Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-11: The Hao Jin Hierophant

2.80/5 (based on 8 ratings)

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A Pathfinder Society Scenario designed for levels 5-9.

Seven years ago, the Pathfinder Society acquired the Hao Jin Tapestry, a powerful artifact and gateway to a wondrous yet slowly disintegrating museum-like demiplane. Despite the sacrifices made to preserve the Hao-Jin Tapestry by one of the Pathfinder Society's most influential members, the realm's collapse seems inevitable. The Society has dispatched teams to high-value sites to salvage what they can of the historical treasures and knowledge, and the PCs are one of these first groups. However, their study of an ancient Tian site becomes far more complex thanks to not one but two burgeoning religions. It's up to the PCs to navigate this landscape riddled with hazards both extraplanar and political.

Written by Jessica Redekop.

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Society Scenario Subscription.

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2.80/5 (based on 8 ratings)

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Well-intentioned but, sadly kinda boring

2/5

NO SPOILERS

I played The Hao Jin Hierophant a few months back and, unusually for me, I can barely remember doing so. This points to either a) I was drinking too much rum during the session or b) the scenario is pretty boring. Even reading it for the purposes of this review, I still only get the vaguest recollection of what happened during the session. There are some worthwhile and admirable themes in the story, but unfortunately they just didn't come together in a way that made for interesting or memorable gameplay.

SPOILERS!:

The Hao Jin Hierophant is a scenario that tells one of the unintended side effects of the epic conclusion of # 10-00, The Hao Jin Cataclysm (Aram Zey's merging with the Phoenix Spirit to become the new guardian of the tapestry demiplane). It seems that at least one community within the tapestry, a village named Onhae (originally taken from Tian Xia centuries ago) has discarded its traditional religion and come to worship Aram Zey as a god! It's an interesting and plausible twist that the PCs won't know about when they're sent into the tapestry by Zey's successor as Master of Spells, Sorrina Westyr. The tapestry is still (more slowly) unravelling, and several teams are being inserted to find and preserve as much of the contents within as possible. The PCs' particular mission is twofold: 1) visit Onhae and gather as much information as possible about its local culture; and 2) retrieve a sample of a rare purple flower said to bloom only once every 144 years. The briefing is actually pretty exciting (it starts with an appearance by members of the Decemvirate!) and has the feel of the entire Society working together to accomplish an urgent task that usually only comes during the yearly Specials.

The villagers of Onhae are the descendants of people taken from the Sunsu Godae ethnic group in Tian Xia, and they're extremely distrustful of outsiders. Once the PCs enter the tapestry and approach the village, they have a limited amount of time to snoop around and ask questions before the villagers get annoyed with them and kick them out. Mechanically, this exercise in amateur ethnography is handle by giving the PCs three "phases", each lasting about 20 minutes of in-game time, to either visit specific places in the village, gather general rumors, or look around for more subtle clues about what the village is like and what's going on there. Each choice essentially involves a particular skill check that, if successful, gains the table a "culture point"--and the more culture points the group gets, the better they've done in learning about Onhae and its peoples (and the more rewards they'll get at the end of the session.

This exploration of Onhae is a major part of the session. On the one hand, I appreciate the attention that went into the writing here (there's some detailed incorporation of setting lore from Tian Xia) and the overall theme (that the Pathfinder Society can help preserve cultures--or at least information about those cultures--rather than just being Indiana Jones' style tomb-robbers). I think it takes a really good GM to make this part of the session come alive, however. When I played it, and reading through it I can see why, it was a lot more in the vein of "visit a kitchen this phase; roll a skill check related to cooking; you learn unspecific information about Onhae cooking practices; you've earned 1 culture point". I do understand how hard it must be to try to "gamify" something like anthropology, but I just don't think it's handled successfully in The Hao Jin Hierophant as the entire process comes across as bland and somewhat tedious. As an aside, I'm also not convinced that "you've visited a village for an hour and have now understood and recorded its culture!" is how anthropology really works. A storyline involving the PCs needing to perhaps extract a member of the Pathfinder Society who has been embedded in the village for some years to learn about the residents of Onhae and their customs might have worked better.

During the exploration of Onhae, several villagers will point to the need to speak with Lin Fen Hai, the village's leader. However, she's not in the village as she's off praying at holy spot. When the PCs go to find her, a battle ensues because she's being psychically manipulated by an evil plant creature called an etheroot into believing the PCs are evil spirits. There's more backstory to the situation than that, but the first combat of the session is along a jungle path against Fen and two of her followers.

Either by following Fen's backtrail, or by seeking out the rare purple flower, the PCs will stumble directly into the clearing where the etheroot lives. There's another battle here, but it must be forgettable as I have only the foggiest recollection of it!

The last encounter of the scenario is frankly bizarre: a "silver squall" appears, described as "a planar tide of aggressive, competing ideas." This violent psychic storm somehow . . . argues . . . about the village relying on shame, pride, fear, and faith, and the PCs are supposed to defeat it by presenting . . . counter-arguments? Even having read the scenario, I'm very fuzzy about the whole thing, and I think perhaps the writer was trying too hard to get the players to really pay attention and use the information they learned during the investigation part of the scenario. But in practice it just turned out to be a weird, abstract, semi-metaphysical event that (thankfully) was over quickly.

