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Pathfinder Chronicles: Seekers of Secrets—A Guide to the Pathfinder Society (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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Print Edition Out of print
Non-Mint Out of print
Great Flavour for PFS GMs and PCsJhaeman —
Seeker of Secrets is all about the in-world Pathfinder Society: its history, ethos, leaders, lodges, and more. It's thus a great way for GMs to add more depth and description for the scenarios they run, while players can add better background for their characters and take advantage of the prestige classes and magic items in the last third of the book. The book is a 64-page softcover with full color art (that's a mixed bag, to be frank, though there's a great illustration of noteworthy Pathfinder Eando Kline on page 4).
The cover is fun, with a classic image of a rogue paying too much attention to treasure while a monster sneaks up behind her (and her friends shouting in the background is a nice detail). The inside front cover is a map of the Inner Sea noting the location of Pathfinder lodges. It's interesting to see several in close proximity in some areas while other large regions have hardly any. The inside back cover is a reproduction of the cover art, sans title and logo. Running along the bottom of the pages throughout all three chapters are illustrations and capsule descriptions of various Venture-Captains in the Pathfinder Society. These are the "face" of the organisation for most players, and it's good to have another way to make them come alive.
Chapter 1 ("Welcome to the Pathfinder Society") takes up 26 pages. It provides a good general overview of the Society: the duties that every PFS player knows ("Explore, Report, Cooperate"), the organisation's internal leadership structure, a timeline history (which comes up in some noteworthy scenarios), the in-world application process to join (which seems much more rigorous than most PFS characters I've seen could actually meet!), and a lengthy discussion of the role that the Pathfinder Society could fill in a more traditional campaign (e.g., having the PCs be part of a team sent on expeditions instead of the cliched "you're in a tavern and there's only one table free" beginning). The chapter spends several pages with a one or two paragraph description of how the Pathfinder Society operates in each region of the Inner Sea (including those where they don't have lodges or aren't legally allowed to operate, such as Hermea, the Hold of Belkzen, and Ilizmagorti). It makes for interesting reading, and there's some great ideas there, like an all-undead team for secret missions in Geb, an all elf crew to investigate murders in Kyonin, etc. There's a brief mention of rival groups (like the Aspis Consortium) and I wish this had been fleshed out much more. Last, there's a few new feats and five new spells--the best of which, teleport trap, is perfect for a big bad guy's lair (as I can personally testify).
Chapter 2 ("Where Secrets Sleep") is 12 pages long, and focusses on detailing the various Pathfinder lodges around the Inner Sea. Lodges are where agents receive their mission briefings, but they can also serve as places to rest, train, and do research in between missions. Lodges definitely don't follow a uniform plan, and are very much a reflection of the locale and the venture-captain in charge: from a back room behind a bait-and-tackle shop to a luxurious estate. Apart from capsule descriptions of various lodges, the chapter provides a map and detailed description of the Society's central headquarters (the Grand Lodge in Absalom) and of its first foray into Varisia (Heidmarch Manor in Magnimar). There's a lot of very flavourful description that should help GMs (and scenario writers) bring these places to life.
Chapter 3 ("Tools of the Trade") finishes the book off with about 22 pages of new magic items and prestige classes. The chapter starts with a one-page summary of various past volumes of the (in-world) Pathfinder Chronicles, and there's some really intriguing bits there. Several pages in the chapter are devoted to an extensive discussion and list of ioun stones that I think is more complicated and less interesting than the space is worth. A few new wayfinders are introduced, but they're so expensive I can't see PCs ever being able to afford them (or wanting to even if they had the cash). Then, there's a complicated set of tables setting out various resonance abilities when ioun stones are implanted in wayfinders. Just not my cup of tea. Some other new magic items are included. I think the best part of this chapter is the three new prestige classes: the Pathfinder Delver (archaeologists and dungeoneers), the Pathfinder Savant (spellcasters skilled in learning the magic of other classes), and the Student of War (an intelligence-based tactical fighter and leader; I used this for my sadly-departed PC Sarabian, and thought it was pretty cool). None of these prestige classes are super-powered, but I think they're all solid and worth taking. An NPC (complete with description, stat block, and artwork) for each prestige classes is also included--though I'm not really sure why.
Overall, Seekers of Secrets is a fantastic and under-used resource for players and GMs in Paizo's "Organized Play" division. It's a really nice package and one I've referred to multiple times.
Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Inner Sea Poster Map FolioPaizo Inc.
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Giant and AwesomeJhaeman —
This thing is frickin' huge! And I love it! The Inner Sea Poster Map Folio contains four individual posters that, when combined, create a massive map of the Inner Sea region of Golarion. The map is over 5 feet tall and about 3 1/2 feet wide. It's the most detailed of any Inner Sea map I've ever seen, with large cities, tiny villages, dungeons and named ruins, and more. It's the best way to a get a real sense of scale of where things are in the Inner Sea. The map stretches from Winterwall Glacier and The Worldwound in the north all the way down to the Jungle of Hungry Trees and the Field of Maidens in the south. True nerd that I am, I've had the panels laminated and hung on the wall of my soon-to-eventually-be gaming room, and used little flags to indicate where groups are currently adventuring. If I had any complaints, it's that the four panels don't overlap perfectly, and that the map doesn't show roads or trails between places. Overall, though, it's a pretty awesome (and functional) backdrop for gaming sessions.
My Red Bottle Opener is Red and Does Open BottlesJhaeman —
I understand you're upset. You've been waiting over six years for me to review the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bottle Opener. And I've been toying with your affections, reviewing almost 275 Paizo products before this one. And now, just when you've pretty much given up on it ever happening, here it is. It feels bittersweet, I imagine. After so many years of anticipation, what will life be like afterwards? But please don't think of this review as the culmination of your life's dreams. Instead, it's an opportunity to dream even bigger, and forge new paths ahead.
This metal bottle opener does indeed open bottles. If asked, I would testify under oath to such in a court of law. It comes in different colors. I ordered the red one. When it arrived, it was indeed red. At least I assume so--I'm color blind and easily fooled. It has the word "Pathfinder" on it, and now every time I drink a beer at home, people know I like Pathfinder. Except when I use my "Starfinder" bottle opener.
Great Atmosphere (but Tough!)Jhaeman —
I played through From Shore to Sea with my "caveman shaman" Gurkagh, and had a great time. It's a really atmospheric adventure with a strong story and lots of room for exploration and adventure in an open-ended way. Although the beginning is a little rough, on the whole the writing is really strong. However, the monsters in the module are also really strong! Probably a bit too strong (combined with other factors) for an average group of sixth level characters to successfully complete it. I'd definitely recommend groups play through the module, but maybe not until they're a level or two higher than what's stated on the cover.
From Shore to Sea takes place in two locations in the Hellmouth Gulf, which is a remote and rarely-visited area off the coast of Cheliax. The first location is the village of Blackcove, where the PCs quickly get the sense that something strange is going on, and the second location (where the bulk of the gameplay is set) is a small island off the coast called Nal-Kashel. The gist of the adventure is the PCs exploring Nal-Kashel and piecing together clues to realise that an aboleth (trapped underground since the days of Old Azlant) has been mind-controlling villagers from Blackcove to help it escape! The adventure background is pretty complicated (and perhaps over-complicated for a 32-page module), involving Nal-Kashel (an ancient Azlanti observatory and university); the villagers of Blackcove who, for generations, have been birthing gillmen; a strange curse on the island; off-shore colonies of skum; an alchemist named Gerlach who tried and failed to solve the mystery of Nal-Kashel; and the aforementioned aboleth with the fitting name of Mohlomog. I won't go into all of the backstory here, though bits and pieces will come out later in the review.
Part One ("The Shores of Hellmouth Gulf") starts off with the PCs walking along the coast of the Hellmouth Gulf. Absolutely no mention whatsoever is given for why the PCs might be doing this, so a GM is going to have to make up a reason from scratch. I like it when modules give at least a small sidebar listing possibilities, because if the initial adventure hook doesn't sink in, it can be hard for the GM to get things on track. The adventure hook for this module is pretty weak, I think. The PCs hear a scream in the distance and see a man in an old rowboat fighting off an attack by giant crabs. If a rescue is made in time, the man will explain that his wife is from the village of Blackcove up ahead. The couple followed a local tradition and went to spend the night on an island (Nal-Kashel), but she was abducted by strange sea creatures and the man barely escaped. He asks the PCs to travel to Blackcove and the island to see if they can rescue her, and says there's lot of ancient golden artifacts in the area. The reason it's a weak adventure hook is that Blackcove is five hours out of the way down a rarely-used road, the husband is too scared to accompany the PCs (instead, he flees back to his own village, which isn't a trait likely to make PCs feel sympathetic towards him), and no provision is made for what the GM should do if the man is killed or rendered unconscious during the battle against the crabs. Fortunately, despite a poor start, the rest of the module gets better.
When the PCs reach Blackcove, they see a village that looks almost entirely abandoned. The village has a great, creepy vibe, and the module uses the most of little vignettes, weather effects, and description to help get a table in the right mood. This is a gray, misty, lugubrious place like something out of Lovecraft's Kingsport. Eventually, the PCs will encounter one of the few remaining villagers, and the group is (quite organically) steered toward visiting the lighthouse, where an assembly is taking place. PCs can start to gather some information about what's going on here (with a nicely written and detailed section on what different Diplomacy check results will reveal) and probably learn that a local man named Gerlach visited Nal-Kashel some weeks ago but never returned. There are fears that he must have "stirred something up," and, ever since, more and villagers have been disappearing. Many of the villagers are revealed to have fish-like traits (and are mechanically Gillmen), though this is a generations-long phenomena and not something directly tied to the current adventure.
A very cool and cinematic encounter takes place in the lighthouse. The waters of the bay begin surging and flooding lower levels, while a massive (off-screen) sea creature begins probing the higher levels with gigantic tentacles to batter and snatch villagers! The PCs have to try to simultaneously keep people from panicking while fending off the tentacles. The battle is handled in an abstract way (a grid isn't supposed to be used, and there's not a floor map of the lighthouse), and when I played through it there were parts that were somewhat cumbersome because so many PC abilities assume precise areas or distances that just weren't available. The encounter goes on until a certain number of tentacles have been destroyed or a certain number of villagers have been taken, and I don't think our group got the positive result! The PCs, as professional adventurers, are naturally asked to travel to Nal-Kashel and rescue the (presumably kidnapped) villagers. Some financial incentives are offered, and a local man is willing to ferry the group over in his boat. In a really nice twist, once the journey is underway, the man transforms rapidly into a skum (a croaking evil fish-man) and attempts to rock the boat and pitch the PCs into the sea! This is an encounter that could be pretty lethal for PCs who haven't taken the necessary precautions; though, if they're in a module called "From Shore to Sea" and don't have any ranks in Swim, I don't feel *too* bad for them.
Part Two ("The Ruined Island of Nal-Kashel") involves exploration of the island. One of the common criticism of RPG adventures is rail-roading, but one of the real strengths of From Shore to Sea is that it's very open-ended. There are several locations that be visited in any order, and they're really cool, fitting the theme of an ancient Azlanti scientific outpost quite well. There's an old archives, an observatory, some mysterious towers, an astronomical center, and more. Most of the locations hold encounters and, when combined with the random encounters listed on a chart, the PCs are likely to have a pretty tough time just surviving. There are chuuls, rust monsters, a giant octopus, some particularly nasty (recurring) traps, and more. A particularly difficult location is the observatory which turns out to be crucial for the PCs to understand and solve the mystery of the island but it pulses with constant damaging effects. At one of the locations, the PCs will find the missing villagers--but they've obviously been mind-controlled and forced to dig out a tunnel from the sea into the interior of the island. There's no realistic way to rescue them, as an unlimited number of skum intervene (in waves every few rounds) if the PCs try.
Adding to the difficulty is that when the PCs step foot on the island, they will, sooner or later, be affected by a mysterious curse that starts to gradually give them fish-like traits! At first the changes are innocuous or even mildly beneficial, but the problem continues to get worse the longer the PCs spend on the island--and this isn't a place that can be handled in a quick SWAT-team style sweep.
Another issue was what ended up leading the group I played with to decide to leave the island with the task unfinished: this is definitely an adventure for smart PCs with lots of skill in Spellcraft and Knowledge (arcana). The complex backstory makes it hard to tell which of the various problems are just part of the island's magic and what parts are related to Gerlach's visit, and the problems of the taint and the (tough!) random encounters make too much lingering and back-and-forth between locations (to experiment with different ideas) a dicey prospect. Depending on party composition, the necessary skills and problem solving abilities just might not be available, and, unfortunately, I don't think there's really a way around it here. I didn't mind too much, as I think different characters with different skillsets should get a chance to shine in different adventures. We just happened to have the wrong group of characters, and couldn't figure out how to move forward.
