder. V-C Wallace warns the group that the sewers under Augustana are the territory of a street gang called the Steel Wyverns, but that there's also a group of beggars living underground in a sort of safehouse run by a priest called the Almsman. It's certainly an original premise for an adventure, and Gandros can be a really fun and memorable character if the GM goes whole hog in portraying his particular brand of ostentatious ego-driven delusion.

The entirety of the rest of the scenario takes place in the sewers--yuck! Contracting filth fever is a constant risk, but given its 1d3 day onset time it's not likely to impact gameplay (though it might make for an annoying condition to clear afterwards). The first encounter is against a few Steel Wyvern gang toughs, one of whom is an alchemist. As originally written, this encounter was both harder and more interesting because the toughs' weapons had reach but they were across a channel of sewage, so they had the advantage. But when spiked chains were made non-reach weapons in Pathfinder, this becomes a more conventional brawl. If the PCs are smart, however, they'll grab some of the alchemist's splash weapons because the next encounter is against something many players dread: swarms! I'm as guilty as the next player in usually forgetting to swarm-proof my characters, and these things can inflict a lot of damage (plus, the swarm attacks in the vicinity of a pocket of trapped sewer gas that explodes if open flame is nearby--a fun touch!).

The PCs will inevitably come into contact with the Almsman, a masked priest of Abadar, and his Sanctuary for the city's downtrodden. Some good role-playing can be done here (as well as some of the faction missions). It turns out that the Steel Wyverns are on their way to attack the Sanctuary because the Almsman is refusing to help them, so this is one of those fun encounters that the PCs know about ahead of time and can be the defenders (and set an ambush). It's a good opportunity for players to exercise some creativity and use some game elements they rarely get to, like setting traps, location-triggered spells, etc. I only wish the scenario had made some better underground terrain and debris/junk for the PCs to work with.

The finale takes place when the PCs reach Gandros' living quarters--the (now sealed off) basement of a store that use to cater to the nobility in Andoran before the People's Revolution. There, the PCs will learn that the "demonic invasion" was really just an accidental summoning of some dretches and that the"portal to the Abyss" is really just a painted pattern on the wall. Still, the story here is tragic, as Gandros has been living for decades with the corpse of his father (the owner of the store before it went out of business) and, in this light, his madness becomes more tragic than hilarious. The scenario is open-ended about how the PCs deal with Gandros on their return to the surface, with one good option (that my PCs came up with by themselves) to have the Almsman serve as his caretaker.

Unlike some early season scenarios, The Prince of Augustana isn't particularly deadly. Level 1 PCs serve at the will of the dice-gods, of course, but for the most part the encounters here are certainly manageable. Depending on how much role-playing takes place, this might be one of those scenarios that some optimized groups race through in two hours. Nonetheless, I liked the scenario--it has a good feel, and a change of pace from the sometimes very-dense and complex later season scenarios can be healthy. And who knows--maybe someday we'll see Gandros again!


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