Tuesday 13 October 2015

Iron Gods - Fires of Creation

Despite the fact that the science fiction and fantasy genres are often grouped together and share the same fans, many people react quite negatively to mixing the two in any way. The exact lines between the two are somewhat blurred, but there do appear to be a few main points of delineation: guns and any devices that use any technology more advanced than the simplest clockwork. The moment any of these show up, it's no longer fantasy. Of course, even that line is blurred. No one bats an eye at the presence of guns in Pirates of the Caribbean, which is clearly fantasy, but put a gun in a sword-and-sorcery piece (like a Pathfinder game) and suddenly, it's ruining the fantasy.

To be fair, maybe it is. With both science fiction and fantasy, there need to be certain rules that are followed that keep things consistent. Just because there is magic in the world doesn't mean that literally anything can happen. That magic still operates (or should operate) under its own rules, even though those rules are different from the rules of the real world. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far, and will break if there isn't a minimum level of consistency to how things work. So, a gun in a fantasy world may well break its verisimilitude, depending on just what the rules of that fantasy world are (and those rules can be physical laws, magical laws, social, cultural, and so on).

In a Pathfinder game, the game rules themselves (on a meta-level) form a significant part of how the in-world rules work. Characters can manage incredible feats and take punishment well beyond what anyone in the real world can take, but this becomes an accepted and consistent part of the world. The rules of the game do include rules for guns (although not in the Core Rulebook, but added on later) that work alongside the rules for other weapons and combat. The Golarion world is something of a “kitchen sink” setting, meaning it throws in a little bit of just about everything. If you can think of something that has any kind of fantastical connotation, then you can probably find it somewhere on Golarion or the wider Pathfinder Campaign Setting that it is part of. This approach is not without potential peril. Throwing in a little bit of everything can lead to problems with consistency that can break suspension of disbelief. Yet, while there are certainly inconsistencies in the Pathfinder Campaign Setting, for the most part, there is enough consistency to maintain it. Yes, there are guns and androids and spaceships, but the setting was built from the ground up to contain those things and so they do fit pretty well.

Of course, personal preference plays a huge role in all this. Some people just don't like technology in their fantasy games regardless of any other consideration, and that's fine. I, personally, have always enjoyed mixing genres and playing against expectations, so I'm probably easier to convince that androids in a sword-and-sorcery setting work. Heck, I'm a fan of Doctor Who, which frequently throws the whole consistency thing out the window (Rules? Who needs rules?), so who am I to talk, really?

I state all this as a preamble to discussing Fires of Creation, the first part of the Iron Gods Adventure Path, which fully embraces the guns, androids, and spaceships part of the campaign setting. This is not the first appearance of such elements (The Frozen Stars from Reign of Winter takes place on another planet, for example), but it is the first to make them a significant focus. As such, it's not an adventure path that will necessarily appeal to people who don't like to mix science fiction and fantasy. However, for those who do, or for those willing to give it a try, Fires of Creation makes a great starting point. It's a somewhat “sandboxy” adventure that introduces standard fantasy player characters to a wider world of technology and science fiction.


Fires of Creation is not an adventure that has PCs zipping around outer space and off to other planets. Instead, it is grounded quite firmly on Golarion in the nation of Numeria, the land where, long ago, a spaceship crashed, and people have been slowly stealing its technological secrets. At first glance, this may seem like the perfect opportunity for players to create android and alien characters. However, while it's certainly possible to play the adventure with such characters, it will likely work much better with characters of the standard Core Rulebook races, allowing for characters who are encountering things like androids and aliens for the first time. Some people, looking for an opportunity to create characters using the races in People of the Stars (review of that book coming soon), may be a bit disappointed by this. Nevertheless, I think there's a great deal more fun to be had with the standard fantasy races in this adventure.

The adventure begins with the PCs arriving in Torch, a town in Numeria built around a mysterious violet flame that burns endlessly atop a hill. That flame has recently gone out, and as the flame was the town's source of prosperity, the town is not surprisingly in trouble. Fires of Creation is one of those adventures where the initial hook events have already happened off-screen before the PCs arrive on the scene. In many of my reviews, I have spoken out in favour of adventures that have the hook as the initial event that starts the adventure, so that the PCs have an immediate motivation and cause to become involved that goes beyond just the search for wealth and fame. That said, there can be benefits to the opposite approach. In this case, it allows for the creation of backstory to a number of characters in Torch by making the PCs not the first to investigate the disappearance of the flame. In fact, four previous groups have tried entering the hill. Only one came back. Led by local town councillor Khonnir Baine, this group went back into the hill after reporting their findings and have not returned since. Now it's the PCs' turn. Perhaps they can have more success. It may not be the most exciting opening, but it does allow for greater gains later, as the PCs put together what happened to the previous groups and eventually rescue Khonnir Baine, who is still alive. However, it also means that players will have to create motivations on their own for their characters to embark on their mission (the campaign traits in the Iron Gods Player's Guide can help with this).

