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So, my group has been played Dead Suns since launch basically. We just finished book 3, are taking a break to try out some 2nd ed Pathfinder, but plan to return to finish it out. And, thus far, I'm having a lot of fun, but I have several disappointing issues with it.
1) On the whole, the AP feels very railroady and outside of the physical actions, the PCs seem to be mostly secondary to the plot. They're always too late, one step behind, unable to crack that computer code. Just wait, the NPCs will tell you were to toddle off to next.
The whole hunt for the Marrowblight in particular was a good example of this. It looks like a mystery, feels like a mystery, but, in reality it is just a trap. The Marrowblight just sending a message saying, "Hey, I'm with the corpse fleet, I live in a hut, come flight me,' would have had the same effect and been easier and less prone to failure on there part then the whole convoluted theft and recruitment ruse they pulled to get us out there. And once again, having the next piece of information being hidden on a hard to crack data pad that is prone to wiping so you once again, must wait on the NPCs to exposit at you where to go is disappointing.
2) The jungle part of book 2 is one of the least fun parts I've ever encountered in a game. Super railroady, too many status effects, and not nearly enough loot or money to make it feel worth the while.
3) Status effect overload. Look, I get it, you have new disease and poison rules. You want us to see them. But nearly every single creature you fight has some aura, disease, poison, ect. that just heap negatives onto the characters. Constantly having your abilities compromised because you have to make a fort save every round isn't the most fun thing.
3) Uninspired antagonists, across the board. The Devourer Cultist in particular is kind of rough, because while they're obviously very bad, the whole murder cult thing makes them difficult to engage with. It's hard to really feel antagonism toward them, because they just murder, it has no rhyme, reason, or aim, it is pain for the sake of it. And that just isn't all that engaging.
The Corpse Fleet are a super cool concept, but the whole last half of book 3 is so much sound and fury to just end up in a trap that feels hollow. The hopping Vampire guy shows up after the (incredible, scary, and wonderful) fight verses the Elicoth, and is all 'Ah, you are a thorn in my side, grr!' and this is the first time we've ever met him, so my group just did not care. Between the aforementioned Elicoth and the also rather disappointing fight with the cowering Marrowblight, it was just combat overload. And the guy at the end of book 2 felt very similar. He swaggers down after having, of course, already sent the signal (thus making most of the reason we where out there pointless) like we have any clue who he is. We did not.
4) Eox was super disappointing. Instead of being like a cool Dark City esque world of gothic horror, what we interact with is a grubby, slummy, broken down street corner. I feel like this was a major missed opportunity.
I know, that's a lot of negative, but I want to stress that I am enjoying it! I loved the first book, especially Absolom Station. The first part of the second book was also super fun, especially in my group where we ended it with a surprise concert that my icon musician Shirren played. I'm just curious what others think, if people agree, or at least had similar issues, or if they are totally loving it and think I'm way off base!
I think, in retrospect, Paizo should have been a *lot* more conservative with the poison/disease effects. Not only are the new rules much nastier than Pathfinder, but they are so qualitatively different that no one has the experience or instincts for how to handle it. Deadly combination.
It might have been better to put in some showcase encounters with them, with the book actually taking a few paragraphs to brief the GM on "pay attention to this, this might be new to you or your players". Don't make it a random side ability of the monster, make it the main topic of that encounter.
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Pandapeep, I'm with you on most of your thoughts. In fact, I've written reviews for the first two books that more or less echo what you're saying here. A lot of railroading, a bit heavy on the long-duration status ailments, and a sorta blah plot without compelling antagonists.
Particularly irritating railroady bits include:
- Starfinder contact dies in a cutscene that PCs have no ability to help prevent. His death has no impact on the plot and he isn't anyone important.
- Ambassador Nor gets footage of your exploits no matter what you did to avoid him.
- "You must trek on foot through this jungle, nothing else is allowed."
- Nothing you do in your jungle trek can allow you to catch up to your foes, nor influence their inevitable success at the Temple.
- You leave Star Eater's Spine with no leads and no idea of what to do, only to be attacked by enemies that give away the culprit. NPCs contact you and tell you "go to this particular place on Eox to continue the story"
- The Corpse Fleet creates an absurdly elaborate "trap" that (as you point out Pandapeep) could have easily just involved them telling the PCs to come to the Eoxian countryside.
I did a bunch of rewriting for Book 3 for these reasons (I'm the GM for my group), tying up loose ends and providing a stronger PC-action-driven through line.
The clean-up team had instructions to check the mainframe for any useful data that was missed and then delete what's left. Leader of the clean-up team has an encoded message from their superior officer telling them to go to a meeting point on Eox in the Splice once they're done. This provides a cleaner lead for PCs to go to Eox.
PCs can decode the message with Culture or go to Chiskisk or Nor for more background on Eox and help decoding it.
In the Splice, the PCs don't necessarily know where to start looking - but the Ministry is commonly known to process information about the Corpse Fleet, so it makes sense for them to go there of their own volition. Ministry provides two complaints - missing flesh from the factory where a worker said they saw a corpsefolk in a Fleet uniform, and a neighbor complaining that his apartment block has too many armed visitors and he thinks its the Corpse Fleet.
The meeting point is in the apartment block, but visiting the factory provides PCs info on what time of day to go to the apartment to meet the contact. Marrowblight is at the apartment block at midnight. Runs away once the PCs catch on, adding a vehicle chase to the book as Marrowblight returns home to their pet Ellicoth + contacts Zeera to let her know the PCs are coming.
PCs find Marrowblight is a Corpse Fleet agent that was in charge of recruitment in Orphys. At her house are a couple of Corpse Fleet hopefuls that can be interrogated - they know they were taken to meet with the commander of this unit at a bone gorge nearby. Other options - including hacking a datapad and tracking vehicles - provides similar info.
PCs face-down with Zeera and her troops in the gorge.