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Adventure Quarterly #5 (PFRPG)
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Adventure Quarterly #5 (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 08/06/2014 11:09:05

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The fifth installment of Rite Publishing's spiritual successor to Dungeon magazine clocks in at 73 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 1 page back cover, leaving us with 68 pages of content, so let's take a look!

The editorial by Robert N. Emerson already shows and the subsequent adventures do as well - Rite Publishing's Kickstarter to amp further up the quality of the magazine was a full success - beyond the full color art throughout this magazine, it is especially the cartography, which has benefited extremely - Rite Publishing overlord Steven D. Russell did not pinch any pennies budget-wise here: The cartography in this book is rendered in stunning, gorgeous full color by the hands of Tommi Salama. If you're by any chance not yet familiar with him - he's imho the heir to Jonathan Roberts. Yes, that beautiful. So production-value wise, we get a steep step upwards, so let's see whether the modules themselves hold up to the art, shall we?

The following is a short overview of the 3 modules herein, which necessarily means the text contains SPOILERS. Potential players are advised to skip to the conclusion, especially since the modules herein tend to be a bit...let's say unconventional.

First of which would be Mike Welham's level of Ruins Perilous, this time intended for level 3. What is "Ruins Perilous"? It's Rite Publishing's serialized mega-dungeon, situated near the city of adventurers, Questhaven. Beyond being a mega-dungeon, it's also a kind of testing ground for adventurers and a means of increasing one's status within the hierarchy of the adventurer-governed city. As such, the dungeon is lethal, but also a kind of hyperreal simulacrum - essentially, post-modern dungeon-crawling. The created nature of the dungeon allows for some interesting tricks indeed and both ratfolk populace and the other challenges herein fit this theme rather well - whether it would be the traps or the required guild forge to properly add the clout to show they've "completed" this level - the strange nature of the dungeon is well-reflected here. One of the crucial differences here would be that the forge this time around is easy to find - but in the form of an organ and furthermore, locked - to activate it, the PCs will have to brave sense-themed encounters, which include giant skunks and an lion consisting of sonic energy. An interesting dungeon level indeed, though one that could have easily been made even more memorable by providing an stronger tie to the theme of senses: What if each key required the sacrifice of one sense, albeit temporarily? Blinding the ranged fighter, depriving the rogue of the sense of touch, making the scout deaf, that sort of thing? As a kind of didactic lesson for adventurers that they have to depend on their allies to help? I once used this ploy in an adventure of mine and my players loved it - even the spellcaster, when he was muted and I required him to roleplay or write interactions... As written, the level has a strong theme, but one that is, at least for my taste, not pronounced enough and thus misses a treasure trove of roleplaying opportunities to supplement the roll-playing dungeon exploration.

Michale Allen's "Legacy of the Fishermage" (for level 9 characters) is an adventure, mood-wise, after my tastes: The sage Muchadha was after the regularly (every 500 years) respawning "Salmon of Truth" - last time, he was foiled by his apprentice, who, by burning his thumb on the fat, accidentally got the salmon's wisdom, thus becoming a wise, but thumb-sucking hero. Yeah, this adventure is kind of goofy. The fishermage is gone, but now an ogre has stolen clues pertaining to the locale of the returned salmon and the players are on the brute's trail, alongside the friendly (as far as dwarves go) goblin-converting priest Ruag the Daft. To emerge victorious from this quest, the PCs will have to deduce the truth behind the legends, riddles, explore the fishermage's grotto (and defeat his failed, second apprentice...no longer human) and finally, track the ogre and confront the salmon. Yeah, confront. The salmon can turn into huge size and is rather deadly - death by salmon is surely a fate most players will try to avoid, if only to avoid all the cackling... All in all, a fun, uncommon adventure with a lot of winks, a good variety of roleplaying, combat and using one's brains and plenty maps and intriguing terrain to support it - nothing to complain here!

