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My experience was only 2 or 3 stars, but I can tell the module is better.aboyd —
When I played through this, it seemed obvious that the GM had merely skimmed the product. I could sense that this scenario was trying to be much more fun than the GM was allowing. The chase scene and social challenges? It was all boiled down to 5 minutes of quick die rolls. Very anti-climatic. But enough of that, let's review this!
Your PCs are going to the abandoned village of Boali, in the Mwangi Expanse. It's the jungle, baby! Here's the basic quest/idea. The Aspis guys are digging up Boali, looking for relics, but probably without permission. The nearby town of Senghor would likely frown on that. So go find evidence that the Aspis dudes are trashing the place and get Senghor worked up about it. Then the Pathfinder Society can swoop in and say, "Well WE would do things legally, so you should kick out the Aspis Consortium and let us in!"
There are a lot of mini-games in this product, which is partly why I felt like it was supposed to be a 4-star module, even if I wasn't getting that experience. There is a skill check thing at the beginning, and there are the usual chase rules, another diplomatic schmoozing mini-game, and a sort-of "rescue" mini-game. Oh, and some combat stuff, which I found to be far more exciting when I read the product. There are cool terrain issues that could materially affect the encounters -- I didn't really see much of that on my play-through, but reading it I can see it could make for some good challenges.
A note for GMs: one encounter in particular was bugging me even before I bought & read the product. Just playing it I knew something was off. It turns out, I was right. So if you are GMing this, please read this:
There is a fight with some boggards in a bog. These boggards have AC 15. Yet, in my game, we were asked to hit AC 24. Why? Well, it was +8 for the cover rules that are granted to creatures in water, and +1 because reasons. And yet... the module directly contradicts this. According to the module, you are mandated to use the shallow bog & deep bog rules. By those rules, a medium boggard can only have a +4 from normal cover. To get +8 to AC, the medium-sized boggards (high tier) would need to use the "crouch as a move action" option that the bog rules provide. However, using that option also imposes a -10 to attack rolls on the crouching person/monster, and you can bet our GM didn't accept a -10 on his attack rolls.
In other words, the boggards (high tier) should have AC 19 if they're fighting normally, as per the bog rules for a "deep bog." Now, low tier the boggards have the "young" template, which makes them small size. They get improved cover (+8 to AC) according to the bog rules, which weirdly makes the low-tier fight harder than the high-tier fight. High tier: AC 19, 61 HP per monster. Low tier: AC 23, 16 HP per monster.
In both tiers, the boggards have Swamp Stride, which allows them to 5' step regardless of whether it's a deep bog or shallow bog. The PCs probably don't have Swamp Stride as a class/race ability. So unless the PCs have swim speeds, it's VERY likely that the boggards are super-mobile compared to the PCs. This should help a bit with controlling the battlefield.
Overall, I enjoyed this game -- more from reading it than playing it, but still. I'm dying to run it. I think the chase scene could be spectacular. I think the social scene could be hilarious. I think the fights could be very dynamic, with lots of terrain issues to explore (both for the monsters and for the PCs -- lots of fun options listed in the product). If your local Pathfinder Society branch is offering this game and you know the GM is good at all the Paizo mini-games, then go for it and have a great time. If you hate these mini-games then maybe stay away from this product (although to be fair, you could play this product just for the fights -- if your GM does it right, the fights are enjoyable regardless of whatever happens with the rest of the adventure).
Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-07: Salvation of the Sages PDFPaizo Inc.
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Wow, quite a dust-up here in the reviews, and in the GM forum.aboyd —
When I played through this, I found this scenario/module to be tough, but unremarkable. I never reviewed it, as it was neither very good, nor very bad. However, this product is known to cause TPKs. Some people are very upset about this, and they've flooded the GM forum discussion of this product with complaints. In addition, there are a handful of 1 & 2 star reviews here that are all from the same group of people, lumped within a few days of each other. With all this anger directed toward the product, I went back to look over it, and see if I missed something.
After all, my group played through this just fine. My PC went unconscious once, so it's not like it was a cakewalk, and I certainly was nervous that my character would die. However, I didn't feel like it was unfair. So I looked into it. It turns out, some of the complaining isn't valid; some "problems" are mostly manufactured drama. However, it also turns out that some of the complaining is dead-on accurate. Let's see what the module actually did right & wrong.
1. It tricks the players with deceptive text
False. There is a section on page 8 in which the read-aloud text states: "That monolith empowers the dead. One of us will aid you in disabling it." Some are flagging this as "deceptive" because it implies that players should use the Disable Device skill to stop the monolith, which apparently the complainers tried to do, and failed. However, that is a problem with the GM, not the module. The module provides 3 ways to disable the monolith:
It would appear that suggesting the monolith can be "disabled" is true after all. Players can interpret it as "please use Disable Device" and that works, or they can interpret it broadly, asking, "What does disabling it entail?" If they do, it would seem that the 3 options should be revealed to them.
2. The final fight broadly damages PCs for even doing simple things like drinking non-magical alchemical brews such as antitoxin or antiplague.
False. Some GMs on the GM forum discussion are suggesting that they have to deal damage to PCs for drinking alchemical products because the module penalizes PCs for "casting spells or similar effects." Some have interpreted "similar effects" to mean anything that has a boost or buff effect, such as drinking Soothe Syrup, or Antitoxin, etc. However, the module text itself prohibits such broad penalties. It says on page 15: "The PCs can assist with the ritual, though Amenopheus warns them that the ritual’s nature means casting spells, activating items, or even consuming magical draughts could have dangerous side effects—he suspects any entity that can possess a sage jewel could as readily hijack another magic item or magical process, putting such bystanders at risk."
Since a potion is a magical item, of course it would be dangerous to use. However, sunrods, antitoxins, and all other similar alchemical products are non-magical and as such, they do not qualify as "magical items or magical processes," so they can be used without penalty.
3. The final fight is a TPK, the opening fight is a TPK, the module is brutally hard.
True. Surprise! There are some actual problems here. There are valid concerns. The one cited by many is that during the final fight/ritual, it's possible that the PCs will be exposed to 30d6 or 40d6 damage, with no saving throw. And... they're right. This is in the module. It asks that the GM allow PCs to make 2 sets of skill checks for the ritual, and that the GM track the number of times the players failed to hit the DC by 5 or more. So for example, if the PCs failed to hit a DC of 33 but got a 31, then it's close enough to be ignored. However, if they fail to hit that DC of 33 because they got a 26 then that needs to be tracked, because that's 5+ points below the DC. It's a "big" failure as far as the module is concerned. For each such failure, in the high tier the PCs will endure 5d6 damage.
If you have a full table, 6 players, and each player does both checks, that's a total of 12 checks. If the checks all fail by 5 or more, that's 12 x 5d6 damage. That's 60d6 damage, as a worst-case scenario. That's 210 points of damage on average (360 max if you're rolling hot) -- pretty much the game ends here. If this happens, everyone wraps up and goes home.
I've read the product multiple times to find a way to correct these naysayers, but it turns out they're right. Some other GMs have suggested that the moment someone fails a check you should immediately issue 5d6 damage, so that the group gets it in smaller doses and can opt out before they die. However, that isn't how it is worded in the product. It advises the GM to track the number of failures, tally them up, and then issue the damage. This is of course devastating.
So how did I survive this when I was a player? First of all, the GM described the seriousness of the ritual, and the danger of magical items/spells being used near it, which already set us on edge. So when the GM noted that our first option was to not participate/help with the ritual, 1 player took that option. He waited outside, and was considered by our GM to be free of any blast zone (though he obviously didn't give that away until after everything was over). Second, the GM advised us that Aid Another was allowed and that Taking 10 was allowed. He made it clear that if we were not good at the needed skills, we could still use Aid Another to help a team member to get "big numbers." The GM did not say that we needed big numbers (although we did indeed); he merely said that Aid Another would help us get bigger numbers whether we needed them or not. This is of course a way for the GM to lead us without disclosing much of anything. With the idea of using Aid Another planted in our minds, we discussed who would lead, who would Aid, and then made our rolls.
Why does that matter? Because it turns out that the module states that using Aid Another does not count toward failures, even if the PC does in fact fail to Aid. So! Our setup was: 1 team member waited outside, 2 team members did Aid Another, and 3 team members led the skill checks. Therefore, the most damage possible for us would have been 30d6 if each leader failed both times (that's 6 failures x 5d6 = 30d6). However, we didn't fail 6 times. We failed 2. Thus we endured 10d6 damage, or about 35 points of damage. That was survivable, even for my low-tier character playing up to the high tier. With 4 remaining successes, we got the minor boon from the ritual, as well. There was a greater boon, but we didn't have enough successes, and that was fine.
As mentioned in my heading for this section, the opening fight is very deadly as well. It is 3 or 4 CR above the PC's level (for example, in tier 7-8, this monster is CR 11), which is already considered "epic" difficulty as per the rules on balancing encounters. Then the module also adds a hazard -- grasping graves. This is a CR 4 hazard, which would be negligible except that along with the hazard the module adds reduced visibility. The hazard itself also adds difficult terrain and might grapple PCs, holding them in place and dealing damage. This happens while the CR 11 (low tier) monsters are approaching and attacking. This should add at least 1 extra CR which is not accounted for in the module's calculation of CR. So in the low tier, this is PCs level 7 or 8 fighting a monster/hazard that is probably CR 12, if fully combined as suggested. That's a +5 CR fight -- so deadly it isn't even listed as an option in the encounter balance table.
