Ramping up my reviewing.
Happily playing games for many, many years.
Richard Pett first came to my attention as I was DMing the Age of Worms adventure path. His adventure, The Prince of Redhand, a role-playing heavy adventure towards the end of the path, was one of the true highlights of that series. Upon initially reading The Sixfold Trial, the second adventure in the Council of Thieves adventure path, it did not initially dawn on me that Pett was the writer. Then, as I saw the use of a play in the adventure text, it dawned on me that something special was happening here and I rechecked the author credits.
It’s not every adventure that includes the text of an entire play (albeit a short one) and then requires the players to “perform” it. This performance has proved to be the highlight of the entire adventure path for our group and many others. It is supported by a first half of the adventure that is heavy on role-playing and interaction, and a second half that sees an unusual dungeon with interesting encounters. It is the stand-out adventure of the series.
Unfortunately, it also has a number of editing blunders in it that detract from its otherwise mostly solid design.
The first section of the adventure begins with the players needing to infiltrate the mayor’s house to recover a puzzlebox that an ally of the rebels needs, which probably contains clues as to how the shadow beasts came to stalk the night in Westcrown. Just sneaking inside has certain drawbacks, so an alternative method is needed. Luckily (!) the mayor is a lover of the theatre, the bloodier the better, and a intrepid director just happens to be recruiting actors for a “murder play”; one in which the actors are in definite danger of being killed!
Somehow, just sneaking inside sounds a lot safer! (But it’s not nearly as much fun...)
Pett details the fellow actors of the players in excellent detail. Of particular note is the insufferable actor Thesing Umbero Ulvauno. (“My talent is unmatched, even by my beauty.”) Thesing is a joy for the DM, and certainly my group loved to hate him - eventually ending in the group stealing all of his left shoes. Players. Go figure!
The rehearsal period has several stages, where the players have a chance to impress the public and their fellow actors. One problem with the Pathfinder skill system does raise its head here, as it’s quite unlikely that anyone has put skill points into Perform (Act). I would have much preferred a system that involved Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidate checks depending on how they need to act, as those are skills the party is more likely to have taken.
The play itself consists of various dangers - monsters and traps - which the players have to negotiate in addition to acting. This worked very well for our group, especially as the group read out the play’s script (written by Nicolas Logue) as we ran the play.
The dinner with the mayor is not quite as impressive as the similar dinner in The Prince of Redhand, but there are enough notes for the DM to role-play the other guests and the dinner itself is described in all its decadent glory.
Unfortunately, the writing and editing of the demiplane the party needs to infiltrate to retrieve the puzzlebox - the Asmodean Knot - provides a number of problems. In general, it’s quite a good dungeon, with some very entertaining encounters, which include a Escher-style staircase that I just love. However, there are some significant problems in its construction.
My primary problem is that many of the monsters (including the final one) have damage reduction against silver weapons. This is something that an experienced Pathfinder group might have deduced from the overall setting of the adventure in Cheliax (devil-worshippers are likely to use devils); however, it was something that caught my new-to-Pathfinder group by surprise and caused them no end of trouble. One of the guests at the dinner does, in fact, let them know about the devils... but this is too late for them to do anything about it. To make things worse, the adventure actually has Janiven (the rebel leader) giving the group a briefing before the dinner as to what the group can expect... except what the rebels have discovered has been entirely omitted from the adventure.
Another problem involves an NPC also exploring the dungeon who sets up a really cool trap for the players that unfortunately requires them to know a lot more about it for it to work at all. The concept of the runecurse, where a player is tricked into accepting a cursed item and suffers the effects of the curse until he can pass it off to another is really good. Unfortunately, the knowledge of runecursed items should be common knowledge to the players, and it doesn’t quite work when the DM has to explain it to the players just after (or before) they encounter the curse; it’s a great idea that doesn’t really work in the game.
This NPC also suffers from more editing errors; the text of the module says her stats are in a different place to where they actually are - and the place she should be encountered has no mention of her. It’s sloppy editing, and it is an ongoing problem throughout this adventure path.
Overall, there’s also a problem with the structure of the dungeon: the party has slipped in during the night of the mayor’s party (as all other participants in the party have fallen asleep due to an excess of food and drink), and so don’t have that long to explore before they need to leave. However, the dungeon is just too big. There is an encounter near the end of the dungeon that makes possible for the group to stay longer as they can leave directly for their homes, but it’s too far into the adventure; you get the party pushing forward to a TPK because of this clumsy structure.
The final encounter also is against something that is possibly a TPK by itself: a CR 6 barbazu-otyugh amalgam and a couple of lemures, which is wielding a keen longsword. The blasted thing actually gets six attacks per round and will probably attack from surprise - in addition to having wounds that won’t heal due to the barbazu (bearded devil) component. For a group of 4th level characters, it will be very challenging; its stats are mostly appropriate for its challenge rating, but the situation makes it harder, especially if the group doesn’t have silver weapons.
The actual problems with the adventure are mostly elements that could be fixed by superior development and editing; alert the players to their need for silver weapons in the briefing by Janiven before they enter the mayor’s house, and place the “exit door” closer to the entrance to the dungeon (or make it clear to the group there’s another way out in the briefing). All in all, I like The Sixfold Trial, but its editing problems came very close to sinking the adventure for my group.