Review: Against the Aeon Throne: The Rune Drive Gambit

Today we’re going to take an in depth look at Starfinder Adventure Path #9: The Rune Drive Gambit! So hop aboard and get ready to rebel!

Against the Aeon Throne is a three part Starfinder Adventure Path that begins with Part One: The Reach of Empire by Ron Lundeen, continues with Part Two: Escape from the Prison Moon by Eleanor Ferron, and concludes with Part Three: The Rune Drive Gambit by Larry Wilhelm. All together these three adventures should take your characters from level one through to level seven. You can also pick up the Against The Aeon Throne Pawn Collection.

To read our previous articles on Against the Aeon Throne click the links below:

Against the Aeon Throne is a shorter campaign than most. Typically six books in length, this Adventure Path is only three. It’s a great change of pace that will allow the folks at Starfinder to tell shorter, more personal stories. In addition, this three part length makes it easier to purchase and play through an entire adventure path. It’s awesome for gift giving and the budget conscious! Six books is a huge investment, but three? Well, that’s a lot more manageable for those of us without much extra cash laying around. On the other hand, with the three book format I feel like I blinked and the whole adventure path was over. I didn’t get my hands on the first book until the third came out and I missed the Signal of Screams Adventure Path completely. In general, it’s both easier to collect and easier to miss. Although I enjoy the three book format, I also enjoy the six book format, so I hope they continue to rotate between the campaign lengths.

Against the Aeon Throne

So what exactly is Against the Aeon Throne: The Rune Drive Gambit all about? In previous adventures, the PCs defeated an Azlanti military force that had annexed the small colony of Madelon’s Landing on the planet of Nakondis. But saving the fledgeling colony was just the beginning. The PCs discovered that an experimental starship engine and their friend, the android Cedona, were transported off of Nakondis and back to the Azlanti Star Empire. Giving chase the PCs made some allies and rescued Cedona. All that’s left is to find the experimental starship engine, steal it or destroy it, and escape with their lives. Along the way they’ll fight Aeon Guard soldiers, rescue captive scientists, and face off against the man responsible for sending troops to Nakondis in the first place! No problem! …Right?

the-rune-drive-gambit-against-the-aeon-throne-book-3-of-3-e1557809255646.jpgNow, let me take a moment to be clear. The Azlanti Star Empire is a pack of giant, pompous, jerks. They’re great villains for the PCs to clash with, but an overwhelming opponent. This adventure path does not send your PCs off to take down the entire Azlanti Star Empire. It’s much smaller in scale than that. And frankly? I love it. It lends a sense of suspense to the series and makes it feel like you’re playing real people in a living breathing world universe doing what they can, rather than heroes so powerful they change the whole world universe. It’s a wonderful change of pace and scope. It’s got a very Firefly / Star Wars feel to it.

But, before we get into that too much, let’s take a look at the book itself. Starfinder Adventure Path #9: The Rune Drive Gambit (Against the Aeon Throne 3 of 3) is a softcover adventure written by Larry Wilhelm that is 63 pages in length. It’s intended to take players from level five to level seven. The adventure itself is around 39 pages long, and split into three main parts: With Friends Like These, in which the players upgrade their ship and figure out where the heck they’re going; Within Enemy Territory, in which the players travel to and explore the upper levels of a secret research facility located in an asteroid; and Scientific Theories, in which the players finish exploring the research facility, track down the rune drive, and decide what to do with it. After the adventure there’s six pages of ideas on how to continue the campaign after it’s conclusion, with eight short ideas, and two detailed ideas that include a stat block or two. After that there’s an eight page primer on the Stewards, including two character archetypes. There’s seven new creatures in the Alien Archive, and a short Codex of Worlds article on New Thespera, heart of the Azlanti Star Empire. Lastly, the inside front and back covers feature information and a layout for a tier 5 starship: the Vanguard Regnant.

