Legendary Planet Adventure Path Compilation
Okay, so this review will diverge from my usual format, as I’ve already covered the entirety of the AP. As befitting of a review of the campaign as a whole, I’ll focus on the overarching entity, the AP as a whole, if you will. I’ll also provide some brief commentary on the individual modules in relation to the campaign.
It should be noted that I’ve been a backer of this campaign, and that I backed for PF1e – not because I liked 5e or SFRPG less, but because the pitch of the sword and planet AP using mythic rules really tickled my fancy. As such, the following is based on the PF1e-version of the AP.
If you take a look at my ratings of the AP-installments, you’ll notice that I LIKE this series. Very much. That being said, this doesn’t mean that the AP doesn’t have some issues, so what follows should be taken in context – the AP does many things that Paizo APs suffer from as well, and the dissection to follow of some components stem from a position of someone enjoying the campaign’s individual installments. Still, I can very much picture that some people would have issues with some aspects of the series. This review should be understood as me vocalizing my issues with the entirety of the AP as a cohesive whole.
As such, the following will contain SERIOUS SPOILERS for the entirety of the AP. I won’t go into *details* per se (that’s what the individual reviews are for), but you get the gist. If you want to play in this AP, please stop reading NOW.
All right, only GMs around? Great!
So, the first thing you need to know about the AP, is that, while there are two ways to start this, only one of them is actually viable on a narrative level.
One of these was the notion of starting with “To Worlds Unknown”, with the module starting essentially in medias res. This is per se a solid *IDEA*, but that’s all it is, as the AP’s main motivation for the VAST majority of the AP is easily the weakest aspects of it – the primary assumed motivation for the PCs is that they “do the E.T.”: They want to go home. I’m so not kidding. If I’d be in the PC’s shoes, I’d be happy.
They are thrust into this wondrous, fantastic series of planets, and still, they are assumed to want home as a driving force – only that, at one point towards the end of the campaign, they suddenly are supposed to want to end the threat of the evil civilization to save, bingo, their home.
Even if, by manner of party consensus outgame you can get your party to go that route, this very tenuous thread of connective tissue makes no sense when starting with “To Worlds Unknown.” This weak core motivation also invalidates pretty much all the options in the Player’s Guide, which you btw. also should not hand out to the players if you choose the introduction that actually does work:
“The Assimilation Strain” was billed as an optional prologue, when it’s anything but “optional” – it’s mandatory.
It establishes the PCs in their own world, ideally with the players thinking that we’re going for a regular fantasy campaign. Then, the Ultari Hegemony and their allied races happen to the world – though that is not evident at first. The Assimilation Strain transitions from cookie-cutter fantasy opening to horror via a bait and switch, and then switches things up once more, as the PCs find the Sword & Planet source and enter the genre properly, if you will. This mirrors the classic trope of the genre, establishes the PC’s home, and also the danger that can befall their home if the Hegemony is not stopped.
This prologue thus establishes the tenuous thread that will have to hold for the vast majority of the campaign.
Do not skip it.
Ideally, you know your players well enough so you can judge whether they’d like the AP, and pull off this bait and switch – if it works, it works REALLY, REALLY well. Again, do not skip it.
“To Worlds Unknown” begins with the same relatively dark theme and goes for a prison break, while then establishing the largest strength of the AP for the majority of its run:
Its, for the most part, pitch-perfect grasp of the whole Sword & Planet genre. The planets evoke wonder, are marvelous, and add stunning set-piece to stunning set-piece. The sense of wonder is excellent.
If exploration of wondrous vistas is what you’re looking for in the AP, then rest assured that this’ll deliver in spades.
Indeed, the first 3 adventures focus on this sense of wonder: “To Worlds Unknown” is the establishing shot; “The Scavenged Codex” is a huge scavenger hunt for an important item, and “Dead Vault Descent’s” tide-locked planet is FANTASTIC in the best ways.
This first third of the AP has few issues – “The Scavenged Codex” forces the PCs to work with a truly despicable NPC early on, and this might rub some people the wrong way; that being said, this railroad can be managed to an extent by a capable GM. “Dead Vault Descent” is a fantastic adventure, but it actually does not progress the story. It’s a clear “You princess…äh…way home is in another castle…äh, on another planet”-scenario. Other than that, I consider the start to be super promising. However, one of the weaknesses of the AP would be that it, like MANY, MANY Paizo APs, lacks unifying tissue and consequence. “The Scavenged Codex” and “Dead Vault Descent” both set up significant consequences for the worlds they take place on – consequences that are of no real concern thereafter. Similarly, like many Paizo Aps, one can’t help but get a sense of an episodic structure – the modules aren’t particularly well-linked, nor do consequences between modules carry over particularly well.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Player’s Guide feels oddly tacked on to the AP. It doesn’t do a good job at providing alternate motivations for alien PCs that did not go through the prologue. The alien PC races are pretty darn strong, and as replacement characters, well, that’d work in a way. It’d have been nice to get some suggestions from where such characters derive the unique mythic power that allows for instant adaptation to other worlds, though. Introducing new PCs could have been handled better. Speaking of adaption: I may well eb alone with this, but I *like* survival aspects, so a hard mode where the PCs don’t get this ability to instantly adapt to new planets would have been an awesome addition for groups that enjoy dealing with minutiae, hazards and the like, who want planning matter more. Oh well.
