Pathfinder #10—Curse of the Crimson Throne Chapter 4: "A History of Ashes" (OGL)

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Chapter 10: "A History of Ashes"
by Michael Kortes

Forced to flee the city of Korvosa and pursued by sinister agents of Queen Ileosa, the heroes travel to the Cinderlands to seek out advice on how to defeat the ancient evil that has claimed their queen’s mind. Few living today know the truth behind this evil—and those who do are among the Shoanti barbarian tribes preparing to invade Korvosa. The PCs must earn the trust of three tribes in order to realize their goals and save Korvosa from a brutal war.

This volume of Pathfinder also features an in-depth exploration of the Shoanti barbarian way of life, an exploration of the harsh badlands known as the Cinderlands, and six new monsters native to these lands.

For characters of 10th to 12th level.

Pathfinder is Paizo Publishing's 96-page, perfect-bound, full-color softcover Adventure Path book printed on high-quality paper that releases in a monthly volume. Each volume is brought to you by the same staff which brought you Dragon and Dungeon magazines for over five years. It contains an in-depth Adventure Path scenario, stats for about a half-dozen new monsters, and several support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Because Pathfinder uses the Open Game License, it is 100% compatible with the world's most popular fantasy roleplaying game.

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-093-3

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5/5


Fantastic Change of Pace

5/5

NO SPOILERS

Curse of the Crimson Throne is a great adventure path, and Chapter Four (A History of Ashes) doesn’t let the team down one bit. It adds breadth to the campaign by introducing some new geography for the players to explore while simultaneously adding depth to both the story and the setting through an excellent portrayal of distinct cultures. If that all sounds too academic-sounding, there’s some fantastic set-piece encounters as well! A History of Ashes is something that, in lesser hands, could have come across as cringey--but in Paizo’s hands, it’s a real winner.

As always, we’ll start with the non-spoilery back matter and overall design. The cover art is fantastic—the images of the Iconic barbarian in the foreground and a giant fanged worm about to swallow the Iconic paladin in the background really pops. We have to enjoy these Wayne Reynolds covers while we can, because he doesn’t stick around forever! The interior art is a real mixed bag, with some pieces that Paizo would be proud to show off today and others that are frankly a bit amateurish. The geographical maps are excellent (and may still provide more detail than any other map for certain areas), but the encounter maps are often a bit plain. The interior back cover is a stylised chart of the various major groups and NPCs relevant to Chapter Four--I didn’t think to use it, but some GMs might find it handy. The issue has half-page entries for four Level 10 pre-gen Iconics, and the usual one-page preview of next issue.

In terms of back matter, there are four substantive articles.

“The Cinderlands” (8 pages) provides an excellent naturalist’s overview of the geography, environmental challenges, flora, and fauna of the area. It was obviously written by someone with knowledge in geology, which makes a fictional setting seem very realistic. The overall impression one gets is perfect: the Cinderlands are not to be trifled with! It is a harsh, imposing landscape and unprepared travellers or explorers are likely to find nature as much or more of a threat than any inhabitants they encounter. One of the reasons I enjoy reading, reviewing, and implementing flavour from these 3.5-era issues (despite primarily relying on the hardcover version of the AP) is that they contain detailed content like this that just isn’t available anywhere else.

“People of the Storval Plateau” (8 pages) is still the best, most in-depth resource I know of about the Shoanti. It covers the history of the Shoanti peoples along with a few paragraphs of description on each of the seven quahs (tribes), including their territory, rites of passage, common totems, and totem-worship clerical domains. One of the tricky things Paizo pulled off here was discussing fictional indigenous-themed peoples without resorting to lazy stereotypes, treating them as all alike, or one-dimensional portrayals. If I were to make a Shoanti PC, this overview is still the first place I would turn.

I’m full of praise today. Is it the iced coffee and banana bread, or is this just an excellent issue? Maybe both!

“Pathfinder’s Journal” (6 pages) continues the tale of Eando Kline. In this instalment, he and his Shoanti guide Joskan need to cross the plains of Belkzen where rival orc armies are getting ready to fight each other! It probably turns out mostly the way you’d expect, but is still lots of fun nonetheless.

