Undead

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RPG Superstar 9 Season Marathon Voter. Organized Play Member. 451 posts (586 including aliases). 38 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 13 Organized Play characters.



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Mechanically excellent, disjointed narrative

4/5

I give 0-3 stars for fluff, and 0-3 for crunch.

Mechanics: 3 Stars

The social mechanics in the beginning are actually a bit weak, but the dungeon and encounter design was excellent. The BBEG was incredibly dangerous and well supported, with previous encounters that actually weaken the PCs with ongoing conditions to soften them up.

The use of space and height also helped tie the terrain to the combat.

Fluff: 1 star

While it has its nice points and interesting PCs, the story of this mission hung together very poorly. It tried to pack in a lot of interweaving narratives and wound up losing all the threads.


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It's existence alone merits 5 stars

5/5

My former lodge in Bloomington has frequently used this program to encourage new GMs, which has helped us immensely in avoiding the situation where only 3 people GM every week.

As I begin my own lodge, I intend to use this for the same purpose. It's a great tool, and one I'm glad Paizo produced for its base.


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Excellent work

5/5

Just wrote a long review, which the website dumped into the abyss. I'm not gonna retype it all, but I'll go over the biggest points.

1 - The amount of player choice here is amazing.

2 - I've written in other reviews that it's bad design when a combat can be bypassed with a single or very few skill checks. This scenario does not make that mistake. Combats can be bypassed with skill sections, but each skill section requires success from multiple PCs. There are multiple choices of skills for each section/subsection such that any party should have a chance. There are multiple tracks for each skill section to take depending on party choice. The DCs are well balanced. Each section should take a decent bit of time, and require the PCs to roleplay.

This should be the model for skill sections that can replace combats going forward. Mr. Kimmel's innovations here are simply excellent.


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5/5


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A masterpiece.

5/5

I do 0-3 stars for fluff, 0-3 for crunch, and a good/bad/ugly section for each. Note that my group played the trilogy in Hard mode, as we enjoy deadly scenarios more than pleasant excursions.

Fluff: 3 stars

The mission hearkens back to the Island of Dr. Moreau, in a very good way. The set-up ties in very nicely both to the overall storyline of the trilogy and of the season as a whole. The location was extremely well designed both in terms of space usage and there was a ton of really cool areas with really fascinating and well-described stuff in it. I don't want to dive into details and spoil anything, but the things the party will discover in this adventure actually give some hints at how the Golarion universe works as a whole in a way that felt organic and earned by the players. The NPCs (particularly the last one encountered) have incredibly well written monologues/dialogues, that give them engaging and unique personalities. Honestly, all of the prose is pretty strong throughout. The enemies fit the location/mission thematically while still surprising the PCs. The whole mission gives the trilogy forward momentum, tying what initially was going to be a 'normal' mission in Part 1 into a tangle of conspiracies that will be resolved in part 3, while still having a distinctly satisfying story in and of itself.

Bad - There were a few things about the environment that merited a bit more exploration/ methods of disseminating the information. Honestly, not enough to subtract even half a star.

Ugly - There is a potentially large reward reduction that is in no way foreshadowed by the scenario. My crew was lucky enough to avoid it, but I imagine a number of groups get hosed by this 'gotcha' mechanic. There were also a few elements of the map/scenario that I felt could have had a bit more in the way of interaction methods.

Crunch - 2.5 stars

Good - This scenario had only two real combats with an optional, but both (or all three) were extraordinary challenges, featuring an array of defenses, offensive abilities, and strategic use of terrain and player expectations. They were devilishly challenging without resorting to truly 'unfair' methods like mis-calculating CR or monster combat metrics. There were some skill sections using mechanics from recent books that I really enjoy, as they help everyone to participate without requiring everyone to actually be great at a particular skill. The leadership mechanic was well executed again, though perhaps the weakest of the trilogy in that aspect. DCs for everything felt right, both in and out of combat.

Bad - Once again, I'm kind of drawing a blank here. Well, I was a bit frustrated by how all the fights had basically the same set of immunities. As a control caster with a wide variety of status conditions I can inflict, it was galling being almost incapable of contributing offensively. Luckily, a Cleric like myself can always cast support spells, so I wasn't useless, but still. A greater variety of immunities would have been nice, though I have to admit that the final combat was a real thinker and that was a good thing.

Ugly - Some of the map-space (particularly the final area) could have been better utilized. Some things about the are (a particular sonic effect) had lower impact than I think we expected, which was disappointing. Basically, I think there was so much coolness packed in here that both the authors and GMs will have to triage which aspects get dived into. That's really only a flaw in the interview, "What's your biggest flaw" sense where it's actually a virtue in disguise.

Yeah, strong 5-6 star scenario.


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Don't bother.

1/5

The two reviews below mine say everything I was going to.


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Quite good.

4/5

I enjoyed the story, the set-up, ambiance, environments, and NPCs. The motivations of some NPCs could have been better elucidated, but oh well. I enjoyed that certain NPCs have counter-measures to abilities of specific characters in the party, and the manner in which this was explained in terms of story. The first two combats were thematic, engaging, and challenging without breaking the CR curve. I liked the Leadership mechanic, and am also glad the author made it a brief element of the scenario, rather than taking a majority of table time. That has been a problem in some other scenarios by this author, and I was happy that a more nuanced and balanced approach was used this go-round.

