Artifacts & Artifice Volume I This massive hardcover clocks in at 385 pages of content, already disregarding front-end matter and the like – that’s the content. This review was moved up in my reviewing queue due to me receiving a hardcover print copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased, critical review. My review is based on the...
The fourth (fifth if you count the optional prologue) installment of the Legendary Planet AP clocks in at 102 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 2 pages of introduction, 3 pages of advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 91 pages of pure content, so let’s take a look!
I was a backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but not otherwise involved in the project.
As always, this book is structured in a way that will be familiar to customers of Paizo’s APs – you get an adventure, some new monsters, a gazetteer, supplemental rules materials, etc. – including a piece of fiction penned by Chris A. Jackson, with the lion’s share devoted to the module.
HOWEVER, there is one thing this series does, which I will continue to praise to the high heavens: We get a frickin’ Art & Map folio. An Art and Map Folio should be frickin’ industry standard. Seriously. The inclusion is a huge plus.
That folio, this time around, is 28 pages long, and contains all the artworks featured in the installment – I love this: Print it out, cut it up, and tell the PCs: This is what you see. Awesome. Particularly since this time around, the artworks tend to gravitate to the seriously impressive side of things, as far as I’m concerned, even more so than before. More importantly, it contains the maps….but this time around, I do have a complaint here. The player-friendly maps are missing! WTF? One of the most awesome things about these booklets was that they featured key-less unlabeled versions of the maps that people like yours truly who can’t draw simply can print, cut up and then use…or that you can painlessly use in VTTs etc. And this time around? NONE! Where did my player-friendly maps go??? Not cool. I want my player-friendly maps back!
The module is intended for the medium advancement track, and assumes that the PCs begin it at level 11/mythic tier 3; by the end of the module, the PCs will have reached 14th level and the 4th mythic tier. The module sports plenty of read-aloud text, as always.
Anyhow, let’s talk about the supplemental material, which is pretty interesting this time around – since, as we’ll see later, this installment is pretty strongly centered on the auttaine, we have a whole little chapter on new auttaine augmentations, including suggested penalties for missing body parts and tightly-defined rules for prostheses. And yes, there is a note on player decency, roleplaying the like with respect, etc. Personally, I applaud this. Some of my favorite heroes have handicaps of some sort, and some of my most fondly-remembered PCs used prostheses, so theme-wise, I’m totally on board here! These include a couple of mundane ones (like stats for blade legs and hook hands), and also cover 5 magical prostheses. The hand of Haymot can transform into a +1 axiomatic crossbow (not italicized properly) and nets SPs (also not italicized). The honing ear helps judge distance and thus enhances Perception and lets you do FUN things. What do I mean by this? You can e.g. tune out background noise! This is a small thing, and something some people might miss, but it DRIPS roleplaying potential and seriously elevates the item. Awesome. Instrumental limbshelp Perform and can 3/day make buff skill checks of nearby allies. Lucky eyes have a clock for an iris, and let you wink 1/day as a standard action, rolling 1d4: They get a +5 luck bonus to skills, saves, damage or attack, depending on the d4, but only if executed before the next turn. The activation action limiting the attack/damage component sans smart tactics make this item more interesting. Another winner, as far as I’m concerned. Strongarm nets you Lifelike Prostheses and a boost to lift/Carrying capacity.
What’s that feat, you ask? Well, the pdf also features 9 new feats, and said feat allows you to better Sleight of Hand concealing the prosthesis. Swift Prosthesis lets you equip or remove one as a standard action. Craft Body Modification does what it says on the tin. Body Modification Attunement is pretty hardcore – you get to choose an item slot, and in that slot, a modification no longer occupies your magic item slot! Body Mod Expert increases the amount of modifications you can have and fortifies you versus infection; Body Mod Veteran builds on that. Skilled Body Modder seriously enhances your Heal checks to install or remove them. Able Amputee halves the penalty associated with a missing limb or body part, and Greater Able Amputee wholly eliminates that. I liked all of these feats, and they made me come up with quite a few cool ideas. Liking all feats in a chapter? Happens rarely these days, so kudos!
