Friday, March 25, 2016

Ranking the Paizo Pahtfinder Adventure Paths (update 2016)

Rise of the Runelords, Curse of the Crimson Throne, Second Darkness, Legacy of Fire, Council of Thieves, Kingmaker, Serpent's Skull, Carrion Crown, Jade Regent, Skull and Shackles, Shattered Star, Reign of Winter, Wrath of the Righteous, Mummy's Mask, Iron Gods, Giant Slayer, Hell's Rebels

I received a request to update my ranking of my favorite Paizo Adventure Paths and since I have lots of time on my hands let's do this. Criteria is the same as last time: fun to play,  role playing, interesting combat encounters, cool themes, and great story. This is just my opinion and I'll admit to my biases: a dislike of long dungeons, and that high level pathfinder (14+) does not play well. So with that out of the way, here we go.

1. Hell's Rebels. It is like someone gave Paizo a list of my likes and dislikes and they ended up with a near perfect adventure path. My last post went over why I like it so much so I won't repeat it here.

2. Curse of the Crimson Throne. Still awesome but parts 4 and 5 just don't fit in well with the rest. I still think this would best if it were expanded into a full multi-year expanding campaign. We would just blaze through this one too fast to give it proper justice.

3. Kingmaker. The adventure path where you can pretty much do what you want. This one was a big favorite in my group and everyone had tons of fun with it. The glue between the various parts is weak but in this situation it is not a deal killer. It falls a bit into Star Trekiness later on when you wonder why the ship captain and bridge crew, err I mean King and his senior advisors, are wandering around caves killing trolls when they should be running the kingdom and leaving this stuff to minions.

4. Rise of the Runelords (Anniversary Edition). This one is great because they got to go back and fix the minor flaws from the first time around. This one has some great role-play elements, fun combats and great back story that is slowly unveiled over the first few parts. In the last third, things start to go down hill. The dungeon in part 5 is both rather pointless and is so long. Part 6 isn't too bad but we usually have ADD by this point in the campaign and the way its written is very long and drawn out. We played a shorted version of it.

5. Wrath of the Righteous. We'll ignore the mythic rules for a moment and look at the AP itself. It has a very interesting cast of NPCs (too many actually), a great plot, lots of epic action and tons of cool encounters. If your players don't try and break the game with Mythic rules it might be workable but most groups will turn into vortexes of mythic destruction and all encounters will be won or lost in the first 2 or 3 rounds. Mythic is very swingy. I do love those re-rolls though. I found Part 6 to be weak but that's pretty common but otherwise if you can work around the Mythic rules problem this is a great AP.

6. Iron Gods. I've never had a problem with Robots in my D&D since it has been an element of the  since Blackmoor but many others do. I really like the first two and the last 2 parts of this AP but I found the middle two a bit weak. I think this would be a great AP for all those weird PCs builds in your stable. I love the chainsaw greatswords, the laser blasters, the nanobot healing kits. Sign me up!

7. Reign of Winter. This AP wasn't really what I was expecting and it won me over as I read through it. This is one of the rare APs that seemed to get stronger as it went along instead of the other way around. Part 5 is down right weird and yet is rather appealing. Who hasn't wondered how high level PCs would do against WW1 troops and tanks? The thing to keep in mind is that this AP is largely about travel. You will go to weird new places and kill lots of strange monsters. In a good way. The first part of this AP is deadly if you play with environmental rules.

8. Giant Slayers. This one benefited from low expectations on my part. This AP includes some unique encounter locations, great role-playing opportunities and would work surprisingly well with a stealth oriented group. I particularly like the transition from part 5 to part 6. Enchanter type PCs are no doubt rubbing their hands together in glee at the though of a giant oriented AP but don't worry, Paizo doesn't let their toys work on the bosses.

9. Shattered Star. I am not a fan a huge dungeons but if you are, I'm sure you would rate this one higher. Sure the dungeons have very different themes, contain some interesting role playing options but over all it just didn't appeal to me. There is usually at least one part in each AP that is "WOW" and this one really didn't have one. It was just consistently good.

10. Mummy's Mask. I had high hopes for this one and the first couple parts work really well. However the whole tomb crawling theme works best at low to mid levels. I wanted this one to feel like Indiana Jones or the Mummy and it does a decent job early on but not so much later.  The railroad on this one feels stronger than most and I can easily see a group running off the rails. The one might be a good candidate for ending it early.