The high-level module here, for level 18 characters, is provided by Tricky Owlbear Publishing's Bret Boyd - and if the title "Paradox" isn't enough of an indicator, yes, time-travel is included. 1300 years ago, the archmage Delgoon created an artifact that broke down the boundaries of the planes and time itself, the sphere of ages. Yeah, a McGuffin, but wait a second - another caveat: The module is a campaign ending event - or alternatively, a complete game-changer. Why? Because the PCs visit an archeological dig, where they find statues of themselves - more than a millennium old. A sphere subsequently transports the PCs back in time - to the apocalypse they obviously...stopped and no one recalls? As the planar boundaries in the past come crushing down, the PCs have to find a way to diffuse the situation and stop the collapse. Over the course of this, the PCs are hurtled through time to undo their greatest regrets, to get a second chance...to vanish with the sphere, have the apocalypse undone and perhaps even return. And this is where the module, for me, kind of necessarily falls a bit apart. I once had a time-travel plot in my campaign and planned it for years, setting up blank spaces, mysterious happenstances etc - a DM is advised to do so for this as well. The emotional impact of the module hinges a bit on that. Beyond this, there's another problem - the suggestion to undo things - that's not how time-travel works.

Changing the past changes all from this point onwards, preventing potentially (or at least, modifying) the choices that led up to the PCs getting to the point of time travel in the first place, preventing them from enjoying the benefits. It's the crucial conundrum of time travel and the module's "satisfying" reward for the PCs breaks this one tenet. To take an example - what if a paladin's regret was being unable to save a king? Now, he manages it and dies. No war erupts, thousands don't die, friends and allies perhaps perish due to the paladin not being there to save them... even beyond the conundrum mentioned, the decisions influence the other players and even if the conundrum is ignored, the nature of collective adventuring is weird and at the very latest, here timelines diverge. So if your PCs screwed up a world's canon big time, that's a nice way to hit the history eraser button - but whether your players are okay with that...best be sure to check that, otherwise the implied undoing of their deeds or the sloppy "PCs are still around, in spite of changes"-ending stratagem could frustrate everyone to no end. Now don't get me wrong, this module isn't bad, but it fails to live up to the logic of its own gimmick by falling prey to the problematic past modification bug. Then again, your players might not care - I know mine would and I'd never, ever hear the end of it. That being said, with high-CR Aeons, chain gun studded lion robots and several other damn cool high-CR critters, many of which with their own artwork, this module still has quite a bit to scavenge.

Next up would be a short encounter by Creighton Broadhurst of Raging Swan Press, providing the complex haunting of spectral orcs and the treasure they guard. Steven D. Russell also provides open sandbox advice, (including some nods towards cool 3pp-supplements) - this time, all focused on getting instant NPCs (and how to handle statblocks, art, etc.) and where to scavenge them from -including a cool multiclass CR 15 sample build.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn't notice any significant glitches. Layout adheres to Rite Publishing's two-column full-color standard and, as mentioned, the copious original pieces of artwork and cartography render this a good premium product - no complaints on the production values side of things. The issue also comes fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks, with high-res jpgs of the 9 (!!!) maps - but not including key-less version of all maps - a minor complaint here.

This one's hard - on the one hand, the increase in massive production values helps and amps up the bang-for-buck ratio by quite a bit. I'm a big fan of Mike Welham's writing and the concept of the dungeon, but I also felt that this module did not make full use of its theme, falling slightly short of excellence. Michael Allen's module is hilarious and fun and gets two thumbs up from me, as do the supplemental articles and the monsters of the last module. On the other hand, at least for me, the final module doesn't work - at all. It's the, to quote the doctor, "Wibbly-wobbly" concept I just can't get myself to...like. (Yes, I know I'll be booed by plenty people out there...) - Time travel is NOT something simple and the module fails to address the consequences properly. And yes, I'm aware that for quite a few people, how the module handles it is no problem - but every time, Doctor Who time-travel starts, I gnash my teeth (in spite of actually loving the series, so put away the pitchforks...). I'm more of a Primer kind of guy. But I know that for some of you out there, it will be a huge of an issue as it is for me.

Now usually, my gut reaction would be to rate this issue slightly more down than I would - but on the other hand, my gripes with it are admittedly kind of subjective - the realization of untapped potential, the way time travel is handled...you can have radically different opinions on these. Especially the former - your players might actually loathe the suggestion I posited above...or they might love it. In the same manner, your players might actually enjoy the final module in here and with some copious DM foreshadowing, it won't feel abrupt. So yeah, if you were shaking your head at my complaints (and want the creatures, the awesome second module or get these just to scavenge parts or the glorious maps...), go get this. If you found yourself nodding, detract one star. Since my policy is in dubio pro reo, my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Adventure Quarterly #5 (PFRPG)
Publisher: Rite Publishing
by Alexander L. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 03/19/2014 08:11:59

Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2014/03/19/tabletop-review-adventure-quarterly-issue-5-pathfinder/

Although the days of high quality monthly tabletop RPG magazine have long since passed, we do seem to be having a nice resurgence of quarterly magazines with top notch content…even if the magazines aren’t actually coming out every three months. We’ve got The Unspeakable Oath and Gygax Magazine for example, but TUO hasn’t come out since August and Gygax #4 is a few weeks late. Hell, it’s been almost a year since The Savage Insider had its last issue.