To be fair to the module, it does give the PCs 1 of the sages as an NPC to help them. This may help in the fight. However, as we can see from the other reviews, it didn't always help enough. Lots of groups TPK'd -- at the beginning, or at the end.
Overall, I didn't have a problem with this module. However, it appears that was partly due to luck or just-right performance in certain areas. I also have no characters in the Scarab Sages faction, so much of my game was a ho-hum "wait and see what the Scarab Sages people do" affair. Nothing stood out. Others clearly had vastly different experiences, but for me this was middle-of-the-road, so I'm giving it 3 stars.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-09: Beyond the Halflight Path PDFPaizo Inc.
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This is a very randomized module. It can be great, okay, or awful.aboyd —
After playing through this, I purchased it. It's 91 pages long. For a 4 hour time slot, 91 pages. Except, here's the trick: you only use about 12 pages. Not only are there multiple maps to choose from, but there are also 3 major story lines with little extra variations, and a slew of monster encounters that are (usually) randomly rolled for and then arranged in a dungeon by a GM. So you winnow it down to just the few things you select, and use only that.
This can be overwhelming, if you try to have all 91 pages ready to go! A GM would really, truly do well to pre-select some random arrangements, and then get very familiar with that pre-selected setup. If you try to learn all 91 pages and monsters and then pick them on the fly, it's going to be a nightmare. If you don't bother to learn any of it beforehand and then try to manage it all spontaneously as the random rolls dictate the encounters, it's going to be a sloppy mess.
For my particular play through, this is what I enjoyed about this module: it was hard. Some of the fights in the high tier were taking down PCs left & right. Nobody died, but we had PCs going unconscious at various points. After the game, I looked up the monster's stat block, and realized it could have been worse. We got off easy because the GM didn't have a perfect grasp of how to play the monster optimally. (And that may again be due to the module being 91 pages and waaaaayyy too much for a GM to sift through in a 4 hour time slot.)
The map is, frankly, beautiful. At least, the "Bigger Cavern" map with the crystals on it is great to look at and to try to maneuver through. (There is a flip side to the Bigger Cavern product, and it's not as pretty, and it's used for 1 of the story lines here.) There are tight spaces, open spaces, water, the crystals, height changes, and so on. People can leap off ledges, swim, get bullrushed off of bridges (or bullrush the enemies!), can get higher ground (+1 to melee attacks!), and finally, as mentioned, there are fun challenges to deal with like the squeezing rules. There are little corners to hide in, too. It's a great map.
GMs, please note. There is one spot on the map where narrow stairs take the PCs from elevation 0 to elevation 15' in just a single square. The PCs are going 15' up, but doing it by moving through just 1 square on the map (or at least mostly 1 square). This has gotta cost more than 5' of movement!
What else can I tell you? Well, you are going to reconnect with some old friends/enemies in Kaer Maga, that's for sure. If you've played the older products (like The City of Strangers, part 1 & 2), then you'll be familiar with many areas here. If not, you can hope you get a GM who is in love with this giant city on a cliff, and hope he/she introduces you to some of the interesting locales on the city.
Final word: this is a trainwreck or a wonderful time, mostly depending upon how your GM assembles this product. It has great potential, and you could play and re-play this a handful of times before you felt like you had exhausted most of the variations and story details. And the gameplay is great, if done well. So look for a good GM and hope that he/she is well prepared!
Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-05: Call of the Copper Gate PDFPaizo Inc.
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It was fun, but we were lost for a lot of backstory.aboyd —
There are light spoilers here. I talk in general about various activities in the game -- nothing big, but you might be able to surmise some things after reading my review. So, you've been warned.
Our team consisted of oracle, cleric, ninja, wizard, barbarian, monk. High tier. The oracle was our only Diplomacy character. The ninja was our only Disable Device character. The wizard was our only Knowledge character (mostly). In all 3 cases, there was a point where getting information depended upon someone doing well with Diplomacy, Knowledge, or Disable Device -- and in each case, we had a "single point of failure" that... failed. Because of this, we missed out on information, back story, lore, and in some cases even missed out on how to solve things properly.
So for me, I had a couple of places where I wanted to understand what was happening but just couldn't. My character couldn't, and I couldn't in real life either.
Having said that, the wild start of the game is fun and action-packed. It begins with alarms blaring and it's very clear that you're rushing to fix some emergency. I liked how my GM ran the first encounter with so many terrain conditions. In fact, that seems to be the hallmark of this module. In multiple encounters, the terrain isn't just "you're at the door to a room, go fight." I really appreciated this. It was cool to have the environment be an important factor.
I also enjoyed the mystery and weirdness of things. Something has triggered all this chaos and the PCs have to figure it out, but it isn't just "who's the bad guy?" There are talking encounters where your questions and answers don't necessarily make sense, but you're obviously getting accurate information -- it's just beyond comprehension. It's like staring into infinity and trying to explain it to a 2 year-old.
The big encounter was, in my opinion, very well done. Here's why. My character failed everything. Things went badly. Yet, I didn't die. It was scary and I was tense as I rolled die after die and failed again & again. I could see my character heading toward death, but also feeling like "I have a couple rounds to avert disaster. It's still possible to survive and win." While that was happening to me, there was SO MUCH for others to do. There were a lot of issues to tackle. People struggled to overcome obstacles, just as I did (but they overcame issues while I didn't). When they did overcome things, they raced around trying to accomplish anything before the situation got too dire. So it overall felt like a difficult challenge, relentless, but also didn't murder us. It's rare to find something so balanced.
This was a good time. It felt like it might be leading to bigger things, like during the season finale or something. If you play this, remember to have a good team with lots of diverse abilities. This module rewards "boy scout" types -- those who are prepared for anything.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #9-01: The Cost of Enlightenment (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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My friend called it "too thinky" but I liked it a lot.aboyd —
You should know that there is a lot of talking in this module. In fact, the module text suggests that the characters should get bonuses based upon how well the players can act out scenes or role play their characters. In other words, this is a possibly unfair but precisely old-school style of real roleplay that we all used to engage in before Pathfinder and D&D became all about combat. It unashamedly relies upon the player's skill with role play to propel the character's skills.
You really, really want to play this with a GM who will not penalize shy players. You also want a GM who can distinguish between "shy" and "just doesn't care and would prefer to play Candy Crush while everyone else does the boring parts." This module is all about punishing that 2nd kind of player. You have to participate well to succeed in this module.
Note: the very first "encounter" or "test" of the PCs is easily trivialized with a 5 second interaction. If your players know of this, they might pursue this very obvious and easy solution, and then possibly lose out of some story. So watch out. Here's the explanation:
During the "fake Rovagug battle" the PCs are recruited because "the usual crew is doubled over in the local inn nursing their hangovers." Except... "alchemical kindness" is an alchemical remedy in Pathfinder that is sold everywhere that alchemist's fire is sold, it only costs 1 GP, and it completely ends handovers within 10 minutes of taking it. If any of your players know this, then they'll go buy 10 and insta-fix the entire acting troupe. There really is no way to say "that doesn't exist here" or "that isn't sold here" without sounding like you've contrived a fake blockade to this perfect solution. I am not interested in being that railroady, so when I run this module myself, I intend to fully allow this to work. I will simply have High Priestess al-Sahba come talk to the PCs anyway, but in this case she will praise their quick thinking instead of their spontaneous acting.
As others have mentioned, this is an investigation module. For our game (low tier), we spent about 4 hours talking and using skills, and about 20 minutes total to get through 2 quick fights. Our path was unusual. I've bought the module and I suspect that most groups will experience 3 or 4 fights, and in the high tier they look to be tougher.
Also note that this module has a very kind and potentially saddening discussion of religion. Without giving away any in-game terms or religions, I will just say that the discussion has parallels to real-world nihilism and how aimless or pointless that can make some people feel. And while some might hate even the prospect of exploring that (either for religious reasons, or just a hate of philosophy and nihilism itself), I found the module actually made me feel huge empathy for anyone religious -- game world or real world. It was powerful to consider that groups of people were spiritually starving and it manifested as literal starvation and lethargy. Having to talk to those suffering NPCs with compassion could make for interesting role play. In fact, I think even real-world atheists and agnostics might enjoy exploring this and just trying to suss out a belief system that is plausible for what you experience.
In the end, expect to interview a few NPCs, expect to do a fetch mini-quest or two, and expect to eventually "head to the source" and interact directly with the prime movers. Expect to be asked open-ended questions that require you to interpret philosophy, visions, etc. If your GM manages to turn this module into mostly combat, you should know that he or she had to work hard to do that. On its own, The Cost of Enlightenment is all about faith, or the lack thereof, or gods, or the lack thereof, and what you do with that.
