Tabletop Review: Pathfinder: Risen From the Sands (Free RPG Day 2014)

Pathfinder: Risen From the Sands (Free RPG Day 2014)
Publisher: Paizo Publishing
Cost: FREE!
Page Count: 16
Release Date: 06/21/2014
Obtained at: The Compleat Strategist

So here’s the thing about Free RPG Day 2014. It’s meant to be a way to bring in new gamers, be they completely new to the hobby or just someone in search of a new game. Most Free RPG Day offerings involve Quick Start Rules, which teach the basics of a game and are accompanied by a short adventure. You get a taste of the real thing that will (hopefully) make you want to buy the core rulebook for the game you just tried. Other pieces are simply fully fleshed out adventures that you can’t really use without having the core rulebooks already. While these are much harder for someone new to use, the idea is that the gamer will be able to hook up with a GM at the store who can run the piece for them. Unfortunately in my experience, this rarely happens. The adventures of this nature, be they Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics or whatever, end up being more of a freebie/thank you for long time fans who support that system already. New gamers who don’t have many or even any friends in the hobby pick one of these up and are almost immediately lost because there is no attempt to educate the newcomer as to what they are look at and the pieces assume you already know the rules already. Even if the adventure is really well done, these pieces don’t do anything to bring newcomers into the fold, but they do at least reward the loyalty of the longtime player. Risen From the Sands, this year’s Pathfinder offering for Free RPG Day falls into the latter category. However, unlike the full-fledged adventures from other companies, Risen From the Sands is not very good and it’s an unabashed attempt to sell not just a core rulebook to players, but nearly a dozen books, all of which you will need to properly run the adventure.

Look, we all know that when it comes to fleecing gamers from their money, Paizo and Games Workshop are the two companies that get the most flack about being overpriced for what you get. Yet they both remain staggeringly popular despite the criticism. Some of the criticism for both companies is definitely warranted, while other bits of it are exaggerated or overblown in proportion. Unfortunately, Risen From the Sands really does highlight all the worst stereotypes about both Paizo and Pathfinder in general. Not only is this short adventure designed to sell you on the core rulebook if you don’t already own it. You’ll also need three different bestiaries to properly run the adventures and be familiar with the Osirion setting to some degree. Of course, as The Mummy’s Mask is the current Pathfinder Adventure Path, the book tries to sell you on that collection of six VERY overpriced adventures (MSRP of $22.99 in a day and age where adventures of similar size go for half that or less!), two different campaign setting books and a Player’s Companion Book. The cost of just the Osirion products? $53 plus $22.99 per each of the six Mummy’s Mask adventures. Grand total? $190.94 – and that doesn’t include the core rulebook or the three bestiaries mentioned. That adds another $170! So for this one free adventure, you’re being pitched roughly $360 worth of products! We’re not done yet. The book also tries a really hard sell of the upcoming Pathfinder RPG Advanced Class Guide which is another $40. That’s $400 in products that you either need or are prompted to purchase in this piece. Compare other games out there where the sell is simply for a $20-50 core rulebook. It’s crap like this which will scare off more newcomers than it brings in, not to mention further irritating the large group of gamers that rather dislike Pathfinder. Yet, which all this hard sell of hundreds of dollars of products, there is no attempt to pitch either the much cheaper and newcomer friendly Pathfinder Beginner’s Box OR the equally free Mummy’s Mask Player’s Guide. I mean, if Paizo was honestly and truly serious about bringing in newcomers they’d have at least mentioned some cost effective options to help learn the system instead of going out full tilt and saying “BUY ALL THIS TO ACTUALLY PLAY THE ADVENTURE RIGHT!” The end result is that Paizo comes off really sleazy and money hungry compared to say, Lamentations of the Flame Princess which also gave out a full length adventure but also links to free electronic versions of the core rulebook and last year’s free RPG offering, the controversial and award-winning Better Than Any Man. I’m sorry but Paizo NEEDS to be better than this and instead I lost a bit of respect for them with Risen From the Sands. This entire piece just felt very slimy. That doesn’t mean Paizo is slimy – just that the adventure is not the best piece to have out there for public relations purposes.

