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Venture-Lieutenant, Louisianna—Port Allen/Baton Rouge 23 posts (25 including aliases). 3 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 32 Organized Play characters. 1 alias.



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If You Prep It, Players Will Love It

4/5

I believe this has already been said by other reviewers, but PFS #8-09 is a scenario that is very demanding for a GM to prep - but if you can put in the time & effort, your players will love you for it.

My experience comes from having played an Exchange Arms-dealing Gunslinger in a party of 4 that consisted of a Lvl 8 barbarian, a ranger, a fighter, and my aforementioned Lvl 6 gunslinger. I don't remember the levels of the ranger or fighter, but we ended up playing up (and having to rely on the ranger for all our party's healing - needless to say, it wasn't ideal).

-That typed, I liked how we had the potential to talk our way through most of the encounters (and possibly considering that none of us were really party faces), it was fun & challenging to try with our less-than-optimal party comp.

There's flavor galore & roleplay opportunities literally in every encounter, with a diverse & interesting cast of somewhere between 10 & 15 NPCs total. Being an RPer at heart, I really ate up every quirky character & crazy locale we found ourselves in. The one issue with all this was that (as the GM mentioned many times), there was a lot to prepare for: the most of any PFS scenario I've heard that didn't introduce a new subsystem.

The combats (at least for us) weren't complete pushovers (although the final fight was the only one that really made us sweat). There also included a couple of fairly unique enemies.

Also, the Exchange faction mission was the best I've ever seen in a PFS scenario. I'm used to seeing short little faction side-goals that don't really tie into a scenario's main plot - but the way the Exchange faction mission was set up this time around; not only did I feel the mission was fully integrated into the main plot, but I also loved how you as a player feel like you're getting to help choose your faction's future.

There were a few weird bits about the plot - but they were overshadowed by the scenario's sheer awesomeness in my mind.

All things considered, if I were just rating this scenario with players in mind - I'd give it 5 starts. However, since I'm also aware that this scenario is fairly daunting to prep, I give it 4 stars for the GMs out there. Whatever the case may be however, this scenario is well worth the effort of prepping, & if done right, players will love you for it! I look forward to playing Pt 2 to see how the story finally turns out.


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Darkness & Death - What's Not to Love?

5/5

To start off, I want to note that my first experience with Cairn of Shadows was when I played it a few years ago at Coastcon in Mississippi. We had a great GM (Kenny – one of the Venture guys from Pensacola if I’m not mistaken) and a great party of players (mostly people that I knew from LA). Now, it might have just been the GM and the group (because, let’s face it, that’s what you really matters to make any memorable RPG experience), but by the time we’d finished playing Cairn of Shadows, I knew that hands down – it was the best time I’d had the entire con. Not only that, but the scenario was one of the best PFS scenarios I’ve ever played! Since then, I just knew I wanted to run Cairn of Shadows for my local PFS, and I was shocked when I found this scenario rated so low on Paizo’s product page.

That typed, at this point I’ve played, read through, and ran Cairn of Shadows at Tier 5-6. I don’t have any experience with Tier 8-9, but my experiences have been pretty positive so far.

Now, I’ll admit that Cairn of Shadows isn’t perfect. You can miss out on a lot of the treasure if you play the scenario exactly as written. There’s also a lot of mechanics and special rules to keep track of during play, the players don’t get the full story behind the scenario as-written, the fights are tough, and there are some typos in the scenario too.

However, I still don’t think that Cairn of Shadows deserves all the one-star ratings and hate that it’s received – and in fact, I’d go so far as to argue that a lot of the scenario’s weaknesses are easily fixed. As far as the treasure goes, all you need to do is be lenient.

SPOILER:

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I don’t even remember what Kenny did when I played through this scenario the first time, but when I ran it, the players noticed the trapped hallway and disabled it in a heartbeat. At that point, I could’ve penalized them for not falling into the trap and seeing the treasure, but instead I simply asked them if they wanted to open part of the trap up, “just to see what was down there…” They opened the trap and found the loot. It was as easy as that.

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As far as the mechanics and special rules go? I just typed up cheat sheets for myself and my players – then passed the rules around the table so that everyone had easy access to them. That kept even the more intricate encounters relatively easy to handle.

As for the story…

SPOILER:

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I had Golbrier note the name of the artifact the Onyx Alliance was after, as well as hint at its potential powers and Lord Kazartak’s existence. I also had the party find Lord Maravan’s spell book in the torture room – which had a copy of the infernal contract Maravan and Kazartak had made. I even had Maravan monologue as he was buffing himself in the final fight.