The encounters were also well thought through in terms of having interesting enemies, intelligent and dastardly tactics, and a feeling that the purpose of the fight wasn't merely to 'beat the other guy', but to accomplish some greater goal. They were pretty challenging as well, at least in Hard Mode.

The final encounter...well, it might have gone a bit far in terms of challenge. Opponents that are custom-made for specific scenarios really need to be more closely reviewed by the PFS development team before publication. This beast is stated at a high CR, but indeed its stats correspond a full 5 CR higher than that on the Average Monster Statistics by CR table in the Monster Creation page of the PRD. Well, other than HP. It's AC and saves in particular are preposterously high. Beyond its statistics, it also has several very significant advantages from its environment, which should raise the encounters CR by 1 or 2. It's pretty much a CR 25 encounter in the high-tier, unadjusted. Even for 6 level 15 characters, that's an APL+7 encounter. For reference, APL+4 is considered a coin-flip for party survival.

GMs will have to be downright creative in how they softball that fight unless you just really want to TPK your lodge's seekers.

It's a problem, so I'm taking away 1 star. The rest of the scenario was really quite impressive though. Very good work overall.


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No great shakes, but not horrible.

2/5

I do 0-3 stars for fluff and 0-3 for crunch, a good/bad/ugly for both.

Fluff (1 star)

Good: The scenario really starts off with a bang, in a way that is interesting and unexpected. The room housing the scenario's second combat is flavorful and interesting, with some unique elements.

Bad: There is a lot of dead space. Most rooms/areas that the party journeys through there is literally nothing of note. No box description, nothing to find with Perception, nothing to learn about with knowledges, nothing to talk to, nothing to do. It makes the pacing very immersion breaking.

The decent backstory of the mission is also marred by an almost complete lack of methods for the GM to disseminate information to the players. Virtually nothing has stated skill checks to learn about the weird objects/areas you encounter.

Ugly: I don't really have any nit-picks beyond what I've already said.

Crunch (1 star)

Good: The second combat was well set-up, using terrain and creature abilities intelligently to challenge the players. The final combat has a social mechanic that affects it in a sensible manner rather than entirely obviating the combat. The encounters were CR appropriate.

Bad: Something I've noticed about this author in this and other scenarios; opponents have tactics and abilities that require they be able to get out of melee range of the PCs, but in areas that preclude them doing this successfully. I'll spoiler what I mean

Notes on combats here and in Fabric of Reality:
In Fabric of Reality, we had an assassin and her lackeys, stated to leverage feats and abilities contingent upon moving around the map a lot, like Spring Attack. However, the cramped space and difficult terrain made that unfeasible. In this scenario, there is a room where potentially two Huge creatures spawn in a room too small to house them and the party very well. Another encounter pits a caster against the PCs in a narrow ship hull, where it can't adequately prevent itself from being surrounded and pummeled to oblivion. The final encounter is similar, though at least she has between 1 and 3 allies. I recommend that the author consider how creatures will be able to move around the battlefield tactically when designing the maps housing encounters.

I think the lack of skill checks of any kind to get information counts for fluff and crunch, so I'll reiterate it.

Ugly: It takes railroad to a new level. There isn't even the vaguest illusion of choice until the final encounter and aftermath.


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I think I'm in love.

5/5

I give 0-3 stars for fluff and 0-3 for crunch, and do a good/bad/ugly for each. I give this 3 stars for fluff and 2 for crunch.

Fluff (good): There is a great deal of foreshadowing, and its actually used properly. The narrative pacing is sensible, and the plot is creative and unique. It hearkens to previous scenarios without being derivative. There are unique and interesting items, set pieces (artwork, artifacts, etc.) are well executed to give hints at what to do without blatantly telling the players, and the dungeon is designed to pace the mission to match the narrative flow. There are even a few great NPCs that we enjoyed interacting with. Events towards the end of the mission are incredibly cinematic, to the point that I would close my eyes and smile imagining what the GM described like when I was a kid. It was a thrill to the imagination that all scenarios should aspire to. Magnificent.

Fluff (bad): As far as fluff goes, I can't think of any real criticisms. It was just brilliant.

Fluff (ugly): I do have a few nitpicks, however. There was an interaction between a set piece and a mind-affecting spell-like that was difficult to reconcile in terms of spell durations, which felt off. There was also an attempt to deceive the party that broadcast itself too much to be a real concern.

Crunch (good): There were non-bypassable, unique and challenging encounters. There were also social checks, ability checks (with reasonable DCs), non-social skill sections, and some 'out-of-the-box thinking' bits. There were elements that required some intelligent play. The final encounter was a truly unique experience that required teamwork, forethought, and some luck in equal measure. Actions taken throughout the dungeon had very meaningful impact on the final battle. Unique items were well designed. Overall, this scenario was quite good.

This scenario also does something with encounters that is as vital a design element as it is rare: each encounter can potentially grant long-lasting negative status conditions to the players, such that challenge might increase over time, and the players get 'worn down' beyond simple expenditure of resources. This is how a good dungeon crawl works, especially in PFS where wands of cure light wounds are practically limitless. The post combat "I use 6 charges off my wand and am hunky-dory" completely kills the suspense in the vast majority of missions. This scenario does not suffer from that problem in the least.

