When starting a new campaign, the group often begins with excitement and full of character ideas, but then, the dreaded question comes: How does the group know each other? Everyone draws a blank. After several jokes and deliberation, we quickly move forward saying something to the affect of “they meet on the road”. While this is completely fine, I’m always on the lookout for fun starting adventures that focus on bringing the party together. What grand story hook could rally these traveling homeless-sell-swords under one banner? With the release of Pathfinder 2nd Edition, Piazo’s Director of Game Design, Jason Bulmahn, somehow found the time to do just that. The Fall of Plaguestone is a short 64 page adventure that, beginning at level 1, brings the group together in order to solve a sudden and mysterious murder. Upon investigation, the players (hopefully) uncover a dangerous plot that could set the town of Etran’s Folly to ruins. So, let’s roll some characters and review the Fall of Plaguestone!
WARNING: This Review Contains Minor Spoilers!
We will outline this adventure and provide our thoughts, but will attempt to leave story twists and major spoilers out of this review.
Act 1: Bringing the Group Together
The adventure begins with the players accompanying a traveling merchant caravan run by Bort Bargith. Bort is a friendly dwarf who informs the party that, by nightfall, they will reach the town of Ethran’s Folly where the caravan will stop to obtain provisions, and a good nights sleep on actual beds before setting off on the last leg of their journey. Upon reading this introduction, I was a bit underwhelmed from a “bringing the group together” standpoint, as many adventures use the classic hired guards scenario. It’s a genre trope for sure, but also effective. If your party plans to continue with a campaign after this adventure, then you may want to have the players provide some backstory as to why they are traveling, and where they wish to go. The book does take the time to point out opportunities for role-play and introductions, which will be incredibly valuable for new DMs. Once the players have dipped their toes in the world of role play, then it’s time to get the blood pumping as the caravan is attacked! The players rush to its defense, while getting their first taste of combat. Like the intro, I really appreciate the tips/tricks the book provides for new DMs and how to run combat. Everything from, when to use certain creature abilities, to how to describe the attacks conveyed in the scene. If successful in their defense, the caravan soon arrives in Etran’s Folly, also called Plaguestone by the locals.
Grateful for the players help in defending the caravan, Bort invites the party to dinner at the local tavern once they reach town. The book details the staff and local patrons, as this will become relevant soon. After a brief bar fight, it’s discovered that Bort was poisoned, and now lies dead on the floor. The local sheriff will be investigating the murder, and informs everyone in the tavern not to leave town until they’re cleared. This event kicks off the main story. The rest of act 1 consists of the players investigating the murder of Bort and uncovering the identity of the conspirators. The book provides a small bio for each patron of the tavern that night, along with various notable NPCs in town. Obviously, the players will dictate how the investigation is performed, but the book places as much relative NPC information at the DM’s fingertips, so they can flesh out the various social interactions. Upon discovering the culprit, the party will need to investigate the villain’s hideout, and bring them to justice. However, the party will discover something more along the way. The villain’s hideout acts as the players first taste of a “dungeon-like” environment, filled with traps, and enemies to overcome. Viewing this first act as an introduction to both Pathfinder 2nd Edition and role-playing games in general, I feel it does an excellent job of providing fun social encounters and some basic combat, which allows players a feel for all aspects of tabletop RPGs. The thing I was most impressed with, was how the book assisted the DM in running the adventure. We often view introductory adventures in terms of the players, and it’s refreshing to see this book considered that this may also be the DM’s first time playing or behind the screen.
Act 2: Uncovering the Plot
Though the party has brought Bort’s killer to justice, they are also beginning to uncover a grander plot that may endanger the entire town. Introducing the characters to a concerned ranger, who appears to be on the same trail as the party, it’s now clear that something unnatural is occurring in the woods. Investigating a few twisted locations in the woods, the party will need to overcome some unnatural foes that confirm everyone’s suspicions. It’s around this time that your players advance to level 2, which should be a thrill for first time players. Honestly, it never gets old for veterans either. The book does advise the DM how much experience each challenge awards, but I would have liked a note or sidebar that says “The party should be level 2 or 3 by X point”, just to assist the DM in this regard. Act 2 concludes with the discovery of unnatural experiments being conducted in the woods. The party has the option of tackling this challenge in a number of ways with the goal being to shut down this base of operations, and learn the truth of who is behind this plot to destroy Plaguestone. This mini-dungeon acts as a strong conclusion with many “experiments” for the party to face depending on how they approach the stronghold. This encourages player agency, but will vary the challenge this dungeon provides. I also enjoyed reading about the leader of this camp, and imagine he will throw the party for a bit of a loop! This second act takes the training wheels off a bit, and sees the party venturing outside the town to various locations. Complete with maps that utilize the square grid system, each location in this book is easily translated onto paper or mat for play. The adventure provides a nice plot twist as the players discover who is truly behind this plot, and the true scope. So, it will be a treat to watch first time players become immersed in their first story as the plot thickens.
Act 3: The Big Bad
Without spoiling the story, the third act is primarily a dungeon crawl of the big bad’s lair located further in the mountains. The party should be level 3 and fully supplied before venturing any further, as this is the climax of the adventure and will certainly test your party’s ability. It’s also worth noting that this book is packed with information, however, to make way for this, the adventure will often refer to the Pathfinder: Bestiary for certain monster stat blocks. So, DMs may need to have these pages marked for quick reference. I enjoyed reading this act as there are plenty of little story tidbits in each room. Of course, it will be up to your players to discover, but I feel the DM will be well prepared with flavorful information and a solid feel for the villain, which will allow the DM to flex their improv muscles. The final confrontation looks to be a fun encounter requiring some tactical planning from the party. The book also outlines how the villain will utilize the environment, which is a good lesson for both players and DMs alike. Upon defeating the villain and thwarting the evil plan, the party returns to an extremely grateful town. After the burial of Bort, the party learns of the future plans of the caravan, which will wrap up the adventure. At this time, the party has been through a lot together and can decide what is next for them as well. Personally, I view this last dungeon to be the jewel on the adventure’s crown. Packed with different challenges and monsters, this final showdown will be sure to get new players hooked on tabletop role-playing games.
While the core of this adventure may rely on classic RPG tropes, such as the traveling caravan, the more I read the Fall of Plaguestone, the more I realize that these tropes are well utilized. New players and DMs alike will be accustom to these stories from books/movies providing them with a knowledge base in which to draw from in this shared storytelling experience. I was impressed that this book kept new DMs in mind, especially in act 1. On top of all this, there are three fully fleshed out acts, including two pretty in depth dungeons. It’s impressive the amount of content the author fit into 64 pages. Even if you’re not planning on running this adventure, I see a ton of value in just lifting the villain or dungeons, complete with maps, for use in your own game. With that in mind, and about $15 for the PDF, there is a ton of value for both new and experienced players. If you are new to Pathfinder 2nd Edition or Tabletop RPGs in general, the Fall of Plaguestone is an excellent way to begin your adventures.