Part Three ("The Natatorium of Mohl'omog") details the subterranean caverns beneath the island. Here, the PCs will encounter Gerlach (a sorcerer who has been dominated by Mohl'omog), multiple traps and ambushes, and, finally, the aboleth itself. My group never made it this far, so I can only evaluate the section from reading it, but I'd be honestly surprised if a group of normal sixth-level PCs survive it. There are multiple CR 5-9 encounters in short order, and one bad saving throw vs. the aboleth's domination ability can result in PCs fighting each other.
It's ironic, from an internal story perspective, that things probably work out fine (at least in the short- to medium- term) if the PCs never visit the island. Once the mind-controlled villagers dig the aboleth free, it swims away to carry on centuries-long evil machinations and schemes, and likely leaves Blackcove alone. I'm not saying aboleths on the loose are a good thing, but Mohl'omog has been out of currency for a while, and it's not like he's the only aboleth in the big blue sea. I suppose that's neither here nor there, however.
We can't move on without recognising that awesome cover--definitely poster worthy! The inside front cover is a map of the island of Nal-Kashel,while the inside back cover is a map of the observatory. The maps are done in an interesting and unusual style that I don't really know how to describe. For the sake of completeness, I'll mention that there's a page containing capsule stats for four level 6 Iconics; Paizo stopped doing this in the module line after a while, but I think there is something to be said for being able to get a game up-and-running quickly even if not everyone has original characters (though, I'm sceptical the foursome would be tough enough to survive the island).
Overall, I love the feel of From Shore to Sea. The setting is memorable and atmospheric, the exploration of the island reveals rich and interesting aspects of Azlanti lore, there's a wide variety of encounters (diplomatic, combat, and problem-solving), and the plot is interesting. I do think it's pitched a couple of levels too low, and I would recommend characters around level 8 that (hopefully) have a diverse range of knowledge skills.
Green Robots Ain't My JamJhaeman —
Of my collection of Paizo barware (yes, I'm that guy), my least favorite is the PaizoCon 2014 Pint Glass. It came in green or black, and I only ordered one color because I'm a thrifty sort of collector. The green image just doesn't stand out well against the glass, and you really have to look closely to figure out what it is. Even then, it just looks like some kind of weird robot, which doesn't really call to mind anything particular about Pathfinder (and this was years before Starfinder). According to the product page, it's an "emerald automaton" from the Emerald Spire Superdungeon. Well, some day, I'll run or play through that and be very proud of this glass. Until then, I'm going to ponder my first-world problems while drinking from *other* pint glasses!
(I do appreciate that it's dishwasher safe, because I'm *way* too lazy to wash anything by hand . . .)
Good Storyline and Great Set-Piece Action SceneJhaeman —
There's a lot to like in Honorbound Emissaries. There's plenty of cinematic action scenes, interesting NPCs, and storyline development. It is a very straight-forward scenario without much in the way of player agency, and there are some clunky spots with skill checks. Still, I ran the scenario at subtier 7-8 using the four-player adjustment, and had a good time overall.
During the briefing, the PCs may only slightly outnumber the NPCs. Luwazi Elsebo is there on behalf of the Starfinder Society, but she's accompanied by the deliciously enigmatic Iteration-177 and another returning NPC (from # 1-04), Captain Yuluzak of the Vesk salvage vessel Honorbound. It seems that the Honorbound recently came across a destroyed vessel of unknown make. After returning to Absalom Station with some of the salvage, it was purchased and put up for sale by the pawnbroker Julzakama. Iteration-177 heard of the sale and realized the item was unique to a federation of races in the Vast called the Kreiholm Freehold that used to occupy part of the Scoured Stars system! The PCs are tasked with returning to the wreckage on board the Honorbound and seeing if they can find clues to where the Kreiholm Freehold exists today.
During the resulting Drift travel, the PCs are expected to bond with the crew of the Honorbound. Each crew member is given a particular interest that the PCs can appeal to with the right skill checks. Each success leads to the crew member giving the group some valuable technology (often worth thousands of credits!), which is a particularly clunky way to work in the justification for certain items appearing on the Chronicle sheet at the end. I really wish organised play would find a way to dispense with the need for these loot dumps, as they just get in the way of the story and are rarely meaningful in play.
Once at the wreckage, finding the coordinates that the ship departed from isn't difficult. The story really heats up once the Honorbound drops out of the Drift and into the middle of a warzone! The Kreiholm Federation is being invaded by a jinsul armada. Before any decisions on what to do can be made, the Honorbound receives a distress call that's repeated in Vesk! It seems that, planetside, a hospital is under attack by jinsul ground forces and the staff and patients inside are trapped. Captain Yuluzak makes the executive decision to help out and lands his ship planetside. The PCs are expected to rush into the hospital, rescue the civilians, and get back out before the entire facility is overrun by jinsul. The Hospital flip-mat is put to great use here. The PCs will end up engaging jinsul shock troops before they can evacuate the civilians. The civilians' main spokesperson is a doctor named Yuuqa, and she's just one of three entirely new alien species within the facility: winged, batlike humanoids called Nelentu; amphibious creatures with cilia-based mobility called Syngnathrix; and gaseous, intelligent oozes who rely on encounter suits for communication called Thyrs. It's a lot for the GM to describe in what's supposed to be a high-pressure situation, and it would have been nice if each species received its own illustration (following the picture being worth a thousand words principle). There's an interesting moral choice for the PCs to make here between recovering surgical technology that exceeds even Pact Worlds standard versus hurrying to rescue the trapped civilians. I'm sure most groups will choose the second option, but it's nice to see a plausible alternative (with credible consequences for either choice).
After lifting off from the planet with the refugees from the hospital, there's an opportunity for role-playing with the NPCs. The PCs can learn more about the Kreiholm Freehold and its various sapient species. Oddly, the scenario allows both Culture and Diplomacy checks here, which doesn't make a lot of sense to me--Culture represents knowledge already learned, so Diplomacy would seem to be the better option. I find too many scenarios allow too many skill checks to be used as equivalences, which devalues the (already problematic) skill system in Starfinder.
The final third of the adventure is pretty damned exciting and cinematic. The Honorbound receives a distress signal from a Kreiholm command ship named Kreiholm's Hope. The ship is being actively boarded by jinsuls, but carries an important passenger: the thyr council member Speaks Forgotten Words. The PCs have to board the command ship while the Honourbound engages the jinsul ships, rescue Speaks Forgotten Words, and get to an evacuation point for pick-up when the Honourbound returns. The jinsul boarding party (mystics) aren't too tough, and there's a little fun to be had with glitching gravity generators. The artwork for Speaks Forgotten Words is cool. The real fun picks up when the PCs escort the ship's surviving crew out of a breach and onto the outer hull of the ship. The PCs have to fight off wave after wave of jinsuls emerging from the interior until a sufficient number of rounds pass for the Honorbound to arrive. Even after this happens, there's still the drama of getting the allied NPCs over to the friendly ship while under heavy fire. PCs with a penchant for heavy weapons will enjoy the anti-personnel starship gun turrets they can use to even the score. The map could be explained a bit more clearly and Zero-G combat is clunky, but (for the most part) it all feels very fast-paced and heroic in a Star Wars Jedi rescue vein.
The scenario ends with Speaks Forgotten Words extending an invitation for the Starfinder Society to meet with the Kreiholm Federation's governing council. I'm sure some important plot developments will come from that.
I thought Honourbound Emissaries was a really good scenario. Like too many SFS scenarios, it's very much on rails; if the PCs don't think of or do the right thing, Captain Yuluzak always steps in to advance the story. It also needs some work in terms of skill checks to make choices more meaningful. However, it introduces some really interesting NPCs, offers some interesting directions for future storylines, and has a really cool third act. If blasting alien after alien to keep a foreign dignitary alive while trying to somehow cling to the hull of a starship during a massive space battle doesn't get your science-fantasy blood pumping, I don't know what will!
The Hao Jin Cataclysm is the big kick-off to the tenth and final season of PF1 organised play. I played through it with my mid-level half-orc paladin at PaizoCon AP in 2018, and then later purchased the scenario for this review. As a multi-table special, it's fair to expect some big plot developments and lots of fireworks. I think for the most part The Hao Jin Cataclysm delivers. It does a great job incorporating elements from older PFS scenarios (as far back as Season Three) and continues the epic tale of the Hao Jin tapestry. The weaknesses it has are weaknesses common to specials: a frantic pace, an emphasis on combat and skill checks over role-playing, and the likelihood that only some of the overall story will get filtered down to each table and player. I've only played a few multi-table specials, and I thought this one was about average.
The Hao Jin Cataclysm is an imposing package to read through, weighing in at a whopping 88 pages! But actually, only 37 pages of that is the adventure, and then there's 40 pages of bestiary followed by a dozen or so pages of handouts and checklists. The adventure is divided into three parts, with Part One consisting of the mustering and briefing, Part Two consisting of a series of short vignettes and encounters, and Part Three as the big finale. The elements that players will probably have encountered in other multi-table specials, such as an intermission, boons for a certain number of successes, and the aid token mechanism (something I've always found too complicated to really work well) are all here as well.
Part One (15 minutes) starts with mustering and a sort of pre-briefing by Master of Spells Sorrina Westyr. She gives the PCs (who have assembled in the Grand Lodge) a brief history of the Hao Jin Tapestry and an explanation of the problem: it's coming apart at the seams! While waiting for other players to get seated at the table, there's a nice array of things that PCs who are ready can do, such as assessing the damage to the tapestry, checking supplies, interrogating members of the Aspis Consortium, and more. Each of these actions is intended to take just a couple of minutes of role-playing and a skill check, but the results can provide some pretty useful boons for either the PC or the whole table. It's a good way for tables that fire early to have some fun before the main event, even though, in my experience, it's hard to incorporate the skill checks organically and rare for the players to remember the special bonuses they've earned.
The main briefing is delivered by Aram Zey. Zey says the entire tapestry demiplane will collapse in just two days. Tears in the tapestry seem to be centered around six sites of past Pathfinder Society activities, and there are incursions from the astral plane and spontaneously spawning undead wreaking further havoc. Thus, the Pathfinders' first task is to secure and stabilize these six sites so that special (off-screen) groups can repair the damage.
Part Two (140 minutes) is where the PCs complete as many of these six missions as they can in the time they have available. Players are given a handout with a brief summary of each mission, and the tables can choose which ones to tackle in which order. If the PCs restore order at a location, a success is reported to the Overseer, and after a certain number of successes, that mission is closed to other tables (and everyone earns a boon). Once they've entered the tapestry, the PCs can't return to Absalom without sitting out the rest of Part Two. However, I don't think the encounters are so difficult that the pace is really worrisome for most groups (and there's built-in healing and, later, resurrection in the scenario).
In Mission # 1, the PCs need to help the Muckmouth lizardfolk tribe. The Muckmouths are facing a dried-up water supply and constant attacks from undead, so the PCs need to explore an ancient Serpentfolk ruin to set things right. This requires dispatching a mixed group of undead (with the precise composition depending on sub-tier) and then by-passing three magical wards using skill checks. The Muckmouths were the subject of a Season 3 scenario, and there's a really nice reward here for PCs who took part in that adventure.
In Mission # 2, the PCs visit Round Mountain. The location isn't described very well in the scenario, but apparently it's a wobbly or constantly-spinning sort of artificial mountain that contains a tribe of ratfolk (also from scenarios in Season 3). During an encounter with various creatures from the Darklands (like darkmantles or ropers), there's a risk of falling prone due to the spinning--though there are also a host of skill checks to stop the spinning. I thought it was all rather vaguely described.
In Mission # 3, the PCs visit the location from yet another Season 3 scenario: The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment. The leader of the temple has had his mind invaded by evil spirits caused by the tapestry's unravelling. The PCs can enter the leader's mind through a ritual and set things right by overcoming (through skill checks) six different nightmarish obstacles. This mission looks pretty easy, but is there is a chance that, if the PCs fail to overcome the obstacles, the evil spirits manifest as actual demons.
In Mission # 4, the PCs return to Slave Mountain (from a Season 6 scenario) and fight duergar who are sending the souls of sacrifices to the evil night hag Aslynn. Unlike the other missions, a fun twist here is that PCs who played through the previous scenario don't get a special advantage; instead, they're remembered by the duergar and become special targets!