Crunch (bad): There were some issues with the mechanics, I felt. This scenario has shown me just how hard it is to hit the sweet spot in terms of scenario length. While every mission in Season 8 feels like a glorified quest, Beyond Azlant Ridge proves challenging to run in a four-hour slot. It has numerous combats, none of which can be truly bypassed nor are any optional encounters. There was also a superfluous mechanic for opening doors that accomplished little beyond eating into run-time. Honestly, the major change that would help most would be eliminating the first combat entirely. It was completely unchallenging, and just used time without real payoff. That's where the star is lost.

Crunch (ugly): I kinda think there should be a good method of disseminating more information about a particular set-piece involving water. The haunt also was a bit obvious, and solved so easily that it didn't feel necessary. Maybe it was better in the high-tier.

Overall, the flaws in this scenario are minor, and its virtues are just brilliant. I feel like I just took a Master's class in scenario design.

There is one more thing I think worth saying: this scenario is very difficult. It is, however, not insurmountably difficult with an intelligent and well-composed party. Being difficult is not, in and of itself, a criticism, even though others reviewing it have seen it so. There's a lot of whinging about "my character died" or, "we didn't know what to do." Well, tough. There's no rule in PFS saying that the party always wins, that characters never die, or that TPKs are impossible. Very few scenarios are sufficiently difficult that there is risk of those outcomes, and this is one exception. Frankly, I wish a more even percentage of scenarios were truly wicked in terms of difficulty, but I'll just have to settle for the rare gem like this that requires my party to pull out their A-game. I love hard scenarios, because they're the ones that leave me with a sense of backstory. They're the ones I remember for years afterwards. They're the ones that my friends and I tell stories about our wily tactics that just barely saved the day. For those that can't handle the possibility of losing, either avoid this scenario or learn courage.


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Lazy and creatively bankrupt design.

1/5

I do reviews with a 0-3 star system for fluff, and another 0-3 for crunch. Each section has a good/bad/ugly section. I'm giving this scenario 0 stars for fluff and 1 for crunch.

Fluff (good)

I can't think of anything. There is nothing good about the fluff aspects of this scenario.

Fluff (bad)

The complete absence of any creativity was galling. To discuss this in more specific terms, I will require spoiler tags.

Scenario Overview:
The mission might be the most basic, phoned-in mission design I've ever seen. You take a ship to your mission, and are briefly interrogated by border patrol. Then you go to an incredibly mundane tavern with a dwarven barman to get you some starting information. Then you do a 'gather information' section with some sparsely described NPCs. Then you go to a warehouse run by baddies to rescue an NPC, then you fight the BBEG for the MacGuffin. It felt so incredibly 'paint-by-numbers' that I had difficulty reading the barely 12 pages of actual scenario without getting bored and doing something else. Also, virtually none of the information about why things are happening have stated methods of dissemination to players. Box-text descriptions were sparse and comprised of bland, cliche ridden prose when it is present at all. With few exceptions, the NPCs were barely described and pretty uninteresting as well.

Fluff (ugly)

Ugliness:
This is going to be a lot of little things that irked me. The one saving grace of the scenario in terms of containing creative thought was the design of the initial airship and captain. Unfortunately, neither were designed by the author, so I award no points. They were both designed by a different author in a previous scenario. The bartender's name is (I'm not kidding) Thunder Skyforge. I know this is a minor complaint, but that is the dumbest name I think I've ever seen. There is a surprising amount of gp expenditure and rigamarole to get an Auran translator if you don't have one in the party. The aforementioned bad-guy warehouse makes no sense: it is essentially a frozen meat locker, owned by fire-genies, on the plane of air. It is barely explained to the GM why this place exists at all (none of that info has a stated method of dissemination), it is never explained why the rescued NPC is still there rather than having been shipped off, and the imprisoned NPC should be dead from being kept in ice for multiple days, as her race has fire resistance rather than cold. Also, I don't understand why there are ice trolls on the plane of air that only speak Auran. Where did these guys come from? The final location is entered with a passphrase that thematically connects to the Concordance...who are in no way affiliated with the ownership of the final encounter location. I was about to put the design of the McGuffin into the good category of this section (as it is pretty neat) before I realized that it is a barely altered Horn of Blasting from 3.5. Again, no points for copying.

Crunch - 1 star

Good: The CR of the encounters was roughly appropriate for the APL. Skill check DCs weren't challenging, but weren't egregiously off the mark either. The scenario finished in 3 hours, which is a better time-frame than I'm accustomed to with this season.

Bad: I'm gonna need more spoilers.

Mechanical Failings:
Let's begin at the beginning. The first encounter is a combat that can be bypassed by doing nothing at all. If you simply stand still and don't think about lying to the wyrds, there's no combat and you get rewarded. The combat is quite easy if it is engaged with. The bland tavern owned by Thunder Skyrim-reference up until the baddie-warehouse is just a section of gp hits from bribes/gambles/service costs and some very low DC social checks. The NPCS interacted with in that section have no locations with descriptions, and barely any personality beyond what the GM invents. The second (out of three total) combats is trivially bypassed with 2 Bluff checks, meaning there is only one non-optional combat encounter. I find that bothersome, though I understand others prefer combat-lite scenarios. The final encounter, what should be the crowning glory of a trilogy, is objectionably lazy. It is almost identical to the final encounter of the previous scenario in this trilogy. It is, quite literally, the same arcanist (this author really likes to copy-paste from others) as last time for the BBEG, but this time he has a template. The template doesn't really make him more challenging, but he has one now. The arena (like last time) is an aerial fight with bits of floating terrain that can be landed upon. The BBEG, like last time, has no listed spells/day limit. His minions are lightning elementals, which is perhaps the most obvious and uninspired choice imaginable for this situation. The tactics and spells were also chosen poorly.