My favourite parts of this adventure are the layout, enemy tactics, and defences of the research facility, and the NPCs you unexpectedly discover along the way.

Before we continue with a more in depth look at the book, let me point out: there will be SPOILERS.

You have been warned.

Rune Drive

For starters, I love the look of this book. I like the colours and the layout. The text inside is easy to read and the colours are easy on the eyes. The cover art is wonderful. It showcases Sardat Zolan Ulivestra, an Azlanti nobleman and enemy of the PCs, as drawn by Anna Christenson. Behind him is an awesome image of Obozaya (the iconic vesk soldier) and Quig (the iconic ysoki mechanic) fighting off Azlanti soldiers.

Azlanti Aeon Guard
Azlanti Aeon Guard. Art courtesy of Paizo Inc.

The starship showcased on the inside covers is a Vanguard Regnant. This tier 5 small light freighter is destined to be the final (or second last) enemy the PCs face in this campaign. It’s a well-built luxury ship that’s fast and maneuverable, but still packs a punch. I particularly like the ship layout.

After that we hop right into the adventure itself. This adventure starts in Outpost Zed where the PCs (and Cedona) will need to get their ship upgraded by their friend Hasshachir, who they met in the previous adventure. While they wait they’ll run into trouble, which will ultimately provide the PCs with the clues they need to determine their next destination. We won’t talk about these events any further, as it would ruin the surprise for those of us reading this who ignored my spoiler warning. (You know who you are! Haha). What I will say, is that I enjoyed this section of the adventure.

Which brings us to part two of the adventure: Within Enemy Territory. In this section PCs will need to travel to Aurelos, the secret laboratory the rune drive was taken to, find a way inside, and explore the upper levels. Along the way they’ll have to take on the base’s defences and protectors. As previous mentioned, I was really impressed with the layout of the Aurelos base, both the upper levels featured in this section, and the lower levels featured in the next part of the adventure. It’s functional and easily defensible, and is populated with enemies who know how to use their surroundings. There’s a few complications and other defences to round out these encounters, and an enemy is introduced that I rather enjoyed.

Oliviana Jakub Bazyluk
Oliviana. Illustrated by Jakub Bazyluk. Art courtesy of Paizo Inc.

Which brings us to part three: Scientific Theories. In this section the PCs finish their exploration of Aurelos, fighting off further enemies and surmounting further challenges. Along the way they’ll have the chance to meet quite a few NPCs (potential friends and enemies), question scientists, explore science labs, and try to figure out what the heck the rune drive is and why it’s so important. Then they’ll have to figure out what to do with it and attempt to make their escape. They’ll face off against the mastermind of this whole debacle, Sardat Zolan Ulivestra, alongside some of his loyal (or not so loyal, depending upon your PCs actions) minions. Finally, they’ll have to engage in a starship battle to make their escape!

Part Three is fun, dynamic, and exciting, with plenty of people to interact with, challenging encounters, and a dilemma or two. I really enjoyed Evandrian, an Aeon Guard the PCs are destined to combat multiple times, and the Sardat’s statistics and tactics. He’s the perfect mix of pompous and skilled. I think PCs are going to really hate him. Haha. He’s a great villain. Finally, I like that some of the encounters in this section are open ended. There’s more than one potential outcome, and the choice ultimately rests in the hands of the PCs, either knowingly or through their actions. On the other hand, Part Three is also where I have some issues. There’s really only one thing to do with the rune drive. It’s cool, and it makes sense, but there’s clearly no real alternatives to the option presented. Which is unfortunate. Also, that option? Wow, it’s… complex? It’s logical, both in terms of the story and in terms of Pact Worlds implications. But I was also left wondering why it also does… some other stuff that seems tacked on. Cool stuff! But odd. I’m being vague, I know, but you’ll understand when you read it.  Haha.

