Haunting of Harrowstone: not entirely positive review


Carrion Crown

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Not entirely negative, either. Mixed. Long.

Spoilers ahoy.

Movie plot spoiler:

The Good: The five ghosts. They're all at least interesting, and a couple of them are really cool. The dwarf is tragic yet horrible. Father Charlatan is a neat idea. The Splatter Man suffers slightly from trying to be two icons at once -- insane serial killer and Hannibal Lecter style mastermind -- but he's still a pretty solid boss.

The backstory. Original! Prevent a jailbreak of ghosts... that's neat.

The hook. "The PCs are all pallbearers at the funeral of a former friend and patron." Yeah. That's solid. When you have a hook that can be summed up in a single sentence, yet is original, striking, and thematically appropriate... that's a good hook.

The rhyme. Lovely bit of fluff! Wish there'd been more like it.

The cursed items. Neat ideas. The only possible concern is that the DM will have to keep close track of what the different items do, since that's not always obvious right away. Worth it.

The monster section. Didn't like this on first read, but on reconsideration it's grown on me. Expanded rules and stat blocks for animated objects, plus a bunch of neat haunts -- okay, this is a solid mass of crunch. Spring-Heeled Jack is minor, but could be a fun "WTF" encounter.

The Stuff I Did Not Object To: The railroad. Yes, it's pretty railroad-y, right down to the details ("it says here there's a stash of useful items in the graveyard!") -- and that's fine. The Paizo people have said they want a mix of "railroad" and "sandbox". If you want a really nonlinear, PCs wander around and do stuff kind of AP, there's Kingmaker. This one is pretty linear, and that's a feature, not a bug.

The Old School. It's a dungeon crawl next to a village. The dungeon has several lesser bosses and a BBEG who comes at the end. You must defeat the BBEG to save the village.

You don't get much more Old School than that. If you don't like this sort of thing, then you won't like this, but that's not Harrowstone's fault. Judge it on its merits, of which more anon.

The Less Good: Ravengro. The adventure anticipates that the PCs will spend some time in town -- but why would they? The first handout directs them straight to Harrowstone. Boom, they're off to the dungeon. Most of the town encounters are thus likely to happen while they're between dungeon crawls.

Okay, it's going to take multiple dungeon crawls to clean out Harrowstone. Still, other than the big fire and the occasional zombie attack, there's just not much reason for the PCs to spend time in Ravengro.

The Ravengro section reflects this. It's a pretty dull little town -- no interesting NPCs (see below), no dark secrets, no side quests or subplots. There are a few things to buy! I guess that's good. Wait, you have to have Trust 20+ or you'll get screwed on price. Um.

Here's the thing: other than the terms of the will -- and, okay, the out-of-game knowledge that Harrowstone is surely the core of the adventure -- there's nothing to keep the PCs in Ravengro. Dull little town full of unfriendly people... screw it, let's hit the road and look for some random encounters.

I think making the town's attitude default to "suspicious" (Trust 20) may have been a tactical misstep here. Horror works better when you're threatening something the PCs care about. If the PCs perceive the inhabitants of Ravengro as a bunch of obnoxious ingrates, then much of the potential punch of the adventure is lost.

Information flow. The PCs are expected to do research in the town, but success is contingent on Trust scores and/or at least one PC having invested heavily in the right Knowledge skills. Okay, you can encourage the skill buy during character creation... but in any event, research is unlikely to give them much in game terms beyond "go investigate Harrowstone". Which any sensible group of PCs is going to do anyway once they've read the first handout. Yes, investigation gives you backstory, but the backstory isn't actually all that important -- you don't have to know who the Piper of Illmarsh was to defeat his ghost.

Then there's a massive "this is what you have to do" infodump 1/4 of the way through the dungeon. Hey, the ghost lady told us we have to collect the following plot tokens! Okay, that's not horrible -- having an NPC give the players a to-do list is a pretty time-honored cliche -- but it is a cliche, and I don't think it's handled terribly deftly here.

The clock. Trust points (-1 per day) and the Splatter Man's spelling put a clock on the adventure. But it's a kinda slow clock. How many dungeon crawls will it take to clean out Harrowstone? Low-level characters, so... five? Maybe six? If the PCs spend a couple of days goofing around in Ravengro, then a day or two between crawls recovering, we're talking maybe 12 days here. The Splatter Man won't be halfway through the name by then, and the townsfolk won't have progressed past dark mutterings and sidelong glances.

If you're going to have a clock, it should add tension to the adventure. Things should get obviously worse, more horrible and more dangerous, with every passing day. That's not happening here. -2 on Diplomacy checks and being overcharged at the weapons shop just don't add much to the fear level.

The AP Chronicle. Pretty weak tea: basically just an introduction. Also, requires the characters to suffer from very severe genre blindness. In a world where zombies, haunts and life-sucking undead are known to be all too real... well, you may still get bold and foolish tomb raiders. But won't they at least mention the possible dangers first? "Wait, isn't that kinda..." "Nah, I happen to know the Temple of Pharasma scoured that place for undead years ago." These guys just bust into the tomb, no questions or forethought. Hum.

(Man, I miss Eando Kline. That guy was awesome.)

The Bad: Trust points. It's not a bad idea, but it's just not handled very well. The number of TPs you can possibly accrue is pretty low (and, come on -- 3 points for saving the town hall from being burned down by floating flaming skulls, but 4 for giving up a discount on an ioun stone?). So, given that plus the -1 per day, PCs are likely to spend the whole adventure at either "neutral" or "suspicious". One of those is boring, and the other is mildly annoying. This is not the stuff of high adventure.

The thing is, it's not hard to imagine an alternate mechanism that would work better. Call it "Ravengro Mental Health points". The town starts at X, and only the PCs' heroic actions can raise the score. (Aroint thee, ioun stone.) High and low mental health affect attitudes towards the PCs as per trust. However, the score goes down by -1 every day, and it *also* goes down as the PCs go deeper into the dungeon -- say, -4 for every one of the five ghosts they defeat. (This may seem counterintuitive, but I'd justify it as the trapped spirits growing more frenzied and hateful as they see their chances dwindling.) Add another minus for each letter that gets written. Then throw in a bunch of bad things that will happen as the score falls -- not just negative reactions to the PCs, but episodes of madness, violence, and unspeakable crimes, getting ever worse as the score falls lower.

If you start with the cheerful innkeeper and the buxom, jolly tavern wench... then have them become the sullen, withdrawn innkeeper and the surly, slovenly tavern wench... then have the tavern wench flee screaming into the street, covered with bloody slashes, as the innkeeper, red-eyed and foaming at the mouth, staggers after her waving an open razor... well, now you've got a meaningful clock on this adventure.

Which leads us to the other big negative: No interesting NPCs.

There's the daughter. She's not actually all that interesting. She's young and reasonably attractive, you're supposed to protect her, and she might help you. That's about it.

There are the town NPCs. They are lightly sketched out, and not interesting at all.

There's the ghost. She's mildly interesting, but as noted above, she's really more of an infodump than a character. She tells the PCs what must be done, and off they go. There's nothing particularly interesting about her beyond her backstory.

There are the five evil ghosts. Let's make an important distinction here. I said the five ghosts were cool. And they are! They're cool monsters. But a monster is not an NPC. You go into the dungeon, you meet the monster, you kill it. It's a brief and limited interaction.

The only one who might perhaps be an interesting NPC is the Splatter Man. You could have him invading the PCs' dreams long before they meet him... not menacing or threatening! No. Calm, Hannibal Lecter-style dissections of the PC's character and motives. Cool, understated foreshadowings of horrors yet to come. ("The sheriff? Oh, I don't think you'll need to worry about him much longer.") Polite inquires about the PC's name. ("Seoni? S-E-O-N-I, Seoni. From the old Chelaxian, Saeoni, a seabird. Lovely.")

But "I the DM could easily make this NPC interesting" is different from "whoa, cool NPC". I was hoping there'd be at least a couple, and... there aren't.