Ugly
The section describing relative gravity (another neat custom mechanic that this author copied from elsewhere) is at the very beginning of the scenario, but only relevant at the very end.

Overview: The scenario is mechanically mediocre (though adequate) and has all the flavor of a raw potato. At least the length is about right.

I also find it a little suspicious that the other review of this scenario (at the time of writing) is from another RPGSuperstar Season 9 Final 4 contestant, whose other two reviews are also five stars, and also of works from Season 9 final 4 contestants. Seems weird.


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Great fluff, a mite short on crunch.

4/5

I give 0-3 stars for fluff and crunch, and do a good/bad/ugly for each.

Fluff: 3 stars

Good - It felt like the kind of task that every organization needs to get done, even if there's no glory in it. I love that. I like it when the Society feels like an actual company with actual work that needs to be done, rather than an agglomeration of quirky adventurers. This made me feel like a professional.

The tone and prose of NPC interactions were well put together. There were good motivations for the NPCs, not all of which were immediately apparent to the party.

Having to herd goblins was fun.

Bad - I don't think there was anything really bad about the fluff.

Ugly - There could have been a bit more prose to describe the locations. I'm also not sure how much sense it makes for the Shadow Lodge to have hired goblins. I don't think either of these nitpicks merit subtracting a star.

Crunch - 1 star

Good - There were multiple methods of handling virtually every challenge that arises during this adventure. It truly allows the players to go significantly 'off the rails', while still having the guidelines in place to get the party back where they need to be. Parties that employ skills intelligently will fare better than those that don't, but there are combat solutions in place for those that prefer them.

Bad - The combats are quite easy. Granted, power-creep has made that somewhat excusable for seasons 3 and earlier, but even so this felt distinctly underwhelming in terms of combat suspense. The skill checks for obviating combats were also quite easy, and very brief. I feel (and have discussed before) that skill sections that can replace combats should be somewhat more involved than a couple of rolls, and should require multiple participants. This scenario can run quite short with a high survival/Diplomacy party.

Ugly - It uses the survival rules (which we obviated by judicious use of a wand of endure elements), which I despise. I have seen authors make custom mechanics to emulate journey fatigue, and I can see why. The CRB mechanics are fairly tedious in practice.


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Nearly Perfect

5/5

I write reviews giving 0-3 stars for crunch and 0-3 for fluff, and do a good/bad/ugly for each.

Fluff: 2.5 Stars

The Good: I have noted that this season has been much more focused on its 'theme' than previous years, which I enjoy. The box-text descriptions were elegantly phrased, having a resplendent imagery I enjoyed hearing as a player and reading as GM. The NPCs were interesting and had fun things to say, and occasionally hearkened to scenarios past. The story was fairly sensible overall, and matched the raison d'etre of the Society well. It was archaeological research, which is the reason the Society exists (sort of).

The Bad: It is difficult to understand why certain things are happening, why some things haven't already been found by others, or why certain people show up when they do. Events just felt...contrived sometimes. This is where the half-star is lost.

The Ugly: I felt that the Sovereign Court faction goal could really have been for any faction, and there wasn't sufficient reason to limit it to a single one. There is also a riddle that is trivially easy, and has one of the most common riddle answers.

Crunch - 2.5 stars

The Good - There is a healthy balance of social encounters, other skill checks, and combat. Some combats have stated methods of bypass, others are mandatory (I like that). The final boss is a significant challenge (at least in the high tier) using terrain, planar characteristics, allies, feats, and spells synergistically and to terrifying effect. I nearly TPKed the party, but by intelligent play they pulled out a victory without any permanent casualties. The social encounter was well implemented, and there is a neat little puzzle/trap encounter. This diversity of challenges allows virtually any character type to have their day in the sun, and is rarely so well executed. I applaud the author's diligence in this regard.

The Bad - There are NPCs that can be bluffed that have a +0 Sense Motive score. There are NPCs that attempt to Bluff the party with a +1 Bluff modifier. Those are both problematic.

The Ugly - I have to spoiler these.

Final Boss details:
The final encounter is against an arcanist, and his most potent spell is lightning bolt. It is the only 3rd level spell he has prepared, and a sixth level arcanist with 18 INT gets 3 casts of his 3rd level spells daily. Unfortunately, his spells/day limits are not specified, which might mislead GMs into believing he can only cast it once before moving on to his lower level spells. This is incredibly debilitating to him as a challenge. I also had trouble deciphering the final encounter's map in terms of 3D elevations (though maybe that's just me), and generally speaking I don't think 3D encounters work very well. I think it would be good to tone down on those; there have been a lot this season already (which, admittedly makes sense for this year's theme) and they are very frustrating to run. I think we all know that the PFRPG doesn't fare very well in more than two dimensions, so maybe limit how many aerial combats we have to run.

