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Better than Book 3, But Still Not Good

2/5

This book is a mirror to the scenario in Book 3. The PCs are tasked with exploring a lost city in order to find an ally who can give them the story of what's going on in the AP. The exploration mechanics of Book 3 were decidedly half-baked, and turned what should have been a compelling game of interaction with the native denizens through diplomacy and force into a hack and slash "kill them all" scenario.

This book seeks to take another crack at the scenario, and while the results are better, they're not that much better. Diplomacy is a very real part of this book, as there are multiple factions in the city and at least two of them can be recruited to the PC's side. Once this is done, the PCs have to break into a large dungeon to save their damsel in distress.

The exploration of the city is covered only very briefly. There are a few locations spelled out and a couple of scripted encounters. Most of the rest of the exploration is given over to the GM to make up. Most of the rest of the encounters are either random encounters, or wandering patrols from one of the factions. It's not very satisfying, but one could understand that they want to push the action towards the large dungeon and the rescue. Interacting with the two factions is fairly interesting and allows some opportunities for RP that were lacking from Book 3. It's not great, but it's not terrible either.

The dungeon, on the other hand, is kind of terrible. It's a large fortress where most of the encounters are with nameless serpentfolk patrols and soldiers. I cannot imagine how a GM will keep up a party's interest in this dungeon after the 4th or 5th encounter with 4-6 serpentfolk with the same stat block. It's extremely tedious. And lest you think that the PCs can stealth their way in, the book covers this. The serpentfolk are able to telepathically communicate with each other, so if you aggro one group, they're immediately able to warn the other denizens of the fortress. Aggro enough groups, and then they're all on alert and it all becomes much more difficult. This telepathy is very hard to stop and means that makes infiltration tactics, such as picking off wandering groups of serpentfolk, largely impossible. The dungeon doesn't have much diversity in encounters: it's mostly a couple of high-level serpentfolk leaders and literally dozens of low-level serpentfolk soldiers with identical stats.

These city exploration scenarios were likely just too ambitious for a single AP volume to adequately explore. After all, exploring the two cities-- or even one city-- could be the entire AP. If the GM was prepared to do a lot of work, it could be interesting. But they'd be better off scrapping the vast majority of the material presented in he AP modules and just homebrewing their own story based on the scenario of the "lost city in the jungle". After the disorganization of Book 3 and the tedium of this book, I'm not sure that there's much worth taking from the published AP material.


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Doesn't End With a Whimper, But Certainly Not a Bang

2/5

Council of Thieves finally becomes less linear. Players have a lot of choice regarding what to do in their climactic final battle. This feels a lot more like Book 1, which emphasized dungeon crawling less and set piece fights and encounters more. The GM has a series of NPCs and enemies for the players to interact with and can place those where they will. It's a fine way to handle a final set of encounters.

I think my issue is that it doesn't feel very climactic. Maybe the story in CoT just doesn't lend itself to a big, climactic struggle at the end. It's a low-key, and dare I say, low-stakes story compared to a lot of other APs. Some of the villains will feel like they come out of nowhere without a lot of work to foreshadow them that the AP doesn't provide. I don't know if the AP has given the players enough reason to care about the story that was happening with the ultimate AP villain. And the last boss themselves is a huge cake walk if the PCs make the right choices. It's very anticlimactic.

Honestly, Book 5 felt like a better "ending" for the AP in general. This was a persistent problem with Council of Thieves: major plot threads that were too disconnected, and with too little information provided to the players. Books can, and likely should, be done in a different order, which is not the sign of a strong plot.

Overall, the entire AP started strong, but the back half didn't move the plot along in a way that felt like a climax to a good adventure story.


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Good Volume but Inconsistent Storytelling

3/5

I think there's a very good campaign in Council of Thieves, but the tonal change between a lot of the stories becomes more noticeable as the plot progresses. The first volume leads one to believe that the PCs will be liberating heroes. But a volume like this is a much better representation of what the campaign is like. It's a gritty book that has the PCs dealing with a number of undesirable characters in order to get to the bottom of what's happening with the ultimate villain of the adventure path.

As a whole, the book isn't bad. There's a large set piece battle that could be hit or miss for your party (it was a little bit of a miss when I ran it). I think the concept is cool, it just didn't land as well as it should have for us.