Overall: Well, it suffers a little from high expectations. If I was coming to this cold, I'd give it a B+. Knowing it's a Paizo product, and the start of a new AP, more like a B-. I'll keep on with the AP, and hope things pick up a bit in part 2.

Doug M.


Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

While I certainly agree with your criticisms, I must address the point about the PCs setting off to Harrowstone:

Spoiler:
The first of the haunting events take place on the first night the PCs stay in town, which should immediately set them on an investigative timetable, which could hopefully delay their arrival at Harrowstone a while.

Liberty's Edge RPG Superstar 2011 Top 32

I actually had to go back and reread my copy to make sure I'd read the same AP you reviewed!

spoiler:
I've played one adventure so far in the AP. At this point, the PCs have confronted some local bullies, buried their friend, comforted his grieving daughter, met some movers and shakers in town (the old guard, and have heard his will. So far, seems more new school then old school--lots of roleplaying.

The daughter tried to connect with the alchemist PC (similar interests in the arcane) but he is withdrawn and sullen. She turned to an interest in the orc PC (he should be interesting in cities) because her father studied the PC's fighting techniques and helped train him. All of these ideas grew out of the NPC and the player's guide.

The PCs are just starting to look into the mysteries in Ravengro. The first thing of interest to them was not the old prison but the Whispering Way. The ghost-busting gear also has their eye. And the Trust score really intrigues them. They know with so many "monsters" in their party that they will have their work cut out for them making friends and allies in town. They like the challenge that earning Trust presents.

At this point, the PCs have many options to explore and a lot of info to gather before they go to the old prison. How they handle everything is up to them and very open.

As to the NPCs, as I've already said the daughter is interesting because of her arcane and academic knowledge. She has the same role so many protaginists in an HP Lovecraft have--the highly educated high society mixing with the "commoners". She isn't presented as being bigoted but she doesn't easily get along with the common folk in town either.

As to other NPCs, I see a lot of plots written down. A GM could ignore them or delve into them more deeply as desired. For example, the sheriff is in love with Jominda. If the PCs help him get a date, maybe he'll help them out. GMs who don't like that type of plot could just skip it.

Jorfa has big secrets and if exposed, the town might actually get angry with the PCs. I could see a real dilemna of law for a paladin here if he learned the truth about her. Turn her in for her crime and anger the town or let her secrets stay buried but her crime goes unpunished.

The food as the Laughing Demon is certainly not dull. The owner could easily become well liked by the PCs and if the ghosts actions kill him, it could certainly spur the PCs on for revenge.

I actually found the warden's widow an interesting NPC and I'm looking forward to running her. A lot of how she reacts hinges on how the PCs react--she could come across as a terrified grieving madwomen who can just happen to kill with a touch or if approached correctly could go from grief to anger and determination to honor her husband's sacrifice. How well the PCs do will also determine if she is taken by the Splatter Man, left to guard a haunted prison, or actually freed to go join her husband in the afterlife. Knowing that only the PCs can resolve these various possible outcomes really makes me eager to continue to play this AP!

Guess I just read and ran the AP differently. You could run the AP as a straight wander around town for a bit and then dungeon crawl with a ghost info dump. Or a GM could really get into the role of the NPCs, sprinkle some hints, and let the PCs really get to know Ravengro before the ghosts really start to threaten the friends and enemies the PCs have made. Once the PCs meet the ghost of the warden's wife, they could be primed to sympathize with her and do all in their power to free her from her ghostly grief and responsibilities.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Actually, I have read the same AP module and have come to many of the same conclusions as the OP.

Spoiler:

I could have used a little more to make the NPCs interesting, and a lot more miniquests to deal with the fundamental problems of the Trust mechanic as written into the adventure. The entry on building trust says that the Ravengro article and AP offer "numerous" trust gaining quests. It feels like too many of these were edited out. With only 13 points to gain (and 4 of those from identifying an object at a moneylender shop-somewhere PCs might not even go- *and* the only opportunity featured in the Ravengro section) while loosing 1 per sunset, essentially the mechanic as presented pushes for the exploration/solving of Harrowstone while actively denying the resources most useful in doing so.

Many of the npcs in Ravengro are presented with little or no information (Father Grimburrow, his acolytes, Luthko, Marta, and their 5 daughters (who don't even get a name), Leromar, Riff, Testleblade, Vrodish, etc etc etc.) Really, the OP is spot on in his assessment. Of the "detailed" NPCs in the Ravengro section, we have a dwarf who's been around forever, but keeps to herself, has a secret she wouldn't reveal, and knows little to nothing of the the main focus of the module; and a a Tavern owner who likes to make light of serious matters. Really, I think Old River is the most interesting NPC presented in the Ravengro section, and he's a dog. Since the PCs will be spending a month in Ravengro, I'm going to have to spend a considerable amount of my prep time embellishing this. Lucky for me, it is a pretty blank canvas with which to work.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

And all that being said, I too welcome the return of the first level dungeon next to a small town, especially one that doesn't involve kobolds or goblins. The adventure itself is marvelous, and my players like riding the train. Choo choo!

Spoiler:
And I still can't wait for the return of the goblins in the Jade AP despite what I just said. It is just nice to have other low-level options besides kobolds and goblins, is all.


Gonna have to agree with you OP. Were I a player, I would read the first handout, get some supplies, and head straight for Harrowstone. Oh, there's some creepy stuff happening in town? Must be caused by the prison ghosts, time to get busting. Especially since the people are jerks, I wouldn't spend any more time there than I had too.


Trust, cont'd.

spoiler:

Reckless wrote:


I could have used a little more to make the NPCs interesting, and a lot more miniquests to deal with the fundamental problems of the Trust mechanic as written into the adventure.

Well, miniquests run into space considerations. That said, the Trust mechanic needs /something/.

Reckless wrote:
The entry on building trust says that the Ravengro article and AP offer "numerous" trust gaining quests. It feels like too many of these were edited out. With only 13 points to gain (and 4 of those from identifying an object at a moneylender shop-somewhere PCs might not even go- *and* the only opportunity featured in the Ravengro section) while losing 1 per sunset, essentially the mechanic as presented pushes for the exploration/solving of Harrowstone while actively denying the resources most useful in doing so.

This. -- I wouldn't say it denies them the resources, quite. They get a big resource dump near the beginning, with the graveyard stash. And as noted upthread, the odds are that PCs will spend most of the adventure at either "neutral" or "suspicious". Neutral imposes only modest handicaps (there's some stuff you can't buy, a few places you can't go) and even suspicious is more of a nuisance than a major problem. But it's still not a good thing, because neutral is boring and suspicious is annoying.

Upon reading, my first reaction was the same as yours, viz., that the editorial process must have inadvertently eliminated some possibilities for gaining trust. Taking the adventure as written, it's very difficult to reach a trust level above neutral, and almost impossible to stay there for more than a day or two. If the PCs nail every single trust point, including the silly ioun stone, they'll still be back down to neutral within a week, and to suspicious just a few days later.

However, it's also possible that this was deliberate. Maybe the writers wanted most of the time in Ravengro to be at neutral or suspicious. Perhaps they were going for the classic "suspicious villagers who don't trust the strangers" trope. I would disagree with this as a design choice, because I think the villagers should start at friendly -- to draw the PCs in and engage their sympathies -- and then should visibly become more suspicious, then paranoid, then eventually hostile and deranged (if things reach that point). But a deliberate design choice, even if I disagree with it, would at least be a deliberate design choice. Have the writers/editors weighed in on this point yet?

Doug M.


NPCs, a bit more.

spoiler:

Reckless wrote:
Many of the npcs in Ravengro are presented with little or no information [...] Of the "detailed" NPCs in the Ravengro section, we have a dwarf who's been around forever, but keeps to herself, has a secret she wouldn't reveal, and knows little to nothing of the the main focus of the module; and a a Tavern owner who likes to make light of serious matters. Really, I think Old River is the most interesting NPC presented in the Ravengro section, and he's a dog. Since the PCs will be spending a month in Ravengro, I'm going to have to spend a considerable amount of my prep time embellishing this. Lucky for me, it is a pretty blank canvas with which to work.

Heh. Agreed on all points, including Old River.