Some weirdness about the first combat encounter:
The first combat encounter in the scenario is against some variant shock lizards, who threaten the PCs to stop asking so many questions. Unfortunately, their +0 Sense Motive score can allow PCs to fairly easily "agree" to their terms. At that point, I don't see why the lizards would attack, given that their goal has (to their minds) been accomplished. This is not in and of itself an issue, but it is problematic that there are no written contingencies for later plot points that rely on the lizards having been defeated.


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Good, but with a big issue I'm seeing more often lately.

3/5

I'll do a good/bad/ugly for fluff, and the crunch. I judge both sections from 0-3 stars, and add them together for my final rating.

Fluff: 2 Stars

Good: I enjoy stories that feel grounded in reality, and this one pulls that off while being an extraplanar adventure. That's no mean feat. The business negotiation, legal trouble, and political intrigue angles really brought home that sentient monsters have their own daily lives and struggles the way anyone else does. The NPCs had distinct personalities and interesting backstories. The written box texts and dialogue were well executed.

Bad: The story does feel disjointed, as often happens with "accomplish several separate tasks" scenarios. The scenario also does little to contextualize why the society is doing this stuff from the player's side (though the GM has more info 'behind the screen').

Ugly: There are some parts that didn't make a great deal of sense to me. I'll spoiler tag them.

Plot Elements:
A contract can be adjusted after having been signed by one party and not the other, and it is binding despite the alterations having not been reviewed by the first signatory. That's...not how contracts work, anywhere ever really. Double jeopardy is also apparently a multiversal law, despite being somewhat of a quirk of American legal practices IRL. Minor sticking points, but worth noting I think.

Crunch: 1 Star

The Good: There is a section where a party member must succeed a social check, and at least half the party must succeed the same check at DC-10. I think this is a brilliant mechanic to distribute RP in such a way that one player can't handle everything alone, and encourages everyone to participate. I hope to see this mechanical element in future scenarios.
A variety of skill checks are distributed throughout the mission, allowing for various types of skill-characters to shine.
The final encounter has the possibility of using a 'skill-checks impact combat' mechanic that I think should be more frequently leveraged by scenario authors. It was done fairly elegantly, if perhaps imperfectly. More on that below.

The Bad: The DCs throughout are slightly lower than I think appropriate for the 5-9 tier. The bigger issue is that the scenario poorly accommodates a mixed party of combat-focused and skill-focused characters. If some characters wish to (and are capable of) using skill checks to bypass combats, the combat characters simply 'sit this one out', doing next to nothing throughout the mission. More on that below.

The Ugly: The following is primarily addressed to the PFS development team at Paizo, rather than the scenario's author. If you just wanted to read a review and have little interest in long-winded discussions of design philosophy, just stop reading.

This scenario is the latest fitting a pattern I have seen for a while, but which has become much more prevalent this season. Scenarios run extremely short (around 100-150 minutes) with parties that are rich in skill ranks. I'm gonna dive into this topic a bit, and hope that my input is valuable to scenario authors and the development team.

There have long been complaints antithetical to my own, i.e PFS scenarios were running too long to be successfully completed in a four-hour time slot. I suspect that the development team has been asking scenario writers to shorten things considerably to address this complaint.

I have no problem with the team incorporating user input like this at all. However, the manner in which scenario length has been addressed troubles me. In several scenarios I have GMed and/or played in, all or all but one combat can be completely obviated with one or two successful skill checks.
Skill check challenges (with the exceptions of more complex versions like the Research, Ritual, and Social encounter rules from Occult Adventures and Ultimate Intrigue respectively) take far FAR less time than even trivial combats.
I suspect that the design team intends for an 'average table' to obviate half of the combats, but engage in the other half. Were this to occur, tables would probably run in about 180-195 minutes. That would be perfect, allowing slower tables a half-hour of leeway and still granting 15 minutes for the GM to complete all necessary post-session paperwork.

The problem is, this 'average table' does not seem to exist, or is at the very least very uncommon. I have seen no scenario run wherein half of the avoidable encounters are avoided, and the other half are fought. Generally, there either is a skill-monkey (or sufficient skills spread through the party) that all encounters are avoided, or the party murders everything in their threatened area.

This causes scenarios like this one, Reaping What We Sow, Ward Asunder, Tyranny of Winds Part I: The Sandstorm Prophecy, and Ungrounded but Unbroken (more than half of the scenarios published this season as of this review's writing) to run in two hours or less in any party with a healthy allocation of skill ranks. Parties that cannot (or choose not to) bypass combat encounters could still run into length issues on the other side, running more than four hours. I should note that this has never occurred in our local lodge. All five of the scenarios mentioned above have consistently run in less than three hours, and occasionally less than two.

My proposed solution to address scenario-length concerns is as follows:
No more than one combat encounter should be completely obviated by a few simple skill checks in any given scenario. However, complex skill sections (like those present in the Disappeared, Night March of Kalkamedes, or the Ult. Int. social mechanic, or the OA Rituals or Research) would be appropriate either/or replacements for combats.

Brief skill sections like those in this scenario should impact combats, but not entirely replace them. The final encounter of this scenario is VERY NEARLY the perfect example of this. I'll spoiler what I mean.

