Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Emerald Spire Review – Part 2

Here's the second part of the Emerald Spire review, written by guest blogger Neal Powell!

After a crazy Easter Weekend that resulted in a trip to the Emergency Room and the associated recovery time, we head back into the depths of the Emerald Spire to see what the second half has in store. As I mentioned at the end of Pt 1 of the Emerald Spire review (http://aswordforhire.blogspot.com/2015/03/the-emerald-spire-review-part-1.html) this review would slither into the Emerald Spire and the seventh level does exactly that with a variety of serpentfolk.

The seventh level was written by Chris Pramas, who is the founder of Green Ronin Publishing (http://greenronin.com/) and lead designer of the Dragon Age RPG. The Player Characters (PCs) will find an entrenched foe that is defending itself from both above and below. This level is full of templates used en masse, most notably the fiendish template because of the affinity the inhabitants have towards the demon lord Kro’akoth. There are some fairly random monsters guarding the front and rear of this level, but it helps set the tone of the rebellious nature of the level’s serpentfolk.

The more conventional serpentfolk can be found on the eighth level along with a wide variety of traps to foil the best laid plans of the PCs. Some of the traps will literally push the PCs to their limit, and possibly beyond. This level was written by Jason Bulmahn who has been the lead designer of Pathfinder since 2007. Theoretically, with the right saves, the PCs could only see a single room on this level as the stairs up and down are in the same room. I have no doubt though that any group that makes it this far will want to see what else there is to be seen, and also will get sucked into the first trap. A very interesting creature resides here in the form of a two-headed serpentfolk infused with the power of the Emerald Spire. If the players bypass this level they will find the ninth level in shambles.

The ninth level was written by Tim Hitchcock, who has been an RPG freelancer for almost 15 years with a focus on writing for Paizo. This level is a cluttered mess full of graffiti, primitive alarms, and crawl spaces. The level is infested with morlocks (who I can’t help but assume are mutant in the subways) who look like terrifying subterranean goblins. Several of the morlocks possess character classes and should pose interesting challenges for the players, but it is their leader that holds the most potential for the GM to have fun. The morlocks are being led by a female barbed devil who has no intent to attack the PCs, until it is on her terms. Those terms happen to be a well-planned ambush before heading to the tenth level.

The tenth level really heats up, and was written by F. Wesley Schneider, who is editor-in-chief at Paizo Publishing. As my terrible pun may have indicated this level is full of heat, more specifically with magma. This is also where the PCs find the remains of the most successful adventuring group before them. It was a group of Hellknights from Fort Inevitable who sought to explore as much of the spire as possible. The level has a multitude of complications to overcome, but at this stage it is plausible that the PCs have magic of some sort to help them along their way. Even with magic this level is no less deadly, and the use of magma dragons helps to ensure this. There is a seemingly harmless area near the end entrance to the eleventh level that has an aquarium. Under the “right” circumstances, though, the PCs could be on the receiving end of 80+ points of damage. I’m resisting the urge to maniacally laugh at this fact.

The eleventh level is another chance for the players to complete bypass the level by continuing on across a room and down stairs. I highly doubt that any group will choose to do so, as they would miss out on a level written by Wolfgang Baur, the current “Kobold-in-chief” at Kobold Press and a seasoned veteran in writing for the RPG industry. The players will quickly find themselves trapped in a tomb with some very deadly traps that will have their heads spinning. I think my favorite thing about this level is that two traps can work in conjunction to create hell on earth for a few rounds. When words like “flaming rain” and “infinite pit” are used it is hard not to be afraid. Once the evil mummy trapped in the tomb has been defeated, the players are free to move onto the twelfth level of the Emerald Spire.

The twelfth level of the Spire is written by Keith Baker. He is the man behind the Eberron campaign setting, and it shows well in this level. While the initial greeting the PCs receive is not the warmest of welcomes, they quickly find this level to be much more accommodating than they would have guessed. Part of this level holds the last remnants of automaton servant staff, while the other half contains a semi-sentient AI that is creating more automatons focused on destroying what remains of the servant staff and repurposing it for their own use. It is fairly straightforward which side the PCs will lean towards, but how they resolve this issue is completely up to them. Once the AI is dealt with they will be able to take an elevator down to the thirteenth level.

What superdungeon would be complete without an “oasis” full of death dealing monsters? None, and Nicolas Logue (owner/creator of Sinister Adventures and Paizo freelancer for almost a decade) brings to us that “oasis.” There are several undead here that are much more than they seem, as some are fungal in nature and others are actually dead bodies with swarm of insect from hell. Or you could be charmed into a terrible death by a pair of succubi. Maybe you would prefer to go mad because of gibbering mouther or intellect devourer. This level had everything a growing adventurer could ask for including a skeleton king seated on a throne guarding the elevator down to the fourteenth level.

It is here in the fourteenth level that Erik Mona, Paizo’s lead publisher, presents the big bad of the Emerald Spire in the form of a lich who has called the spire home for over ten millennia. On this level the players will finally stop the cause of the weird undead, and find the person who has been foreshadowed throughout the campaign thus far. Not only that, but they will fight the largest automaton they have seen so far. They will also be afforded the opportunity to speak to the demon lord Abraxas himself. The temple doesn’t end here though, as stairs lead further down.

Level fifteen is written by James L. Sutter, Paizo’s Fiction Editor and RPG Developer, and it flips the classic good vs. evil struggle on its head. Instead, the players are forced to choose between law and chaos in an endless struggle over the entrance to the final level of the Emerald Spire. The forces of chaos want nothing more than to open the doors to the last level and gain the power to reshape as much of the surrounding world as possible. The lawful inhabitants want to make sure that never happens. Both armies have changed their respective portions of the fifteenth level to match their sensibilities. The best part of this level are the runes that change the race and gender of the creature that steps on it. From here it is completely up to the players if they continue on to the sixteenth and final level.

James Jacobs, the Creative Director for Pathfinder’s Adventure Paths and someone who was originally published almost 30 years ago, finishes up the Emerald Spire. It is here that the players will be able to meet the creature behind the formation of the Emerald Spire. Through the magics of the Spire and the tinkering of its creator there is a vast array of different conditions in this level. On this level there is also the tool by which the Emerald Spire is restocked. Once they have met, and dealt with, the creator the Emerald Spire and the mischief it could create will end, but it will forever be a place that draws monsters and adventurers alike from all across the realm!

Well, that’s that. Took some time to iron out this epic second half of one of the greatest superdungeons of all time. If you can’t find something you like in this book, I would be absolutely blown away. If you are interested in reading the tales of a party of adventurers going through the Spire then stay tuned for that!

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