The dwarf is the only person in town with a dark secret. And she's a minor character the PCs have no strong reason to spend much time around. And it's a secret that's totally irrelevant to the adventure at hand.

I mean, you could play into this -- have her react with visible paranoia to strangers, especially to dwarf PCs. So the PCs get to wondering about her, maybe try some investigation or magic. But even if they discover her past... well then, so what? (Well, I suppose evil PCs could try using it for blackmail.)

If I were running this, I can think of a couple of things I might do with the dwarf. One, I might use her to foreshadow an antagonist from later in the path. The PCs investigate and discover she fled a battle with a giant sloar. Two modules later, they face a giant sloar! "Wait, don't you remember that dwarf chick said this thing wiped out her whole platoon?"

Alternately, I'd hack the Trust Points dynamic into something like the Mental Health given in the OP. Then I might have the dwarf start with "suspicious and withdrawn, but not hostile". Then "hostile and paranoid, avoids or flees PCs, then peers around a corner to glare a them with fear and baffled rage." Then "suddenly attacks PCs with hammer, shrieking that she had to do it! everybody died, but it wasn't her fault!! and they'll never take her back!!!"

But, as you say, this would be the DM writing on a mostly blank canvas.

Doug M.


Douglas Muir 406 wrote:


Not entirely negative, either. Mixed. Long.

Spoilers ahoy.

** spoiler omitted **...

I couldn't disagree more in that I consider this to be the finest AP Paizo has published to date. It may just be that much of your criticism (level of detail of Ravengro, side plots, rail road vs sand box, trust) are highly modular and any experienced GM will (or at least should) customize these to suit their party and campaign. It is virtually impossible to create a module that will comprise the perfect blend of the aforementioned for every gaming group who runs the module. It is precisely for this reason that it is understood, and I believe even stated outright, that such factors are mutable to individual campaign concerns.


OmegaZ wrote:
Gonna have to agree with you OP. Were I a player, I would read the first handout, get some supplies, and head straight for Harrowstone. Oh, there's some creepy stuff happening in town? Must be caused by the prison ghosts, time to get busting. Especially since the people are jerks, I wouldn't spend any more time there than I had too.

The module makes it quite clear that sympathetic and even helpful characters do exist within the town, but that the common folk are leery of the pcs. To portray suspicious townfolk as actively obnoxious is not quite necessary. It is far less likely a villager will openly castigate someone they are suspicious of as opposed to quietly watch or even ignore.

Furthermore, even a GM who only reads the module to the players word for word, bereft of any insight or input of his own, still can't fail to make the Professor's daughter a sympathetic figure if not a love interest for at least one of the PC's.
If you have a callous or even outright evil party, you just tweak their motivation. Start with the alchemist who it is rumored crafts illicit substances on the side. There are innumerable potential hooks for an outright party of villains right there.


Reckless wrote:

The adventure itself is marvelous, and my players like riding the train. Choo choo!

** spoiler omitted **

It is indeed marvelous, but the railroading talk mystifies me, as this as far ax modules go is fairly sandbox as it offers multiple methods and paths for the PC's to achieve the objective, and goes at great length to offer and even suggest ways to make the adventure less linear. If this still isnt sandbox enough for you, modules probably are not the best choice for your party as all of them contain a unifying story, or at least theme. True sandbox parties are best run home grown.


Charles Dunwoody wrote:

I actually had to go back and reread my copy to make sure I'd read the same AP you reviewed!

** spoiler omitted **...

You read it much as I did. I concur with your assessment and actually rate this adventure up there with Castle Ravenloft, House on Gryphon Hill, and The Evil Eye, my favorite Gothic Horror adventures.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Jon Kines wrote:
Reckless wrote:

The adventure itself is marvelous, and my players like riding the train. Choo choo!

** spoiler omitted **

It is indeed marvelous, but the railroading talk mystifies me, as this as far ax modules go is fairly sandbox as it offers multiple methods and paths for the PC's to achieve the objective, and goes at great length to offer and even suggest ways to make the adventure less linear. If this still isnt sandbox enough for you, modules probably are not the best choice for your party as all of them contain a unifying story, or at least theme. True sandbox parties are best run home grown.

Actually, that wasn't any bit of sarcasm. After two APs that were very sandboxy, my players are enjoying having a more linear storyline. That's right. Enjoying.

The railroad talk stems from a few things: 1) Stuck in town for 30 days will feel constrictive to some 2) The nature of the Trust points system forcing conformity to a certain ethos 3) Dungeon crawl etc.

So yes, this adventure will feel "too" railroady to some. I'm not one, neither are my players. We're glad to be back to a more traditional modular feel. Not that the open trails were bad either.

I love the start to this campaign. However, I stand by the criticisms against certain parts of the AP book. Especially the Trust Point system as presented.


Reckless wrote:
Jon Kines wrote:
Reckless wrote:

The adventure itself is marvelous, and my players like riding the train. Choo choo!

** spoiler omitted **

It is indeed marvelous, but the railroading talk mystifies me, as this as far ax modules go is fairly sandbox as it offers multiple methods and paths for the PC's to achieve the objective, and goes at great length to offer and even suggest ways to make the adventure less linear. If this still isnt sandbox enough for you, modules probably are not the best choice for your party as all of them contain a unifying story, or at least theme. True sandbox parties are best run home grown.

Actually, that wasn't any bit of sarcasm. After two APs that were very sandboxy, my players are enjoying having a more linear storyline. That's right. Enjoying.

The railroad talk stems from a few things: 1) Stuck in town for 30 days will feel constrictive to some 2) The nature of the Trust points system forcing conformity to a certain ethos 3) Dungeon crawl etc.

So yes, this adventure will feel "too" railroady to some. I'm not one, neither are my players. We're glad to be back to a more traditional modular feel. Not that the open trails were bad either.

I love the start to this campaign. However, I stand by the criticisms against certain parts of the AP book. Especially the Trust Point system as presented.

Yeah I mean there is restrictions, but it's only when you push up against those "walls" that they are really known.

I really think the start is a excellent way to get the PC's hooked into staying. I can't really not see the PC's checking out a number of things, and be willing to spend 1-2 weeks in town, and it's only in weeks 2-3 I see some issues.

Now since there is a "time frame" for the bad things happening I think the PC's will finish everything during that "2 week window" where they don't feel "stuck here because of a railroad".

Look at kingmaker

Kingmaker walls:
In kingmaker you can't leave the area, you can't go beyond the area indicated, etc

So to me it's just what you have to deal with in a published module. It's just easier to notice the "Walls". I still think it's a great book #1, and I look forward to running it.


Ice_Deep wrote:

Look at kingmaker

** spoiler omitted **...

Actually, other than the charter, which you're a bit far away to have enforced, the player's have no need to stay on the map other than the fact that the further out the player's go the more deadly the challenges are.

Still, that's not to say that a bit of railroading is always a bad thing, Harrowstone seems like a solid town exploration/dungeon crawl to me and depending on how the rest of the AP goes I'd be interested in running it when I finish my recently started Kingmaker campaign for a change of pace. I don't like the Trust mechanic at all, there's just too few ways to raise trust that I fear any party I run through this adventure will never get their trust up high enough for it to be worth anything.

Also, just reading through it I know a lot of players who wouldn't care at all for the town since they aren't really given much reason to care. The daughter is sympathetic, which is great, but one NPC can't keep a whole party involved unless the players are great and buy into the premise anyways. That isn't a huge deal to me though, as I modify, add, and remove NPCs all the time to make sure the players have interesting people around them as much as possible, and the NPCs weren't completely terrible as presented, a little tweaking and I'm sure they'd be fine.


idilippy wrote:


Also, just reading through it I know a lot of players who wouldn't care at all for the town since they aren't really given much reason to care. The daughter is sympathetic, which is great, but one NPC can't keep a whole party involved unless the players are great and buy into the premise anyways. That isn't a huge deal to me though, as I modify, add, and remove NPCs all the time to make sure the players have interesting people around them as much as possible, and the NPCs weren't completely terrible as presented, a little tweaking and I'm sure they'd be fine.