The bulk of the adventure involves the PCs heading into the caves of the hill that Torch's flame used to burn from. The caves provide eventual access to the remains of a habitat module that was once part of the ship, Divinity, that crashed into Numeria centuries ago. The crew of Divinity used this habitat module and others like it to study races they collected from across the galaxy. This particular one contained kasathas, four-armed humanoids from a far-off world. These kasathas remain now only as undead zombies. Early on, the displays of technology are relatively minor. The main habitation portion of the module is designed to mimic the world the kasathas came from, and the creatures the PCs encounter are either natives to Golarion (such as skulks in the caves leading to the module) or resemble creatures that could be from Golarion (such as the zombie kasathas). However, as they move deeper into the module and find their way into the crew sections, they begin encountering more and more displays of technology, from mechanical doors to malfunctioning medical robots.

Ultimately, the PCs will discover that the flame has gone out due to the interference of an android cleric named Meyanda. Meyanda serves Hellion, a god the PCs will likely have never heard of before—Hellion is in fact an AI (artificial intelligence) that has become semi-divine. Hellion sent Meyanda to Torch correctly reasoning that the violet flame is actually the vented fires of a buried nuclear reactor.

While most of this adventure is essentially a dungeon crawl through a buried spaceship, the adventure doesn't assume the PCs go in only once and stay there until they've completed everything. It assumes they will need to withdraw back to Torch occasionally to rest and recuperate. As such, there are also a number of events keyed to happen in Torch, events that are related to the PCs' adventure in the habitat module. The timing of these events is left somewhat to the GM's decision, based in part on when they accomplish certain actions in the ship (such as rescuing Khonnir Baine and returning him to town). One of these events involves tracking down a power relay that Meyanda has set up in town, allowing her to transmit the power from the nuclear reactor to Hellion. Overall, I really like how this adventure makes Torch more than just a base of operations for the PCs. It also has an integral part in the story of the adventure. At the same time, the adventure maintains a sandbox-type feel to it, allowing the PCs are great deal of control over the direction and progress of the adventure.

The descriptions of these events are spaced out in the adventure text, placed between sections of the caves/ship to be roughly analogous to when they might happen in the adventure. It's a layout that creates a certain narrative flow that makes reading the adventure mimic how an actual game might play out. The PCs enter the dungeon/ship, learn a few things, return to Torch, experience an event there, return to the ship and so on. It does help make the adventure more interesting to read. However, in actual play, it's also going to create a lot of page flipping and searching for the right section. It can also create some confusion, giving the mistaken impression that an event must occur when the PCs reach a designated point in the caves or ship. Admittedly, it can be hard to find a good way to mix the description of timed events with location-based encounters, but I think I would have preferred to see the timed events all grouped together in a single section. This is a minor point, overall, though, and the adventure is certainly workable as is.

The support articles in this volume include a gazetteer of Torch, also written by Neil Spicer. Although fairly short, this gazetteer provides a useful companion to the adventure, allowing the GM to more fully flesh out the town and the events that occur within it. There is also an article on the “Ecology of the Android”, written by Russ Taylor. This article looks at the origins of androids on Golarion (they pretty much all came from the Divinity originally) and how they have adapted and adjusted to life on Golarion. As the main villain of the adventure is an android and androids are likely to feature more in Iron Gods, this is an invaluable article for GMs. It can also be useful for fleshing out android PCs, either in this campaign or other campaigns.

Amongst a robot and other strange creatures, this month's Bestiary also contains a selection of alien animals. I really like seeing the animal type applied in this way. It's always bothered me a little that the animal type has tended to be reserved for only real-world animals. Why can't there be fantasy creatures without magical or other special powers? (Honestly, there are a number of magical beasts—owlbear, I'm looking at you—that really ought to be animals as there's nothing “magical”, other than being not real, about them.) I'm glad to see this trend pushed aside in favour of showcasing animals from other worlds.

Overall, Fires of Creation is a good adventure and a strong opening for Iron Gods. Much like the opening of Mummy's Mask before it, it provides a slow build into the adventure path to come, providing only small hints of what is to come. I eagerly look forward to what else this adventure path has to offer.


  1. Really good to see that you are back !
    Thanks for the review, ill be looking eagerly for the part 2 !

    1. Thanks! It's good to be back.
      I hope to have part 2 of Iron Gods up early next week.