Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
Quests & Campaigns is a 32-page book in Pathfinder’s Player Companion series, which expands on a number of concepts first explored in the Ultimate Campaign book that look at options for detailing the background and goals of player characters.
In theory, a book containing a lot of background and goal-related options for a character is a good idea. However, some care is required. A group of players who all decided to use the material is going to run into trouble if they don't co-ordinate properly: one character will want to go off and find an artefact in the Mwangi Expanse while another wants to liberate Cheliax. It doesn’t help that the mechanics presented in the book are extremely lacklustre.
The game doesn’t really need lots of new marginal feats, but that’s what most of the new mechanics offer. Some of them are just plain weird; for instance, the Blessed feat gives you a +2 bonus on Charisma-based checks involving good-aligned outsiders and a -2 penalty on those checks involving evil-aligned outsiders; in addition, it gives a +1 bonus to the DC of spells you use against good outsiders. Huh? Why does being blessed mean you’re better fighting against good than evil?
The sections in the book are as follows:
For Your Character: The standard explanation of what characters the book is best for (clerics, fighters, paladins and sorcerers).
For Glory and Gold: Redundant explanations of what quests and campaigns are and some useful tips on managing your characters.
Story Feats: The idea here is good: a feat that gives your character a goal and a bonus whilst pursuing it, plus a benefit when completed. Unfortunately, due to the power level of feats, the bonuses are so small that their impact is devalued. Consider Apotheosis, which gives you the story goal of becoming a deity. It gives you a +2 bonus on stabilisation checks and a +5% bonus on augury and similar effects with a particular deity. The mechanics don’t match the flavour at all.
Liberator, where you seek to free slaves, is far more useful: a +1 bonus on attacks, damage and skill checks when the actions will directly lead to freeing slaves. In the right campaign, it would be useful almost all the time. In the wrong campaign, it’d be a dead feat. Of course, the idea of taking these feats is to make sure that it’s the right campaign, but it may constrain the GM and other players too much.
A larger problem here just comes from the tools being used for this: feats aren’t strong enough to properly encompass some of the good ideas. A lone feat for Apotheosis? D&D 4E, for all its flaws, gave a much more impactful mechanical treatment of this concept with its Epic destinies. This book doesn’t come close to giving the ideas the respect they deserve.
Other Inner Sea Quests: This lists 34 other quests that don’t fit into the Story Feats section. They’re good material for a DM, but in a player’s hands, require the DM and other players go along with the idea.
Objects of Legend: More story feats related to artefacts – well, one feat, but the completion bonus changes depending on which object is found.
Traits: More combat, faith, magic and social traits, because Pathfinder doesn’t have enough of them yet.
Drawbacks: Ultimate Campaign added the idea of drawbacks to the Pathfinder system, which are like a negative trait; if you take a drawback, you can also take an additional trait. Given this is a new system, it is likely people aren’t tired of them yet. Min-maxers will probably find a way to break them, although the trait and drawback system only have minor mechanical effects.
Ceremony: Back in 1985, AD&D’s Unearthed Arcana introduced the Ceremony spell to the game (it had previously been published in Dragon Magazine). This is Pathfinder’s updated version of the spell. Apparently it takes 8 hours to wed characters in Golarion. I like the idea of the spell; I’m uncertain as to its execution. A first level priest could take eight hours casting the spell for one hour’s effect. An augmented version is available for those using the Downtime system from Ultimate Campaign, which cost more but lasts one day per level (up to five days). Special forms of the spell linked to domains are quite interesting, but without using the downtime system it is of dubious utility.
Feats: The new feats presented in this section give various benefits when used with the kingdom-building, downtime and mass combat rules in Ultimate Campaign. There are some rather good ones, such as Inspirational Commander, which gives bonuses to the morale of you and your army as well as some extra boons. I find the feat Precocious Youth to be particular fascinating: it allows you to lose a penalty from the young age category, something quite useful if you're trying to play a young fighter or cleric. This is one of the better areas of the book.
Spells: There are seven new spells that are mostly related to the downtime and mass combat rules; the exception, detect relations, allows you determine if two creatures are related by blood. The idea of business booms, which promotes your business by making it more appealing, rather fails the verisimilitude test: why aren’t all the other shop-keepers using it? (In a world like Eberron, it’s quite likely they are).
Magic Items: Eleven new magic items and properties that generally are useful for the Ultimate Campaign systems. I rather like the idea of the heretical and treasonous weapon properties which give bonuses when fighting particular faiths or nations, respectively.
Inner Sea Background Generator: The inner covers of the book have a number of random tables for generating a character’s background: Race and Ethnicity, Nationality, Religion and Philosophy, and Faction. They are, quite simply, rubbish. I’m not against the idea of rolling randomly for ideas on a character’s background, but the simple fact is that a character’s nation should have some effect on their race, religion and faction. Yes, you can try to link unconnected ideas together, but it laughs in the face of the verisimilitude of the world that the Golarion sourcebooks and adventures have spent such time crafting.
Ultimately, the book has a lot of neat ideas for giving your characters goals, but they will need to be discussed with your GM, and could cause problems if too many characters use them. As a source for campaign inspiration and general and specific goals for your character, it isn't that bad. However, mechanically, the book is light-weight, with a lot of underwhelming feats and traits. Quests & Campaigns has greater applicability in a campaign that makes heavy use of Ultimate Campaign. It suits the homebrew campaign far more than organised play or adventure path games, but even so, I think it’s a disappointing book.