The module also features 5 regular bodymods (like nictitating membranes or steel dentures (grills, baby!)), as well as 7 magical ones: Adaptable scales net endure elements (not in italics) and lets you, as a swift action,, choose between minor fire or cold resistance. Filtering gills net water breathing (not in italics…); the hand of all trades is awesome and contains charges that may be used for thieves’ tools, healer’s kits, grappling hooks, etc. – awesome. Iron gut fortifies versus food-borne illness; legs of springing pretty much do what they say on the tin and come with a greater version as well. Finally, silver tongue enhances your singing and oratory skills, and lets you emulate dialects – once more one of these little roleplaying touches I genuinely love seeing. The pdf also includes 3 bodymodders, with locations, descriptions, relevant stats and price modifiers and crafting services noted. Nice!
The equipment section this time around also is pretty cool, sporting the easily concealed and rather deadly fist cannon firearm, as well as the mighty storm of chains, a VERY powerful kyton spiked chain for Large wielders that can also generate a variant of blade barrier. Finally, there is the mighty Darksphere, a technological artifact, which is essentially a variant sphere of annihilation. The section also includes fully realized void gondola vehicle stats alongside a brief discussion of navigation in the Zone. The gazetteer this time around deals with beacon, the largest asteroid in the Shattered Zone, and its de facto capital, including a discussion of the peculiar aspects: For example the oozes dubbed “angels” that produce air, or the fact that the “plague masks”, which actually filter out the corrosive agents from the air that particularly the auttaine don’t take well to. The write-up also includes two statblocks for agents of Purity (the latter called “Oberfähn” as the title – that should probably be “Oberfähnrich”; the other is called “Obersolder” – pretty sure that an “I” is missing there.
Anyhow. Purity. Pseudo-German nomenclature. You probably already have an inkling where this is going. Either way, it’s time to talk about the module and the monsters, so from here on out, the SPOILERS shall reign. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! The PCs’ expedition in Dead Vault Descent was easily one of my favorite modules in the AP formula, but unfortunately, the PCs ultimately didn’t leave it with much to show for – they still have not found a way home, and at this point, their allies have deduced another path home – which requires accessing a gate under the control of the Blood Slavers of Argos, which in turn will require a rather uneasy social event: A dinner with a neh-thalggu mesmerist. I mean, okay, the entity might be a brain-eating crab-monster, but she is impeccably polite and all about etiquette, which means that the PCs can meet up with her in a semi-safe environment. The mansion thus kicks off the module with a tense dinner and shows that this is, indeed, the darkest part of the AP so far. The PCs can attempt to best here, by the way – or roleplay the evening with a strange game called sensora id abstracta: A contest of drawing things from the strange mansion’s substance. So yeah, while the neh-thalggu is deadly, she can be potentially slain, should your group object to cooperating with a brain collector, no matter how impeccable her manners may be. This also establishes that, in this module, an exceptional Intelligence will be something more than one person will be interested in – in an unwholesome manner.
Either way, the path leads into the Shattered Zone – a field of asteroids that remain from a planet; to be more precise, the PCs will find themselves in Beacon (see gazetteer), a kind of sword and planet iteration of an industrial-revolution dystopia, with plague mask-wearing beings, and a thoroughly STRANGE. Indebted in aesthetics to Victorianism, industrial revolution, Bloodborne and sword and planet, the module goes for a genuinely interesting backdrop and a sense of danger enhanced by almost immediate arrivals of dangerous individuals. Unbeknown to the PCs, they have also just stepped into a three-way faction conflict between the Shattered Zone Mining Company, the Contraptors and the Corrosive Ventures. The PCs, thrust into these local struggles (for btw. aforementioned darksphere), and will pretty soon realize that they need to get to a certain gate, Asteroid 113…but to do so, they’ll have to “resurrect” three dead gates: One in Hope Mine, under the control of the Contraptors; one called “Salvation”, which is currently neutral territory, and one called Zenith, under the control of the Shattered Zone Mining Company. In case you were wondering – all of these are essentially sub-chapters, with plenty of dangers – and a need for smart politicking, for there are consequences for betrayal in the zone, and these consequences, well, they aren’t exactly pretty.
Once the PCs have managed to awaken the final gate, they not only get a mythic tier, they will by now also have deduced that their destination is a kyton prison, and that opening it…will, that went both ways. It is here that politics start falling by the wayside, and we get a rather…öhem…well…different approach. One that very much shows the hand of Richard Pett.