In Mission # 5, the PCs interact with three groups encountered in a Season 6 scenario that featured the Aspis Consortium invading the tapestry. The three groups--warriors of Lung Wa, owl-headed syrinxes from Arcadia, and wyvarans--are all sceptical of the PCs. At least two of the three groups have to be won over to the Pathfinder side. A wide variety of skill checks can be used, but many seem especially forced (something only really good GMs can fix). There's also a seemingly random battle against some bugbears.
In Mission # 6, the PCs need to help some kappas (turtle-backed humanoids) who have been deprived of water through the unintentional actions of a sovereign dragon. The PCs can negotiate with the dragon or fight it, and I appreciate the reminder in the text to encourage the players to role-play rather than just rolling dice for Diplomacy.
I can only speak to my own experience, but I only vaguely remember these encounters. There's a ton happening in a relatively short period of time, and tables of strangers are understandably focussed on quickly figuring out the problem and (usually) killing it. I wish there was a way to get better role-playing and character interaction in the multi-table specials, but I'm not sure if there is. Anyway, for groups who complete the missions quickly or just want to spend some extra time at a location, there are additional encounters provided against ghouls, boggards, and magical beasts. These are essentially random encounters, but winning one does count as a success.
Part Three (100-120 minutes) starts with all of the Pathfinders back in the Grand Lodge, thinking they've been successful in stabilizing the Hao Jin Tapestry. Alas, just as Aram Zey is thanking everyone for their efforts, a massive tear appears in the tapestry (partially the doing of the night hag Alynn)! Undead and invaders from the astral plane invade the demiplane, so the PCs must once more sally forth unto the breach! Tables can choose weather to focus on undead or the "astral invaders" (a weird way to describe what are groups of either giants, pirates, or drow). Each encounter that's won is a success reported to the overseer, and once enough successes are reached, the big finale starts. I'm a bit fuzzy on exactly what's happening here (despite having played through it and read it), but apparently residual magic from the tapestry in its death throes conjures huge phoenixes. The PCs need to destroy these phoenixes, with each success resulting in a phoenix feather. The feathers can be used to either resurrect any party members who have died or to repair one rent in the tapestry. Once enough of the tapestry has been fixed, the tapestry is (semi?) permanently repaired. The conclusion has Aram Zey merging with the tapestry as a sort of special guardian, and I think that's a plot point that plays out throughout the rest of Season Ten.
I imagine The Hao Jin Cataclysm would be a very rewarding scenario for players who started PFS several years ago and remember the multiple scenarios it has callbacks to. Similarly, the plotline of the tapestry has been going on for several years now. As a relatively recent newcomer to PFS, neither meant a lot to me personally, but I still recognise the value in storytelling progression and continuity. As for the encounters, I found them pretty run-of-the-mill and uninspired; but that's doubtless the side-effect of having to prepare something for several different sub-tiers. Overall, I feel that this multi-table special was fine, even if it wasn't particularly . . . special.
Pathfinder Adventure Path #5: Sins of the Saviors (Rise of the Runelords 5 of 6) (OGL)Paizo Inc.
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Maybe Filler, But Really Good Filler!Jhaeman —
Sins of the Saviors is Chapter 5 of Rise of the Runelords. From the forums, it's probably the least-liked chapter in the adventure path because there's a lot of dungeon-crawling and not that many opportunities for role-playing. In addition, some GMs and players perceive that they've gone through a lot of effort for relatively little gain. The good news is that the chapter can easily be shortened or swapped out for something else (as long as the party's experience points and wealth doesn't suffer too much). I've been GMing the Anniversary Edition with my players, and didn't find the chapter the repetitive slog that others had. But, I can see where the complaints are coming from.
I'll start with the non-spoilery back matter first.
"Magic of Thassilon: Lost Arcana of the Runelords" is an eight-page overview of the schools of Thassilonian sin magic. Each entry contains a brief description (full of important setting lore) on the relevant Runelord, and then introduces a new custom spell and a magic rune (capable of being tattooed on people with an included feat). The new spells and runes are pretty good for the most part, though one (blood money) has proven extremely problematic over the past decade. As a spell learned as a special reward through the defeat of a Runelord, it might be okay--but included in online databases as just another option for players in any campaign to pick, it leads to some major unbalanced gameplay. As an aside, there's a great drawing of Runelord Alaznist on page 59. The section also contains an entry on a certain type of weapon, but that heads into adventure spoiler territory so I won't comment further.
"Lamashtu, The Mother of Monsters" receives a ten-page entry. The entry is very detailed and very interesting, going through the evil goddess's backstory, church, temples, clergy (including some great NPCs), relationships with other religions, two new clerical spells, a new druid variant class (a 3.5 concept similar to an archetype), and more. Lamashtu is a really *dark* deity when you think about it, and this entry was early in the days of Paizo before they became more PG-13 in orientation. The excellent artwork continues in this entry. It probably would have been good to have the entry appear earlier in the adventure path when encounters with Lamashtans were a major theme of Chapter 1, for example, but it's still really good and should be read today for anyone interested in Lamashtu (despite some of it being incorporated in later books).
"Belly of the Beast" is the next instalment in the story of intrepid Pathfinder Eando Kline. It's a fantastic entry, as Eando tracks down an old adventuring companion to help break into the headquarters of the Red Mantis assassins guild in Korvosa! There's great flavour on the city (I need to re-read it before running Curse of the Crimson Throne someday) and it's a very exciting tale.
Last up is the bestiary, which contains six new monsters. Ercinees are basically giant magical birds--they're a bit like rocs or thunderbirds, and I don't see a lot of use for them. Marsh giants don't have impressive stats, but the description of their religion is really interesting (and I'll always remember one cutting down poor Briza!). Witchfires are a sort of flaming, incorporeal undead. The sidebar on "The First Witchfire" is a nice little tale. Shemhazian demons are pretty much the archetypal demon, but, at CR 14, they pack a punch. The Night Monarch is the herald of Desna, and it would be a nice treat to use in a campaign featuring a high level cleric of the deity. Yethazmari, on the other hand, is the herald of Lamashtu and the sire of yeth hounds! There's a little sidebar on how to treat heralds in general. Apart from Ercinees and maybe Shemhazian demons, the bestiary has some worthwhile content.
Overall, it's a great issue for back matter. There's real quality and depth in the entries.
Now, on to the adventure!
The foreword by Wes Schneider says that the concept with Sins of the Saviors was a dungeon themed around the seven sins of Thassilon. Schneider reports being impressed by adventure author Steve Greer's incorporation of dynamic politics within the dungeon.
The dungeon that forms the core of Chapter Five is called Runeforge, and a background section explains how it was formed in a timeless demiplane during the age of Thassilon to serve as a shared, neutral laboratory for the Runelords. Each wing of Runeforge was devoted to one of the sin magics. Over the subsequent ten millenia, the denizens of each wing had to figure out how to move forward with no word from their respective masters, and many succumbed to war between the factions or madness. As we'll see, the core of the adventure in this chapter is the PCs discovering the location of Runeforge, figuring out how to get inside, and surviving long enough to have special runeforged weapons constructed in order to eventually do battle against Karzoug.
Part One assumes the PCs are back in Sandpoint (or are summoned there through magical communication) when a sinkhole suddenly forms in the middle of town. After strange sounds are heard within and town guards exploring the hole never return, the PCs are asked to investigate. The sinkhole was actually caused by the surge of magical power released when Mokmurian was destroyed (at the end of Chapter Four), because the catacombs under Sandpoint contain one of the magical devices through which Karzoug is collecting power from those marked with his sign. But what Karzoug doesn't know is that Lamashtu has seen the timing auspicious to resurrect one of her most loyal agents from ancient Thassilon: a man named Xaliasa, who served as a sort of triple agent (ostensibly loyal to Alaznist, secretly reporting to Karzoug, but even more secretly serving Lamashtu!). Xaliasa was obsessed with finding a way to escape the Runelords should his deception ever be discovered, so he figured out the location of Runeforge and planned to bolt there as a safehouse if needed--only, he died in the same cataclysm that destroyed the rest of Thassilon. Now, however, resurrected and fairly insane, Xaliasa (soon to be known as the Scribbler) has begun scribbling mad rhymes and cryptic messages all over the walls of the underground shrine to Lamashtu in which he died. There's a lot of backstory there, much of it convoluted, and the PCs probably won't figure most of it out.
What they will need to do is enter the ancient shrine, survive various traps and denizens, corner the Scribbler, and decrypt the hidden messages on the walls to figure out the location of Runeforge (and the reason they'll want to go there--to create weapons capable of defeating Karzoug). The shrine encounters are fairly complex for the GM to run, as there's various traps and alarms and the Scribbler is a hit-and-run adversary who hounds the PCs throughout. He's actually not very tough if the PCs can keep him from escaping, but he can be a fun character to role-play (the voice actor in the audio version did a great job, and might serve as inspiration). The most memorable aspect of the shrine for my group was a trap carrying a magical suggestion that made PCs paranoid of each other. PCs always pack so much firepower that they're each other's most dangerous enemies! As for the hidden rhymes on the walls, it's kind of nice to see an adventure making the most out of Linguistics and even Perform (Poetry).
Part Two is about the PCs figuring out how to get into Runeforge. They'll know (hopefully) from Part One that the entrance is located far, far to the north. The adventure leaves it up to the GM to deal with anything during the journey there (my group just teleported). The scene on the cover of the issue depicts what (probably) happens next: the PCs find a group of seven stone heads in a circle, and as they're fussing with each one to get a key, a white dragon named Arkrhyst silently glides in and attacks! (I like in the cover artwork how Merisiel seems to be slinking away with a "I think I left the oven on"). For complicated reasons, my group ended up vanquishing Arkrhyst in his lair, which made the encounter much more manageable.
Part Three details the central hub of Runeforge (off of which all of the other wings branch). There are two key bits here. First, the central runeforge pool is used to create the special weapons once the group has obtained the necessary ingredients from some of the other wings. Second, being in Runeforge amplifies the PCs' innate tendencies towards particular types of sin. GMs are supposed to be tracking this since Chapter 1, and PCs who are aligned to particular types of sin receive mechanical bonuses and penalties depending on what wing they're in. I *really* like the concept of personalizing consequences for PCs depending on their past actions, but I don't think it really came off successfully in play--the bonuses and penalties were just too subtle. I tried a variant approach (combining the mechanical with changes in personality) and that worked a little better.
Anyway, essentially the rest of the chapter takes place in Runeforge. The PCs can enter each wing in any order, and don't have to go into each and every one. Indeed, once they figure out the ingredients they need to make a weapon against Karzoug, there's only a few necessary wings. In retrospect, I wish I would have made more of the rivalries between different factions in the different wings and tried to draw the PCs more into the complicated political and adversarial relationships. Some hints in the adventure on how to do this would have been appreciated. One interesting difference between the original version of this chapter and how it appears in the Anniversary Edition is that, in the former, each PC has to make a saving throw in order to traverse a hallway to reach another wing--which means, in practice, groups are likely to get split up and face the first encounter in each wing without being at full strength!
Parts Four through Ten detail each of the wings of Runeforge. I won't spend a lot of time summarizing them here, and will instead just note a few particular things. First, there's a nasty magical disjunction trap in the Abjurant Halls that will require a lot of preparation by the GM (since PCs carry around so much magical gear, and each item receives an individual saving throw, it could take ages to calculate the bonus for each and go through it all at the table). The percentage chance of each particular item being permanently destroyed is small, but chances are at least some stuff will be gone. I know some players hate this, but I always figure one of the challenges of the game is dealing with the theft/sundering/disjunction of precious items. Second, the story of Vraxeris in the Shimmering Veils of Pride is fantastic. High-quality writing like this is what sets Paizo APs apart from the adventures of most other companies. This area also has mirrors of opposition which can force a PC to fight themselves--talk about rocket tag! Third, the Festering Maze of Sloth is expanded substantially in the Anniversary Edition. Fourth, the Iron Cages of Lust is one of those things that requires a GM to really know their players or do some "content warning" in advance. I thought it was really good, but it could easily have gotten to an uncomfortable level at the table. There's a ton of backstory on Thassilon and the Runelords written into these sections of the adventure so they make interesting reading even if the GM decides to use a substitute adventure.
