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Public Service Announcement


As was disclosed by Luis Loza, the artwork for members of rival tournament teams that were NOT included in the AP volumes themselves are included in this Pawn Set:

Includes an adventure I think should have been in the original Razor Coast


I qualify this five-star review with a disclaimer: I have not read three of the included adventures yet. My rating reflects my opinion that at least one of the included adventures is very useful to GMs who plan to run a Razor Coast campaign.

(This being a review aimed strictly to GMs, it is of course spoilerific. You have been warned!)

I am running two Razor Coast campaigns at the moment: both are groups of 4-5 preteen boys who loved the gun-toting/pirates/jungle potential of that campaign.

I started both campaigns after reading about 50% of the Razor Coast book, which was a mistake: I strongly recommend to other GMs that they read all the Chapters in their entirety (before the Appendices) and then to reread Chapter Two ("Build an Adventure Path") a second time, while thoroughly mapping out connections among the various encounters, set-pieces, and story arcs of the book and how they are connected by potential plot hooks and NPCs. It will (1) help you navigate that book, which I think could have been better organized, and (2) allow you to plan better each individual session -- Razor Coast, having "plot web" structure, providing some of the freedom of a sandbox while also providing the level of detail in how things are interconnected that you might see in a Paizo Adventure Path -- the adage of not wanting to "lose the forest of the trees" is especially true of a Razor Coast campaign.

My other recommendation is to note that the Razor Coast book is a bit sparse in terms of providing material for Level 5 characters. The beginning material is better suited to 6th, even 7th level characters -- I had to fudge a bunch of rolls and softball several encounters with my groups -- and so you will either want to (1) make sure your party already is close to reaching 6th level when they start in Port Shaw, or (2) prepare some of your own material.

Or there is a 3rd option: you can purchase Heart of the Razor. I speak solely about the last adventure in the book, "Sinful Whispers," which I am running with one of my groups to great success. (You can read my kids' account of their adventures at my website.) The included adventure "Sinful Whispers" fills a couple holes that I found exist in the main Razor Coast book:

First, it provides 5th-level material.

Second, there is a great encounter that involves the party encountering a ship transporting Tulita slaves, where a Tulita sorcerer has magically-enchanted the captain into unchaining the Tulita. The first mate hopes to recruit the party to bring the captain to his senses. The party gets to choose whom to side with, and it likely results in a Tulita rebellion on the ship! I felt this was a MUCH more effective way of introducing the Tulita story arc than the ways that are suggested in the Razor Coast book (one of which, incidentally, involves the party witnessing a Tulita elder trying to cure lycanthropy on a soldier without any effort to explain his actions, who simply lunges at him with a dagger... now, I accept that there is a language barrier, but he just comes across as plain foolish, rash, and unsympathetic -- the group I ran that encounter with didn't want to rescue him).

Third, there are encounters here that do a good job of introducing the "flavor" of the Razor Coast campaign. We've got an optional wereshark encounter, an encounter with the haughtiness of Port Shaw's nobility in the form of Jacinth Deepwarder (who also has her own character-development arc in the adventure which is cool), soggy pirates returning from the dead, a field of the rare and extremely-addictive and powerful drug maht, crazed and feral humans on a forbidden isle, a strangely-intelligent whale, and of course the main story arc involving a trapped qlippoth who takes over people's minds to induce them to sacrifice newborn babies to secure his release. All of this is appropriately-weird and genre-appropriate for a Razor Coast campaign.

In sum, I think this is an excellent early adventure for any GM considering running the Razor Coast campaign. (Of course, I also think some of the material here should have been included in the original Razor Coast book, but I'm reviewing this book right now, and not the other one!)

Alternatively, you can easily pick and choose from encounters here, especially the Tulita rebellion one, to plop into your own Razor Coast campaign.

Enthusiastically recommended.

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No Sandpoint, No Happy


I'm a bit surprised to see four 5-star reviews here, none of which refer to the content of this Player's Guide.

First of all, why no info on the starting city of Sandpoint?

Longer review at my blog

In my opinion, the Player’s Guide for Paizo’s second AP, Curse of the Crimson Throne, set a high bar for what I’m looking for in these player guides. It gave information about the city the PCs start in that made it a living, breathing place, offered feats and equipment that further gave life to the people and culture of the city and the land of Varisia, and offered traits that didn’t giving anything away about the bigger story, while hooking people into the AP’s opening events.

As for this product, it is a lost opportunity to charm people into wanting to play or run Rise of the Runelords. I have read through the original run of RotRL, and what I thought were the most appealing elements of enticing people into playing the beginning of RotRL – description of the most of the PCs’ home, the charming village of Sandpoint, and description of Paizo’s fresh and unique take on goblins – have zero word count in this Player’s Guide.