Then there's another long dungeon that is, admittedly, not too bad. The lore is interesting, and it leads to a pretty thrilling boss fight. In fact, weirdly, this boss is just way stronger than the actual boss of the AP for some reason. And the fight is much more fun too.

However, one big problem with CoT is there are so many major plot threads, and they don't link together well, and the players aren't positioned very well to learn about them. Thus, looking back, while a lot of the large, individual dungeon crawls in the AP are good, they don't do much to advance the plot. And it's a shame, because I think the plot is fairly good. It's been kept behind the scenes so much that now, when the AP should be ramping up, the plot threads don't land as strongly as they should because they require information that the players may or may not have accessed.

With that said, this module is fine in itself, and I enjoy how dark it is.


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Another Long Dungeon from Council of Thieves

2/5

I'll say this on the outset: this rating might be unfair to this module. As a standalone dungeon to run through, there's a lot to recommend. I liked the sense of urgency that permeates the story. The set pieces at the beginning to a good job of setting the stage for a dungeon that is a ticking time clock. The book is a cross between a dungeon crawl and a disaster movie, where you have to solve the problem before the whole thing blows. And it's a fun enough dungeon overall.

However, this is a lot of big dungeons in a row from the AP. They ended Book 2 with a long dungeon crawl. The last half of Book 3 was one long dungeon. And now about 80% of this book is a dungeon crawl. I was pretty bored with long dungeons by the time I got to this one.

On its own, this volume is probably better than the 2-2.5 stars I'm giving it. But in the context of the AP, it's not the what the story needed at the time.


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Enjoyable Dungeon and Change of Pace

4/5

After the terrific second volume, the third book in Council of Thieves is a return to a more standard adventure. This is mostly a dungeon crawl with some investigative portions beforehand. The investigation is, unfortunately, more of a way to run players through mini-dungeon crawls with some RP on top. But they're still not bad mini-dungeons.

The larger dungeon is pretty good, with varied encounters and good atmosphere. The module does a good job of making the final dungeon something to be discovered, rather than something that's stumbled upon. Good pulp adventure vibes.


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Fun and Creative Module, Something for Everybody

5/5

I really enjoyed this module. It's not without its flaws. The play isn't for everybody. A lot of the encounters in the first part are very, very difficult to the point of being unfun. The mansion is a lot of space devoted to not a lot of actual content.

But I can tolerate more flaws in modules that are trying to do something interesting, and the play is very interesting. I loved the entire scenario. Learning lines, getting to know the other actors, schmoozing with the Westcrown upper crust. I think this scenario would really shine with a remaster that incorporates some rules that would be published later, such as influence points and social combat. But a GM can work to fix mechanics, and it's a lot more fun to do so when the source material is so much fun.

The dungeon crawl at the end was pretty good too, so there's something for the combat-oriented players as well. Just a very well-designed, balanced adventure that will appeal to players with a lot of different tastes.


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Strong Low-Level Module, Not a Great Start to CoT

4/5

I enjoyed this module. It has a lot of what you're looking for in a low-level adventure. A really strong start that kicks the action off with a bang. A feeling like the PCs are an important part of what's happening. A lot of NPCs to interact with. A good setting, and an interesting premise.

A lot of it could have been laid out a little better. Encounters are mostly setpieces where the GM has to fill in the gaps-- but that's a lot of TTRPG prep, to be fair. It might even be a strength for somebody who wants a looser game. And of course the rules were written when Pathfinder was just getting started, so you might have work to do to adjust encounters if your players are running later material with all its power creep.

However, overall, this is a fun adventure for low-level characters. The issue is that it isn't a good start to the Council of Thieves AP. This book leads the PCs to believe that they'll be part of some rebellion against Chelish rule in Westcrown. But the AP doesn't really touch on that a lot throughout most of the narrative. So this volume doesn't do a great job of introducing important themes, story beats, and NPCs that will be important later. This is a persistent problem with Paizo APs, and it's definitely present here.


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Not Bad, But Not Good Enough to Save this AP

3/5

After two volumes that could charitably be described as "lackluster", the Serpent's Skull AP really needed a strong entry here to make the campaign worthwhile. And this book was... fine. Not bad at all, actually! But also not good enough to get the AP back on track.

