Review: Monsters & Creatures and Warriors & Weapons!

Hello, and welcome to d20diaries!

A new series of Dungeons & Dragons books aimed at children is scheduled to launch next week and we are absolutely thrilled to be in possession of advance copies of these delightful new books, which we’re going to share with you today!

The Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide series is written by Jim Zub, Stacy King, and Andrew Wheeler. The series begins with two simultaneous releases on July 16th, 2019: ‘Monsters and Creatures’ and ‘Warriors and Weapons.’ There are two more books in development that are scheduled to be released in Fall 2019 (Dungeons & Tombs: A Young Adventurer’s Guide) and Spring 2020 (Wizards & Spells: A Young Adventurer’s Guide) and, if they’re popular enough, there may be more beyond that in the future. The D&D Young Adventurer’s Guide series is intended for middle-grade readers (ages 8-12) and meant to inspire these young readers to read, write, create, imagine, and of course, play D&D. The American cover price for each of the books is $12.99, with the Canadian cover price $17.50. Each book is 105 pages long.

Young Advendturer's Guide

Before we take an in depth look at each of the books individually, let’s talk first impressions…

These books look and feel great! They have high quality hard covers, sturdy glossy pages, tons of unique full colour art, and a design aesthetic that’s in line with the adult D&D releases. These books feel like they’re a part of the Dungeons & Dragons line — which is absolutely awesome! It makes my kids feel like these books are just as important as the rest of our D&D books, which in turn makes them feel included and a part of the hobby.

Taken on their own, the Young Adventurer’s Guides have a nice layout, easy to read text, beautiful art, and are well organized. They’re approachable, interesting, engaging, and clearly written for kids, but, at the same time, the books don’t talk down to the reader. These books are written with care, and meant to provide younger audiences an easy to understand introduction to the world of roleplaying games and storytelling, as well as inspire them to make the world and stories their own.

Young Adventurers Guides

I have two children, a seven year old girl and an eight year old boy, making them on the young end of the intended audience for these books. Both of my kids have very good reading comprehension for their age. That said, both of my kids thoroughly enjoyed these books. My son had no problem reading the books and seemed to understand everything he read. My daughter, understandably, had more trouble, having to sound out a tricky word or two with each flip of the page, and often asking for definitions of words. Despite this, she was fully engaged with reading the books, and never got frustrated. As is typical with many fantasy books, the trickiest words are fictional names of characters and places. While many kids will stumble over these words once or twice before internalizing them, just as many will skip over them and move on. My son didn’t come across any content that he found inappropriate or too mature for him, while my daughter came across a few creatures she decided were a little ‘too spooky’ for her right now, so she skipped those pages and continued on enjoying the rest of the book. Considering the age and reading abilities of my kids, I think these books are well suited to the middle-grade reader level they’re advertised as. My kids loved them, and they definitely have room to grow with the books. We haven’t had them long and already my kids have read and re-read them more than a few times. They’ve already started utilizing information they picked up from the books in their play, storytelling, roleplaying, and gaming. These are the sort of books my kids get a ton of use out of, coming back to them often, and using different sections for inspiration at different times.

It’s important to note that these books are NOT a replacement for the D&D Player’s Handbook or the Monster Manual. The Young Adventurer’s Guides do NOT contain game mechanics or rules. They lay out the major concepts, roles, gear, and monsters in a way that is easy to understand, approachable, and engaging. They’re meant to inspire creativity, without overwhelming readers with rules. I highly recommend this series for for any kids who love adventure, fantasy, horror, monsters, roleplaying, storytelling, or who have exposure to RPGs.


Monsters & CreaturesMonsters & Creatures: A Young Adventurer’s Guide is an illustrated guide to the many beasts of Dungeons & Dragons. Featuring one-of-a-kind entries for some of its most memorable monsters, and over 60 brand new illustrations, this book is sure to ignite the imagination of young readers. This book begins with a short, one page introduction which gives the book some context and explains the books ‘Danger Levels,’ which is a 0-5 point scale meant to show how tough a creature is. Although similar to Challenge Ratings in D&D, these numbers are NOT equivalent. Beginning at 0, which denotes a creature that is essentially harmless, moving on to 1, which is an acceptable challenge for low-level or beginning adventurers, and ending at 5, which is a difficult challenge for high level heroes. There is one Danger Level higher than this: EPIC, which denotes a creature so powerful only the most legendary heroes could hope to triumph over it.

Monsters & Creatures - Inside Cover

The creatures in this book are sorted by the regions they call home, beginning with underground creatures, which are found in ‘Caverns & Dark Places,’ moving up onto the surface with ‘Forests, Mountains, & Other Terrain’ dwelling creatures (which also includes a special sub-chapter on giants of all kinds). Following this is ‘Moors, Bogs, and Boneyards,’ a chapter which primarily focuses on undead creatures with a special sub-chapter on vampires, and ‘Oceans, Lakes & Waterways,’ which is packed full of aquatic creatures. Finally, airborne monsters can be found in ‘Mountain Peaks & Open Sky,’ which also contains a special sub-chapter on dragons. Each monster profile contains information on the size of each beast, its danger level, and tips for how to survive an encounter with one. There’s also lore, special abilities and powers, typical tactics, and a handy list of do’s and don’ts for dealing with these beasts. Finally, new art! This book is packed full of it!

Monsters & Creatures also features encounters, which are short, one page stories that introduce a famous D&D character, place them in a perilous situation involving one of the described creatures, and then ends, leaving each opening scene with a cliffhanger ending. Following this is questions that ask the reader what they think the characters should do next, what would happen in response to those actions, and what the characters should do afterwards. These encounters are meant to guide kids to roleplay their own endings to exciting stories, and question the ramifications of their actions. This problem-solving is a great way to introduce kids to RPGs as both a player and DM.

The book ends with a short chapter on how to use monsters to tell stories, and important questions to contemplate for kids who decide to make stories or engage in RPGs on their own. Things like, ‘who are your characters,’ ‘where does your story take place,’ ‘how do things change as the story proceeds,’ and so on. Finally, there’s a short blurb about Dungeons & Dragons, and how to get into the game.

