Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
I have been subscribing to the Pathfinder Adventure Paths since #13, having missed the first 12 due to financial issues at the time. As a result, I'm unfamiliar with the Rise of the Runelords story and characters, at least one of which appears in this adventure. I'm also not playing the Pathfinder RPG, though I have many, many hours of experience with its forerunner, the 3.5E D&D game.
The Brinewall Legacy is the first part of Paizo's 9th adventure path (not counting those for Dungeon Magazine), Jade Regent. Eventually it will travel to an Asian-themed land, but the beginning sees the heroes in the town of Sandpoint, somewhere on the Varisian Lost Coast. (A location used in Rise of the Runelords). One assumes that not that many years have passed since the Rise of the Runelords, "a few years back" is as close as the text gets.
The overall structure of this installment works as follows:
* The heroes hear of marauding goblins and are contracted to get rid of them.
* The heroes arrive at the goblin encampment and discover most are already dead, killed by a number of skeletons.
* The heroes follow the skeletons to their lair (they took the goblins' treasure) and after killing the skeletons loot it and find a message to the father of one of their friends: Ameiko Kaijitsu.
* The message reveals that Ameiko's family was involved in building the outpost of Brinewall. Ameiko immediately wants to learn more, and travels with the PCs and three NPCs to the ruins of Brinewall.
* Once in Brinewall, Ameiko is possessed and falls into a coma; the group need to explore the nearby Brinewall Castle. Finally, they discover a magical artefact: the Amatatsu Seal, which reveals that Ameiko is the true heir to the Empire of Minkai - and sets the stage for the ongoing campaign.
Now, although the adventure structure works, there are a couple of odd bits. The jump from "hunting goblins" to "hunting skeletons" is forced. If you're 1st level adventurers, would you really want to go after a force that could take down the goblins you were trying to kill? Some gentle pressure from the DM might be necessary to keep the adventure on track.
What really rings warning bells in my mind is the presence of four NPCs. Back in the first days of AD&D 2nd edition, TSR released the Avatar series of modules for the Forgotten Realms, which told the story of how the gods were cast down, some were destroyed, and eventually new gods arose. The problems with how the adventures were constructed were not limited to their railroaded nature, but also to the fact that everything important - including the rewards of godhood - went to the NPCs and not the PCs. They are derided as some of the worst modules produced by TSR.
Now, according to the plot of this adventure path, Ameiko will end up as Empress. I'm suspecting that it's likely that one of the PCs will end up marrying her (if the group is that way inclined), but why is the heir not one of the PCs? That James Jacobs makes special note of Ameiko being one of his PCs makes me doubly suspicious. I've had dreadful experiences with DM PCs in the past; I only hope that a designer PC is not as bad.
The bulk of the adventure takes part in the ruined village of Brinewall and its not-so-ruined castle. Ameiko falls into a coma the moment the PCs reach Brinewall, as she's possessed by a non-malevolent spirit that wants to aid her, but is rather incompetent at doing so. The other three NPCs happily agree to protect her so the PCs can go adventuring on their own. (Why are they here again? Oh, right... to be important in later adventures).
I'll note that I hate running multiple NPCs adventuring with a party. One, I can handle. Four is dreadful - either their actions take too long to resolve, or you forget that they exist, and in any case they're taking time away from the PCs. So not having to deal with them here is a great relief.
A new NPC ally is introduced here - Spivey - who acts as a source of information and healing. She's a tiny, butterfly-winged azata who's been here for 10 years after an unfortunate accident befell her mistress. She doesn't accompany the party, but her aid will likely be appreciated (especially if the party is so foolish as to not have a healer).
The castle has two above-ground levels and one dungeon level. Scattered through the castle are clues as to what befell the castle and Ameiko's family many years ago. Dire Corbies and Troglodytes are the predominant forces here, and there are a few mentions of the demon lord Pazuzu. The density of monsters is extremely high on the ground level: 12 of the 19 areas have monsters there. 7 of 17 on the 1st floor, and 6 of 10 in the dungeons. There are some notes as to how the monsters react to an attack; I suggest that if a particularly sadistic DM was running this adventure, a TPK would be on the cards as the monsters swarmed the poor party that attacked. Even so, it's a tough assignment.
Apart from the invaders, remnants of the original builders remain; often as tragic undead who are a danger to all.
The climax of the adventure is the fight against Nindinzego - a advanced half-fiend decapus. To say that the inclusion of the decapus (a relatively unloved creature from Jean Wells' Palace of the Silver Princess surprises me. I guess the folk at Paizo like the decapus more than me.
Eventually, the adventurers should find the innermost vault, overcome the wraith of Rokuro Kaijitsu (I suggest this will be through negotiation, not combat - lest a TPK result), and claim the Amatatsu Seal.
Stat Blocks and Rules References
One of the delightful things about 4E is knowing that if I pick up an adventure, I have everything I need to run it and that I won't have to look up very many rules or references. This is not true of a Pathfinder adventure; indeed, as the system develops more and more of the monsters, feats and spells come from supplemental books. Thankfully, you can find most (probably all) of these references in the online Pathfinder RPG Reference Document, but even so... it's a hour or more look-up before you run the adventure, or a lot of browsing time during play.
The adventure kindly lists its sources on the credits page, apart from the Core rulebook and Bestiary, it also uses the Advanced Player's Guide, the GameMastery Guide, the Bestiary 2, and Ultimate Combat.
Unique stat blocks (that is, ones that have been tinkered with or are of NPCs) are listed in full. Other stat blocks refer you to the appropriate reference book.
There are also a lot of references to the Jade Regent Player's Guide, a 32-page PDF available as a free download from the Paizo website; it includes the rules for caravans, which are needed for some of the journeying in this adventure and those to come. The adventure doesn't require it, but it should enhance it.
Being a Pathfinder adventure, the material doesn't stop there - the adventure ends on page 51 of 96! Each of the four major NPCs gets a 2-page write-up. There's a section on the Sandpoint Hinterlands, giving details on the starting town and the wilderness around, and a extended article on the Ecology of the Oni, who will feature a lot more in the future of this series.
Part one of the fiction "Husks" appears here, and the book is rounded out by a bestiary giving 6 new monsters, and an overview of the campaign as a whole. Forgive me if I don't go into them in much detail: none of them strike me as incompetent
The Brinewall Legacy is the first of what appear to be an epic, world-changing series of adventures. I appreciate the scale of what is being attempted, even if I don't always appreciate the execution. Some of my concerns about the adventure may be illusory, but I wish I didn't have them.
The adventure reads fairly well; I particularly like the idea of the ruined goblin encampment and the skeletons that attacked them (even if the link between the two might be problematical). Brinewall Castle, unfortunately, doesn't fare so well. It's not badly written - by no means - but nothing in it really leaps out at me and says, "I'm special: RUN ME!"
So: an adventure that seems solid enough with a few nice touches, but one that will probably require the DM to stay on their toes to be sure it flows smoothly.