11. Carrion Crown. Speaking of "Ending it early"... This one grew on me the more times I read it. The horror themes were fun and I thought the first two parts were quite unique and entertaining (and difficult). Part three was a bit like "Clue" before ending as a zombie movie. I cut this campaign off here because I didn't really care for the second half. Part 4 tries very hard to be Lovecraftian. Plot wise Part 5 makes no sense, and although Part 6 had one super awesome encounter (OK maybe 2) most of the book was rather blah and the BBEG was a pushover.

12.  Skull and Shackles. I really wanted to love this one but after Part 1 I found it just fell flat. A DM who loved the material and really put some life into this AP could probably make it great but it definitely needs some love as most of it just seemed rather blah and generic.

13. Legacy of Fire. Pugwumpies. That word still sends shivers down my spine. May I never encounter them again. This one had a great theme, lots of fun in the first two parts but kind of lost its way in the middle. Part three was a blatant railroad and then both Parts 4 and 5 involve being trapped in either a pocket dimension or another plane of existence. A bit repetitive and by the time we finished part 5 we were still walking around in same gear we had in part 3.

14. Jade Regent. Don't get me wrong I liked the Asian themes but this AP just didn't work for me. Chapters written by James Jacobs are generally great and Part 1s are generally great but I just didn't care for the first part of Jade Regent. The caravan rules are broken. I didn't love the NPCs (even though some are returning from earlier APs), and I didn't love the dungeon. Part 2 didn't really work for me either. I had to read it three times to understand the flow of events. I liked the traveling in Part 3. Its rare that the environment plays such a central role in the game. Part 4 started out strong but I didn't like the dungeon that it led to. I heard someone replaced it with the Jade Ruby Tournament which sounds like fun. I love the idea behind Part 5. Rally different factions into rebellion against the Jade Regent but I was not thrilled with its execution. It could easily be expanded and made more awesome.

15. Council of Thieves. They tried to fix the problems of Curse of the Crimson Throne and failed miserably. The first part was largely forgettable as all of the NPCs you meet are then ignored for the rest of the AP. The back story is handed out in bits of pieces but never really comes together. Even after you killed the BBEG you are wondering who the guy was. The best element of this AP was Part 2. It actually comes with a script and the PCs can act out the murder play. For a theatrically inclined group it would be amazing, but for a group of dice rollers not so much.

16. Second Darkness. This one isn't as bad as its reputation suggests. Parts 1 and 2 are actually really good. Part 3 is fun but the elves come across as very unlikable. Part 4 is unique and part 6 was fun with lots of tough boss fights. The big reason people love to hate this AP is part 5 which is a total disaster and needs a complete rewrite. One interesting fix for this AP is to drop parts 1 and 2 (which didn't really fit with the rest of the AP) and make the PCs Lantern Bearers.

17. Serpents Skull. Part One is one of the stronger adventures out there and darn near perfect (but very hard if played as written). Part 2 is fun if you play up the different faction rivalries. Part 3 is a big mess like Part 5 of Second Darkness. There were so many things they could have done with Saventh-Yi and what we got was WoW style quests to kill 60 Mobs which will pacify a sector of the city. Thanks. Part 4 was only OK except for the Gorilla King which I thought was a excellent encounter. Parts 5 and 6 mainly involved trips down into the Darklands to kill snakemen. Yawn. I still like the BBEG of this campaign but I'm worried that he'd get over whelmed by action economy. Needs minions.

And there you have it! It is largely the same list as last time. I made a few minor changes but aside from including the new APs it is pretty similar.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hell's Rebels (may contain some small spoilers)

Well Paizo has finally done it. Curse of the Crimson Throne has long been my favorite Adventure Path mainly on the strength of the first three (mainly the first two) adventures. It has all the components of what I think makes a great Adventure Path.

Let's go over those:
1. A simple but deep story. This one is hard to pull off. The players should get a sense of the story early on and it should stay consistent through the AP. It is nice if the BBEG or Organization is revealed fairly early so the PCs get a sense of who they are up against. Each part of the AP should be moving forward the PCs goals against their antagonist.

2. A solid cast of recurring NPCs. This is an area that I always struggle with. It is great if the DM can really bring the NPCs to life. The PCs should form relationships with them, liking some and not others but most importantly remembering who they are, using them as resources later on.