Which of course brings me to Adventure Quarterly #5, the product we are reviewing today. It too has had almost a year since it’s last issue (technically nine months), which is a bit surprising because Rite Publishing is perhaps the best company in regards to Pathfinder licensed products in terms of getting things out on time. Pathways, RP’s monthly free magazine, is as close to clockwork as this industry gets. Plus it’s the closest thing we have to Dungeon magazine anymore, as it is nothing but adventures. So was it worth the wait? Well, yes and no.

First, let’s talk my big problem with the piece, and that’s pricing. As much as I have enjoyed previous issues of AQ, the thing is too overpriced, especially compared to other quarterly gaming magazines. The cost of just the PDF version of a single issue of AQ is the same cost as a physical AND digital two pack of The Unspeakable Oath, which may not be 100% adventures, but does tend to be a superior product, writing-wise. Same too with Gygax Magazine. It is also of the highest quality and it’s only five bucks for the digital version and only $8.95 for the physical. So why the higher price tag for AQ? Well, a few reasons. The first is that it is Pathfinder and Pathfinder products do tend to be a bit higher priced than other RPGs. The second is that AQ is in full colour where the others I have mentioned are mostly in black and white. Finally, at least in my experience in this industry, it’s more expensive to pay someone to write an adventure than it is to write an article about some facet of gaming. While all of these things help to explain part of why Adventure Quarterly is price so much higher than other quarterly tabletop mags, it doesn’t explain all of it. Honestly, the fact I could buy digital copies of both TUO and Gygax for the cost of just one issue of AQ is enough to make me lean towards not recommending the magazine on just a price basis. However if you only play Pathfinder, the fact that this is your only Dungeon equivalent means you are pretty much stuck with this and the high cost each issue comes with.

Of course, cost doesn’t matter much if something is of high quality. You should, theoretically, get what you pay for after all. So if the adventures in AQ #5 were amazing, that could have offset the price tag issues I have with the magazine. Let’s take a look at each one.

Our first adventure is The Ruins Perilous Level 3 – The Sensodrome. This is a continuation from previous AQ issues where the goal was to release one level of the dungeon per issue. This is a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t work quite well in reality. After all, the high cost of the magazine, tracking down back issues (you’re better off going through DriveThruRPG.com for those) and the long time between issues makes The Rune Perilous series not very conductive for actual play. If this was a monthly magazine it would be one thing, but it’s quite another to have to wait a minimum of three months per dungeon crawl level. The PCs are essentially stuck. No, this adventure would be better off collected as one piece and sold separately, or in a monthly magazine. Now this is not the fault of the adventure itself, but it doesn’t prevent most gamers from getting any use out of it.

Besides these issues, The Sensodrome is simply a generic dungeon crawl experience. It favors roll-playing over role-playing and is little more than a hack and slash affair. While this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s not necessarily an experience a lot of gamers want. Granted, Pathfinder or D&D gamers are more apt to enjoy this sort of thing than say, World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu players, but it does still mean that the audience for a piece like this is limited by the nature of the adventure style and doubly or even triply so by the release date of each level.

Now all of these negatives aside, The Sensodrome is a finely crafted sixteen room dungeon crawl designed for 3rd Level characters. It could use a bit of an introduction which would allow DMs to run this as a one-shot one level piece instead of waiting to combine all the Ruins Perlious levels, but that is true about any dungeon released in stages. You will also need several other books to run the wandering monster table as monsters are pulled from all sorts of other locations like The Tome of Horrors Complete, The Book of Monster Templates and so on, but the core adventure has all the stats you need to play the adventure without any additional purchases, which is a big plus. There are some fun and challenging encounters for PCs on this level and it’s pretty free with the experience so characters should level up AT LEAST once in this piece. I enjoyed the layout, the monsters and the obvious creativity in this one. It’s just too bad there are some many other negatives weighing this down. That said, I am really looking forward to Rite Publishing putting together a collected Ruins Perilous piece (if it ever gets finished) as that will be a top notch dungeon when all is said and done.