So what creatures, exactly, are featured in Monsters & Creatures? Plenty! ‘Caverns & Dark Places’ includes the beholder, bugbear, carrion crawler, flumph, goblin, mind flayer, myconid, and the legendary Demogorgon. ‘Forests, Mountains & Other Terrain’ includes the centaur, displacer beast, owlbear, sprite, treant, unicorn, hill giant, stone giant, frost giant, fire giant, cloud giant, storm giant, and the legendary fire giant Duke Zalto. ‘Moors, Bogs & Boneyards’ includes the banshee, skeleton, vampire lord, vampire spawn, and the legendary vampire Count Strahd Von Zarovich. ‘Oceans, Lakes & Waterways’ includes the aboleth, dragon turtle, and merrow. ‘Mountain Peaks & Open Sky’ includes the griffon, pegasus, white dragon, green dragon, black dragon, blue dragon, red dragon, and the legendary Tiamat, Queen of Evil Dragons! Encounters are included for the frost giant, green dragon, myconid, skeleton, and unicorn. My son most enjoyed reading about unicorns, flumphs, blue dragons, and vampires. My daughter most enjoyed reading about the beholder, flumph, dragon turtle, dragons, and Tiamat. My daughter also came across a few creatures that she decided, either from the art or after reading the first few sentences, were ‘too spooky’ for her. She promptly skipped those monsters and moved on with the book. The monsters she skipped were the carrion crawler (she’s afraid of bugs), the aboleth (she thought it looked creepy), and the mind flayer (it had a giant brain behind it and she was pretty sure she didn’t want to know why).

The verdict:

As an adult reader, I was pleasantly surprised with the array of creatures featured in this book. There’s a lot of iconic monsters in here, a ton of fantasy staples, and some quirky creatures that most kids will be discovering for the first time. Some of the choices were a bit gutsy for a kids book — the mind flayer and demogorgon, for example — but I’m thrilled to see them included. I’m pleased to see that not all of the monsters are evil creatures, there’s plenty that can be befriended or negotiated with.  The information included in the monster entries is absolutely wonderful. There’s integral information, great advice, and enough engaging descriptions to get my kids interested and curious. The encounters were a definite highlight of the book, as was the beautiful new artwork found throughout. The book is high-quality and sturdy, which is important since our copy is sure to take a beating. I’m far from the intended audience for this book, but I really enjoyed reading it. Even more than that, I loved sharing this book with my kids. I loved watching them discover and wonder over the creatures inside. Monsters & Creatures is a refreshing new take on the world and lore of D&D, sure to delight young readers, spark their imagination, and inspire them to tell stories of their own. Cover to cover it’s great fun.

My daughter: “I loved this book. It was fun to read and the pictures were beautiful! I give it two thumbs up! I think I will read it again and again. I really loved the flumph! It was the best creature in the book. That’s what I think.”

My son: “I think that I love this book. All kinds of kids should read it. I think most would love it, too! Especially if they already like D&D and RPGs and things. I think that it is fun and I’m going to read it a lot!”

“Monsters & Creatures is a refreshing new take on the world and lore of D&D, sure to delight young readers, spark their imagination, and inspire them to tell stories of their own. Cover to cover it’s great fun.”

Warriors & Weapons


Warriors & Weapons: A Young Adventurer’s Guide is an illustrated introductory guide to the many kinds of warriors you can create in Dungeons & Dragons, along with the weapons, armour, and adventuring gear that they’ll make use of. Featuring one-of-a-kind content and over sixty new illustrations, this book gives young adventurers the information and inspiration they need to create their own characters.

Warriors & Weapons begins with a quick introduction that makes it clear that this book is meant to help the reader and their friends make characters of their own. The rest of the book is divided into three major sections: fantasy races, character classes, and equipment. There’s a large array of fantasy races covered in this book — most I expected to see included, but a few were surprises that I knew of but didn’t expect to make the cut. Each race is covered in two side-by-side pages. It starts with new art and a few questions that can help kids figure out if they’ll like playing that race. You’ll also find information on their age, size, attributes, and a few paragraphs about the race and how they act or fit into the world. The races included in this book are human, dwarf, elf, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, halfling, dragonborn, kenku, tabaxi, tiefling, and tortle.

Gnome

Warriors & Weapons is a book about warriors. It should come as no surprise then, that not all of the character classes are covered in this book. The martial classes are included. That means there are six classes covered in the chapter on classes: barbarian, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, and rogue. Each class entry contains a few questions that can help kids figure out if they would enjoy making a character of that class, information on the class, its major low level abilities, and the weapons, armour, and gear they’re capable of using. Many also include information on the various archetypes, paths, and specializations available to those classes. After each class entry is a two page spread that takes a look at a famous example of that character class. These ‘legendary heroes’ include Wulfgar the Warhammer, Bruenor Battlehammer, Whey-Shu, Redclay, Minsc the Mighty, and Shandie Freefoot. The class section also includes a little flowchart that can tell kids what class they’re most like, and a short section on character backgrounds, attire, details, inspiration, and flaws.

The Equipment section takes a quick look at weapons (swords, polearms, other melee weapons, ranged weapons, and special weapons), armour (light, medium, heavy, and shields), survival gear, adventuring gear, tools, and some special packs for more specialized endeavours (burglar’s pack, dungeoneer’s pack, explorer’s pack, and vampire hunter’s pack). All of the weapon and armour entries talk about the pros and cons of utilizing items of that types, and showcases a few popular versions. The other equipment entries talk about the purpose of different kinds of gear, being prepared for your adventures, and why selecting the right equipment for your character is important. Finally, this section also contains a quick monster entry about the terrifying… rust monster!

Survival Gear

The book ends with a few comments about how you can use your characters to tell stories of your own, and a quick blurb about Dungeons & Dragons and how to get involved in the game. Most of the information on these back few pages is the same as that contained at the end of Monsters & Creatures.

The verdict: 

My kids both adored this book. They love flipping through the races and classes, answering the questions, and making up characters. My daughter particularly enjoys the flowchart that helps you pick out the class you’re most like, and has spent a lot of time making up her own quizzes to determine our race and class. She often sits down beside me, flips open her book, and announces, “Mama! Pick a race!” I cannot stress enough how much she enjoys using this book to make characters and character concepts. My son really enjoys reading about the legendary heroes, with both of my kids agreeing Minsc the Mighty and his hamster Boo are the coolest characters in the book. (I’m pretty sure Boo the hamster would win in a popularity contest between the two of them around here, haha). When it comes down to it, I think they enjoy the sections on races and classes more than the section on equipment. Warriors & Weapons is, without a doubt, a book that has sparked my kid’s imaginations. It’s inspired them to create characters, make stories, and share their ideas with the people around them. With a few flips of the page they imagine themselves heroes. And what could be better than that? This book is sure to have a place on my kids’ bookshelves for years to come.

