Monday 20 January 2014

Wardens of the Reborn Forge

The world of Golarion is something of a kitchen-sink campaign setting. By that, I mean it has a little bit of everything. The numerous countries and lands across the Inner Sea region allow for a wide variety of campaigns and styles from classic sword and sorcery to Vikings in the Lands of the Linnorm Kings and Gothic Horror in Ustalav. There are the classic fantasy dwarves of the Five Kings Mountains, but also science fantasy with lasers and robots in Numeria. You can visit Egyptian-style pyramids in Osirion or deal with genies in Katapesh. And a little farther south, nestled between the magical nations of Nex and Geb, are the Mana Wastes, lands wrecked by centuries of magical warfare, where mana storms make the casting of magical spells a difficult, sometimes even impossible, task. Within the Mana Wastes lies the city of Alkenstar, the home of gunslingers and steampunk technology.

It is in this unusual fantasy location that Wardens of the Reborn Forge by Patrick Renie takes place. Yet, despite the fact that Alkenstar and the Mana Wastes are a very non-generic setting, Wardens is a surprisingly generic adventure. Oh, it has all the trappings of the setting. There are Mana Wastes mutants, clockwork leviathans, guns, and even a mana storm. However, it uses all these things in a generic dungeon crawl adventure that could otherwise take place just about anywhere.

This isn’t a terrible adventure. It’s functional and would probably be entertaining to play. However, it just doesn’t particularly stand out. Of course, not every adventure should. And oddly, given the unusual aspects of the setting, for a campaign set in Alkenstar and the Mana Wastes, perhaps a rather generic adventure would actually stand out. But that really only works if there are other adventures to compare it to. As Wardens is the first published adventure set in this location (not counting any Pathfinder Society scenarios that might have been set in Alkenstar), I would have expected something that made greater use of the setting, either the city or the Wastes around it.


The adventure’s background sets up what, at first, seems like a really interesting premise. The Brass Guardians, clockwork drones that patrol Alkenstar and protect its citizens, have been going haywire and attacking locals without provocation. Eliza Baratella, the head of the Brass Guild, which creates the Brass Guardians, sends a message to the PCs asking for their help, and indicating that someone in Alkenstar’s government is plotting against her and the city. She needs the PCs to find out who is doing this and provide her with the proof of it.

Although not revealed at this time, the plot is masterminded by Aredil Sultur, one of the city’s parliamentary ministers. He craves greater power, and people in his employ have found a way to reprogram the Brass Guardians using eidite ore mined from the local Karggat Hills. Sultur and Baratella have long been politically opposed and he hopes to discredit her and the Brass Guild, while simultaneously building greater political power for himself.

This opening is a fairly standard NPC-hires-the-PCs beginning, but if the PCs live in Alkenstar, the GM can easily establish the Brass Guardians’ attacks in advance, perhaps even having the PCs have to fight one before they are summoned to see Baratella. Once there, the meeting briefly gives the impression that this will be something of an investigative adventure set against the backdrop of Alkenstar and its government and clockwork factories—except it isn’t, really. Much of the initial investigation has already been done. Baratella informs the PCs that her organization has already determined that all the Guardians that have gone haywire were ones stationed near the Karggat Hills, and that her assistant tracked one of them back to an old mine there. Her assistant hasn’t been heard from since. Baratella wants the PCs to go to the mine and investigate. She provides them with passage on an airship to get them to the mine.

The airship is good local flavour, but unfortunately, it plays no actual role in the adventure. It simply drops the PCs off at the mine and departs. And this is the point—still right at the very beginning—that Wardens of the Reborn Forge becomes a very generic adventure. The entirety of the “investigation” is a dungeon crawl—first through the Karggat Mine where the PCs can find some clues to take them next to the Sultur Mill Outpost and then on to Megator Facient, the “Reborn Forge” of the title. There’s not much in the way of NPC interaction in this adventure. The PCs basically make their way through the various dungeons, kill the mutant ogres and other creatures running the places and set free the enslaved workers there. The first part of the Karggat Mine contains a mutant ratfolk alchemist that the PCs can interact with and possibly get information from. In the second part of the Karggat Mine, the PCs can gain help from one of the slaves, Shyar Burkin. However, beyond this, there really aren’t many encounters with people or creatures that the PCs aren’t meant to just fight and kill. While the various enemies they fight are given backgrounds in the text, they are all pretty much just mercenaries who have been hired to keep the mine and forge running and to kill anyone (like the PCs) who interferes—and since the PCs aren’t likely to be talking to most of them anyway, their backgrounds are pretty irrelevant.

