Legendary Planet VI: Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons
The sixth installment of the Legendary Planet AP clocks in at 100 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 3 pages of SRD, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of introduction, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 89 pages of content.
As always: I was a kickstarter backer of the Legendary Planet AP, but not in any way involved in the creation of this AP.
One should also note that the book comes with something amazing that should be industry standard: The book comes with an extra-pdf, a massive art and map folio that clocks in at 43 pages of content – all artwork and all maps are provided herein. I love this per se! Annoyingly, though, the art and map folio this time around is missing the most useful component: There are no player-friendly versions of the maps, which is jarring and something that should be rectified.
Structurally, the book follows the same approach as previous adventures, or the AP-formula: That is, we have a big adventure, some supplemental material, including new rules, and a well-written piece of fiction provided by Chris A. Jackson.
As always, let us take a look at that supplementary content first, with rules for advanced airships and vehicles first. As we start reading this, we learn about…Atoths? In a puzzling and glaring glitch, the flavor text of the atoths has been duplicated here as well, eating up 1/3 of the page with flavor that should not be here. As far as I could glean, this did not overwrite the intended content at least; still a puzzling oversight. The article codifies modes of propulsion by minimum tech level, and establishes three general speed categories. Toxicity and risk of propulsion are also covered, and a concise table allows you to have enough frames of reference to properly determine rules for exotic fuels, etc. 5 sample ships are provided, including a new gun. Apart from the paragraph snafu of the errant creature description, a rather neat article.
The gazetteer this time focuses on the domed city of Emirist-Tar, largest and most advanced of the city-states of Tarthos. The city gets a full settlement statblock, and we learn that both Atmospheredron and Aquadron are actually beyond the capabilities of the people here; while the city is domed, the interior of the dome is only inhabited by the upper class, with the outer plateau and mines beyond. The perimeter of the mountain is ringed by the kongrushu caves, carved out to house the draconic steeds of this caste. Society-wise, he have a transitory period that is currently emerging from feudalism, with a growing working class. All in all, this is a well-written little gazetteer that I wholeheartedly recommend the GM to read before running the module.
As always, we also have a section that features new items. This time around, we begin with the substance Orium, which can store up to 1 “psionic point” per 3 pounds. Rounded down, I assume. There is no such thing as “psionic points” – that’s supposed to be “power points”; furthermore, at the cost of weapon + 1000 gp, it is priced at the lowest tier of cognizance crystal, which is RIDICULOUS. A butchering axe weighs 25 lbs. That’s 8 power points storage for +1K gold; following the rules for cognizance crystals, this function alone should cost 20,500 GP, not accounting for being integrated in the weapon! That’s seriously broken. Cerebral collars occupy neck and head, and are a particularly vicious take on the slaver-collar trope, specifically geared towards slave soldiers. Ithosian golem armor is a prestige object usually only provided to the Queen’s Guard of Ithos, as the armor is surgically affixed to the individual, with integrated blades that can also be used as shields – pretty cool, per se, particularly since weapon AND shield function can be separately enchanted! I do have one question, though: What type of weapon are they? Do they require their own Weapon Focus, for example? What if a wearer of the armor isn’t proficient with shields, or martial weapons?
The particulate synthesizer is pretty damn cool, as it lets you generate very small quantities of artificial substances The supplement also sports rules for photon blasters, essentially blinding guns (nice); plasma javelins state “Whenever it strikes a target it ignores hardness and deals 3d6 fire damage before burning out and becoming useless, ignoring hardness of less than 20 and dealing double damage to objects with a hardness of 10 or less.” That “ignores hardness” is here twice, and oddly, the verbiage does not mention the 3d6 electricity damage here – does only the fire damage ignore hardness here? A clarification would be nice. Ultari broadswords, finally, are pretty ridiculous: They are exotic one-handed swords with a damage of 1d10 for Medium wielders, and they are better orium blades, with a storage of 1 + double enhancement bonus (should be 2 per default orium rules, but I assume that to be intentional); additionally, if the wielder confirms a critical hit, the target must succeed on a Reflex save (DC 10 + wielder’s BAB (!!) + weapon enhancement bonus or become flat-footed “until the end of the wielder’s turn.” Okay, so what if you crit on an AoO? I am pretty sure that this exceedingly powerful benefit at least at one point should have required an immediate or swift action to pull off the high-DC save to avoid becoming flat-footed. The sword costs only 2,335 gp and also sports a dual damage type, slashing and piercing. *sigh* This needs some cleaning up.
