Demon

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** Pathfinder Society GM. 144 posts (9,037 including aliases). 20 reviews. 1 list. No wishlists. 12 Organized Play characters. 54 aliases.



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Utter Disappointment

1/5

First up, the description says "huge". Two of the maps only had two folds (so twice the height and width of a rulebook). The third is big, and I wouldn't complain if the advertising folks said "huge"... but to call them "huge" and "lavishly illustrated"? That's just downright misleading. They're small-medium at best, and the illustrations on two of them would easily fit on a map 1/4 the size.

Individually...

Player Map of the Region (small)

Looks nice, quite stylized... but totally useless for the campaign if you have the PDF of the AP and a printer - just turn the map labels off and there you have it. Not large enough to be impressive when hung on a wall, not detailed / zoomed in enough to really do anything with it as they explore the islands.

This is not a sea-going campaign, so knowing where to navigate your ship to is kinda useless.

GM Map of the Region (small)

Covers exactly the same region as the player map. There are 7 total labels on it, only 2-3 of which should be kept from players (and even then, they're just arrow labels for locations that aren't even on the map). It is an almost exact reprint of the first map you see in the AP (which is easy to find, just inside the front cover). How is this useful for GMs in any way?

Map of Talislantri (large)

Great looking map and the location has been well chosen... and would be totally useful if it had the key locations labeled. As is, I'll be hunting for the locations as we go anywhere in Talislantri. I could write the locations in, but I don't feel like defacing my maps. Maybe I will, though... and then throw them all away when the campaign is done.

Overall

Misleading information in the description, and very poorly thought out maps. Don't buy, unless you have a penchant for medium-sized maps that duplicate the same region and a large map with no labels. Save your money for something else.

Paizo, if you want some advice on what could have been improved? Label the large map. Make the other maps the same size. Put in the Talamandor's Bounty map for the first AP, since that's where the characters will be spending most of their time, and actually expand the Ruins of Azlant GM map to include the locations that there are arrows to - instead of just reprinting the one from the AP itself. Really think about your map packs from a GM and player perspective. Will they want to have them open for at least the majority of a book? If the answer is no, try something else.


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All work and no play... makes this a dull boy

1/5

Played this one over PbP (here). Rather than leave a detailed critique, I'll just share some of the comments I made over the course of the game:

While playing the game, I wrote:
  • - "Seriously, this is the 3rd season 7 I've played post GenCon and the 2nd dreamscape sequence. I know that the PFS creative team is trying to set out on their own and not be tied to an AP, but it is hard to think of anything more unimaginative than constantly entering a realm of imagination. Well, maybe two library sequences in the same scenario." --> This was before I knew there was a third library sequence!
  • - "...it is getting ridiculous."
  • - "Wow. Just finding it so hard to care right now."
  • - "...uninventive, unnecessarily punitive and just poor design."
  • - "I like the introduction of interesting extra mechanics. Rolling on ones that have been arbitrarily sprung on you is okay. Doing it on 4 separate encounters (three of which required a ridiculous number of rolls) within something as brief as a scenario? Not cool. Not fun."
  • - "...the worst scenario I think I've ever played..."
  • - "Am I missing something here? How can this be the conclusion of the scenario? We do all this f~%+ing research and get absolutely nowhere? Any reason this isn't a tier 1-5? I thought that was the level range for "do nothing / go nowhere" scenarios."

In short, just don't play this one. It's not even worth it for the connection to Serpents Rise (it is a vague sequel to some of the events)... the end plot-payoff is far from worth it. You get nowhere near the main protagonist or the main object of your quest.

Disappointing in the extreme.


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Such a great beginning...

5/5

GMed this over Play-by-Post.

This book has everything you want from the beginning of an AP. It really sets things up perfectly for the next lot of books, and really gets the characters invested in the plot. Rather than start out 'cold' (tee hee) in Irrisen, it lets them warm up (or cool down gradually) in the south before making a gradual and natural transition to wintery elements and wintery creatures, building nicely on what the players know and have experienced in an easy-to-approach fashion.

The plot itself is incredibly engaging and gives a beautiful glimpse into just how epic the adventure path at large will eventually be. It does all this without seeming unreasonably out of place for low-level character either. Truly great work, and all of my players are now chomping at the bit for the second instalment. So rewarding to see as a GM.

This is (so far) proving to be easily the best AP out there.

Oh, and if you're GMing this, do yourself a favor and pick up the Campaign Setting Irrisen: Land of Eternal Winter. It gives you a lot more insight into the Jadwiga and Irrisen in general and you'll find your players thanking you for all the extra accents and details you'll be able to sprinkle in to your campaign.


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Fun and refreshing

4/5

I ran this at GenCon and really enjoyed it. The mechanics in it are fun, even if you do need to pay attention as a GM to ensure the players don't get side tracked.

The final battle varies depending on the choices players make, and I really loved that aspect of it... even if I did have to prep two separate BBEG fights.

The only negative is the scenario almost ran overtime and it still felt like a lot was chopped out. My players really wanted to explore the freaky town, but if I'd let them do all they wanted to do, they would have gone overtime and I would have had to improvise a tonne of answers (not enough detail in the scenario on the whys and wherefores of the town itself). I know this is a scenario and should be short, but the bit with the ranger at the beginning would have been a better trim... and I get the feeling they didn't just to keep up the encounters that have a CR.

Would have made a 5 star module if all the ideas I can imagine got squeezed out were left in.

Anyway, still highly enjoyable and I'd recommend giving it a go!


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Play for speed

3/5

I ran this at tier 6-7 over PbP. I agree with all the other reviewers that the encounters were far too easy. The first was within reason (opening encounters shouldn't be too challenging) but every other encounter was also CR 8. The stated tactics and encounter-specific nerfs make the encounters at most CR 7, too.

Some detail:
One of the encounters involves 4 core class rogues who are an underpowered class at the best of times (as admitted by Paizo, see Pathfinder Unchained). They're glass canons who don't even open with the canon fire. They all throw thunderstones in the first round - which makes it almost certain that any PC caught in the area of effect will go deaf, but otherwise has no benefit to using 4 over 1. Worse, it does no lasting damage at all. The rogues are then in a situation that (due to the map and placement) makes it virtually impossible to provide them with a flank against their opponents, who are also now not flat-footed. Highly sub-optimal tactics and situational modifiers. My guys pretty much one-hitted each of them in the first round.