My daughter: “I loved this book! Especially the little chart! It’s so much fun! It was a great book and I give it two thumbs up!”

My son: “Warriors & Weapons was pretty much as good as Monsters & Creatures, but I liked Monsters & Creatures better. I love how it lets you make your own characters with races and classes. The legendary characters were the coolest part. Especially Whey-Shu and Boo.”

“Warriors & Weapons is, without a doubt, a book that has sparked my kid’s imaginations. It’s inspired them to create characters, make stories, and share their ideas with the people around them. With a few flips of the page they imagine themselves heroes. And what could be better than that? This book is sure to have a place on my kids’ bookshelves for years to come.”


My family and I had an absolute blast with these books. Monsters & Creatures and Warriors & Weapons have both been read a lot by my kids, and I expect them to continue to see heavy use in the future. My kids have already decided they would each like their own copies, so they’re saving up their money to pick up an extra copy of each book. We’re very excited to hear there’s more Young Adventurer’s Guides on the horizon, and will definitely be picking up a copy (or two) of Dungeons & Tombs and Wizards & Spells when they come out.

We’d like to give a special thanks to Penguin Randomhouse Canada for sending us advance copies for review.

Thanks for stopping by d20diaries! We’ll chat again soon.

Jessica

 

Review: Tyrant’s Grasp: Last Watch

Today we’re taking an in depth look at the third book in the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path! This survival horror campaign pits the players against the return of the Whispering Tyrant, the lich-king Tar-Baphon, who was defeated and sealed away long ago. Tyrant’s Grasp will be the final Pathfinder 1st Edition Adventure Path released before the switch is made over to Pathfinder 2nd Edition in August. Intended to take characters from levels 1 to 17, Tyrant’s Grasp is six volumes long.

Tyrant's Grasp - Player's GuideA wonderful Player’s Guide for Tyrant’s Grasp is available as a free download on Paizo’s website here. The Player’s Guide gives players a relatively spoiler-free way to properly prepare for and integrate their characters into the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. I highly recommend checking it out.

It should be noted that the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path is not for everyone. Terrible tragedies will occur and you won’t always be able to prevent them. These events are bound to have a lasting effect on your characters, so players should be prepared to consider and role-play the marks left by the trials you face. Depending on the generosity of your GM you could be in dire situations with limited resources, so players will need to be resourceful to survive. Plenty of the imagery and events in this adventure are dark, morbid, and sorrowful. Although I wouldn’t call all of the volumes in this series horror adventures,  some are — though not your typical horror. I’d call it… a morbid tragedy. There’s plenty of undead, necromancers, and disaster. It’s definitely not a campaign to play with kids or if you’re looking for a light-hearted game.

Tyrant's Grasp - Last Watch CoverLast Watch is the third volume of the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. Written by Larry Wilhelm, this is an adventure intended for 8th-level characters, which should bring PCs up to level 11 by its conclusion. This adventure begins when the PCs arrive in Lastwall’s capital of Vigil, intent on telling the Knight of Ozem what’s happened in Roslar’s Coffer. Luckily, their arrival coincides with the Whiteblade festival, making it easy to gain an audience with a wide variety of government officials, military officers, and other important people. All that’s left it to tell them your tale.

Right?

Yeah, not so simple. Haha.

As with the other volumes in this adventure path, Last Watch looks great. From cover to cover it’s a high quality book filled with nice maps and beautiful, dark artwork. The cover depicts Yosiduin, an elven antipaladin, in the foreground. Behind him is an image of Yoon (the iconic kineticist) and Imrijka (the iconic inquisitor) battling a gnome and some thugs in the streets of Vigil. Both images are by Igor Grechanyi. There’s a nice map of The Gravelands (Lastwall and parts of Ustalav) on the inside cover again, as there has been with the previous volumes. There’s a lot of awesome artwork throughout the book — mostly of humanoid allies and enemies. Interior artists include Yanis Cardin, Hai Hoang, Joel Holtzman, Oksana Kerro, Valeria Lutfullina, Dave Melvin, and Firat Solhan. I particularly enjoyed the art for Cleverquill, pest drakes, and the many NPC portraits. The maps, all drawn by Matthias Rothenaicher, are really nice. They look great, of course, but they’re also well thought out and executed. unfortunately, some of the map rooms are too close to the binding, which makes them difficult to see. Also, one important room is partially cut off by the page’s decorative border. Unfortunate!

Kellen ShayleeIn terms of content, Last Watch is a diplomatic mission, investigation, and exploration.  PCs will need to convince the powers that be in Vigil that something horrible happened in Roslar’s Coffer and that Vigil needs to prepare for the worst. Of course, your PCs tale is rather far fetched… The PCs will need proof to go along with their words. The adventure is rather free form at the start but, as the PCs uncover clues that will lead them to further discoveries and encounters, the adventure becomes more linear.

Vigil is a great location to adventure in and this book did a good job of conveying atmosphere and populace through encounters and short descriptions. That said, the city isn’t fleshed out very much in this book, and I wish it was. I highly recommend GMs give Pathfinder Chronicles: Cities of Golarion a read if they own it, as it contains a ten-page gazetteer on Vigil which can be used to really make this place shine. Either way, this is a great time to let players explore, make friends, forge alliances, rest, properly equip themselves, and generally enjoy being among the living while they go about their duties.

Last Watch has a more balanced array of encounter types than it’s predecessor did. It begins heavy on the social encounters, then quickly transitions to heavy on combat encounters, before finishing with a welcome mix of both. Throughout the course of the book there’s chances for different skills and different character types to shine. The combats were interesting, but it’s those in the final chapter that I particularly enjoyed. I like the social encounters a lot, both in the beginning and end of the adventure, although I think some groups will flounder a bit with the beginning. GMs will need to pay close attention to their player’s behaviour to determine if more guidance is required. Personally, I think I’d have a lot of fun with it. But, again, it’s the social encounters in the final section of this adventure that really shine.


And now it’s time for a warning:

We’ve got more to say about this adventure, but it’ll come with spoilers! Don’t want to read them? Skip on past this next section until you see the large words ‘SPOILERS OVER.’ Got it? Good! See you on the other side!


SPOILERS

Last Watch is split into three major parts: Explosive Tidings, Into the Undercity, and Grim Dawn. The adventure is 53 pages in length with six pages afterwards dedicated to three NPCs: Ceto Malderra, a famous crusader who’s not what she seems (and has amazing artwork!); Kilibrandt Erstwhile, a gnome entrepreneur and criminal; and Yosiduin, an elven antipaladin and leader of the local Seal-Breaker cell.