EDIT: There is an earlier review by someone else that other reviewers here have called out. One of the things that the other reviewers skipped mentioning about that review is this line: "The scenario is an ‘up on your soap box’, ‘in your face’ assault on traditional family values and has no place in a game that is supposed to be a fun, all-inclusive fantasy game." And I kind of hinted at this in my own review -- there is a possibly emotionally difficult place in the module where you have to think hard about religion. Thankfully, it's fictional game-world religion. However, it does have some parallels to the real world, and it might make some players uncomfortable to be involved. I think GMs need to be considerate about this, and make sure that games don't end up with players soapboxing about the evils of real-world religion. Also, the main NPCs are an interracial lesbian couple, and you kinda HAVE to interact with them. I found this to be lovely. I am certain that some of my conservative religious friends would find this difficult, and if they brought their kids into the game, I suspect some might even have to stand up and say, "This is very uncomfortable, I can't have my kids here," and then leave mid-game.
I suspect some people reading what I just wrote might think I'm suggesting that these religious people are dumb and should indeed just leave. However, I'm not. From a practical standpoint, this has a chance to invalidate tables. It's possible, though I suspect rare, that a game could run with 4 or 5 players, and then see 2 or 3 stand up and say, "No thanks," and then the game just can't continue. So even if it seems silly for religious people to object to a fictional scenario, if they do and it invalidates your game, you might not be so happy with the module. And yes, I think it's the module's fault, not the people who object and leave. They're allowed to have their beliefs -- in fact that's even one of the issues of religious respect that is touched upon IN the module.
Ultimately, I think that the tension this module creates is just... necessary. I respect my friends and if someone sat down to play but found it objectionable, I think I'd respect that too (assuming they could state it respectfully themselves without blowing up about it). However, my respect would be to let them leave in good grace. It would not be to change the module, nor would it be to suggest that the module is ethically incorrect. It's a good module with some good points, and just due to our times, some good people might be uncomfortable with it. I like them anyway, and I like this module anyway too.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-21—Champion's Chalice, Part 2: Agents of the Eye (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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It's OK.aboyd —
Wow, this product has some problems. It's also super-simple.
As others have mentioned, aside from the too-easy combat encounters, the fights are also redundant. Three fights with the same type of enemy each time.
As for the big final fight, I have this to say:
My GM said when he played through this, his group easily beat the final encounter. However, for my group as I played through it, it was hard. The enemy had DR and fast healing and was up on the wall/ceiling. We had very poor ranged attack options. We would do small bits of damage which would be ignored, or we'd get some through only to see it be healed up. Eventually, after many rounds of combat (and my rogue expending over 400 GP in thrown alchemical items which constantly failed to hit), the enemy moved 1 square too close and one of our heavy-hitters was able to end the monster by using a reach weapon.
So I did not find the final encounter to be much of a cakewalk. It felt challenging. I can see how other teams might find it to be super-easy, but we just were not built to make that happen.
As far as the comment I made about the module being "super simple," the entire last half of the module is just a mini-dungeon crawl, and this is where you fight the same kind of monster 3 times in a row. Advance 1 room, fight monster A, advance 1 more room, fight monster A again, etc.
The module does mix it up with some other monsters, but not enough. The GM forum for this module has a walkthrough about how to make 1 of the combat encounters more difficult & interesting, but that isn't enough to save the module from itself.
In the end, this was so easy & simple that we finished it in 2.5 hours. And that was with 1 player taking a full page of notes and everyone rolling skill checks to get backstory. We tried to spend time on things, but there just wasn't enough to do.
So if I feel this way, why did I give it 3 stars, which seems to imply that it's at least an OK time? Well, because it's an OK time. I mean, nothing really stands out as broken or awful; it's just lazy and simple. If you want a simple fun time, this will do that. And that's not terrible -- it just also isn't amazing.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-20: Torrent's Last Will (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Very fun. Head into a difficult environment, but you can plan. You can beat it!aboyd —
My favorite part about this module was dealing with the environment. And it's not necessarily even that hard -- I just really enjoyed the chance to hear what our problems would be (it's no spoiler -- right in the overview text at the top of this Web page it tells you that you're going to the plane of water) and then as a group we all started figuring out what we could do, what we could contribute. Apparently the module expects players to spend a chunk of time (and money) on shopping & planning, and so it even sets aside time for it. People were looking up spells, finding magic items, etc. It was nice to participate in teamwork in a no-pressure, no-combat situation.
One thing your GM should clarify right up front: how do monsters and polymorphed PCs (and companions, and summons) qualify to do full damage in water? The rules for water state that "land-based creatures" have to do half-damage, but what counts as land-based? It's not a creature type, and not officially defined. So for example, if you play a druid and you wildshape into a water elemental... the elemental form is a water type, but the original caster is probably land-based. So does that druid do full damage on a hit (due to being a water elemental), or half damage (due to the PC's land-based origin)? Does being the aquatic type confer full damage, or does living underwater your entire life confer full damage (even if you're not aquatic)? From what I can tell, this is not explored deeply in the GM forums, nor the Rules forum. So expect table variation.
Therefore, expect that you may have to change your game plan. Depending upon what your GM says, you may decide that you'll focus on wildshape, or focus on summons, or focus on your companion. So GMs & players both: get that resolved at the start, so nobody is surprised mid-combat.
And GMs: be careful how you rule on that, because I know of at least 1 way to rule in which all your monsters do half-damage, too. So when you come up with a ruling, make sure it's not so punitive that it wrecks everything across the board. If you're too harsh, the players may hold you to it when it bites you back.
Also, the official rules for many spells when cast underwater is that they "don't work as expected" and you may need to ask your GM. So that's another thing you may wish to clarify up front. Do my lightning spells remain in a line? Do they begin to take on a sphere shape? Is your GM deciding that since the rules don't explicitly say how the GMs may rule, that he/she won't rule at all and everything is exactly the same? Find out beforehand!
So what's good?
OK, so why is this fun? Aside from what is essentially a mini-game to defeat the limitations of water, the story actually furthers the season's plot. I got to hear a lot about the lords of the planes, and have an effect on the outcome (granted, any group that succeeds will "have an effect on the outcome" but at least we're rolling the plot forward). The combat encounters are decent -- they were hard enough to damage us, but not so hard that the team gave up or players got frustrated.
Well, wait a second. One fight was hard. Like really hard. However, advice for GMs: if your players are in high tier and there are only 3 or 4 players at your table, be sure you give them all the advantages listed. Our GM was like, "Wow the 4-player adjustment is really helping you." Then we had the fight. Let's just say that we needed the help.
This game is probably a planner's paradise. Not only can you plan out how to handle water, but in at least one case the PCs become aware of an enemy before combat is engaged, meaning that the PCs can calmly put together a game plan for handling the encounter. Or rush in without planning!
Also, there is a big choice/consequence check in the game. I can't detail much without posting spoilers, but the general idea is that how you approach things and the balance you have between speed and caution can affect a certain someone's impression of you. When we experienced this, some players wanted to take back certain decisions, or convince the GM that the group could still fix things after the fact. But that isn't how the adventure works, and honestly I was grateful for it. I like that you are making choices that you don't even know will have an effect, and you absolutely get an advantage either way, but you can't get both advantages. Here, I'll spoiler this just so that people who have played it can match up what I'm talking about:
There is a secret tracking system for getting "points" that lead to a boon. One of the points is that you can work on a mural. However, the mural is right after a fight at the entry way. Why does that matter? Because all our players came into that mural area with buffs up & running. We messed with the mural for a few minutes and then said "Screw it, we can come back later, we need to get moving while the buffs are still active." And then we met with the "certain someone" and part of the good or bad impression you make is if you can tell the story of the mural. This is where our players started trying to suggest that they'd get back to the mural and should get credit for that. But no, the certain someone is forming an impression of you. If you don't already have the ability to explain the mural story when you meet up, then the impression is made. So we didn't get credit for finishing the mural, even though we could finish it after the fact. However, we did get to use our buffs in every fight. That was our choice, we had to live with it.
Overall, very fun. Not perfect, not 5 stars, but very good. There is that 1 fight that I suspect will be too hard for a few groups, and as the previous review noted, the game can run long. Set aside 5 hours for this one, maybe even more if the players are exploring every little thing and the GM wishes to run all the optional stuff. So I think this adventure is pretty great and if we take 1 star off for the too-hard fight and a few other nitpicks, we still have a 4-star product. Not bad at all.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-18—Champion's Chalice, Part 1: Blazing Dangerous Trails (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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If this is run correctly, at high tier it should be a TPK.aboyd —
Note: Apparently my review has caused such concern that people are messaging me about it. I thank those users for the feedback, which I would like to address here in some spoiler text:
Thank you for giving me the chance to clarify that. And now, on with the review!
This is basically 1 long race. You'll have choices to speed up (but possibly starve or take damage), or slow down (and really make use of the land). The path you choose is also open. It appears that these choices do affect gameplay. My GM noted that his play-through was vastly different from mine -- whereas he was bored by the constant endless skill checks, we were nearly killed from constant combat encounters. In fact, we certainly should have been all killed, but the GM pulled punches. For example:
One encounter involves ability damage. My character should have ended up with about 20 points of damage, putting me out of the game entirely. However, once PCs were knocked out due to an ability score reaching 0, our GM stopped having us save, and just left us at 0. This is what I mean by the GM was "pulling punches." By the rules, ability damage can go into negatives, and then you have to rest for days, weeks, or months to come out of unconsciousness. In my case, I should have needed 13 days of bedrest before I would have a strength of 1. However, since the GM hand-waved everything below 0, I was able to get back in the game after just 1 night of sleep. Without this hand-waving or rule mistake, we were almost guaranteed to all die, or at least fail the race.