Making the new bodies the consequence of experimentation between Prologue and “To Worlds Unknown”, perhaps with some negative consequences as well, could have rendered the whole “Bring down the Hegemony”-angle more personal. But yeah, if you hand out this guide alongside the prologue, you’re spoiling things, and a player’s guide should NEVER spoil the AP.
These first three installments are what I’d call the “Wonder-Arc” – it’s all about the wonder of these realms, high pulp, high danger, all awesome, all with different themes. “Dead Vault Descent” in particular stands out, its tidelocked planet and challenges eliciting a sense of melancholy. foreshadowing the night to come.
Oh boy. “Confederates of the Shattered Zone” – in hindsight, I should have rated this one lower. It’s a full-blown thematic whiplash. Suddenly, we travel into a quasi-space-Victorian setting that can be best likened to the videogame “Sunless Skies”, save with quasi-Nazis thrown in; it’s oppressive, grimy, and takes some cues from the Pathologic franchise (which I LOVE) in its strangely, yet compellingly-dissonant and anachronistic elements. It’s an industrial age nightmare in space. I should love it to bits, but I really, really don’t. Richard Pett is a fantastic author, and his dark visions are haunting – but here, it simply doesn’t fit the tone of any other part of the AP. At least not in how it’s implemented. The massive module establishes a baseline of factions and implies a long-term game here, but can’t develop it properly; in many ways, this feels like a mega-adventure in its own right, cut down to module size…which really hurts the module and its overall place in the AP. If you run the AP as written, I’d *STRONGLY* suggest expanding the entire section, so it can actually start to shine; or, well, if you cut any module from the AP, it probably should be this one.
Also, because it then adds this weird kyton-fueled Hellraiser-ish angle towards the end, including what should be a cataclysmic event for the PCs, something that should be a huge climax, but which is ultimately relegated to a few paragraphs of text, when it should be a whole sequence of its own, with rules, challenges, etc. – I really don’t get why the finale here is a cut-scene, prefaced with a pretty vanilla dungeon. Cut the dungeon, make the cut-scene-ish finale rules-relevant.
I love this setting, this module’s potential, but its implementation left me less enthused. I really, really dislike it in the context of this AP. It doesn’t fit in either with the first half of the AP (including the horror-ish prologue!), nor with the second half of the AP. It’s this odd middle part of the AP that feels excessive and suddenly dark just for the sake of being dark.
Its end also implies consequences that, bingo, aren’t ever properly touched upon again.
Again, I’d love to see an AP in this setting, but as part of the Legendary Planet AP? Well, here, I genuinely think that it suffers from obvious cuts, and/or from ambition exceeding the scope of what the formula can provide. It also reads like it was supposed to have more pronounced consequences on the overall plot, which I don’t really see happening.
Thankfully, the second arc of the AP, which I’d dub “The War against the Hegemony” once more takes up the themes that fit the saga per se better. The war beneath the waves depicted in “The Depths of Desperation” is epic once more in the heroic, wondrous sense; supported by mass combat rules and conflicts with ginormous foes, this is a great turning point in the dynamics; “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” further builds on this: Tim Hitchcock delivers pretty much Sword & Planet themes in a nigh-perfect manner; he gets it. The original pdf release was pretty flawed in formal aspects, felt rushed regarding several rules-components, but these glitches have been dealt with, rendering this a high point of the saga. (Even though I still maintain that getting high-level PCs to engage in a regular dungeon crawl isn’t that smart.) Still, kudos to Legendary Games for making this one shine. I just wished that the last pass had been executed before I had my backer copy of the massive hardcover sent to me…hope this’ll be handled differently for Aegis of Empires.
And then, there is “To Kill a Star” – a milestone of an epic high-level adventure, this finale of the AP very much justifies running the campaign.
It’s epic in all the right ways.
I’m super happy with this finale in pretty much all ways. It’s a mega-adventure in its own right, and an excellent one that doesn’t try to limit the party, instead working with its vast capabilities.
My one complaint with the second arc of the AP is its sequence, not in plot, but in narrative escalation: In “Mind-Tyrants of the Merciless Moon”, we have the high-level translation of themes and playstyle from the first arc: It’s about the wonder of the strange places, brutal combats, and splices in some more epic scales. I love that. The problem is that it follows a module featuring a full-blown war against the Hegemony. We have a war in” Depths of Desperation”, with the PCs taking on armies and huge threats, and the move back towards the wondrous explorer/resistance angle, striking at a key asset of the Hegemony. In some ways, this sequence feels like a scaling back; having the escalation move and build organically from the mostly personal level in Mind Tyrants to the global in Depths to the interplanetary in “To Kill a Star” would have kept the sense of escalation intact.
So, whenever someone asks me whether I’d recommend this AP, I ask two questions:
- 1) Do you want a strong story, or are wondrous locales more important to you?