Evark NoxPart One: Explosive Tidings begins with the PCs entering Vigil during a holiday with the intent of informing the Knights of Ozem what’s happened to Roslar’s Coffer. But no one believes them! Obviously. Their story sounds crazy. It’s awesome. Haha. PCs will have opportunities to approach a variety of different authority figures and try to convince them to believe their outlandish tales. In most cases the PCs will need more evidence, which could frustrate some players and groups. But, with work, PCs should be able to win over some of the dignitaries. Doing so can earn your PCs rewards, allies, and have an effect on the final chapter of this adventure.

Figuring out where to start your hunt for evidence is a bit more troublesome. Although many groups will know which clues they have of merit, make the right connections, and tug on the right threads, some won’t. Those groups will likely be lost and get a bit frustrated. GMs should be prepared to improvise and throw in a bit more clues or rumours at the start of the investigation process if needed. All in all, I like the places the investigation goes and what drives it.

CleverquillPart Two: Into the Undercity begins when the PCs investigation leads them into the sewers beneath Vigil, where they’ll take on the Seal-Breakers in their base of operations, an abandoned temple of Arazni. This location is dark and haunted, and there’s more than one way for the players to explore it, which is really nice. But, who are these Seal-Breakers, anyway? In short, they’re an evil cabal intent on freeing the Whispering Tyrant in order to acquire a really old book he had in his possession when he was sealed away. Yes, a book. And yes, the founder of this group is the person who borrowed the book to the Whispering Tyrant. Sure, it might seem a little weird, and yes, founding a cult and unleashing an undead tyrant is a rather drastic step to get your evil book back, but it’s a really special book. With it the Seal-Breakers hope to do even worse things, like unleash Rovagug and destroy Golarion. Fun stuff! All humour aside, I like this part of the adventure. The location is appropriately atmospheric, the battles are challenging, and the villains are properly… villainous! The PCs are going to figure out a lot in their time here, particularly in regards to what’s happened to Roslar’s Coffer, what’s driving this adventure path, and what’s at stake if they fail. They’re going to learn about the Whispering Way, the Whispering Tyrant, and how he destroyed Roslar’s Coffer. They’ll learn a bit about the Seal-Breakers, what this group was doing in Vigil, and that they intend to free the Whispering Tyrant, but they won’t learn enough to know their ultimate aims and goals of the Seal-Breakers. It’s likely the group will come off as a militant ally of the Whispering Way –– which is exactly how the Seal-Breakers like it! (More on Seal-Breakers later!)

But, what I like best about this section of the adventure is the twist ending… Your PCs have fought long and hard to find the evidence they need to convince the city’s officials to trust them. They’ve scoured the city for clues, tracked down a gang, descended into the stinky sewers, and fought of a cult of violent fanatics, and now –– finally! –– they have what they need.

Suddenly there’s a muffled sound echoing down from the city above…. Was that an explosion? The ceiling shakes…

Geist

Part Three: Grim Dawn begins when the PCs exit the sewers after taking on the Seal-Breakers. They emerge to find Vigil destroyed…

Which is awesome! Horrible! But, awesome! This is such a great gaming moment that will be much more meaningful if the players have had time to get to love Vigil, so be sure to play that up while you can!

Now, Vigil is a big city, and the death toll is absolutely devastating, but there are a few pockets of survivors. In this section of the adventure the PCs explore the ruins of Vigil –– which has clearly suffered the same fate as Roslar’s Coffer –– fight off undead abominations, and meet up with the survivors. They’ll see some familiar faces and be happy to realize that their efforts did do some good, even if it didn’t save the city. There’s a direct correlation between the number of survivors in Vigil and how much the PCs managed to convince the various authority figures in Part One that the threat to this city was real. Although it’s not mentioned until the end of the chapter, GMs should definitely take the time to highlight this the entire way through!

The PCs need to rally these survivors, hatch a plan, and bring this group to meet up with another group of survivors. Together they’ll have to attack a terrifying foe that’s intent on ensuring no one leaves Vigil alive. If they can accomplish this the PCs can escape Vigil with their fellow refugees and live to fight another day.

In addition to the Last Watch adventure, this volume contains three articles and a bestiary containing five new creatures. All three articles are intended for GMs, but only one needs to be kept secret from players: Seal-Breakers, by Greg A. Vaughan. This article takes an in-depth look at the history and goals of the Seal-Breakers, it’s founders, members, and structure. It also mentions some places the Seal-Breakers are active and what their goals are in those locations.

SPOILERS OVER


There are two other articles in the book’s backmatter that players can hear about without it affecting the adventure. The first article, Into the Void, is written by Patchen Mortimer. It details the Negative Energy Plane, exploring its locations, ecology, denizens, and threats. This has always been a plane that I’ve considered pretty hard to wrap my head around. How does one adventure in a place that’s the antithesis of life? But, this article did a great job of making it a potential adventure location. It’s still horribly dangerous, but as a player and GM it seems a lot more accessible now. Really great job!

Into the Void

The final article is Relics of the Shining Crusade by Alexander Augunas. As the name implies, this article details some relics –– magical objects that can improve under certain conditions when utilized by PCs. The included relics are all objects from Lastwall that were used in the wars against the Whispering Tyrant, and are great options for dropping into the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. Keep in mind that the triggering conditions that can cause these objects to improve should be kept hidden from players.

Relics of the Shining Crusade

The Bestiary is up next! It contains a random encounter chart and four special encounters, all suitable for use in the third part of Last Watch. There’s also eight new creatures written by Mike Headley, Isabella Lee, Meagan Maricle, Kendra Leigh Speedling, and Larry Wilhelm. Five of them are featured in the Last Watch adventure. Creatures include Lifeleecher mortic, a CR 8 mortic based off of orcs; pallid angel, a CR 12 evil outsider blessed by Urgathoa that’s a mockery of the angels they appear to be; pest drake swarm, a CR 9 swarm of colourful little dragons; sceazir, a CR 9 outsider from the Negative Energy Plane; sump steward, an intelligent plant that nurtures the growth of other plants (and my personal favourite of the new monsters); and finally, three swarms and troops of undead: the CR 10 clacking skull swarm, CR 7 barrier breaker troop, and the CR 9 sodden draugr troop.