In all, an interesting enough plot, but with very minimal roleplaying and combats you can do in your sleep. So, why give this a 3 instead of a 1 or 2? Because a quick and easy scenario was exactly what we wanted and sometimes, that's exactly what you need.

Play this if you need a scenario that can be wrapped up very quickly or if you have a group of sub-optimal PCs.


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Fun to run, probably more fun to play

4/5

This was pretty fun to run, lots of roleplaying to do. I really hammed up the northern accents and the players really enjoyed interacting with the NPCs. The combats were well balanced and evenly spaced, with a very interesting completion aspect that left things nice and open-ended for how the players resolve it.

The Good

The are many opportunities to have some really great roleplaying at the table. The main NPC is interested in the PCs' backgrounds, so she really gives players an opportunity to introduce their characters to the rest of the group while still actually making progress on the adventure.

I'm running Reign of Winter at the moment (over PbP) and really love the northern setting. It was a total blast to be running a scenario that takes the players to the frozen north. It is full of flavor and presents a different, more reasonable and realistic side to Irrisen than most players are probably used to seeing.

There were a number of decision points in the scenario that had a real impact on how things played out, and I love when that happens. It's always nice to see something as short as a scenario allow that much latitude for how players can achieve their varying degrees of success.

Mostly, though, this scenario really felt like it had a lot to do with the Pathfinders' ongoing mission and gave players a real sense of importance within the Society.

The Bad

The secondary success condition for this scenario relies very heavily on diplomacy (and to a lesser extent bluff and intimidate). A group of non-socially focused characters will really need to do everything right in order to meet that condition. There doesn't seem to be a way around it. I heartily recommend giving your players generous good roleplaying circumstance bonuses to their diplomacy checks if the group isn't socially focused.

There was a tertiary goal to set up for trade that was very vague in the mission briefing as to how to achieve it. Just remind players that they have letters of credit and the authority to make contracts on behalf of the Society. You'll have to do some improvisation if you want to get players to roleplay their social checks here (as I always do). Inexperienced players will most likely be totally lost as to how to proceed here, so do a bit of hand-holding as necessary.

There were also a few minor typos that could leave things like whether to make a reflex save or acrobatics check open-ended.

The Ugly

There is a very complicated encounter that is entirely optional (depending upon the PCs' actions). As a GM, it took me a while to wrap my head around it and to prepare for it properly. But, depending upon the PCs' actions, it can be totally avoided. The main gripe is that it isn't obvious to the PCs - especially law-abiding ones - that it is going to be a good thing for them (overall) to fight vs surrender at that particular point. If things go well for the PCs, you've wasted prep work. If things go poorly for the PCs, it could get very confusing and complicated for them.

For GMs:
I'd recommend making that encounter (you'll know the one) very aggressive and make the NPCs quite unreasonable. Haltani could also remark that their request is unusual (or something similar to warn them). That should give the players enough hints that fighting would be a good idea.


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Exactly what a dungeon scenario should be

5/5

I ran this over PbP for a group of 5 level 4 characters and one level 5.

This was a beautiful end to the trilogy. It rewarded clever players who didn't just kill everything they saw. The enemies in this all behave in interesting and non-standard way, and it is one of the coolest ends to a dungeon-crawl style encounter that I have ever seen.

I usually spoiler stuff, but not this time. No spoilers for anyone. If you're playing PFS this season, pick up parts 1 & 2 and prepare for a really fun conclusion.

My only gripes are the end guy could have been the Aspis dude from the start (Valacosti) and the end encounter is a little too easy when all the defense points have been achieved. Don't give your PCs any clues if you want the final fight to be a challenge. That said, do keep up the atmosphere. The right amount of foreboding can really chew through their buffs!

Neither gripes are significant, however, and the scenario overall was a joy to run.

This is a great end to an epic 3-parter. Play it or run it as soon as you can.


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Dated, but decent

4/5

Great that this is free, even if it isn't quite so relevant in season 6.

This is a solid scenario that is both a good intro to PFS and a reasonable overview of Absalom. The main issue I have with it is that parts II and III are no longer sanctioned for play. We played them anyway for no credit - just to get the flavor. The factions presented there were retired even earlier than the ones in part I, so I understand the choice from the PFS staff. Especially since, at the end, you need select one of the (mostly) retired factions!

A real highlight in this scenario was the encounter in the boarding house (for the Silver Crusade - one of the few "surviving" factions). It's got a great amount of investigation, and leads to ever more troubling information. You can really ham it up, too. Love that kind of roleplaying. Quintessential PFS, and lovely to still play something that has Guaril, the Sczarni leader, in it. Nice to see him again.

If you're playing this for a first time character, I highly recommend doing this as the first chronicle they ever get, followed by Wounded Wisp, then the Confirmation. It works beautifully as a trilogy, and even better when played in that order.


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Essential scenario

5/5

The Confirmation is a great scenario to play and to run. I think that every PC full stop (so every character of every player) should have this Chronicle with them. It gives access to the wayfinder - and then allows you to purchase lost ones for a minimal amount of prestige (1, I think). Nothing more iconic than that...

... but for other reasons, it is the Confirmation that all pathfinders must undergo to graduate from initiate to field agent. Don't we have enough field commissions out there? Play the Confirmation. Play it again and again for every character you have. Make the Pathfinder Society proud.

Now to start practicing what I preach... ;-)

Truly a very well written, well-presented and beautifully balanced scenario. Very nicely done.


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Too convoluted

3/5

Let me first say that we played this in the middle of: First Steps > Wounded Wisp > Confirmation. That trio is an absolutely fabulous way to introduce your players to PFS. Wonderful.

It was also one of the first PFS scenarios I ran in real life for friends (as opposed to over PbP for strangers).

This scenario requires prep time. Too much prep time. There are so many random elements in it that are just there for replay purposes that it's hard to maintain the thread. One of the handouts you need to cut and paste by hand! Seriously. Get out the scissors and the glue stick.