I am going to play it up as the following...

my hooks:

1. I am going to play the daughter a NPC in the party if they want here, and provide a bit more insight into the deceased which might be of help. I know some people don't know "GMPC's" but it's pretty standard in our group.

2. The daughter is going to be a bit grief stricken at first, over a day or 2 and is going to indicate that she doesn't think she can stay there "with so many memories of her father"

3. After the first week she is going to say she has found a buyer, but he is coming from out of town and will be there (around day 10)

4. This gives me the hook of also maybe the buyer comes and he sees the ghosts around the town, or the blood on the statue and doesn't want to buy, or is lowering his price. The daughter is "stuck" until the town (and thus the prison) is cleared of these ghosts

5. The daughter (even if not a GMPC) will ask that she (once the house is sold) request to travel with the PC's to the city they are taking the chest/items, and will pay them a bit for the waiting

Just some ideas on how I am going to play it

I am sure others have plenty better ideas, but this (I think) will work for my group.

Dark Archive

I think of such practices as "allied NPCs" rather than DMPCs. Paizo has done some really good ones in the past, but They can't all be as awesome as-written as Shalelu.

The key is to make the NPC never outshine the players, and have them fun to keep around, and useful for onerous tasks. Dont make the players think of them as DMPCs, but as more of a "communal character" who's actions the DM adjucates.

Hmmm, she will need to be given a little zazz, though. I'll probably have to fall back on Discworld; she reminds me a little of Sacharissa Cripslock, for some reason.

(when I need background NPCs, I often resort to ripping off discworld, since none of my players have read the books. Riddleport was full of lots of Medium Daves.)

And those walls are really functional walls rather than literal ones. The PCs are free to just walk out of town, but then they dont get their phat inheritance, and they have to deal with a DM that's grasping at straws and doesnt have anything planned because HE WAS EXPECTING TO RUN AN AP, and not have to make up all his own material.

Sure, bad Kingmaker PCs might just decide to start walking towards Galt for no particular reason aside from contrariness. And yes, a DM could have them encounter suspiciously dangerous monsters and invisible walls. But it's an AP. Unless you're being super-secret and trying to pass it off as your own work to the players, everyone comes into it knowing that it's going to be necessarily limited in scope, like a RPG video game, and while the DM is there to adjucate unconventional actions that you couldnt do in a video game, if you b%&~& and complain that the plot of a written adventure is too railroady for having an actual plot, with goals, time limits and encounters in small rooms connected to eachother, then you might be playing the wrong game.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Reckless wrote:
The railroad talk stems from a few things: 1) Stuck in town for 30 days will feel constrictive to some 2) The nature of the Trust points system forcing conformity to a certain ethos...

And some "answers" for those railroady complainers:

1) 30 Days is the minimum that the "huanted" timer can run. Can you finish the dungeon before then? Sure you can.
You are only stuck in the town for as long as you want to be in terms of finishing the dungeon. And if you don't want to save the town and clear out the dungeon? Then this Ap is not for you.

2) Trust point system forcing "conformity" to a certain ethos? Gee, if you have a good GM, then your evil party will not mind this at all, because every ton you have ever spent any time in has gotten suspicious of you, and maybe a few towns have tried to lynch you.
This should be a fact of nature, not just a one shot mechanism; if you do good around a town, they like you and give you favors (Sandpoint in RotRL anyone?) and if you ignore the town's problems or cause problems, then the town doesn't like you, and may try to up prices to get you to leave.

Reckless wrote:


Especially the Trust Point system as presented.

Which has been admited on this messageboard to being flawed. There should have been more earnable trust points.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Craig Mercer wrote:

And if you don't want to save the town and clear out the dungeon? Then this Ap is not for you.

Exactly. Rails. Which as all I was saying. I am not saying rails are bad. If you infer it, that's your hang up, not mine. In fact, as I've stated several times now, my players are happier with rails.

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Craig Mercer wrote:


Reckless wrote:


Especially the Trust Point system as presented.
Which has been admited on this messageboard to being flawed. There should have been more earnable trust points.

By whom? Where? I've seen it complained about in numerous threads, but have not seen a Paizo employee come forth and say anything about the system presentation itself. (One Paizo comment about how it's only used in the first installment) I'm probably missing the thread somewhere...


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Reckless wrote:
Craig Mercer wrote:

And if you don't want to save the town and clear out the dungeon? Then this Ap is not for you.

Exactly. Rails. Which as all I was saying. I am not saying rails are bad. If you infer it, that's your hang up, not mine. In fact, as I've stated several times now, my players are happier with rails.

I disagree with the term "Rails".

Taken to the logical end, any adventure that the GM has planed for you is a "railroad".
Any adventure that does not allow the player to say "Nice funeral, now I'm blowing off this village and going to Varsia or Nex" is a "railroad".
Which is what the player's guide is supposed to prevent. If your players don't want to do this AP, then forcing them is a "railroad". If they say they want to play it, the only way it becomes a "railroad" is if you force the players to enter the dungeon only after you have checked off each village encounter, and force them to do the rooms in alphabetical order.


Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Reckless wrote:
Craig Mercer wrote:


Reckless wrote:


Especially the Trust Point system as presented.
Which has been admited on this messageboard to being flawed. There should have been more earnable trust points.
By whom? Where? I've seen it complained about in numerous threads, but have not seen a Paizo employee come forth and say anything about the system presentation itself. (One Paizo comment about how it's only used in the first installment) I'm probably missing the thread somewhere...

In this thread, James Jacobs admitted that there were flaws in the trust system. Specifically, that not enough trust points were detailed to let a party reach the maximum score. Specifically in this post (my excerpt is slightly edited):

James Jacobs wrote:

So that implies a maximum score of +13, which still isn't enough to get you to 36. What happened? A simple math error compounded by a miscommunication—the trust mechanic was added to the adventure late during development as a way to track PC success in befriending the town. As a result, I just didn't put enough trust awards into the adventure, unfortunately. A simple solution would be to simply double all of the trust awards in the adventure (with the exception of the ioun stone one).

A better solution would be this one: Another element that was intended to be put into the adventure but got left out was the suggestion that GMs award trust points to the PCs whenever they do something above and beyond what's in the adventure to help the town. Providing healing for free to townsfolk, befrending people by making townsfolk helpful via Diplomacy, and being generous with money are all great ways to earn trust point awards of +1 here and there.

Not an unfixable issue or one that requires a lot of work even, but definately an issue as written in the AP.

Dark Archive

Rusty Shackleford wrote:
Hmmm, she will need to be given a little zazz, though. I'll probably have to fall back on Discworld; she reminds me a little of Sacharissa Cripslock, for some reason.

Physically she may remind you of of Sacharissa Cripslock because you are a gentleman and a scholar.

'I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.'

- Lord Havelock Vetinari

Liberty's Edge

Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Keith Taschner wrote:


In this thread, James Jacobs admitted that there were flaws in the trust system. Specifically, that not enough trust points were detailed to let a party reach the maximum score.

Thanks, I did indeed miss that entire thread.


Reckless wrote:
Keith Taschner wrote:


In this thread, James Jacobs admitted that there were flaws in the trust system. Specifically, that not enough trust points were detailed to let a party reach the maximum score.
Thanks, I did indeed miss that entire thread.

And then the whole problem of losing a point a day.. Much better to start this only after the undead begin rising. After that, wandering undead smited and returned to their graves +2, did nothing -1.

Just leaving uncle jones and mother lilly hacked to pieces in the street.. a 50% of +1, 50% for 0.. as someone from the family will have to rebury, remembering thruought the whole rainy and cold night of digging who it was that buried the "necromancer" there in the first place.

Then theres a real chance for actually reaching the upper points.


Craig Mercer wrote:


I disagree with the term "Rails".
Taken to the logical end, any adventure that the GM has planed for you is a "railroad".
Any adventure that does not allow the player to say "Nice funeral, now I'm blowing off this village and going to Varsia or Nex" is a "railroad".
Which is what the player's guide is supposed to prevent. If your players don't want to do this AP, then forcing them is a "railroad". If they say they want to play it, the only way it becomes a "railroad" is if you force the players to enter the dungeon only after you have checked off each village encounter, and force them to do the rooms in alphabetical order.