Details of the Final Encounter:
If sabotage skill checks are completed, they can apply a variety of detriments to the final boss. This is wonderful: a skill-oriented party can bring the challenge level down to where they can still eliminate the enemy expediently, and a combat oriented party won't need the help. A party with both will fare even better, as is appropriate. The fly in the ointment in this scenario is that the encounter can still be eliminated by approaching the BBEG and socially negotiating with him beforehand. While the encounter will still occur, the party is intended to lose (without consequence), and thus it can be trivially "hand-waved" or, in essence, play acted. Perhaps a performance combat skill section would have made this manner of dealing with the combat more interesting and lengthy. The other issue is that the final fight really isn't very challenging to begin with. With the sheer number of penalties that can be applied to the final boss, he should start higher on the power curve IMO. This is compounded by ALL previous combat encounters being bypassable through brief skill checks. The party is likely walking into this without any combat resources spent, at full health, and without any negative status conditions.

In essence, I understand that there is a delicate balancing act in terms of table time between skill sections and combat. I fear that the current model of bypassing most to all combats easily with a few simple skill checks is killing a fly with an earth-breaker. Using somewhat more involved skill sections to bypass encounters, having short skill sections induce a different (and 'quicker'/lower CR) encounter, or applying negative status conditions to the enemy combatants would be subtler and more balanced tools to keep scenario length to a 3-3.25 hour target. These tools would allow the skill-oriented characters and RP-focused players to have their cake, while letting the combat-focused characters and number-crunching players to eat theirs too.


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Mixed Feelings Abound

2/5

I spent over an hour giving this scenario the most detailed review I have ever done. I went to preview it, and the site lost all my data and returned me to the main page.

Sometimes I wonder if there are actual web developers working at Paizo, or if this site is the product of infinite monkeys at infinite Dreamweaver terminals.

I'm gonna give a much more succinct version, because I don't want to re-type all that. I have lots of constructive criticism for the author, as well as methods of addressing those problems present in this work. If you want, Linda, I'd be glad to get into detail over private messages.

The gist is, the fluff of the setting, backstory, and NPCs were all done uncommonly well. It feels like a real place, with a life of its own rather than a bunch of NPCs waiting for the players to show up. This kind of thing is rare as hen's teeth, and is the mark of a true storyteller. I honestly think the author will one day be among the best around.

However, there are almost no descriptions nor box-text monologues, and there are several portions that really need them. I partially fixed this with some prose addenda on pfsprep. Also, some of the ways that sections link up are a bit nonsensical and feel like diaboli ex machinae.

Mechanically, the skill DCs were about right, but the combat encounters were entirely too easy. I can't stress this enough; every author should read Alexander Augunas' GM's Guide to Creating Challenging Encounters. In it one will find how to balance action economy, how to calculate what is an appropriate challenge for a party of any given level range, and how to mix abilities such that a party has to use their brains instead of just their die.

I ran this in the high tier with the four player adjustment, and over the two encounters they played they defeated 1,800 EXP of monsters. That would have been a fairly easy fight if it were all rolled into one fight. As it was, they were completely unchallenged, and this was a distinctly (intentionally) sub-optimal group of characters. The word "steamroll" comes to mind.

The scenario is also entirely too short. I added lengthy descriptions, a romantic sub-plot between two villagers, some speeches, encouraged (and got) extensive RP during the music, dialogue, and pumpkin carving sections, took a 10 minute break halfway through...and was done in two hours.

Ensuring that fewer portions are skippable, and making the encounters more difficult would both help here. More prose description as well. Taking up valuable page-space/word count with monster blocks that can be deferred to the appendices is also a bad plan. There were some monsters that were fully blocked TWICE within the scenario.

Overall, the scenario is a fun but brief and unchallenging romp. That which was done well was done masterfully, and are the things that you can't really teach someone. The things that were done badly are easily addressed, and can be learned and implemented with a minimum of fuss.

While this scenario feels like squandered potential, I still look forward to future works from this author.


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Cool environment, mechanically terrible

2/5

Fluff: 2 Stars

Interesting story, NPCs, and environment. The mission is totally unlike any other I've seen, and feels much more like your characters are society agents as their job that is actually work rather than fun adventures with loot. I like that. The NPCs have unique personalities, motivations, and backgrounds. The dialogue written moves the story and has strong impact.

That said, I'm not giving three stars because a lot of the cool parts are 'behind the screen', in that there is no real method of dissemination. Also, it runs into narrative check-points where unless the PCs choose to do some very specific actions that are only vaguely intimated at, whole swathes of the story can go untold.

Crunch: 0 Stars

This a skill oriented scenario, which I don't have a problem with. Its execution, however, is deplorable. It does what a lot of skill check scenarios seem to do, have pathetically easy combats. I'm fine with only 1 or 2 combats if they are a challenge, but these are cakewalks that feel like an afterthought.

The real issues are with the skill sections. They have a lot of convoluted mechanics, extremely high DCs for the tier, and sections can just require entirely too many checks (particularly a Climb section towards the beginning). The high DCs aren't such an issue when only 1 party member needs to succeed, but the final section is a round robin on a particular skill, and the DC is so high it not surprise me to see 80-90% of tables complete the mission with 0-1 PP. The biggest issue is how often things come down to specific Profession/Perform checks that 99.5% of players just won't have.

I want to like this scenario. In some ways, I really do like it. The mechanics are just overwrought with complexity, badly balanced, and tedious.


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Excellent Work

5/5

I ran this, and loved it. The story and flavor were well executed, and the mechanics cohered well. I have some concern about how the PCs are expected to figure out what is happening in the final encounter to actually initiate the combat, but it is a relatively easy flaw to overcome as a GM. I don't think it sufficient to subtract a star.