And no, for those of you thinking that spells/potions can easily speed up healing ability damage, you mostly can't. You're stripped of gear and unable to hire spellcasters. So unless you have a PC who already has Lesser Restoration on his/her list, you're outta luck. Although heal checks can speed the natural recovery of ability points.
So... what are the redeeming qualities of this module? If you like an open-ended chase/race, that's kinda cool. If you ever thought, "Pathfinder Society doesn't reward crafting very much," then you might like this. (By the way, in a previous review from someone else, he/she stated that it's totally unfair to rely on crafting for some parts of the game when Pathfinder Society has banned crafting. However, they're 2 different crafting "things." Society bans crafting like Scribe Scroll, Brew Potion, and so on. Basically the magic item feats. Pathfinder Society does not ban the crafting skill, and in fact it's one of the few ways your character can make money during down time. Those skills are what come into play here, and in a very generous fashion. So it's not a bad implementation, and it's wrong to think that nobody would or should have those skills -- anybody who makes money during down time might have a crafting skill that qualifies.)
Also, I really like the idea that players can ask about terrain and possibly find good/bad aspects for whatever they need. I also enjoyed watching a fellow player interact with the rival teams. The tension around what can or cannot be brought on the journey and whether to cheat (and for some that's a moral issue, and for others it's a "we're worried about getting caught" issue) also made for fun discussion around the table. As a GM, I'll enjoy prepping for that stuff, maybe making little table tents with data about each option.
So then why give it 1 star?!? Unfortunately, one encounter should be deadly pretty much 90% of the time. The fact that teams are getting through it suggests to me that GMs are being overly nice (as mine was, in the previously spoiler'd text). I love that GMs are showing mercy, essentially. However, in Pathfinder Society, you're supposed to run the module as-is. So, let's look at it:
The blood caterpillars, high tier. There are 3 of them in high tier, and the 4 player adjustment does not remove any of them. So, this is a CR 7 fight against a team that maybe averages 4th level. So, that might normally be a tough but possible fight. However, as previously noted, PCs are stripped of gear. So your 3rd to 5th level team is going into a super-hard fight, with no gear or what they could improvise/craft/scavenge.
So let's math this out. When the 3 caterpillars attack, they each get a bite and bristle. The bites do 13 points of damage on average, and the bristles do 7 points on average. That's 20 points, or 60 points per round from all 3. Look at your most recent 4th level PC, or any of the pre-gens. Can any of them survive 60 points? Of course, the caterpillars can spread out the damage, so that might help the PCs survive. Also, the monsters only have a +3 to attack rolls with the bristles, so the bristles shouldn't hit often. Or should they? Remember that the PCs had their armor stripped from them. So the PCs might be easy targets, depending upon if they crafted/scavenged armor or not. Ouch.
Unfortunately, that's not all. Those bristles do 2 other awful things. First, your PC is auto-hit by bristles any time you attack a caterpillar in melee, unless you can pass a DC 16 reflex save (which you have to make for EACH hit). So these caterpillars are doing an extra 7 points of damage to anyone who attacks. If you have 3 PCs in melee, that's an extra 21 points of damage per round. So the monsters are up to 81 points of damage/round. Against level 3-5 PCs.
But there's more! The other bad thing is that the bristles deal poison damage with a fortitude save DC of 15. If you fail, that's 1d4 strength damage per round (save each round -- however, in the game I attended, my PC failed all 6 saves). My strength 10 character had a strength score of -1 by round 3, and went unconscious.
But wait! We're still not done. Poison in Pathfinder stacks in a weird way. If you are hit with poison again while already poisoned, then any subsequent saving throws are at +2 to the DC. So that fortitude of 15 becomes a 17. You can see how getting hit 2 or 3 times by bristles turns the saving throw into something very difficult. And lastly, because ability scores can go negative, and because most groups won't have a healer with Lesser Restoration already on the daily list of spells, it's likely that the PCs must rest for days if they are poisoned and the GM runs it correctly, and thus the PCs should very often lose the race, or maybe even die as PCs start falling over mid-fight from strength loss or HP damage.
The monsters also have reach, so good luck to the PCs who were stripped of reach weapons. AOOs will happen a lot to the PCs here.
Everything I just wrote is using averages, so it could even be worse than what I wrote. However, let's assume it will go better for the PCs. I assumed in my math that everything hit, but that's silly, even if the PCs have no armor (or bad armor). Maybe that 81 HP drops to 50/round. And maybe by round 3 one is dead, dropping damage to 30 HP for a round or two, and then the fight's over. That's still... 130-160 points of damage. Unless your team has lots of barbarians & fighters on it, or your team has a channel energy healer who can burst 10+ points of healing every round, no team of 5th level PCs can handle such a high amount of damage, much less level 4 PCs. And that's the optimistic math.
Exception: 5th level wizards who have saved their Fireball spells, and have a few of them, might be able to wipe out the caterpillars without getting close, thus saving the entire party. However, this will likely kill the halfling hostages in the trees.
Lastly, note that this fight is not the "super hard fight with unfair DR" that everyone else is complaining about in their reviews. That's a whole other too-hard fight. So... if you wanted to play this module, try to find a GM who is rather forgiving or sucks at the rules. You play with a GM who is good at the rules, and you gonna die.
Whew! THAT is insane. That's 1 star.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-14: To Seal the Shadow (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Apologies to the author, but...aboyd —
...I'm going to screw up his nice 4-star rating.
The other reviews are right -- the "verbal combat encounter" rules are too much (about 8 pages of player handouts if I remember correctly). I got my "rule packet," started reading, and then... stopped. I thought, there is no chance of me reading through 8 pages in a timely fashion, and little chance of decent reading comprehension in a noisy game store, AND we still have to fit the game into a 4 hour window. No way.
Unlike the other reviewers, I feel that alone is enough to knock the module down to 3 stars. "But wait!" you might say. "You gave it 2 stars!" Yeah, well, that's because there is more bad.
The 3 wayang ceremony aspects were not fun (for me). Granted, the first (a fake combat) was a bit silly, and I enjoyed that. I took the role of the tactician know-it-all, and was leaping on objects to get higher ground, and spouting info about the enemy's stat blocks. It was cheesy acting amusement. But the actual fight itself wasn't much of anything, and nobody else at the table was bothering to portray the roles they were given. So most of the fun was just me amusing me.
The second ceremony "thing" was to do the verbal combat. This would be very fun with players who geek out on reading the system and knowing it well, and if you had a 6 hour time slot with a private/quiet place to play. I didn't want to geek out on the reading, and we didn't have a quiet place. So it just... was a thing that happened. Not much else to say about it.
The third ceremony was meh. Here's why:
The shadow puppets concept itself was not my idea of fun. However, the whole "puppets are interrupted because somebody goes crazy and tries to unleash the ultimate evil" thing? Yeah, the module telegraphed its moves, totally predictable. And, entirely contrived. As it happened, I was just shaking my head because it felt like the module author just had to have someone be stupid so that the PCs could have a fight.
I'm also a little exhausted by modules that suggest a world-ending problem is at hand, but somehow 1st level characters can handily solve it. Really? Was it really likely to end anything if some ex-farmers with swords can end the threat?
I think if you are interested in wayang culture, you might like this. I think if you hear things like "you're going to put on a play with puppets" and you feel happy about that, then you might like this. I think if you could get the verbal combat rules beforehand, have them memorized, and just whip through that mini-game because you know what you're doing, then you might like this.
Unfortunately, none of that applied to me.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-12—Tyranny of Winds, Part 3: Caught in the Eclipse (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Well, it solves the mystery, but it isn't amazing.aboyd —
The two reviews prior to this one are correct & incorrect at the same time (just in my opinion). That is, there are some exciting parts, and some bad parts. However, I don't feel that this module is defined by only the good or bad -- 1 star rating or 5 star rating, either way feels too extreme. It's a sum of all parts, and the sum is, well, okay.
First, I agree that the names in this product are garbage. They're great if you think jokey names are funny and enjoyable. For me, they took me right out of the story. I wanted to explore the plane of air with all its unique civilization and interesting otherworldly creatures, and instead we get a generic ice troll named Bitterbite. We may as well not even be on another plane. The module keeps hitting me over the head with reminders that this is just a silly game and I shouldn't expect to experience anything unique or new.
(EDIT: There is a review more recent than my own, in which the author seems to have misunderstood this complaint. The problem is not that the names are weird. The problem is the opposite: they're generic. They're boring, stupid, dull, and lazy. They indicate that the author or powers-that-be did no thinking about how otherworldly this plane should have been. Instead, we get the same cheesy names that we get when we play generic fantasy module #100 on the world of Golarion.)
Second, this trilogy has a pretty major flaw, which I already was worried about in my review of part 2: part 1 tells us to go find Jamila and return the abacus and codex that she stole, and yet those items aren't even mentioned in part 2 (though it mentions some other codex, just to confuse things), and the same is true of part 3, almost. It's easy to miss. There is a handout with a throwaway line about "We've been compensated for our loss" and that's it. Players invested in helping out may miss that, and even if they see it they may be disappointed to realize that they really had no hand in the recovery of items.