“Bestiary” (10 pages) starts with a useful Cinderlands random encounter chart (interestingly, the hardcover AP also has one and they have some very different entries!). I like the little sidebar discussion on the use of random encounter charts. As it says, a GM is sometimes in a dilemma: creating a truly “realistic” chart means that there will be a wide span of CRs: some so low that PCs might find them laughably easy, and others so high that they’re potential TPKs. On the other hand, a random encounter chart that always delivers exactly a CR-appropriate threat to the PCs can seem artificial (and frankly, a little boring). The advice the sidebar gives is the method I use: if an unbalanced encounter turns up, roll with it while keeping in mind that not every encounter has to be a combat encounter--if I roll a CR 15 red dragon and the PCs are only level 10, perhaps they see it a great distance away and have a chance (if they’re smart) to hide. Etc. Okay, aside over.

The entry contains four two-page entries of new monsters. First up is probably my favourite, “bonestorms”. They’re a supernatural vortex of bones that sometimes arise in cemeteries or battlefields, and they take the game form as a CR 8 swarm. It’s an excellent concept (we need more higher-level swarms), and I especially liked the connection to Bloodsworn Vale. I’m surprised Paizo never reprinted it for PFRPG use. Next up is the “cinder wolf”. Essentially a mix of a wolf and a hell hound, I found this unremarkable despite the good ecology section. Third is the “havero”--at CR 24! This creature has a great Cthulhu mythos feel, and a really smart point-based tentacle mechanic. If you need a *real* boss for a campaign, the havero might suit. Last is the “red reaver”, a CR 13 brute monster with an interesting twist in that it bonds itself to a site of great beauty but can be lured away by presenting it with something even more beautiful. As a side note, I’ll flag that the little bit about the red reaver of Roslar’s Coffer is taken up in PFS scenario # 10-04.

Okay, on to the adventure!

SPOILERS!:

The two-page Foreword by James Jacobs explains what’s important about A History of Ashes: it asks the PCs to leave Korvosa! As he discusses, it’s a lot to ask a group that has invested ten levels’ worth of adventuring to leave the city they call home, but, on the other hand, it might just be time for a change. Amusingly, the players I ran this for thought they were just making a quick “there and back” jaunt to the Shoanti-held Cinderlands, and had no idea the entire chapter would be set there! It was interesting to read that the Shoanti come from one of Jacobs’ college campaigns, which is a real inspiration to homebrew GMs everywhere. I also have to note the irony where he says he was worried the art designer might not be able to fit double-digit volume numbers on the AP spines and then says “I wonder if it’s too early to start worrying about how we’re going to fit a triple-digit number on the spine”? 2008 James Jacob would be chuffed to hear from 2023 Jhaeman that this concern has been solved.

In the Adventure Background, we get some more information on the origin of the Crown of Fangs that influenced Ileosa’s evil machinations. The Crown is made from the fang of the slain blue dragon Kazavon and is one of seven relics that remained indestructible (and holds the power to potentially resurrect him). There’s also a bit about Serithtial, the enchanted sword used to slay him. Much of this will get covered in much greater depth in Chapter Five. I have to confess that I’m not a big fan of the “magic sword” and “seven scattered relics” elements—too video gamey for me.

At the very end of the last adventure, the PCs learned they would have to head to the Cinderlands to learn about the source of Ileosa’s new invulnerability. Part One assumes the PCs do depart on this journey, but acknowledges that getting the PCs out of town might not be easy and gives the GM a little advice on what to do if they’re reluctant. Assuming the PCs escort Vencarlo Orisini and Neolandus Kalepopolis to safety at Blackbird Ranch near Harse, the PCs will also get to catch up with Trinia Sabor (from Chapter One). Here, Neolandus reveals what he knows. This section also provides the GM with information on two of the major threats the PCs will encounter there: the Red Mantis assassins (led by a cool NPC named Cinnabar) and a Shoanti-hating ranger named the Cinderlander (whom I wish had been integrated more into the story so he’s not just another foe to fight).

Part Two has the PCs reaching the Kallow Mounds, home of the Skoan-Quah (the Clan of the Skull) where the shaman Thousand Bones explains that only the Sun Shaman of the xenophobic Sklar-Quah (Clan of the Sun) knows the history of the Crown of Fangs. But getting the Sun Shaman to speak to outsiders will be incredibly difficult, and the PCs will have to earn his respect. This is handled through a well-designed “respect points” mechanic wherein the PCs accumulate points for achieving specific tasks (or lose points for disrespecting Shoanti customs). Earning the respect points primarily comes from undertaking what we could uncharitably call “chained quests”—where each task has to be accompanied in order to move on to the next one. A lot of groups apparently felt a bit railroaded here, so one of the innovations of the hardcover version was to “unchain” the quests and allow them to be completed in any order (and make it so all of them weren’t necessary). This part of the chapter also introduces a good NPC, Krojun Eats-What-He-Kills (a rival who could become an ally). Interestingly, there’s a lot of discussion about the Shoanti potentially warring on Korvosa--either that’s a story theme that wasn’t taken up in the hardcover version, or I just missed it.

