A Game Master’s Review: Age of Ashes: Hellknight Hill

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Adventure: Age of Ashes: Hellknight Hill
Publisher: Paizo Entertainment
Author: Amanda Hamon
System: Pathfinder Second Edition
Level: 1-4

Premise: Upstart adventurers heed a “Call for Heroes” put forth by the small provincial town of Breachill to discover the reasons behind signal plumes billowing up from a local derelict keep. Through twists and turns the adventurers discover special gates beneath the citadel and links to a mysterious cult seeking to unleash a new age of destruction onto the world. Can the party delve into the derelict halls of the citadel upon the hill while unraveling the secrets of a dangerous dragon cult? Where do the magical gates lead to and what purpose do they serve? Only the heroes can find out!

Flexibility: High

Adventure paths from Paizo are designed to take a table of players from level 1 up to 18+ over the course of 3 to 6 installments. Hellknight Hill, as the first installment of the debut adventure path for pathfinder second edition, does well to leave numerous breadcrumbs for game masters who keep high fidelity to the Golarion game setting. This does not preclude being able to make small tweaks to the adventure details that can place Breachill or Hellknight Hill into any number of settings. Much of the descriptions remain local in scope and keep narrative stakes close to the level of the party.

The premise of the adventure path is much like the sci-fi show Stargate SG:1 where a plucky group of specialists travel between locations going on adventures. Hellknight Hill serves as the jumping off point for a party to gain access to the portal system that then allows the party to explore beyond in future installments. Paizo’s general themes are well expressed and they can be quickly tailored to the themes you want to explore for your own table. By swapping descriptions and some key details you can have the portals connect to other worlds or realities. The base adventure plants the seeds of nested conspiracies and dark divine threats to the campaign world. Groups that want to explore intrigue or politics can as the base material covers not just the keep and basements but also the town and key relationships.

Unique Features: 9 unique monsters, 3 NPC deep dives, 2 unique magic items, Breachill Gazetteer & town map, 4 dungeon maps

For Game masters who are more concerned with mechanics and new crunchy content this book has 4 fantastic maps to explore, a cadre of monsters and a host of fun NPCs to sprinkle into your own games.

The most unexpectedly useful resource is the depth added to the Breachill Gazetter. Seventeen locations have summary information with seeds for NPC characters that can be preplanned or developed on the fly. Town history and mystery are included to allow players multiple lines of adventure.

Takeaways:

Significant space in this volume is dedicated toward the town of Breachill itself and the broader adventure context of the path. This gives the GM capacity to plan out small side quests and mini adventures as needed while not needing to railroad the main plot surrounding the citadel.

Starter levels of Paizo adventure paths tend to allow greater amount of flexibility and Hellknight Hill is no exception. Be wary of too much deviation from the books plot as even approaching sections of the book a level up or down drastically shifts difficulty. Critical effects are also magnified in the low levels with the selections of baddies used in the halls of the citadel.

The encounters presented do not punish new players though and they allow for multiple party compositions to feel competent. A party role dedicated to either magical or skill based healing is highly recommended if your table enjoys consuming the content at a faster clip. Expected play time for a highly focused party should be 2-5 hours per chapter with 4 chapters in the book. This time can easy grow beyond that to 30 to 60 hours of game play if your table wants to discover and meet everyone of note in the town.

After the inciting incident, the material does feel like it is missing a primary antagonist. Voz Lirayne is supposed to fill this role but that remains up to the GM to find clever ways to make her motivate the party. That should be small issue for characters who have a distaste for necromancy but morally ambiguous parties may be less motivated in chapter 4 with out some prodding.

If your table follows the adventure as written, they will earn experience on the standard time line and hit the level marks prescribed for each chapter. Chapter 4 has spots for additional pick up encounters to make sure players have reached the recommended levels through encounters before moving onto the home stretch.

The second half of chapter 4 does rank up the challenge level and has the capacity to party wipe if players do not approach the fights with due caution. For these fights a battle mat will be handy so players can thoughtfully plan their attack strategy. Varied party compositions still remain viable towards the end of the adventure as long as the party has access to some form of healing. Potions and the battle medic will suffice in the absence of direct healing magic but limit a party from barreling through back to back encounters. They do not need a healing cleric but that would make the experience easy mode.

Playing through this adventure has been a blast and is an easy recommend for new players to the Pathfinder Second Edition system. The plethora of background material and multiple line of plot that can be weaved make this a great launching off point for any table even if you do not run along the Age of Ashes path.

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Age of Ashes: Hellknight Hill

GM Chris

I am the GM and Producer and have been declared a monster and it maybe true. My TTRPGs experience extends back to D&D 3.0 from the year 2000 with periodic bursts of GMing. I enjoys digital TCGs, painting miniatures and dream of setting up the party for tragic yet heroic deaths that will emotionally scar the players until their dying days

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