I believe it was Sandy Peterson, designer of Call of Cthulhu, who memorably said, "'Railroad' is a term gamers use to describe a game where something happens." And he's right, of course -- even sandboxes have edges, and sooner or later you need to get on the rails even in the sandboxiest of games, for the simple reason that the GM can't prepare everything and sometimes you need to do what the GM has planned if you want a game that day.

That aside, it certainly does seem from my reading of the book that there are some pretty serious flaws. The Trust mechanic is both flawed and boring (the worse it its, the less interaction the NPCS are willing to have with the PCs, which makes them recede further into the background), Ravensgro is portrayed both sketchily and uninterestingly (any interesting NPCs will be ones modified/created by the GM specifically to be interesting, which is bad design), and the BBEG is grotesquely overpowered and must be played to take a dive or he will TPK the party without breaking a sweat (cap the healer in the first couple of rounds -- without the party being able to stop him -- and then pick off the others in whatever order seems most convenient at the time).

There's plenty of good stuff here, but it will require major GM adaptation to use it to advantage. And, since the whole point of an AP is to prevent the GM from having to do that kind of work, I see that as a problem.

Liberty's Edge

Gregg Helmberger wrote:
There's plenty of good stuff here, but it will require major GM adaptation to use it to advantage. And, since the whole point of an AP is to prevent...

These minor matters are fixable with about five minutes of work; and it doesn't even have to be your work, either.

I've addressed the suggested adjustments to TSM in other posts already. The Trust mechanic is, imo, best ignored. It just gets in the way. It's not part of Mike Kortes' design and was bolted on afterwards. Nothing turns upon it and it is best ignored, imo.

I might also add that the entire issue of spending a lot of time in Ravengro largely does not arise in actual gameplay. The finding of Lorrimor's body near Harrowstone and his inclusion of the journal in his chest of Tomes points the PCs at Harrowstone prison almost immediately. They are there so fast and exploring so quickly, most of the events in Ravengro may not even trigger at all.

If there is a problem with the module, it's that it points the way a little too clearly, before the other issues in Ravengro itslelf have time to gestate, develop, and occur. Whereas the issues you mention are niggling matters or easily addressed (when it comes to TSM).

The heart and soul of the module is just not in the interaction of the PCs with the villagers "This is a local shop for local people, we'll have no trouble here!" -- It's the prison, of course.

The magic of The Haunting of Harrowstone is in the dungeon crawl through Harrowstone, which because of the mixing in of haunts, a few creatures, animated objects and undead is a near perfect encounter location as fully realized in terms of mood, layout and sheer exploration fun as any location that Paizo has ever released.

None of the essence of that work of evil genius is impacted by the issues you mention in any meaningful way.


Steel_Wind wrote:

These minor matters are fixable with about five minutes of work; and it doesn't even have to be your work, either.

I've addressed the suggested adjustments to TSM in other posts already. The Trust mechanic is, imo, best ignored. It just gets in the way. It's not part of Mike Kortes' design and was bolted on afterwards. Nothing turns upon it and it is best ignored, imo.

I might also add that the entire issue of spending a lot of time in Ravengro largely does not arise in actual gameplay. The finding of Lorrimor's body near Harrowstone and his inclusion of the journal in his chest of Tomes points the PCs at Harrowstone prison almost immediately. They are there so fast and exploring so quickly, most of the events in Ravengro may not even trigger at all.

If there is a problem with the module, it's that it points the way a little too clearly, before the other issues in Ravengro itslelf have time to gestate, develop, and occur. Whereas the issues you mention are niggling matters or easily addressed (when it comes to TSM).

The heart and soul of the module is just not in the interaction of the PCs with the villagers "This is a local shop for local people, we'll have no toruble here!" -- it's the prison, of course.

The magic of The Haunting of Harrowstone is in the dungeon crawl through Harrowstone, which because of the mixing in of haunts, a few creatures, animated objects and undead is a near perfect encounter location as fully realized in terms of mood, layout and sheer exploraiton fun as any location that Paizo has ever released.

I'd disagree with your contention that the matters are easily fixed or that Ravensgro should be ignored. Yes, Harrowstone is a great location (and yes, the very early stages of the adventure to slap up a big neon GO THERE arrow pointing to the prison -- which is another problem I'd have to address if I ran it to keep the PCs from missing everything else that's supposed to be going on).

But I strongly believe that horror is about 95% atmosphere, which spending lots of time in Ravensgro is supposed to promote, and ignoring that or treating the town like any other cookie-cutter "town next to a dungeon" is missing both the point of Gothic horror and a fantastic opportunity to immerse the players and their PCs into the tone and tenor of the campaign. And, given that, A) the town has to be an interesting one filled with people we actively don't want to see harmed, and B) harm has to be hovering over them -- and, given that this is a game rather than a novel, it has to be hovering over them in such a manner that the PCs can interact with and have impact upon it.

In other words, I feel that the GM is saddled with cutting a town out of whole cloth (using the Ravensgro map if he feels like it) and by coming up with some other mechanic (others on these boards have raised the idea of a madness mechanic to replace the trust mechanic, which I think is an excellent idea) to represent the spreading nightmare from the prison. This isn't a ludicrously huge amount of work or anything, but it's more work than I expect to have to do just to adequately run the first book of any AP not named Kingmaker.

The remaining 5% of horror gaming is, naturally, the crunch, and Paizo gets it mostly very right...with the exception of TSM, who is bafflingly overpowered. And you're right, you can just knock of a couple of levels off, but seriously, why was he designed this way in the first place? Why do I have to spend any time in a published adventure changing the BBEG from a sure-fire TPK to a tough-but-winnable encounter? Is there a reason none of the editors looked at that and said, "Whoa whoa whoa, this is hosed?" It's irksome -- and no more than irksome by itself. When taken together with everything else, it makes me harrumph at the time I have to spend making this adventure be something more than a cool dungeon crawl next to an anonymous town full of people nobody cares about.

Liberty's Edge

Gregg Helmberger wrote:

I'd disagree with your contention that the matters are easily fixed or that Ravensgro should be ignored.

I didn't say that Ravengro should be ignored; I said the trust mechanic should be ignored.

As for the focus that Ravengro may or may not have in your campaign? I think you are kidding yourself here. This atmospheric "slow build-up" in the town and dire portents of doom, etc.? It all sounds great on paper. But the reality is, your players are very unlikely to provide you with enough time and opportunity to do any of it.

The PCs are at the Harrowstone prison so quickly and soon thereafter plowing through the encounters so fast, I honestly doubt that half the events in Ravengro will even have a chance to trigger.

My group cleared the second level of Harrowstone pretty quickly. (They entered through the top floor after making a very hard Break DC check and so did not enter through the main door on the 1st level). They have about 25% of the main level completed as of the second session to Harrowstone. I expect that I will have an opportunity to run the final encounter with Gibs in Ravengro -- but the chances of the town hall fire actually having the time to even occur appear improbable at this rate.

I have wholly abandoned TSM's long dance of possession with Gibs. It's once a night, every night. Even then, that's way too much time for the name to be spelled out. TSM will be lucky to get to draw the "O" and "R" will only happen because the party is resting to be at full hp when they kill TSM. By the time "S" is written, it will be over for the rest of Harrowstone. That means THREE DAYS adventuring in the prison.

So those are the real issues that have arisen where the rubber meets the road. The ones you have suggested are important simply have not had any opportunity to surface -- even remotely. Nor are they likely to unless you re-work the module significantly.

It's pretty hard for you to emphasize any aspect of the module during play session when the players choose not to spend much time in the town, never mind what your preferences may be.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Reckless wrote:
Craig Mercer wrote:


Reckless wrote:


Especially the Trust Point system as presented.
Which has been admited on this messageboard to being flawed. There should have been more earnable trust points.
By whom? Where? I've seen it complained about in numerous threads, but have not seen a Paizo employee come forth and say anything about the system presentation itself. (One Paizo comment about how it's only used in the first installment) I'm probably missing the thread somewhere...