Part Eleven is where the PCs assemble in the central hub and make their runeforged weapons. In a great surprise, Karzoug knows what is happening and animates a massive statute of himself to intervene! It was a really exciting encounter, and the only thing that topped it in the chapter was the PCs' desperate bid to escape Runeforge (which required them to dash through the Halls of Wrath chased by some terribly dangerous foes). The chapter concludes with presumed escape from Runeforge, setting up the final journey next chapter.
As I said at the beginning, Chapter Five has a lot of dungeon-hacking and few opportunities (especially after the beginning) for role-playing. This will suit some groups well and annoy others, so the GM should free to alter things. In one respect, coming to Runeforge is a *lot* of work just to get some special magic weapons that (although certainly useful) are not strictly necessary for success in Chapter Six. One might consider Chapter Five filler in order to get PCs the experience points and miscellaneous treasure they need to get ready for Chapter Six. But if it is filler, it's well-written filler!
The Irregulars is a free, four-part series of Pathfinder web fiction available here. The story's about a group of Andoren slave-liberators undertaking a mission in nearby Molthune. Unfortunately, there wasn't much about the story that really caught me--it was very by-the-book, with forgettable characters and plot. One can't complain about free, but I'd put this one pretty low on the reading list.
The story starts with the heroes ambushing a slave caravan headed toward a camp in Molthune. After getting some of the camp's defenders to sortie out looking for them, the Andorens then launch their plan to sneak in and set the slaves free. There are a lot of new characters to take in during Part 1. The action scenes are fine, but a bit confusing in places. Probably the story's biggest fault is that there just isn't much tension--things largely go as planned, and that doesn't make for a nail-biting read. There's nothing particularly wrong with The Irregulars--it's just that with so much other Pathfinder material to read, there's no point in making this a priority.
Pathfinder Society Scenario Intro 2: First Steps—Part II: To Delve the Dungeon Deep (PFRPG) PDF (Retired)Paizo Inc.
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Solid Introductory ScenarioJhaeman —
The title’s a mouthful, but First Steps, Part II: To Delve the Dungeon Deep delivers a solid Pathfinder Society adventure. As with Part I, the goal here is to introduce gamers to Pathfinder and to the Pathfinder Society’s faction leaders in particular. The scenario’s opening sequence is much better than the generic briefing we often get, and the bulk of the gameplay has a few creative twists on classic gameplay. It’s not a mind-blowing scenario, but it is a solid experience and worth playing to continue the theme started in Part I (though, please note, Part II has been officially retired).
First Steps, Part II starts off in an interesting way, with the PCs receiving an invitation to attend a holiday festival in Absalom. The invitation, sent by Venture-Captain Amara Li (of the then-existing Lantern Lodge), is for the Snapdragon Festival, a traditional Gokan holiday featuring fireworks, plum wire, and elaborate dress. Goka is part of Golarion’s little-used Asian/eastern setting, and the Lantern Lodge was themed around the so-called Dragon Empires. The PCs thus have a chance to put on their finest, mingle with some guests (the GM should do a bit of improvisation here), and learn a bit about another culture before they’re discreetly invited aside for a private meeting with Amara Li. She explains that one of her ancestors gave the gift of a ceremonial jade katana to a warlord that had laid siege to Absalom centuries ago; like all invaders before and after him, this warlord failed. Amara Li suspects the jade katana still lies somewhere within the rubble of the warlord’s siege castle outside the city, and asks the PCs to retrieve it for her. She also makes it clear, however, that this is a personal favour to her and not an official mission for the Pathfinder Society. What she doesn’t explain to the PCs is that this ceremonial katana hides important trade agreements between her family and Qadira noble houses, and she desperately needs money to cover the enormous cost of establishing the Lantern Lodge in Absalom!
Later during the party, the PCs are pulled aside by (separately) two other representatives of PFS factions. The bombastic Colson Madris (of the Andoren/Liberty’s Edge) faction says he’s heard the PCs are venturing into the Cairnlands (the area around Absalom where dozens of ancient siege castles still exist, crumbling into ruin). Madris warns the group about undead, and I guess serves as a bit of introduction to Andoran and the Eagle Knights, but he comes across as a prat and I think does a disservice to the faction. Soon after that encounter, the PCs are pulled aside by Trade Prince Aaqir al’Hakam, representing the Society’s Qadira faction (he later is a founding member of the Exchange faction). al’Hakam also suspects ancient trade agreements can be found within the warlord’s ruined siege tower, and wants the PCs to bring it to him (instead of Amara Li). I like seeing the PCs get involved in intra-faction intrigue early on in their careers, and I wish more scenarios would make good use of the story possibilities presented by the faction concept. The festival was a great way to start the scenario, though it could perhaps have been fleshed out a bit more to help the GM with some flavour and role-playing.
The PCs have no difficulty travelling to the crumbling siege tower. Just outside the entrance, they’re accosted by a ghoul who still retains some memories of her former life—she was once a Pathfinder! The incident is set up so the PCs can handle this encounter diplomatically or through combat, and I thought it was presented well. The interior of the keep is essentially a dungeon crawl, which I might complain about but these First Steps scenarios are designed to introduce players to the game and there’s no arguing that room-by-room exploration of dungeons isn't a core part of many adventures. In addition, the writer did a good job of making the siege tower more than just a random collection of unconnected encounters. There’s a lot of details connecting the rooms and dangers within to the adventure’s backstory, and some creative touches like giving the PCs a chance to control a (small) earth elemental. A potentially devastating encounter is versus one or more blindheims, creatures that have a gaze attack that blind a PC for an hour on a failed save; with a little bad luck here, the entire party could be effectively crippled for a while.
The “boss” encounter in the dungeon involves a kobold tribe that has been tricked by a skulk (humanoids creatures skilled in deception and disguise) into thinking that a fire-breathing statue is giving them instructions. The scenario does a good job of setting up multiple ways this situation can be addressed, so it doesn’t have to be a pure hack n’ slash situation. I did find the in-text instructions for the GM on how to run the skulk clashed some with some of the given During Combat and Morale conditions given in the stat block, and it would be very possible for the skulk to escape the dungeon entirely (taking the jade katana with him!). Assuming the PCs recover the katana, they may or may not discover the trade agreements within. If they do, they’ll have a choice on who to present them to when they return to Absalom, thus gaining more favour with the Lantern Lodge or the Qadira faction. There are no long-term implications of this decision (and the scenario is retired anyway), but it’s a good role-playing choice nonetheless.
Overall, I appreciate First Steps, Part 2 more now than I did on a first quick read-through. It does what an introductory scenario needs to do, and even though I wish there was a bit more flavour here and there (and more time interacting with the faction leaders), there’s a good mix of combat, role-playing, and setting lore. It’s a satisfying way to spend a few hours.
Pedestrian Encounters, But Good RP OpportunitiesJhaeman —
It Rests Beneath uses a classic science-fiction trope to good effect. It’s a scenario that focuses on the exploration side of the Starfinder Society and requires some interesting group decisions. It’s not an action-heavy scenario, nor one that’s hard or difficult for the PCs. Although some of the encounters are a bit bland, on the whole it was fun. I played through it with my (now BANNED!) homage to Stephen Hawking, Professor Reivax Kipe.
The briefing takes place on the Master of Stars, and it looks like the SFS flagship is getting close to being ready for business! Fitch, leader of the Wayfinders faction (and busy grandma) delivers the mission succinctly. The PCs need to travel to a planet in Near Space called Vabaimus and deliver geological survey equipment and scouting vehicles for a research station that has discovered a strange landmass: a plateau hundreds of miles across covered in a slick, gray shell. Vabaimus doesn’t have any intelligent life, though it does have some sloth-like native fauna that someday may develop sentience. It’s a pretty straightforward briefing, and there’s not much for the PCs to do but hop in a spaceship and blast off. One very cool thing is that the PCs can bring their own vehicles with them!
The journey to Vabaimus is uneventful (i.e., there’s no starship combat in this scenario). Upon landing, the PCs meet their main contact at the research station in the form of a scientist named Dr. Mora Montressi (depicted with cuddly xeno-sloth!). Montressi explains that they’ve named the strange, gray calcium-like plateau “Big Mina” and want to use the newly-arrived equipment to do a full interior scan. To accomplish this, three sensor towers have to be set up around the perimeter of the landmass. Because scientists are lazy, the PCs who just travelled 3d6 days in space have to haul the equipment around and set up the towers. Before sending the PCs off, Montressi notes one interesting recent find: an abandoned kasathan starship, obviously centuries old. The PCs are free to investigate it if they wish.
The middle part of the adventure has the PCs travelling to each of the three necessary sites (in any order) to set up the signalling equipment. Montressi says there’s no hurry, but in fact one aspect of the secondary success condition is how quickly the towers get set up (which requires a bunch of largely meaningless piloting and navigation skill checks). Anyway!
One of the sites, Forsaken Canyon, is (as the name would suggest) a very treacherous rocky area. As the PCs try to set up the tower (which requires someone with decent Computers or Engineering), a small flock of native creatures called stonegulls swoop in. The stonegulls aren’t really much of a combat danger, but I like how the scenario explicitly provides a stealth-based option to avoid them.
Another site, The Windy Cliffs (such clever names these scientists gave the planet’s landmarks!), requires some physical skill checks to brace the tower as it’s being assembled. The danger here are some natural phenomena (tying into the big reveal at the end of the scenario) that are stylized as traps. All the traps do is immobilize a PC, so they’re really not dangerous at all since there’s no other combats in this scene. I guess maybe they’re a clue as to what the landmass will turn out to be.
A final site, an unnamed dry riverbed, has a kasathan crest-eater (or two, depending on subtier) for the PCs to defeat before they can assemble the tower. Clever PCs might make a connection between a kasathan predator and a crashed kasathan ship. The fun part of this encounter is that the PCs can ram their vehicles into the crest-eaters (something Professor Kipe embraced wholeheartedly—he’s a maniac behind the wheel!).
Once the three towers are assembled, Dr. Montressi can get a full 3-D scan of the interior of the strange landmass, and she makes a startling discoverly: it’s a living creature! Big Mina is actually a creature from another world who arrived on Vabaimus as a fist-sized organism, slowly expanding over the millennia into its present size. Doc Montressi would like the PCs to investigate Big Mina by venturing into it through wide tunnels that all converge on a central chamber with a crystal giving off tremendous amounts of energy—probably its brain!
As the PCs enter the tunnels, the GM can choose one of two encounters to give them: a weird hazard involving gluey goo nozzles or a battle against “cavern cleaners” (vermin who have a symbiotic relationship with Big Mina). I played through the hazard encounter and didn’t think it worked very well. The cavern cleaners would be more fun, as their special ability is to yank a PC right out of their armor! However, the hazard encounter is the one that leads to the abandoned kasathan ship, which turns out to be the vessel of an explorer from the Idari who met her end on the planet. The writing here is pretty good, and makes effective use of setting lore about kasathas.
Once the PCs reach Big Mina’s brain, a scan reveals that Big Mina will continue to slowly expand until, someday, it covers the entire planet. This will displace all native flora and fauna (including the sloths). However, Big Mina isn’t a malevolent creature—it’s not even sentient. Dr. Montressi asks the PCs for their advice on what should be done, and it's a great moral question for the group to debate. Should they kill Big Mina to save the planet’s native life? Should they let nature take its course, and leave it alone? Or should they take the (very risky) action of trying to "lobotomize" the crystalline brain so that Big Mina stays alive but doesn’t grow any further? Although the idea of a living creature as big as a mountain isn’t an original one in science-fiction, the scenario does a great job of getting the PCs involved in an interesting decision that (hopefully) brings out some good role-playing. I liked it.
Overall, I guess I have to slot It Rests Beneath in the “average” category. The encounters are fairly pedestrian, but the conclusion is really interesting. It’s not a complicated adventure to run or play, and might be a good choice to introduce newcomers to the game and give them a feel that Starfinder Society is more than just tactical combat.
Clever and SatisfyingJhaeman —
The Ironroot Deception, a four-part series of free Pathfinder web fiction available on the Paizo website, is a real cyber-page turner! The story involves characters like Gad and Vitta who also appear in the excellent Pathfinder Tales novel The Worldwound Gambit. Twists abound, and the reader will quickly realize that all is not what it seems. An adventure story is only as good as its villains, and this one has some deliciously evil ones (in a pull-no-punches Game of Thrones style). The story also has an original plot, which is hard to come across in the fantasy genre. It’s definitely one worth checking out, at a price that can’t be beat.