Which brings us to the end of The Rune Drive Gambit and the Against the Aeon Throne Adventure Path. But, that’s not the end of the book. Up next, as previously mentioned, is a lot of ideas for how to continue the campaign. There’s eight minor ideas here, some of which will lead to short adventures, and others which could form the basis of long, epic campaigns. I know my family will want to head back to Nakondis to help out the colony there, so it’s nice to see a few options that deal with the Madelon’s Landing. Other ideas involve the Stewards, the Azlanti Star Empire, and even transitioning into the Signal of Screams Adventure Path (definitely not the option my family will be using, but it’s nice to see it in print). There’s also two longer campaign ideas. One is a direct continuation, which makes a lot of sense, and I’m very likely to make use of. The other is both awesome and out there! I love it! But, it’s way too confusing to run with my kids (which is who I’m currently running through Against the Aeon Throne). If any of you make use of Kellixtrian I’d love to hear about it.

Following this is an eight page primer on the Stewards. Basically the peace-keeping force of the Pact Worlds, the Stewards are warrior diplomats that are organized into four main branches and run by a Director-General. The branches are Constabulary (the police force), Ops (the spies), Overwatch (the starship fleet), and Conclave of Legates (veterans who act as a council and advisory board). This section describes the Stewards origins, history, structure, leadership, purpose, bases, training regimen, and interests. It also presents two new archetypes, the Stewards infiltrator (an ops agent) and Stewards stalwart (self-sufficient agents that often work alone). Both of the archetypes are useful and very cool! I’m really glad the Stewards are getting some attention, as they are a powerful organization that can be utilized and interacted with in a wide variety of campaigns. They’re very usable.

BattleRobot Alexandur Alexandrov
Azlanti Battle Robot. Illustrated by Alexandur Alexandrov. Art courtesy of Paizo Inc.

The Alien Archive is up next, which is always one of my favourite sections of an Adventure Path. It contains seven new creatures, three of which are featured in the adventure itself. The creatures include: power archon, a CR 5 outsider tasked with destroying corrupting technology; carnivorous crystal, a CR 11 ooze that can turn you to crystal; comanide, a very creepy looking CR 7 fey; entropy slug, a CR 4 magical beast the PCs will face in part one of this adventure; hulsa, a CR 10 fey; Azlanti battle robot, a CR 6 robot the PCs will face in part three of this adventure; and twinsoul, a very strange CR 8 creature also featured in this adventure.

Finally, there’s a short, one page Codex of Worlds entry on New Thespera, the heart of the Azlanti Empire and seat of the Aeon Throne. It’s an incredibly useful article, but very brief. New Thespera’s the sort of important place you could write pages of information on.

And with that, Starfinder Adventure Path #9: The Rune Drive Gambit (Against the Aeon Throne 3 of 3) has come to an end.

I hope you enjoyed taking an in depth look at the final volume of Against the Aeon Throne much as I did!

Until next time,

Jessica

Against the Aeon Throne

Against the Aeon Throne Reach of the Empire Ron Lundeen
Against the Aeon Throne: Book 1: The Reach of Empire by Ron Lundeen.

The Dead Suns Adventure Path has officially come to the end and I am thrilled for what’s coming next! It’s a rapid paced, Star Wars inspired campaign that pits the ‘little guys’ against the powerful militaristic Azlanti Star Empire: Against the Aeon Throne! This is the second Starfinder Adventure Path, and this time around they’re shaking up the format. For starters, it’s going to be a monthly release from now on. Also? It’s only three parts. This change is temporary, and will allow them to tell shorter, more diverse stories, with a more focused narrative. Against the Aeon Throne should take you to level six. It will be followed by another three-part Adventure Path, Signal of Screams, which is a delightful space horror that will begin at level seven. I know, right? Exciting. If you’re not ready to stop playing your characters after Against the Aeon Throne you can always pick right back up with Signal of Screams. After this they will go back to the six volume format for the fourth adventure path, Dawn of Flame, which happens on the sun! After Against the Aeon Throne comes to an end be sure to give Paizo your feedback. They’ll want to know if you like these changes, or prefer the six volume format.