(Granted, there is a map of Sandpoint, but only 2 landmarks are labeled on it, and absolutely no information on NPCs or the history or the buildings within the city.)

Instead, we have 2 sections:

1 – First, a collection of campaign-specific traits for PCs. As a GM, I will not let the players look at these because they telegraph ahead of time precisely what types of creatures and areas the players will face. Instead, I’ll be working with the players to decide what traits make most sense for them.

2 – Second, a gazetteer on the land of Varisia. There is a lot of interesting information here, but again I think it totally misses the ball — barring the cover and credits page, the designers had only 12 pages to work with but devoted 9 pages to Varisia. NO information on Sandpoint, and no narrative “tour” that’s cohesive — instead, we get a paragraph on each place.

Granted, perhaps information was omitted from the Player’s Guide to spur us into buying some of Paizo’s Companions. But the PCs’ hometown not to get any love is a bit confounding.

What we have in this Player’s Guide is high quality — the traits are well-conceived, and the descriptions of Varisia’s key places are evocative. But what’s sorely lacking is… well, sorely lacking.

Paizo has set a high bar for itself in past products, which this Player's Guide unfortunately does not meet.

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Black is the new Red


I love this product so much that it actually inspired me to start a new blog. You can see my full review there.

The Beginner Box is the spiritual predecessor to the original “Red Box” in almost every way, only this time a black dragon assumes the role of iconic, evocative image. Unlike other RPG boxed sets that have been put on the market since the Red Box, there is a complete game here: rules for players, and advice and guidelines — replete with monsters, perilous traps, and magic items — for game masters to create their own adventures. And it comes with all the accessories you need to run a game: a blank flipmat, dice, and plastic bases on which you can put the cardboard PCs and monsters. The flipmat and the cardboard pieces are also very thick and built to last. A kid could take this box and find literally hundreds of hours of enjoyment with his or her friends.

The other strength here is that it eases young people into the Pathfinder RPG with extreme ease. The rulebooks are gorgeous and have scores of full-color illustrations. The solo adventure introduces attack rolls, skill checks, and saving throws as they come up. The Hero’s Handbook makes the character creation process fun and holds your hand through it, with bright-colored letter references to similarly-lettered sections of the character-creation sheet. What is more — the Beginner Box also comes with pregenerated characters and a first adventure at the beginning of the Gamemaster’s Guide, which has maps and clear instructions for how to run every encounter. Erik Mona of Paizo Publishing said they did playtests with young teenagers in which they opened the box and started playing within 15 minutes, and I believe it.

When the Beginner Box was first announced a year ago, I admit I wasn’t sure that it could be pulled off. My first exposure to post-3rd Edition D&D was the Pathfinder Core Rulebook, a 576-page tome that condensed 10 years of rules development, in which every word had important meaning (as a lawyer, I actually found its rule set comparable to what I had studied in law school), and which presumed an audience that had already been accustomed to playing 3rd Edition D&D. Part of the reason for its complexity was that the game’s foundations are amazingly robust and can handle nearly every situation, including high-level play during which players are summoning dragons, disarming golems, and felling giants with flurries of blows. To create a complete product and fit it all inside one book, they had to create a dense, concise exposition of the rules.

The result was that the Core Rulebook was an excellent reference book, but an awful introduction to the game. Many players on Paizo’s messageboards talk about the reactions they get when they try to convince their friends: they excitedly tell them what tabletop roleplaying is like, but once they heft out this massive brick of a book their friends’ mouths drop.

Enter the Beginner Box. The Beginner Box limits itself to PC levels 1-5 and to the classic 4 character classes — cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard — thus lessening the amount of information that needs to be absorbed. The game designers take out many mini-systems (such as attacks of opportunity, combat maneuvers, armor check penalties) that exist in the core rules and boils everything down to the game’s core: attack rolls, skill checks, and saving throws. It limits the options to the most basic feats and magic spells, and provides a smaller skills list as well. The cleric and wizard have 34 spells each, and each is explained in four lines. And the Player’s Handbook introduces young readers to each new concept one at a time, and in the context of the uber-fun exercises of going through the solo adventure and rolling up a character.

The result is something in which non-beginners might be interested: a “rules-lite” version of the Pathfinder RPG. Wonderfully, at the same time it is also compatible with the full Pathfinder rules, so young game masters who love the Beginner Box can also incorporate what they want out of the Core Rulebook and take from the immensely-rich library of Paizo adventure modules, adventure paths, and other supplements with relative ease.

The final result is a product that is a most-excellent “gateway drug” for the hobby, and we haven’t seen one of this quality in over 25 years. Let the RPG Renaissance begin.