The destination is essentially a deadly kyton panopticon, a Hellraiser-esque nightmarescape, with plenty of unique and deadly builds…but wait. There is more. You see, the TRUE masterminds behind the factions’ squabbling, the most powerful force in the Shattered Zone right now, is Purity, which are essentially auttaine fascists. And if you don’t get it immediately from the German nomenclature employed, a propaganda poster with a red flag, white circle, and a black sun inside (which is a real life occult Nazi symbol) on the shoulderpads of Obercommander Aspa Corrosa’s artwork drive that home. She is also infested by a Queborrin, an alien parasite that is one of the new creatures – these generate unique abilities, which is a cool angle, but no template or the like for being queborrin-infested is provided, which is a bit of a lost chance While we’re on the subject of monsters, we also get a Large ogre-ish thing that can irradiate you (the void grim, CR 6), the ironrot lichen (CR 7), feral kytons (CR 9 – guess what the PCs will have to deal with in the prison?), and steamwerks golems (Cr 14) and the deadly CR 17 choke ooze – yep, that’s the stuff the people use to generate air. Don’t screw with them.
Okay, so, to get that out of the way: I am not a big fan of depicting Nazis in RPG, because it is always a reduction of the true horror they caused. I expected to have more of a problem with this module. But Purity is not exactly Nazism in all but art-direction; it’s different kind of fascism.
If you’re interested in why I don’t like Nazis in RPGs, I wrote a pretty comprehensive essay on the topic:
Anyways, regarding Purity: In spite of their design being too on the nose for my tastes, I can kinda get behind them. Still, I think it’d have been awesome to see them actually visually coded as good guys. Because that’s more effective. Black uniform, red accents – we are hard-coded to view that as evil.
One of the gates, the one called “Hope” – it’s actually in one of Purity’s internment prisons. And they are well on their way through the nightmarish panopticon, trying to reach the core of the asteroid before the PCs. The party will have to best the fascists of Purity. Provided the PCs can best the agents of Purity (which are, obviously, in league with the Hegemony), they also need to beat the mighty God-seer of the kytons – and meet a Purity agent who has already arrived: The PCs have reached the forbidden core, as they are taken into essentially a god-machine remnant of a dead planet, an almost BLAME-like complex of vast proportions…but can they best Commander Dhotan Roth? If so, they will learn, as the machine fulfills its purpose, forcing the vast knowledge of the ancient war between Patrons and Principalities…and the PCs will learn that Relstanna may well have set them up. They had to know. It’s time to get some answers…provided they can get out of the Shattered Zone…
Editing and formatting are good on a formal and rules language level; I noticed a couple more formatting hiccups and typo level glitches (“is” instead of “it”, that sort of thing) than before in the AP. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column full-color standard, and the module comes with plenty of amazing full-color artwork. The art and map folio is great, but the omission of player-friendly maps is annoying. I also disliked that we didn’t get a map of Beacon – as a consequence, this hub always remained somewhat opaque to me, which is probably the biggest weakness of the module’s middle part. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Huh. After the pretty darn awesome supplemental material (penned by Patrick Renie, Mike D. Welham and Richard Pett), the module started off exceedingly well: I LOVE the Shattered Zone and Beacon regarding their aesthetics. Just plain awesome. At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel that the whole politicking/three-factions angle, with Purity in the back? That could have been executed a bit smoother. The module requires more investment from the GM to make that section work. The gate activation and the like? The finale? Those are straightforward, if a bit combat-heavy. But the connective tissue, particularly considering what these amazing premises could have carried? It feels slightly weaker. This is not a bad module, mind you – the adventure is executed with panache aplomb, and has master Pett’s very distinct style, through a lens of sword & planet aesthetics. And yet, personally; I considered this module to be slightly weaker than the sheer excellence we’ve seen so far.
Legendary Planet, to this point, was an almost perfect AP, and from the lack of player-friendly maps to the middle part’s structure being a bit less impressive than the Shattered Zone would have warranted. Does this make me less enamored with the AP? No. But after the nigh-perfect Dead Vault Descent, this feels like it tries a bit too much at once. What it does is genuinely great, but this nagging feeling of a module that is very busy, that would have done better by focusing more on core scenes, never left me.
This should not keep you from checking this out, mind you – particularly if you considered the AP to light-hearted until now; or if you want some seriously unique and twisted material. This would work rather well on its own.
How to rate this? Well, I consider this to be a very good module, slightly tarnished by the map-components and few snafus, and as such, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up.
You can get this adventure here on OBS!
While my review is based on the PFRPG-version, there are other versions available:
The SFRPG-version can be found here!
The 5e-version can be found here!
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