I really prefer that an adventure has a cohesive plot that has been

Why 3 stars and not 2? Drandle Dreng rocks in the intro, and I love that guy. There's also an encounter with a gnome that I (for once) won't spoil that has to be one of my favorites in PFS so far. Also, they really do a pretty good job of keeping the plot in there despite all the randomness. I just don't want to spend more than twice as long prepping as I do running it.

As an aside... there is also a cleric of Sarenrae in there who is just awful. We had the misfortune to randomly roll her before I realized. Everyone was "Sarenrae? Are you sure?" Divine justice does strike, her, but she's really, really poorly done. The backstory doesn't come close to justifying her set up or the roleplaying conditions placed around her in that encounter.

My recommendation would be to make all the random rolls ahead of time, and prepare that plot alone (whatever it ends up being). If you get the cleric of Sarenrae? Fudge it.


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Such fun!

5/5

Ran this for tier 3-4 (with the 4 player adjustment). It was such a great scenario to run and for the players to play through. It used the classic "investigate then attack" formula. The investigations weren't particularly difficult, but those with mad skills (instead of just average skills) received a little extra for their efforts.

The meeting with the Sczarni takes an unexpected turn (at least, my players were surprised) and leads to a very satisfying mini-dungeon crawl.

Do watch out, though, the final encounter in this one was almost lethal for my party of all level 3 characters. They didn't realize until almost too late how deadly it was. Fortunately for them, though, they pulled out the right tactics in the end and were victorious - even if half of them were unconscious and bleeding!

Right amount of intrigue and the right level of combat challenge. Great work!


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Not so good if you weren't there...

2/5

As someone who only joined PFS in early-mid 2014, I was never at the special / grand convocation that led to this scenario, nor was I involved in any of the preceding season 3 lead-up to this.

So, I thought (having run it) that I'd give a review from the perspective of someone who is "coming in cold".

There is a lot of roleplaying to do at the start. You need to influence as many of the guests as possible (while also achieving your faction mission). The faction missions seem unbalanced - some you succeed just by influencing guests (also the main mission) while others involve unrelated side-quests. The roleplaying itself is tedious at times and requires GMs to do a lot of prep-work. Maybe you already know these characters and don't need to... but I didn't. It was very hard to keep so many moving pieces going.

Also, most of the NPCs required 2-3 influence checks, but after a full conversation, there was no roleplaying reason why a PC would go back to chat. Especially in some instances where they use a "secret revelation" or some other trick to give them a bonus. Many of these aren't very nice and put the NPC on edge (while somehow still giving a bonus). Chatting after that would just seem... rude.

So, in all, the big influence-fest did not go well.

That said, the intrigue and combat that followed was very fun. Right up until the bad-guy leaves mid-way through because he feels like it. I know the BBEG in this one could easily kill a party if he didn't leave so early, but it's not very satisfying for players to have little to no chance at defeating him.

Oh, and the boon(s?) provided means little to nothing to me. There's some promise of "maybe something in the future" for each person you influence. This probably means you'll have to play the exact future scenario where your exact person of interest gives you the bonus. After making such a huge effort at squeezing out the roleplay, my players deserved better.

All in all, a disappointment for someone who "wasn't there". If you have been running season 3 and 4, and have somehow managed to play the grand convocation leading up to this, I'm sure you'll find it a worthy successor. Otherwise, skip it.


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Buy Bulk & Get No Savings!

1/5

Costs exactly the same as buying them individually. Unless you don't like repeating the check-out process, I can't see the benefit at all for buying this over buying the individual scenarios as you run them. I almost bought it before I realized that I already had a few scenarios from season 4, and there is no discount involved here.

Unless you are 100% sure you will run (or use) 100% of the scenarios presented here (and for some reason have bought absolutely no season 4 scenarios up to now) just avoid it!

Of course, if the price improves from $107.73 (the exact same price as 27 scenarios) then ignore this review.

I thought I'd leave this as a "think twice" warning review for anyone out there who (as I did) might otherwise assume buying bulk implies discount - not in this case!


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Lovely set piece

4/5

I really enjoyed running this adventure. We did it over PbP, and there was a chase scene that could have proved problematic, but came out really well in the end. The overall feel of the scenario was great, and the encounters were appropriately challenging and well laid out. In all, a very smooth adventure to run, and the players definitely seemed to have fun.

It really only loses points because there is very little between combats. The scenario is actually short on the page count, and that is no small wonder either. I'm not sure if it needs the filler, but I'm positive a group could (and would) easily finish this in 2-2.5 hours in real life. As it was, we finished it over PbP in under a week.

The last encounter had some great tactical positioning and scenery manipulation involved, even if the main bad-guy hit with all the power of a wet sponge in the higher tier.

I'd like to give 5 stars because the encounters were tight and chase scene was awesome fun and full of flavor, but the lack of roleplaying really stood out as a definite negative. I'm not sure why it wasn't picked up in the edits. There are places where this could have happened (perhaps a diplomatic way to deal with the lizardmen - or the Aspis Consortium), and those opportunities would have really helped to get more into the adventure from a roleplaying perspective so 4 stars it is. Social characters should be prepared to take a definite back seat. Skill monkeys (acrobatics, climb, etc) will still have a chance to shine, though.

Oh, they also got the wrong stats in the back of the book (final encounter, subtier 4-5, the NPC codex entry for the "mook").

The incorrect NPC entry:
They put a town watcher in, when it should have been a poacher. Don't accidentally use the town watcher, or the last encounter will be way too easy!

Overall, quite an improvement over part 1, and set things up beautifully for part 3.


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Very underwhelming

3/5

I ran this over PbP for a group of 6 characters with an APL of 3.6. I used tier 4-5 with no adjustments for party size.

A few minor spoilers below, so please be warned.

Okay, first the positives:

This scenario introduces a very nice social mechanic at the beginning of the adventure that allows people without diplomacy/bluff/sense motive to shine. It puts some nice pressure on the players to get moving, too... but not enough in-game pressure. I had the NPCs apply the pressure some more.

I also liked the atmosphere of the jungle adventure, and the use of weather maps. The custom tactical maps were very nicely laid out (though they did tend to be a little too zoomed in - the archer PC was very exposed. This happens a lot, so no big deal).

Also, love the new scenario format. Not a positive for this scenario as it's just Paizo's new format, but it is great to have creature stats easily to hand (when they get it right) and blank maps to use. Lovely.