While we’re speaking of the Ultar: They are one of the entries in the new monsters-chapter, co-penned y Mike Welham. They can drain targets of Wisdom (kitten-proof!) and use that power to fuel their psi-like abilities and to enhance psionic powers, but not to actually manifest them. Clever. The second species herein would be the bat-like humanoids known as onaryx, whose write-up starts off with an odd section: It lists alignment, CR, Speed, etc. – so the base statistics, as well as ecology, but nothing else. Particularly weird since the alignment deviates from the one the proper statblocks all feature; any way, the sample stats provided are for CR 3, 6 and 11. The onaryx undergo a metamorphosis as they age, and behave functionally closer to how dragons do in their depiction, which explains the odd starting block. Onaryx get scaling sonic cries, which are grouped by age category. These are pretty potent and interesting and allow for a wide differentiation between them, as there are 5 categories of such cries for onaryx of ever-increasing power. Formally, one of them is missing the italics its name should have, and there’s a spell-reference missed in a disintegrate-ing cry, but functionally, they work. As damn tech-versed and capable flyers, they are interesting. Weird, though: The mature one seems to have an incorrect DC for their sonic cries, and the plasma javelins wielded by the dread and elder statblocks use stats other than the plasma javelin introduced herein. Weird inconsistency.
Beyond these, we have the primitive leaping saurian humanoids known as karn-tor and stats for the CR 7 golem conveyance, a flying thing that comes with restraining tentacles – essentially, a harvester-type construct with subduing gas, etc. Really cool! On the grotesque side of things, we have the CR 8 Ceroptor: These things are essentially a blend of grick (stingered tentacles) and penanggalan – i.e. they are heads that can pilot decapitated heads by bodying them – and yes, we get a bodied statblock. And yes, they get psionic abilities. Their unique physiology also makes them surprisingly difficult to finally get rid of if played properly. Finally, at CR 19, we have the atoth, a hideous, Large headless humanoid with a gaping maw where the head’s supposed to be; these things are incorporeal and can sense the discorporation of mortal souls from their body with a range of 1 million miles…and they have the ability to open holes in reality to the nightmare rift – a truly frightening, deadly adversary indeed. Love them…particularly since they are tied to the ceroptor species in their genesis; these two are BY FAR some of the coolest monsters in the whole AP.
Anyhow, as always for the module, we have read-aloud text for the module. The adventure begins with level 17 mythic tier 4 characters, and by the end of it, they should have level 19 and their 5th mythic tier, provided they’re using the Medium advancement track.
As always, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion.
All right, only GMs around? Great! At this point, the PCs know quite a bit about the ancient progenitor race of the Patrons, and they have just dealt a crushing defeat to the forces of the mighty Hegemony, by repelling the bil’djooli invasion in an epic underwater war. The module thus begins with the PCs in a planning session with the Accord, trying to spearhead a counter-offensive into the Hegemony’s defensive position. The PCs travel to Ithos, which orbits the gas giant Qanna, an erstwhile hub-world of the Patrons, with numerous gates on the varying moons. The module begins with a bang and a mass combat against the defensive forces of the Hegemony, one interrupted when the Ithosians intervene. Highly xenophobic, their arrival seems odd – and the PCs are taken to the people’s queen; this includes some minor intrigue and trouble-shooting advice for PCs sufficiently arrogant. Due to the culture’s taboos, the PCs will have to brave the Akrot and the endless tunnel to get to the gate they’re after – but to do so, they’ll have to beat The Guardian – a brutal mythic savage golok. Getting full stats for the fellow instead of abbreviated ones would have been nice.
On the other side of the sheer endless tunnel, the PCs have a chance to crash the genetics lab of the jagladine. The traps and combat challenges here can be brutal – know how e.g. vivisectionists can become pretty nasty? Well, what about an encounter with 3 CR 14 vivis? Or one that also has a bunch of vitalist (soulthief method) levels? This is easily one of the most technical and challenging dungeons in the AP so far. Somewhat to my chagrin as a person, the usual PC tools at this level aren’t really accounted for. There are no defenses versus teleportation, for example, and the lab, apart from its potent inhabitants, is generally not defended well regarding global effects, which struck me as somewhat odd. It is understandable, considering the location and actions of the Ithosians, so it makes sense in-game, to a degree – or well, heck, perhaps the intent here was to allow the PCs to go to town on a relatively “regular” dungeon and show off their ability to shape the place.
Having torn up the dungeon, the PCs now get to use the gate to the fortress Ithos-Crin on the moon Morthos and the Hegemony’s stronghold there – provided they survive the Hegeomy’s forces in Ithos-Crin. The PCs are to contact a group of prisoners who are trying to flee the moon by means of a risky psionic ritual – on the jump to Tathos, the PCs will run afoul of aforementioned mighty Atoth. (No, psionic ritual not included, rules-wise.)
EDIT, since I should have made that clearer: The Atoth as a creature is obviously intended to punish teleportation and provide a reason for the PCs to use other venues; this is, at the very latest, made very clear in the next section, where a sidebar actually does state that mighty Atoths will come – in this section. That being said, the remainder of the module does not sport this threat, and the settings featured herein don’t explicitly provide a metric beyond this encounter for when to throw Atoths at the PCs. RAW, there is no threat of them intervening beyond the first scene, so in a way, the Atoth encounter is a bluff, rather than a consistent threat, and depending on the PC builds, one that will be called. So if you have teleport/skirmishing specialists, be aware of that.