3. A big variety of encounter types. I'm not  a fan of long dungeons. If the dungeons or encounter location doesn't fit on a standard play mat it is probably too big. That's not to say I don't ever like exceptions but that is my rule. The occasional big dungeon is a nice change of pace but I prefer seeing only one or so per AP.

It is not a secret that Paizo staff read the message board and I'm sure they spend extra time carefully reading the threads about what AP are people's favorites and why. Kingmaker, Runelords and Crimson Throne are almost always the top choices. I can see elements of Runelords in other APs, but they have not really tried to do another Kingmaker style Adventure Path. With Crimson throne the major critique was that people didn't like the McGuffin hunt in parts 4 and 5 and would have prefered to stay in the city. Taking this to heart, with the release of the Pathfinder Role Playing Game they launched Council of Thieves Adventure Path at the same time. This AP takes part entirely within or nearby the City of Westcrown.

The problem is that Council of Thieves is a mess and largely fails miserably to capture the magic of CotCT. With CoT we made the mistake of playing the AP as it was being released. There were huge production delays and so our DM was left scrambling to fill in two months of content while we waited for the next book. Never again.

Even without the delays, CoT breaks lots of my rules. The story line is a mess. We never really understood why were were doing things and simply followed the obvious plot points to move on to the next location. The villain(s) are not at all obvious until the very end and even then we were hoping for some big reveal and didn't get it. The recurring NPCs get ignored after the first lackluster chapter and the only part that really stands out as cool and interesting is the Opera in Book 2.

With Hell's Rebel's, Paizo has taken a good look at their previous attempts to make the ultimate in Urban adventures and learned from their errors.

1. It is pretty obvious from even the players guide what this adventure path is all about. Barzillai Thrune is the new Mayor of Kintargo, and is a Tyrant who must be removed. Most of the things the PCs do in this book are dedicated towards the ultimate goal of freeing the city from Thrune's grasp. Even the side quests often progress the main plot or provide plot hooks for later adventures. The whole thing fits together nicely and feels like 6 pieces of a whole instead of a series of 6 loosely connected adventures.

2. NPCs are introduced slowly over the course of the AP and most do a pretty good job of being memorable. Later volumes give the DM ideas about how to incorporate early NPCs into later adventures.

3. Hell's Rebel's has some really memorable encounters. There lots of battles. These are as varied and interesting as any other AP in lots of different environments - underwater, in sewers, dwarven castles, plus lots of cityscapes. It is also the wide variety of non combat encounters that really stand out. There is a cool negotiation scene, a dinner party, a grande ball and encounters where stealth/deception are the best way to go.

Part 6 is especially notable. Too often part sixes are the weakest chapter of the AP. They are hard to write and balance around high level PCs that can just about anything. This part six limits what the PCs can do, but does so in a way that fits the storyline to such a degree that no one will care.  Part 6s should have an epic feel to them and this one pulls it off in spades.

I only have 2 beefs with this AP. The first is its over reliance on point systems. In every volume there is some sort of point system that needs to be tracked. Rebellion points, Notoriety points, Vote points, Concession points. Ugh. I understand why the different systems are there but they just all seem so gamey. The second is that the end of part four is such a climax to the plot that part five feels a bit slow as the tension starts to build again to the surprisingly awesome Part 6.

Overall this AP just blew me away. It has been a long time since I've seen an Adventure Path that I've loved so much. The last few years Paizo has been putting out APs that are decent but nothing really outstanding. I can understand why people would like them but none of them stood out for me. Hell's Rebels hits everything on my checklist and I hope to play it or DM it at some point.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Savage Tide 8 - Here There Be Monsters

The PCs packed up camp and began the final part of their journey to the Wall and beyond to the colony of Farshore.

Leaving the high mountains, the road quickly faded away to nothing more than an animal trail as the adventurers continued on into the jungle. Soon the fog became all encompassing and the party was lost. Small snakes were plentiful but non-threatening. The vegetation seemed to be changing as well, slightly discolored and malformed.

Trevain tried to fly above the fog and to get his bearings but the fog continued well above the canopy of the jungle and strangely continuing to fly eventually caused him to fly downwards. There was something strange going on.

