Title: The Fall of Plaguestone
Publisher: Paizo Inc
Author: Jason Bulmahn
Illustrators: Setiawan Lie, Miguel Regodón Harkness, Hai Hoang, William Liu, Firat Solhan, and Vicky Yarova
Genre: Roleplaying adventure
Pages: 63 pages
Price: $22.99 Print Edition; 15.99 PDF
Designed for Pathfinder’s second edition, what begins as a straightforward murder mystery quickly spirals into a race against time in The Fall of Plaguestone.
Plaguestone, otherwise known as Etran’s Folly, is a town struggling to survive after having been decimated by a plague more than twenty years ago. Reminders of the devastation are everywhere, from the sparse population, to the crumbling abandoned homes of the dead, toe the titular stone itself, once used as a means to leave food and other aid for the sick and dying.
The world presented in Plaguestone is rich and rife with detail, and the plot genuinely compelling. However, in the interest of preserving the experience for players, this will be a spoiler-free review.
Intended as an adventure for first level characters, the scenario offers a nice mix of combat and other more social or skill-based challenges. Though players face no shortage of foes, they are also tasked with solving a pressing mystery and can stumble upon any number of included sidequests. The difficulty ramps nicely, and the scenario does its best to ensure combat is treated as a sensory-rich experience, rather than as a protracted series of dice rolls. Regardless of player class, everyone has the opportunity to shine — assuming, as always, that the dice are in a mood to cooperate.
Pacing is well-handled, with downtime able to expand or contract as needed. The scenario’s structure ensures that, in building towards the final confrontation, players have the opportunity to rest and recuperate, giving them the opportunity to experiment with new abilities and skills in battle. This also helps to acquaint new players with Pathfinder’s particular combat mechanics, which may be more involved than some players, even those familiar with fifth-edition D&D, may expect.
In many regards, Plaguestone is designed for newbie GMs as much as for new players. Callout boxes provide helpful suggestions and scene-by-scene breakdowns help to highlight what matters most. Clear writing, memorable NPCs, and vivid location descriptions provide a solid foundation for the first-time GM while still giving their more experienced counterparts ample room to improvise. The sidequests are a wonderful way to give individual players a chance to shine and can easily be worked into supporting the main plotline. More experienced GMs may wish to deviate from the details, adding flavor, enemies, and other elements as they deem appropriate; additional interactions between NPCs for players to observe, question, and even participate in are facilitated by the inclusion of detailed profiles of the townsfolk.
The text itself benefits from an easy-to-read layout, including story-appropriate borders that enhance rather than distract. Bolded text and consistent formatting for hazards and monsters helps ensure key details are easy to find and reference. Plaguestone’s atmospheric, monster, and character art is gorgeous, and deserves to be appreciated. Many NPCs are accompanied by a full color portrait, which could be printed from the PDF and used as a standee. The included full-color maps are detailed and similarly beautiful in their rendering, helping players to better envision their characters within a space.
Plaguestone does, however, suffer from some editing errors in its text. While there’s nothing to significantly impact readability or playability, it can be jarring to come across a sentence like “there is no way for observes to detect” or “Delma rung the Feedmill, the town’s only tavern.” In a publication that’s otherwise polished in appearance and execution, this is surprising and a little disappointing, but no great cause for concern.
The Fall of Plaguestone is a fun and exciting adventure that works as a strong introductory scenario for both players and GMs. The use of early and well-spaced combat should prevent any “murder hobo” behavior while the social and investigative aspects encourage players to think beyond combat. Plaguestone should be praised for its ability to work as either a standalone story or as a jumping off point to a longer campaign; by the time those new to Pathfinder have come to the end of their quest, they’ll not only have a strong understanding of the system itself, but whether or not it meets their needs as a player. If it is, wonderful — perhaps one of the citizens of Etran’s Folly has another quest; if not, the campaign reaches a satisfying conclusion all the same.