Now for the negatives:

The scenario as a whole felt very underpowered. Many of the encounters in tier 4-5 were just the tier 1-2 encounters with an extra something thrown in. While I know this does increase the CR, think about what kind of challenge a group of kobolds (CR 1/4, 4 hp, +1 to hit, 1d6-1 damage and AC 15) has to offer a 4-5th level adventurer. It's exceedingly negligible. Now imagine six 4-5th level adventurers...

One encounter had traps as part of the CR. While this works sometimes, in practice, the PCs spotted the traps before they became an issue and the CR 2 creatures that jumped them afterwards were despatched very quickly.

The final encounter was a complete joke. The "heavy hitters" had a great AC and to hit, but did pathetic damage for tier 4-5 (1d4+1). The sorcerer got off one big spell (which did very well) before being completely dominated in a single round due to low hp and low AC. Then the encounter was over. The PCs were under the tier range and should have struggled a bit. They barely even lost a hit point until the sorcerer came out with his single spell.

The last encounter was also supposed to teach the kobolds a lesson so that they wouldn't raid the miners anymore. There are supposed to be hundreds of them (which is why the PCs are forced to leave the site rather than continue to look for Sharrowsmith - very strange in itself). But killing 9 of them? I'd believe it if the sorcerer were a custom NPC of some importance, but no. Just bog standard without even any stated tactics. Killing 9 kobolds would rile them up even more, wouldn't it? Hardly a crushing blow. I would have liked to see many, many more kobolds in that encounter. Have the miners help out by killing one per round or something... it just feels like it could and should have been epic but fell short.

I also don't see how 3 kobolds (there at the start) have overpowered 7 miners. They're not tied up because they can be coerced to participate in the battle right from round 1 with a diplomacy check.

All in all, this might be harder if the PCs succumbed to the weather, experienced delays and a few other things... but I really don't think it would get hard enough.

There were also some printing errors. The kobolds' hit points were wrong, they also printed the wrong creature in the back of the book (make sure you have the stats for a krenshar handy, or just go with the printed Cheetah instead.

Overall...

A decent enough adventure that won't challenge your players at all - unless they're new to the game or have extremely sub-optimal character builds (and even then...).

I'd really like to give this 2.5 / 5, but since there's no "zero" on the star system, I guess a 3 is close enough. Very 'meh'.

On the other hand... part 2 looks awesome. So, definitely worth playing if you want to play part 2 & 3.

EDIT: Something even more frustrating, this scenario doesn't really tell the GM enough about the larger plot. A true timeline of events would be exceptionally helpful (and, I think, necessary).

Case in point (spoilers):
I had assumed Nieford Sharrowsmith had managed to escape and that the PCs were following him to the grippli tribe in order to continue to retrace his steps. However, I've now read part 2, and it seems that Sharrowsmith is actually in Ashkurhall. Why he went down without the weapon is anybody's guess. I assume he was captured by the kobolds, but that isn't mentioned. If he has been, why he hasn't been sacrificed is a complete mystery. Why his field journal and bag were left at the foot of the sacrificial altar is again a complete mystery.

The before-adventure summary goes into massive detail about dwarven migrations, but all that is mentioned about what happened to the main focus of the three adventures is that he "triggered a cave-in" awakening the guardian. What he did post-cave-in isn't mentioned. The supposed cave-in didn't even feature in the adventure.

I don't know if this kind of keeping GMs in the dark is normal for a 3 parter, but it's really aggravating me and causing me difficulty relating things to players properly.


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Great for players, poor for GMs.

2/5

This adventure has tons of Pathfinder flavor. It involves the Aspis consortium, and it involves an undercover operation in Bloodcove! Awesome. It has throw-backs to a previous adventure (#2–01, Before the Dawn, Part 1: The Bloodcove Disguise) and beautifully foreshadows #6-12, Scions of the Sky Key, Part 1: On Sharrowsmith’s Trail.

There is a lot of fun to be had for players, with about 3-4 objectives to complete, and no fixed timeframe or order to complete them in. There is a reasonably nice mechanic in there to help keep things moving. It relies on a certain number of checks the PCs make, and not a certain amount of time progressing (or even related to the order of those checks). This should give PCs plenty of opportunity to have fun in Bloodcove.

However, I GMed it (over PbP) and the adventure is filled with holes and other issues. They all involve spoilers, so I’ll put them below. Let me say first that with a lot of preparation (much more than I'd want to put in for a 3-4 hour scenario), the GM can overcome (almost) all of these issues and make the game fun for players.

Issues for GMs:

Issue 1: Incomplete objective

Right off the bat is a small, but fairly significant issue: Aya Allehe (the Venture-Captain quest-giver equivalent) doesn’t give the PCs one of their main objectives. She suggests to speak to Novaria to get a contact in Absalom. It’s a throw-away “further development” bit, word for word:

She also provides them with the name of a possible contact: Novaria, an agent of House Cartahegn (one of the smaller rival trade houses of the city), who has worked with the Society in the past. She tells them that they if they mention Aya’s name, the Cartahegn spokeswoman should at least hear them out.

From this, the players are supposed to figure out that what Aya wants is for them to approach House Cartahegn with a proposal for smuggling Pathfinder agents and Pathfinder Society goods through Bloodcove. I read the whole adventure 3 times before running it, but still didn’t realize or remember that Aya’s “quest-giving” didn’t include that very key objective! I had to retrofit.

If you GM this, just remember to tell the PCs what their objective is with Novaria before they depart for Bloodcove. Otherwise, you’re stuck retrofitting (which I hate doing).