Pest Drakes
Pest Drakes from the Last Watch Bestiary

Which brings us to the end of  Last Watch by Larry Wilhelm! I think this is an absolutely awesome adventure that packs an emotional punch. I enjoyed it start to finish, but it’s the entire final chapter and the ominous foreshadowing of terrible tragedies that really makes this adventure special. GMs willing to put in the work to make Vigil and it’s people shine will definitely be rewarded!

Tyrant’s Grasp continues with Gardens of Gallowspire (Tyrant’s Grasp 4 of 6) by Crystal Frasier, Borne by the Sun’s Grace (Tyrant’s Grasp 5 of 6) by Luis Loza, and Midwives to Death (Tyrant’s Grasp 6 of 6) by John Compton. You can also check out a previous blog post I wrote on Tyrant’s Grasp before its release here, or our review of The Dead Roads (Tyrant’s Grasp 1 of 6) and Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer (Tyrant’s Grasp 2 of 6).

Thanks for joining us today!

Jessica


 

Pathfinder Society Scenarios: Countdown to Round Mountain and Slaver’s End

Today we’re going to take a look at two of the most recent Pathfinder Society Scenarios that are currently available for purchase, and let you know we thought. Although you’ll find references to events in each that I liked or disliked, and comments about specific characters, these scenarios are not explored in detail. It’s not my intention to spoil the events in these scenarios, or give summaries and full reviews, but to share my opinions and provide recommendations. That said, if you want to avoid even minor spoilers I recommend you check out a different article. Whether you intend to use these scenarios in home games of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, sanctioned scenarios for use with the Pathfinder Society Organized Play, or just want to read a nifty new adventure, we’ve got you covered! So let’s get cracking!

10-20 - Countdown to Round MountainPathfinder Society Scenario #10-20: Countdown to Round Mountain is a Tier 7–11 adventure written by Jerall Toi, with art by Tadas Sidlauskas and Jesper Ejsing, and cartography by Jason Engle. It takes place in the Darklands beneath Tian Xia and continues the ongoing Hao Jin Tapestry storyline. Although it involves Round Mountain this scenario doesn’t actually take place in Round Mountain, which is important to note for managing player expectations. The Venture Captain is Amara Li. Countdown to Round Mountain features creatures from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: BestiaryBestiary 2Bestiary 3Bestiary 4, and Bestiary 6 (although all of the necessary stat blocks are included within the scenario) and utilizes the Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Winter Forest and Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Bigger Bridge.

This adventure tasks the PCs with finding and exploring a Darklands cavern that was the original home of Round Mountain. The PCs need to conduct a survey of the area, collect what historical artifacts they can, and convince any possible residents to leave, before a magical ritual returns Round Mountain –– and the creatures taking refuge in it –– back to its original location. In a lot of ways, I love this adventure. Its an easy read, has a really cool premise, and has a creative location to explore. I really like that this adventure is on a timer and has a lot at stake, but I don’t think it quite got the timing right. There’s plenty of promising ideas and details in the adventure, but I don’t think many were explored fully, resulting in either a missed opportunity or a lot of GM improvisation, depending on the situation. This scenario is very heavy on skill checks, and would have benefited from some further social aspects. I like the enemies the PCs come across, and I really enjoy the finale. I have a few more vague GM related comments to make on this one, but it contains more spoilers than I am comfortable letting slip without hiding it behind a spoiler tag. The following link is for GMs only. For everyone else, let me finish by saying I enjoyed this scenario, but I think it’s got a bit of kinks to work out. I give it three out of five stars.

10-21 - Slaver's EndPathfinder Society Scenario #10-21: Slaver’s End is a Tier 5–9 adventure written by Vanessa Hoskins, with art by Jesper Ejsing and Teresa Guido, and cartography by Sean MacDonald. It takes place in Sedeq, a city in Qadira, and builds off of events from #38: No Plunder, No Pay and #10-21: Treason’s Chains. It features creatures from Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: BestiaryBestiary 3, and the Villain Codex (although all of the necessary stat blocks are included within the scenario) and utilizes the Pathfinder Flip-Mat: Docks, and a full-page custom map. This mission is of particular importance to members of the Liberty’s Edge faction. Venture-Captains are Wulessa Yuul and Karisa Starsight.

This adventure tasks the PCs with tracking down the traitor Phlegos Dulm and bringing him in alive. This is a really fun, challenging, entertaining scenario, with great enemy tactics and placement, map layout, and story. I adore the scripted dialogue in this one, and the social encounters! So great! Slaver’s End allows for multiple ways to approach and overcome the encounters, and gives characters the chance to make decisions that could have further ramifications outside this scenario. I absolutely loved this adventure and can’t wait to play it! Really great job! I give this scenario five out of five stars.

Starfinder Society Scenarios: The Many Minds of Historia and The Herald’s War

Today we’re going to take a look at the two most recent Starfinder Society Scenarios that are currently available for purchase, and let you know we thought. Although you’ll find references to events in each that I liked or disliked, and comments about specific characters, these scenarios are not explored in detail. It’s not my intention to spoil the events in these scenarios, or give summaries and full reviews, but to share my opinions and provide recommendations. That said, if you want to avoid even minor spoilers I recommend you check out a different article. Whether you intend to use these scenarios in home games of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game, sanctioned scenarios for use with the Starfinder Society Organized Play, or just want to read a nifty new adventure, we’ve got you covered! So sit back, and get ready to explore the Pact Worlds!

PZOSFS0138E - The Many Minds of HistoriaStarfinder Society Scenario #1-38: The Many Minds of Historia is a Tier 5–8 adventure written by Lyz Liddell, with art  by Sebastian Rodriguez and Bryan Syme, and cartography by Robert Lazzaretti and Damien Mammoliti. This scenario features the Faction (Dataphiles) and Faction (Exo-Guardians) tags, and does not include starship combat. It builds on events from Starfinder Society #1-99: The Scoured Stars Invasion, although playing this scenario beforehand is not necessary. It also continues an ongoing personal subplot involving Zigvigix and Historia-7. Although it’s not necessary, I highly suggest you play some of the previous scenarios that feature Zigvigix and Historia-7 in order to better enjoy and understand this scenario. Players who do so will definitely get more out of it emotionally and contextually, than players that do not. This scenario makes use of Starfinder Flip-Mat: WarshipStarfinder Flip-Mat: Jungle World, and a half-page custom map. It includes content from the Starfinder Core RulebookAlien Archive, and Armory, although all of the necessary stat blocks are included in the adventure itself.