All of that together helped to better explain the secrets behind the adventure.

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I didn’t think the scenario’s typos were all that big of a deal (I’ve seen far worse), and when it comes down to it I really didn’t even think the tough battles were a weakness – but a strength.

This brings me to my next point. Weaknesses aside, I felt that Cairn of Shadows had strengths that far outweighed its shortcomings.

As already noted, the scenario does have some devilishly challenging encounters – but I like a good challenge, and I feel that a lot of PFS scenarios are way too easy. It’s refreshing to see a scenario where the players face a real threat. And not only are the encounters a threat (especially the boss battle), but both of the scenario’s main combats are very unique (and awesome) tactical experiences. Neither are “one and done” scenarios where you face everything on an open field and can eliminate it in a round or less. These fights take place on unique terrain with unique hazards, and they’re also really dramatic and flavorful for the setting they take place in.

Speaking of flavor – this scenario is oozing it. From the Nidalese city to the Nidalese barrow mounds, the enemies you face to the dungeon they come from – it all screams Nidal and Zon-Kuthon. The Silent Enforcers could be a bit more impactful in the city segment, but when my group went through the city, I still made sure to describe how Silent Enforcers were on every corner. The party knew that if they screwed anything up, the Enforcers were going to be on them in a heartbeat.

Also, this scenario has a surprising amount of room for role play. You actually encounter three distinct characters who you can exchange out-of-combat words with, and I feel they also add to the overall flavor (and potentially dark humor) of the game – depending on how you play them.

Overall, after both playing and running through this scenario, and in spite of the surprising amount of negative reviews, I still feel that this is one of the better scenarios out there. It does need some work on the GM’s part to prepare as it’s not perfectly ready to go as-is. That typed however, if you’re willing to put in the extra effort, if love Nidal, and if you have players who enjoy a good challenge – then this is the scenario for you. If I could, I'd give this scenario 4.5 stars, but as that isn't possible, I'm giving it the full 5 stars treatment. I hope to see more from Mr. Baker in the future.


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A Total Letdown...

1/5

I'll start this review by first noting that I’ve played “The Midnight Mauler” once and skimmed over it once as well. I’ve never GMed it yet (and I don’t want to).

That typed, when I played the scenario it was with a party of 5 at Tier 3-4, and after reading the synopsis, I was really excited. I thought this would be more of a detective-style, clue-gathering/diplomacy mission reminiscent of a Sherlock-Holmes mystery. Unfortunately, what I got was a scenario that lacked depth or any real mystery at all. We knew the culprit from the get-go (the Master of Blades told us the guy’s identity in the mission briefing!). Also, as other reviewers have previously mentioned, this scenario had plenty of railroading from place to place, some extremely easy & flavorless combats, and the most anti-climactic chase sequence I’ve ever had the displeasure of participating in (much like some of the other reviewers, when I played, our chase was over in less than one round).

In my opinion, this scenario was also lacking the local flavor that would’ve really brought a cool Bram Stoker-esque country like Ustalav to life, and the way we received one piece of treasure in-particular felt way too forced.

Spoiler:

We’d just saved this judge’s life and we were trying to race after her assailant before he got away – but wait! Before we went after him, the judge had to stop and give us a useless sword that couldn’t help us in the ensuing encounters! The judge had just been fighting for her life. She nearly got her throat ripped out. After all that, her first thought was to give us a paperweight? I just found it really hard to suspend my disbelief here.

Keeping all that in mind, the scenario did have a few strong points. There is some room for roleplaying, and surprisingly, one major encounter in the scenario can be resolved in a number of ways.
Spoiler:

I’m a big fan of non-violent solutions – so I appreciated it when they gave you the option to talk down the Mauler instead of bashing his brains in. Don’t get me wrong, bashing the villain’s brains in is still a viable option – but it’s not the only option.

Overall, while this scenario does have its strengths, and bearing in mind that a good group and a good GM can make all the difference to an RPG experience, when I played this scenario, I was extremely underwhelmed by it – especially when I went in with such high hopes in the first place. When I looked over the reviews of this scenario, I was shocked to see that it had a 4-4.5 star average user rating, and while I know that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion, I personally wouldn’t recommend this scenario to anyone. I’m sure it’s not the worst PFS scenario out there, but it’s far from the best.