Petri Wessman's weblog

Minireview: Shifting Sands (Pathfinder "Mummy's Mask" 3/6)

Shifting Sands finally moves the “Mummy’s Mask” into its main plotline, a bit belatedly in my opinion. Here, the PCs search for an ancient vanished library in order to do some research about what they are up against. This is a refreshing change of pace from the normal “kill stuff and take loot” approach taken in D&D -style modules. In order to find the library, there is an initial “wilderness hex crawl” section which is potentially quite nice, though the GM would need to keep tight control on the game flow in order not to frustrate the players. One small problem is that the encounters here have little to no connection with the main plot, so they should be kept to a small number. Then, later, in the library, the module has a research minigame to reflect how well they do. And, of course, there’s combat.

It’s not bad at all, and as noted finally zeroes in on the “main plot”, which has been quite elusive and mostly invisible to the players up to now. There is a fun NPC here, but since it’s a single central figure, care should be taken not to make the NPC a source of frustration – the PCs will need to handle social interactions carefully, here. Of course, the fact that the module has social interaction and not just endless combat is a plus point.

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Minireview: Empty Graves (Pathfinder "Mummy's Mask" 2/6)

Empty Graves continues the “Mummy’s Mask” storyline, and after a lackluster first episode I have to say that this is more like it. It’s not problem-free, but at least it now starts the actual main plot (though that is still quite hidden to the players).

The events of the first episode triggered an attack on the city of Wati by and undead horde, and the PCs are expected to track down the source. On the plus side, this opens up Wati into a nice sandbox environment and expands on the (somewhat meager) location selection of the first adventure. There are neat little set pieces, and the fact that there are multiple plot lines running at the same time gives the GM some help for providing events for the PCs to tackle. On the minus side, I have a slight problem with PC motivation here; in the beginning, they are expected to be tomb raiders (of sorts), and now they are suddenly expected to save the city? Why don’t they just say “well, screw this!” and get the hell out of Dodge? Some GM intervention may be needed there. Also, I’m a bit worried that the main plot is too obscured here, and that the players will probably finish this with (still) no real idea of what is going on. This is not good for player buy-in. In any case, it’s a decent module and better than part one at least.

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Minireview: The Half-Dead City (Pathfinder "Mummy's Mask" 1/6)

Ok, start of a new adventure path from Paizo. This time it’s the Egyptian-themed (sorry, “Osirian-themed”) “Mummy’s Mask”, kicking off with The Half-Dead City. While there’s potential here, it ends up being a fairly “meh” affair, unfortunately.

The PCs play “tomb raiders” of a sort; the half-necropolis town of Wadi holds a lottery allowing explorers to venture out into the tomb complex (for reasons which didn’t really seem all that believable to me, but whatever). There are multiple parties on site, so the PCs have plenty of opportunities to interact with other raider/explorer groups. They get send to various tombs, and while the encounters there are ok, there’s little to really grab the attention. Also, I would have liked to see more general encounters and events in Wadi, not just a bunch of tombs and a “mission hub”.

The biggest problem is that this whole thing has almost nothing to do with the main plot. It’s not bad, and neither is it especially good, mostly it’s just irrelevant.

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Minireview: City of Locusts (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 6/6)

In City of Locusts, the “Wrath of the Righteous” storyline culminates in an assault on the demonic City of Locusts, the stronghold of demon lord Deskari. It’s decent, there are some interesting bits here, but at the same time it’s a bit of an anticlimax after all the “mythic” stuff the PCs have been doing leading up to this. The plot has the PCs concentrate on things they, frankly, should not have to deal with at this power level, and despite most of this adventure being a high-power combatfest, it’s still a bit lacking in the “grand finale” department. It’s not bad by any means, just not all that it could have been.

Still, this adventure path as a whole ended up being a lot better than I imagined it to be. That has less to do with the “mythic” power level angle than with the fact that it was, overall, very well written and had a lot of small details I liked. The “in medias res” start was great, and I also liked that there were several LGBT major NPCs in the mix, without much fuss being made about their sexual orientations. I also liked the fact that there was room for non-combat solutions for problems, here and there, even with demons.

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Minireview: Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 5/6)

Here, in Herald of the Ivory Labyrinth, the “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path winds up for the finish, with a side quest – but a fairly cool one, in which a goddess asks the PCs for help in raiding a demon lord’s realm and rescuing (or destroying) a corrupt Herald of hers. It’s extremely high-power stuff, as befits the “mythic” theme of this adventure path.

While it’s more combat-heavy than I prefer (hey, it’s a raid on a demon lord), it’s still nicely freeform in places and the PCs get a lot of freedom in how they approach the problem; anything from direct attack to sneaky attack can work, but both need solid tactics. There’s also the option of gaining allies (of sorts) within the “prison” where the Herald is being kept, so it’s not necessarily all combat. The setting is nicely weird, and there are some unexpected bits here and there. While as a whole it’s a side quest from the main plot, it’s a nice warm-up for the upcoming finale.