The Many Minds of Historia takes place in Absalom Station’s Lorespire Complex, base of operations for the Starfinder Society. There you will assist Zigvigix in confronting Historia-7, his friend and fellow faction leader who he believes is acting strangely. It includes plenty of important characters, and has lasting ramifications for the future of some of the involved characters and factions. Due to the importance of this scenario, and because it is much more enjoyable to play while completely in the dark, I won’t be saying much more about the content of this scenario. I will say that I absolutely loved it! The Many Minds of Historia is creative, exciting, unique, and shocking. It’s emotionally impactful, and brings a lot of interconnected storylines, characters, and events together into an intriguing cohesive whole. It’s fun for players and GMs both, allows for a lot of creativity, and is an absolutely wonderful scenario. It feels personal, and I expect many players will be on the edge of their seats throughout the course of this adventure. All that said, it’s not without a few minor weaknesses. A few of the enemy’s starting positions don’t work optimally with their tactics (which also means it’s a bit easier than some CRs imply), and it will be difficult to convey some of the skill options PCs could use without simply telling them. Miniscule nitpicks. Overall, The Many Minds of Historia is among my very favourite scenarios. Without a doubt I give it five out of five stars. Awesome job, Lyz!

PZOSFS0139 - The Heralds WarStarfinder Society Scenario #1-39: The Herald’s War is a Tier 7–10 adventure written by Mikko Kallio, with art by Graey Erb, Michele Giorgi, Miroslav Petrov, and Bryan Syme, and cartography by Robert Lazzaretti and Damien Mammoliti. This scenario features the Faction (Second Seekers [Jadnura]), Faction (Second Seekers [Luwazi Elsebo]), and Starship tags, and contains starship combat. It continues the ongoing Scoured Stars storyline, involving both the jinsul and the Kreiholm Freehold. I highly recommend you play #1-29: Honorbound Emissarries before playing this scenario (although there’s a ton of other Scoured Stars scenarios that would also be great to play beforehand). Players who take the time to do so will get more enjoyment out of this adventure. The Herald’s War utilizes Starfinder Flip-Mat – Basic Starfield, and two custom half-page maps.  It makes use of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, and, as always, all necessary stat blocks are included within the scenario itself.

The Herald’s War takes place in Saaruq-Ruaan, which is part of the Kreiholm Freehold. In this scenario PCs will join a massive Starfinder Society mission to protect the Kreiholm Freehold, and convince them to join the Starfinder Society in a future assault against the jinsul –– presuming they all survive, of course! This scenario involves a ton of different characters, plot lines, and events all coming together into one absolutely awesome scenario. It’s fast-paced, exciting, and dynamic. It’s definitely long, though, so GMs will need to keep a brisk pace to fit it all into a single timeslot. The encounters cover a variety of types –– combat, skills, social, starship, and so on –– and most challenges allow for multiple methods to overcome them. It’s action-packed and epic, but a bit manic and disjointed –– which actually fits the adventure really well. Although we have a ton more to say about this scenario, we’re going to keep it brief. This scenario is the conclusion of the Year of Scoured Stars  for the Starfinder Society, and is best enjoyed without further spoilers. All in all, it’s a really satisfying scenario with a great pay-off. This scenario leads directly into the events of #2-00: Fate of the Scoured God by Christopher Wasko, an interactive special which will debut at Origins. I give this climatic scenario five out of five stars. 

 

 

Review: Tyrant’s Grasp: Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer

Today we’re taking an in depth look at the second book in the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path! This survival horror campaign pits the players against the return of the Whispering Tyrant, the lich-king Tar-Baphon, who was defeated and sealed away long ago. Tyrant’s Grasp will be the final Pathfinder 1st Edition Adventure Path released before the switch is made over to Pathfinder 2nd Edition in August. Intended to take characters from levels 1 to 17, Tyrant’s Grasp is six volumes long.

Tyrant's Grasp - Player's GuideA wonderful Player’s Guide for Tyrant’s Grasp is available as a free download on Paizo’s website here. The Player’s Guide gives players a relatively spoiler-free way to properly prepare for and integrate their characters into the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. I highly recommend checking it out.

It should be noted that the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path is not for everyone. Terrible tragedies will occur and you won’t always be able to prevent them. These events are bound to have a lasting effect on your characters, so players should be prepared to consider and role-play the marks left by the trials you face. Depending on the generosity of your GM you could be in dire situations with limited resources, so players will need to be resourceful to survive. Plenty of the imagery and events in this adventure are dark, morbid, and sorrowful. Although I wouldn’t call all of the volumes in this series horror adventures,  some are — though not your typical horror. I’d call it… a morbid tragedy. There’s plenty of undead, necromancers, and disaster. It’s definitely not a campaign to play with kids or if you’re looking for a light-hearted game.

Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer is the second volume of the Tyrant’s Grasp Adventure Path. Written by Jason Keeley, this is an adventure intended for fifth level characters, which should bring PCs up to level eight by its conclusion. This adventure begins when the PCs return home to Roslar’s Coffer and find it greatly changed.

Eulogy for Roslars Coffer Cover 2Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer looks great. From cover to cover it’s a high quality book filled with nice maps and beautiful, dark artwork. The cover depicts Jando Parr, a half-orc ranger, in the foreground. Behind him is an image of Imrijka (the iconic inquisitor) and Kess (the iconic brawler) battling an undead moose. Both images are by Igor Grechanyi. There’s a nice map of The Gravelands (Lastwall and parts of Ustalav) on the inside cover. There’s a lot of artwork throughout the book — mostly of enemies. I particularly enjoyed the art for Chatar Esuri, Valthazar Quietus, an oracle from the backmatter, and the couatls in the Bestiary. The maps, all drawn by Matthias Rothenaicher, are really nice. They look great, of course, but they’re also well thought out and executed. All of the rooms are clearly labelled and visible, and I didn’t notice any discrepancies between the maps and the accompanying text.

In terms of content, Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer is a bit of mystery, a bit of exploration, a bit of problem solving, and a lot of combat. PCs will need to explore Roslar’s Coffer, figure out what happened, find a way to move forward, and defeat their enemies. There’s some nice connections between this volume, the ones before and after, and Pathfinder Society Scenario #10-04: Reaver’s Roar. I particularly enjoy how this adventure plays with feelings of familiarity, déjà vu, and player expectations.