One thing I loved & hated: the module starts right out by explaining who Jamila really is and why she did what she did. So chasing her for the 2 prior modules, and trying to solve the mystery of her behavior, is instantly resolved as you start this module. That's good if you really cared about the story and wanted to know. It's bad because... well, just like a movie or book that resolves huge plot points with plain exposition, the disappointment here is that we don't get to see the main characters (our PCs) actually solve anything. We're just told.
That builds on the frustration I expressed in my review of part 2 in this series. That is, I wanted to catch Jamila and uncover why she turned traitor, but part 2 shot us in a completely different direction -- she doesn't even feature in the story! And so here in part 3, I still want to solve that, but it doesn't even need action from us. It's just solved for us, and we're sent on a revised mission instead.
But enough complaining. This adventure does many things right. The main thing, and GMs would do well to remind players of this throughout the module: in the plane of air, gravity is subjective. Anyone at any time can decide that gravity is pulling them into the air in a particular direction. It's scary and dangerous if you don't have a good wisdom score (since wisdom DCs are how you do it) but if you have even 1 character in the group with a great wisdom score, it can be very useful and fun.
The best moment? Standing on a ship, middle of a confrontation, and suddenly a player declares, "Wait. I don't have to stand on this ship, do I? I can just... float away, right?" And then he did. Our GM was a little sad, because a bigger map was needed to show characters "falling" away at hundreds of feet per round. But other than that, it was great.
What else is good? The final fight. It's going to be a swingy fight where some players complain it's too hard and others complain it's a cakewalk (yep, one of those kinds of fights). Expect table variation. However, the map is visually intriguing, and the concept of:
a mid-air fight with movement in all 3 dimensions is very exciting. Personally, I own the combat tiers that Paizo used to sell and the elevation indicators that Paizo still sells, and so when I run this I will put that all to good use. We are going to have minis up in the air, hovering all over the place.
I enjoyed playing that final fight, and I expect I will enjoy running it, too.
Overall, my fears about this trilogy were confirmed: it's serviceable, it's competent (well, mostly), but it never made it to any higher level of quality. If you want to run a trilogy in PFS, this will do, but it won't be the best choice or even close. If you wanted to run a single module from this trilogy, it will be OK, but it will never compare to any of the truly memorable/wonderful modules we've seen in the past. On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd rate this a 6 or 7.
Now, some tips for GMs:
Three notes about the final encounter:
PS: This module has 2 big failure points, or bottlenecks where it's possible that the PCs just fail with no solution. You may need to help them with some foreshadowing. First, without anyone having any way to speak Auran, it's possible that they simply never get far enough to even hire a translator. They need at least a meager Comprehend Languages scroll, or a Share Language scroll, just to get started. Second point of failure: the final fight will be brutal if the PCs are low wisdom and never bought potions of Fly. That final fight desperately needs mobile PCs. Without that, they can be bombed/strafed from afar by highly mobile air creatures. Your fighter types stuck on a plank in the sky will feel utterly useless. Light hints might be appreciated by your players.
EDIT, for Le Petite Mort: You didn't like the final "cool" magic item? Brace yourself; it's even worse than you imagined:
This 20000 GP item has a badly worded weakness. Here is the wording: "if the Horn of the Hurricane is used magically more than once in a given day, there is a 20% cumulative chance with each extra use that it explodes and deals 10d6 points of electricity damage to the person who is sounding it." The 20% cumulative chance is completely ambiguous. Is it per day? Is it the lifetime of the object? Is it per owner? The quoted sentence begins with text about the "given day," so in context it may only mean that you track extra uses for that given day, and then the explosion chance resets. If it doesn't reset, then the item is extremely prone to destruction and should likely only be considered an item to sell, as it would be very unreliable.
In a home game, the GM could make a ruling that helps the players to see the value in having the item. In PFS, players cannot rely upon one GM's ruling to be abided by another GM. So the item that one GM ruled in such a way as to make it worthwhile could be completely undone by the next GM to run a scenario for you.
In addition, this item is probably limited in this way so as to make it a useful one-use item in the upcoming modules, without overpowering everything. However, the author and the staff in charge of the upcoming releases might not be aware that the Make Whole spell will repair a completely destroyed item for cheap. So for example, if I wanted to utterly wreak havoc in the big combat-heavy team module that always closes a season, I could buy this item and 4 or 5 scrolls of Make Whole. I could blow the horn like crazy, over and over again, blowing past every combat encounter. When the horn explodes, I could cast Make Whole, and then blow it again. (And while the blast effect bypasses the energy resistance of air creatures, the PCs are most likely not air creatures. This means they can put up energy resistance, ignore or mostly ignore the explosion damage, and keep blasting away at air creatures.)
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-05: Ungrounded but Unbroken (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Tell your players what the title means. It may help lessen the unhappiness.aboyd —
For those of you who do not know this, around the time this module was conceived, a movie came out called Unbroken. It tells the story of a prisoner who is subjected to very harsh treatment, but somehow perseveres. You'll notice that the title of this module calls back to that movie. And my hint to GMs is that if you mention this to your players before the game starts, it may soften the blow.
You will see in other reviews that some people said things such as, "I do not find being yelled at and degraded to be a fun way to spend a game night." However, if players are aware of the homage to the movie, they may find the obnoxious captain bearable, knowing that this is the module's "shtick" or angle, and that like the movie, there may be some justice in the end.
Having said that, I personally found the module to be another un-word: unrelenting. Part of this was not the module's fault. If you're a GM, read this:
During the obstacle course, our GM expressly forbade any and all gear, and all magic. In the real world, at the table, it got heated before we ever did anything, as we questioned this and so the GM forcefully clarified that using anything other than "gear provided" (none) would be a cheat and a demerit. Because of this, we largely failed every skill check. However, now that I've purchased the module, I can see that it is only the climbing wall in which the captain objects to use of rope or magic, and it isn't in advance as a warning. It's just that if magic is used, then the captain mocks the PCs. This makes sense, as the wall is the only trapped obstacle, so the captain likely wants the PCs to be as weak as possible when the trap is sprung. Using this one limited prohibition against magic in unlimited fashion for ALL obstacles effectively rendered the full course impossible for us. With any other GM, my luck domain cleric would have likely been able to use a supernatural ability to give re-rolls to some PCs at various obstacles, granting us some success.
During the bridge fight, my cleric was bull-rushed off the edge on round 1 and removed from the fight. I had Feather Fall and was told that I was falling for all the remaining rounds of the fight (so hundreds of feet down, as the fight went on for many rounds after I fell). Because of this, I was unable to heal anyone, nor could I get back in the fight. One PC went to something like -20 HP because of this, and only survived due to the store boon that Paizo put out -- the one that grants you a +10 bonus for buying $50+ worth of store products. The GM suggested there was a lesson to be learned there, about how to be a proper cleric and not take risks. I mostly declined to learn the lesson, saying that I wanted to take risks even after seeing the cost. My suspicion was that there was no lesson to be learned. Lo and behold, upon checking the module afterwards, I discovered that it says "The fall is just 10 feet. You can climb out with just a DC 15 climb check." That's much more plausible, given our low level. So I could have been back in the fight immediately, and should have been able to keep everyone from going unconscious.
I wrote all that spoiler text so there would be a basis for this plea to GMs: follow the module. Don't extrapolate more than what is written there. The module is already getting bad ratings, and if you make an already harsh module even harsher, your players are not going to enjoy your game. Having said that, some blame does lie with the module. Some things are simply impossible if you don't have the one single thing needed. Example:
During the bridge fight, there are multiple spots where the PCs are expected to use Handle Animal (beetles & agrawgh). This is a trained-only skill, so if nobody has ranks, then it simply cannot be done. As luck would have it, our party had nobody with a rank in that skill. So we auto-failed all the way through that. There were no alternatives. EDIT: nope. Reading the module some more, it appears that calming the agrawgh could have been a Diplomacy check OR any healing. We were told "Handle Animal." I'm going to not fault the module here. I'm going to adjust my 2 star rating to a 3 star rating because of this.
OK, finally, let me talk about the good part. Dell is interesting! Check out this bit of backstory for one encounter with him:
"Dell Darkblade, the unofficial leader of the group, is secretly thrilled that the captain’s attention shifted to the PCs. He’s afraid his friends can’t take much more before they break. When the captain ordered him to cheat, Dell refused, only to watch one of his friends get dragged into the captain’s office and severely beaten. Dell quickly recanted to spare his friends from further harm. He stoically carries the secrets of the rigged obstacle course and the poisoned weapons, but the burden weighs heavily on his heart."
If you are doing more of a role-play kind of game, this character is fun & difficult to act out. He has 3 conflicting goals going at once! He could make decisions in any direction, or refuse, and there's a great justification for all of it. His 3 goals are:
1: Get the captain to focus on the PCs. 2: Stop the cheating. 3: Protect his friends. Each goal wins out, until one of the other goals trumps it. He's having a terrible time juggling them all.
And that can make for some good social interactions! Overall, this module rates as "meh" or "OK" to me. It might be better, but I think my GM's presentation of the module sorta corrupted my view of it. Maybe after running the module I'll boost the star rating. We'll see.
