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Short but sweetNiTessine —
We clocked this at two hours, playing Tier 1-2.
It's a fun scenario, but structurally unbalanced. Around half the content is in an extended role-play scene that, if the GM or the players don't feel like giving the proper dedication, can be run through in about 20 minutes with complete success. Since the GM has to juggle six NPCs simultaneously, I wouldn't be able to even blame them for it. This is hard. Even dedicating proper time to the interactions will make the scenario run short.
However, they are interesting NPCs and taking the time to bring them to life is well worth it – especially since one of them is showing up later in what promises to be one of the standout scenarios of the season. The social influence subsystem is fairly involved, but functional. This is not a scenario that can be run cold.
Another noteworthy aspect of the scenario is the finale, which is properly difficult but may also have a few too many moving parts. How the scene works is not entirely intuitive and the villain's skittishness and ease of escape doesn't leave a great deal of margin of error. This latter part, for the record, is not a problem in my book and I enjoy scenarios that allow the PCs to fail without killing them.
In conclusion, I think The First Mandate's major issue is that it's too short. On the other hand, its structure is sleek and functional and I'm not entirely sure where it could have been beefed up with another encounter.
Where we're going we don't need boonsNiTessine —
This review is based on running the game at Tier 1-2.
Cries from the Drift is a pretty good scenario. It works as both science fiction and as horror, employing familiar tropes efficiently. Its only major flaw is the lack of illusion around the railroad.
The scenario seems inspired by works such as Alien and Event Horizon, which are good things to draw from. Exploring the derelict vessel is interesting and every room has something interesting in it, but it's not too packed. However, what it is is a railroad in a rather videogamey mode. There's only a single way to advance to the bridge and a very clear succession of steps to get there. It's not exactly contrived, but the number of steps required – get battery, open door to mess, get keycard, open door to captain's cabin, get other battery, open door to bridge – makes it very obvious. A few alternative ways to get through would've been cool. Like, air ducts? What about brute force?
Another thing is that the whole is tonally disjointed and the parts don't quite seem to fit together. The space duel with the vesk ship is interesting and works very well as an encounter, but going from that to the gory horror of the derelict vessel is a bit of a mood whiplash. It doesn't help that the scenario is bookended by appearances from the most comedic of the faction bosses, complete with Strawberry Machine Cake.
Which is a nice bridge for me to note that in this scenario, sound design pays off. I looped a Babymetal song for the briefing scene, put on a playlist of bombastic sci-fi themes for the space duel and used Alien: Covenant's soundtrack, stripped of any climactic pieces, for the derelict ship. Turns out that film is good for something after all.
The combat balance felt good, and I like the trend that defeat in space battles does not mean character death, yet defeat does come with consequences. In this case, pretty cool ones.
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Into the Unknown exists for a very specific purpose at a very specific point in time, which means it's forgiven a lot of things that wouldn't fly in a proper module. It's function in the campaign is to serve as an introduction to the ruleset, which it does a decent job of, and apparently to also foreshadow a bunch of stuff, which it also accomplishes.
While I am generally a fan of the complex, the ambitious, and the outside-the-box, you first need to build the box before you can go outside. That's what Into the Unknown is doing. It's a simple railroad, but it does not need to be anything more than that. Though the quest format has felt off in many of the Pathfinder Society quests, this one makes it work. I can even forgive its crime of including what's essentially a random encounter, since that's more or less in service of exhibiting the hazards of exploring an uncharted planet.
If I had to find something to criticize, it's that the payoff at the climax feels a bit weak and Lawblight feels kinda distant as the ultimate villain. It might be that the amount of bonuses the the party can gather up against it over the previous quests makes the fight too easy. Both times I've played this, Lawblight didn't manage to so much as dent the heroes' shields.
There's also a memorable NPC, some nifty local colour for Absalom Station like the Vat Gardens, and four lines of text that ought to be good for a couple of seasons of storylines.
To sum up, Into the Unknown aims low but it hits its mark. It's eminently playable and replayable.
Starfinder Society Scenario #1-02: Fugitive on the Red PlanetPaizo Inc.
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Blink and you'll miss itNiTessine —
I have both played and run this scenario, at Tier 1-2. While not the worst thing in the world, Fugitive on the Red Planet has some serious issues.
Let me tell you them:
First of all, there's a lot of potential in the milieu. The city of Maro is pretty cool, and woefully underutilized, and the desert town of Tasch is just pure space western. This is cool stuff.
However, they're not really used to their full potential, which is kinda weird since the scenario is really short and could've easily fit another encounter. When I played this, we were done in three hours and when I was the GM, I was handing out chronicles at the 90-minute mark, and while I did keep the session going at a fairly brisk pace, I did not particularly hurry.