The entire adventure takes place in Roslar’s Coffer and it’s immediate surroundings, as well as two major encounter areas. The town is a dark, tragic place to play in. There’s plenty of scripted danger and wandering encounters, as well as a few scripted non-combat encounters. Most of the social encounters in this adventure occur on the town’s streets, although there’s not that many of them. Outside of this most of the PCs interactions with others will be based around whatever information they manage to pry from their enemies lips. As much as I like what was done with Roslar’s Coffer, I wish there was more there. That said, Roslar’s Coffer is the perfect place for GMs to tie the surroundings closely to their player’s backstory and history. I highly recommend GMs do so as much as possible, as that’s what will really make this place special.

In and around Roslar’s Coffer there are two major locations to explore. Both are quite combat heavy and contain some memorable encounters and enemies.

Reaver Battle


And now it’s time for a warning:

We’ve got more to say about this adventure, but it’ll come with spoilers! Don’t want to read them? Skip on past this next section until you see the large words ‘SPOILERS OVER.’ Got it? Good! See you on the other side!


SPOILERS

Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer is split into three major parts: A Town Tormented, Restless are the Dead, and The Unclean Light. The adventure is 55 pages in length with six pages afterwards dedicated to three NPCs: Chatar Esuri, the coolest looking ghoul I’ve ever seen; Jando Parr, a half-orc ranger who could become an ally of the PCs, and Valthazar Quietus, the final enemy the PCs will need to overcome.

Through this adventure the PCs will primarily take on undead and agents of the Whispering Way. It’s quite combat heavy, although, as previously mentioned, many of the enemies are memorable and unique. From simple foes like a mutated bear and a stampede of zombie moose (the stats say elk but the image on the cover is a moose, so I’m going with that!), to cunning enemies like patrols of Whispering Way cultists, tricky nekomata, and juju zombies made from the corpses of your PCs, there’s a lot of fun combats packed into this book.

There’s few potential allies in this adventure, but that doesn’t mean there’s few social encounters. The PCs will have plenty of opportunity to interact with spirits and help put them to rest. They’ll also have chances to interact with and befriend Jando Parr. Finally, a number of enemies can be rather chatty, and clever PCs might be able to learn much from them.

Part One: A Town Tormented begins with the PCs arriving in Roslar’s Coffer to find it destroyed. The people are dead, corpses stalk the streets, and a toxic miasma surrounds the town which proves fatal to anything that attempts to leave. Arriving from the Dead Roads in an old stable outside town, the PCs get to explore Roslar’s Coffer and attempt to learn what they can. There’s some fun encounters here –– the previously mentioned zombie moose stampede is a memorable combat, while meeting (and hopefully allying with) Jando Parr allows the PCs to make a friend, learn about the recent happenings in town, and find a base of operations where they can rest in safety. The other major encounter is with a loci spirit formed from the souls of those who died in Roslar’s Coffer. The spirit bars entry to the cemetery.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot to do in Roslar’s Coffer. PCs won’t find many clues in the buildings, the only people they can talk to are Jando Parr, patrols of Whispering Way cultists, and a few spirits of the dead. I really like these spirits, and I love the mundane ways you can put them to rest –– things like fixing up a garden, teaching the school-kids a lesson so they can be dismissed by a teacher, and helping a man remember what jewelry he was about to buy for his beloved. It’s great fun! But that’s all there really is to do in town. So why would your PCs bother putting some spirits to rest? Hopefully out of the goodness of their hearts but, even if that’s not the case, the PCs will soon discover they have to. There’s no way to escape Roslar’s Coffer and the only place they can viably reach that is unexplored is the cemetery –– a cemetery that a certain loci spirit bars entry to. To get inside the loci spirit insists the other spirits in town be calmed. Accomplishing this allows PCs access to the cemetery where they find a familiar tomb….

Part Two: Restless are the Dead begins when the PCs enter the tomb of Roslar. This is a location that will seem very familiar to the PCs, as Tyrant’s Grasp begins when the PCs wake up in a idealistic version of Roslar’s Tomb in the Boneyard. This version? Not so nice! It’s decrepit, vandalized, and plagued by undead. This section of the adventure does a great job of messing with player expectations by showing them a location they’ll feel like they know that isn’t the same. It’s going to be a lot of fun to play at the table. It’s very combat heavy, with only few enemies within the tomb capable of carrying on a conversation.

Part Three: The Unclean Light begins after the PCs have traversed Roslar’s tomb and discovered a secret tunnel that leads to the Bastion of Light, a Sarenite church with a storied history located within the toxic fog surrounding Roslar’s Coffer. This temple has been home to Sarenites, orc war bands, and a mythic red reaver over the years, before it was liberated by the Pathfinder Society in scenario #10-04: Reaver’s Roar. In the months since it has undergone some renovations. Now it’s home to the Whispering Way. The foul cultists are using it as a base of operations to explore the town and catalogue the effects of the weapon used to destroy Roslar’s Coffer. In some ways this backstory will shine through. PCs that are locals will know some of the history of this place through ghost stories and legends. Players who’ve played #10-04 will enjoy the references and tie-ins. Canny PCs might be able to cobble together clues from room descriptions. But, for the most part, this is just a cool building where the bad guys live. The PCs sneak in through the secret tunnel, discover who lives there, and attack. This is likely going to take more than one day as the place is densely populated and PCs are going to be already low on resources from traversing the tomb. There is a place you can rest inside the temple, but it’s more likely PCs sneak back out the secret tunnels and recuperate under the watchful eyes of Jando Parr.

Mutated BearThere are a lot of fun enemies in this temple. The Whispering Way cultists here (and throughout the whole book) have some really nice artwork. There’s a mutated bear that druids might be able to control or befriend, a zombie made from the red reaver that once lived here, and plenty of other traps and undead. My favourite encounters are a pair of tricky nekomata that try to separate and impersonate members of the party, and the final villain, Valthazar Quietus. Valthazar is an androgynous looking Ustalavic nobleman who is a pleasant conversationalist. He’s more than willing to chat with the PCs (as long as it suits him!). He’s accompanied by juju zombies created from the corpses of the PCs which is sure to be jarring and a ton of fun to play. It’s definitely a highlight of this adventure!

But, escaping Roslar’s Coffer isn’t as simple as killing your enemies. Valthazar used a powerful artifact to create a toxic fog around the destroyed town, then protected the artifact with an occult ritual. PCs will need to figure out how to access the artifact and shut it down. There’s plenty of clues laying around and a well-stocked library, but figuring this out could still be a bit frustrating for some players. This section also makes use of library and research rules.

Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer ends with a mysterious stranger suggesting the PCs travel to Vigil, capital of Lastwall, to tell them what has happened to Roslar’s Coffer.

In addition to the Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer adventure, this volume contains three articles and a bestiary containing five new creatures. All three articles are intended for GMs.