The conceit is that this book is a giant fetch quest that has the PCs going through a number of mini-dungeons to collect maguffins to get to progress the story. This means that this AP volume is very light on story. If it feels like filler, that's because it absolutely is filler. That's a problem for an AP that really needed to start to kick its story into gear by this stage. You don't really learn much about Savith-Yhi, or about the impending danger from the serpentfolk, or much about the plot at all, really.

However, this volume did have the advantage of actually being fun to play without a monumental amount of GM work, which sets it apart from the previous two books. The mini-dungeons are pretty fun, for the most part. And they can each be cleared in a session or two. This makes this module a good, old-school set of casual dungeon crawls. There's not much story or RP to be had, but the actual dungeons are pretty fun.

In all, I think this is a module that's more fun to play than it is to read. It's a few sessions of low-key dungeon romps. It's clearly filler, but it's not bad filler. However, with the weakness of the previous volumes in the AP, you really don't want a filler volume in the AP. This book needed to do a better job of setting up the plot for the rest of the AP because the previous volumes didn't. I'm just picturing a campaign that slogged through poor books 2 and 3 only to find that book 4 is mostly filler. I imagine many groups would just drop out of SS by this point. However, this book is still worth getting for a collection of mini dungeons for a high-ish level range.


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Back to Average for Age of Ashes

3/5

After an enjoyable book 2 that takes the PCs to an exotic locale, Age of Ashes Book 3 returns to a more traditional fantasy setting, and I think it's a little disappointing. The book itself is fairly good, and could be a lot of fun if you've played the Hell's Rebels adventure path, as there are a lot of easter eggs for that AP in this volume. The plot of the book is very standard, and has the PCs tracking a cell of slavers in the city of Kintargo, and into the surrounding environs. In contrast to the previous volume in the AP, the action in this one moves at lightning speed; the entire thing is done over the course of about 10 days, and that includes overland travel. It provides an interesting mechanical effect, as it's difficult to avoid chaining encounters without a lot of time to heal. It's a good contrast with the "One fight a day" style that the previous volume of the AP had going for it, but be careful as PF2 isn't always structured to work that way.

The adventure is pretty fun and balanced. There are a few encounters that a GM might want to give a look at (looking at you, Kite Hill). There's good NPC interactions and a nice urban setting for the PCs to explore. For me, there was a certain "wow" factor that this volume didn't have that the later volumes did seem to. It's very railroady, there aren't a lot of extremely interesting mechanics, and the setting and plot aren't as interesting as what's to come. It's definitely not a weak adventure, but in the context of the AP it felt like a step backwards.


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Cool Premise, Poor Execution

2/5

Serpent's Skull is shaping up to be an AP that has a strong sense of what it wants to be, but doesn't have any sense of how to deliver on that idea. The idea of the PCs stumbling on a legendary city, lost to history and the jungle, is a really cool one. Who knows what secrets and dangers lie within? It's a high adventure concept and fits the idea of heroic fantasy really well. It's exciting! I'd want to play that adventure.

Unfortunately, the content presented in the book isn't exciting at all. There's some elements that you can work with as a GM. The underlying concept is that the "lost" city is actually pretty well populated by a number of peoples. Each people has taken over one of the seven districts of the city, and each of the districts has a magic quasi-macguffin that you have to activate to advance the plot. So you'll have to treat with each faction in order to accomplish this.

Except, by "treat", I actually mean "fight". Most of the factions are not amenable to any kind of diplomacy, and thus represent nothing more than scattered encounters for the PCs to fight. No diplomacy, no inter-faction rivalries, no real interaction with any of the factions as NPCs. Just go there, figure out what you need to do in order to conquer the area, and do it. Oh, and if your GM hates you, you can fight wandering patrols of low-level enemies all day.

This could have worked as a seven-sector dungeon crawl, like you'd see in Rise of the Runelords. But that's hard here, because there are no maps for any of the encounters (save one) published here. So the GM would have to design an entire series of dungeons with little help.

On the other hand, the tableau of the city suggests that diplomacy should be an option for the tribes. And I definitely think that could be a very, very cool campaign. But there's no guidance on how to do that in this book. The various factions are seemingly uninterested in diplomacy and are characterized very thinly. If a GM wants to go this route, it can be made into a great game, but that GM will have to homebrew almost everything.