Part Three is set at a Thassilonian ruin called the Acropolis of the Thrallkeepers. The location has a cool backstory (that ties into Karzoug) and an excellent subterranean hazard (curious tentacles of a dormant havero). I found it hard to run though, as there are three other NPC groups to account for: Krojun’s band (stalking the PCs), Red Mantis assassins (trying to kill the PCs), and a Kuthite sect called the Brotherhood of Bones (observing and potentially allying with the PCs). It makes for, as a sub-heading calls it, “A Crowded Dungeon”! One bit I particularly liked is a bit of meta-fun in the form of a special glyph trap that has the PC standing still to try to make sense of it; every time the player asks whether their character has figured it out, the GM is encouraged to play along and say it’ll take just a little bit longer--and when the player has finally had enough and tries to have their PC stop, the magic of the trap means they might not be able to!

Part Four features a battle against a red reaver (a creature described above) that has occupied a site sacred to the Lyrune-Quah (Clan of the Moon). The PCs need to aid the Lyrune-Quah in order to earn the services of their Truthspeaker, a man who never lies and whose word therefore is trusted even by the sceptical Sklar-Quah.

Part Five is why the PCs need a Truthspeaker, and it’s a treat. One member of the group needs to get themselves swallowed by a ginormous fiendish purple worm named Cindermaw and then cut their way out! By doing so, they replicate the deeds of a legendary (and probably apocryphal) Shoanti hero, a deed that even the Sklar-Quah would have to admire. Because the AP version made the quests optional, my group didn’t do this one--which was disappointing (I would have loved to see it!), especially for the player of a PC who had received a vision from the Harrower that it was the character’s destiny.

Part Six is the big climax. Assuming the PCs have been successful and have earned enough respect points, they’re allowed to enter the Sklar-Quah’s campsite at a place called Flameford. There, the Sun Shaman forces them to endure one final challenge: the Trial of the Totems. This was really fun (at least for me as the GM!) as it’s truly a Strength- and endurance-based trial that allows all sorts of fun effects to come into play (the heat, lack of food, thirst, etc.). After the challenge, there’s a big final battle when Flameford is invaded by the Red Mantis and their gargoyle allies.

In the Conclusion, the Sun Shaman reveals what the PCs must do to defeat Ileosa: travel to a massive haunted castle named Scarwall and find the legendary lost sword Serithtial.

Overall, although I might quibble with a bit here or a bit there, Chapter Four is a real winner. It forms a memorable part of Curse of the Crimson Throne, as it gets the PCs out of their urban comfort zone and exposes them to entirely different cultures and challenges. If the GM does their job right, the players should finish the chapter hating and respecting the Cinderlands in equal measure.


A History of Ashes Review

5/5

Warning: This review contains spoilers
Written from a GMs perspective
I ran this for 7 PCs
I ran the Pathfinder re-released version

In A History of Ashes feels like a critical turning point in the Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path where enemies and objectives start to become clear and the PCs begin to truly march toward their ultimate goal. This turning point is handled superbly in one of the best written chapters of the adventure.
Pros:
The world building and character development continue to be great. The Cinderlands and the Shoanti characters are well developed and make for an great change of pace from the overall urban focus of the campaign. This transition happens quite naturally and didn't take away from the overall tone of the campaign. Also, despite the PCs being far away from the main problem, the writers did a great job making the main threat still feel present. The progression of Korvosa into martial law is laid out in great detail, so players are able to see that the situation is growing increasingly dire in their absense. Assassination attempts are a clear indication that their actions are not being ignored and that they pose a true threat to the queen. Most importantly, this book feels like a turning point in the adventure where the players are starting to get key information about what is truly happening. This means that they finally get to do missions that are directly related towards defeating the Queen, instead of just putting out the fires caused by her despotic reign.

In addition to a well formed plot and setting, the overall design of the adventure was pretty close to perfect. The game moved at a good pace, with no single section feeling overly drawn out. Combats were well balanced and appropriately challenging. There were tons of opportunity for good roleplaying, between winning the favor of the Shoanti, dealing with an antagonistic potential ally in the form of Krojun and the reveal of the grim revelation of how the Gray Maidens are recruited and trained. The discovery of Cinnabar's incredibly tragic backstory was an especially memorable moment for the players, who had previously had less sympathy for the Red Mantis assassins than any other group. There were also a lot of combat situations that were made more interesting by some unique additions. The fear of making too much noise and awakening the Havero and the having recreating the Shoanti legend by getting eaten by by a giant worm made for especially memorable encounters.

