I've run this once, at high subtier for a party of six. I plan to run it again enough times that I'm making map tiles out of the flip mat PDFs and some props and terrain to go with it. It really is a great scenario.
First, the setting: Kaer Maga is one of the best settings in Golarion. We spent a lot of time in the investigation phase, and each "travel" segment can discover another cool aspect of the City of Strangers. For groups that want to roleplay, there is enough material to replay a bunch of times and still meet new people. I'm glad the troll augurs appear, but there's also room to have the party chat with gargoyles or a naga, filling ut the NPc roster and breathing life into those "gather information" rolls.
Once the investigation completes, the dungeon crawl begins - although even here there is some room for negotaiation. Despite being on a bigger map, there are enough encounters that it can be easy to trigger more than one, if the party is breezing through them. There are also some terrifying encounters that will challenge every the most powerful damage-dealers. I prepped my list based on the characters and players who signed up, choosing ones that would challenge them. In a convention game, I might leave one of the foes near the back of the map undetermined, so that it could be adapted to the party at hand. Given the range of foes, it would be easy to prep a set of encounters and then wipe the floor with an underprepared party.
The choice of encounters is excellent. There are horror encounters, and funny encounters, and could-be-roleplaying encounters. The are certain combinations that make a hilarious amount of sense. There are devious traps and hazards, and there are encounters with lots of creatures as well as single monsters. There are encounters that are straightforward, and some that are challenging (including one at APL+4!).
Particularly nice is that the goal itself changes each time, not just the monsters you fight. This really helps make each run seem like its own scenario. The only drawback is the use of the same map a bit too often - I understand why, but once players have seen the map once or twice they know a lot about the "dressing" and it loses its impact. I'd love to see some method of randomizing map tiles and/or assigning descriptions to rooms, to help make this part different each time as well.
I love this scenario. It sets the bar for evergreens in the future.
side note on Bigger Flip Maps:
They are too big to fit on a standard round convention table and leave enough room for each player to have their own space. This is the real reason I'm making tiles, so I can present the map piecemeal but still have it at full resolution.
First of all: This scenario rewards people who love the lore of Golarion, and those who take good notes. You get to learn a lot about various aspects of the setting through exploration.
Second: Our GM didn't have the new Qadira book, and it made zero difference in his ability to make this an awesome experience for us, despite what other reviewers have posted.
There is some version of the influence mechanic (called clout) that helps keep track of how you're doing, but we were able to not need to back-up NPC to achieve what we wanted. There is one fight that is a challenge but a bit out-of-place, and the other fights were all very on-theme, with not just combat but information (and insanity) being delivered by the antagonists.
The only issue I found is that at the end, you basically have to "drink the kool-aid" of a cult to succeed at the mission. While I enjoyed the philosophical debate while it was largely theoretical, it is difficult for divinely-minded characters to really submit to the tests at the end. With four out of five PCs having a patron deity, this was pretty awkward. I wouldn't mind missing out on a boon for opting out based on my PCs religious beliefs, but this was apparently the primary success condition.
This is a fantastic investigation scenario, with a lot of room for roleplaying. There a couple of plot twists that made my eyes bug out with surprise, even though I had an inkling of something going on since I had already prepped (but not run) the special for this season. It's really nice to return to a location that really only shows up in a "retirement" arc, and a lot of the background detail there was very cool to see again. It's nice to know what those "folks" have been up to the last several years.
Hold on to your hats when you play this one, especially if you're Liberty's Edge!
This was a great event to participate in. We ran it at our local event the week after it was released at GenCon, with 7 tables. The overseer had one player bring in his trumpet for the "signal horn" and gave character parts out to different people to read in character.
Prep: this was much easier to prep than other scenarios, and required far fewer maps for "maybe" encounters. Even though there were encounters that the players didn't choose, prep wasn't over-taxing.
Encounters: it was great to see nods to previous scenarios in the selection of the enemy forces; long-time players appreciated the various connections to people they've fought before. The encounters were fairly challenging (I ran subtier 7-8), and I my party of five was in dire straits several times, although they managed to persevere, survive, and succeed. We finished three of the encounters in Part Two, but fell behind in Part Three and wound up skipping the Gulgamodh fight (had to skip something, the group really wanted to finish the <redacted> they were already fighting, and at this subtier the Gulgamodh encounter is a bit less interesting as a method of balancing it for the sub-tier).
Reporting Successes: the specials have evolved to a system where the reporting and conditions are pretty streamlined. When a house success is reported, a condition went into effect - fairly simple to enact on the fly, and our coordinator made cards for each one so table GMs could just throw them down and let the players worry about the bonuses.