This book could have been cool, but in the event it didn't provide a GM with any of what they would need in order to bring the concept to life. There needed to either be more maps for a dungeon-crawl style adventure, or a lot more depth given to the factions for an RP sandbox. Either way would have been better than what was published.

It's a shame, because you can see what the intent was and it was cool. However, this is two poor books in a row from the SS AP. At this point, I would have to think a lot of groups will be thinking about dropping the AP, unless the GM puts in a ton of work in order to do justice to the concept.


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Feels Like Filler

2/5

The first volume of Serpent's Skull felt like it had a strong premise and delivered on that premise. This second book fell flat in both regards.

I can get what they were going for with the story. The excitement of finding a lost, ancient city, of cutting through dangerous jungle, and to compete with other factions to be the one that "discovers" it. I put "discovers" in quotations because in the next volume it'll be clear that a ton of other factions have already discovered the city.

The core idea is one of competition and discovery: you're competing with other factions to be the ones to make this amazing find. Whether that premise is exciting to you is probably a matter of personal taste and can't be addressed mechanically.

However, the competition aspect could be addressed mechanically, and wasn't, really. It didn't feel like you had any means of helping/hindering any of the other factions. They didn't seem to meaningfully hinder you. The whole book was just a series of encounters spread throughout the jungle, with linear, Point A to Point B travel throughout. The encounters weren't thematically very strong or interesting. There weren't meaningful ways to increase the rate at which you moved, or any penalty for falling behind. The other factions didn't feel like they were doing anything to hinder you, or one another, or to interact with the story in any way.

So, mechanically, it's kind of a dull book that's designed to provide some content so that you don't get to the city too quickly. The content is neither bad nor good, it's mostly just content. It's a shame, because the book conveys a sense of what it was intending, and a GM could build on that to create the experience that was intended. However, the published material won't get you there, so the GM will have to put in the work required to make it happen.


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Really Strong, Self-Contained Adventure

5/5

I think this has a lot of the marks of a great adventure. The hook is great (you're all castaways who washed up on an island). There's interesting NPCs to play with, with cool mechanics. There' a great gimmick for the book-- it's a mixture of wilderness survival, mystery solving, with classic "jungle"-style encounters. The encounters are fun. The survival mechanics are fun but-- crucially-- you can dial them up or down depending on what your group finds interesting. There's a sense of mystery and exploration that pervades the entire book in a very appealing way.

A great thing about the adventure is how modular it is. It's extremely self-contained, and you can vault from this book into just about any adventure. That makes this book easy to recommend.

The modular nature can work against it in one way: I find that it doesn't feel like an important part of the Serpent's Skull adventure path in general. The GM has to do some work to think about how the book links to what comes later.


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Balance Issues, Plot Failed to Engage

2/5

The balance issues are definitely a problem. It's understandable that they exist, and it's not impossible to fix. However, If a GM goes into the game unprepared, these issues can really put a damper on the adventure.

However, my real issue is that the module didn't grab me or my group in an interesting, narrative way. It's set up to provide an introduction to the Pathfinder 2e game and world, so perhaps it's not surprising that the story feels a little basic; generic, even. When I ran it, neither my group nor my players were very interested in the mystery and story of the adventure.

So we found the story to be "meh", and when combined with the balance issues, I think you have a module that was fine for the time, but has since been left behind by other, better adventures that provide more interesting, and more balanced, games for low-level play.


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Good First Half, Meh Second Half

3/5

Like a lot of modules, this one has somewhat inconsistent quality. The section where the PCs are investigating Kalsgard is pretty fun. They're trying to secure a guide and solve a mystery while all the while trying to elude the notice of a shadowy ninja organization. The Notoriety system is a cool idea, where the PCs will slowly attract the notice of the ninjas. Notoriety is gained slowly at the beginning, and much, much more quickly later, with increasingly severe consequences. The idea is cool, but the execution can be lacking a bit and it might fall flat at your table. The first issue is that Notoriety might be gained so slowly that your table completes the investigation before anything bad or interesting happens. This would be a shame, because the Notoriety scenarios are pretty cool, and I think do a good job of making it feel like the PCs are under siege by forces that they cannot effectively strike back at. Even if your players do manage to gain Notoriety, it feels unlikely that there's enough time for the effects listed in the book to come to fruition, unless your players are really inefficient. The reason is that the investigation, as written, really doesn't take that long in-game. So chances are, the PCs will gain some Notoriety, but will avoid the stuff that happens when the Notoriety gets really high. The problem is, a lot of the really cool stuff happens at really high Notoriety.