But, enough about the future! Let’s hear about Against the Aeon Throne!

Against the Aeon Throne Escape from the Prison Moon Eleanor Ferron
Against the Aeon Throne: Book Two: Escape from the Prison Moon by Eleanor Ferron.

This new Adventure Path begins with Against the Aeon Throne: Book 1: The Reach of Empire. It’s written by Ron Lundeen and is intended to bring your characters from level 1 to 3. Your players will be creating characters hired to transport some much needed supplies to a new colony (named Madelon’s Landing) of just over a hundred people that was founded a few months ago on a planet in the Vast called Nakondis. This world is wild, and constantly shrouded in mist. Still, a pal of yours decided to move there, so paying them a visit is the least you can do. Besides, what could possibly go wrong? Right? Haha. Upon arriving you discover that the Azlanti Star Empire has conquered the colony! Your players must liberate the colony from the villainous Empire. But the Azlanti weren’t only interested in the colony. They were after something else: an experimental starship drive from an ancient ship that crashed on Nakondis long ago. To make matters worse, your friend is nowhere to be found. They’ve been taken! But why? In addition to the adventure itself, this issue features an article on the planet of Nakondis and the new colony of Madelon’s Landing. It also has a new theme: the colonist, a host of ships found within the Azlanti Star Empire (including drone fighters, and even ships that allow you to use mysticism and computers checks in new ways!). There’s also new creatures, of course: the carrion dreg template, the mucilaginous cloud, Azlanti adjutant robot, synapse worm, thermatrod, endiffian playable race and, my personal favourite, a simian creature known as a hobgar.

Against the Aeon Throne: Book Two: Escape from the Prison Moon is written by Eleanor Ferron and is intended to bring your player’s characters from level 3 to 5. Thanks to their efforts freeing Madelon’s Landing from the Azlanti Star Empire, the PCs have been deputized by the Stewards (a group of space police) and are on their way to rescue their friend. Not an easy task! They’ll have to enter the Azlanti Star Empire and figure out a way to break into a massive prison moon. They also get to visit a new space station. The articles in the back include information on the Azlanti Star Empire, some new gear, information of the many races and species that the Azlanti have conquered, and details on an Azlanti prison guard spaceship.  There’s also some new creatures, including a radioactive dragon and a plant that snubs its nose at gravity (or would if it had a nose…).

Against the Aeon Throne The Rune Drive Gambit
Against the Aeon Throne: Book Three: The Rune Drive Gambit by Larry Wilhelm.

Against the Aeon Throne: Book Three: The Rune Drive Gambit is the conclusion of this adventure path! It’s written by Larry Wilhelm and is intended for fifth level characters. Now that your PCs have rescued their friend they have to retrieve the starship drive the Azlanti retrieved from Nakondis. To do that they’ll need to find and break into a science laboratory, steal the engine, and get back to freedom. They also get to figure out why it’ so important and face off against the mastermind behind the attack on Nakondis. In addition to the adventure this issue also comes with ideas for continuing the campaign, an article on the Stewards, full details on a luxury Azlanti spaceship, and some new creatures (including fey and an aberration).

Against the Aeon Throne looks like its going to be an exciting change of pace that’s fun and personal. The shorter length is definitely going to appeal to some fans, including my husband and children. I can’t wait to strap on my laser pistol, make a rebel, and throw a wrench into the plans of the Azlanti!

Fire up the engines! It’s time to head into the Drift!

Want to know more? Check out the AWESOME trailer Paizo released for Against the Aeon Throne. My kids and I just watched it and they are literally bouncing up and down in excitement! Nice job, Paizo!

Jessica


UPDATE: For a more recent look at Against the Aeon Throne check out this blog post: Review: Against the Aeon Throne: Reach of Empire!