Gad and his gang are up to another heist, this time in the Shudderwood, a demon-infested forest in the Worldwound. Getting the goods is going to hurt, however, as they have to get themselves captured and forced into slavery as mining laborers by a group of xenophobic, aristocratic, and quite merciless elves called the Reclaimers. An elf named Dualal, the leader of the Reclaimers, thinks she’s been prophesied to rule the entire region once she finds a gem called the Opal of Command which will allow her to control an immensely powerful creature called the Thornbeast. Much of the fun in the story comes from the narrative not leading the reader know what the protagonists know, and being surprised by twists and turns throughout. It’s really clever writing, and a great companion piece to the characters’ appearance in the novels.
Starfinder Society Scenario #1-27: King Xeros of Star AzlantPaizo Inc.
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Great Feel, Some HiccupsJhaeman —
I ran King Xeros of Star Azlant at high subtier using the four-player adjustment. The scenario has a great overall feel, reminiscent of classic Star Wars in its sci-fi military tone. There are a few places where the pacing is interrupted by some poor choices, so it’s not an unqualified success, but it’s still definitely a scenario worth experiencing.
I really like the beginning of King Xeros of Star Azlant. Instead of the usual sedate conference room, the PCs are summoned to the Lorespire Complex’s hangar bay where technicians are bustling about trying to get ships ready for hasty departures. Venture-Captain Naiaj gives the briefing not only to the PCs but to two other groups of Starfinders, explaining that a lunar base in the Vast has sighted a vessel that can only be the King Xeros, a legendary ether ship supposedly built by the Azlanti of lost Golarion. However, the Azlanti Star Empire have gotten to the lunar base first and taken it over, and are trying to figure out the secrets of the ship. Naiaj divides the Starfinders at her disposal in three groups—a Scout Team to handle recon and analysis, a Shield Team to intercept space-based hostiles, and a Strike Team to handle ground operations. The PCs form this last group, and it’s all very exciting and military in feel, reminiscent of classic Star Wars briefing scenes with the Rebel Alliance. It probably helps that the Azlanti Star Empire is a pretty close analogue to the Imperials!
I’ll just mention in passing that this adventure is a homage/sequel to a well-regarded Pathfinder Society scenario, but I’ve never played or read that one so can’t really comment further. It also ties into the Against the Aeon Throne adventure path—which I think is really cool (but I haven’t played that one either).
Once the three teams, each in their own vessels, arrive at the lunar base (oddly named “Peak of Evening”), they come under heavy fire from ground-based anti-ship batteries. Strike Team (the PCs) are ordered to do a strafing run and then land for ground infiltration. The strafing run is handled well, as the Pilot has to make a check or the ship takes direct hull damage (something that can be significant later in the adventure) and the gunners have to hit and do a certain amount of damage or additional enemies are present in the next encounter. One of my major regrets about Starfinder is how poorly it integrated air-to-ground combat into the game, so I’d like to see more of this sort of thing.
The strafing run completed, the PCs next must choose to infiltrate one of two ground bases (they won’t have time to do both). They have their first real choice: a construction bay or a greenhouse. The Starfinders’ overall mission is to find and secure the King Xeros, which makes the construction bay the obvious choice (and it’s what my players chose). I’m not sure why tables would choose the greenhouse.
In the construction bay, the PCs get their first taste of battle against Aeon Guards (a.k.a., Stormtroopers). It’s a solid encounter. When the fighting is over, a group of brakim (gregarious, long-limbed mechanics) emerge and explain that the Azlanti have forced them to work on retrofitting the King Xeros with modern technology. The PCs are supposed to spend time interacting with various named brakim and make skill checks to persuade them to upgrade the PCs’ ship so it will have a better chance in battle against the King Xeros. The idea isn’t terrible, and I’m the last to complain about role-playing opportunities, but I thought the entire scene brought to a halt all of the excitement and momentum of the PCs being in the middle of a dynamic battlefield on an urgent mission.
The other option, the greenhouse, also starts with a battle against Aeon Guards. Accompanying the defenders is an Iztheptar, a crustacean-like humanoid. The PCs will get access to various computer and paper records, and have the opportunity to make several skill checks to earn special boons during the upcoming battle against the King Xeros. Like I said, my players didn’t choose this option, but it looks decent.
As the PCs are concluding their investigation of either the construction bay or the greenhouse, they see four Azlanti ships launch from the lunar base in an escort formation around the King Xeros. The PCs have to rush to their vessel as Naiaj orders all teams to converge and stop the Alanti from escaping. This leads to a starship combat, with the other Starfinder ships drawing away the escorts (off-screen) and the PCs in a one on one space battle against the partially retrofitted King Xeros. My views on Starfinder space combat are often mentioned in my reviews (I think they’re long, repetitive slogs due to the ease of recharging shields and critical hits not doing double damage), and, unfortunately, this space combat was the worst of the lot. Despite earning all of the upgrades available in the construction bay, my players couldn’t significantly damage the King Xeros, nor could it significantly damage their ship. Starfinder space combat is like Tic Tac Toe, resulting in endless draws. After over an hour of inconclusive fighting, I gave the players the option of continuing or taking the “losing” result and proceeding with the rest of the scenario. They went with that, which cost the secondary success condition but allowed us all to move on with life. The losing result is a well-done, cinematic one, as one of the other Starfinder ships unleashes a full missile barrage to disable the King Xeros, but the heavy return fire obliterates Shield Team entirely!
The final third of the scenario has the PCs boarding the King Xeros, hoping to take control of the vessel before malfunctioning Azlanti retrofitting causes a devastating explosion. I found the map of the ship very confusing, and (according to the forums), I wasn’t the only one. I had to get some help and make some educated guesses about how various parts of the ship were connected. Anyway, the ship itself is guarded by some Azlanti robots and a very-difficult-to-bypass trap. The big bad of the scenario is Aldroxis (from the tie-in AP, I understand), a reasonably tough technomancer. I thought the battle against him was fair and satisfying.
Although the PCs will likely defeat the Azlanti and take control of the King Xeros, they’ll soon realize that they can’t stop it from a cataclysmic engine overload—all they can do is delay things for a few minutes so they can quickly scour the rest of the ship for ancient treasures. I found this part of the adventure anti-climactic and cheesy in how it handled the search and necessary skill checks. The scenario ends with the King Xeros slipping off into the Ethereal Plane, and the PCs reporting back to Naiaj with the bittersweet results that the SFS didn’t get the ship, but neither did the Azlanti Star Empire.
Overall, I think King Xeros of Star Azlant was a very good but not quite great scenario. I love the urgency and military feel, as well as the cinematic aspects of the story. I could envision this scenario in other media as a comic book or television episode. The Azlanti Star Empire make good enemies, and I hope we see more of them in SFS scenarios. On the other hand, there were multiple places where the excitement grinds to a halt (especially the interminable starship combat)—part of that is the game designer’s and not the scenario writer’s fault, but I’m reviewing the overall experience, not attributing blame. Anyway, it’s definitely worth playing, and, if you’re playing the AP, it’s a 100% no-brainer tie-in.
Pathfinder Legends—Rise of the Runelords #5: Sins of the SaviorsBig Finish Productions
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Good, Once Expectations are AdjustedJhaeman —
Now that I've listened to several of these Pathfinder Legends audio stories, I have a much better idea what to expect and I find myself really enjoying them. I know that I won't find a faithful reproduction of everything that's in the corresponding part of the written adventure path, a lengthy description of setting, a clear narration of action scenes, or a feeling that the high price was necessarily justified. On the other hand, I know that I will find great voice acting, several laugh-out-loud moments, an impressive amount of well-written backstory exposition, and quality sound effects and design. Pathfinder Legends--Rise of the Runelords # 5: Sins of the Saviors fits these expectations. If you go into it expecting a professionally-made, 1 hour audio play instead of a 15 hour audio book, you'll likely be happy.
The audio version of Sins of the Saviors starts with the discovery of a sinkhole in Sandpoint. The four Iconics who have been with us since the beginning (Merisiel, Harsk, Valeros, and Ezren) are asked by Mayor Deverin and Sheriff Hemlock to investigate. Ezren often serves as the narrator in the tale that follows, bridging the gap for listeners when there's a large amount of travel to be summarised or exposition to share. The search of the catacombs under Sandpoint receives a lot of attention, and the audio version does a great job with the Scribbler's voice and personality. This part of the story also includes a good explanation of the Runelords' link to Runeforge, and why it is important for the Iconics to go there. I was impressed.
The next part of the tale has the Iconics (accompanied by Ameiko, in a nice surprise) travel to Rimeskull. There's an exciting scene of Ezren trying to figure out how to get the keys to open the portal to Rimeskull while the white dragon Arkrhyst is attacking; the way they defeat the dragon is a fun twist and perfectly justified by the text of the AP.
I knew the audio version would have to cut content from the AP somewhere, and it does. There is absolutely no exploration of any of the various wings of Runeforge, any search for the components needed to make dominant weapons, or any interaction with the various inhabitants of the wings. Instead, the weapons are made simply by dipping them into the central pool, after which the massive statue of Karzoug attacks. There's a fairly exciting action scene as the heroes try to escape before the portal closes. I can't really begrudge the lack of exploration of the wings of Runeforge, though there is some great material there that would have been fun to see adapted in story form.
Overall, like I said in the introduction, I found myself enjoying part 5 and satisfied when it was over. I'm looking forward to seeing the big finale!
If You've Got the Time, It's a Hell of a Ride!Jhaeman —
Whew, this is a big scenario! It clocks in at 45 pages, which I think makes it the longest PFS scenario I've ever run or played (apart from the multi-table specials). By comparison, the old Pathfinder module line, which put out adventures designed to be played in 3-5 sessions, had products that were only 32 pages long. The good news is that What Prestige is Worth is a great scenario, full of depth, setting lore, plot development, and characterisation. I just wouldn't try to run it without extensive preparation or if there was a hard deadline looming (like a store closing or a convention slot).
Anyway, I ran this at low subtier using the four-player adjustment; if I recall right, there was one "real" PC and the rest were Iconics. It's a memorable adventure that sends the Pathfinders to a place they've probably never been before. With the right group of players, the moral quandaries it presents could be really interesting.
Go to Hell! What Prestige is Worth has the PCs voyage to Dis, the capital city of Hell, to figure out why a portal has opened under the Pathfinder Society's Grand Lodge. But perhaps just as importantly, they have a chance to aid a noteworthy faction leader (Zarta Dralneen of the Dark Archive) in uncovering secrets of Cheliax's past. The scenario briefing starts with the PCs arrival at the portal, where Ambrus Valsin and Zarta explain their mission. Zarta has a contact in Hell, a bone devil named Vetrivides, who has provided the group with writs allowing them to enter Dis for 48 hours. But Vetrivides wants something in return: the Pathfinders' aid in investigating whether a contract devil named Leventi has been breaking Hell's laws. There's a lot more depth and detail to the briefing, but to keep things moving I'm trying to summarise only the crucial bits.
Once the PCs are in Hell, they'll be presented with multiple avenues of investigation, and, as leads start to accumulate, additional sections of the adventure open up. Hell's a very orderly place, so the PCs will be okay if they mind their Ps & Qs. But if they stray from the strict conditions of entry, they might bring the attention of Dispater, Dis' overlord--and that would be bad! As Zarta is going to accompany the PCs, she's presented with a special compact character sheet detailing the actions she can take in battle. She can go her own way from the group, and if she does, explanations of what she discovers at each stage is provided for the GM.
The first choice the PCs need to make is whether to travel to the Market of Breaths (a floating bizarre where an associate of Leventi's is said to frequent) or to the Fallen Fastness (a massive library of mortal sins, where Vetrivides resides). Each location presents several role-playing opportunities and skill checks to navigate, and each provides different pieces of evidence to show Leventi may have been playing fast and loose with Hell's rules around negotiating contracts with mortals. Each location also provides an opportunity for the GM to introduce a major sub-theme in the adventure: the concept of "Dark Bargains." The denizens of Hell love to tempt mortals, and they're happy to play the long-game by giving mortals something they want now for a high price to be exacted later. Mechanically, PCs can get thousands of gold pieces worth of treasure and information; all they have to give up are pieces of their soul, such as their Hope, Fate, Power, etc. All of this is spelled out in terms of mechanical implications, and is permanently represented on the PCs' Chronicles if they make a Dark Bargain. My players were too wary of Hell to make any deals, try as I might, but I thought it was a cool concept.
