Red Dawn

Red Dawn is a Pathfinder adventure for characters of 9th-12th level that I read recently. In the interests of full disclosure, the reason I’ve read the adventure at all is because I’m acquainted with the guy who wrote it. That’s not the reason I’m writing about it, though. No, the reason I’m writing about it is, as it so often is, because a daily update schedule is turning out to be a lot more punishing than I was expecting and this is easy content. So let’s talk about the adventure.

Red Dawn is about the servants of the imprisoned Vampire King conspiring to release him from his prison on the sun. It starts with the PCs breaking into the home of a vampire frost giant, takes them on a brief hunt for the Vampire King’s tomb, and then they go to the sun itself to stop the king’s most loyal servant, a fire giant werewolf, from releasing him. The Vampire King himself, if released, is  50-foot tall CR 20 super monster who is very probably too powerful for the 12th level PCs to overcome. So, basically it’s a monster mash adventure upgraded to 9th-12th level by virtue of having all the monsters be giants even before they got vamped/wolfed, and also Dracula is a kaiju instead of just being a vampire with some class levels.

The adventure makes some effort to prepare the GM for player chaos, which is more than a lot of adventures, even the ones from big publishers like WotC and Paizo. Hoard of the Dragon Queen gives precisely zero alternatives are given for players who try to hunt the Dragon Cult down through any means except disguising themselves as a caravan and following their wagons. That’s a very specific course of action that you need to railroad your players into following or else entire chapters of that book become completely useless. Red Dawn also provides a solid motivation (treasure, usually) for actually continuing to follow the adventure path, and neither the adventure nor the friendly NPCs who might want you to complete it ever come across as aggravating or clearly evil, the way they can in some adventures (in Paizo adventure path Wrath of the Righteous, the allegedly friendly goddess of allegedly justice infamously abducts the player characters, gives them a quiz based on her own history and dogma, and tortures them if she doesn’t like their answers – Red Dawn doesn’t have any of that bullshit, which would be an “at least they’re not Hitler” defense except that Wrath of the Righteous came from Paizo, the second biggest adventure publishers on the market).

I would like to have seen more consideration for player choices. I always try to think through every reasonably likely player response to a situation and provide the GM with some guidelines as to how the opposition will react to different approaches. For example, as often as possible an option is given for negotiating with or recruiting the enemies, and Red Dawn doesn’t go that far. It’s industry standard not to really consider what approach the PCs might take besides stabbing the problem in the face, so this isn’t really a disappointment with Red Dawn in particular so much as the entire adventure path zeitgeist, and as mentioned, Red Dawn makes more effort to anticipate player choices than the industry standard, even if it’s below mine. In all fairness, even I often fall short of my own standard, though in my defense I’ll again point out how much more difficult this schedule has proven to be.

I haven’t really talked about going to the sun even though that is the most immediately gripping part of the adventure, and that’s because it’s kinda meh? As the adventure path itself points out, the sun is basically just the Elemental Plane of Fire. This is also something that is primarily the fault of the overall state of the art rather than Red Dawn, specifically. Otherworldly locations are usually just a new terrain type (or sometimes an old terrain type) and rarely come prepackaged with alien societies, wondrous geographies, or epic conflicts. At best, they come with a few epic monsters, which the GM can assemble into an epic conflict of their own volition, and you’re left on your own to figure out how yugoloths and modrons function as a society or what Celestia looks like beyond “mountain with lots of clouds and lens flares.” So, in Red Dawn the sun is a very hot place where some azers built a temple, and that temple holds captive the Vampire King, and the azers very much like that guy to remain imprisoned. You aren’t really exploring another world, the final encounter just has a few special terrain effects you’ll need to prepare for before visiting.

I’m giving Red Dawn a lot of grief for not bucking trends I dislike in adventures in general, because I don’t like how adventures in general are run. Most adventures and adventure paths have a lot of “player characters must do as they’re told” to them that discourages creative problem solving or roleplaying your character through their actions, at which point why are we even playing a tabletop RPG instead of just having a Diablo 2 LAN party, so my biggest issue with Red Dawn is that it only pushes back against this a little bit, rather than being a radical departure from standard adventure formats and pushing back a lot. So, my standards here are probably too high for a $2 adventure. Really, a boss fight with a fire giant werewolf is probably a cool enough idea on its own to be worth an asking price that low. For that matter, just offering some significant resistance to the “PCs do as they’re told” school of thought is probably worth at least $2 when so many published adventures these days are straight-up railroads with no effort at all given to providing guidelines for the GM to react to various different approaches PCs might take to solving the problems presented by the scenario.

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