Issue 2: Canvassing the Locals

The PCs are asked to canvas the locals to find out their attitudes towards the Aspis Consortium, ostensibly to figure out if the Pathfinder Society has a hope of wresting control of Bloodcove from the Consortium. Great objective, good flavor and makes total sense. However…

There are four named NPCs and 2 generic “local ethnicity” locals NPCs you can “canvas” in order to discover the town’s attitudes. The named NPC choices are pathetic, and I have no idea why the PCs would even think to ask them - let alone why they’d need to make a check (albeit a low DC check) to “discover” their allegiance. Here are the only named NPCs, and what the PCs know about them before they somehow still need to roll before they “know” if this NPC feels positively or negatively towards the Aspis Consortium:
1. Byshek Obiel: Perhaps the most valid named NPC to canvas, if the PCs chump their sense motive / perception to notice the waitresses. This guy is running a spy network for the Aspis Consortium. How do you think he feels towards Aspis? Positive. Yep. Wow.
2. Na’alu: Openly recruiting for the Aspis Consortium, even trying to convince the PCs how good they are and attempting to get them to work for the Aspis Consortium on the docks. Hmmm. How would he feel? Let’s ask. Really?
3. Novaria: The Pathfinder contact who ends up agreeing to help you smuggle Pathfinders (the enemies of the Aspis Consortium) through an Aspis Consoritum controlled city in direct opposition to the Aspis Consortium. Hmm. Negative attitudes towards the Consortium? Better check.
4. Ungala: The most ridiculous choice to specifically ask. A bandit who directly fights against and steals from the Aspis Consortium (and other merchant houses) and rants about how much she hates that they are stealing national treasures from her people. Oh wait, better just make sure… does she like the Aspis Consortium?

Worst of all, it’s attached to a success condition. If your PCs don’t think to ask these NPCs and make their rolls, then as written, they miss out on progress to a particular success condition.

Sorry for the sarcasm, but that level of poor design really deserves it. Make up some other NPCs to appear. The players have time, and they should be doing it anyway. Have a random name/profession/attitude generator or something if you like. It’s not hard. NPCs who have obvious attitudes towards the Aspis Consortium shouldn’t require a check, or even be part of this objective.

For GMs, there isn’t much you can do about this as you have to run the adventure as written. Your PCs have six choices on NPCs to canvas, and they need to get at least 3 to meet that success condition. Just prompt the PCs to ask if they’d like to know “for sure” how the NPC feels when they encounter them, and get them to make the roll. Then sigh deeply and move on.

Issue 3: Where to Stay / Pathfinder chapter house WTF?!?

The sandbox-like nature of the adventure is great, but PCs are left with only a single very poor choice of where to stay: the Witchlight. If you have a group who completely chumps their perception and sense motive rolls, they’ll never know. However, I feel that an average party would discover that the waitresses are spying on the tables and listening in to conversations. This makes that location a very poor spot to stay. Are there alternatives? Nope.

There is a mention of the local Pathfinder Society chapter house, but it isn’t included in any of the text at all, save for a knowledge (local) result stating that “foreign Pathfinders who visit it frequently disappear”. Seriously? They maintain a chapter house, but can’t even receive visitors and they haven’t closed it down? Given that they haven’t wouldn’t this be:
1. A prime location for the Pathfinders to gather;
2. The best place to start looking for Malika Fenn (the agent who went to ground for fear her identity was compromised);
3. A location to at least put some effort to detailing in the scenario; and/or
4. A better quest objective. Seriously! I can’t believe they’re just allowing visiting Pathfinders to be killed!

As a GM, get past this by making up another Inn where they can stay, or let them stay at the local PFS chapter house if they enter surreptitiously. Either way, you’ve got a bit of prep work to do getting some NPCs and the location/s set up.

Issues 4 & 5: The Smuggling Deal

If the PCs force Ungala to capitulate, she offers them a deal. But where does this happen? In the streets. There is no obvious location for them to broker a deal with Ungala. The crowds disperse, but the Free Trade Square is a massive open space and prying eyes are everywhere. Are the Pathfinders honestly expected to just broker a deal then and there? If not, where do they put the cart while they are making the deal? What happens with Ungala in the meantime? Do they just let her go?

The scenario doesn’t deal with any of that. Not what happens to Ungala if you refuse and deliver her to the authorities, not where to make a deal with her… nothing. I don’t mind making these things up on the fly (it’s why I roleplay!), but I prefer the adventure to at least give something as a believable option for what to do when the PCs take the obvious course (eg. exercise caution to hide their identities while they’re undercover in a crowded market), even as an afterthought.

For GMs, the solution is to just make up a safe place to meet. I improvised a nearby stable that Ungala had prepared in advance for stripping out the cart.

Further, my players tried to broker a deal with both Ungala and Novaria. There is no option for this in the scenario. They made some exemplary diplomacy roles and did some beautiful roleplaying to try to convince Ungala to also work with the Society (while not telling Novaria). Did the author seriously not consider this possibility?

I allowed them to use both Ungala and Novaria for roleplaying purposes, but got the players to pick a “principal” for the agreement, so I could report it properly.

Issue 6: The Warehouse / Sabotage

There are guards outside the warehouse, patrolling. There is no guidance given for their patrol rout, nor is there enough space on the regurgitated flip-mat to actually have the battle. Fine if your PCs bypass the guards, but when the miniatures come out - you’d best have some spare terrain prepared. It’s a city dock setting, so there should be alleyways and boxes for the PCs to hide behind if they want to ambush the guards as they patrol - but they are missing from the map since there is nowhere near enough space shown beyond the warehouses. The tactical maps really were made for fighting inside the warehouse, which is likely to occur only if the PCs sneak inside past the patrol but then later get noticed by the guards.

It really shows a lack of attention to detail and foresight on the author’s behalf. It would be much better to have a single-entrance warehouse and have the guards in fixed position - with enough room to fight outside!

Also, the ships mentioned in the descriptive text are nowhere to be found on the map because it’s a flip-mat, and not custom for the scenario. Since they have 3 maps as flip-mats (which is generally fine, even great, when the maps are appropriate) and 2 custom maps, I’d really like to see this as the custom map instead of the other two (the ambush map, I’m sure, would have an appropriate flip map available somewhere). The map of Bloodcove is the other custom map - which leads me to a further minor gripe: the Map of Bloodcove has an ambush marked on it along with the location of Malika Fenn’s dead drop! You can’t possibly show it to players until all the encounters are over, and it would really help get them acquainted with the town.

It really feels like this scenario was never play tested, or if it was, they didn’t take the time to update the scenario based on the lessons they learned. Seriously, where are these things they’re supposed to sabotage on the map? They haven’t even been marked in afterwards with letters! Also, the adventure says “three large riverboats”…. but the slip could support at most 3 x 20 ft boats if they squeezed a lot. I'm not planning a jungle expedition, but a 20ft boat doesn't sound as though it's large enough. I've been in a 20 ft kayak (okay, so it fit 2 people in it, but still...).

