Title: Pathfinder Adventure Path #164: Hands of the Devil (Abomination Vaults 2 of 3)
Publisher: Paizo Inc
Authors: Vanessa Hoskins, Ron Lundeen, Quinn Murphy, and Amber Stewart
Artists: Kiki Moch Rizky, João Fiuza, Vlada Hladkova, Robert Lazzaretti, Artur Nakhodkin, Christoph Peters,
Sandra Posada, Luis Salas Lastra, and Ernanda Souza
Genre: Second chapter of a Pathfinder fantasy/horror megadungeon
Pages: 92 pages
MSRP: $24.99 in softcover or $17.99 in PDF
Hands of the Devil continues The Abomination Vaults adventure path, introducing a more sophisticated gaming experience along the way.
Ruins of Gauntlight was a good old-fashioned dungeon crawler. Combat was king and player characters were free to wreak havoc with minimal consequence. As an experience, it offered spooky atmosphere and a steady but unrelenting difficulty curve, but not much else. While Hands of the Devil does keep combat as a key element, player characters now have the opportunity to flex skills in other realms as well. Dorianna’s plight is particularly compelling for its roleplay and problem-solving potential and its resolution is far more complicated than just a slash and loot.
In choosing to offer players non-combat-oriented solutions (e.g., directing the panicked poltergeists to the surface rather than doing battle), Hands of the Devil encourages a more thoughtful and nuanced approach to the experience. There’s more opportunity to really engage with the town and its residents, and there are consequences for bad player-character behavior. There’s also a nice structural nod to the notion of Chekov’s Gun — the thieving blacksmith players must deal with in the opening act of the adventure comes to play a far more important role in its conclusion than most will see coming.
This doesn’t always mean things come off flawlessly, however. While the tavern in the middle of the Vaults is delightful, it feels tonally out of place. Though its impromptu battle of the bands style perform-off is potentially the best opportunity for memorable roleplaying in the path so far and, again, serves as a memorable opportunity for other skills to shine, it just doesn’t click with many of the more horrifying elements of the setting. Admittedly, this may be an intentional choice; Pathfinder, as a general rule, is not a horror-oriented game line.
True to form, “Hands of the Devil” is easy to read on screen and benefits from a plethora of full-color illustrations — including no shortage of female characters appropriately attired for battle and a truly rocking band. Paizo’s layout style keeps information close at hand and navigation-friendly. Supporting articles and the Adventure Toolbox offer GMs new tricks to add into their rotation even after the conclusion of the path.
Hands of the Devil is a fun and stylish elevation of the elements first seen in Ruins of Gauntlight. Benefiting from stronger roleplay opportunities, even a mild case of tonal dissonance doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor. The adventure sets up for a strong conclusion to the overall path and leaves the door open for more interesting narrative consequences at the GM’s discretion.