The Trust System itself works fine... we just messed up by not putting enough points into the game to be actually able to reach the highest level of trust. What we should have included was something like, "If the PCs go above and beyond the expected norm in trying to become trusted in town, and do things like heal townsfolk free of charge, make extensive successful diplomacy checks, are good tippers, etc., then feel free to award them additional 1 point Trust awards here and there."

Unfortunate...yeah. But hardly game-breaking. You can finish the adventure without maxing out your Trust score.

As for people being concerned about the adventure being a railroad... maybe they should be playing Kingmaker instead. Not every adventure path is going to be a sandbox experience, and judging by the feedback we've seen about Kingmaker and Serpent's Skull (both adventures with extensive sandboxy elements), a LOT of folks prefer Adventure Paths with stronger plots and storylines—what folks who prefer sandbox games call "railroads."

So... is Carrion Crown pretty "railroady"? (I hate that term!) Yes. Because the previous year of Adventure Paths was overly sandboxy.


Steel_Wind wrote:
It's pretty hard for you to emphasize any aspect of the module during play session when the players choose not to spend much time in the town, never mind what your preferences may be.

And that slingshotting to Harrowstone is another problem, IMO. If I were to run it, I would have to juggle a lot of things to make it less obvious (not likely) or less accessible (easier to do) early on. The town is an integral part of the whole Gothic atmosphere, IMO, and the fact that the book is designed to ignore it (and make it dull as paint if it's not ignored) IS a problem IMO.


Steel_Wind wrote:


As for the focus that Ravengro may or may not have in your campaign? I think you are kidding yourself here. This atmospheric "slow build-up" in the town and dire portents of doom, etc.? It all sounds great on paper. But the reality is, your players are very unlikely to provide you with enough time and opportunity to do any of it.

The PCs are at the Harrowstone prison so quickly and soon thereafter plowing through the encounters so fast, I honestly doubt that half the events in Ravengro will even have a chance to trigger.

See, to my mind that's a problem, though for your players it may be just what they are looking for. I agree with what others have said that a horror campaign needs to include an atmosphere where the PCs have a chance to feel and see the effects of horror around them and buy into the fact that bad things are going on. The best way to do that without sketchy mechanics is, in my opinion, to involve people and places the PCs care about but who are much less capable than the PCs. If I ran this adventure and my PCs went straight to Harrowstone to clear it out I feel I might as well be running the Sunless Citadel, where the dungeon is the focus and the town only serves as a catalyst to send the PCs into the dungeon and reward them for doing so.

Still, from my opening sessions with Kingmaker it seems I'm blessed with PCs who are actually interested in any NPC they meet, from random caravan guards I make up on the spot, to captured bandits(now with names and not completely black-hearted backstories), to major ones like Oleg and Svetlana. I also seem to be halfway decent at making the NPC encounters at least semi-interesting, so I'm not all that worried about my PCs charging straight for Harrowstone without talking to the townsfolk when I get to this adventure. If they did, however, I'd see that as a failure on my part for having what should be a horror adventure turn into a basic kick in the door dungeon crawl, though admittedly Harrowstone is a great encounter site if that's what I was looking for.

Anyways, I think that's just more of a play style thing, and I agree that other than the Trust mechanic nothing is unworkable for a DM. However, I see the side of the argument for people who bought the AP and don't have time to make sure it's tweaked just right to invoke a sense of horror.

Liberty's Edge

idilippy wrote:


See, to my mind that's a problem, though for your players it may be just what they are looking for.

It's not meant to be a comment on the "what should be", rather, it is a comment on "what is".

Because as written, that is what is going to happen. The players are going to head like a bullet to Harrowstone. So if you are trying to emphasize other aspects of the module to delay that event, you need to change the premise. Simple as that.

I would suggest that some building blocks to change the timeline and delay the march off to Harrowstone might include:

a) Change the location of the Professor's Murder to the Monument by the River;
b) Add a few of the runes found on the base of Harrowstone prison to the monument as well near Hawkran's name (without those runes spelling out his name - perhaps change one of the runes to be part of a magic circle of protection against good, focussed inwards? revealed by Knowledge Arcana DC12);
c) lead tracks away from the site of Lorrimor's murder leading back into town past Gibs' place and towards the centre of town.
d) change the Professor's journal and exclude any reference to Harrowstone prison from it. Point the journal instead to the interest of the WW in the monument and his amazement as to why others are interested.
e) Remove the overt reference to the Whispering Way and change it to "WW". (Do this no matter what, in my opinion).

The red letters can continue to appear at the monument as written, so Gibs may be confused with the WW as the murderer -- so much the better, I suppose.

There are a few more things which you could do which would serve to emphasize the research aspects, Ravengro population and role-playing within the module (and to de-emphasize the rush to the dungeon). I haven't thought too hard about this, as the module as presented is quite to my liking. But my tastes seem not to be yours.

Still for all that, right now? It's a rush to the dungeon. That's not a bad thing, overall, as there are still opportunities to work some things in and -- most of all -- because the dungeon is so strongly designed. But I am sensing that right now, there is a disconnect between what is desired, and "what is".

As matters stand right now, as written? Ravengro just isn't the focus of this adventure. At all. While you may have a disagreement with the design philosophy, the implementation of this part of the Carrion Crown AP outline is not Mike Kortes' "fault".

After all, this is The Haunting of Harrowstone; it's not The Haunting of Ravengro.


Steel_Wind wrote:

As matters stand right now, as written? Ravengro just isn't the focus of this adventure. At all. While you may have a disagreement with the design philosophy, the implementation of this part of the Carrion Crown AP outline is not Mike Kortes' "fault".

After all, this is The Haunting of Harrowstone; it's not The Haunting of Ravengro.

I think your analysis is spot-on, and your recommendations are generally good. The hang-up for me comes from the fact that this is a dungeon crawl that's advertising itself as Gothic horror. And it may be the greatest dungeon crawl ever, but it's still advertising itself as something it's not really delivering. And since, if I run it, I'll want to run it Gothic horror, I'd have a lot of work to do to get it into shape.

So, what's the deal? Did Paizo ask for a Gothic horror adventure and get a dungeon crawl with a town-by-a-dungeon tacked on, or did they set out to have a ripping crawl focused on undead marketed as Gothic horror? The reason I bring this up is because what you see isn't precisely what you get. Now, I have no idea what the next five books in the AP will bring, but the opening, tone-setting adventure that constitutes the first sixth of the AP isn't really Gothic horror. Again, IMO.

Liberty's Edge

Gregg Helmberger wrote:


So, what's the deal? Did Paizo ask for a Gothic horror adventure and get a dungeon crawl with a town-by-a-dungeon tacked on, or did they set out to have a ripping crawl focused on undead marketed as Gothic horror?

I think perhaps you are being a little harsh here in devaluing the unique nature of the dungeon more than you should.

Because it is the use of haunts, animated objects, minor undead, some creepy living creatures, and a few major undead -- all in a setting of a burnt out prison -- which contributes substnatially to the mood of that dungeon. And Harrowtone is not "yet-enother-dungeon"

The dungeon is NOT just a dungeon crawl, imo. The place ia haunted and it FEELS haunted in terms of the vibe that is present at the table during play. This place doesn't feel like a cave, fortress, or some other "standard" ruin with some undead in it.

Harrowstone presents a completely different feel and one which makes a genuiine effort at fulfilling the mission statement of the AP. Whether it succeeds in that mission is a matter upon which reasonable men may disagree, but I do think that it is fair to acknowledge that they have genuinely strived to do so. Just because THoH deesn't do it in exactly the way you would prefer does not mean that Paizo has moved the goalposts or done a bait and switch.

The fact it is a dungeon does not mean it is yet another dungeon crawl. It has a haunted feel which sets it off from other advantures I have run; and I suggest that it will feel different when you run it, too.

Dark Archive

Steel_Wind wrote:
The heart and soul of the module is just not in the interaction of the PCs with the villagers "This is a local shop for local people, we'll have no trouble here!"