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Incredible combats, perfectly good story.

5/5

I give 0-3 stars for crunch, and another 0-3 for fluff.

Crunch: 3 Stars

The encounters were varied, appropriately challenging, and used interesting and sensible tactics. Beyond this, the final encounter was (a) more than two enemies, so action economy advantage was not heavily skewed in the players' favor and (b) composed of a variety of enemies that synergized well tactically.

The social/knowledge aspects were sensible with appropriate DCs for the tier. There wasn't a lot of skill use out of combat, but I don't see that as a big enough issue to deduct a star.

Fluff: 2 Stars

The story was solid, involving meaningful player choice. The setting felt alive and detailed. The NPCs were interesting and had distinct personalities. The theme was more about economics than another archetypal 'heroes vanquishing evil' trope-fest. There could have been a bit more in the way of an investigation or social encounters, but the story still hangs together quite nicely.

Well done, Mr. Greenshields.


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A lot of great ideas horribly executed

2/5

Every part of this scenario would be really interesting and cool if it were executed well, but there's so much wonky and vague stuff going on that nothing really...works.

The entire scenario is pathetically easy, until the final encounter that is practically impossible (and very deadly) as written.


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Absolutely fantastic.

5/5

I give 0-3 stars in both mechanics and fluff, and add the results together.

Fluff: 3 Stars

Everything from the briefing to the finales gives a real sense of participating in the larger narrative of the Society. The NPCs are well thought out, the investigative and social portions give a sense of atmosphere and intrigue, and I loved that there are truly meaningful choices for the party to make.

Mechanics: 2 Stars

The encounters are solidly done, but occasionally difficult to interpret as a GM. There were also a few typos. That said, I thought the encounters were truly interesting and well put together, had an appropriate level of challenge while still making the players feel Awesome, and tied into the story smoothly. The skill check portions used scenario-specific mechanics, but were outlined clearly and they didn't feel unwieldy.

Basically, there were some minor flaws mechanically, but overall it was solid work in that regard as well.

I would honestly add a bonus star for editing/organization/use of page space. As a GM, I found this shockingly easy to run despite its complexities, as DCs were sensibly located, and mechanics concisely explained.

So, 6 stars, but I'm only allowed to give 5. I hope to see more scenarios from Mr. Kronewitter.


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Some minor issue, but great overall

4/5

Fluff: 2 Stars

The story is interesting, if railroaded. The NPCs are interesting, if a bit over-eager to roll initiative. The setting is just downright awesome.

Crunch: 2 Stars

The first fight would be much better with a map that allowed for the NPCs' tactics to function better. Also, be aware that this will require a lot of GM prep due to all the different things that can happen during the combats. That said, really cool mechanically as well, with solid skill sections interwoven between social and interestingly designed combat situations.

Total: 4 stars


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The good parts are amazing, the bad parts are horrible

2/5

The Good:

This scenario has me of two minds. The bulk of the scenario is social, and involves a new mechanic. I think this new mechanic is elegantly designed, and the NPCs that players interact with most were incredibly well designed. Everything about them was detailed, sensible, and interesting. Clearly, a lot of love and effort went into them.

The Bad:

The combat portion of the scenario is pathetic. I'm gonna need spoiler tags to discuss it, don't read if you haven't played.

Combat Description:
There is but a single combat in this scenario, and it is approximately CR=APL. It is composed of generic fighters and rogues, and the ALMOST good surprise mechanic is ruined by the virtual impossibility of not metagaming. It really telegraphs itself entirely too much, and a GM will need to take great pains to disguise what is really happening. Furthermore, the formatting of the section is atrocious. There is a section leading up to it that details what happens if PCs fail a Reflex save, but not the circumstances under which anyone would have to even make that reflex save. The worst part for me was that there are no consequences for losing this fight (the baddies accept a surrender, and any goods lost are immediately refunded in the next area) and the fight itself has absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the plot. It seemed disdainfully tacked on.

The Ugly:

The GM will need to juggle a LOT of circumstance modifiers, and where they are located is extremely counter-intuitive, and entails a lot of page flipping back and forth. I'm sure this is not entirely the author's choice, but I am reviewing the scenario, not the author. I really encourage Paizo to come up with a new format for Intrigue encounters like this in the future, where all circumstance modifiers are located in a small compact table at the top of the block, and discussed in greater detail below. It truly is a pain to find what is happening as you run.

Formatting in other sections was atrocious as well. There is a description that is split into three separate areas, despite actually being for a single mountain pass bridge. The intervening text for the GM doesn't seem to serve a purpose. All the info in the scenario was spread out through so many pages that it seems disjointed on paper, requiring a lot of work for a GM to understand all of the intricacies. Again, I feel this has more to do with the editor than the author.

Certain parts of the story didn't make sense to me from an economics standpoint as well, but frankly the economics of Golarion is already entirely nonsensical, so I can't be too mad about that.

The biggest flaw I see is how focused everything is around a rather limited selection of skills. I'm fine with being combat light (though I think it went a bit far on that as well), but even within a skill-oriented scenario, there shouldn't be such a limited selection to use. I outright told players before we began that, "Venture Captain Brackett would prefer to send those accustomed to navigating social subtleties, and hob-nobbing with the aristocracy." I feel without this warning it is entirely too easy to have a table full of characters sitting idly by, feeling useless and frustrated.