The Kalsgard investigation is pretty entertaining. I liked how it took players on a tour through Ulfen culture. It really did feel like it did a lot with a very interesting setting. You do have to pay attention to the investigation and do a lot of work to make sure that there aren't dead ends, or red herrings, or to make sure the players don't skip steps and do it out of order, which is very easy for them to do. It's a a sandbox scenario, but without quite enough content to make the sandbox work as well as it should.

Luckily, Kalsgard is a great setting if you'd like to add stuff, and I would highly recommend adding stuff. Delaying the investigation beats lets the Notoriety pile up, and helps avoid the players solving the whole thing in 2-3 in-game days.

The final dungeon is just ok. It isn't as good as Brinewall from the first module. A lot of the encounters feel repetitive, and if the PCs leave to rest, they'll restock with more repetitive encounters. This makes sense from a story perspective, but in game terms it's not a lot of fun and I handwaved the reinforcement mechanics away. It's not a bad dungeon or anything; rather, it just feels average. When one considers the lore of the dungeon, it feels like there could have been a lot more going on inside.

The actual module is hard to rate. My players had a blast with the module, but it was mostly due to stuff that was added. However, the sandbox nature of the adventure and the coolness of the locale make homebrewing some sections easy. As with all APs modules, some work needs to be done to make the story smoother, but it's not very difficult to do so. So I'll say that the first half is a fun playground to add whatever you want, and the final dungeon needs some love to make it pop more.


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Well-Designed Low Level Module

4/5

This one was low-level play done right. It starts as generically as is possible (goblins attack, yeah, yeah, we've seen this before). But it builds out of that in an intriguing way, and before long you're at the really cool megadungeon setpiece. The dungeon is done quite well, and my group had a lot of fun with it. There were varied encounters, and interesting NPCs. I also liked the schedule mechanics, where the monsters would change position based on the time of day, and the actions of the PCs.

Our group is doing fine with the much-maligned Caravan rules. We're also using the Ultimate Relationships ruleset, which is working quite well. We're leaning into the travel and NPC relationships portion, which is a novel addition to a campaign. It worked for us, but it might not for you.

One final thing I liked is that the travel allows a GM to really add a lot of stuff to the AP if they want to. There's a lot of cool locations you can take the caravan through, and it's great for adding on sidequest stuff.


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Excellent adventure that really feels like an adventure

5/5

This AP volume was really fantastic. The NPCs, especially the three main Ekujae, were extremely fun to play and had excellent characters and motivations. There's a ton of excellent lore. I loved how the Ekujae didn't need the heroes to come save them or anything, even from the BBEG of the campaign. If it gets down to it, they know what they're doing and they'll take the steps they need to stop it. The whole time spent in Akrivel was a great time. The scenarios were really well done. I enjoyed it a lot.

I really didn't think I'd enjoy the jungle hexcrawl. And it certainly wasn't perfect. There were too many towers, and doing them all could be a slog (if you're running this, don't have the PCs do all of them. Have them do like 5 or 6).

But even then, the scenarios were terrific. It felt like there was something interesting to do everywhere in the jungle. It really felt alive. And the scenarios were good at signposting a lot of the plot-heavy locations.

All in all, this was a fantastic module that really brought a cool region and culture to life. Highly recommended.


A Poor Start to a Strong AP

2/5

I remember not being drawn in by this upon reading it for the first time, and then dismissing Age of Ashes as an AP in favor of running another 1e game. That was a mistake-- Age of Ashes is definitely a strong AP. This book, however, is not a strong module.

I'll leave aside some of the stuff like wonky encounter difficulty. That's not all that hard to fix. It's pretty clear that the Barghest encounter needs to be adjusted. There are other encounters that are a bit tough, but my group didn't have any problem with that aspect overall.