Rewards: there are some cool rewards, although others have pointed out some disparity in their value, and the method of qualifying for them isn't obvious in-game. As such, some people might miss out on the coolest boons simply by making choices in the game, which is unfortunate. EDIT: Campaign leadership altered this almost immediately, improving it immensely!
Overall, I think this is the best-executed special I've seen. Well done to all involved!
First, let me echo the warning others have made: DO NOT GM THIS WITHOUT SUFFICIENT PREP. Just don't do it. It's a "SPECIAL", so it should be special for the players (and can be, as evidenced by all the high ratings). It is also the hardest scenario I've ever prepped. If you want to run this at the level it deserves, you need to prepare thoroughly, and there's a lot of special rules, environmental bits, and stuff from Occult Adventures here.
Second, the good news, since the low rating might seem harsh: This scenario is not a typical PFS experience. It's extraplanar, for starters, but the encounters are definitely non-standard. It also has a HUGE amount of backstory and lore, which is fantastic - I love it when a scenario allows me to use campaign material and encounters to make a setting feel different than the usual places. The pregens are unique, with interesting backstories and even some secret mission-type stuff that really allows for some great roleplaying moments. It even has room for a GM to add some cool stuff of their own devising, which is a rarity in Organized Play. If I could run this in in a home campaign situation, I think I'd give it 4-5 stars.
The problems arise from the fact that all of this is supposed to happen in a standard PFS timeslot where people are playing on a table that can often barely fit a regular-sized flip mat, using very complicated pregenerated characters.
We'll start with that last one first: the pregens are complex. Non-standard races, lots of newer classes, abilities that aren't commonly used... There's only one PC I would give to a new player, and even that one is using rules that are beyond basic. That makes them fun for experienced hands - but dropping a class from Occult Adventures on a player unawares is not setting them up for success. Luckily, we had a player at our table who knew the class in question and offered to switch - without that, I think we would have bogged down as the new player read and re-read 40 pages of OA during the game, and still didn't play at full potential.
It doesn't help that this PC is one with a "secret", so you can't even warn players about the class in advance without spoiling some stuff.
Another issue is getting "buy-in" from the group. People know what Pathfinders do, and they know enough about the Aspis to make that work, but this is a new organization with vague goals, and so my players didn't have much of a framework to hang their roleplaying and decision-making off of. Thankfully, the pregens all have inicredible backstories and handouts, which helps.
To me, a big mechanical issue was the physical space needed to run the first encounter properly. Without getting into details, the space involved is larger than any table I've ever gamed at. That's fine when you're running Call of Cthulhu or even AD&D, where the GM could just "ballpark" distances and narrate results, but in Pathfinder most players are used to dealing with the grid. You can't really use the grid in this one; even when using the tricks suggested on the GM thread and PFSPrep.com, the GM will be making some estimates and playing fast and loose with some of the rules. Not all players (or GMs) are readily accepting of this.
After the first encounter, the scenario seemed to proceed more smoothly - most players had gotten to know enough of their pregen that they could be effective. The second encounter is interesting in a way, since players expect A to happen when in fact it doesn't, and then doesn't happen again, and again... and then suddenly B happens, triggering a neat encounter. Unfortunately, there is a lot of GM box text and uninhabited rooms to get through before B happens at all, which loses momentum.
The climax is really good, though - first, because no one is sure if it will be the climax or not, and also because of some neat mechanical stuff that makes it more than just "fight the BBEG". This ends the scenario on a really high note, which is always a good thing.
I wavered between 2 and 3 stars for this one. The pregens and the complex first encounter took for us more than half the slot, and it's hard to recover if that part isn't fun. There are a lot of special rules that pop up at different points, and some of them are game-changing, so it's a big deal if you miss something. The prep aspect is a significant impediment. I spent about double my usual amount of prep, and I still had some issues in keeping everything running smoothly. I don't think I'd want to do that again for a game at a con where you don't have any flexibility in table size or time limit, and where lore and story can't always cut through the noise. That's the situation this rating is based on. If I run this again, though, I will do so as a home game, perhaps over two "slots", and really use all the suggestions and options in the first part to bring the setting to life - I think that will make it a truly "special" scenario and worth 5 stars.
I hate to provide non-glowing reviews of people's work, so I hope this is taken in the spirit it is intended, as useful feedback for future endeavours. Ultimately, this felt like adventure path material, crammed into a PFS box.