Because Legendary Planet excels at presenting the sense of wide-eyed wonder that I want out of the genre. The plots WITHIN the modules all work well enough..
But its overarching story, particularly considering what connects the modules and consequences that carry over? In that regard, the AP is pretty damn weak. For comparison, I reread a couple of Paizo APs, and saw many similar issues in a lot of them, which, I think, may stem from the fact that the direction of the individual authors needs to be stricter, or more focused, or both. Or, well, someone to actually rewrite the completed AP to tie things all together and make it, you know, a narrative where story-threads matter.
While certainly not perfect, particularly in the mechanical aspects (which SUCK!), the Zeitgeist AP, for example, does this a lot better – keeping NPCs and how the party acted relevant. Implementing consequence. Legendary Planet is not good at that. I wouldn’t recommend this AP to someone looking for a captivating story.
Villain-wise, the Hegemony is no more or less plausible than comparable villain-civilizations like Star Trek’s borg or Star Wars’ empire; I had no problem suspending my disbelief in how they work, and particularly when they actually become proactive, i.e. in “Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons” and “To Kill a Star”, they really came off as supremely dangerous. It’s this looming presence throughout, but, like in many Paizo APs, there isn’t much chance to establish direct opposition early on – however, I didn’t care as much here, because the enemy, well, is the Hegemony. An empire. Not a single enemy, and as such, you’re not expected to create a personal rapport. That’s a smart angle. But back to the second question:
- 2) How good are your players at PFRPG?
Legendary Planet excels, with no doubt in my mind, and beyond what many comparable series offer, in the mechanics department. This AP makes perfect use of potential that only the uneven, wide-open math of PFRPG offers, of all those plentiful options, to provide truly challenging and evocative combat. I can’t reference a single campaign that consistently manages to hit this precarious level of being truly challenging for veteran players without becoming unfair or simply an assortment of save-or-sucks. While the story may not be true impressive, the overall DESIGN of the challenges herein tends to end up in the highest tiers.
This is particularly impressive, considering the escalation that mythic gameplay adds to these aspects. You might need to do some fixing on a narrative level; but unlike the Zeitgeist AP, you won’t have to redesign a whole atrociously-bad subengine or fix combats and stat highest-tier, huge monsters. Legendary Planet’s combats are meticulously-crafted for strategy, tactics, etc., and supremely-rewarding in that manner.
If your players tend to curmbstomp through Paizo-APs, then this’ll get that excitement back to the table’s combats. Unlike in most published modules, I only very rarely had to optimize enemies, slap templates on them, etc. – this is, design-wise, one of the best campaigns I’ve seen.
To summarize: While the individual stories told in the modules work well enough, the overarching story of the AP is easily its weakest component. It’s weak regarding consequences that transcend modules and doesn’t have proper decision-based branching on a micro-or macro-level going on.
On the plus-side, the creativity of the wondrous expanses is top-tier, the pacing within individual adventures is great, and the variety of challenges posed is evocative and great. This handles the wonder, the sense of being thrust into unknown worlds, exceedingly well; it hits its genre aesthetics and tropes really well, and in a concise manner. For the most part. (*cough* Confederates */cough*)
If you’re looking for a challenge and can take the AP for what it is, it offers a truly fun campaign.
I you want an intricately-woven, intelligent storyline beyond the narrative shortcomings many comparable APs offer, I’d recommend choosing another campaign to run.
I can see this AP clock in as anything, ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars for an individual group.
Personally, the excellence regarding design components helps me forgive the issues in the narrative.
On a plus-side, the flaws in the overall story being not that intricate do mean that AP is super easy to dismantle, expand, and scavenge from – it’s very easy to replace components of the saga, exchange them with your own material or other modules, or elaborate upon an individual chapter.
How, then, am I supposed to rate this AP, as a whole, as opposed to my ratings for the individual chapters? In the end, I think that the weaknesses in the overarching narrative fabric of the AP needs to be represented in some way in the final verdict.
To state this once more – for me, as a person, this works well; I can deal with the narrative, expand upon regions, add consequences, etc. If you enjoy the like, then this may well be a 5 star + seal level AP for you.
But I can’t write my reviews based solely with this perspective in mind. As such, my final verdict of the entire saga as a whole, as opposed to individual installments, would usually not exceed 4 stars, but there is another factor to this: Pricing. Considering the amount of content, this AP is a steal. We get art and map folios, and the equivalent 0f 8 (!!) modules, with the finale being a mega-adventure in its own right, for $50 in pdf; $109.99 pdf + print. This is a STEAL. This has more than 700 pages of top-tier content. (Not counting the art and map folios that are super helpful in the age of COVID…) For that price. You don’t have to be a math savant to realize how good this bang-for-buck ratio is. Hence, I feel justified in adding at least half a star, and round up. Oh, and the AP gets my seal of approval. IT’s not perfect, but I still love it to bits.
You can get this massive saga here on OBS!
While my review is based on the PFRPG-version, there also is a 5E-version, which you can find here!
The Starfinder version of the AP is not yet finished as per the writing of this review.
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