Cons:
One small complaint I had regarding this book is that it very exposition heavy, especially in the beginning. There is a huge information dump given by Neolandus, followed by more plot important information given by Thousand Bones. Then at the end of the book the players are given even more information by the Sun Shaman and Zellara. This is all good plot building, but can be a bit much to throw at the PCs at once. As a GM I am always a bit wary when I find myself talking for extended periods of time without much opportunity for player input. However, this isn't too much of an issue. The GM just need to be willing to reiterate information later on, in case it wasn't all taken in the first time and be careful during long monologues that they are not losing the table's interest. Some of the long cut scenes can easily be condensed if they are not your groups thing.

I did also notice that the combats are rather back loaded in this adventure, Combat is fairly sparse in the earlier sections and very heavy in the last act. However, in actual game play this did not feel as noticeable as I thought it would be. There was enough intrigue and action in the earlier parts to ensure that dice were being rolled each session and the the last act, while dangerous, was not overwhelming.

Conclusion:
Despite a few minor observations that amount to little more than nitpicks and can be easily dealt with, this was a fantastic entry in the Curse of the Crimson throne. It may actually be my favorite chapter of the adventure path to this point.


Refreshing

5/5

This volume is all about shoanti. In this volume, there is no "boring-linear-fighting-only-encounters-when-we-travel-from-A-to-B" and no dungeon ! Just a deep immersion in an exotic and rich culture in a land with uncommon features. Heavy on roleplaying and supported with nice articles. This part is truly refreshing... despite its title. :)


Portuguese - Br

4/5

A edição tem vários problemas. Sejam eles editoriais, conceituais ou de trama. Apenas a arte se salva 100%. Isso leva a supor que a aventura foi feita as pressas (um problema compartilhado com o conteporaneo Guide to Darkmoon Vale), mas mesmo assim a qualidade que o autor dá a seu texto consegue remediar boa parte dos problemas. Embora eu fique curioso no que mais tempo de desenvolvimento poderiam ter feito pela aventura, pessoalmente eu gostei e acho que não prejudica a qualidade total da campanha. Mestres interessados em conflitos entre duas culturas tem muito a aprender com essa aventura.


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Dark Archive

This issues says it is available in May, I guess Paizo is getting caught up on Pathfinder

Dark Archive Contributor

David Wickham wrote:
This issues says it is available in May, I guess Paizo is getting caught up on Pathfinder

Looks like its going to be an early June Release. I'm going to talk to Vic about getting that changed.

*harumphs*

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Jacob Burgess wrote:
Looks like its going to be an early June Release. I'm going to talk to Vic about getting that changed.

We haven't yet got a date from the printer, but my best guess says it will reach our warehouse in late May, which puts it in stores in early June.


I'm *really* curious to see what the issue has in store for the Shoanti!


Verik Wolf wrote:
I'm *really* curious to see what the issue has in store for the Shoanti!

Ya!

I know I'm biased, but Tuesday's Shoanti blog has me super stoked. Great art too. Me thinks I've finally found the right avatar picture. . .

It'll be great to get out of the city. Maybe do a little light jogging through hell. Perhaps kill something before breakfast, wrap up the morning with an espresso of pain.

-Ask (who is apparently a Yuppie Shoanti today)


Pardon my ignorance but there's a shoanti blog?


Verik Wolf wrote:
Pardon my ignorance but there's a shoanti blog?

Well I assume there must be dozens! What else does one blog about?

Just kidding - my bad. I should have said Paizo's Tuesday's blog ("People of the Cinderlands"). A blog which I concede might possibly reference topics other than Shoanti.

Scarab Sages

*fidgets* is it out yet? Is it out yet?
Sorry don't mind me, I know it 'aint going to be available for a couple of weeks yet, but damn, between the sneak peaks on the blog (The Cinderlander and Thousand Bones for the win!) The promise of Shoanti getting some loving and the fact that it's written by the same insane genius that produced Entombed With The Pharoahs, anyone else bouncing off the walls with anticipation?

