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Swashing Buckles with Sand

This is the third adventure module I am reading in my quest to explore desert/Egyptian themed items as I plan my next 5th edition D&D game. I’ve never run an Egyptian or wholly desert themed campaign before, so I have been looking for lots of inspirational fodder to read while planning. My next foray into the desert was published by Paizo Publishing in 2014, and was written by Rob McCreary. This was a Free RPG Day 2014 release for use with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. This adventure is for four 3rd level PCs. As with the other adventures I reviewed recently, this one is set in a tomb in the desert. In this case it is the 7500 year old tomb of a pharaoh recently uncovered in the land of Osirion in the Pathfinder RPG world of Golarion. Does it offer anything I can use in my up-coming campaign? Let’s find out…

Spoilers ahead, read at your own risk!

What’s the Story?

During his reign, the Pharaoh Sekh-pa-Mefer III was said to have befriended those wizened creatures who hold the keys to knowledge, the Sphinxes. He claimed to have been gifted with the secret of eternal life, convincing his people that he would return after his mortal death and usher in a new age of wisdom for the people of Osirion. Thus he was called the Pharaoh of Sphinxes and a large pyramid was built for his journey and subsequent return. Unfortunately for Sekh-pa-Mefer III, the removal of his brain during the mummification process separated his rational intellect from his body (and presumably his soul), causing him to rise from death as a mummy rather than a god. Over time his pyramid was lost to the ever shifting sands of the Parched Dunes and his people moved on, forgetting about his legacy. Until now – a few weeks ago a swift desert storm uncovered the pyramid and entry building. It is the party’s job to raid the tomb and gather all of the loot that has lain hidden for thousands of years.

Initial Thoughts:

This is a quick read and is a free product, so it starts out on good footing. It should provide a quick night of fun using the provided pre-generated PCs, or act as a decent side-quest if your party is in a desert region with ancient pyramids (especially if you are running the Egyptian themed Mummy’s Mask adventure path). I was excited to read this and see what new tomb-related goodies would be found herein. A thorough reading unmasks a run-of-the-mill adventure with nothing to cause it to stand out, on the good side or the bad. Almost every element that I liked about the adventure feels like they didn’t quite go far enough to inspire me. I got done reading and had the distinct feeling of wanting more… but not really in a good way.

Good Stuff:

 Excellent Production Values: As with all of the products I have seen from Paizo Publishing, this book has top notch production values. Including good art, a thick sturdy cover, good proofreading, and good editing. I did not find any glaring issues with the product despite the fact that it is a short (16 pages + cardstock cover) piece that was provided for Free RPG Day. They didn’t skimp on production.

 Parley with Those in the Tomb: There are two chances in this adventure for the PCs to talk to creatures in the tomb. One of them is in the good category and one is in the bad. The interesting one is the Pharaoh Mummy itself! When they enter his eternal resting place he demands they prostrate themselves. If the PCs bow to him he then demands a sacrifice! He suggests a sacrifice of the first to step foot in the tomb. In the three paragraph backstory the GM learns that the Pharaoh Mummy is bound to the pyramid unless and until he slays the first living person to despoil his tomb. A GM who paid attention to that little nugget in the intro can immediately understand why it is in the Pharaoh’s best interest to parlay rather than slaughter the PCs. If the first to enter the tomb dies by his command he will be freed of the shackles of the pyramid and he will have 3 new slaves to do his bidding. Of course this will probably end in combat since the PCs will refuse to sacrifice one of their own, but it is a nice touch to have the possibility written into the adventure. A devious GM who runs this as a side quest in a regular campaign can surely find something to do here that spices up the decision.

Bad Stuff:

 Parley with Those in the Tomb: The second parley opportunity is provided by the zombies of two of the Pharaoh’s wives. They are in a room with illusions cast all about it and upon them. The two wives look like beautiful Osirian maidens who are waiting to feed the tired and ailing party members with fresh fruit and wine. The room and the women are adorned with riches and it is the only room that seems cool, rather than stifling, and offers respite from the dangerous complex outside the room. The text of the adventure says that the wives are dreadfully bored and really want someone to talk to and provide companionship. Presumably if that is the case, then they are willing to converse with the party for a long time, but no advice is given to the GM regarding what information they could provide to the party. Wouldn’t it be great if the bored zombie lords traded information to the party in exchange for being released from the tomb?

Of course the illusion can be seen through with a simple wisdom check and as soon as that happens the successful PC will see the women as they are – zombie lords trying to feed desiccated fruits to the rest of the party. And the zombie lords will then attack. *yawn* A battle where it could have been much more.

I’m not a fan of the ”beautiful women ready to seduce the party” trope. I also struggle to figure out what it means that these zombie lords are ”terribly bored and long for conversation and company.” They’ve been in this tomb for 7500 years and they haven’t bothered to leave their room and seek out the other inhabitants of the tomb? Or, my other thought – a zombie lord who is female can offer nothing to an adventure other than being bored and wanting to talk? I’m just not a fan of the set-up here with these two – I feel like something different, more interesting could have been done.

 Single Level Map: Why build a 160 foot tall pyramid and then put a single-story set of rooms into it? Just asking. The map is fine – extremely basic and easy to use. But this is definitely a missed opportunity.

