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Pathfinder Adventure Path: Hellknight Hill (Age of Ashes 1 of 6) (P2) Paperback – Aug. 1 2019
- Publisher : Paizo Inc.; 2 edition (Aug. 1 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 96 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1640781730
- ISBN-13 : 978-1640781733
- Item weight : 306 g
- Dimensions : 27.94 x 21.59 x 0.64 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #114,802 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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First, the positives:
- The basic premise of the adventure is fine, and the overarching plot of the AP is intriguing enough.
- The maps are high quality and fit the module well, being more evocative of place than any of the writing.
- The art is generally well done, although mismatched to descriptions at times, and paling in comparison to that used in the Core Rulebook and Bestiary of 2E.
- The author does a good job anticipating the mechanics that can be used in various situations and giving the possible results, though there's a bit of an over-reliance here. Sometimes, if there's no real uncertainty, it's ok to just give a result without a meaningless dieroll.
- The interaction with Alak is very well done, and I especially like the ways you can curry his favor.
- The varying histories of Breachill was a creative touch.
- The Adventure Toolbox in the back of the module is very useful and well done. It's meant as a fluid amalgamation of the end-of-module pieces in 1E paths (bestiary, religions, institutions, etc.). Especially well done is Mengkare's story.
Now on to the issues:
- Writing is utilitarian and functional at best, with basic, un-evocative prose.
- Page borders lack the thematic and evocative creativity of older APs. These are just boring.
- Where is the city statblock for Breachill? Depressing that city statblocks have apparently been dropped.
- Ham-handed goblin-inclusion narrative, complete with "puppy-dog eyes" on illustrations of goblins. Apparently, everyone is completely comfortable around goblins, despite the Goblinblood Wars having taken place a mere 20 years ago. Compare that to the (at times) militant passion many residents feel about the town's founder, who left 170 years ago.
- Villains seem utterly incompetent, with nonsensical decisions and choices built into the plot.
- Nonsensical treasure inclusion in ruined citadel (ex A3, Bugbear has +7 Perception but misses treasure in its lair), with far too much of value left behind by the supposedly organized and vigilant Order of the Nail.
- Description for Alak doesn't match art - he's carrying a greatsword, not a halberd. He's also not wearing full Hellknight armor, though the picture depicts him doing so.
- The usual and unfortunate Paizo gender activism is present, with the vast majority of the "leaders" in the module being female for some reason, detracting from the verisimilitude of the setting. (-1 star)
- The feel of the module is very cutesy, with winsome kobolds as comedic relief, doe-eyed cuddly goblins, etc.
- Plot points are communicated in an overly simplistic manner, seeming spelled out in large, bold letters by characters, monsters, and notes conveniently left behind. It almost feels as if this was written for a child.
- The whole adventure has a feel of innocence (think G or possibly PG rating) and does a poor job of conveying any uncomfortable emotions, such as menace, dread, foreboding, mystery, thrill, or even drama.
- No return of the Pathfinder's Journal, which IMO was one of the real strengths of 1E adventure paths until its unfortunate demise. The Journal often succeeded in setting mood and tone better even than the adventures themselves and gave keen insights into the lore of Golarion.
- Breachill comes off as a very bland town, save for its ancient history. There is almost a dismissive lack of attention to detail with the town, as if players won't care or be interested, or as if gamemasters should do it all themselves. No, that's why we buy these products.
Basically, Hellknight Hill is a very bland module. This is becoming a recurring theme for Pathfinder, and I surmise this may be due to fear of making even a single player troubled with portrayals of any type of uncomfortable emotion. To me, this is like a chef who is overly fearful of making a dish too spicy for his customers and goes to the opposite extreme. So what we are left with here is a bland mush, where everything feels the same and nothing stands out. There is no "truth" or special character to a place or person - everything regresses to the mean, in the apparent name of safety and not offending anyone.
It didn't have to be this way though. The aforementioned Mengkare's story is full of flavor, obscure lore, and riveting plot. However, this all gets lost in translation in the execution of the actual adventure itself.
In conclusion, as the first AP for a new edition of the game, Hellknight Hill pales in comparison to Burnt Offerings, many people's first experience with 1E, and makes me yearn for the early writing of Jacobs, Schneider, Vaughan, and Pett.
Compare as well to 5E's maiden offering, Mines of Phandelver - a flavorful adventure full of interesting NPCs, and numerous side-quests and factions.
I'm hopeful, but not expectant, for better showings in future installments.