EDIT (June 5, 2017): I've now run the module multiple times, and I have to confess that even with great effort to make it enjoyable, players just don't enjoy this. Here is what one player emailed to me after the module: "As for your GM style, I enjoyed it immensely. The NPCs had life and the module moved along and you told a good story. As for the module itself, it was crap - certainly in the bottom few. There was an overwhelming dependency on skills. So much of our final success depended on diplomacy, which is stupid for a module all about martial tests. Also, it handicapped non fighters throughout the previous parts."
For one group, I was unable to convince them to do that 1 bad thing, that 1 taboo thing, that is so important. If you've run it, you know what I'm talking about -- the thing that reveals all the plot, but which no person with military background would ever do. The group had military people in it, and they just simply refused to take the hint. They talked it over, but just rejected the notion at every point. And so in the end their Chronicle sheets were not ideal and they felt the whole thing was rather stupid.
Because of these issues, I'm finally giving up on the module, and lowering my rating to 2 stars. Note that in a home game, you could fix this easily and it'd be fine. There ARE fun encounters. I really enjoyed running it because if you take your time it can be a 6 or even 7 hour game with lots to do. Some of the combat encounters have fun tactical options. However, I just cannot get over the fact that the game run as-is for PFS will often upset players. That's the bottom line. Some will find it unfair, some will find it stupid, and some will call it crap, even if you ran it to the best of your ability.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-10—Tyranny of Winds, Part 2: Secrets of the Endless Sky (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Hmm. I'm a little meh here, but still having fun....aboyd —
So... I wrote in my review of part 1 of this trilogy that it didn't merit 4 or 5 stars like a really outstanding, talked-about module. However, I also wrote that it worked, that it was serviceable, that a pretty good time was had at the table.
And now part 2... sorta just does the same. I don't know what I expected. I guess I thought it would pick up steam as the trilogy moved on. It doesn't.
Here's the thing. If you could take part 2 as a standalone module, it works. It's fun. But as part of a trilogy, and part of an ongoing chase, it sure didn't feel very chasey. In fact, the entire original intention of the 1st module seems to have vanished. Are we still chasing a person? No? So what are we doing?
Here is what we are doing:
It turns out we're going after a gem, the Untouchable Opal, which serves as a magical prison for Ranginori -- the leader of the plane of air. Now you might think, aha, this is what Jamila stole in part 1. Except... she stole a codex & abacus in part 1. AND it turns out Pathfinder Society already has the gem. So all they want from us is information about how to release Ranginori from the gem. You might wonder then, does Jamila even tie into this module at all? Kinda. She's the excuse to go on this information-gathering mission. It turns out, she fled to a city named Armun Kelisk in the plane of air. And that's where info about the Untouchable Opal is stored. So the setup is like this: "Hey go find Jamila in Armun Kelisk. Oh, and while you're there, learn about the opal." And then Jamila is never mentioned again (almost -- a couple NPCs will say "maybe I saw her?" if players ask about her). The items she stole are never mentioned again. In fact, if the players aren't clear, they're going to assume that Jamila stole the opal. Who can blame them? They're trying to find the tie to the previous module.
Even if the players ARE clear about the opal, then there may be a whole new round of questions. For example, why does Pathfinder Society care about this gem? And why are we unlocking the gem if an obscure group called The Concordance suggests that unlocking the gem will throw the planes into chaos and disarray? And what does this have to do with Jamila anyway (this is the most difficult question right now, because it honestly appears to be only tangentially related as far as the module text is concerned).
As a tip for GMs, don't get confused, even though the module will do its best to throw you off. There is a codex mentioned in part 2. However, it is not the codex that Jamila stole in part 1. So when you start thinking "these 2 modules ARE tied together" you better check yourself. They're not tied together.
I'm starting to get worried that this trilogy is becoming mired in its own aspirations. I worry that it's doing too much. I didn't understand half of what I wrote in the spoiler text until I bought the module. We shift goals so quickly that it's difficult to even track what the point is or why Pathfinder Society leadership is giving us missions.
My advice. While part 3 may turn this around and tie up everything with a pretty bow, for now my suggestion if you are running part 1 & 2 is to be really blunt with the players at the start: this is a trilogy in name only. People will have much, much more fun if they are not hung up on trying to continue the chase from part 1. Just tear the band-aid off, so to speak.
There is good reason to do that. If you can let go of expectations, there is a fun module in here. There is another one of those "interview people at a social event" mini-games here, just like in the older Bid for Alabastrine module. I know some people hate those, but I don't. I find them fun. Most encounters can be dealt with peacefully or with combat. This module even has a riddle -- although I'm upset that it's 100% player skill instead of any character skill. For example, we asked if our wizard with an INT of 20 was smart enough to get a hint about the riddle. Answer? Nope.
There is another riddle/puzzle with some gems & doors, and that was enjoyable too, although it also had no options for character skill. It was all down to what the players could divine at the table.
Bottom line: the game is enjoyable, but when I run it I intend to almost run them as stand-alone modules. The connections between part 1 & 2 are tenuous at best, and some things might make the players ask, "Hey, Pathfinder Venture Captains, are you sure you know what you're doing?" Boy, I really hope part 3 can bring this all together.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-08—Tyranny of Winds, Part 1: The Sandstorm Prophecy (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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I gave this "only" 3 stars, but it's actually pretty OK!aboyd —
I think 4 & 5 stars should be reserved for the obviously great games. So there isn't anything wrong with this product. It worked out fine for us! It just isn't going to be as loved as some of the most talked-about modules in PFS.
Overall, the game is a chase, but it covers 3 modules so don't expect a resolution here in part 1. Instead, you're going to ask questions, gear up, and make decisions about your pursuit. Then, you'll start the adventure and quickly stumble onto some groups that will aid you or hinder you. How you handle them and the challenges they put before you will determine how your characters head into part 2.
The adventure is fun. It seems like you can negotiate or fight your way through some obstacles, so both styles of play are to be recommended. The NPCs don't just blurt out all their secrets, so there are different factions you can side with, or be fooled into siding with. We had 2 tables of this game running at the same time (low tier & high tier) and each table picked a different side but each table also felt that their decision was "right." Granted, one group was able to find a lot more info than the other group was, so there may in fact be an objective "good" side to uncover, but for the most part it was fuzzy and down to debate. I think the module author should be proud to have created a scenario where various groups feel like they've done the best option, and yet they are completely different choices.
I played a paladin, and there are some gray/difficult areas here. At one point, two factions were butting heads, and black & white ideas like "Detect Evil!" are not useful. There are issues with desecration of sacred ground, racism, non-violence, and diplomacy. (In some cases, even if you want a certain solution, you simply won't get it unless your character was built to be good at that. Some people may hate that their role play must be backed up with good die rolls, but I liked it. We wanted a peaceful solution, but even with huge diplomacy bonuses, we were really struggling, and kind of nervous about the outcome. To me, it felt like our character builds were important. You are only going to unlock the options that you are actually good at.)
In conclusion, I'd say it was a fun, simple romp. There are some elemental challenges as you'd expect from season 8, and some good fights or negotiations, depending upon your skill. I don't yet see the bigger plot for season 8 here, but there is a trickle of information. Finally, I'd like to give you a tip. It's hardly a spoiler, and I've already hinted at it, but I'll spoiler this tip just in case. This is my suggestion about what types of characters to bring to this session:
This is not the module for a "jack of all trades, master of none." If you intend to fight, bring someone good at fighting. If you intend to be skilled, be very skilled. If you intend to talk, you better be charismatic with lots of ranks in diplomacy. At least at the high tier, my impression was that characters who are average at a lot of things will feel mostly useless, while someone who is very good at one thing will at least get time to shine.
This meta-info isn't much of a spoiler, but it does reveal one tiny bit of info in the introduction, so if you're hard core, take a pass on reading this. However, I include this because multiple people in my group said loudly "Are you kidding me?!?" at the start of the adventure, and yet I'm fairly sure the module was not intending to be unfair (I haven't read it). So, protect yourself. Get informed:
When we heard that we would be journeying into extremely hot regions, many of us had memories of another trilogy, where you go into extreme weather and take environmental damage if you are not prepared. So, being smart, we asked how much gear we needed. In character, we asked the Venture Captain NPC, "Will we be gone for months, or days? Should we get entire wands of Endure Elements, or just a single scroll?"
Our GM shrugged and said "ehhh... you're chasing someone, you don't know...."
So, we bought wands. We bought hot weather outfits. We did everything we could, since it seemed like we might be crossing an entire desert. We told the GM what we were getting, he seemed fine with it, and then he spoke the read-aloud text as the chase gets underway: "After two hours of travel, you reach your first goal."
We were like, "Holy cow ARE YOU SERIOUS?" We blew 2 prestige and extra cash to buy specialized gear for a 2 hour walk? None of the players had the Golarion map memorized, so none of us had any idea of the size of the landscape we were covering. The Venture Captain NPC has got to know the local region, right? He could have hinted that it was days of hiking instead of weeks or months, at least.
Here are a few things that appear to be difficult or broken in the module. This is probably mostly useful for GMs.
The module has a blind spot for some edge cases. In our group, we attempted to use diplomacy on the encounter with the female researcher. The DCs were too high and we failed. However, failing to be diplomatic did not not convince us to murder the researcher. She seemed innocent or at least ignorant. So we simply refused to do what was asked. The GM said, "You have to do something." And so I suggested we just leave. The GM suggested that would result in a failure of everything because the module had no handling for players who 1) cannot make the researcher relocate, and 2) refuse to murder her.