I would give 1.5 stars for fluff. The NPCs and dialogue opportunities are amazing, but the plot has some sticking points and there really aren't any twists or turns. Everything that happens is pretty much said in the briefing.

I'll give another 1.5 stars for mechanics. The social section is really excellently designed (if poorly formatted), but the sections leading up to it seem largely irrelevant and trivial.

I'm subtracting a star because of how badly the actual page-space was managed. So in reality, Mr. Hillman gets 3 stars, and whoever edited this is getting my stink-eye through the internets. Got my eye on you buddy.


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Interesting skill oriented scenario with mechanical flaws

3/5

Fluff: 2/3 stars

The scenario possessed a relatively clear story arc, methods of disseminating the salient information to players, and a plot that felt 'realistic' (an economic rivalry and courtly machinations). Overall, I enjoyed it. That said, some plot points seemed weirdly fuzzy, and there could have been a bit more foreshadowing to lead to the final encounter. Quite good, overall, but not excellent.

Crunch: 1/3 stars

Mechanically speaking, this is far from the worst I've ever played, but is even further from the best. The traps and combat encounters are relatively trivial even before their partial amelioration from earlier skill checks. The skill check section is fairly well put together, but the sheer quantity of skill checks (with constantly fluxing DCs) can be overwhelming for the GM. With ample preparation and experienced, creative players, this won't be difficult to run in a four hour time slot. (I just did that myself tonight.)

With an inexperienced GM or players (or just players with few skill ranks, or spiteful d20s) it can easily turn into 2-3 hours of skill-check round-robin. I believe a table of 6 players could be required to make up to 80 checks during the reconnaissance section.

I think there is a really great scenario buried under the mechanical flaws, and I hope the author continues to produce content for the PFS campaign. I just hope he considers the input from these reviews before writing the next one.


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Incredibly easy, but not terrible overall

3/5

I rate by giving 0-3 stars in fluff and another 0-3 for crunch. 0 is objectionably terrible, 3 is one of the best I've seen in that aspect. 1 means bad, but could be worse, 2 is good but with some minor issues.

Fluff: 1.5 stars

The backstory to this is pretty cool. Unfortunately, most of the information about the final location (the coolest part, and the explicit objective of the scenario) has no written method of dissemination. A savvy GM shouldn't have too great a problem thinking of a method to give the backstory, but still. Also, the portions leading up to that location have a fine story as well...it just doesn't really connect with the other part much at all.

Crunch: 1.5 stars

There is nothing objectionably terrible about the construction of the scenario, but there are some fairly major issues. There is a pseudo-chase sequence that, while not badly done, could have been accomplished better by mechanics similar to those in either The Disappeared for getting through the party, or the chase mechanics from Scions of the Sky Key Part II. Many of the various checks were well thought out, but the DCs are a bit generously low. What knocks this from 2 stars is how easy it is. There are 3 possible encounters, two of which are quite easily avoided (and easy anyway). The final encounter is just trivial in the low tier (CR 2, basically, with a hazard that actually makes it easier) and not much more difficult in the high tier. Considering that the party might well have this as the only encounter, a CR 4 or 5 would have been good for the low tier, and a 7 or 8 in the high. I will note that this is more John's fault than the author's, as the final encounter was slated to have an almost appropriate challenge level when initially written, but John nerfed the fight for reasons beyond my ken.

I will say that this is a good scenario for new GMs to run. It has run at our FLGS in about 2 hours on average, the combats are few and uncomplicated, and the remainder of the mechanics are well outlined, organized, and simple to run.


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Everything you do is pointless.

1/5

The entire time I played, it felt as if my actions were meaningless, and that there was no way to progress the story.

I have now read the scenario, and it confirms that experience. Nothing the PCs could actually do has any impact during the investigation section. The information you could get is so incomplete that it is almost impossible to actually figure out what is happening.

I agree with the first reviewer. Everything seems designed to make it impossible for anyone to have any fun. Some plot below in spoilers:

Spoiler:
The mission begins with a small encounter, and some vague information can be gained from what they are outside. Intrepreting this information correctly is very unlikely, and I doubt most parties will actually understand what they had found by the end of the mission. There is then a three day investigation. There is seemingly no method of gaining any important information here, as everyone in the village is frustratingly unwilling to speak on any subject of importance, penalties abound for breaking rules that are never told to you, and none of the villagers actually know much more about what is happening than you do. No matter what you do in this time, three days after you get there another encounter happens, and then the mission actually progresses. You go to a cave, fight stuff, gain no meaningful information, and leave. Nothing you do matters, no one belongs anywhere, let's watch TV.

Essentially, this scenario runs into a 'narrative choke-point', where only one very specific spell/ability can work to get the story, and very few characters will actually have it available to them. Scenario designers should always be careful to have multiple investigation methods to attain vital information. Mr. Cazares did not do this, much to any player's chagrin.


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Meh

2/5

The introduction to the mission was nice, but I felt like there wasn't much plot beyond insertion. Also, the encounters were outright pathetic. The final encounter took about 15 minutes real time, 2 rounds in-game. We actually didn't realize it was the final encounter until the GM started filling out Chronicle sheets, as we had only been playing for about 90 minutes, and hadn't been rushing either. A real cakewalk, this one.


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