There also isn’t really a whole lot that makes this adventure something unique to its setting. As I said above, it’s got all the trappings, but it uses them in very mundane ways. It creates an adventure experience that is not all that different from what they might get in any other part of the world. Instead of fighting ogres, the PCs fight mutant ogres. Instead of golems, they fight clockwork creatures. When they leave the Karggat Mine and head to the next dungeon, they need to travel through a Mana Storm, which is good local flavour, but unfortunately, it comes across as just another hazard encountered along the way from point A to point B. It’s just there and doesn’t really add any drama to the adventure.

The end of the adventure does have quite a bit of potential to it, and it’s the one time in the adventure when there’s a good opportunity for a roleplaying encounter. After leaving Megator Facient with the information that Aredil Sultur is behind the malfunctioning Brass Guardians, the PCs must return to Alkenstar where they can—at their option—confront Aredil. Unfortunately, this part of the adventure is strangely glossed over in literally just a few paragraphs. First, it’s presented as an optional part of the adventure, one for use if the PCs don’t want to just turn their evidence over to the authorities. I suppose some parties might decide to let the authorities take care of everything and just wander off into the sunset. This should certainly be an option if they want to, but I suspect the vast majority of parties will want to actually meet and confront the mastermind behind the adventure they’ve just been involved in. He is, after all, the whole reason this adventure happens in the first place. So, presenting this moment as little more than an addendum seems an odd decision.

The adventure does present two possible ways that the PCs might confront Sultur: either at his home or at the High Parliament. Unfortunately, it gives little detail of either. While it provides Sultur’s game stats and the stats of his mercenary guards, there are no maps of either his home or the High Parliament. It’s a shame as this ought to be the climax of the adventure, whereas the text seems to regard the fight against the mutant hill giant, Hrugor Gurstweld in Megator Facient as the climax. Yet Gurstweld is just a servant of Sultur and the fight with him is just another at the end of a long succession of combats. There’s nothing climactic about it. I honestly think this adventure would work a lot better if one of the three dungeons were removed (probably the Old Sultur Mill—just have the PCs go straight from the Karggat Mine to Megator Facient). Then, in place of the chapter on the missing dungeon, there could be an entire chapter devoted to the PCs’ return to Alkenstar and their confrontation with Sultur. It would provide better closure and simultaneously ground the adventure in its setting better. As is, the ending comes across as just a little anti-climactic.

Wardens of the Reborn Forge also has a seven-page appendix on Alkenstar itself, providing a brief history, details on life in the city as well as political factions, and a gazetteer of locations. It’s a very useful article for gamemasters who wish to run a campaign in Alkenstar, and can also be useful for fleshing out the conclusion of the adventure. Alas, beyond the conclusion, it’s not that useful for the adventure itself since so little of the adventure actually takes place in Alkenstar.

In the end, Wardens of the Reborn Forge is a functional adventure and will probably work well for groups that like lots of dungeon crawling (although Alkenstar is probably not the setting of choice for such groups). However, it really doesn’t do its setting much justice. Even though it has mutants and guns and other trappings of Alkenstar, it doesn’t really do much interesting with them, instead just laying them out as a succession of monsters and hazards for the PCs to overcome, and what could have been a dramatic and climactic finale is instead presented as just an addendum—something the PCs might choose to do after the main adventure is over. There are far worse adventures than Wardens out there, but alas, if I were running a campaign in Alkenstar, I don’t think I’d be making any plans to fit this adventure into it.


  1. Thanks for your thorough reviews! I read all your reviews of Paizo products because it gives GMs a lot of useful information to decide whether to buy something, and ideas for how to improve adventures.

    What's interesting to me is that this is the 2nd offering in Paizo's new expanded module format, and the first could also be described as a series of dungeon crawls.

    While useful for the young GMs I give these modules to (I teach middle-schoolers), it doesn't seem like they are using the greater page count provided by the larger module format to its full advantage.

    I'm guessing that they are designing these modules to be used more easily with Pathfinder Society, and offering PFS credit to GMs who run smaller portions of these modules.

    1. I think you're right that they're designing them to be more easily used with Pathfinder Society by making them easily divisible into segments that you can separate out from the rest of the adventure. Like you say, the Dragon's Demand is laid out pretty much the same way (although, in the case of that adventure, I'd say it does a better job with the format than this one).