Also, my previous comment about "bring someone really good at something" might be even more important than I hinted at. The module has a few areas where a TPK is very possible, and the only way out of it is to be really good at something. For example, the sandman fight, with three sleep auras? The best way to beat that is to be an elf, or to have a really high will save. Likewise, the final fight involves a high AC flying target with DR. The best way to beat it is to have a brute who can reliably do 15+ points of damage each hit.
Some of those issues go away if you have 6 or 7 PCs, just due to sheer number of options. We had 4 PCs with no ability to fly, and twice found ourselves with multiple people down.
This module rewards players for having gear. Please remind players to gear up, even if you don't give specifics. Simple things like rope & rations help, but cool things like ways to fly will obviously be useful in a module about air elementals. And if they have no big damage dealer, then they need a pile of healing.
Last comment, in regards to that healing. In the final fight, the elemental has whirlwind form, and my GM tells me that the tactics insist that it be used as the opening attack. Whirlwind is too powerful at this level, and should necessitate a TPK. Hence, healing. Lots of it. And therefore, please be fair and use the standard action to activate it. Don't turn it on for free (supernatural abilities need a standard to activate). The elemental will still have a move action and can scoop up someone nearby and drop 'em, but that'll be limited by the single move action. Also, air elementals don't get to move upward at full speed. They're half speed like everyone else. It's only the old D&D 3.5 rules that allowed elementals to fly upward at full speed. So as you go around the battlefield scooping up targets and dropping them, remember to keep those limitations in mind. Note: once the whirlwind is activated, it doesn't need to be re-activated every round.
As for the dangerousness of the whirlwind, here are some things to know. It does not provoke AOO no matter what. It can move by people, and they get no AOO. It can move into a target's square to pick them up, and they get no AOO. See the rules for whirlwind at the back of any of the Bestiary books. The whirlwind isn't limited to a number of attacks -- just limited by movement. So if it has a full round to act as a whirlwind, that means it can double-move over probably everyone, and then fly as high as possible and release them for falling damage. (If the players don't know to ready actions as their only way to hit this thing, you probably should give 'em a hint around the 2nd time they're getting picked up.) And don't forget that there are two saves before a PC is picked up. The first save determines if the PC takes damage. Only if they fail that do you then do the 2nd save, to determine if the PC is picked up. EDIT: What I just wrote is wrong. According to the monster rules for whirlwind, you must make the 2nd save even if you made the 1st. They function independently. That makes the whirlwind more scary! Watch out.
Tip: Never pick up a target and keep them in the whirlwind. Always fly as high as you can on that turn and drop them. If you keep them in the whirlwind (maybe hoping to fly higher on the 2nd turn), then on their turn they can grapple the whirlwind. If they win, one of the rules of grapple is that you cannot move, and cannot "let go" of the grapple unless you win a check. This means a PC might put the air elemental into what is effectively a stun lock, due to an edge case in the grapple rules. So pick up, drop. Pick up, drop.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #8-01: Portent's Peril (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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I hope it was just my GM....aboyd —
So... I agree with the review by Zahir ibn Mahmoud ibn Jothan. In my game, I was playing the fighter with 20 feet of movement speed. During the final crowd scene, I could not get to the enemy before the entire encounter ended. Our GM did not offer us any crowd control options. I believed I had an amazing item to deal with the problem: flashbombs. They cause no damage but can daze or blind for a few rounds. I thought hurling those into the crowd might at least get them running from the source of the flashes. Instead, the GM simply shrugged and said "now they are a bunch of blind people standing around." He wouldn't change the terrain obstacle the matter what creative ideas we had. In the end, I mapped out exactly how many turns it would take me to reach the enemy, and then I pulled out my cell phone, and surfed the Internet for 30 minutes while I waited for my character to reach the fight. The GM seemed fine with this. I was not.
I sincerely hope the module is not actually written to cause this kind of boring game play.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #7–27: Beyond Azlant Ridge (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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We survived this only because our GM was unprepared.aboyd —
I'm going to go into spoilers in a moment, but first: the gist of this for anyone who wants to avoid spoilers is that Fred Jervis wrote a review right before this one in which he calls the final fight "undoable" and that's pretty much right. If your GM is playing by the rules, this module should end in failure. If it didn't, your GM fudged things in your favor. In a home game that's awesome, but in Pathfinder Society modules are supposed to be run as-is, and evaluated as-is. So there's a problem here.
Also, if you are reading this review, you are probably seeing it under the "Product Reviews" tab on the product's page. You can also click into the "Product Discussion" tab to read one person's spoiler-tagged comments, headed "This Adventure is BS." He does in fact make good points, which I will go into here in my spoilers:
As mentioned on the Product Discussion, the enemy monster at the end is a gargantuan CR 15 monster called xacarba, from Bestiary 2. If you sneak into its chamber before you are supposed to, it is listed at full power and it is written that the monster intends to "spill blood" and "does not parley" with PCs who are just level 3 to 7. So of course, PCs will instantly die. The module provides no way around this. If the PCs enter early, kill them.
The monster has AC 31, is immune/resistant to most energy & spell attacks, has DR 10, hits AC 45 on average for its attack rolls, and deals 61 HP average damage each round (plus 2d6+9 if its free grab attack succeeds and constricts, which it will because it has +37 CMB, so it regularly gets 50+ on its grapple checks). There is no way for a typical 3rd level PC to survive that.
If the PCs wait for their ally (the "Azlanti Monolith" or giant robot), and engage the monster only then, the monolith will grapple the xacarba. This lowers the monster's CR to 6 in the low tier and CR 9 in the high tier. That might seem totally more appropriate, but the way the author lowered the CR is by applying an "impeded" template that isn't available to us -- only the author has it or knows of it. And so, we can only see what the author provided in the modified stat block. Unfortunately, it doesn't modify the monster's CMB. Or, if it does, it isn't listed! So essentially it's a CR 6 monster that still has +37 to CMB checks. Couple that with, say, a grapple roll of 10 or 15 on the die, and the monster is grappling/constricting a PC unless he/she has a CMD in the 50s or higher. At level 3.
The monster also has its SR, energy resistance, and DR at full power, so a lot of the monster stats are unbeatable or close to it. For example, with the monster's spell resistance of 26 no matter what tier, a 5th level caster cannot beat it ever -- even a natural 20 + 5 (for being a 5th level caster) will result in only a 25 to beat the spell resistance of 26, and thus fall short. Natural 20s on a caster level check do not auto-succeed, so it's simply impossible.
In addition, it can turn the spells against the party. If the wizard tries to cast Confusion on the beast, the monster can redirect that against the group's barbarian/fighter/martial class as an immediate action. So the melee types will run in to hit with weapons (the only thing that kind-of works) and get grappled, while the spellcasters in the back maybe avoid grappling but are useless or accidentally wreck their own party.
The one consolation here is that the damage is lowered, thankfully. However by round 3, it's likely that your 3rd level PCs have each taken about 33 HP damage on average if they were grappled. At the high tier it's roughly double that, so 60+ points of damage to your level 6 & 7 PCs. That's not guaranteed death, but it is guaranteed to take some PCs out of the fight and render them unconscious, at which point the monster will grapple the remaining 1 or 2 PCs and take them out. You can see how the module is swiftly herding the PCs toward failure.
But wait, you might say. There is a puzzle that is rumored to stop all this, right? Well, except that it requires running around the xacarba, and thus enduring AOO from it (and thus, accepting grapple, and thus accepting constrict, and thus accepting you are out of the fight). There are some boons you can get to aid you, but in my game at least, this wasn't enough to protect anyone from going down.
The only thing that protected us? Our GM had no idea how to run such a high level monster in such a low level module, and he ran it wrong, and we survived due to error.
Pray that your GM is inept, because that is the only reason why PCs should get away with surviving this in PFS.
I gave this 3 stars because I can run this in a home game and fix these issues in about 5 seconds. Also, it's a follow-up to some older modules that were fun, and this has enough callbacks to win on nostalgia a little bit. Thanks.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #6–07: Valley of Veiled Flame (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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I don't even remember what I titled this.aboyd —
After writing a nicely formatted 8 or 9 paragraph review, Paizo's system ate the entire thing when I tried to preview it, and it wouldn't let me backtrack. So, here's a terse summary.
With the module providing no compelling reason to do the things that it wants done -- and in fact warning us at multiple points not to do it -- we could only fall back on the Pathfinder Society motto: Explore, Report, Cooperate. So, we cooperated with the authorities, and negotiated for the release of the Pathfinder Society team that was being held. We then left in peace, and the GM declared the module over. Total game time: 70 or 80 minutes. Alarmed, we then entertained a 30 minute metagame discussion about whether we were going to lose prestige, and if we should attempt an overthrow of a government, even though the only "atrocity" seemed to be conscription, and even though we were only level 5 and probably should not be capable of it, and even though the remaining council member warned us against it, and even though the Venture Captain told us Pathfinder Society was low on resources and couldn't back us up. In the end, we decided that we fulfilled the Society goals correctly, and that if we lost prestige, it would be because the module author knew less about Pathfinder Society than we did as players.