PCs also need to complete “2 of the following objectives” but many are mutually exclusive. I can’t imagine you’d be able to sabotage the supplies successfully by poisoning them if you also burn down the warehouse containing them. Same with scuttling the ships (or burning the ships) and disabling the rudder - can’t do both. Can’t scuttle ships and burn ships to get the same effectiveness either. The presented sabotage options are just poorly thought out. Of course, players are encouraged to come up with their own ideas… but if burning all the ships and the warehouse itself to the ground only gets them a “partial” success, it seems ridiculous to me. Why would they think to do anything more if everything is destroyed?

GM advice: just decide where the guards are when the players arrive, come to the session with a spare flip-mat (or just a grid) with appropriate boxes/crates/alleyways for the PCs to use tactically and something to represent the three ships (like some cut-outs). If you don’t have a spare appropriate flip-mat, just pull out one of the book’s other maps to run the battle (like town square map for Ungala’s ambush) just so that you have a grid to fight on. So poor that you have to do this, but unless you like drawing grid lines on your tabletop, or playing free-form, then you pretty much have to. Luckily, I played on PbP and could just add in the extra map online (used a D&D city map that I found online with an edge that matched closely to middle of the warehouses).

As for the sabotage and if they decide to burn it all and do nothing else, flat out let them know up front that they need to complete at least 2 forms of sabotage and let them get very creative (before burning it to the ground). Or rule that burning the warehouse gets them 1 out of 2 and burning the ships as well makes it 2 out of 2.

Issue 7: Lazy, Lazy, Lazy

In addition to the points above about the laziness of the adventure (poorly chosen flip maps, bad guys, descriptions) the general lack of attention really needs to be its own issue. Overall, the author either doesn't pay enough service to the fact that many GMs will be picking this up and playing it the same day, and also not all GMs have time to do their own research for something that is supposed to be hassle free: a scenario.

Aya Allehe has a picture in the book, which is great, but her introduction is totally devoid of description. A GM is forced to describe her from her picture or just show the picture to the players. Same with Na'Alu (GMs may not realize that he has a picture many pages after his appearance... not when he appears for some reason). Later, Novaria isn't described or pictured at all, and she's not Mwangi and has been described in a PFS scenario before (so GMs shouldn't be forced to make this up).

Worse, though, two major ethnicities that PCs are supposed to canvas (Bonuwat and Bekyar) aren't described at all. I have a copy of the Inner Sea world guide and my Internet works just fine. I looked them up... but I'll be damned if I know anyone who wouldn't need to look this up. How is anyone supposed to remember exactly what two subgroups of four major ones found on the Mwangi continent are all about? It should have been included at least in the knowledge (local) description/s. No-one should have to Google something like that when they have the adventure in front of them, especially when the author is so lazy as to describe someone in the adventure as "a Bonuwat man”.

Oh, and the tactics and morale are missing from Na’alu and his robot friend in tier 3-4. The pro-forma description for the robot is “a strange, artificial looking humanoid” - nothing about what makes him look strange and artificial. There are also minor consistency issues throughout (eg. Na’lu’s feats are also missing “combat casting” in tier 3-4 and he can’t possibly have a concentration check of +10 without it).

Lazy, lazy, lazy.

GMs, do some research and write some notes before running your session. Come prepared with your own descriptions of NPCs and figure out how the tier 6-7 tactics relate to tier 3-4, and use what you can (Na'alu obviously can’t cast stoneskin on himself at that level 6!).

Summary

These issues really annoyed me, but there is no reason they need to reduce the fun for your players. It just requires more preparation from you as a GM than you might normally be prepared to put into a PFS scenario. If you’re a GM and you're in a position where you need to pick up a scenario and run it on the same day, PICK SOMETHING ELSE.

Otherwise, this can be great fun for players (especially those with skill focuses) and I heartily recommend running it or playing it prior to the Scions of the Sky Key series (if you’re playing that scenario at the higher subtier).

For GMs, this is a 2 star scenario (the flavor and sandbox mechanics alone brings it to 2 stars, the rest of the adventure design gets it absolutely no further points at all). For players this is a 4 star adventure. Since I GMed it, I'm giving it 2 stars.


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Safari at its best

5/5

This scenario was an absolute blast. Just for background, I ran it over PbP for a group with an APL of 2.6 (playing up to subtier 4-5 with the 4-player adjustment).

The color and flavor for this scenario was fantastic. The NPCs were likable and had very clear goals. As a special GM treat, for the first 2/3 of the adventure, you get to take them along and have them be useful in directing the flow of the adventure. This is a real bonus for any GM who loves to roleplay characters and not just describe monsters and situations. We spent a good chunk of time just on a made-up ship having a made-up banquet... that's how well the scenario lent itself to good roleplay.

Any fans of jungle settings, and African safaris or old-school British hunter-types will have a ball in this scenario. Even those not a fan of such things will still find plenty to do. Every role has a part to play at various times - and even the little-used "handle animal" skill gets a good look in (okay, so you don't need it, but it's handy).

I'll leave detailed feedback below, but my small gripes were:
- If you're not Sovereign Court faction, a chunk of stuff happens that won't gain you a boon. 1 boon is fine, but 2 boons just for 1 faction is a bit much.
- One encounter in particular had balance issues between the regular scenario and with the 4 player adjustment.

Those are very minor, though, and you'd struggle very hard to find a better PFS scenario. Easily on a par with Slave Ships of Absalom, in my opinion.

Detailed review with spoilers:

The initial set-up for the adventure is great. I was initially dubious about the favor point mechanics. However, they are fairly organic with the scenario situations (requiring no special effort on the player's behalves to gain them). Also, the favor points - unlike the "epiphany points - in Trial by Machine, are directly linked to boons (albeit only for Sovereign Court members) and a success condition (1 PP for all players).

I love how a good chunk of the encounters can be bypassed by creativity alone. It really rewards characters who think about what they're doing and where they are. The monkey fight is a particular favorite. If the PCs shoo them off, they swarm. If they behave respectfully towards the monkeys (and there are plenty of clues around that they should) then the monkeys come back to help them (a little) in the final fight. Really cool stuff.

