Friday, February 13, 2009

Review: Pathfinder #2 The Skinsaw Murders


This is the second module in the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path, and it is the best of first series. The adventure was released in October of 2007, which I think was very fitting considering the tone of the module. This module was the first Pathfinder to sell out, and Paizo did reorder this one, and I suspect it may the last time they do this, which says something about the popularity of this particular adventure. In this review I will look at it as a standalone product, and then once I have completed the reviews on the rest of the adventures in the series, I will do a final wrap up and look at the series as a whole, and offer my commentary on the entire AP.

Richard Pett

Normally I would not have a section on the author, but in this case, I feel I would not do the review justice if I did not provide at least a couple of comments on the author. To put it bluntly, he is warped, twisted and creepy..err…I mean his writing style is warped, twisted and creepy. As a big fan of Lovecraft, Ravenloft, and gothic horror, his writing style resonates well with me, and he is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. James Jacobs writes a vivid description of Rich’s writing style in the introduction that captures the essence of what his writing is about. I am hoping that the Paizo team will give him more chances at writing gothic horror.


The layout is very similar to Burnt Offerings, and I am including the text here for completeness. The book comes in at hefty 96 pages not counting the covers, with the actual adventure taking up 49 of these pages, with an approximate word count of ~40,000 words. The book is divided up into several sections including the main adventure, two supporting articles (Magnimar Gazetteer and Desna), the Pathfinder Journal, bestiary (five monsters) and the pregens.

The first adventure path drew a number of critics on the font size and the ease of reading. I personally did not find it that bad, but I can see how this could be a valid criticism. There have been a number of modules created with small font, and this module is not any worse than some of the others that I have seen.


The artwork in Pathfinder #2 is notably better than Pathfinder #1, as most of the cartoonish art has been removed. The cover is by Wayne Reynolds, and he has created a wonderfully evocative piece that really captures the spirit of the adventure, and he has included the manor in the background, which plays a prominent role. The interior is full color, and fits in with the tone and theme of the module. The cartography is excellent, and I am again reminded how far we have come with regards to the presentation of maps in adventures. They really have moved beyond simply being maps and are an integral part of the overall art scheme.


There are three main parts of this module. There is the introduction, in which the sheriff asks the characters to investigate a series of murders that are occurring in the Sandpoint area. The investigation leads up to part two which is the haunted manor. Upon completing the exploration of the manor, part three of the adventure has the characters head to Magnimar to chase down the Skinsaw cultists and ultimately confront the BBEG, which is taken from the bestiary found in the back of the book.

Key features
There are a number of features that this module provides that I am going to list out below:

1. A gothic horror style adventure

2. The fully mapped out haunted manor

3. Haunts, which is a new look at traps.

4. The gazetteer of Magnimar.

5. The Pathfinder Journal, which has the feel of the older pulp sword and sorcery writing. This particular Journal officially starts the chronicles of Eando Kline, which is one of my favorite parts of the book, and one of the first sections that I read.

Final notes

Simply put, this adventure rocks. I really liked the mood and tone of the adventure. The haunted house is wonderfully writing and is small enough that one could easily pull it out and use it for a one day mega adventure or split it up over a couple of nights. In one of the opening side bars Rich writes the following.

It’s true—not everyone wants to run Adventure Paths. Some people don’t even want to run entire adventures. In my own campaigns, I like using elements of published adventures mingled with my own adventures. Having access to PDFs of adventures really fired my imagination—and one thing I’ve tried in “The Skinsaw Murders” is to include “mini-adventures” tied to the overall plot. You can run this adventure either as part of the whole Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path or as a standalone. You can also dip into the adventure and extract segments of it, using the Hambley Farm encounter as a one-evening side quest, for example.

I think it is this type of design philosophy, which is one of modular construction that is the real strength of the adventure. It is easily adaptable, and has the strength to stand on its own, and not have to be tied to the overall adventure path.
As a criticism, one can easily argue that the plot is too linear, and that there is a natural progression to the adventure that makes it tough to go out of sequence. I agree that his is true; however the strength of the encounters and the modular design makes this easy for me to over look.

Overall, I give this module a solid thumbs up, and it is perhaps the best of the Pathfinder books that Paizo has published thus far.

Rating: 5 Dragons (on a scale of 5)


Joe said...



I ran my group through the "Misgivings" last Friday, and I have to say - I thoroughly enjoyed it. The haunts provide a great mechanic, and the one or two actual traps tripped my players up enough that they weren't really sure what was going on.

Towards the end, they had figured out that Grandfather Foxglove had murdered his family, and turned the house into his phylactory on the way towards becoming a lich. I loved hearing the conversation around this.

The fun part is, they still haven't figured out what part Aldern plays in all of this. Our barbarian is convinced that Aldern is the world's biggest Pansy, and that he wouldn't hurt a fly, and the Paladin is convinced that he is the devil incarnate (have I mentioned that the Paladin is the object of Aldern's Envy Obsession?).

Fun times!!!

Mr Baron said...

Holy Toledo, Joe posted to my blog!

Keep me posted on how the guys are doing! I am still hopeful, that I can jump in before you guys wrap up the series.