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Title: Pathfinder Adventure Path #201 – Pactbreaker (Wardens of Wildwood #1 of 3)

Publisher: Paizo Inc

Authors: Andrew White with John Compton, Diego Valdez, and Josh Foster

Artists: Rodrigo Gonzalez Toledo, Wilmar Ballespí Escarp, Ekaterina Gordeeva, Robert Lazzaretti, Justine Nortjé, Riccardo Rullo, and Elisa Serio

Year: 2024

Genre: First chapter of the new Pathfinder wilderness themed fantasy roleplaying campaign

Pages: 96 pages

MSRP: Softcover $26.99 or $19.99 in PDF

Mechanically, author Andrew White does a stellar job balancing player-directed and structured narrative. The opening act takes on an almost sandbox-like quality while still benefitting from a clear sense of narrative direction and purpose. The variety of options on offer cater to a range of builds and classes, ensuring that everyone at the table has a fair shot at a crowning moment of awesome. The second act also allows for a high degree of customization, as events are largely left to unfold at the GM’s discretion. While the paths do, by their very nature, have a limited number of end states to each adventure, the freedom afforded by this degree of agency does ensure the story evolves in a way that feels organic rather than railroaded.

By starting players at fifth level, there is an explicit invitation to craft characters who are worldly enough to have earned their skills, characters who come with history. The stars of Pactbreaker are not plucky greenhorns, but experienced journeymen — and the experience is stronger for it.

Thematically, Pactbreaker continues Paizo’s commitment to bringing issues of substance to the table without devolving into a moralizing after-school special. Wardens is unapologetic in its language, referring to “relentless settlers” and “oft-ignored treaties.” The slow degradation of the Verduran Forest to the demands of outsiders calls to mind not only the plight of real indigenous peoples the world over, but also the rather pressing environmental catastrophes wreaking havoc across the globe. The questions that lurk just below the surface –matters of who gets to resist, who gets to defend, and what violence is an acceptable price in either case– aren’t easy to reckon with and, though they never overwhelm the storytelling, they are likely to provoke some thorny discussions of morality, both around the table and away from it.
Despite this, Pactbreaker is not a morality play. It is not a lecture couched in a tabletop roleplaying game. There is tremendous fun to be had and plenty of adventure to undertake. The border art captures the feel of the Verduran Forest and the art pieces speak of joy far more than tension.

The additional material, including a special section on Arboreals and one on the Verduran Forest, enrich not only the adventure itself, but open the setting up for further use beyond the scope of the path.

Pactbreaker strikes a difficult balance, celebrating player-driven action while still providing sufficient rails to ensure a purpose. Its rich and resonant story offers opportunities for memorable roleplay while still setting up the second and third acts. While there will always be detractors towards Paizo’s social conscious stance, Pactbreaker is a well-crafted and compelling experience that argues the issues of the real world have a place at the table, even if they come couched in fantastical dressings. For those who appreciate good storytelling, Pactbreaker is a no-brainer, setting the stage for an exciting path to come.

1 Comment

  1. Always looking forward to these reviews. Fantastic work Sami. Thank you! That sandbox element caught my attention. The fact that it’s a 3-part story makes it ideal for my table. Looking forward to reading the next AP!

    Reply

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