The fight with the "tiiger" is also a big one. There was a lot of build-up and set-up. I would have loved to see my PbPers faces when they found out what it really was. This leads to a gripe, though: the Subtier 4-5 custom jalmeri leucrotta is demonstrably less powerful than the advanced leucrotta to use for the 4 player adjustment. The one for the 4 players is the right CR (though maybe a bit tougher based on the poor tactical situation the PCs end up in ), but the un-adjusted leucrotta needs beefing up. Small gripe, and chances are you wouldn't even notice if you weren't running over PbP and had time to stat compare and such things.

The final battle was a real challenge for my PCs. I read extensively on the Asura's abilities before the battle (mostly just making sure I didn't get anything wrong). I started blink during the surprise round, and it really screwed my players over! They had to really think hard about what they were doing, but in the end triumphed. They all agreed it was one of the hardest PFS fights they've had where it wasn't a TPK. They were very well-prepared players with (mostly) optimized builds. If you're running for players who are playing up, be aware that the 4-player nerf isn't much of a nerf (-2 to it's last 2 attacks of 4, and -5ft to a special ability it can't really use in such close quarters anyway). Unprepared players playing up will likely die... especially if they can't get past its DR or deal good damage. Check over the sheets beforehand and maybe have Valsin suggest some vials of holy water if they haven't otherwise got a way to stop the asura's regeneration.

Overall, an absolute delight to run and my players had a wonderful time playing. Really nice work, Ben! Easily one of the best scenarios out there.


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Too easy for tier 1-2

2/5

I ran this over PbP* and I was really trying to talk up the freakishness for the characters. I even went back and re-read some Lovecraft to help my descriptions. The adventure does precious little (save for the "odd geometry" description) to help out with this. The main dungeon may as well just be a carved slab of grey with flesh eaters in it.

* It's not quite finished: just one room to go, but no challenge in that one. They have just done the BBEG.

The characters had an APL of 2 and slightly above-average builds (in my opinion) and they walked over every single encounter. Only the first went beyond 2 rounds - including the surprise round! I can see the potential for it to get really nasty, but the stated tactics and nerfs included in the adventure made it a complete wash for the good guys.

Lacking in "out of the box" atmosphere, somewhat inventive encounters that have been pitched far too low at tier 1-2 and other reasons (below) make this a below-par scenario.

Detailed review with spoilers:

The first encounter with the cannibals makes use of an old (out of print) map-pack map. They have a watch set up, but there is no reason characters wouldn't go right and bypass the watch set up and get up behind the cannibals. I railroaded them to the "proper" encounter site. The encounter itself was appropriate enough level-wise, but the listed statblock was awful. They had the buffed versions in there without explicitly saying they were buffed. The “mind-immunity” was listed in the non-buffed kind of way, but it was part of the spell and only continued re-reading stopped something bad from happening to a PC. I had one cannibal pass his save to get “buffed”, and it was a pain in the butt to get his stats out. Just put the base stats in and then include the spell. Much better than having to reverse engineer things for the surprise round (if the PCs get in first, or the buffing barbarian rolls lower on initiative).

The whole top plateau looks shoved-in to the bog-standard map that was provided. The other "encounter" sites kind of add color, but provide no challenge (or even CR) and you get the distinct feeling they were plonked there just to populate more of the otherwise encounter-less map.

The first trap on the way in and the way it was triggered was interesting, though the PCs bypassed it using their digging equipment to widen the hole (very fortuitous the way they did it!). Not the fault of the adventure and I liked the trap.

The second trap was probably one of the most interesting traps I’ve ever seen. It had a hag effigy with illusory eyes used to draw characters in and get close, and then they had to save or chow down on a corpse. In tier 1-2 however, it’s a DC 13 save (which you get to make every round) with a 24 hour reset! The first PC passed his first save and then it was over. I was so disappointed at not getting to use that trap. Make the perception and/or disable device DC lower - or change the reset to “automatic 1 rd”, reduce the save DC and then make it 24 hour immunity for each character with a successful save. That way, you should get at least one PC scrambling to eat corpse with his fellows trying to stop him.

The second encounter was with a leech. I thought it might be tricky, but only 25 hp and a tactic that basically makes it have AC 10 while grappling means it is going to get killed in 1 round by any team of competent adventurers. And it did get killed. 1 str damage and a few hit points is all it did. Waste. I’d recommend putting in a young leech swarm or something like that instead. Swarms are hard (see Crypt of the Everflame for that!), but a swarm that has to stay in the water can be avoided… and it will make them think about how to bypass it (eg. the provided folding boat, climbing, tunneling, etc).

The third encounter was full of ghoulish possibility. I really enjoyed the concept, but the descriptions in the adventure was a little lacking. I did my best to really make it grotesque (and I think I succeeded). The new cool concept was the Necrotic Polyp, that the undead couldn’t help but gorge themselves on was also no mention of how holy water damaged it - a tactic that was alluded to in an earlier message - and the rules around it (notably what knowledges would be helpful and how) were completely missing. It was only able to be defeated by simply bashing past its hardness for 300 hp. Snore. It had some cool effects - none of which became or could possibly become apparent to the PCs, unless they died.

The creatures around this polyp were so nerfed that the PCs got 1 surprise round and 1 normal round attacking them with no response from them. The second round, they’re forced to go at initiative 1! That means 1 surprise round to close (and attack if you have ranged and/or the sandals in the previous room) and 2 full rounds to completely destroy them.

The fourth encounter involves 6 hours of mining. This can be somewhat hand-waived, but I really tried to impress upon my players just how tiring it would be (because characters would realize this even if the players don’t). They stopped shortly after starting and moved on to the final encounter. Not sure how this will go, but there is a lone ghoul. How hard will that be for a party of 6? I’ve heard complaints that the stated tactics in this particular encounter can cause a coup-de-gras situation, but the GM would have to be a complete a-hole to do it like that. The AoOs alone would mean that the thing couldn’t do it unless a lone PC dug out the entire cave-in and went in without his companions. Also, it’s just one hungry ghoul. Oh, and it’s not scaled for tier 4-5 at all. Not even an easy advanced template (the “ghast” upgrade).

