Book 5 of this adventure path, Skeletons of Scarwall, is one huge dungeon crawl. I have previously said that dungeon crawls were one of my least favorite aspects of roleplaying and I feel like this journal and the next few entries could be a series of apologies as in “I don’t like dungeon crawls but..” The truth is that any scenario can be lame and any scenario can be awesome depending how it is handled. I’ve played games about escaping from slavery in the South that were incredible. I’ve run games where absolutely everyone died in a miserable painful gory failure and it was a blast. Anything can be fun when handled well and I’ve learned by now that Paizo is capable of handling almost anything extremely well.
So no more apologies. This book isn’t fun despite being a dungeon crawl. This book is just fun. Here is what they have done right so far in this book:
- They have set the dungeon up as an epic and terrifying place and you believe it. It has a creepy history and the players have a good reason for needing to delve into it. We aren’t just poking in caves for treasure. We are braving something absolutely no one else wants any part of because we’re big damn heroes.
- The difficulty of the encounters lives up to the epic reputation. We don’t have room after room of goblins to slog through till we get to the boss. This place will kick your ass before you even get in the gate and then keep kicking it till you call mercy.
- It is soaking in atmosphere. They give you a history for every encounter and lots of flavor stuff to plug in as the GM so that the place has a personality. Scarwall is the major antagonist of this book, not just the monsters inside. The players in my group are already referring to the place as if it was sentient.
- The encounters follow a logical progression and the dungeon itself responds to the choices of the players. Monsters don’t sit in their rooms waiting for the party to kick down the door. The dungeon develops as the party accomplishes certain things. There is a sort of meta-puzzle to be ‘solved’ here.
- There is immense variety, but all within the theme. One encounter to the next very different skills and tactics are called for from the players, but all of it fits well. Nothing seems random or stupid like gelatinous cubes randomly wandering down hallways.
Paizo keeps bringing the win.