 Creature References with No Stats: There are 17 creatures and 3 traps in this adventure. Of those 17 creatures 7 of them do not have their statistics provided in the product. That’s not entirely true – you do get an XP amount, an HP amount, and a page number for the appropriate book. On one hand, I completely understand why this was done. Pathfinder creature stats take up a lot of space and this product is meant to be short and sweet. All 7 of the creatures are found in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Bestiary, or on the free Pathfinder Reference Document, so it isn’t totally beyond the pale to leave these out. On the other hand, I would have liked to read a complete product. Since I don’t GM Pathfinder I do not have a copy of the Bestiary sitting around to look at, and if part of the reason for this product was to bring new players in, then it is a missed opportunity. As I said, not a huge problem, but it is something that struck me as lacking as I read through.

 Pre-Gen PCs: The four Pre-Generated PCs provided for the scenario are meant to highlight the then upcoming Advanced Class Guide. I like having the pre-gens available to me and so it was nice to see these in the back of the book. In my review of Last Gasp I noted that not providing the pre-gens for that product really did a disservice to it. I feel it was worse to not provide pre-gens for a scenario that is obviously meant to be a one-shot game, especially because the pre-gens in that scenario really added to the backstory and had special abilities useful to and specific to that adventure. So I really want to say that it is a good thing to have the pre-generated characters in this product… but I just can’t. They have no backstory information provided for them and have no connection to the story at all. None of them have special skills or tactics available to them that would help with this particular scenario.

Wouldn’t it be better to highlight the new swashbuckler class in a sea-based adventure? When I think of a swashbuckler, I think of someone swinging from the riggings, using the mast as a counterweight as they gracefully jump from bow to stern, and coming down from the crow’s nest zip-line style with the wind in their hair and a rapier in their hand. This isn’t that kind of swashbuckler, I guess? Is my preconceived notion of a swashbuckler obstructing my view of this pre-gen’s value to the adventure? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Oh yeah, and it would be great if the damage output produced by 3 of the 4 PCs provided had an icicle’s chance in hell of doing damage to the first creature they will encounter (and which is unavoidable) right at the beginning of the tomb. In short, the PCs provided have no backstory, just mechanics, and are ineffective early on. Useless.

 Combat Focused: This actually isn’t a real problem. After all, it is meant to be a one shot, quick scenario that highlights some quick tomb robbing fun in a Pathfinder session. I’m not generally opposed to combat focused games – the actual problem is that combat is the focus and it is unavoidable in almost all cases. Once again, I see this as a box of missed opportunities. The designer could have built in several ways to avoid any number of combats in this tomb.

Things to Watch Out For:

 Cursed Treasure: One of the magical items that is found in the pharaoh’s final resting chamber is a cursed item. As an aside I will also note that the properties of these items aren’t described in the adventure text at all. Finding a cursed item that the PCs don’t realize is cursed is possibly good for the theme – you know that the raiders of ancient Egyptian tombs are supposedly the victims of ancient Pharaonic curses, right? The problem is the one-shot nature of the adventure and where the treasure is found. The treasure is found in what is most likely the last room that the party enters. In other words, it is most likely found right at the tail end of the scenario. If this is a one-shot then the cursed item has no effect on the game. I suppose that is good or bad depending on your own opinion, but it feels like another missed opportunity to me.

Final Thoughts:

This short book has decent writing and exhibits the typical well-done Paizo production values and art. This somehow feels like an adventure module with training wheels on it. In other words, it feels meant for a new Pathfinder GM and players because the map is straight-forward, it is a very short scenario, there is not a ton to keep track of, and there are pre-generated PCs included. However, the featured PCs are from the Advanced Class Guide which have some atypical class mechanics which, while not extremely difficult, might be hard for a new GM and players, especially if they don’t have access to that particular book (of course, it hadn’t been released at the time this was published). The included pre-gens imply, at least to my thinking, that perhaps a beginning GM isn’t best suited to run for these PCs. Also, new players will struggle through this adventure if they use these particular PCs since they are not well suited to the challenges faced in the tomb. So – new player or GM? My recommendation is to stay away!

There is a lot of Egyptian theme dripping from the rooms in the tomb. Hieroglyphs, Sphrinx creatures, carvings on the walls, dog headed guardians… but unfortunately it is a relatively thin veil of theme because it is mostly useless to the party of PCs going through the tomb. In only one case does paying attention to the described carvings have any effect whatsoever on the scenario itself, and in that case the trap is also easily overcome with a perception roll and a successful disable device check. Oh wait! None of the provided PCs have that skill available! *facepalm*

This is an ultimately mediocre entry that the GM will have to put some work into to make it feel inspired.

The pdf of this product is Free at the Paizo online store or you can purchase a hard copy for $5.00 using the same link.

 

So now we come to the of my third review of a desert themed product. I hope these are providing you with new insights, or at the very least, and entertaining read.

Until next time, I wish you good gaming!

~DMSamuel

About

DM Samuel is the Editor-in-Chief here at RPG Musings as well as the podcast editor for The Tome Show. He is also a host of the gaming podcast Play on Target. He plays all manner of role-playing games and boardgames and continues to learn new games all the time (and new things about old games, too). Sam lives in Upstate New York with his wife and their game collection. You can follow him on twitter @DMSamuel.

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