It’s surprising how few adventure path comparisons and overviews there are out there. Maybe it’s just that nobody wants to spoil any surprises. But it just kind of bugs me that there’s no complete to-date overview out there of all the great series. Granted, there’s a complete list on Paizo’s website, so maybe that has an impact.
So, being bored, and needing to post more, I came up with a list. It’s a cross between an overview and a generalized review, of all the stand-alone Paizo adventure paths to date.
Note that there are plenty of spoilers; this is more for GMs than players.
Rise of the Runelords
- Where in the world: Varasia, in the village of Sandpoint and surrounding environs.
- What’s the threat: An ancient Runelord hell-bent on controlling the world. Also, goblins, undead, Deliverance-style ogres, an army of giants, a dragon or two, and Lovecraftian nightmares.
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: The (free) world.
- Level range: 1st through 16th.
Rise of the Runelords sounds fairly straightforward at the start: become the local heroes of Sandpoint by curbing its goblin infestation. But it’s a lot more complex than that, and grows far beyond the borders of Sandpoint. The module series turns into a homage to Against the Giants, while also having a deep and over-arching plot of an ancient Thassalionian runelord returning to power. Each one represents one of the seven deadly sins, this one being the wizard Karzoug, Runelord of Greed. It’s a very gritty and dark path, especially through its illustrations, and the sub-plot to assign each of the players a deadly sin themselves.
The Runelords campaign was a great first Path, full of adventure and mystery. It has this odd similarity to the previous adventure paths while still having its own unique vibe. The basic Adventure Path components are all in place, but they designers are getting a little experimental with them, doing some things they didn’t do while under the Wizards banner. The Skinsaw Murders introduces mechanics to run a proper haunted house, for example, and there’s a heavy Lovecraftian undertone with the Hounds of Tindalos and Leng. The Path has an odd emphasis on dungeons (well, ruins), and while they’re pretty solid, the other locales—a haunted mansion, the Deliverance redneck ogre shack, the giant stronghold, Leng—blow them out of the water. And I love cartographer Rob Lazzaretti’s work, so the floorplans are awesome to look at.
Runelords is a strong first showing. Despite some rough edges, it is a good benchmark to show not only where Adventure Paths came from, but also (back in the day) where they were going. Runelords is well-loved by players… in fact, my old group has had about a half-dozen attempts to run the series with various groups. The epic adventure arc, with plenty of memorable locales, gives Runelords a truly D&D feel. It even has some dragon encounters. Ending the series at the heights of a mountain where Golarion’s Shangri-La touches Leng gives for damn epic scenery, after all. I’d give it a strong 8.5 out of 10.
Curse of the Crimson Throne
- Where in the world: Varasia, still. The city of Korvosa.
- What’s the threat: Anarchy, a dead king, and his questionable now-ruling queen. Also includes plague, riots, barbarians, some undead, gugs, and more.
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: Korvosa.
- Level range: 1st through 16th.
Crimson Throne is an urban-based series, and just like Runelords, it has one “base” and a number of far-off adventure locales. This time, the “base” is Korvosa, a major city. The king isn’t doing so well—in fact, he dies in the first module—so while the PCs are mucking about meeting each other, the city starts falling apart in a war of secession. See, the queen isn’t that popular, for good reason, but the characters end up working for her keeping the law. In between the riots and a plague, things start looking worse, until the PCs realize something isn’t all right with the queen.
As much as I really like urban adventures, and as much as I like the setup to Crimson Throne, it is one of the weaker showings in the Adventure Path lineup. It’s still got a dark and gritty tinge, like Runelords. (The second module involves a plague, and undead, striking during the anarchy.) But even the gugs can’t save the Crimson Throne. Part of it is that liking the queen can be a hard sell; part of it is that the arc has a “less epic” scale than most other Paths; part of it is a sophomore slump.
This is, however, more of a testament to how good Paizo can be at their best than a direct slamming of this Path; Crimson Throne is still better than most other module series, and it’s arguably better than some of their Dragon-era Adventure Paths. It’s well-contained and has a lot of good aspects, but it’s just not as good as Legacy of Fire or Kingmaker. Compared to other Paizo Paths, I’d give it a 5 or 6 out of 10, and higher marks against non-Paizo series.
- Where in the world: Varasia, again. The city of Riddleport, along with the Darklands.
- What’s the threat: Drow. Some scum and villainy, and Darklands creatures, but mostly Drow.
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: The world. Literally. Extinction Level Event.
- Level range: 1st through 16th. (Pretty standard, huh?)
The obligatory Drow series, sort of a homage to the old Drow adventure cycle. The Drow, after years of searching, have finally figured a way to kill off all the creatures on the surface world again. The players stumble into the Drow presence in the pirate den of Riddleport, and set off to stop both thier presence in the area, and then their devious plot to trigger another Starfall.
Second Darkness is probably the most straightforward of the Adventure Paths. The PCs find out that the area’s menace is Drow. They keep attacking them, and eventually unravel the metaplot. They stop the Drow, or a comet strikes Golarion. It’s decidedly simple, moreso than, say, Runelords or Legacy of Fire, but a solid Path nonetheless. Oh, there’s also a subplot about the meteorite skymetal, and a subplot about surface elves, but when you go after Second Darkness, you know what you’re getting: a lot of PC on Drow action. And boy, does it deliver. 7/10.
Legacy of Fire
- Where in the World: Katapesh. The village of Kelmarane, plus Katapesh itself, and jaunts to a pleasure plane and the City of Brass.