I'm not sure it it was a coincidence or intentional on your part, but I think for my game Ravengro just turned into Royston Vasey.

Paizo Employee Creative Director

1 person marked this as a favorite.

What we asked for from the author in this case is, basically, "Give us a cool haunted prison adventure—something with all sorts of spooky atmosphere."

That was always the primary purpose of the adventure—effectively, a haunted house. Only in this case, "house" = "prison."

Presenting a fully developed and detailed small town to adventure in was a secondary goal of the adventure.

The PRIMARY goal of the Carrion Crown adventures, in fact, is to present spooky locations with cool, "on theme" adventures. Be that theme ghost stories, werewolf stories, Lovecraftian stories, vampire stories, or whatever.

If you're looking for an Adventure Path with lots of super-detailed NPCs and interactions with them... you might want to look into the upcoming Jade Regent adventure path. If you're more interested in seeing an AP that focuses on developing an urban location, Curse of the Crimson Throne or Council of Thieves are better bets.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber
James Jacobs wrote:

What we asked for from the author in this case is, basically, "Give us a cool haunted prison adventure—something with all sorts of spooky atmosphere."

That was always the primary purpose of the adventure—effectively, a haunted house. Only in this case, "house" = "prison."

Presenting a fully developed and detailed small town to adventure in was a secondary goal of the adventure.

The PRIMARY goal of the Carrion Crown adventures, in fact, is to present spooky locations with cool, "on theme" adventures. Be that theme ghost stories, werewolf stories, Lovecraftian stories, vampire stories, or whatever.

If you're looking for an Adventure Path with lots of super-detailed NPCs and interactions with them... you might want to look into the upcoming Jade Regent adventure path. If you're more interested in seeing an AP that focuses on developing an urban location, Curse of the Crimson Throne or Council of Thieves are better bets.

Even knowing this small background on the core philosophy behind this AP and this (and future) adventures is really helpful. You should always release this sort information for all of your AP so that both the DM and the players have a idea of what to expect for each adventure and the future. It's easy to know this information once the entire AP is released and you can see the entire adventure, but at this point with just one adventure out it's hard to know what to expect down the road.

Personally I'm sort of seeing this similar to the Age of Worms AP which had a TON of terror/horror ... and a massive amount of combat! Actually I really hope Carrion Crown is a lot like AoW as that was, by far, the best AP of them all.

Bring on the horror!

Paizo Employee Creative Director

Stonesnake wrote:

Even knowing this small background on the core philosophy behind this AP and this (and future) adventures is really helpful. You should always release this sort information for all of your AP so that both the DM and the players have a idea of what to expect for each adventure and the future. It's easy to know this information once the entire AP is released and you can see the entire adventure, but at this point with just one adventure out it's hard to know what to expect down the road.

Personally I'm sort of seeing this similar to the Age of Worms AP which had a TON of terror/horror ... and a massive amount of combat! Actually I really hope Carrion Crown is a lot like AoW as that was, by far, the best AP of them all.

Bring on the horror!

These boards are, frankly, the BEST place for us to put this type of content. It's not really appropriate to waste space in print talking about our design philosophies about that book, in my opinion. It's better to let the adventure or book or whatever stand for itself.

I (and the rest of us here at Paizo) are only too happy to wax philosophical and talk at length about how and why we design things the way we do here on these boards (and periodically on the blog)... but that's where that type of talk should probably stay. If only because blog posts and messageboard posts don't have word counts.

Dark Archive

Well, I fully understand that not every location can be as atmospheric and compelling as Sandpoint or Korvosa, and not every NPC can be Vencarlo Orisini or Saul Vankaskerkin.

Ravengo is a boring farming community next to a spooky prison. They are superstitious villagers that are suspicious of outsiders, and don't even have any dark secrets worth revealing. the Players will just have to suffer though 20 Minutes With Jerks before horrible things start happening to them. And the encounters in town are actually pretty cool. I fully intend to finagle the details a little bit to stop the PCs from making a b-line to Harrowstone, if only to give me time for the stirges and a random zombie or two.

The problem will be maintaining the horror. I've seen too many lighthearted action-horror parodies to take this stuff 100% seriously anymore. For example, the first thing I thought of when I read the bit about mistaking the zombie for a drunk was Shaun of the Dead. It's even hard to take Tentacles seriously anymore. It's all "Oy, it's tentacles everywhere again. There goes the rose garden." my habit of falling back on Discworld whenever I'm a a loss wont help.

Sovereign Court RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

As sad as I am to say, I actually have to chime in with "Ravengo needs the 30 days of hostage-taking".

It doesn't feel compelling, but reads as the "obnoxious locals" - which is fitting for the adventure, but doesn't frankly need the support article. I would find it unlikely that the group ever returns to the town after their 30 days are up.


James Jacobs wrote:

What we asked for from the author in this case is, basically, "Give us a cool haunted prison adventure—something with all sorts of spooky atmosphere."

That was always the primary purpose of the adventure—effectively, a haunted house. Only in this case, "house" = "prison."

Presenting a fully developed and detailed small town to adventure in was a secondary goal of the adventure.

The PRIMARY goal of the Carrion Crown adventures, in fact, is to present spooky locations with cool, "on theme" adventures. Be that theme ghost stories, werewolf stories, Lovecraftian stories, vampire stories, or whatever.

Ah, fair enough. I guess it's just differing expectation of what "Gothic horror" means, then. Which is to be expected, I guess -- horror is the most personal of all genres, after all.

There's no doubt that Harrowstone is a great location, and very well done, and I can't fault the adventure for not providing something it didn't set out to provide. I'm still not sure the label is accurate, but that's just an opinion, and you know what those are like.

James Jacobs wrote:
If you're looking for an Adventure Path with lots of super-detailed NPCs and interactions with them... you might want to look into the upcoming Jade Regent adventure path.

I am looking for such an AP...but Jade Regent leaves me as cold as it possibly could without it being encased in dry ice. Ah well. I'm sure you'll do another down the road.


Steel_Wind wrote:

As matters stand right now, as written? Ravengro just isn't the focus of this adventure. At all. While you may have a disagreement with the design philosophy, the implementation of this part of the Carrion Crown AP outline is not Mike Kortes' "fault".

Steel_Wind - thanks a ton for your many comments, suggestions and solutions especially the above. However, my family feels it necessary to clarify that in point of fact: everything is my fault, including everything in general, at all times.

As to some of the comments by other posters, I think it is great that people would have liked to see Ravengro further developed or to have more NPCs who tie into the prison itself. There are a lot of different directions a project like this could be taken.

As James has kindly beat me to the punch on, much of the word count was strategically devoted to the prison. With more space, one can achieve more, but now that I'm reading through it, I like to think we did pretty solid in any event.

If folks have cool ideas of how to further develop Ravengro and make it their own - which is usually the case where your audience is a sea of high-end GMs - I think that would be awesome.


Gregg Helmberger wrote:
Steel_Wind wrote:

These minor matters are fixable with about five minutes of work; and it doesn't even have to be your work, either.

I've addressed the suggested adjustments to TSM in other posts already. The Trust mechanic is, imo, best ignored. It just gets in the way. It's not part of Mike Kortes' design and was bolted on afterwards. Nothing turns upon it and it is best ignored, imo.

I might also add that the entire issue of spending a lot of time in Ravengro largely does not arise in actual gameplay. The finding of Lorrimor's body near Harrowstone and his inclusion of the journal in his chest of Tomes points the PCs at Harrowstone prison almost immediately. They are there so fast and exploring so quickly, most of the events in Ravengro may not even trigger at all.

If there is a problem with the module, it's that it points the way a little too clearly, before the other issues in Ravengro itslelf have time to gestate, develop, and occur. Whereas the issues you mention are niggling matters or easily addressed (when it comes to TSM).

The heart and soul of the module is just not in the interaction of the PCs with the villagers "This is a local shop for local people, we'll have no toruble here!" -- it's the prison, of course.

The magic of The Haunting of Harrowstone is in the dungeon crawl through Harrowstone, which because of the mixing in of haunts, a few creatures, animated objects and undead is a near perfect encounter location as fully realized in terms of mood, layout and sheer exploraiton fun as any location that Paizo has ever released.

