Tuesday, March 1, 2016

2015-16 Pathfinder Campaign Review

Listed below are the modules I used to create my current Pathfinder campaign, slated to wrap up with the conclusion of Crypt of the Devil Lich in three weeks. I thought it might be fitting to present a brief write-up of my opinions on each module. As I've said before, the conceit of this campaign was simple: A linear series of adventure modules, strung together with brief "town phases" so you can sell your rubies and swap out hirelings before getting right back into the dungeon-crawl.

DCC #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings
Jacob's Tower #6: The Gauntlet
DCC #5: Aerie of the Crow God
The Warlock's Vault
DCC #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle
Pathfinder S1: Clash of the Kingslayers

The Ruby Phoenix Tournament
DCC #13: Crypt of the Devil Lich

We've been playing most weekends for the past six months. Our session lengths can vary wildly, but a median length is about five or six hours.

Beheaded by Satibalzane.
DCC #17: Legacy of the Savage Kings (3 sessions)
+ Somewhat nonlinear: Your players decide which "third" with which to engage.
+ Classic monsters (gnolls, lizardmen, etc). Everything's hostile and far from min-maxed.
+ Boss fights (ogre blacksmith, plague dragon, lizard king, witch) that yield cool treasures.
+ Good layout. If you're using a battle-mat, it's easy to draw stuff ahead of time.
+ Lots of future plot hooks. Great starting point for a campaign.
+ Several places to introduce new characters if PCs die mid-way through.
+ Stealth characters have their time in the spotlight... so to speak.
- Some treasures don't make sense (keen dire mace?)
- Some treasures are game changers. This isn't really a negative, but as a DM, you'll need to decide if you're willing to give the Fighter a sword that can cast lightning bolts. I kept it in and I'm happy I did.
- The lizardfolk shaman was an extremely weak mini-boss.
- Some better anti-Stealth mechanics in the Fortress would heighten the danger.
- Out of print
Overall: Recommended. I'd enthusiastically run this adventure again.

Jacob's Tower #6: The Gauntlet (1 session).
+ If you love Skills, puzzles, and a mixture of classic and obscure monsters, you're in for a treat.
+ Well-written, easy to play module. Requires very little prep.
+ Costs $1 for the .pdf and the designer gets all of it.
- Crushing wall mechanic isn't dangerous enough. Some of the drama wears off once they get a significant lead.
- Required a little exposition and some re-skinning to soften the edges and make it "fit" into the campaign world.
Overall: With a few minor changes, I'd happily run this adventure again.

DCC #5: Aerie of the Crow God (3 sessions)
+ Rooks are a clever re-design of Harpies. Instead of being seductive they cause fear. Fear effects stack in 3.5/Pathfinder, so your party is going to panic very quickly.
+ Very atmospheric.
+ Amusing NPCs.
- Dungeon layout is somewhat convoluted. It's unintentionally nonlinear.
- Most encounters are either very dangerous or very easy. If you don't have any way to mitigate fear, you're looking at a TPK on the first clutch of Rooks. Likewise, the 1d3 damage dealt by the juvenile scrags is laughably insignificant.
- As with DCC#17, some treasures are game changers (though even more so). I reduced the power level of "the Star Arms" and removed the adamantine punching dagger entirely. Also, the adamantine scimitar has a ridiculous "chop off your hand" ability that is just a rules headache waiting to happen.
- Out of print
Overall: I would not run this adventure again. Just browse it and use the good parts to add spice to your existing campaign.

The Warlock's Vault (1 session)
This was a homebrew death-crawl filled with gelatinous cubes, drow artifacts, and various sorts of shadow demons. Maybe I'll share it at some point.

DCC #21: Assault on Stormbringer Castle (3 sessions) I've already written a review here.
Overall: Highly recommended. A fun adventure for mid-to-high-level characters.

Pathfinder S1: Clash of the Kingslayers (2 sessions) I've reviewed this one, too.
Overall: Recommended, but you'll need to spend a lot of time prepping it to get the most out of it. So if that's a dealbreaker for you, well, now you know. I would run parts of this module again - the Living Monastery maps are also quite good and could be easily adapted to something else.

The Ruby Phoenix Tournament (3 sessions)
+ Great concept. D&D meets Mortal Kombat.
+ Cool variety of fights and opponents. A few too many "solo vs. group" fights, but whatever, throw in a couple generic mooks if it looks too easy (stats handily included in the module) and you're set.
+ Optional side-events for those PCs who really want to show off their characters.
+ Defeating a party of enemy bards is comically fun, very easy, and emotionally rewarding.
- Poor layout / needless verbosity issues common to all Pathfinder modules
- Transparent subplot. "The Golden League is bad? Really?"
- The DM needs to keep track of a lot of spell effects. It'll give you a headache quickly if you don't prep. Make some notecards and stay sober while you're running it - You'll have more fun.
- The writers assume the PCs will succeed at everything. There is very little accounting for failure. For example, my players failed to rescue the kidnapped paladin. The module doesn't even acknowledge that possibility, nor suggest how the tournament will be changed by that outcome, so I had to be rather extemporaneous. It worked out, but given that they have 2-4 paragraphs of backstory for every single fighter, you'd think they'd include some details about stuff that's, y'know, relevant.
- The end-bosses are kind of a let down.
- The writer sort of assumes you won't murder people which is all kinds of dumb. Easy to fix, but c'mon, nobody likes a teacher's pet.
Overall: If you've been DMing for any length of time, you could easily do something like this on your own. If I were to run it again, I'd use the side-events as-is, cut the tournament down to three days, and then remake all the fights. Not because they're bad or anything - in fact, some of them were quite good! But because it's my game, and I maybe want my players to fight dwarf cavalrymen in wooden armor riding rust monsters...

Power by Satibalzane.

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