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Minireview: The Witch Queen's Revenge (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 6/6)

The Witch Queen’s Revenge brings the “Reign of Winter” adventure path to a close, and it’s not a bad ending to a (surprisingly!) good adventure path; while it doesn’t rise to the heights of the previous Rasputin-themed one, it’s still a solid ending. Having rescued Baba Yaga, the PCs still need to actually free her. This requires delving into the intricate pocket dimensions hidden inside the Tardis… err, hut, where Baba Yaga has hidden some failsafes to guard against worst cases like this.

On the downside, it’s very linear and much too much of a combat-fest to my liking. On the other hand, the pocket dimensions are interesting, and the inhabitants can (and probably should) be tweaked to be less auto-attacking monsters and more role-playing challenges. And, of course, there’s the end question: given that the PCs succeed in freeing Baba Yaga, what then? While it may (or may not) end the current crisis, she is still a vastly powerful and evil-tending being. The PCs will need to tread carefully here.

Overall, I enjoyed “Reign of Winter” a lot more than I thought I would. It’s by far the most “gonzo” adventure path Paizo has published so far, but it holds together quite nicely and the individual episodes are mostly very good – the usual D&D problem of “too much combat” does crop up, of course, but that’s game conventions for you. The “PCs visit Earth in historic times and fight Rasputin and Russian infantry” thing should have fallen flat on its face, given the somewhat crazy premise, but somehow it pulls things off in style. This is one of the better adventure paths Paizo has produced, so far.

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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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Minireview: The Frozen Stars (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 4/6)

I wasn’t really expecting The Frozen Stars to be all that good. The previous installment of this adventure path was ok but nothing special, and here we were supposed to move to an alien planet with snow-elves (kinda) who ride dragons. I expected that the designers were biting off more than they could chew, and would just spew out another generic dungeon crawl. I’m happy to report that wasn’t what I got, and that this adventure is pretty damn good.

As noted, the PCs land on an alien planet, after a short dungeon-crawly bit within the TARDIS… err, I mean Baba Yaga’s hut. They are met by aforesaid “space-elves”, and what happens in this encounter can determine a lot. In a fairly unusual twist, this adventure allows the PCs to ally with either the “good” side or the “evil” side, with encounters and a storyline for both. The “good” side is a bit more fleshed out and will probably be the usual choice, but it’s nice to see a design that gives the PCs a lot more latitude than is usual. Their mission, such as it is, is to fetch a McGuffin from a fortress, but how they go about it can vary quite a bit, here. In addition, the PCs get to take part in a mass battle, in another nice piece of design; they have the option of intruding in some critical spots, which will affect the course of the battle. Of course, they also have the option of doing nothing, in which case default events happen – usually, these are not good for the PCs. The whole thing wraps up with a travel segment and a short dungeon-crawly bit.

Very solid design, with lots of different things for the PCs to do. This adventure path is shaping up to be much better than I thought it would be, given the somewhat gonzo premise and all the dimension-hopping involved. Nice work, guys!

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Minireview: Maiden, Mother, Crone (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 3/6)

With Maiden, Mother, Crone, the “Reign of Winter” adventure path hits its midpoint. The adventure is a mix of good and… well, missed opportunities. The plot has the PCs arrive in farr-away Iobaria via the Tardis-like Dancing Hut (a very cool element), and on arrival they are surrounded by a threat they have no hope of vanquishing. It’s here that the PCs get a taste of the Hut’s extra capabilities, in the offensive department. That dealt with, the PCs meet up with a tribe of centaurs, which is assumed to be a somewhat friendly encounter but could fo course go horribly awry. From there, their quest to find a critically important “key” for the Hut leads them to a trio of vast statues carved into the mountainside, depicting the classic “maiden, mother and crone” trio of “Fates”. Lo and behold, these statues turn out to contain cavern networks, making the end portion of this outing into a dungeon crawl.

The first half is quite interesting, and provides multiple sorts of encounters for the PCs. The second half is a bit less so, even though for a dungeon crawl it’s a pretty good one – the “dungeon” consists of three interconnected parts, via teleports, and has the potential for totally confusing any explorers. The inhabitants are also quite interesting, with a detailed backstory. One the minus side, it’s not all that likely that the PCs will ever discover that backstory or the details of the somewhat intricate internal politics of the statue internal environments. That’s a pity, because here it’s quite well designed. Of course, the fact that over half of the adventure consists of this dungeon crawl takes away a bit from the initial “exploring alien location” vibe, since these caverns could basically be located anywhere.

Overall, pretty good.

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Minireview: The Shackled Hut (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 2/6)

The new “Reign of Winter” adventure path hits its stride with The Shackled Hut, the second installment. Here, the PCs have been transported to a far-off land via a magic portal, and their only hope of returning home is linked to solving the current threat of a perma-winter which is somehow linked to the Witch-Queen Baba Yaga. Stuff to do, people to kill, situation normal.

It’s a fairly strong adventure, with only the end portion being a bit muddled and railroady. Things start off with a wilderness section, where the PCs meet up with some potentially friendly NPCs. Assuming they make friends and don’t automatically attack everything that moves, they should be able to gain helpful information for the later stages, and maybe get some other help too. The problem being that Baba Yaga’s hut (yes, that famous one) is chained up in Whitethrone, the totalitarian-style capital of Irrisen, with Baba Yaga herself nowhere to be seen. So the PCs need to make their way to the hut and figure out how it works, despite heavy guard and being strangers in a strange land (which is under martial law, to boot).

The best part here is the hut itself. While it’s outwardly like the standard mythical thing (chicken legs, all that), inside it’s… very different. Think TARDIS, not “Russian peasant hut” (though it’s a bit of both). It will form the base for of the rest of the adventure path, and the PCs will get very used to it… to the extent that it’s possible to get used to it, due to its fluid nature. Fun stuff.

The worst part is the ending, which has a “boss fight” which seems a bit forced, along with railroady elements designed solely to stop alternate solutions by the PCs and to force said fight. It’s a bit stupid, but it’s easy enough to change, and the rest of the module makes up for the somewhat uneven ending.

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Minireview: The Snows of Summer (Pathfinder "Reign of Winter" 1/6)

The Snows of Summer starts off the new winter-themed “Reign of Winter” adventure path. It promises to be an interesting romp, with Russian mythology mixed in with Tardis-like hops around the multiverse, featuring Baba Yaga (yes, that Baba Yaga). With those ingredients, it could also be a horrible mess.

Based on this first part, I’m optimistic. While it’s very linear and the initial hook is a bit weak, it’s otherwise a fine adventure and set in a type of locale not used all that often in these things. The tale has the Witch Queen Baba Yaga returning to the nation of Irrisen evert 100 years to place a (new) daughter of hers on the throne, and this time something has gone wrong; the old witch has not returned and an unnatural winter threatens to swallow neighboring nations, and perhaps the whole world. Enter the PCs, who discover a magic portal near a remote village, and get dumped in the middle of the action. There are some interesting NPCs, and more than a few dark secrets.

One of which is the truth behind what Baba Yaga has been up to, though the PCs are unlikely to get all the information on that, yet. The fact that one of the main drives of this adventure path is to go rescue a Bad Guy is… different. Not necessarily bad.

I liked the Russian folklore feel of much of this, and there’s potential here – though the adventure path’s intention to actually visit (our) Earth at a later point sounds like something that could be anything from “cool” to “ugh”. The thing to tweak here is the lack of real PC choices, they are just shoved through an extremely linear storyline with little say in the matter (or, more properly, no GM support for PCs refusing to follow the train tracks).

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