I’m so thankful for new content. The Dragon Magazine and the Pathfinder Player’s Companion were two of my favorite product lines in our hobby. Being able to get inspirational samples each month helped keep me invested. Even when my group couldn’t meet a month, I’d anxiously look forward to snacking on the sampler of new toys we’d get every month. Now there are some respected third-party publishers releasing some amazing ongoing content for 2e, including the bi-monthly Everybody Games: Files for Everybody and weekly Rogue Genius Games 52-in-52 lines. But for those of you looking for additional 1st party content, Paizo has your back. Age of Ashes has continued Paizo’s AP line giving us monthly tools we can use to customize our characters and campaigns. And being such a new and progressively compartmentalized system, each new tool we get has substantially more impact on the overall game than ever before.
Spoilers: I’m going to analyze all six books of the Age of Ashes campaign in a spoiler-lite environment. These books do contain enough supplemental material that not everything here even appears in the AP. But it should go without saying that there are surprises below, and I recommend you share the article with your GM before you start haphazardly clicking on links and reading new content.
If you want a TL;DR, just go ahead and scroll to the bottom.
Players: It shouldn’t be a surprise that Hellknight Hill has the least number of player options for use in your home campaign. The first book of an adventure path has to dedicate the most word-count to laying out the scope and scale of the adventure itself. The equipment in this book are pretty cool. The Cinderclaw Gauntlets give some love to an underrated weapon. The Hunter’s Arrowhead is one of those things your Rangers are going to pick up earlier in their adventuring careers and keep invested even when you can afford a +1 Striking weapon.
Campaign Tools: Chapter 1 is one of the best “classic” introductions to any AP and can help serve as a starting point for any campaign, even if you don’t use any other part of this book. The town of Breachill itself can be worked into a great frontier village the next time your players want something crazy like a warm meal and a bath. The characters, businesses and even history are easily adjustable for a campaign in any setting. The Citadel itself can work fine as an impromptu dungeon, but I’d recommend adjusting chapter 3 & chapter 4 if you aren’t running an Age of Ashes campaign.
Monsters: There are some great low-level and scaling threats in this book. Voz and Renali both make fun NPCs who can be injected into almost any campaign with only minor adjustments. The Anandi have quickly won the hearts of the playerbase. Charu-kas are classic monsters that are easy to scale with class feats. Doorwardens and Graveshells both make for great surprise encounters. And the Hellcrown is one of the most memorable encounters in the first book, despite how easily my player’s took them out.
Encounters: The encounter in A15-A16 might be the most discussed in the first book. It gives players both a complex moral dilemma while offering them the opportunity to shape their character’s long-term combat plans. The encounter in B13 also gives you a neat tool you can use to break the normal “skeletons with a necromancer” motif, and my player’s responded well to it.
Cult of Cinders
Players: There doesn’t appear to be much in the Cult of Cinders for players in the Archives, with the Eclipse starknife being the only item of note. But if you’ve ever wanted to play an Ekujae elf, I highly recommend checking out the “Ways of the Ekujae” in this book. There is more Ekujae material in the Campaign Tools, but contain spoilers.
Campaign Tools: You can easily incorporate chapter 1 into any campaign where you want the PCs to encounter a tribe of outsider wary jungle elves. Chapter 2 has some neat exploration material, but I’m going to skip ahead to the Downtime systems in this book because boy-howdy that’s some juicy content. The rules for maintaining the citadel are pretty easy to extrapolate and show us the robust flexibility of the Downtime system. Not every player is going to want to spend valuable table time building and maintaining a home base. And while this doesn’t come close to offering a comprehensive set of rules for creating and defending your own castle, it gives you a starting foundation upon which you can build your own rules for keeping the party engineer busy between sessions. You can learn more about my philosophy regarding downtime at my Guest Blog Takeover: Making the Most of your Downtime.
Monsters: Charu-ka and Grippili both return in full-force! I wish there were racial stats, but we can’t ask for everything. Belmazog makes for a really awesome draconic threat, and it’s not hard to adjust him into any sort of aquatic foe. It might also give us some hints as to what we might see in a future Dragon Disciple archetype.
Encounters: The entire encounter in chapter 4 is the stuff of legends. The battlefield is evocative and imposing. The ritual is both visceral and intriguing. Best of all, you got yourself a wonderful morale quandary rife with future hooks and anathema challenges that your players will never forget.
Tomorrow Must Burn
Players: Tomorrow Must Burn has tons of new content for players! The Bellflower toolbelt is perfect for spies and smugglers alike. The Dreamstone is our first foray into manipulating how much time it takes to sleep, if your brave enough to trust your GM didn’t instead give you the Cursed variant. Exchange Image is made for those special kind of shenanigans you’ll want an alibi for. Join pasts is as much a campaign tool for when players can’t make it to a session as it is an excellent cantrip. Object Reading gives us our first hints into psychometry. And I’ve seen enough encounters started with a Dimensional Anchor to know there’s a market for Silver’s Refrain.
