Monday, 28 July 2014

Is normal Pathfinder product not as shiny as the Beginner Box - Scenarios

Continuing on with the cross examination of the pathfinder product line, rather than look at the newest modules and just take the example from there, I decided to take a look at several different modules and see what, if anything has changed.

For those who don’t know, Pathfinder modules are organised into Seasons, with special events in between.  I know nothing of which are popular or indicated as being particularly good, so I took one module from each of the seasons and one of the special events and here’s what I found.

I’ll only be putting in the briefest description of the scenario as I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t played them before, and I’m working from the PDF’s of each of these, so the amount of images from the modules will be limited to the cover.

Season 0 – Mists of Mwangi

Not a million miles off a haunted house scenario, the scenario involves the players contacting an ex pathfinder who owns the Blakros museum and there ending the threats therein.  It’s not a complex scenario, being a map and a number of encounters within the map, culminating in a final battle and a resolution which rewards the players depending on what they did and didn’t do.  There isn’t much art in the PDF, a number of maps and handouts, and the image of the ape on the front cover is reused in the book.  Far less images than the larger releases, but quality of writing is good and it’s an easy scenario to run.

Season 1 – Voices in the Void

Interestingly enough, although chosen completely at random, this scenario is also centred around the Blakros museum with the same characters from before.  However in this scenario, the players are going down into the basement and below.  The premise is that someone has gone missing and the players need to find them and bring them back, hopefully solving the puzzle of the museum again.  Very little artwork in the module, and the artwork that there is has already been used on the front cover.  There are a number of clear maps and handouts, but nothing else to look upon, the scenario is easy to run and it’s well described, but the lack of any substantial artwork might disappoint those drawn in by the beginner box.

Season 2 – The Midnight Mauler

In a marked change from the previous two scenarios, Midnight Mauler is a classic hunting scenario spread across several different encounters, all of them with full maps and details and a lot of background notes for what is going on in the scenario.  The interesting thing about this is that there’s a lot of material in the module regarding how to run things through, all the way down to one part of the scenario having a flowchart diagram at the end that shows how the rolls that players would need to make to get through that part in its entirety, thereby saving the GM the need to come up with that particular part of it.  It’s very well written, but again, beyond maps and handouts, lacking in original artwork, with the cover art being used inside once again.  A trend may be emerging here...

Season 3 – Sewer Dragons of Absalom

This scenario can be played several different ways, with the players being sent to investigate a number of incidents involving creatures in the sewers beneath Absalom (one of the larger cities in Pathfinder), rather than the earlier offerings, which were very much wander around the map till the bad guys are cleared out, there’s a sense of being able to do things different ways in this scenario, it’s not just clear the way to the boss fight and then collect the treasure, and it’s clear that things have certainly progressed from where they were in the earlier seasons.  There’s new artwork throughout, maps and handouts as usual, briefings from the different factions that make up the Pathfinder world, and at the end, there’s the sense that what the players have accomplished has had a real effect in what goes on in the world, not just another cleaned out dungeon.

Season 4 – The Cyphermage Dilemma

The scenario is a hunt and kill/bring to justice mission against an enemy of significant resources.  Artwork is once again somewhat absent, there’s plenty of maps and handouts, but barring a few creatures, and a repeat of the cover image, nothing in the way of spectacular panorama’s though.  The writing is crisp and clear, the encounters are sensible and scaled to the level of the players going up against them, and all the reference materials needed are to hand from the start.  The faction missions are clear and the conditions for success in them are included at the back, so a good module, but not Shiny. Two PDF’s enclosed with this scenario, one colour, one plain, clearly listening to some people not bothered with shiny and more interested in using less printer ink.

Season 5 – The Glass River Rescue

In marked contrast to the previous scenarios, this is a rescue mission that has the players using intelligence to approach the target, judging the various risks, and then getting the captives to freedom while keeping themselves alive.   Artwork beyond that found on the front cover is mostly absent, some images of the NPC’s, a number of maps and handouts, but nothing in the way of full colour shiny.  The adventure is well written and nicely thought out from a tactical point of view, just charging in will not be a good match at any point and it’s good to see that the challenges being written in can’t all be solved by a blade or spell. 

Special Event – Race for the Runecarved Key

This scenario is a special event, by which several groups of pathfinder players play the game at the same time, and as well as the GM for their individual tables, there is also an overseer GM for the entire room keeping the games on track and indicating when to move to the next part of the adventures.  It starts with one of the Pathfinder (in game) venture captains giving a briefing for an important auction for the Runecarved Key and then the adventure kicks into high gear, with a raid on the opposition, scouting out the others who are trying to bid on the key and getting whatever advantage they can over them, and then finally to the endgame.  There’s very little artwork in the product, most of it is instructions, timescales, details of who needs to be doing what and when, and the inevitable maps and handouts.  From a purely shiny point of view, it doesn’t do it at all. 

That said, this particular scenario would take a lot of planning and a lot of skilled GM’s to pull it off properly, but properly done, I think it would be a lot of fun.

So in summation, the point made was that a lot of the pathfinder books don’t have the same level of shiny in them that the beginner box does and that in some way, that might be deluding those who buy the beginner box into thinking that everything they get will be to the same level of artwork and presentation as the beginner box.

Every one of the modules, from the season 0 beginners things all the way to the last season and the soon to be released season 6 are very well written, the details for the monsters and NPC’s in the encounters are always present, and in most cases, also include modified details to account for different player levels.  The direction given for the GM to follow is clear and is always expanded upon where necessary, and I’m reminded by a number of comments that the D&D set is functional and gives you a lot to play with, even if the amount of art and shiny is lessened as a result. 

In this particular matter, the two systems are not so very different, these modules all have the functional level of artwork in them in the form of maps and handouts, but all of them are well written, not expensive (averaging a few bucks apiece) and can be picked up and run by anyone, which should be more than enough for most.

But in the question of are they as shiny as the Beginner Box, the answer has to be no.