The final encounter has a whole lot of stuff written into it about how to use diplomacy. Great if the bad guy wants a chat - I love that (and did that). But it ends up mostly moot as he demands human sacrifice in return for doing anything (unless the PCs turn an unfriendly to helpful in one check). In the end, the big final boss is just a ghast (vanilla ghast) and with just 19 HP and blowing his chance at a surprise round by talking, combined with some good tactics and lucky initiative… two (just two) arrows later… and he was down. So anticlimactic. At least he has rogue levels in tier 4-5. It’s a genuine CR 4 encounter for tier 1-2, but the stated tactics ruin the chance of the all-important enemy surprise round. Without it, they’re not punching at their weight.

I also found the encounters getting very repetitive. I know it’s the “hall of the flesh eaters” but it’s like the author tried every level appropriate flesh-eating option he could find: cannibal, leech, ghoul, festrog, ghast. Three of the five encounters total involved some kind of ghoul.

Aside from that, the worst part of this adventure is that it requires players to write written notes and draw a map with no prompting that this is the case. The player handout says the characters should do it, but not the players. Since we’re playing over PbP, I’ve ruled that the players have written enough and waived the map requirement. They’ll no doubt meet enough of the other success conditions anyway. It’s a complete d*ck move from the author / developer. If you require players to put pen to paper, say it explicitly. Maybe some players would write notes unprompted, but who on Earth would hand-draw a map when the GM has already pulled out a detailed tactical map?

Conclusion: consider this at tier 4-5, but overall I’d give it a miss. For an APL of 2, you’re just going through the motions for the 1 XP. Maybe you like that. I don’t.


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Oh, the social

5/5

This adventure was an absolute delight to run. I ran it on Play-by-Post (PbP), so there was ample opportunity to play with the NPCs in this - the roleplaying tips were a real treat, and the characters really came alive for me. This right here is the bar for where all PFS scenarios should aspire to be. The combats were fluid and engaging, the unnecessary combats could be bypassed with roleplaying, and (most importantly) an incredible depth of setting could be conveyed within such a short format. As a cherry on the top, in-depth knowledge of PFS was rewarded (but was by no means required).

Groups who will love this: those who are heavy on the roleplay.
Groups who won't love this as much: those who just want to roll dice (go play a wargame).

Actually, even those who like combat will really enjoy the final battle. There are a number of options for approaching it, and doing a good job preparing for it is very well rewarded.

Spoiler:
Some players may not like the few occasions where a failed diplomacy roll means they need to pay their way out of the situation. If you are going to GM this, I would strongly recommend allowing the players to roleplay it out and them allowing them a decent circumstance bonus on their diplomacy check for well thought out discourse. If they're not interested, make them roll and make them pay!

The only negative was a small one:
It was sometimes hard to find / calculate the stats for the encounters. On PbP this was a very minor issue, but if I were running the game in real life it would have been a lot of flicking back and forth. Reusing Mezuk's stats (half-orc early on) for Curtzog (half-orc first mate) felt a little lazy and meant a lot of back and forth in the final combat. Having to apply the young template to a creature at the end was also a pain, and I would have appreciated the main combat stats in the printed profile. GMs can mitigate this by statting out the NPCs in advance. I also know that Paizo have some pretty strict rules about what they print in a scenario / adventure so that they can sell more copies of their source material, so it's not unusual to find this sort of thing. Just a small gripe I had.

Very well done, and my hearty congratulations to the author!


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Good, but some key issues

2/5

Overall, I liked the flavor of this scenario. The whole idea of running through a carefully planned challenge that has already been completed ahead of time is kind of cool.

Unfortunately, there were several mechanical inconsistencies that started to ruin things. The timing was off (eg. go left down a straight corridor and it takes 5 minutes to room A4, or go dead straight for 5 minutes, and then you're 1 minute from room A4), the durations were well wrong (most notably the duration of a tanglefoot bag when compared to what has to have happened after it was thrown) and a seemingly perpetual levitate and invisibility spell.

The biggest issue, though, was in maintaining realistic player motivation:

There really was no reason for the players to continue once the main plot hook was revealed. Players could very reasonably return to Absalom and their venture-captain without completing any of the main success conditions. Worse, their venture-captain chews them out if they proceed and actually complete the scenario as the writers expect. So, if they do leave early and report back to their venture-captain (a perfectly reasonably thing to do) their venture-captain wouldn't send them back (based on his reaction to them completing the adventure). It seems like a small thing, but in PFS, you're not allowed to change NPC attitudes like that and you would need to in order to get them back in the adventure. Would be so easy for the writers to just congratulate the PCs instead...

... or, seal them in. They get sealed in eventually anyway, so just do it before they get a chance to leave. That way, there's no choice but to complete it. Don't say "oh, but they can't seal the players in, it would be too deadly"... again, they get sealed in anyway.

While there were cool technologies, some were written for GM only, it seemed:
There is an android in there (way cool) but absolutely no reveal that he is an android at all. He doesn't know he is one. He doesn't know what one is, and no other NPC does either. His blood is an odd color (standard android) but he heals as normal, so there is absolutely no reason for the PCs to believe he is a construct. Since he is the entire reason the complex "activated" in the first place, it is a massive downer to have him just walk off or get arrested with no reveal. Also, he felt a strange pull to the dungeon ever since he arrived in Absalom - as though he might find some link to his past. They find a strange, ancient technological room and... he just walks away and says he won't be a bandit anymore. Anticlimax for GM and the players remain blissfully unaware.

Finally, there's a disconnect between the art and the story. It's minor, and pretty common for PFS scenarios, but there was a character portrait done specifically for the scenario. He was pictured in full plate. According to his description, he wore leather and wasn't at all proficient in more than light armor. It can't be that hard to get right when you send the description to the artist.

This is far from unplayable, and it is at least an introduction to the technology in Season 6, but it feels rushed. The slew of negative comments directly after GenCon suggest that it really could have used more play testing. There are no play testing credits, actually, so perhaps they did none. It certainly would explain things.

**Edit** After realizing that players use these reviews to select games as well as GMs I went back and fixed the spoilers with spoiler tags (changing the text a little also so that the spoilers revealed a little more). Also noticed that is accidentally given it the wrong rating previously (3 not 2). Apologies to the author.