I'd disagree with your contention that the matters are easily fixed or that Ravensgro should be ignored. Yes, Harrowstone is a great location (and yes, the very early stages of the adventure to slap up a big neon GO THERE arrow pointing to the prison -- which is another problem I'd have to address if I ran it to keep the PCs from missing everything else that's supposed to be going on).

But I strongly believe that...

Horror IS about atmosphere and that's precisely why Harrowstone is such a brilliantly executed dungeon and also why Ravengro is the iconic suspicious village. Would it truly be beneficial to the mood of the setting to turn Ravengro into Shadowdale? An honest answer to that question will end this debate once and for all. . .


Jon Kines wrote:


Horror IS about atmosphere and that's precisely why Harrowstone is such a brilliantly executed dungeon and also why Ravengro is the iconic suspicious village. Would it truly be beneficial to the mood of the setting to turn Ravengro into Shadowdale? An honest answer to that question will end this debate once and for all. . .

Beats me. All I know about Shadowdale is it's in the Forgotten Realms. I never played in or read that setting.

I've never said anything against Harrowstone. It's a great dungeon. But a great dungeon isn't what I think of when I hear the term "Gothic horror." And as written, Ravensgro isn't "suspicious" as much as "noninteractive" and "boring." IMO. YMMV. Various other collections of letters.

ETA: But again, I can't knock the module for not making Ravensgro immersive and interesting, because it didn't really try to. It wasn't a design goal. I, personally, think it should have been, but then I, personally, don't work for Paizo. :-)


Gregg Helmberger wrote:
Jon Kines wrote:


Horror IS about atmosphere and that's precisely why Harrowstone is such a brilliantly executed dungeon and also why Ravengro is the iconic suspicious village. Would it truly be beneficial to the mood of the setting to turn Ravengro into Shadowdale? An honest answer to that question will end this debate once and for all. . .

Beats me. All I know about Shadowdale is it's in the Forgotten Realms. I never played in or read that setting.

I've never said anything against Harrowstone. It's a great dungeon. But a great dungeon isn't what I think of when I hear the term "Gothic horror." And as written, Ravensgro isn't "suspicious" as much as "noninteractive" and "boring." IMO. YMMV. Various other collections of letters.

ETA: But again, I can't knock the module for not making Ravensgro immersive and interesting, because it didn't really try to. It wasn't a design goal. I, personally, think it should have been, but then I, personally, don't work for Paizo. :-)

What is interesting or scary to one group won't work for another. That is why I think the DM is left to fill in the blanks. Speaking personally I always worry more about new monsters than ones I have seen before as a player.


Gregg Helmberger wrote:
Jon Kines wrote:


Horror IS about atmosphere and that's precisely why Harrowstone is such a brilliantly executed dungeon and also why Ravengro is the iconic suspicious village. Would it truly be beneficial to the mood of the setting to turn Ravengro into Shadowdale? An honest answer to that question will end this debate once and for all. . .

Beats me. All I know about Shadowdale is it's in the Forgotten Realms. I never played in or read that setting.

I've never said anything against Harrowstone. It's a great dungeon. But a great dungeon isn't what I think of when I hear the term "Gothic horror." And as written, Ravensgro isn't "suspicious" as much as "noninteractive" and "boring." IMO. YMMV. Various other collections of letters.

ETA: But again, I can't knock the module for not making Ravensgro immersive and interesting, because it didn't really try to. It wasn't a design goal. I, personally, think it should have been, but then I, personally, don't work for Paizo. :-)

I couldn't disagree more. The author even went so far as to suggest several subplots within Ravengro should the DM wish to flesh out the town more. It ultimately comes to down word count, and the expectation that a DM is going to fill in his own sideline stories as well.

As for the town "style", that is really a matter of interpretation. I think it should be played as suspicious, fearful, a bit spooky. I think it was intended to be portrayed as such and in any event that is how it came across for me.

The Shadowdale reference was an attempt to illustrate the incongruency of a happy little village and gothic horror. The sleepy village of suspicious outsiders and dark secrets is iconic within the genre.

Having played since 1E, I can't really think of many modules that put forth the effort that was put into Ravengro and to trying to strike the balance between railroad and sandbox. H1-H4, for example, was probably one of the more epic campaigns ever published and yet I've been given more detail about Ravengro already then that campaign gave to all of Vaasa.

At some point the DM has to imagine, create and storytell. No module can ever plan for every thought, possibility, and contingency. To even attempt such would be quixotic.


Aside from trust points, I have a few small issues.

Spoiler:
On the balcony where the executions take place, it says that the west block 2nd level cells have a full view of this balcony. When you get to the 2nd level, it says that the cells don't have any windows and that's why the smoke from the fire killed the prisoners. Also, the description of the cellblock says open cells are marked with an X on the map (they are not).

The guards may not have gone back in time to save the warden's wife, but surely they would have at least retreived her body (and the bodies of the prisoners on level 2).

The Town Hall fire seems like a potential TPK, and where exactly are the lanterns on the map? The meeting hall description says they are marked on the map, but they are not.

Overall, I liked this adventure a lot, but there could be improvements, and it seems to require a lot of GM work to fix some issues.


wraithstrike wrote:

What is interesting or scary to one group won't work for another. That is why I think the DM is left to fill in the blanks. Speaking personally I always worry more about new monsters than ones I have seen before as a player.

Completely true -- horror is individualistic, as I mentioned above. That's why horror roleplaying is an incredibly difficult challenge to pull off, IME. Even assuming the GM knows what's going to scare his players (not necessarily a valid assumption), it's very difficult to bring that to a RPG situation where you know the enemy critter has a statblock and you can kill it if you just manage to inflict enough HP damage. It truly is a daunting task to pull off horror even at one table, much less write a module that will be scary for thousands of tables.

I'm assuming you'd agree, though, that new monsters /= horror. :-)


Jon Kines wrote:

I couldn't disagree more. The author even went so far as to suggest several subplots within Ravengro should the DM wish to flesh out the town more. It ultimately comes to down word count, and the expectation that a DM is going to fill in his own sideline stories as well.

As for the town "style", that is really a matter of interpretation. I think it should be played as suspicious, fearful, a bit spooky. I think it was intended to be portrayed as such and in any event that is how it came across for me.

The Shadowdale reference was an attempt to illustrate the incongruency of a happy little village and gothic horror. The sleepy village of suspicious outsiders and dark secrets is iconic within the genre.

Having played since 1E, I can't really think of many modules that put forth the effort that was put into Ravengro and to trying to strike the balance between railroad and sandbox. H1-H4, for example, was probably one of the more epic campaigns ever published and yet I've been given more detail about Ravengro already then that campaign gave to all of Vaasa.

At some point the DM has to imagine, create and storytell. No module can ever plan for every thought, possibility, and contingency. To even attempt such would be quixotic.

I didn't want a happy little village, I wanted more creepy and scary stuff in the village. So, the opposite of Shadowdale, I guess? Shadowdale After Dark? Deeperdarknessdale? Twilightdale?

Yes, I should be brutally and savagely beaten for that last one. :-D

If the town works for you, great. This really does seem to be a situation where the problem is more mine than the module's, and I'll freely cop to that. The module was designed to focus on one thing, and for some reason I had it in my head that it was going to focus on something else. Mismatched expectations, that's all -- and it succeeds brilliantly in doing what it actually set out to do, as opposed to what it didn't set out to do. I mean, seriously, it's a fantastic dungeon, one of the very best I've read in 33 years of gaming. The town, to me, is boring, and I think the module gives you no reason to care about anything that's happening there or to spend more than about three seconds in its environs before following the very clear and unequivocal path to Harrowstone. You find the town spooky and evocative. Since I seem to be in the (tiny) minority, I again freely admit that the problem lies not in my (RPG Super)stars, but in myself.

And anyway, I need to bow out of this thread because I just found out one of my group wants to GM this instead of Curse of the Crimson Throne, so I need to get busy forgetting all I've learned about it!

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