Having learned about the village's culture and obtaining a sample of the purple flower, the PCs can exit the tapestry. There's a solid conclusion and plenty of information about different ways the village may move forward depending on the PCs' actions.

Overall, I almost feel bad that I don't like The Hao Jin Hierophant more. It's well-intentioned, allows for open-ended gameplay, and makes room for an academic approach that I normally love. Somehow though, it just falls flat to me. Onhae never really "clicked", mind-controlling plant monsters aren't really that interesting, and some of the content was just too vague and abstract to really get a handle on. I don't think it's a bad scenario, just a somewhat boring one.


Terrible, pointless, and unbalanced.

1/5

I played this at Paizocon in the high tier, and this is now my least favourite scenario I've ever played. It didn't help that my GM wasn't doing his job well, but even then it was an awful adventure.

I'll start with the one good thing: The investigation was okay. The only downfall was that it used a bunch of professions that nobody would ever pick.

The Dimension of Dreams sequence was pointless. I don't understand why it even existed in the scenario. It established some background, and nothing else.

The final fight was stupidly, brokenly unbalanced. 3 Psychementals, who on a failed will save remove you from the remainder of the scenario with 22 negative levels. We wound up having to teleport the 3 unconscious part members back to town, and the 5th fled on foot. Which made things worse.

The last part, the whole philosophical debate, reminds me of 9-01, and how philosophy and introspective conversation on that level does not belong in Society play, as it is almost impossible to properly execute. Not to mention the entire Ethereal Plane thing came fresh out of nowhere and was not explained at all. The only conscious, present party member was thankfully the party face, and succeeded at every single Diplomacy check, scoring us a victory. Somehow.

The entire miniplot with the flower also made no sense and was never explained. We never saw it or were granted any clues on where to find it, and in the end it's just tossed into our laps for free.

All in all, it was just a bad scenario. Unorganized, unexplained, confusing, and with a stupid final fight. I refuse to run this at my weekly PFS game, it is just that bad.


A sweet investigation messed up by a broken combat

3/5

I played this yesterday at high tier with a 4-player party. We rather enjoyed the investigation phase of the scenario, although I did feel that it was a bit hard to guess in advance what skills would be called on when going to a particular part of town. Given that you have limited time to investigate, it's kinda a "worker placement" kind of game and spending a phase at a location only to find out you don't have the trained-only skill needed to succeed there is a bit of a bummer. I did think the scenario made a gallant effort not to make Diplomacy the solution to every talky challenge, without making it useless either.

Where it breaks down is the combat part of the scenario. We had a comparatively strong party but the balancing on the high tier final fight is just bonkers. I seriously wonder if this was playtested. It feels to me like the author took the CR from the bestiary on faith and just said "hey this adds up to the right CR/EL for the tier so print it". Well, the bestiary really has it wrong when calculating that CR.

We managed to beat it through a lot of lucky dice, disciplined teamwork and a very strong party. But it's really the sort of encounter that sends the message "you'd better be powergaming because you need it to survive what almost looks like a writer cheating with monster design".

I rather enjoyed the scenario's story, it's got clever connections between setting lore and the PFS storyline and really lets Pathfinders be explorers more than murderhobos. The pacing feels natural, and you have nice agency in how to carry out your investigation.

But the monster is crazy. As a player it kinda feels like playing with a juvenile GM on a power trip designing a monster to kill the PCs by just slapping together mechanics that have crazy synergy and then saying "I can give it whatever CR because I'm the GM". I'm saying this a bit forcefully, maybe it wasn't malice, but it just breaks the boundaries of good monster design and balancing so much, it throws you out of the game. You're not playing a tough combat (which would be enjoyable), you're trying to survive a cheesing author. (Or an author who blindly believes in CR without testing.)


Fun RP stuff, but wtf combat?

4/5

I ran two slots of this at Con of the North, one in each subtier. I played it in 8-9 subtier prior to running.

The enjoyable:

  • The players enjoyed the lore elements of the scenario that were relatable to their prior play experience and the cargo cult feeling of the situation.
  • When transparently run, the investigation piece was really enjoyed by the players.
  • A lot of elements felt novel and interesting to me as a GM.

    The painful:

  • The 8-9 subtier final encounter is not well balanced, but this is largely the fault of Bestiary 5 throwing balance out the window. Psychementals are improperly CR'd at best. Putting 3 of them in as "mooks" is somewhat inappropriate for this subtier.
  • The scenario required a lot of prep due to the amount of if->then logic and organization of the material.
  • The investigation can be difficult to convey transparently without simply describing the mechanics.
  • There was not enough care put into including guidance for a very likely scenario regarding Lin Fen Hai - namely, any abilities that might result in the combat ending somewhat peacefully without her being able to return to town.
  • One item has not been addressed in the GM thread still regarding the investigation piece, where one of the locations has twice the text of some other locations and significantly more information that's relevant to the investigation, but provides no mechanical benefit. I maintain that this is an error by omission.