After the Market of Breaths and/or the Fallen Fastness, the PCs can follow leads to places like the Ghetto of Outcasts (a broken wasteland where some mortal souls permanently affixed to the walls), Eleusys (the palace of the Queen of Dis), and the Widow's Cry (a gladiatorial arena). These leads may uncover souls belonging to Hellknights that were wrongfully damned to hell at Leventi's bidding, an imp that served an important figure in Chelish history (Gellius Thrune), and more. Of course, the PCs have an opportunity to fight in the gladiatorial arena. The encounter uses the Hellscape map pack (one of my favourites), and presents a real risk to the PCs: if they fall into the river Lethe that borders the arena, they can permanently forget everything (including class abilities, feats, and skill ranks!).
When the PCs have gathered enough evidence against Leventi, they can travel to his scriptorium to confront him. Leventi is a cunning foe, however, and he tries to persuade or bribe the PCs to let him off the hook and instead blame everything on Vetrivides. This is 100% the opposite of a scenario that's on rails, and I really appreciate how much agency it gives the PCs to resolve things the way they wish. My group ended up fighting Leventi and dispatched him fairly easily--he wasn't really much of a melee threat. Once the investigation in Hell is completed and the culprit (real or feigned) is punished, the PCs will be able to make their way out without further complications.
I haven't gone into detail about it, but one of the major story threads in the scenario concerns Zarta Dralneen and her antagonistic relationship with House Thrune. From what I can gather, this adventure is a sort of climax to an on-going storyline developed in previous scenarios. Zarta uncovers some crucial information through the course of the adventure that will allow her to get revenge on House Thrune. In the scenario's epilogue, the PCs are asked to give Zarta advice on whether she should leave the Society to take her revenge, or stay and continue on as the Dark Archive faction leader. Again, I probably haven't summarised it as well as I could, but my impression is that it's a satisfying conclusion to her character arc.
I have to give writer Matt Duval credit for doing such a fantastic job portraying Hell (and Dis, specifically). Every scene is packed with flavour to make a distinctive and consistent setting. This is not one of those adventures where the setting is just an afterthought--it's crucial to the adventure. In addition, the GM is given a lot of guidance (through sidebars and in-text passages) on how to portray Dis and its inhabitants. I almost feel bad that so much work went into something designed for one session's play, and I hope much of the material can be used again in future adventures.
However, there is a *lot* for the GM to keep track of during the scenario. Although I consider myself a very well-prepared, detail-oriented GM, running What Prestige is Worth felt like doing air traffic control. The GM has to keep track of the in-game clock (every trip from place to place takes a certain amount of time, which can be modified by skill checks), Dispater's Attention Points, Evidence Points, what leads become available at each stage of the investigation, Zarta's NPC sheet, and special encounters that trigger when specific thresholds of time or Evidence Points are achieved, while also making sure that various special rules and flavour elements (each summarised in a sidebar somewhere in the adventure) are applied correctly; these include Hell's planar traits, "Presenting Zarta", "Portraying Devils", and the effects of Dark Bargains. Several handouts and tracking sheets are included in the scenario to help the GM manage everything, but it's certainly not for the faint of heart (or a new GM)!
In sum, this is a great scenario: just make sure your group has set aside plenty of time to play it and the GM has had plenty of time to get ready for it.
Pathfinder Society Scenario Intro 1: First Steps—Part I: In Service to Lore (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Strong IntroductionJhaeman —
First Steps, Part I: In Service to Lore is the beginning of a trilogy of “Pathfinder Society Introductory Scenarios” meant for new players. Although Parts II & III have been officially retired, Part I is still sanctioned for play. The goal of these scenarios is to introduce new players to the concept of the Pathfinder Society, its tenets, and, especially, its factions. The idea is that, after playing all three scenarios and meeting all the faction heads in-game, a player could then choose a faction for their character. Because these scenarios were released in 2011, and there’s been a *lot* of evolution of PFS factions since then, some of the material in the trilogy is outdated. Still, I really like the premise of slowly introducing players to PFS and getting them familiar with the factions in an organic way. As for In Service to Lore in particular, I thought it did a solid job of introducing a few faction leaders (in a broad brushstrokes sort of way) and has a good mix of role-playing, combat, and even some puzzle-solving. But although it’s introductory, that doesn’t mean it’s easy—with one encounter in particular holding the possibility of a swift end for a PC if a dice roll goes awry. I roll this for a group that consisted of one brand-new player to Pathfinder and four experienced players.
In Service to Lore begins with the premise that the PCs are relatively new recruits to the Society who have just finished their training and graduated. Ambrus Valsin, brisk as always, tells the PCs that he needs to know that the PCs can handle simple tasks before he sends them off exploring ancient ruins and recovering lost treasures. He explains that he has a “to-do” list for the PCs that they can complete in any order; each task starts with them meeting with an ally of the Society for instructions. The list has four tasks on it that require travel between various districts of Absalom, and this is a good opportunity for the GM to add some character to this important setting.
The first task is a favour of Guaril Karela, the then-head of the Sczarni faction (and later co-founder of the Exchange). PCs should get the impression that Guaril is involved in some shady business, but understand that he’s a valuable ally for the Society because he can get things in and out of Absalom that might be officially illegal. What Guaril wants from the PCs is that they travel to the warehouse of a departed “business associate” of his and recover a particular crate. There’s some good description of this decrepit warehouse in the docks, and, once inside, the PCs will have no trouble finding what the crate they’re supposed to get. But the problem is that the warehouse floor is starting to give way, and the crate is resting precariously on some broken planks, with 15’ feet of water below. A clumsy attempt to retrieve it could lead to it sinking underwater. In effect, this is a cooperative problem-solving exercise for the players to solve, and the scenario is good about seeding various solutions. There’s the de riguer fight against some dire rats as well.
The second task sends the PCs to the Temple of the Shining Star in the Ascendant Court to meet with Ollysta Zadrain, the paladin leader of the Silver Crusade. Ollysta has an interesting mission for the PCs: she wants them to essentially conduct an inspection of a local orphanage to ensure that its headmistress is treating the children well. This is a really good role-playing exercise that brings skills like Diplomacy, Bluff, and Sense Motive to the forefront. The headmistress is, actually, skimming medicine given to the orphanage and reselling it, but she’s pretty wily and PCs won’t uncover this easily (the group I ran it for didn’t, even though they had suspicions that something shady was going on). I thought the challenge was a very fair one.
The final task is with Zarta Dralneen, then-leader of the Cheliax faction (and later head of the Dark Archive). I didn’t really like Zarta’s personality here, as the “overly-flirtatious seductress” is a bit clichéd and certainly sexist. Zarta wants the PCs to retrieve a mysterious box from her bedroom, but its currently in the hands of an enraged imp that’s wrecking the joint. The imp has damage reduction, fast healing, and some resistances and immunities, so it might be harder to groups to defeat then it seems at first glance. It’s not a dangerous fight for the PCs, but could be a frustrating or time-consuming one. Overall, I thought this was the least successful of the tasks.
As they’ve travelled around Absalom completing the tasks, the PCs will have had a couple of opportunities to notice that they’re being followed. They might think this is someone from the Society sent to observe how they’ve handled the test Ambrus Valsin has assigned, but in fact it’s a criminal gang planning to ambush and rob the PCs! There are four members in the gang (a cleric, a sorcerer, a rogue, and a barbarian), and it’s essentially like battling a rival adventuring party. Things could easily go wrong for the PCs here, especially if that barbarian (wielding a greataxe!) lands a x3 power attack insta-kill crit. I know that possibility in particular has led to a lot of complaints on the forums, though fortunately it didn’t happen when I ran it.
Assuming the PCs survive the ambush, they can return to the Grand Lodge where Ambrus Valsin promises them that they next assignment will take them beyond Absalom’s walls.
Overall, I thought In Service to Lore was a solid introduction. The variety of tasks was a good way for players to see that PFS isn’t all about combat, and they got a brief introduction to four different faction leaders with the Society. I do think Zarta Dralneen could have been handled more subtly, and that the encounter against the criminal gang was probably more deadly than necessary—a fighter with a longsword would have been better than a barbarian with a greataxe. With those objections in mind, I can still see this as a useful way to start new players off in Society play.
Exhausting--Like a Marathon Without the Sense of AchievementJhaeman —
The Wizard's Mask is one of those books that starts off strong, full of excitement and action. As I got through the first few exhilarating chapters, I couldn't fathom why it got so few stars in reviews. But the further I got, the less I liked the novel. Frankly, it was just exhausting following the main characters: there's a death-defying combat, chase, or rooftop leap on nearly every page. It's like one of those airport bookstore thrillers, where every chapter has to end on a cliff-hanger even more unrealistic than the last. The plot is needlessly opaque, and some of the twists are more confusing than interesting, in a "here we go again . . ." way. Last, I'm not convinced the author had a very deep understanding of Golarion--at least compared to others like Dave Gross. I like Ed Greenwood (I used to play around in the Forgotten Realms sandbox years ago), but The Wizard's Mask comes across like a Michael Bay Transformers movie: too much action, too little characterisation, and a sense of relief when it's finally, really, actually, over.
The Wizard's Mask is set entirely in the warring countries of Nirmathas and Molthune. The main characters are a halfling thing named Tantaerra and a character named only (at first) The Masked, who starts off as a rival before becoming a benefactor and then partner in crime. Tantaerra and The Masked have a classic relationship of banter, insults, and attempts to outdo one another as they get chased all across Molhune, Nirmathas, and back and forth (seemingly endlessly) trying to stay one step ahead of the armies and inquisitors of each side. The action, blood, and body count mount with almost every page, and I can only imagine those two warring countries are sparsely populated by the time the novel gets to an end. But before that, there's a villain with confusing motivations named Arkholm (a.k.a., Orivin Voyvik) who continually turns up after suffering tremendous amounts of damage like a medieval Terminator. The last quarter or so of the book involves The Masked's backstory and a voyage into a classic D&D dungeon (full of gruesome and diabolical traps) to confront a cliched evil wizard named Mahalgris. A bunch of confusing stuff happens afterwards (swarms of dweomercats, body switching, a magic gauntlet that blasts a villain into becoming a tentacle monster?). Frankly, I lost track of what was happening as there was just too much, as if Greenwood just sat down to write a chapter each day to continue a shaggy dog story for as long as he needed to until reaching the required page count.
As I said, it starts off well and the action scenes, taken individually, are quite good. Players and GMs in the Ironfang Invasion Adventure Path could conceivably get a little useful background about Molthune and Nirmathas. But apart from that, I just don't see a lot of value in The Wizard's Mask. The pacing is frantic, there's little depth in setting or characterization, and I didn't really care what happened when I got to the end. In short, it's a poor example of a Pathfinder Tales book and of fantasy literature in general.
Great Story and Use of Lore, Some Mundane EncountersJhaeman —
I played through this scenario a few months back, and enjoyed it (I've now read it for the purposes of this review). It's an excellent scenario that tells a strong story that will interest players who have an investment in this season's storyline and the future of the leadership of the Starfinder Society. I have some minor quibbles, but nothing that keeps it from being an excellent experience.
Truth of the Seeker is an important scenario for understanding the backstory behind the Scoured Stars incident, as well as insights into the major new figure of Jadnura. In addition, it advances the season meta-plot of what the Society will do with *two* First Seekers. The premise of the scenario is that Jadnura, upon his return from the Scoured Stars, has found himself lost (spiritually) and has thus taken an opportunity to travel and observe a remote stellar phenomenon to meditate about his past failures and future direction.
The PCs get involved in the story when an old friend of Jadnura, a memorable skittermander named Eshki, brings them together at a fancy restaurant on Absalom Station. Eshki asks the PCs to track down Jadnura and persuade him to return to Absalom Station before the drama caused by his return and then sudden disappearance again create permanent damage to the Starfinder Society. Eshki doesn't know where Jadnura is, but does know he was seen heading to the Idari, the planet-ship that brought the kasatha into the Pact Worlds system. It's a strong hook and I liked the personality and artwork for Eshki, though I did wonder when reading the scenario: who is this dude and why does he think he can order us around? He's not a Venture-Captain or faction leader or anything else of the type, as far as I can tell, but he's clearly giving commands and not asking for a favour. A minor note, but it did strike me as odd.
The scenario then moves to the PCs arriving on the Idari. This is the first Starfinder Society scenario that makes significant use of the location, and the writer did a really good job highlighting some of its distinctive features. Specifically, the idea of a ship so large that it can contain distinctive geographical features and terrain, the particular kasathan notions of etiquette and honour, and the strong connection the people have to understanding cosmic notions of balance and change. Information from the Pact Worlds sourcebook is integrated well, with visits to multiple locations named within.