The structure of the story feels off. Talbot's whereabouts are so trivially ascertained that it barely counts as an encounter. I think the better way to go would've been to write up the investigation in Maro into a scene unto itself. This would also have been a good way to squeeze in some flavour for the big city Maro, which in turn would highlight the podunk nature of Tasch through contrast.
And then there's the whole AbadarCorp thing. There's enough material to unpack in the words "theologically-motivated megacorporation" for an entire adventure path, and Fugitive on the Red Planet does try. It just doesn't quite pull it off. The themes are muddled.
Philt, AbadarCorp's representative, is a colossally unsympathetic character and really, a far clearer villain in the piece than Reynald "Hero of Canton" Talbot, who in the end doesn't really get much personality. However, one of the scenario's big rewards is dependent on staying on his good side. I am not opposed to unequal rewards dependent on the players' choices, and I think a "dealing with the devil" scenario can be very interesting, but here it doesn't quite feel like the players are given an entirely informed choice, and besides, the payoff comes across as an afterthought.
However, there's a tantalizing promise of interesting stuff in the air here, and I look forward to encountering AbadarCorp again, through the intermediary of either Philt or some other interchangeable corporate shill.
As for the combat encounters, I felt that the fight with the Reynald Talbot fan club doesn't really bring anything to the story, and comes across as slightly random, especially if the PCs have taken pains to keep their heads down and avoid attracting attention. It looks like a filler combat encounter. Giving the encounter some flesh in the form of interaction before rolling initiative would've been a good idea, and it could've been used to flesh out Tasch and Reynald Talbot's role in all this far better than just going straight to combat. Maarbadvae would've made a good face for the town.
There's also a trap in a location where it makes no sense to have a trap, in the main thoroughfare of a semi-active mine.
To conclude, Fugitive on the Red Planet has potential, but it is poorly structured and thematically confused.
Tedious waste of potentialNiTessine —
Yeah, I get it. It's a new system and nobody has a lot of experience designing for it. Still.
There are two things majorly wrong with Yesteryear's Truth. The following conclusions are drawn from running this at Tier 1-2.
And I can't say anything substantial if I have to fear spoilers:
First of all, the design of the combats is poor, both on the level of the crunch and as a pacing thing. The first combat encounter took us two hours of very tedious play as the Starfinder ship whittled away the remarkably numerous hull points of the adversary, all the while facing death by a thousand cuts from a numerous but remarkably ineffective drone fleet. To fix, I would suggest cutting down the drone platform's hull points by a third.
The second combat, following straight on the heels of the first, has nothing to do with anything and the only reason it's not positively lethal is that there's a deus ex machina cop-out to prevent the monster from killing the party if that's the way the dice roll. For a monster that can easily one-shot a first-level character, they're very liable to roll that way. Why even have what amounts to a random encounter in an organized play module? There's no story here. If there must be an encounter to illustrate the dangers of the uncharted world, I'd much rather have seen an environmental hazard related to the radiation.
The final combat encounter does have a reason to exist, but is fundamentally uninteresting, and by far the easiest fight in the module. The last fight should be the tough one, both because it feels appropriately climactic and if the really hard ones are put up front, a character death will lose the player a lot more game.
The second problem is the uninspired writing on the ghibrani. With the exception of a couple of things related to architecture, they basically come across as humans in rubber masks. They bow as a sign of respect, and smile, despite having mandibles for mouth parts. They use the colour red to signal emergency. It's horrendously banal.
The whole first contact thing also seems terribly matter-of-fact and lacking in oomph. If half the module wasn't consumed with filler combat, it could have been used to build up the cultures of the ghibrani and make it feel like the big reveal at the end – which is a pretty cool one, I give it that – would feel more momentous.
As it stands, Yesteryear's Truth is a whole lot of wasted potential.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #17: Perils of the Pirate Pact (OGL) PDFPaizo Inc.
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A functional and atmospheric scenario. It's well-written and the encounters have a nice variety to them.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #5: Mists of Mwangi (OGL/PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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A good concept, but the module needs a bit more flesh on its bones and maybe a good twist.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #3: Murder on the Silken Caravan (OGL) PDFPaizo Inc.
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The writing is unclear at points, and the encounters are lethal for beginning characters, but the basic concept is very good and the plot works.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #32: Drow of the Darklands Pyramid (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Not like thisNiTessine —
Drow of the Darklands Pyramid is a bit unfortunate. It doesn't really have a plot as such, just a bunch of fights that follow one another in a more or less linear fashion. I did not test out Tier 10-11, but Tier 7-8 was too easy. The BBEG went down before having a chance to even act, and there is a fight containing nothing but a bunch of CR 2 monsters relying on melee damage, which they cannot reliably inflict at these levels.
Additionally, the drow are an iconic foe and deserve to be treated with a bit more dignity. At the very least, if you're trying to keep the enemy a mystery, don't name it in the module title.
Yet another follower in the footsteps of Trouble with Secrets and The Eternal Obelisk.