Pathfinder Adventure Path: Reign of Winter by MollyMetroid
Part One: OverviewOriginal SA post
Reign of Winter
Part One: Overview
As has been mentioned recently in discussion in the thread, Paizo didn’t originally set out to create Pathfinder. Originally they were the company Wizards of the Coast hired to produce Dungeon and Dragon magazines during the period of D&D 3rd Edition. When WotC pulled the plug on the release of 4th edition, bringing those two magazines in-house, they left Paizo and a number of other 3.5 freelancers out of work, with the rules knowledge, experience, and publishing infrastructure to produce monthly release products. Rather than roll over and die, Paizo took that and ran with it, thanks to the OGL allowing them to essentially print their own version of the game.
The Adventure Paths are Paizo’s bread and butter. They offer a subscription to most of their product lines, often including discounts from the cover price, free PDFs for subscribers released early, or both. They’ve gone on record multiple times stating that the Adventure Paths are what allow them to stay in business as a company (with last time I saw something like 20 full time employees) and they’re very careful about doing things that might compete with that. Reprinting old adventure paths is one of those things that they don’t like to do - every AP volume is available in PDF, but they don’t generally do collected editions (with certain specific exceptions, and those exceptions being specifically called out as such) and once they run out of print copies of the back-issues, they’re very difficult to obtain. Secondary market prices for some of the out of print AP volumes have been observed in triple digits.
As a monthly product, the Adventure Paths are largely equivalent to Dungeon Magazine, albeit with somewhat higher production values in that these are trade paperback bound books rather than magazines. They have a page count of about 96 pages, which rounds out to 100 pages in the PDF editions once you include the inside and outer covers. About half of this page count is dedicated to the adventure in each volume, with the rest being filled with various supplementary materials--typically new magic items, new monsters, a six-page serial fiction that runs for the length of each adventure path and parallels the theme and setting (though not the actual story) and a different article each month ranging from monster ecologies to expanded descriptions of Golarion’s deities to full gazetteers of important cities or towns that appear in the AP, among other things.
Reign of Winter is the twelfth Adventure Path--they release two a year (six issues, monthly)--and easily one of the strangest. The focus is on, as implied by the title, winter--the basic plot is that Baba Yaga, who normally shows up every 100 years to install a new ruler in Irrisen, has gone missing, and pockets of winter are showing up all throughout Golarion out of season. The PCs end up caught up in events, and must find Baba Yaga, a journey which will span continents, planets, and even bring them to Earth to face off with Rasputin in his magically and technologically defended Siberian fortress. So, it’s pretty out there, which is a big part of why I chose this AP.
Now for the full disclosure part: I like Pathfinder. I like Paizo. Pathfinder’s rules are not great, but the game and the company behind it have gone to great, even extreme lengths to be inclusive and positive in an industry that badly needs it.
Also anyone reading this should also be aware of Alien Rope Burn’s previous review of the Pathfinder Core, available here.
Next time, I’ll get started on the adventure portion of the first chapter of Reign of Winter: The Snows of Summer.
Part Two: The Snows of SummerOriginal SA post
Reign of Winter
Part Two: The Snows of Summer
The Snows of Summer is the first part of the Reign of Winter Adventure Path. (Maybe I should have titled the overview Part Zero? Oh well, it’s going to get out of publication numbering anyway pretty quick.) The introduction of the adventure informs us that it is designed for four players and uses the medium experience track. (Pathfinder has three experience tracks, for people who like different speeds of advancement; each adventure path specifies which track it uses.) By the end of this first chapter, the expectation is that PCs will be well into level 4, and specific milestones are listed for around where the party should level up. I like this, it allows groups that want to track the numbers to do so while letting GMs who just want to hand out the levels when appropriate to do so as well with a rough idea of where it’s appropriate.
Another detail here: Not every adventure path runs all the way to level 20. In fact, most don’t--of the APs I have read through, only one springs to mind as hitting the level cap, and that’s Wrath of the Righteous, which additionally includes the Mythic rules and puts the PCs at the level of demigods by the end (including the ability to grant spells to cleric worshippers, if the right mythic path is selected to do so.) Reign of Winter finishes around level 17. Most of the APs also have suggestions on how to follow up or continue the campaign further if so inclined.
It should go without saying that the remainder of this update will contain major spoilers for both the Snows of Summer adventure and the Reign of Winter Adventure Path. If you want to play this, ever, without foreknowledge, skim on by. I’m also going to note that I have no intention of listing every single encounter in depth--I’ll provide highlights and generalized summaries of specific encounters, more than complete breakdowns of the adventures. There are about 300 pages of just adventure to cover through this AP, without even touching on the supplementary material, so for the sake of my own sanity if nothing else I won’t be exhaustive about this.
A full summary of the adventure background is printed next. Basically, Baba Yaga comes to Irrisen every 100 years, installs one of her daughters on the throne, and takes the previously reigning daughter off to parts unknown. In fact, she consumes their lifeforce to retain her own vitality and power, but they don’t know this--but Elvanna, the current reigning queen of Irrisen suspects something like this, and has made arrangements with her half-brother, Grigori Rasputin, to trap Baba Yaga and now plans to plunge all of Golarion into the same kind of endless winter that plagues Irrisen and rule over it as the Witch Queen. She’s shackled Baba Yaga’s famous hut and hunted the Three Riders who appear in Irrisen to herald Baba Yaga’s return. That’s all deep background stuff that will come up more later on.