- What’s the threat: Gnolls and Genies. A few undead, some demons, pugwampis, and other outsiders (azer, proteans), but mostly just a heck of a lot of gnolls followed by a genie army.
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: The world, from being devoured by a minion of Rovagug that makes the Tarrasque look small.
- Level range: 1st through 15th.
Originally meant to be in Dragon following Savage Tide, this one panders to my love of all things Arabic fantasy. The PCs start off, as always, with a simple task: reclaim the village of Kelmarane from the clutches of gnoll raiders (and a clutch of annoying gremlins). While fighting the gnolls, they discover an ancient and valuable relic, a map to a pocket plane, and turn to a wizard-scholar in Katapesh for the answers. Of course, they accidentally trigger it, switching places with the genie army exiled to the plane. Now they have to fight their way home from first the pleasure plane of Kakishon, and then from the City of Brass. Finally, the players have to free Kelmarane from the clutches of the genie troops, and stop the army’s leader from summoning Xotani the Firebleeder, a Spawn of Rovagug much like the Tarrasque, only meaner and bigger.
Maybe you can tell from that overview, but Legacy is one of my favorite paths so far. The plot is, simply, epic: as always, saving the world, but also fighting through some marvelous locations, all because of one mistake. The art is beautiful, and adds remarkably to the tone. And unlike the earlier paths, Legacy doesn’t have the same gritty undertones: it’s a shiny, swashbuckling Adventure Path, maybe a little sand-blasted, and dealing with some horrific enemies, but overall it’s heroic in much lighter shades.
Despite my old group falling apart, I’m still getting bugged to run this one. And, I can say, the first three modules are amazing, and loved by my players. It has a good balance of everything. The first module is a good opener, the second a dungeon-crawl, the third a city-based intrigue, the fourth, exploring Kakishon and trying to return home, the fifth, another solid dungeon, and the last one, an epic endcap to the series. Maybe it’s my bias showing again, but I give it 10/10.
Council of Thieves
- Where in the World: Cheliax. The metropolis of Westcrown and environs.
- What’s the threat: Hellknights, whom the players are generally at odds with. Also, some vampires and undead, demons/devils, assassins, and rival thieves.
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: Westcrown and environs.
- Level range: 1st through 13th.
Things are going badly in Westcrown; as the center of Cheliax’s power moves away to Egorian, Westcrown crumbles inward. Part of the problem is that the underground rulers, the Council of Thieves crime syndicate, is growing unstable, so it’s up to the players to grab command… if they can evade both the lawbringing Hellknights and the corrupt Council.
Council of Thieves, the first series for the Pathfinder rules system, is another urban series. Again, while I think urban adventures are awesome, this one felt like it could have been a bit better, though it’s still far and away better than Crimson Throne. There’s a lot of great stuff in here, from the first module’s “assault the moving stagecoach chase” scenario, to the second module involving the characters in a “murder play” from which few actors survive.
Council is an interesting Path, returning the stability to Westcrown by freeing it from the curse of a vampire, incorporating things like a Thieves’ guild on the sidelines. It’s unique at points, with some very nontraditional aspects alongside some staple elements (like dungeons), and over all, it works very well as an Adventure Path. As a gang-ridden turf war done fantasy, it’s solid. 8/10.
- Where in the World: The River Kingdoms. Namely, the stretch known as The Stolen Lands.
- What’s the threat: Everything. Kobolds, fey, barbarians, foreign invasion, a raging owlbear, trolls, boggards, spriggan, various undead, famine, riots, lizardfolk, raddish shortages, …
- In the hands of the PCs rests the fate of: Their own kingdom’s survival.
- Level range: 1st through 17+ (epic levels!)
This one’s a bit harder to review, since it’s largely player based. The idea itself is kind of a homage to Keep on the Borderlands, where the players go to the fringes of society to carve a kingdom from the monster-ridden wilds. Only, it’s done in the signature, postmodern, post-dungeonpunk dungeonpunk, Paizo style. So, there are plenty of threats: neighboring kingdoms, internal strife, barbarian invasion, and an evil fey queen who has been plotting her own rule for a while.
It’s an interesting balance: half the time, things are event-based, such as the vanishing of a neighboring kingdom, or the barbarian/foreign invasion. The other half of the time, the PCs are out scouting hexes to see what’s in them and adding them to their kingdom, while trying to complete New Missions at the New Haven Bounty Board. (Literally. Each module has a number of “quests” that appear as posters on bounty boards, or are given from NPCs at specific locations, from “find me blue raddishes for my soup” to “go kill XX eels” to “find Falgrim Sneeg.”) The rest of the time, they’re developing hexes, building cities and expanding the empire, and dealing with the various issues that crop up, like a group of lumberjacks who go after a fey’s woods.
Needless to say, this is a slow-paced, highly involved adventure path series. I’m not kidding when I say this is slow-going; this is an involved Path, especially if you take it Slow (advancement track). Expect upwards of six sessions per module, unless you’re rushing it. Players are building a kingdom, after all, and have to deal with internal strife, external threats, and the frequent Bounty Board updates. And there’s a ton going on, and open-ended ways of handling all of it: for example, there’s a turf war between mites and kobolds, which an enterprising GM might first mention when the PCs meet the engorged kobolds at the raddish patch, following the Bounty Board mission to get raddish soup ingredients.
There’s a wealth of options, great locales, memorable NPCs, tons of locations to explore (and re-civilize), and it’s entirely up to the players. The MMO vibe doesn’t detract, it amplifies the awesome. And it’s always a blast watching people become rulers of their own kingdom, negotiating with NPCs and fighting off hostile neighbors. 10/10.