The party continued to march around the jungle trying to find a way out to no avail. Things became worse when three baboon demons attacked the party, grabbing Morton Longfellow and teleporting away with him while also nearly killing Isis. Spooked and at a loss about what to do next, the party found a small clearing and camped for the night. Everyone was haunted by terrible dreams. Each person was in a vast cavern surrounded by evil looking baboon statues and overlooking a huge sacrificial fire pit. Each person held a long dagger in their hands placed over their hearts. Ironically it was only the cleric Bytor that would not resist the urge to plunge the blade into his heart and throw himself into the fire. Everyone awoke with a sense of dread but Bytor felt a terrible compulsion to run off into the jungle and sacrifice himself. The rest of the group realized this may be a clue and encouraged Bytor to head towards the source of the compulsion. Unfortunately, the sensation passed and the PCs were left to wander randomly around the jungle again.

This time they stumbled across a strange encampment. A clearing in the jungle filled with ancient crumbling ruins not of Olman origin. Set up at the camp was a campfire pit filled with dry firewood and at the back was a wooden frame that had a human body attached to it. Kaeless went to investigate only to discover that the human was the sailor that went missing in the road under the mountains. He had a huge gash down his chest made by a blade and was quite dead but was still able to talk somehow. It went on creepily about the "Master" and how everyone would soon be joining him in the state of deadness. Kaeless had enough pretty quickly and shut it up by chopping off its head.

Again the Baboon demons attacked the camp, this time grabbing and teleporting away with the sailor, Mango. The PCs reacted better this time and the demons inflicted much less damage before retreating. To ensure that someone would feel the draw for self-sacrifice, Kaeless did not try and resist the effect and killed himself in the dream that afflicted the party again. This time the PCs rushed off and discovered a hidden temple in the jungle.

Built into a large rocky hill the side facing the PCs consisted of two large carved baboon heads. Trevain figured they might be associated with the Demon Lord Demogorgon.  The PCs ventured inside both the rescue their missing companions and to lift the foggy curse that has them trapped in this jungle.

Traps were disarmed and puzzles solved as the PCs made their way through the temple. The female baboon demons were dispatched, a mob of fiendish baboons defeated, but the PCs got suckered by a ghoulish Mesmerist that appeared to be a trapped island native. He would join in the battle with Olangru, the lead Bar-Lguras demon. The battle was complicated by Morton and Mango being trapped in cages and being slowly lowered into the sacrificial fire pit. The PCs managed to rescue their companions as well as finish off the demon.

Things were not quite over as one of the giant statues in the room, this one a depiction of Demogorgon rumbled to life to strike down the adventurers. It too was destroyed but as it crumbled to pieces it took a good long hard look at each of the PCs present. A new enemy was made this day.

The good news however was that the fog was lifted as the PCs left the temple. The remaining NPCs outside were thrilled and morale was good for the last days journey through the jungle. Mid day of the following day they reached the Great Wall of Thanaclan.

The Great Wall stretches across a narrow isthmus and separates the peninsula where most of the human villages exist with the far more dangerous greater island. It is guarded by the village of Tanaroa, the largest and the leader of the confederation of natives. The village was cautious with the outsiders but eventually welcoming after Kaeless was able to converse with them in their own language. The villagers agreed to allow them to rest in their village for the night before providing and escort to another village that would be able to canoe them the rest of the way. Farshore is on an island.

This part of the journey was relatively uneventful. However, as the expedition approached the colony, smoke could been seen  at a distance. Part of the colony were on fire!

The native guides do not want anything to do with the battle but agree to paddle up quietly and allow you to disembark at the edge of the colony along the shoreline. As you disembark....

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Curse of the Crimson Throne Hardcover

Ironic. I finally find a Pathfinder Adventure Path that I think is superior to CotCT and Paizo decides to re-release it as an updated Hardcover. They did a great job with Rise of the Runelords but I'm not really sure what they will do here to improve CotCT. It was pretty awesome already.

Hell's Rebels review coming soon.

Sunday, March 13, 2016


When I first heard about this adventure my initial response was "Ho Hum". I flipped through the first part but nothing really grabbed me about it. I was also in a bit of a Pathfinder funk at the time and just had no real interest.

While looking for ideas to jam into Savage Tide, I went back and read the entire Adventure Path. It is actually better then I initially thought. The first part doesn't seem to fit well with the others but it is a fine adventure by itself. It starts with a mystery and ends with a really epic battle. Now, I love me my epic multi-encounter battles but it just seems to be rather tough for a group of level 4s. It is the climax of the adventure so I guess its ok that it will be quite taxing on resources.