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Minireview: The Midnight Isles (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 4/6)

The Midnight Isles continues the “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path, and does a fairly good job in keeping the story going. This time, the PCs are expected to raid a demonic subrealm to stop the new source of power used by the demons in their war of conquest. In a way, it’s a bit less “mythic” than the predecessors in this path, in that the PCs “just” go to sabotage a production facility, something that is somewhat on the sidelines of the main plot. On the other hand, it does take place in a sub-realm and features all sorts of mythic-level encounters, many of which need to be negotiated with (ideally, at least) instead of the normal brute force approach. This is good. The whole thing is fairly freeform; while it’s no sandbox it does leave the PCs quite a bit of leeway on how they want to approach things.

Nothing spectacular, but quite a solid showing here. This adventure path continues to be better than I expected.

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Minireview: Demon's Heresy (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 3/6)

Demon’s Heresy is the midpoint of the “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path, and it eases up the pace quite a bit. Where the first chapter had the PCs reacting as survivors and the second had them go on the offensive against the demon horde, this third part is more of a sandbox affair. They’ve secured their hold on the city of Drezen, and now need to venture out into the wilds of the Worldwound to seek out certain new McGuffins and seek new possible allies (and clues to how the demons might be stopped).

It’s pretty nice. The fact that it’s more a sandbox than a linear affair is good, since the previous events have been much more linear. The encounters are quite interesting generally, and the NPCs are nicely written and have varying motivations (sometimes very much against stereotype). Of course, the dangers of a sandbox exist here also; without good GM guidance this can devolve into a boring “wander around the wastelands aimlessly” affair. PC motivations and plot flow will probably need some GM tweaking here and there. In any case, the design here is quite solid, and while there is some “dungeon crawl” involved it’s not too bad.

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Minireview: Sword of Valor (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 2/6)

The “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path continues with Sword of Valor, in which the PCs start the offensive against the demon hordes. The first part had the PCs (and some additional NPCs) as the survivors of a massive demonic surprise attack; here, they are recruited by the surviving leaders to head a counter-attack into the Worldwound, to fetch a McGuffin (the Sword of Valor) from the demon-occupied city of Drezen. To mirror the “heroic” theme of this adventure path, it’s naturally assumed that the PCs are the heroic types which will eagerly take up the task, otherwise things will grind to a halt.

Like the first part, this is pretty good stuff. The first half features an overland journey towards the occupied city, encountering demonic resistance along the way. The good thing here is that this is not only of the “kill, smash!” variety, there’s a lot of more subtle resistance also (including possible corruption of some of the NPCs, depending on PC actions). It’s well done, and reads like an interesting journey. As an extra bonus point, we have the (fairly subtle) introduction of two separate gey couples into the story, in a way which doesn’t make a big deal of their orientation(s).

The second part features the city of Drezen, and mass army combat. Mass combat rules are included here, but I have no idea of how they work in practice. Assuming they work at least somewhat, this second portions should also be interesting, with the PCs leading an army to reclaim a city. There’s also some more conventional small-scale combat, when the PCs attempt to find the artifact they came here for.

I continue to be positively surprised here, I wasn’t expecting all that much from this adventure path. Good job.

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Minireview: The Worldwound Incursion (Pathfinder "Wrath of the Righteous" 1/6)

The Worldwound Incursion opens up the new “Wrath of the Righteous” adventure path, set near the demon-infested Worldwound. I was a bit sceptical of how interesting a “legendary heroes fight demons” adventure path would be, but at least this first installment is promising. The path ties in with Pathfinders “legendary characters” rules options, which give extra power to the PCs so that stories can reach “epic scope” without needed ridiculous levels of character experience.

The initial setup is great, and something a bit out of the norm. The crusader city of Kenabres is hit by a massive demonic assault, and the PCs happen to be the only survivors at ground zero. All this is kicked off “in medias res”, with actual play beginning with the survivors dusting themselves off at the bottom of a vast underground chasm and figuring out “well, what now?”. No “meet stranger at pub”, no “ally X asks for help”, just “shit happened, you are a bunch of random people in the middle of it, go”. As a bonus, a few NPC survivors, each with different agendas, are also included. How the PCs deal with them and whether or not the NPCs survive has repercussions later on. All in all, this is a great way to kick off a campaign, and makes it easy to figure out PC motivations for what comes later. The included NPCs were also quite interesting.

Strong start to a new tale.

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Minireview: Rasputin Must Die! (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 5/6)

I have to admit, I’ve found the “Reign of Winter” adventure path to be much better than I’ve expected. It’s dimension-hopping fun, and while it gets more than a bit gonzo at times, the action varies quite a bit and there are lots of options to choose how to approach problems. As for that gonzo portion: in this installment Rasputin Must Die!: the PCs need to face against the mad monk Rasputin, on our Earth in the year 1918. Of course, since this is a fantasy campaign, here Rasputin has real magic powers and is holding the fabled Baba Yaga prisoner. Also, since it is our Earth, this gives the GM and the players a chance to pit fireballs against Russian tanks and machine guns. It sounds like it shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does: it’s well-written, the action flows smoothly, and it takes the unusual setting assumptions here and runs with it. Quite impressive, really.

I’m sure some people will hate this adventure for mixing bits of real history with D&D, but I really like the result here, especially since I was expecting this to fail.

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