Our second adventure in this collection is The Legacy of the Fishermage, which is for four to five 9th Level characters or a party of six 8th Level characters. This is a really fun and long (for a magazine based release) adventure. It’s also a bit silly. I’ll admit the “Salmon of Wisdom” that is highlighted in the adventure made me think of “The Fur-Bearing Trout” from Earthworm Jim. I should also point out that this is almost the polar opposite from The Sensodrome, which is nice as you get two well-designed pieces that together highlight how diverse Pathfinder adventures can be.

The adventures revolves around a sage’s repeated misadventures in trying to catch the Salmon of Wisdom and his bad luck with apprentices. This time the sage is long dead, but the salmon has two new hunters in the form of an Ogre and a disgruntled changeling. The PCs become involves after saving a dwarven priest and learning about the legend (there are several other hooks to get the characters into the adventure). There are a lot of riddles to solve, locations to visit, monsters to vanquish and of course, a magic fish with the wisdom of the universe to find. I also really liked the subtle bits of humour in this adventure. The climactic encounter with the Salmon of Wisdom is quite amusing, for example. The end prize is a nice bonus to which ever character(s) get it and this is really one of the better Pathfinder adventures I’ve seen published in 2014 so far. It might not be a seller by itself, but it is the crown jewel of this issue.

The third adventure in Adventure Quarterly, Issue 5 is Paradox and it’s for 18th Level characters. It’s very combat intensive and it is designed to be a Campaign Ending Event. I’m really not a fan of some random adventure being the way a campaign ends. Something like that should really be cooked up by the DM to tie up loose ends and provide closure. Instead this adventure hits on all sorts of things that tend to be red flags, warning a DM and player that there is a bad adventure ahoy. It has time travel (which tends to do far more harm than good to a game unless you are playing a game specifically about time travel), a magical McGuffin that threatens all of reality, a really work story hook that sort of railroads the players into the adventure even if they don’t find it interesting, and monsters that seem to be thrown in simply for the sake of combat than any real story cohesion. It’s a pretty weak adventure in all respects, but then, writing any adventure for characters of this level is a pretty daunting task and while I found this to be very lackluster and trite with robotic lions armed with chainguns and the like, I’m sure someone will get a kick out of this. Unfortunately I’m the one reviewing it and this adventure was supersaturated with all of my personal Pathfinder pet peeves. How is that for alliteration?

Our fourth and final adventure is actually a short encounter segment entitled, Sleep, Interrupted. This is a fun really short piece that can be inserted into any adventure, published or homebrew, and it happens when the PCs are settling down for a much needed sleep. It’s a spooky little piece involving ghost orcs who died in the cavern the PCs are resting in. Sleep, Interrupted is nothing fancy but it’s a good battle and potentially provides some fine treasure. The encounter is scalable between CR 6 and 9 and so there is some flexibility to be had. Nice job for a short piece.

So those are our four adventure pieces, but wait –there’s more! We have a two and a half page article by the lord and master of Rite Publishing himself, Steven Russell. Like the first piece in AQ#5 this article, entitled, “Wide-Open Sandboxing Part II,” is a continuation from the previous issue. However unlike The Runes Perilous, this article works as a stand-alone. It’s basically advice on how to come up with memorable NPCs quickly. Steven suggested cribbing from various trusted sources like lists of names, stat a block similar to what you are looking for instead of designing it out yourself, and taking personalities from existing characters and modifying them slightly instead of doing copious amounts of work like pages of background text for a character LARP style. The advice is sound, especially if you are an inexperienced DM or adventure designer as it really does speed the process up. Long-time DMs may turn up their nose at the advice because they want to do all the work themselves, even for a character who might not even show up in the adventure based on the choices the PCs make. You know what? That’s okay. Steven isn’t presenting this advice as a way you SHOULD do things, but as an option to make your life easier. The article is worth reading even if you have no intention of taking it to heart.

So all in all, Adventure Quarterly isn’t too bad. There is one adventure I’d give a thumb’s up to, one I’d give a thumb’s down to, a decent encounter, an adventure segment that is well designed but falters by being a quarterly installment piece and an interesting article. While the price point is far too exorbitant for what you get, especially compared to other quarterly gaming magazines, devout Pathfinder fans will find one truly solid adventure in the mix and that might be worth the price tag. Everyone else though might as well hold out for the next issue or a price drop, if they get it at all. Adventure Quarterly has a lot of potential and it’s nicely done, but in the end, you just aren’t getting your money’s worth – at least with this issue.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
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