The Good, The Bad and the Abysmal… sorry, Abyssal.
This review could just as easily have been called “The adventure that killed Pathfinder” – we’re big fans of Pathfinder in our house. We picked up Rise of the Runelords in April 2014, and have now played it all the way through with 4 or 5 different groups of characters. Likewise, Skull & Shackles with 2 different groups, and once through Season of the Shackles.
Altogether in 2015, we played 265 games of Pathfinder. When a new adventure came out, we’d typically finish it inside a week with the first group, then return a week or two later to take the second part through it in a similar time-frame.
Up until adventure 6, that is.
We began playing adventure 6 at the beginning of November. It was the best part of 2 months later, after 14 play-throughs, that we finally staggered over the finish line with our first party. We had no interest in attempting the bonus scenario, and the Wrath box went back on the shelf, with no desire to open it again for a month or two (until I needed to take pictures for this article).
I have a lot of respect for the designers of Pathfinder. I’ve seen glimpses of their hard-work, and never played a board / card game where the designers engage with players to the same degree. I still look forward to when my Kickstarter edition of Apocrypha arrives later in the year, and I’m still buying all the class decks, but this pack ended this particular path on a sour note.
Before I go too far in to all the negatives, it’s worth acknowledging some of the great stuff which did come in this Adventure pack – for spell-casters in particular, there were some real mind-blowers. “Miracle” lived up to its name and offered a completely unprecedented level of flexibility, and although we never managed to pull-off the combo with “Time Stop” this was definitely a well-appreciated shot in the arm.
For Alain, the Dire Griffon was a welcome upgrade from the Warhorses that he had been relying on since adventure 2, and offered him the power to crush most things in combat [well, it would if he had managed to get one before the end-of-AP-deck-rebuild, but we can still appreciate the sentiment]
There were also some cards which I liked from a flavour angle – ally Nocticula felt like she did a particularly good job of encapsulating all that Wrath was supposed to be about – a character who was functionally the villain two Adventures ago is now an ally. The effect is suitably ridiculous to make it unplayable most of the time, but Alain managed to get hold of her and use her on the last-ever combat check to win the scenario.
Unfortunately however, the “bad” side of things was the dominating element in this adventure, and for a lot of the time, it sucked the fun out of the good things.
First up, we had Armies again. The Army was a nice concept – something to counter the ability of big groups to hammer henchmen and villains by hoarding boons and using them all at the key moment. The trouble is though, that the maths just doesn’t work, particularly with a group of 6. As a group of 6, you will already be pushed for time, and need to burn more allies and blessings on exploration than a smaller group. At that point, moving from 7 to 42 checks to defeat Henchmen is a virtually unbearable burden – add to that the fact that the Army Henchmen have exactly 6 checks to defeat, several of them in skills which are not possessed by all characters (and realistically, you don’t just need to be good at this skill, you probably need to be mythic), and the result is a mess.
I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not a fan of when games seem to offer a wide range of options, but are in fact only possible with a narrow, “optimum” set. For the sake of clarity, I feel then, that I should offer a bit of clarification on the party we took to this adventure. With Alain, Balazaar, Kyra, Adowyn, Shardra and Crowe, we had a spread of strength and dexterity based fighters, as well as both Arcane and Divine spell-casters. We had the exploration power of Alain (whose errata we are ignoring for home play), scouting and some limited evasion from Ygritte… Sorry, “Adowyn” and, in Kyra, we have a character who can use her character power to get around one of the skills which we lack as a group (at least for the army that is undead).
This particular adventure has multiple different army banes, but the basic bottleneck of too many checks for big parties remains the same. Having spent A LOT of time head-butting an army-shaped wall earlier in the campaign, we decided fairly swiftly that we would switch to 2 parties of 3 and hope to force our way through separately. This is still a big disappointment (If a game says 1-6 on the box, it should be fully playable with 1 to 6, not 2-4), but at least we were prepared enough for it that we didn’t waste too much time on pointless run-throughs.
Whilst the Abyssal Army is the poster-child for the painful difficulties of this adventure, it isn’t the sole culprit. Even without the brutal nature of the individual henchmen, several of these scenarios have other bits of foulness which are less than fun.
Possibly even more annoying than the armies (quite a claim, I know) is Ravener Terendelev. That dragon who died in Adventure 1, and whose scales you carted around for a while until you decided they were kind of pointless, is now back- he’s undead now, and more to the point, he’s going to harass everyone at your location, stripping away those mythic charges just at the point when you really need them (for that endless series of big henchman checks). The inability to evade on all of the most irksome banes in this set just puts a mockery on any time or effort you’ve invested in evasion.
All the way up to … 12?
As I’ve mentioned before this adventure path seems, very consciously, to have pushed all the dials up to 11. The checks are bigger, and you get more feats, and more things to do with them all.
The trouble with this – much like when I’ve played fan-crafted “Adventure 7s” for earlier APs, is that you reach a point of diminishing returns. By the time you reach the scenario that offers you “X Power Feats” based on the number of times you’ve fought the villain, chances are that you don’t particularly want any more power feats – at best, these are simply the less interesting options that had been left until last, and at worst (Balazaar), they are steps to an even bigger hand-size which just seems to be inviting death. Indeed, if you face the villain more than a couple of times, you could potentially end up with all the power feats checked for your character, and no boxes left to put your final tick(s) in.
Pathfinder has (broadly) been getting harder for a while. Whilst there were points where the characters got a little way ahead of the locations, Wrath has generally been the hardest of the 3 paths released to date, particularly for large groups.
None of that was a surprise, and whilst I don’t mind “easy” nearly as much as some out there do, I would have coped if it was just hard. The problem with this adventure was that for most of the time, it didn’t feel fun – something which had only ever been the case in very isolated scenarios up until now.
To an extent, writing a review of adventure 6 of 6 in an AP is a slightly pointless exercise – if you’ve got this far, chances are that you’ll get this anyway, and that you’ll play it until completion, because that’s how you finish. Just don’t expect it to be as much fun as the Pathfinder you’re used to playing.