More immediately relevant are the winter portals. Opened by Winter Witches in service to Elvanna, they are causing pockets of winter to appear elsewhere in the world. The village of Heldren, far from Irrisen, is near one such portal, opened by a Winter Witch named Nazhena, and maintained by her apprentice and lover Radosek. Radosek, for his part, sent agents through the portal to scout and seize control of the region, specifically an ice mephit named Izoze and a moss troll named Teb Knotten. These agents ran across a group of bandits operating in the area who quickly realized they couldn’t hope to stand against the fey, and now act as servants. They kidnapped a noblewoman who was passing through the area, and are currently holding her with plans to either ransom her or bring in someone capable of impersonating her to use in furthering their scheme somehow.
In this case, the adventure is split into four segments. The first involves investigating the disappearance of the noblewoman who was passing through the area as well as the reports of mysteriously cold weather in the middle of summer. A bodyguard of the noblewoman, beat up and badly injured, staggered into town reporting that creatures from the far north (he’s a native of northern lands, so he recognized them as what they were) assaulted the caravan and took the lady captive. If that’s not enough on its own to get the PCs moving, the town council can come ask them for help investigating it.
The weather in the cold pocket is cold enough that characters are going to want to prepare for it or have to worry about environmental damage. The rules for cold weather are referenced here for that purpose. The first stop on the journey is to investigate the site of the caravan attack. There’s a lot of bodies here, covered in ice and while the carriage and bodies have been looted there’s a bit of treasure to be had all the same. The bandits left a trail. A couple of the bodies were reanimated as zombies by the leader of the bandits, who is an evil cleric, and shoved into the carriage, presumably to deter any pursuit. Whatever. The bandits also left a trap nearby, beneath which they buried most of their haul from the caravan for later retrieval.
Then there’s a couple of encounters that are arguably both skippable (if you’re not bean-countering the XP, at least) and also possibly tougher than they should be for level one PCs. The Adventure Paths, as a general rule, are designed to be possible to complete for any group of roughly balanced PCs--the expected party makeup for this could easily be the pregenerated characters we saw in the Beginner Box. This particular adventure frontloads a nasty ambush that don’t feel entirely in keeping with that design philosophy--and there are a couple of other encounters later on that I will point out that are also somewhat rough, though those at least have the benefit of being encounters designed to be boss-like fights, not, y’know, literally the second encounter in the adventure.
So, an arctic tatzlwyrm (CR2) is hiding in a snowbank. It takes a Perception roll of 26 to spot it. Remember, these are first level characters--a cleric with 18 wis and a rank in perception gets a +8 to perception checks, meaning that they have to hit 16 or better, for a 25% chance at detecting this before it strikes, and that’s about as good as it’s going to get. It waits till it’s noticed, or until it’s ready, to strike, preferably at the lightest armored member of the group so it’s easier to chew on, attacking at +5 versus AC for 1d8+3 damage. So in our group of pregens from the Beginner Box, this is Ezren the Wizard, who has 7 hit points total, taking at least half of his HP if he is hit. From ambush. The tatzlwyrm also has the ability to inflict Strength damage with its poison breath. It has 22 HP, so it’s not likely to go down in a single round, especially since it’s possibly taken out the wizard entirely if it got a lucky damage roll. I’m not particularly enamored of this particular encounter, especially since it offers no treasure and no development of the plot, just a really tough fight really early on for no real reason.
The next fight is...also a bit odd. Three (named) sprites are hanging around, guarding the path. They can do 1d2-2 damage on a successful attack and inflict the numbing cold condition, which staggers targets for one round. They can also cast, once each, color spray, which will knock out heroes for a round, then have them stunned and blinded for a couple more. Effectively these sprites can’t do more than 1 damage per attack, but can be very annoying. Unlike the tatzlwyrm, which can be spotted by a starting group of heroes, these sprites require a DC30 perception check to make out, and once they’re spotted (by getting a -20 to that when they start attacking) they’ll cast Dancing Lights to make sure that the party thinks their numbers are significantly more than they actually are. Once they start taking attrition or someone pulls out a fire based attack, they flee to warn the others.
Further encounters with ice fey and a couple of nasty traps later, the PCs start running into bandits, starting with a few set to act as sentries. They’ve largely occupied a lodge, which the PCs, being big damn heroes, can clear out without too terribly much trouble - the only really tough bandits are the leader himself, a cleric of Norgorber (god of murder) who pretends to be a necromancer so that his men will be less creeped out, and Ten-Penny Tacey, a half-orc burglar who will fight the PCs purely defensively--she’s a down on her luck burglar who owes little loyalty to the bandits despite the leader’s efforts to get her to join on, and will not fight to the death. Once the PCs have cleared the bandits, they find the missing noblewoman, and can either bring her back or press on up the rope bridge that leads beyond the bandit’s camp--and has the tracks indicating that further ice fey and bandit traffic was occurring there, implying the source of the winter weather in the middle of summer.
This is getting a bit lengthy, so I’ll chop it off here and pick up with that in the next post.
Remember, you can read the Pathfinder Core review in the F&F archive.
Next time: Snows of Summer, part two.