In The Crypt of the Everflame, a 32-page, 1st-level adventure for the Pathfinder RPG, that path begins with a centuries-old crypt and an initiation ceremony gone horribly wrong. As the characters – a group of village youths tasked with recovering a spark from the module’s namesake flame – learn of the true threats they face, the players get the chance to learn the Pathfinder game.
Crypt of the Everflame was written as a bridge module between D&D 3.x and Pathfinder. While it works well as a 1st level module, its real strength lies teaching D&D veterans the differences between it and Paizo’s house system. It’s a task the module does well, using encounters to explain new rules, such as combat maneuvers and turning damage, and highlighting more subtle changes, like newly-consolidated skills and changes to undead characteristics.
It’s exactly the sort of module my gaming group was looking for, and the sort of thing Wizards of the Coast should have released when D&D 3.5 came out.The module has one of the better starting adventure hooks I’ve seen: the heroes are undertaking their village’s annual rite of passage. Their village elders have warned them that this is a dangerous, somber task that they aren’t likely to survive. Little do the PCs know that their parents have already traveled ahead to the Crypt and nerfed many of its traps… or tried to. It turns out that something evil is stirring in the crypt, and slaughtered the adults sent to protect the kids… Now the kids are in over their heads, and have to deal with a very real threat.
My group loved the premise, and dove into the role of newbie adventurers. They liked uncovering the ways their elders tried to help, like stuffing pit traps with pillows or replacing killer arrows with blunt ones, and they riffed on the setup even harder during the second session when we decided to have a new player take on the role of one of the surviving elders.
The module begins with an overland prelude, in which the heroes battle illusionary orcs summoned by the village wizard (an unneeded red herring that I’d cut out in a second run through) traverse a treacherous ravine, and stumble across the corpse of a bandit. The ravine proved to be a good refresher on Pathfinder skills, particularly the “take 10” and “take 20” rule that let characters automatically succeed at their checks. A sidebar outlining those rules would have been helpful, but we muddled through. The slain bandit was a minor clue (promptly ignored by my group) that a band of thugs had been operating in the area, and might have their own interest in the crypt.
Experienced game masters looking to save time could ignore the prelude and jump straight to the crypt; while these introductory encounters are a useful way of introducing new players to the mechanics, cutting them out gives you a better chance of running the adventure in a single sitting.
The core of the adventure consists of a two-level dungeon seeded with classic monsters handpicked to illustrate key Pathfinder rules… and given a twist to keep things fresh. For example, one of the first encounters on the upper level is with bloody skeletons. These undead monsters illustrate Pathfinder’s new turning damage rules, which eliminate the need to consult tables to see if a cleric’s divine power drives away the undead in favor of straight-up damage. Characters can still use the old turning rules – which can scare or destroy undead outright – but need a feat to do so. It’s a good change that speeds things up considerably, as the game no longer grinds to a halt so someone can look up rules when fighting undead. The skeletons also regenerated; that’s not a new trick, but I liked that they weren’t the standard pile of bones.
Other good encounters included bloat zombies, which explode in a cloud of disease-spewing gore when destroyed, and giant frogs, whose entangling tongues were perfect for demonstrating the new combat maneuver rules. Combat maneuvers replace the old, disparate trip/grapple/disarm rules from D&D 3.5 with a single, simplified system. It’s perhaps the single best improvement to the d20 rules we encountered, and easily avoided 15 minutes of term searching and page turning.
The module’s map is based on Paizo’s Flip-Mat: Dungeon from its GameMastery line. I hand-drew the map, but having a pre-made one available for purchase is helpful for new GMs. The only flaw I ran into with the map was two staircases on the first level which didn’t connect to anything above or below and weren’t mentioned in the text It’s a minor cartography error, but it did throw me momentarily while running the game.
The module’s final encounter – against a Challenge Rating 4 re-animated warrior – was tough, far tougher than I’d anticipated. Part of this was because the warrior has a high combat maneuver bonus and penchant for disarming his opponents and part of it was because we had a less-than-optimal party with one cleric, a fighter and two sorcerers. The single biggest problem was likely that we hadn’t been paying enough attention to experience and the heroes were underpowered when they reached the final fight (Level 1 instead Level 2). Finally, a CR 4 monster seems overpowered for a first-level adventure; CR 3 would have been more appropriate, particularly for an introductory adventure.
The end result was our first total party kill in years, but as one of my players said, it was the best TPK they’d ever experienced. That was due in large part to the Pathfinder rules, which kept things moving even when mixing in divine attacks from the cleric and frequent disarm attempts from the villain. It helped that these were throwaway characters that the players weren’t attached to, but ultimately it was a credit to Paizo’s design. The sense of evil and foreboding had been building throughout the adventure, and it wasn’t really a surprise when the heroes found themselves slaughtered to a man. Other groups may be less forgiving of such disastrous turns, so GMs should make sure that their party’s are rested and leveled-up before the final fight.
The Crypt of the Everflame is a solid introductory adventure, both for those new to role-playing games, and those considering making the jump from D&D 3.x to Pathfinder. The sidebars explaining rules were an inspired touch and helped my players – 8+ year veterans of D&D – understand the rules without spending 15 minutes arguing about them. The adventure’s inspired hook provided my group with plenty of great role-playing opportunities, and while new players might not take advantage of them, mine certainly did.
- Crypt of the Everflame
- by Jason Bulmahn
- 36 Pages
- Publisher: Paizo
- MSRP: $13.99 (print) $9.99 (pdf)
- This review originally appeared on GameCryer.com and is re-printed with permission.
Feature Image Credit
- Cover art from the Crypt of the Everflame. Image courtesy Paizo.