This is a (hopefully spoiler-free) review of the print version, rather than the PDF – I received it due to backing the kickstarter. The production values are very high; it is a gorgeous, full colour hard back with lots of art. I wasn’t keen on the yellow and purple colour scheme in the PDF, but it looks pretty good in the print version. You get a players guide, a campaign guide and the first five (of thirteen) adventures for your money, taking characters from 1st level to 9th level. There are also no less than thirteen appendices. Note that this is the Pathfinder version; a 4th edition version is also available.
The scope of this campaign, and the breadth of imagination that has gone into devising it, is second to none. The PCs start off as humble constables of the Royal Homeland Constabulary, and by the end of Act 3 it appears they can become royalty or even gods.
There are five main nations (although some of them get more screen time than others), lots of competing organisations, and a great deal of tension that is about to spill over and make life very interesting for everybody.
There are hundreds of NPCs, a wide range of locations, countless new monsters, spells, feats, items magical and mundane, plenty of organisations to join or oppose, and an apocalypse to thwart.
With so many NPCs and plots, it can be hard to keep track of everything. The designers have done their best to lay things out in an easy to follow format, and the campaign flat out says it will be a challenge to run and is not for beginners.
Personally, I think the easiest way to get a handle on what is going on is to read the players guide (ignoring the mechanical elements for the time being, and bearing in mind that it is a mass of conflicting legends, half-truths and opinions), skip to Appendix A, and then go back to the descriptions of the last two NPCs on page 65 (in the campaign guide).
There is also quite a lot of “a wizard did it”. Magic items may or may not have a cost or creation rules, an NPC Fighter might be “imbued with the magic of the Unseen Court” allowing him to create flashy magical effects that are narrative elements rather than something you can see in his stat block. Most Pathfinder / 3.x games tend to have more of a “show your workings” approach that is noticeable by its absence here.
The adventure takes pains to explain the motivations of NPCs, which is a good thing, but arguably some of them are far more ruthless in pursuit of their goals than seems rational. The main villain in the first adventure is a case in point, but the players probably won’t notice so it’s probably moot.
These are relatively minor gripes.
This comes across as a fourth edition adventure converted to Pathfinder, and there are quite a lot of “4th isms” still present. These range from the trivial (the court mage carrying a wizard’s orb), to the irritating (occasional references to skill challenges , and numerous rituals presented without explanation – grooming rituals, teleportation rituals, water breathing rituals (this last one is admittedly a typo as it was actually a spell)) to the unfortunate (at least one NPC changes tactics when “bloodied”, but we aren’t told what bloodied means, and I spotted at least one reference to dragonborn and goliaths) to the “how did the proof readers miss that?” (the Campaign Guide gives a brief synopsis of each adventure, and the level the party should be at, but the levels run from 1 to 30).
I also have a gripe about races. Zeitgeist steals the eladrin and devas from fourth edition, sticks them in a Pathfinder adventure and declares them to be open content under the OGL. Dragonborn at least are renamed half-dragons, but “half-dragon” is a template in Pathfinder and really isn’t the same thing as dragonborn. (Similarly, goliaths are renamed as half-giants, but that isn’t so bad since half-giants aren’t really in Pathfinder, and anyway there don’t seem to be any encounters with half-giant NPCs.)
Finally, lots of new monsters are introduced, which is good, but they are not described in any way beyond their stat blocks. Unless there happens to be related artwork on the same page, the GM isn’t even aware of what they look like, let alone their society, habits etc.
This is a great product, and I’d recommend it to any experienced GMs who want to try their hand at running something a bit different to the usual Pathfinder fare, but it does have a few blemishes.
This is not a playtest review. It also concerns itself with running the scenario as a “normal” adventure outside the requirements of organised play. It also assumes that where it contradicts the Pathfinder Chronicles supplement Heart of the Jungle then HotJ will take precedence.
Overall, this is a solid scenario, but the end part shows signs of being written as a “generic” adventure conclusion and then ported to the Mwangi expanse afterwards. If (as I did) you buy it because of the Mwangi Expanse connection, then the end will either be a disappointment, or an opportunity to have a bit of fun converting the inappropriate elements.
The introduction, in Kibwe, has a Pathfinder representative giving the characters information about the Song of Extinction that the Pathfinder probably had no way of knowing. Hopefully, the players won’t think to ask him where he gets his information from.
The characters then head off to the ruined city of Dokeran. The subsequently published “Heart of the Jungle” has since seen fit to change city’s location (and spelling, but that isn’t an issue). Any players familiar with the geography of the Expanse may raise an eyebrow at travelling all the way from Kibwe to the Defaka River without incident.
The characters are then attacked by one of the few creatures in the Monster Manual but not in Bestiaries 1 or 2.
The next couple of encounters are pretty interesting, and then the PCs encounter the main bad guy, the renegade Mwangi witch doctor who brought the city to its knees. This is the bit I didn’t think was appropriate for the Mwangi Expamse.
They meet him in a cathedral. And he’s a bard. And he wears a chain shirt. And he uses a rapier. And he owns a magical music box. Yuck!
If I ever run this adventure, the guy can stay as a bard, but he’ll have some custom spells (bestow curse, insect plague, entangle – and the “cathedral” will be a cave overrun with tree roots, so he can use entangle) to give him a completely different feel. The rapier is gone (he uses a staff or something) and the music box is a drum made from human skin that beats out a rhythm by itself.
The music box artefact effectively has no role to play here, which is a shame.
I love the Mwangi expanse, but this adventure is actually set in Absalom. However, it does give a bit of background on the Gorilla King of Usaro.
Its a series of 5 imaginative "set piece" combat encounters in a museum, but it would be easy enough to expand it by adding a few more empty but spooky rooms, and/or a few more haunted exhibits.
The last encounter is EL 5 (Tier 1-2), which (even allowing for the imprecise nature of the CR system) seems a bit challenging for what could be a first level party - especially if they've just fought their way through 4 previous encounters.
I will be running this as a "normal" adventure rather than a Pathfinder Society game, so I'll have to think what the consequences would be if the party decides to rest part way through.