The PCs start out at the Outland Markets, and need to do a gather information check to get their first lead. This one of those exercises that is really for appearances sake only, as they'll still get the information (with only the most minor of penalties) even if they're all terrible at Diplomacy and fail all the checks.
The next scene is better, however, as the PCs find themselves in a tea shop run by Alsuka, an old friend of Jadnura. Alsuka cleverly tests the PCs' patience and politeness by seeing how long they can make irrelevant small talk before they press for information on the missing leader. I found it a bit odd that PCs are allowed to use pretty much any skill check in this social encounter (rather than just Diplomacy or Culture, the most obvious appropriate ones). But again, the skill checks aren't really that important, as the PCs will get the next lead even if they fail them (something that's hard to do, as there are multiple opportunities for rerolls). Mechanics aside, I really like the concept of the scene and the reminder that sometimes even Starfinders need to slow down and pay attention to contextual clues on how to best relate to people.
The lead from Alsuka's Tea House takes the PCs to the Pradulex Monastery, home to Jadnura's former mentor in solarian philosophy, Master Boojan. Master Boojan also tests the PCs' respect for kasathan etiquette. Once satisfied, he explains that Jadnura spent some time within the monastery but found even the peace within its walls could not assuage his troubled spirit. When a visiting starship captain, Kahir of the Void Scholar, arrived to report on the discovery of a strange stellar phenomenon, Jadnura asked to be taken there. As the PCs leave the monastery, they're accosted by a trio of kasathan solarian initiates from the monastery who have a beef with the Starfinder Society because of relatives' death in the Scoured Stars debacle. This is the first combat encounter of the scenario, and I found it a bit forced and inconsistent with the portrayal of kasathan behaviour and culture in the rest of the adventure.
The PCs have no trouble finding Kahir and getting a trip aboard his ship to the stellar anomaly where Jadnura was dropped off (there's a rogue asteroid orbiting the anomaly, and it contains an ancient structure that makes an ideal observation point). As is the developing trope for these scenarios, the ship can't land exactly at its destination due to rough terrain, and has to drop the PCs some distance away to walk. This, of course, presages a combat encounter--this time against solar wisps from Alien Archive 2. It's a fairly forgettable encounter, that again seems like the sort of thing inserted so there'd be some mid-point action.
The structure on the rogue asteroid is an ancient temple dedicated to Ibra, the god of secrets and mysteries. There's a discrepancy in having an old-fashioned stone building as the observation point, as it's sitting on an asteroid that, explicitly, has no atmosphere! And although we're told Jadnura borrowed some oxygen tanks, how long was he planning to hang out? Oh well, the flip-mat is cool anyway. There are some really interesting traps/hazards around the structure, with my favourite one the "Endless Stair Hazard" that has the PCs stuck in a trance for hours and emerging exhausted. The rooms have some randomly placed treasure in gems and magic items--I wish scenarios would abandon the notion that monetary rewards like this have to appear in the scenario itself. They often appear clunky and forced, and are usually irrelevant (since the PCs can't do much with them). I know they're designed for people who purchase scenarios for use outside of organised play, but I'd rather these items appear in a separate appendix at the end for optional insertion by GMs who really need them.
The climax of the scenario is with a parasitic, incorporeal entity called a "void hantu." The void hantu has drained Jadnura and left him comatose. The creature is a real challenge to defeat, as it will almost certainly hit when it attacks (and thus has no reason not to full attack), and each hit does anywhere from 1 to 1d4+1 points of ability score damage. And as an incorporeal creature, PCs who are unprepared could find themselves in a really bad situation. I remember we were lucky to survive when I played through it.
With the void hantu defeated, Jandura can be awakened. There's a satisfying scene with him, and I especially like the bit that he remembers PCs who played through the Scoured Stars Invasion special. Jadnura agrees to return to Absalom Station and start to deal with the ramifications of everything that has happened to the Society in the last two years.
Overall, Truth of the Seeker was a strong scenario. It makes great use (and advancement) of the season meta-plot, reveals some important insights about Jadnura, and serves as a good introduction to kasathan culture and the Idari. The combat encounters are sometimes a bit forced, but that's not unusual in scenarios and I consider it a forgivable sin. I'd definitely recommend this one to players and GMs.
I ran a little adventure for my son the other day (his vampire hunter PC had a run-in with the infamous Chupacabra!), and I needed something to represent a farmhouse and surrounding land. I opened up the Farmstead map pack from its packaging, and found it was perfect! I usually prefer flip-mats because they're easier to use, but the modular nature of the map pack made it really easy to arrange everything exactly how I wanted it. The set includes a really nice array of tiles: a large farmhouse (complete with yard), a barn, a pigpen/chicken coop, a well, and several tiles of various types of crop fields--pumpkin, corn, hay, and more. The detail is really good, and the grid lines are exactly the right type--visible, but not distracting. I wish I had this early in Rise of the Runelords, as it could have represented all the farms around the Sandpoint hinterlands. As the back of the box indicates, farms are dangerous places in RPGs, and this is the best way I can think of to quickly get things going.
Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Beginner Box Bash Demos Part 1 (OGL) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Nice SupplementsJhaeman —
These four mini-adventures were designed to introduce new players to the Pathfinder Beginner Box by providing short demos at conventions and gaming stores. I didn't encounter them in that context, but, like a lot of people, I've used them as supplements to a home Beginner Box game. New GMs need help, and old GMs get lazy, so extras like this are always appreciated.
"Relics" starts with the PCs meeting with a (to me at least) somewhat shady businessman named Eberius Tauranor. Tauranor hires the PCs to retrieve a valuable item from the mausoleum of an "ailing business contact" who has promised Tauranor any treasure there in exchange for a loan. The item in question is a ceremonial sceptre carried by ancient priests of Aroden! The briefing wasn't very well done, with a poor explanation of what's going on and no information if the PCs ask questions. It comes across very suspicious, and my son (who's 8) assumed Tauranor was a bad guy and thus refused the mission entirely! I think it would have been better to just have the PCs start at the mausoleum, with a handout letter explaining why they're there. Anyway, the mausoleum has an interesting puzzle-based pitfall trap (that might be a bit hard for the GM to keep track of and indicate to the players what is happening). In a nice touch, there are two scepters hidden in the mausoleum: a real one and a fake one, and PCs need to put some clues together to figure out which is which. They then get ambushed by a group of thugs (the Bloody Knuckles) who have (without little explanation) come looking for the sceptre. The PCs have the choice to fight or bluff them, and I like it when there are options in encounters like this. Overall, "Relics" is okay but not great.
"Ruins" has a much better briefing, as the PCs get to interact with and ask questions from Venture-Captain Sheila Heidmarch in the Rusty Dragon. She sends the PCs off to northern Varisia in search of an ancient Thassilonian ruin dedicated to the Runelord Xanderghul. There, the PCs have to persuade an illusory guardian to let them pass in order to retrieve a Sihedron medallion. It's a nice little foreshadowing for players if they eventually play Rise of the Runelords. As with "Relics", the PCs are ambushed after retrieving the treasure--this time, by a group of goblins. There is some backstory explanation for why the goblins are there, but the PCs will never be privy to it so I think the encounter probably comes across as somewhat random and possibly confusing.
"Terrors" has the PCs sent by Heidmarch from Sandpoint to Galduria to investigate strange rumors of lights and creatures seen near the town's graveyard. Unlike the other demos, this one has several avenues for role-playing and investigation, and does a really nice job (in a necessarily compact way) of describing Galduria. The backstory to what's happening is a bit involved, involving bandits, a waylaid witch, a stolen necromantic item, a foolish ritual, and the walking dead! I really liked the magical item, the candle of night, and how smart PCs could use it to make the only combat encounter much easier. I think this was the best adventure in the lot, as it shows that RPGs aren't just about dungeon crawls.
"Tomes" finishes the group, and I enjoyed its setting (Korvosa's Acadamae) since I had just run a module set there and had the appropriate map pack. The PCs are sent from Sandpoint to Korvosa to purchase a spellbook that one of the Acadamae's lecturers wants to sell. But when they get to the lecturer's office, they find the woman bloodied and unconscious. A rival lecturer has sent a well-disguised mimic to try to find the book, and it's hiding as a lectern! I ran this for my son (with some ally NPCs), and I can testify that mimics are pretty tough for Level 1 PCs! Overall, it was solid.
I'm not 100% sure why these demos were in such a hurry to get the PCs out of Sandpoint, as I think they could have instead built on the adventure possibilities there without handwaving hundreds of miles of travel. As short convention demos, it was probably fine, but as bonus stories for home games, I found them very hard to tie into the campaign. On the other hand, free is free and beggars can't be choosers--plus, with some changes in detail and setting, they're not too hard to adopt. I'm glad these were produced, and I wish similar ones were done for the Starfinder Beginner Box.
Pathfinder Adventure Path: Rise of the Runelords Player's Guide (OGL)Paizo Inc.
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A Fantastic Way to Start an Epic AdventureJhaeman —
As my long-running Rise of the Runelords campaign has finally hit the last chapter, I realised that one of the things I've never reviewed is the original (3.5 edition) Rise of the Runelords Player's Guide. This 16 page book was sold with a cover price of $ 2, and (I think) usually came bundled in packs of five so everyone at the gaming table could have one. It's a high-quality product that comes on glossy paper and with colourful artwork and design. They're pretty hard to find nowadays, but I was lucky to spot one on eBay for a reasonable price. Anyway, with no further ado, let's get into it.
The cover is very cool, and, although players won't be quite aware of why yet, sets the tone for the campaign perfectly. The 7-pointed Sihedron star takes prominence, and the page borders are designed as if the reader is about to open an ancient, eldritch tome. The inside front-cover is a map of Sandpoint (the town that serves as the PCs' homebase), with detail sufficient to make out individual buildings, street names, and geographical features. It's exactly the map that players should have at the table to better envision where their characters are, and players could, as they explore, make their own key to go along with the map. The inside back-cover is similarly useful: an attractive map of Varisia that includes tons of marked locations and clear geographical features. The vast majority of these locations aren't visited during the campaign, so there's no spoilers here--and in addition, the GM can make good use of this map as well.
The first page, "Welcome to Varisia," emphasises the usefulness of having PCs designed specifically for the region and the campaign. Varisia is a frontier wilderness, and many of the challenges in the campaign involve surviving the land, not just monsters. PCs who think about feats like Endurance and skills like Climb will find themselves better placed than PCs who care only about combat. Players who ignore the Player's Guide very well may find themselves having a harder experience than they should in the campaign, but it's probably their own fault!
The next three pages, "Races of Varisia," discuss how the Core races fit into the region. This is especially important for players new to Golarion who have probably never heard of Shoanti, Chelaxians, and Varisians. Stories are best when they're grounded in interesting, believable settings, and this requires investment by the players in trying to make characters that reflect that setting.
Pages 6-9 are "Adventurers of Varisia." It contains a couple of paragraphs on how each of the Core classes fits into the region and to the campaign more generally. It's also chock-full of useful sidebars on things like native fauna, the deities of Golarion, and suggested familiars for sorcerers and wizards of different backgrounds. In short, there's a ton of flavour and little bits of detail that help to situate a PC in the setting.
The next two pages are "Equipment of Varisia", and it focusses on weapons and armor used by the native Varisian and Shoanti peoples. There are illustrations and statistics for things invented specifically for this setting, such as starknives, earthbreakers, bladed scarves, and more. Many of these pieces of equipment were later included in the Pathfinder RPG Core Rulebook and other sources, but often in a way that strips them of a lot of the flavour that is presented here.
The next three pages are titled simply "Varisia." The section contains a brief overview of the region and its history--a crucial theme of the Adventure Path. Several feats for PCs who hail from the region are included. Because this was designed for 3.5, I won't go into great detail on them, other than to say they're probably low-powered compared to modern Pathfinder feats. This book came out before Paizo had the concept of campaign traits, which is probably the only thing really lacking here. A sidebar describes the languages often spoken by inhabitants of Varisia.
Last up is a two-page description of Sandpoint. Sandpoint is extremely important for the campaign--if the PCs don't care about it, the campaign doesn't really work. So getting the players invested in the town early is one of the GM's biggest tasks. This book doesn't really emphasise the necessary connection as much as it should, however.