The first article, Merchants of the Road, is written by Eleanor Ferron. In it you’ll find details on a variety of very strange travelling merchants and caravans that could be added into the campaign. This is particularly useful at various points in the adventure path when shops are hard to come by. Each also comes with some potential plot hooks. The merchant groups are the Baramasco, Clockwork Caravan, Palanquin Trading, Taotake, and (my personal favourite) the Redclover Tribe of kobolds! Although I doubt I would add these groups into Tyrant’s Grasp when I run it, I would definitely enjoy using all of these groups in other adventures and campaigns.

The second article, Arazni, The Red Queen, is written by Lyz Liddell. As the name implies it contains information on Arazni, her history, and her fate. Arazni is such a tragic figure, and her personal story arc is incredibly important to this adventure path –– even though it does unfold primarily offscreen. She’s suffered through life, death, life as an undead, imprisonment, unwanted marriage, and so much more. She’s endured (and still endures) trauma that has shaped her into the person she is, and drives her actions throughout this adventure path. I particularly enjoyed seeing how her faith and focus has changed over the years. I think this article was very well handled.

The final article, Machinations of the Whispering Way, is written by Crystal Malarsky and details The Whispering Way, servants of the Whispering Tyrant and the primary villains of this adventure path. It also includes some stat blocks that are used in this adventure. It’s a very important article for GMs to read.

Mix CouatlThe Bestiary is up next! It contains a random encounter chart and five new creatures written by Sarah E. Hood, Luis Loza, Jen McTeague, and Mikhail Rekun. Oddly, none of them are featured in the Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer adventure. The first two monsters are couatls: auwaz, a CR 6 couatl found near oceans that helps the lost find their way home, and mix, a CR 8 couatl known to guide and watch over societies. Other creatures include gurgist, a CR 6 human mortic; melacage, a disturbing CR 5 incorporeal (usually) ball of undead souls; and pixie circle, a CR 7 plant creature capable of transporting enemies to other pixie circles.

SPOILERS OVER


Which brings us to the end of Eulogy for Roslar’s Coffer (Tyrant’s Grasp 2 of 6) by Jason Keeley! Although I wish there was more to do and discover in Roslar’s Coffer, I really enjoyed this adventure. There’s some combat encounters in this book that are going to be unique and memorable for everyone at the table, and the adventure’s location and events are going to have a lot of emotional impact for PCs. As a GM that’s something I really appreciate.

Tyrant’s Grasp continues with Last Watch (Tyrant’s Grasp 3 of 6) by Larry Wilhelm, Gardens of Gallowspire (Tyrant’s Grasp 4 of 6) by Crystal Frasier, Borne by the Sun’s Grace (Tyrant’s Grasp 5 of 6) by Luis Loza, and Midwives to Death (Tyrant’s Grasp 6 of 6) by John Compton. You can also check out a previous blog post I wrote on Tyrant’s Grasp before its release here, or our review of The Dead Roads (Tyrant’s Grasp 1 of 6).

Thanks for joining us today!

Jessica


 

 

Enter the Dungeon of Doom

My kids love Dwarven Forge.

They’re obsessively browsing the Dwarven Forge website, and watching their many youtube videos. My son takes every opportunity to bring it up, attempting to convince me I should buy him some for his birthday, or for my birthday, or maybe my husband’s Christmas gift.

So when my son asked if he could download the free Dungeon of Doom Adventure a while back, I let him. And when he asked me over and over if I had read it yet, I pushed it up a little higher on my to-read list.

You see, I like Dwarven Forge, but when it comes to adventures, I tend to prefer a sweeping story over a classic dungeon. And the Dungeon of Doom adventure? Seemed like one big deadly dungeon.

Which it is. But, turns out, it’s also awesome! Haha.

I finally got around to reading the adventure and was pleasantly surprised. Every encounter area is well planned, well executed, and exceptionally creative –– all things I expect from Dwarven Forge. There’s some basic plot hooks to get the adventure moving, but not much else. On the surface, at least. There’s much more going on in this dungeon delve than anticipated, as the PCs will uncover as they adventure.

If they survive.

Dungeon of Doom is packed full of layered, multi-stage traps and puzzles that work to create a deadly challenge for the PCs. It’s smart, clever, and surprisingly funny! There’s a wide array of NPCs you can meet and interact with in the dungeon, from ghostly spirits, to chatty gargoyles and, my personal favourite, a talking door. The PCs have plenty of secrets and history to uncover through their exploration, and a lot of powerful treasure to claim. But, as previously mentioned, this is definitely a deadly dungeon! For starters, the dungeon itself drains your PCs life force, making taking a long rest impossible. PCs will need to complete the entire dungeon with relative speed or they’ll run out of resources. In addition, characters that die have their souls trapped within the dungeon and rise as an undead spirit known as a maerghast. Not a desirable end! Along the way the PCs will need to collect magical artifacts known as glyphstones, which are powerful semi-intelligent artifacts which affect the PCs personality and behaviour, but grants them potent magical powers –– some of which can allow players to heal or gain the effects of taking a long rest. But, the greatest challenge is definitely the dungeon itself. As I previously mentioned the encounter rooms are packed full of well-utilized, challenging puzzles and traps which I absolutely adored. It’s deadly, but a lot of fun.

The Dungeon of Doom Adventure is a free download here, and is intended for characters between the levels of 1 and 10. Each challenge is written for three difficulty levels, based on your party’s APL (average party level). APL 1–4, APL 5–7, and APL 8–10, with the variable numbers (DCs, Damage, and so on) separated by a slash. For example DC 12/14/16 or 1d8/2d8/3d8 damage. It’s easy to understand and efficient. Monsters are instead listed on a chart, with the composition of each encounter being determined by your party’s APL. Level 1 parties might face off against a quasit while a level 10 party might face a nalfeshnee in the same location. The adventure is written for 5e Dungeons and Dragons, but has rules in the back for running it for the Pathfinder RPG (which is awesome!). Those of you interested in investing in Dwarven Forge’s Dungeon of Doom products can buy the pieces needed to make the Dungeon of Doom on a room by room basis on their website, while the adventure contains detailed build guides to show you how to set it all up. You can also watch Dungeon of Doom played or see a run-down of the rooms on youtube.

Dungeon of Doom is a deviously deadly dungeon full of interesting puzzles and traps, perfectly suited to challenge players of a variety of levels. I found it absolutely inspiring! I highly recommend you give it read!

Jessica

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