Scarab Sages

Do we have a more specific eta yet? I'm trying to work out of a pretty tight budget for the next 30 days or so and a week or more notice would be nice. :)

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Wicht wrote:


Do we have a more specific eta yet? I'm trying to work out of a pretty tight budget for the next 30 days or so and a week or more notice would be nice. :)

We're currently expecting it to arrive in the second week of June.

By the way, have you seen our fancy new Product Schedule page?

Scarab Sages

Vic Wertz wrote:
By the way, have you seen our fancy new Product Schedule page?

I have now. :)


Will it really be June? :(

Or perhaps late May? :)


Has there been an update on when this will be shipping?

Edit: That was odd. I didn't see the previous posts, but when I added a message, it posted here. Anyway, now I see the release schedule. I'm looking forward to the new chapter.


Mid-June is fast approaching. Can't wait to see this issue!

Any word on an official date yet?

Scarab Sages

Pop'N'Fresh wrote:

Mid-June is fast approaching. Can't wait to see this issue!

Any word on an official date yet?

The email about changes to shipping costs last week said that History of Ashes is expected to start shipping some time this week, so hopefully it was accurate *crosses fingers*


Yeah, I just got the email now that says my order is ready for shipping! Soon I shall have the PDF in my clutches.....soon....my precious.


Horrors! My subscription states the print version is expected for July.

I could be suffering withdrawal symptoms by then.

Scarab Sages

Pathfinder Maps Subscriber

Mine too... I am bummed. I am probably going to start this path later this month and the more I can read before I start the better.

Dark Archive

Mine still say in June.

Scarab Sages

In my preorders and subscription it says July, but it says June here and I've also just got the "Shipping within the next week we'll be taking the money out of your account soon" email. So June or July? Please say June, I need my fix :(


In my sidecart it shows July (NOOOOOOOO!!!!), but the product still says June.... here's hoping for June, since I am still missing the Gazetteer from the last shipment. Reading a PDF just ain't the same as a book.

Is Yahoo blocking Paizo mail again? I haven't gotten a "shipping soon" email yet.

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber

I got the pre-ping email notification. It should be shipping soon!

Sovereign Court

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

please get here soon - may was so barren...

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

DitheringFool wrote:
please get here soon - may was so barren...

We were hoping it would arrive today, but it will apparently be Thursday or Friday. (If it's late Friday, that means we won't begin fulfillment until Monday.)

Dark Archive

Vic Wertz wrote:
DitheringFool wrote:
please get here soon - may was so barren...
We were hoping it would arrive today, but it will apparently be Thursday or Friday. (If it's late Friday, that means we won't begin fulfillment until Monday.)

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol.

I was hoping at least the pdf would be here by fathers day. Fortunately I have Crucible of Chaos and another complete encounter pack already on the way that should be here by then. Hopefully they will get there Thursday.

Dark Archive

Am I the only one that because of the font thought the cover said, "A History of Fishes?" : )


Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook Subscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Why are there two threads for this product? :)


It's too full of awesome for just one thread.

Dark Archive

im too good for that other thread ;)

Paizo Employee Senior Software Developer

Zaister wrote:
Why are there two threads for this product? :)

That's a good question!

Dark Archive

obviously...

David Wickham wrote:
im too good for that other thread ;)

or maybe the program thinks there are two #10 and one comes next month?

Dark Archive

David Wickham wrote:
or maybe the program thinks there are two #10 and one comes next month?

Or maybe it's the same reason some people have this in shipping, and some have it in the side-cart waiting for itself?

Scarab Sages

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber
Nevynxxx wrote:
David Wickham wrote:
or maybe the program thinks there are two #10 and one comes next month?
Or maybe it's the same reason some people have this in shipping, and some have it in the side-cart waiting for itself?

There are two #10 threads...

Hmm...

Anyway..Eric Boyd (!!) co-author of the Shoanti article!

Michael(Entombed with the Pharaohs)Kortes on the adventure and w/ the article...

Spoiler:
Sandworms!!

This issue is going to rock!

Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Gary Teter wrote:
Zaister wrote:
Why are there two threads for this product? :)
That's a good question!

We've talked about this, but it hasn't made it to the top of Gary's to-do list yet. There are actually potentially three threads for most of our products—one for the print edition, one for the PDF, and one for the "parent product," which is sort of an overview that lets you add either of the "children" to your cart.

In the future, Gary's supposed to make sure that, regardless of which version of the product you're looking at, comments go only to the parent.

Don't you love how everything that seems simple is really complicated?


Still pending and no PDF yet.........please arrive today, it's Friday! I need something good to end my week on!

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