I love the idea of Players Guides, and they're one of the things that drew me to Paizo Adventure Paths to begin with. They're a great way to sell players (in a non-spoilery way) on a new campaign, and to give them a chance to customise characters for it. The original Rise of the Runelords Player's Guide was a concise but interesting and useful preview of the campaign, and surely contribute to the success of the Adventure Path as a whole. It's still worth using today and I think it's far superior to the (PDF only) Anniversary Edition Player's Guide (which I've reviewed elsewhere). I'd recommend making the substitution, just linking to the updated traits for the Pathfinder RPG.
An Average PFS ShirtJhaeman —
The theme for Season Ten of Pathfinder Society is discovering more about the organisation's helmed leaders, the Decemvirate. The logo for the accompanying shirt is decent: a helm with a crack running down it. It's not as memorable as the logo for some previous seasons, but it's not bad. The shirt itself is 100% cotton, comes in any color you want (as long as it's black), and has held up well for the several months I've owned it. It's not the most exciting thing in the world, but I don't mind wearing it for the remainder of Season Ten.
Great DesignJhaeman —
This cool shirt has the logo for Season 7 of Pathfinder Society: "The Year of the Serpent." This season's theme was the Aspis Consortium, a group of smugglers, thieves, and slavers who have often clashed with the Society in the past. The Aspis Consortium is often thought of as a tangle of snakes, so the logo depicting a snake with the PFS Glyph of the Open Road in its fanged mouth was inspired design. As for the shirt itself, it's the usual high-quality heavy cotton that still looks great after several washings. I do wish they made these shirts in a color other than black, but I guess that's neither here nor there. What you see is what you get, and this is one of the better PFS season designs to have on a shirt.
Story Falls FlatJhaeman —
The Beacon Code Dilemma is a replayable scenario. There are several tables of randomised features that the GM rolls on before beginning play, in order to change up some of the details of the story. There are some original elements here that I quite liked, but (perhaps because of its randomised nature) the overall story falls flat. I think the scenario was a good try, but there's a reason why MadLibs are not the basis good storytelling.
I played through this with my chronic self-medicating Solarion, and things did not go well--but that's not the scenario's fault.
The Beacon Code Dilemma has an interesting backstory that makes excellent use of (and perhaps adds to) the lore around Triune and the concept of Drift beacons. The PCs receive a briefing from the usually-dour Venture-Captain Niaaj and a SRO priest of Triune named MP-8 (with a cool illustration). The gist of the matter is that, almost two centuries ago, a Starfinder Society ship named the Amber Reconnoiter went missing while in the Drift on a mission to study the Gap. But recently, MP-8 had a vision direct from Triune providing the location of the missing ship, an event that means it must be significant in some way to the Church or its mission. However, the ship's automated defences engaged when MP-8's salvage vessel approached, so the priests retreated and called in the Starfinder Society to investigate. The premise of investigating a suddenly-returned missing ship is classic Star Trek, but the added angle of the Triune connection nicely situates the plot in the campaign setting.
In a fun departure from the norm, the PCs' first task takes place within the Lorespire Complex itself. They must find information on the Amber Reconnoiter in the Society's archives, and (hopefully) see if a code can be transmitted to remotely shut down its defences. The replayable nature of the scenario starts here, as four leads are outlined, but only two (randomly-determined) ones are presented to the PCs. Each of these leads involves a little role-playing and problem-solving, and ends up with the PCs finding out some information about the missing ship's mission and crew (determined prior to the scenario from a random table) and part of the access code needed to shut down the ship's weaponry. I'll go over the four briefly:
1) "The Archives" sees the PCs sent down to the Society's pre-digital(!) archives, full of towering bookshelves. An NPC I really like, the librarian Royo, is present. PCs who have his High Society Influence boon slotted receive some extra help from him, but overall their task requires little more than a Perception check or two to find some information on the Amber Reconnoiter's mission and crew.
2) "Communion Vaults" has the PCs descend to where the Liavaran Dreamer named Whisperer of Solar Winds resides. The Dreamers are giant, jellyfish-like creatures with powerful telepathic and precognitive abilities. Their role in the Starfinder Society was first introduced in an earlier scenario that didn't handle them well. Here, it's much better. Assuming the PCs can activate a particular relic, they'll receive a transmitted vision of a mundane scene from a day in the life of the Amber Reconnoiter's crew. In order to be effective, the GM needs to have prepared this separately, or it's likely to fall flat, however.
3. "First Seeker Ilyastre Memorial Museum" has the PCs meet Chiskisk from Dead Suns! I really like little crossovers between SFS and the APs like this, and there's even a little bonus if a PC has a Chronicle sheet from AP # 1. With some skill at using museum database terminals, the PCs can find a holoprojector to get a visual on the missing ship and its crew (something that would have been much better if the scenario included images of either).
4. "Halls of Discovery" asks the PCs to recover some historical records from a very by-the-book robot who threatens to delay everything unless the PCs can figure out a way around its bureaucratic regulations. When my group played this scenario, the group split up and my PC and another handled this aspect of the investigation. We were really stymied for a long time as our PCs lacked the skills and personalities necessary to get past it (and violence almost erupted!). It was a fun if mildly-frustrating scene.
After the investigation, the PCs are off into the Drift. When they reach the coordinates that MP-8 gave them, there's a series of hazards derived from chaotic planar energies. PCs at every station on the ship have a role to play in trying to get the ship safely through the dangers, which could do damage directly to the hull (bypassing shields) and even to the crew! It really boils down to a skills challenge, but the number of successes have a meaningful impact on other elements of the scenario. I thought it was a fast, fun, and exciting way to have some of the thrill of starship combat without the turgid slog that actual ship vs. ship battles usually become. I'd like to see more of this sort of thing.
When the PCs' ship has gotten as close as it can through the planar debris field to the Amber Reconnoiter, a spacewalk is needed to traverse the remaining distance. This encounter takes place using the zero-G rules, as the PCs glide from debris to debris while fending off some interstellar monsters called "Drift Cuttles." Although the creatures have slightly different abilities based on random rolls, I don't think this encounter would be memorably different on repeat play. It's one of those encounters that I like the idea of, but the zero-G rules are (perhaps necessarily) too cumbersome to make it really enjoyable.
The final phase of the scenario takes place once the PCs board the Amber Reconnoiter (making excellent use of the Ghost Ship flip-mat). The missing ship has already been boarded by a crew of bad guys, who are randomly-determined to be pirates, cultists, gangsters, or mercenaries. As far as I can tell, the result makes little to no difference in what comes next. They do pose a major threat, however, with an Uplifted Bear Soldier verging on unfair (and the 4-player adjustments didn't sufficiently equalize things). Due to internal disfunction, my group failed in this part of the scenario and a couple of us died. Groups with better teamwork should have better luck, but still a real fight on their hands. As for the big mystery of what happened to the ship, I think the repeatable nature of the scenario really caused the story to fall flat. There are some little bits of the backstory to be found here and there in the form of crew logs, but unless a GM works really hard to play up the storytelling, it all comes across as very bland and forgettable. There's even some sort of relic that the crew recovered, but there's no real use or meaning attributable to it, and nor do we find out what significance the ship's discovery has for Triune.
To sum up, I guess I'd say The Beacon Code Dilemma is a real mixed bag. I liked the investigation phase, as it made good use of NPCs and has some good randomization. The starship hazards were fun. The combat encounters turned out to be long and perhaps a bit too hard (though, to be fair, many SFS scenarios have had way-too-easy combats). I would say the big letdown with the scenario is a failure to satisfactorily resolve the premise of the plot. A paint-by-numbers approach makes replayable scenarios more manageable logistically, but less interesting when it comes to story-telling.
Surprisingly GoodJhaeman —
I ran this at high-tier using the four-player adjustment. Although I would recommend people going through Part 1 (# 10-05) first, it's not really that big of a deal if they don't. Part 2 stands well on it's own, and is probably a better overall adventure. The scenario writer was thoughtful about how different groups might approach the challenges involved, and provided lots of sidebars to help GMs customise things. There's also a good mix of different types of encounters (both combat and non-combat), and a pretty cool set-piece finale. Overall, I appreciate Mysteries Under Moonlight, Part 2: The Howling Dance much more then I thought I would on an initial skim. It's a very professional, meaty, complete scenario.
The scenario starts about a week after the events of Part 1, in which the Pathfinders successfully cleansed a malevolent taint infecting several of the monuments in Magnimar. But although the symptoms have been dealt with, the cause still remains: an evil fey lurking in the heart of the Mushfens (swamps) outside the city. Tulvhatha, a twisted will-o'-wisp, has taken control of the Glade of Silver Sparks (a sacred site dedicated to Ashava) and turned it into an unholy source of power. The opening briefing, by Sheila Heidmarch, charges the PCs with venturing into the Mushfens and wresting control of the Glade of Silver Sparks from Tulvhatha. Present during the briefing (but regrettably not illustrated) is an NPC from Part 1 named Luvyire. Luvyire offers Ashava's blessing to the PCs, which manifests on the night of the full moon as the ability to transform into a celestial werewolf! This ability stays with the PCs throughout the scenario, and in an un-jaded group could be seen as pretty awesome--both cinematically and for the mechanical benefits of DR, bonuses to natural armor, speed increases, etc.. The scenario's author anticipated that some PCs might not want even a temporary, beneficial "gift" of lycanthropy, and set out a nice sidebar for what happens if all the PCs refuse (with a mix of positive and negative benefits).
The first encounter starts once the PCs have entered the Mushfens and (presumably) transformed into wolf or hybrid form with the full moon. That jerk from Part 1, a "supernatural investigator" (Inquisitor of Abadar) named Theodorus catches the PCs shifting and attacks, thinking they're evil werewolves. My PC almost attacked Theodorus in Part 1, so I didn't feel too bad for the poor schmuck. His uppance came even if through an understandable mistake on his part. I'll note in passing here that the author did a nice job describing the "feel" of the Mushfens
Venturing further into the Mushfens, the PCs come across a kidnapping in progress! A swan maiden is being abducted by a pack of custom-made "Lurkers-in-Twilight" (Lurkers-in-Light corrupted by Tulvhatha's presence). This leads to a classic Chase, but lessons learned from previous appearances of Chases in scenarios are applied here. The Chase is fast-paced, well-described, has a reasonable number of choices, and has a good spread of consequences depending on the PCs' success. At high-tier, and with the bonuses from wolf form, it's probably a touch too-easy (only one PC needs to succeed on each obstacle, with the others' results serving as Aid Another), but I don't think anyone at the table minded too much.
When the PCs catch up to the Lurkers-in-Twilight, there's a battle to rescue the swan maiden (unless they were terrible at the Chase, in which case she's already dead!). They don't do much damage, but they can potentially blind PCs--and that could create major problems for a character for the rest of the scenario! PCs who accepted the blessing would still have Scent, however, which lessens the problem somewhat.
I really liked the next encounter, even if it's only tangentially relevant to the scenario's main plot. The path the PCs need to follow leads them into the territory of a pack of dire wolves; but the wolves' leader, Riverfang, has become twisted into an undead creature called a vukodlak. However, this doesn't have to be a combat encounter. The PCs can plausibly just sneak past, or, more likely, convince Riverfang to back down and leave the area by persuading the rest of the pack to turn against him. Encounters that offer genuine combat and non-combat options are always appreciated, and this is a good opportunity for role-playing in the middle of what's an otherwise action-heavy scenario.
The next bit was equally as good, though for a different reason. It's rare in Pathfinder Society for PCs to get a chance to share their backgrounds (and especially secrets) in an organic way. But this scenario instructs the GM to ask each player, before the game begins, to write down their character's greatest fear. By the time this encounter arises, most players will have forgotten doing it, which makes it very effective when a haunted mist brings visions of that fear to the character's mind! Mechanically this operates as a haunt; it's not likely to really hurt anyone (a PC gets two saves before there are any negative effects), but I like the concept.
The climactic battle against Tulvatha comes next. The setting is large and a pain-in-the-butt to draw, so GMs should try to do it beforehand. As a will-o'-wisp, Tulvhatha is naturally invisible and immune to most magic, and because she's close to the corrupted holy site, she gains fast healing. In effect, she doesn't do much offensively but can gradually wear PCs down while bobbing and weaving and healing up from the occasional strike that does land against her. I remember it was a long, challenging fight that (I think) resulted in the death of one PC before they finally managed to kill Tulvatha.
The conclusion is solid, and I appreciated that there was some role-playing and a description of subsequent events. The Werewolf's Resilience boon is pretty sweet, even if it's a one-time only thing.
Overall, I can't really think of anything bad to say about Mysteries Under Moonlight, Part 2: The Howling Dance, and I can think of plenty of good things. I'd definitely recommend it, even if the lead-in from Part 1 is a bit weak.