Provided they live through that, they will arrive in an ancient ruin occupied by the saurian karn-tor, who are plotting to march on the city of Emirist-Tar, the very city the PCs seek! The PCs will need to arrive at the city before things are too late, and do that through rather deadly terrain. In the city, they get to do some much welcome social roleplaying, before defending the city in an epic large-scale combat from the saurian horde. If the PCs are not killed here, they’ll still have only won a reprieve from the onslaught of the hegemony’s vast forces – and thus, another moon’s up, which is, bingo, dangerous, and houses a well-executed encounter with surprisingly creepy seers, who task the PCs to reactivate a gate on Tathos. Even in strange caverns, the Hegemony’s spies loom, and the PCs will have to brave the mighty spirits of a strange culture, requesting offerings and tests…and provided the PCs best this section, they will be off to the finale, the hollow core of the mighty gas giant Qanna, where BRUTAL ceroptor swarms await as a welcome committee. From mystic, we move to high-tech, as this is where psionics, a neat switch-puzzle, the archive of living brains and mighty general Shokar-Mar (CR 20/MR 2) await – you see, this place? It’s an ancient mobile gate! And it’s something the PCs will need if they want “To Kill a Star!”
Editing and formatting are neither on a formal, nor on a rules-language level as tight as usual for legendary games; on a formal level, the misplaced paragraphs, several instances of formatting snafus, missing blank spaces and the like generate an impression of a module that was somewhat rushed. On a rules-language level, we have some issues as well, particularly pertaining the new items and regarding some consistency. As noted before, the module comes with an extensive art and map folio, which is awesome. Artworks and maps are full color, with some old and new pieces used together. The cartography is full color is nice, but the lack of missing player-friendly maps, which usually are included in these modules, is another strike against the adventure.
High-level adventures are HARD to design. Extremely hard. The sheer amount of options and power the PCs have at their beck and call is brutal; plus, you need a pretty hardcore array of adversaries to challenge them. On this latter technical level, the module operates surprisingly well in play; moreover, the module provides troubleshooting advice in several instances, and uses scale, with armies clashing and PCs taking down legendary foes to drive how just how powerful they are. While pretty combat focused, the module does have social scenes and spices up things in various instances. That being said, the module, consciously or unconsciously, also presents a couple of places that operate like regular dungeons. Considering the capabilities of PCs to skip ahead and the absence of global effects that limit these, there’s a pretty good chance that the PCs will go through the dungeons, not as dictated by their structure, but by how they can wreck them. This makes sense for most of the dungeons herein, but not for the last one, which imho should have had some sort of contingency defensive tricks versus teleportation etc. – particularly since earlier non-dungeon sections did account for such abilities (EDIT for clarity:) with threats of the Atoth.
This is one of the things that plenty of Paizo modules also do, granted, but it is one of the aspects that render running these high-level modules somewhat problematic for many, many groups. Whether you consider this to be an issue or not depends on your playstyle, but for me, Depths of Desperation, with its more pronounced focus on boss encounters, politics and the like worked somewhat better. In short: Technically, regarding challenges posed in combat, I’d consider this to be a success; regarding the surrounding components to set these scenes up, expect to do some work. That being said, regarding flavor, switching of themes and consistency of the sword-and-planet tone, this is a fantastic module, with particularly the juxtaposition of the final two adventure areas driving perfectly home what the genre is all about. Tim Hitchcock delivers in spades here, and gets the epic scales of the module very well.
On the other hand, the whole adventure feels uncharacteristically rushed in the formal criteria, with quite a few guffaws on a formal and rules-level that have to cost this some of its thunder.
In spite of my criticism regarding dungeons and high-level PCs, it is how well this executes its theme which renders it one of my favorite modules in the AP regarding its overall settings and challenges; it really *gets* the genre. Indeed, had this been polished slightly more, it’d have been Top Ten candidate material. It breathes sword and planet fantasy. And frankly, it’s only due to the strength of the module’s overall themes, of its fearlessness to go all out, that I can justify not punishing this further for its shortcomings. Mind Tyrants of the Merciless Moons is an impressive, well-executed beast, but one that deserved better; I hope it’ll get another pass to clean up its hiccups. As provided, I can’t rate this higher than 3.5 stars. I’ll round up, though, as the module simply does not deserve being relegated to the realms of being considered mid-tier. It is a flawed, rough gem.
You can get this adventure here on OBS!
While my review is based on the PFRPG-version, there also is a 5e-iteration.
You can find the 5e-version here on OBS!
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Oh, and “To Kill a Star”‘s review is coming this week as well!