So let’s talk the adventure itself. It’s eight pages long and is a fairly generic dungeon crawl covered with Egyptian trappings. There are eighteen rooms to the dungeon, and each features a different trap to avoid, puzzle to solve or monster to cut down. Sometimes it will feature more than one of the above. Eventually you get your way to the end boss which you cut down and then…that’s the end. This really is a hack and slash affair where the emphasis is completely on roll-playing and there is little to no opportunity for role-playing. The story hook is that your characters are tomb robbers and you decide to plunder an ancient tomb. Like I said, this is a pretty generic piece and has been done countless times, albeit usually as a dungeon or castle rather than with a pyramid twist (although this too has been done pretty regularly). Even the back story is pretty terrible as you have a wise good king turned insane and psychotically evil from the mummification process – which makes absolutely no sense, even in the world of Pathfinder. Why not actually have a good mummy? Why does it have to be evil? AD&D had good liches and there are many games with good aligned mummies from Dungeon World to their various incarnations in the World of Darkness. Even as a paint by numbers piece with a threadbare plot, this could have been a LOT better. The adventure establishes the players as tomb raiders or explorers. Why not leave the end boss good aligned and have the players (and thus their characters) react to the fact they mowed down good guys instead of faceless nameless canon fodder. That would be a memorable bit and show newcomers that a tabletop RPG isn’t as mindless as some turn based video game RPGs. Instead, we get an adventure that highlights everything wrong with this side of the fandom and nothing really positive.

Even the pre-generated characters are weird offshoots only longtime Pathfinder fans will find interesting or be able to understand. Newcomers will be completely lost. Also, to really use these characters to their full potential, you’ll need to buy and read that $40 Pathfinder RPG Advanced Class Guide. Ugh. Again, Paizo, why not just give people some fun archetypes that newcomers can easily understand and gravitate to instead of stuff geared solely for the people who already shell out over $100 a month to you anyway? I love the concept of the Investigator, buy why not just a simple thief? Why a swashbuckler with all these extra mechanics heavy rules instead of giving a new player a bloody fighter? Why not a simple Barbarian instead of a Bloodrager or a Cleric instead of a Warpriest who doesn’t even have any healing spells memorized. Nothing about Risen From the Sands is going to appeal to a brand new gamer or someone unfamiliar with Pathfinder. I mean, when one of your puzzles involves arranging a list of five sphinxes by Challenge Rating, you’re by no means writing the adventure for anyone but the most diehard of Pathfinder fans. Hell, don’t even get me started on a puzzle that can only be solved by bleeding together player knowledge and character knowledge instead of keeping them separate. That’s like one of the biggest RPG Faux Pas/cardinal sins you can do, but this adventure does it mindlessly.

Look, Risen From the Sands is free, but it’s not worth getting or playing even at that price unless you pretty much live, breathe and apologize for Pathfinder. I can’t find anything positive to say about this piece except for the top notch high quality production values that went into this. Fantastic art, full color glossy pages and so on. That pretty much just says that Risen From the Sands is all style and no substance, being more of a hard selling commercial for Pathfinder than White Dwarf is for Warhammer 40,000. Risen From the Sands does everything wrong and nothing right and I really regret having picked it up. I could have reviewed the 13th Age or Time Travel Dinosaur instead. It’s hard to believe I loved the offering for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game so much and was just disgusted with Risen From the Sands. Paizo’s mindset with this Free RPG Day 2014 offering makes no sense whatsoever. It’s a bad adventure in every way an adventure CAN be bad. Now that doesn’t mean Paizo is bad. They have put out a lot of great products and if you’re new to RPGs, definitely consider their Beginner’s Box. They just really screwed the pooch with THIS adventure. If you can, try and get We Be Goblins! from last year. It was far more fun and a lot better in terms of quality and exposure for newcomers. It sucks that Paizo put out a product that actually enforces the negative stereotypes about Pathfinder, but what can you do except be glad you didn’t get or review this.

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