We lost prestige.
Pathfinder Society Scenario #2-19: Shades of Ice—Part III: Keep of the Huscarl King (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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Played it twice! GMing it next!aboyd —
This review has tons of spoilers. Watch out!
I had the weird opportunity of being able to play this twice, and mostly not even remembering the first play-through. So I have two different impressions of the module, and both are terrible.
My first play through happened maybe 3 years ago. The trilogy was my very first experience with Pathfinder, at KublaCon. In the first module of the trilogy, I had my brand new level 1 bard, and I was playing with level 3 & 4 characters, and they wanted to "play up." I had no idea what that meant at the time, but they assured me that they would keep me alive.
In the very first round of the very first combat of my very first game, I died. Even worse, the players blamed me. They said I didn't know how to build a good character, and therefore it was my fault. I really wanted to quit. I left, didn't stay for the rest of that game.
However, I had signed up for the entire trilogy and was stuck at the hotel, so I played part 2 with a new character. I lived. So, I got to part 3, this module. I remember nothing about the module, except the end.
At the end, we fight a girl with a flaming sword. I charged in with my "barbarian who was built well and should live." The girl got a swing at me, got a critical hit, and killed me instantly. I remember thinking that the amount of damage she output was brutally unbalanced for a module of our level. I couldn't believe anyone was intended to survive it. I was scheduled to play more days at KublaCon that year, but I left early. That was too much of "not fun."
A year after that, I found a local group doing PFS and began playing regularly. And a year after that, I had a chance to use my GM star to replay a module. All I remembered about the Huscarl King was that I died, and I intended for that to NOT happen again.
This time, what a difference.
The end fight was mostly trivial. I don't really even remember it. But I remember something else. I remember being actively upset with the GM, the module, the module author -- anyone who was involved with that ambush in the gulch. When the GM laid down a map of the "ice alley" and said we were going through it, I said no. I said, "That's a kill box, and enemies will rain arrows down on us, and we will be helpless to stop them. I am not taking my military guru into an obvious ambush."
The GM said that there was no way around it. We could travel for weeks and we would never find another way to get to our location, he said. (It turns out, that is a total lie, and the module has text right in it for people who go around.) OK, so I said that "I refuse to be on the ground, then. I have ice picks and a climber's kit, and I intend to 'walk the wall' all the way to our location." The GM insisted that was also impossible -- the ice was shattering and falling apart any time I tried to climb; the only way forward was on foot.
At that point, I said out loud, "This feels really bad. This feels railroaded. I don't like this." The other players chimed in, goading me to get on with things. So, I did. "Fine, I'm on foot, heading into a certain ambush, like an idiot." And of course, there was an ambush, although it wasn't arrows, it was cattle or bison or something. And then the most spectacular thing happened: everyone climbed the ice wall to escape! Everyone but me, that is. Everyone but the guy with the climber's kit, the guy who had just tried to climb the wall previously but was told IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE. They all look at me like, "Get up on the wall!" but I'm refusing. I tell them this makes absolutely no sense. I tell them that my character just tried that and it was impossible, so his choice would be to stand his ground and die honorably. They tell me to just get up on the wall. I draw my axe and begin swinging against the onslaught of the stampede. Everyone shouts that I will die, that the module has a clear way to escape the danger. I reply, "I'd rather lose the character than have him live by doing this bizarre, broken, railroaded nonsense."
Next month, I'm slated to run this trilogy. I have for the first time begun to read it. And it's disappointing to see that some of the railroaded garbage actually IS in the module. However, much of it is not. A lot of the problems with this module appear to come from swingy fights and GMs who don't read. So I have hope that the module CAN be a good game. I intend for that to happen.
EDIT (June 5, 2017): I've run this multiple times now. I'm not changing my review rating, but I do wish to make a few notes. First, the module isn't that railroaded. That was bad GMs. The module has plenty of text to accommodate players who wish to go around things, try other options, etc. Also, the final fight really IS weak. I found a way to sorta "rules lawyer" the mechanics of the final fight so that it could at least try to present a challenge (mechanically, you should almost always be able to survive long enough to get the villain's super-strike into action). However, if the players enjoyed the role play with the tribe at ALL, they will have help and cakewalk the BBEG. It bothers me that even a rules expert cannot salvage what should be an epic conclusion. It almost always ends in a whimper.
So, module text is better & more open-ended than my initial impressions. Final fight is much weaker than my initial impressions (unless you crit, in which case the players will howl about how unfair it is, as I did).
Seems fine.aboyd —
I wanted to address some comments from prior reviews, but then I realized that most are for the older versions (1 through 5) of the document. So, yeah, I guess maybe the older versions were not printer friendly, but I just printed the new season 6 document on a black & white laser printer and it seems fine, and readable. The PDF displays on my tablet OK, too, though my tablet is new and fast. I guess older ones might struggle with it.
Regarding the removal of tieflings as a playable race, I believe that's just fallout from season 5. That is, we just played through a huge story arc about a demon invasion, and I believe that all outsiders and otherworldly/extraplanar types are now on "the outs" with Pathfinder Society. That will change for story reasons I'm sure in another season or two, but for now at least it makes thematic sense.
As for the quality of the modules for season 6, that probably needs to go into the reviews of each individual module, but I have to admit that I really like it so far. The fights in 6-01 were much harder than I expected, and a PC died. I thought that was cool for it to be so dangerous, though I understand some will hate that. In 6-02 I loved the social interactions with previously-unknown Technic League. And the big boss fight was very scary and had a secondary fight that really surprised us. I again found it fun, though I understand a table full of players who have zero adamantine weapons will find it too hard and probably all die. Also, regarding 6-02, we had a hugely fun time with our skills, but see the next paragraph for why it was fun for us and not for others.
The only thing I don't like about season 6 is the introduction of a new feat, without which you cannot use your skills to interact with technology. It's basically a "feat tax" to be good at all the season 6 modules. Nobody in PFS near me is following that rule, even though it's mandatory and even though anyone not following it is in danger of being ousted. Doesn't seem to matter; everyone from top to bottom hates it, so it's completely gone. If any official employee from Paizo were to ask, we'd nod and say it's there. At the table? We don't even *ask* if a player has the feat. Does that upset management? Oh well, they introduced something bad, and the community rejected it while they weren't looking.
So overall season 6 has been great and the season 6 guide seems fine. But we killed the bad stuff, and we like brutally hard fights, so your mileage may vary.
Good adventure, tragic story.aboyd —
Note: this is only 3 stars to play. I gave it 4 stars from the perspective of a GM in Pathfinder Society. One of the PFS rules is that you must play what is in the module exactly as-is, but if maps or other things are omitted, you have leeway to create that stuff. The missing data is the *only* way a PFS GM has to tailor encounters -- for example if an encounter has no map, the GM has leeway to put down advantageous terrain, or something really difficult to navigate, which can have a material effect on the outcome of encounters. This module happens to be missing a whole lot of stuff, making it one of the modules that is "most modifiable" in PFS-legal ways. I like that, so that's why I gave it 4 stars.
Having said that, my review is actually simply here to respond to a bunch of earlier reviews that complained that the module uses outdated D&D 3.5 edition stat blocks, and needs to be re-done for Pathfinder. I wanted to mention this for those reviewers: you *can* redo the stat blocks for the spider swarm, allip, and ghouls. The PFS rules state that you must run the monsters as-is *unless* the CR for the monster is the same in D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. If so, you are allowed to drop the D&D 3.5 stat block and use the Pathfinder stat block. Well, guess what? The swarm, allip, and ghouls have CRs in D&D that match the CRs in Pathfinder, so the new stat blocks can be used.
The sorcerer, water bug, bugbear zombie, and ghast each have a CR in D&D that is different from Pathfinder, so they have to remain as-is. But that's good! The bugbear zombie is weaker in Pathfinder, and that fight is already too easy, so keep the harder original! And the water bug is way, way, WAY harder in Pathfinder and would TPK the party if you used the Pathfinder version, so totally keep the older D&D 3.5 stat block.
Overall, this is still a great module to run, as it gives the GM lots of room to maneuver. If you don't like the talky ballroom stuff at the beginning, you can deliver the paltry amount of details that the module provides and be done with it, but if you love that stuff, you can flesh out all the details that are necessary to do it justice. That should be fine according to the PFS season 6 rules. So have fun fleshing it out!
Pathfinder Society Scenario #5–13: Weapon in the Rift (PFRPG) PDFPaizo Inc.
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The problems with this module are mostly solved by reading the module.aboyd —
I'm going to address a few concerns of previous reviewers, which means this review has light spoilers. I will try to write carefully, but I'm addressing problems with the module, so I need to be clear about how those problems are fixed.
Weapon kills PCs
No puzzle alternative
Suits not noticed and/or not enough time
Climbing to device
Good luck with the module everyone! It's pretty fun.
need to be brave and rethink their alphasaboyd —
The Pathfinder book embraces munchkinism. Everything is powered-up. For example, races all get +2 to TWO stats now. Why? I don't see that as a big issue on the various 3.5 edition forums.
Could we just fix the broken mechanics, like grapple, turning, tripping, etc?
Causing the DM/GM to have to revise all the NPCs in a game is a little much. Perhaps quick changes would be OK, but some of this looks like it will be a real pain for early adopters.