    Ultimately, I had two good tables for the scenario as the players took the mission to heart. Sincere and successful efforts were made to subdue and talk to Lin Fen Hai after she attacked - one party had 2 Slumber-capable characters and the other had Ritual of Reparation. Zero guard deaths later, both parties found themselves in the position of having adequate reason to be able to attempt Diplomacy checks and adjust her attitude as a result. Both tables struggled with the final encounter, but the 8-9 table definitely was the worse-off for it.

    I think the author had a good scenario here and the challenges with it likely come in at the development level.


  • Kinda Good, but Sort of Pointless?

    3/5

    This one was far too one note for my tastes.

    It was all role-play and investigation, the pacing was far too slow with nothing all that interesting to break it up. The scenario had a little bit of intrigue to it, but also struck me as casting the players in an unmistakably uncomfortable situation roleplaywise that the scenario seems to want you to just accept and move past which struck me as odd.

    Also, for a modern investigatory scenario, there was still shockingly little for martials to do (which given our table did a solid FOUR HOURS of investigation was frustrating, I basically didn't pick up a dice for much of this one). Outside of the singular combat at the end, there was little for a member of a martial class to engage with. Especially since the big reveal at the end, while shocking, is basically a Year 0/1 style "woops the plot twist is that there was nothing to see here" plot twist.

    Still a lot of the ideas here were excellent and I enjoyed that in comparison to some other recent adventures it was not terribly overdeveloped.


    1 to 5 of 8 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>
    Grand Lodge

    Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

    Red Harvest all over again!

    Wayfinders

    3 people marked this as a favorite.
    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

    Gasp! Jess's work! Jess's work! And it sounds AWESOME!

    Scarab Sages

    Yea! Back into the Tapestry!

    RPG Superstar 2014 Top 4, RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

    It's go time!

    Dark Archive

    Any update on which maps?

    Paizo Employee Organized Play Lead Developer

    Maps in #10-11:

    The following maps appear in this scenario:

  • Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Forbidden Jungle
  • Pathfinder Flip-Mat Classic: Swamp
  • A custom full-page map
  • Contributor

    1 person marked this as a favorite.

    I played this over the weekend and it was super creative, emotional, and engaging!
    Now to follow through on my resolution to review things I enjoyed...

    Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

    1 person marked this as a favorite.
    Andrew Mullen wrote:
    I played this over the weekend and it was super creative, emotional, and engaging!

    Great to hear! I thought Jess did an awesome job with this.

    Quote:
    Now to follow through on my resolution to review things I enjoyed...

    Please do!

    Liberty's Edge

    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

    Maybe I missed it, but what factions are involved? It seems that it would be right up the Dark Archive's alley.

    Thanks!


    RobertTHEPerylous wrote:

    Maybe I missed it, but what factions are involved? It seems that it would be right up the Dark Archive's alley.

    Thanks!

    Nothing faction-specific here.

    Dark Archive

    Having run this twice over the weekend I really liked the scenario though the sandboxy nature requires some extra thought to figure out how to give the party a reasonable amount of guidance to enjoy the exploration and the more open RP. The first big reveal in the adventure though was a hit every single time. The last encounter was also epic both times I ran it, once a low tier and the other high tier. The rather unique feature of the antagonist opened some rather unexpected situations.

    :
    The most unexpected was that the flower randomly targeted a random PC with its vision power. This particular PC had been on the shelf for a very long time. So after he failed the save and again on his reroll, I asked him to describe some more about the characters backstory. Well the short version of the backstory was he was a 1 true believer in Torch and the Shadow Lodge PC, who was only reservedly content with the current state of affairs. Despite the oddness of Grandmaster Torch appearing in his bath tub in the middle of the jungle the PC was more then happy to betray the party (I did explain to the PC that this was an illusion not a compulsion) all the while shouting at the Life Oracle who had refused to use his breath of life gloves on Lin Fen Hai that this was exactly the sort of behavior that Torch was fighting against. The all managed to make it out alive, but it was pretty crazy

    Contributor

    3 people marked this as a favorite.

    I've noticed a trend re: one specific aspect of this adventure, so if it's alright for me to use the product comment thread to offer my thoughts on the best way to handle the investigation phase of this adventure, I'd like to say: just be transparent with the players! They know the mechanics of their combat abilities, that combat runs on initiative, etc. I don't see any reason not to just tell them how the investigation phase of this adventure will work right at the start. When I've run the Hao Jin Hierophant adventure, I say this or something similar to the players:

    Spoiler:
    "Your Tongues spell is going to last for 100 minutes. We're going to handle this by breaking your investigation up into 20-minute phases. You can spend a phase checking out any of the buildings in the village, making a Diplomacy check to Gather Information, making a Perception check to search the village, etc, whatever you want to do. You can split up and check out multiple buildings at once, or you can stick together to aid each other on skill checks. After each phase, you can meet up again to debrief, share what you've discovered, and plan out your next course of action. You can spend a maximum of 5 phases in the village before your Tongues spell wears off and you'll need to secure an alternative method of communication."

    Again, I hope it's okay and not weird of me to post something like this :)

    Jess

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