The entire story and setting seemed a little dull, and didn't do a good job of seeding plot threads for the later volumes. The tone also felt different as well. I wasn't a huge fan of how it was written, and the scenario and setting were kind of generic. A lot of the logic of what happens felt undercooked, like the justification for why the PCs should get the Citadel, or what Voz's motivations were. Overall, it just didn't feel very compelling to me.


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Felt Like Filler

2/5

While Book 2 of Extinction Curse was great, this one was a let down. It just felt really... bland. First, the encounter difficulty was all over the place. This isn't uncommon for sandbox-style adventures, I suppose, but with PF2e's very tight difficulty curves it could be a pain.

Second, the scenarios were really repetitive. Like... really repetitive. Go to a tower. Fight Xulgath. Then on to the next tower, fight more Xulgath. There weren't many other subplots in the book except for the (ok) murder mystery thing that permeated the whole book.

The setting felt pretty boring to me, and there weren't many notable NPCs to play. This whole scenario felt like sidequest filler, which is bad considering it's absolutely integral to the plot of the entire AP. There were some fun moments, but overall I wasn't really a fan.


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Really Fun Adventure

5/5

I think this module is the Extinction Curse AP at its best. It has a bit of everything, with some cool locales, some interesting villains, and some varied adventures. It also leaves some blank space for you to add things for yourself if you need to. The difficulty curve is more gentle in this one (until you get to the book's boss that is-- good luck and be careful!).

There's a really neat sense of wonder that permeates the book. First, with the investigation of an old temple, you do get a good idea of a bygone era; it's very atmospheric. Then, with the circus stuff, it's very on-point, conveying whimsy and danger all at once. The set pieces are really well done.

We didn't bother much with the actual circus performances, but that's fairly standard for this AP from what I understand. This adventure is pretty great without them.


Good Starting Adventure-- Once You Get Past the First Part

4/5

This is a good low-level module for PF2e. It's quite self-contained, as you're a circus troupe that is investigating a murder, and finds more than they bargained for. The stories are good, the setting is pretty fun, and it ramps up in a believable way to the climax.

I do have a couple of quibbles. The first is that it's pretty generic sometimes. It's a fun module, but there's a certain "coolness" factor that it's missing that some other modules have.

Second, yikes, some of those level 1 encounters. The first part can be extremely difficult, so GMs, don't be afraid to pull some punches.

Outside of that, this is a fun-- but kind of generic-- start to a fun-- but kind of generic-- AP.


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The Gold Standard For Adventure Paths

5/5

This AP is widely considered one of the (if not THE) best Adventure Paths for good reason. It really is that good. Tons of really interesting NPCs and storylines. Lots and lots and lots of room for a GM to add their own touches. An excellent story that makes the PCs feel like heroes. Villains they really want to beat. Heck, it's even a good introduction to the pathfinder system and world.

Not only that, but since it's so popular, there's tons of advice about what changes to make, what to keep an eye on, and how to make changes that can improve it. This edition is a fantastic deal and an excellent campaign and I can't recommend it highly enough.


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Cool Story, But Too Punishing

3/5

I liked the story of this module. I also liked the gimmick of it, to an extent, with the focus on weather as a very real hurdle to overcome.

However, the first part is so hard that my players really had trouble enjoying themselves. The weather rules could use some streamlining, and some more give. The penalty to ranged attacks was especially brutal, since many enemies in the forest flew. I did make some tweaks to make some encounters cool (playing with low visibility on Roll20 due to snow was fun). But beware: the encounters in the forest are going to be very, very hard for a level 1 party. Judging from my players' reactions, it wasn't the fun kind of hard.

Once they got out of the forest, though, it picked up. The next section was a cool town and dungeon crawl. I enjoy how alien and oppressive Irrisen feels. What really attracts me to this AP is that it's definitely not a "standard" fantasy setting. The book does a good job of making the dungeons feel otherwordly and should take players out of their comfort zone.

PROS: Does a good job of evoking a "stranger in a strange land" feeling. The second section is really nicely done, with a really neat dungeon to end the module. The story is very dark in a satisfying way-- expect your players to see terrible things happening to people in this AP. Irrisen pulls no punches, like a fairy tale if you take out all the whimsy.

CONS: Difficulty (too high for the first section). Weather mechanics can bog down gameplay, and can make some builds feel useless (like ranged attackers). If I had to run it again, I'd homebrew some stuff to get the players to level 2 before launching into this module.