Part two is where I found the transition starts. Most of this adventure path is about sneaking around, screwing with giant folk, and not getting discovered. Most of the time the PCs are vastly out numbered, and out gunned. This would be a great AP for a group of adventurers that are focused on stealth. Each adventure seems to follow the formula: screw with minions without getting caught until you can reach the boss. Kills the boss and minions disperse. Each adventure has a different theme and there's enough variety I don't think it would get old. It is pretty railroady as you move from location to location shutting down the BBEG plans but it is an AP so that's somewhat to be expected, it is just nice when the rails are a little more hidden.

Over I liked it and thought it had a stronger ending than most APs. That being said I look at the Adventure Paths we have not yet played and I don't think this stands out as one that we need to play right away. It is average and with the right hands could be made great but there are others I'd rather play or GM first.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Strange Aeons

Generally I am not a huge fan of Cthulhu Mythos type stuff but I have to say, I'm quite intrigued by this adventure path. You start out in an insane asylum with amnesia and have to escape before the place is overrun with horrible creatures from Beyond. I can see how this sort of thing will work for the first adventure, maybe even the second, but it becomes hard to maintain a sense of dread and fear as the PCs turn into reality bending superheroes.

I enjoyed Occult Adventures far more than I expected and those classes (except the Kineticist) seem like a natural fit for an adventure path like this one. This AP definitely looks like a good one and it will be interesting to see how it shapes up.

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Savage Tide 7 - Here There Be Monsters


After assessing their situation, the PCs began organizing for their overland trip. Morton was pretty sure the safest route was overland as these waters were said to be filled with nasty monsters and that a makeshift raft would have trouble sailing 200 miles over rough waters.

A monstrous giant reptile wandered onto the beach and helped itself to a couple sailors before turning its sights on Isis. The reptile was slain before it snacked on anyone else. After the battle, the monster was identified as a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a giant beast thought to be extinct.

Mountains could be seen to the south and it was hoped that they could be reached by nightfall and a pass could be found to cross. The journey through the mosquito infested jungle started out rather uneventfully but that peace was not to last. Terror Birds, Dire Tigers, and more dinosaurs all wanted to fill their belly's with these tasty humanoids.

Not all the encounters were hostile. They met a strange old spider lady who was only able to speak with Morton since no one else spoke the Olman language. She wished to know about where the group was from and Morton told her stories of the outside world. She told the group of an old road under the mountains to the south and provided two warnings. The first is that a flock of Terror Birds nest near the entrance and second that an old evil was awakening on the island and that the old road may no longer be safe. Morton thanked her and the group moved on.

The Terror Birds did indeed try to protect their territory but were no match for the PCs. The entrance to the road under the mountains was found and the PCs fortified as best they could and tried to get a decent sleep.

The road continued in utter darkness for many hours. The construction was old and had been masterfully engineered. The tunnel was still clear centuries after it had been built. A strange sensation of being watched was felt by most of the travelers. At one point Marty the sailor simply vanished without a trace. The sound as rocks falling caused the group to bolt ahead in the darkness only to return later and find the tunnel still clear.

At long last the group reach a chamber. On a throne was a ribcage being supported only by an old long spear which had pierced it. There was also an old fountain filled with stagnant water. The PCs explored the complex, dealing with Shadows, Puddings, and stuck and sealed doors. Eventually Kaeless found a tiny passageway which lead outside. With that knowledge they unsealed the water doors and ventured out into the open air again. The PCs made camp here before continuing along the road that was now cut into the mountains.

The mountain road was followed for a few days. There were many troubles along the way and Kaeless began to believe the island or the road was cursed. Food went missing, the corpses of terror birds arranged in patterns, a native committing suicide in the distance but no body was found. A rock slide that included humanoid skulls. There were deserted villages and a lift that was sabotaged. The gargoyle attacks were just an added bonus.

After five days of traveling the road he PCs finally reached the point where it descended into the island's interior and should reach the Great Wall in 2 or 3 days, beyond which most of the island's native's lived. A clear blue lake could be seen in the distance as the PCs made camp one last time before entering the fog enshrouded jungle.

Current Survivors at this point:
The PCs
Tavey, the cabin boy
Avner MayorNenshi
Morton Longfellow
Barth the Sailor
Mango the Sailor