The most exciting part of the book has to be the Bellflower tiller. The organization has so much in-world lore that your character instantly becomes something bigger than themselves just with the dedication. This classic Lost Omens archetype outshines any of its prior incarnations. The speed-boost to your allies was the first thing that caught my eye, and Tiller’s Aid/Practiced Guidance comes online when your Aid Another action is finally reliable enough that you’ll want to use it at every opportunity. Cut the Bonds is the real MVP of the archetype, letting your counteract up to five very common status effects with only a single action!
Campaign Tools: Ever play Hell’s Rebels? In all seriousness, if your players like Kintargo or Ravounel you’re going to want to pick up this book. You are going to also need the Hell’s Rebels Player’s Guide if you want multiple adventures in the Silver City, and perhaps even the first Hell’s Rebels book for the complete gazetteer. But the updates in this book are worth it for bringing your players back, and if you are lucky enough to be playing with the same group you can easily incorporate your player’s old PCs and their heroics into the liberated city. Both the Bellflower Network and the Lacunafex provide you with two well integrated chaotic factions for your PCs to ally with, which can be hard to integrate believably given the nature of the alignment.
Monsters: There are so many classic monsters you’ll want from this book! The Velstrac are back and pointy as ever (check out the Assemble Choir ability of the Precentor). The Kalavakus is as nasty as ever (now with one of my favorite vulnerabilities). Osyluth have a wicked set of tricky powers that paint an agonizing encounter that makes me giddy with excitement. The book even gives us the classic Rusalka whose beckoning call and constrict really helps highlight the versatility the three-action system gives GMs in designing encounters.
Encounters: The quarry makes for a wonderful little dungeon, especially J6 & J7. It can be easily used in any campaign if you need a lair for a drug cartel or slavers with a supernatural bent that will leave your players wondering how much more there is to the gang’s operations.
Fires of the Haunted City
Players: Kin-Warding is really cool if your using a Clan Dagger, and I suspect many Swashbuckler Dwarves are going to want to pick it up. Guiding Chisel is one of those really cool items your GM will never want you to get because they know you’re going to figure out how to use it to completely bypass an encounter in a way no one in the party will ever forget. Reforging Shield gives high-level fighters a reason to stop carrying a haversack full of extra shields. The Saggorak are a bit too expensive for my blood, but they are potent and I hope we see more in future books. I like the Crystal Keeper and it seems like the kind of archetype I’m going to keep trying to make work, but I’m not sure who it’s for exactly. Shifting weapon runes around can already be done during downtime, and the wards are a cute trick but how often are you going to be able to use them? I love the ide aof playing a Paladin with a tower shield themed after a Doorwarden who uses Electrified Crystal Ward on their “door” to do electric damage when you shield-bash, but that has a lot of table variation and the trickster spirit inside me hopes it gets clarified into usability.
Now go ahead and say “Droskar” without pumping your fist! I like when I can actually feel kinda sorry for a deity, and I can see where a Cleric of Droskar would fit into a standard adventuring party without causing too many problems. I’d probably offer any of them False Faith as a free bonus feat if they picked up Droskari Disciple, but maybe I’m too generous. The Toil domain is really useful, as there are very few reliable ways to get rid of the absolutely crippling Fatigue condition. The book also gives us our first look at Lost Omens Gods and Magic with the Duty domain.
Campaign Tools: Need a Dwarven city? In all seriousness, the level of detail Kovlar gets in so few pages makes it a viable locale for any campaign. Whether or not players engage in its secrets, the locale has enough going on to add a spark of life without relying on your typical dwarven stereotypes. This fills a niche somewhere between the Ekujae information we got in book 2 and the Breachill Gazetteer in book 1. The article on Droskar is enough to inspire an entire mega-dungeon. I highly recommend dipping into his lore, especially if you have a Torag advocate at your table!
Monsters: The Deculi is so cool! Check out that Shadow Sanctuary ability and tell me you don’t want to use them right now! Oh, you probably thought I was going to gush about the Magma Dragon, didn’t you? Don’t get me wrong, they are really hot and I love their breath weapon. But if I get to be biased, I’m really happy to see my boy the Gashadokuro get some love here, and you see can see a “lesser” variant if you can’t wait to include one in your campaign in Lost on the Spirit Road. There are some solid Dwarf NPCs and I have a soft-spot for the Gugs, but Veshumirix is hands-down the most notable named monster in the book, but we’ll save the details for Encounters. Talamira in chapter 1 is also a really cool character and can be easily incorporated into an adventure.
Encounters: The Crystal Caves and the Dragon’s Domain both offer excellent mini-dungeons that can help offer curious PCs a reason to second-guess taking that mountain route. Veshumirix requires more integration into an ongoing story, but chapter 1 can even be used to bridge a teleportation or Gate malfunction. My own group has an ongoing story about Gugs that makes me thrilled to run the adventure, and it’s nice to see them used as more than a random encounter.
Against the Scarlet Triad
Players: Everyone has been talking about the Camel, Hyena and Vulture animal companions, and for good reason. The poisons and alchemical toys in the book help give high level rogues and alchemists some love. Deadly Poison Weapon makes an entire character type viable into mid-and-higher levels. The Nethysian Bulwark gives us a really neat shield that you can always repair and use over and over.
When I first got the book, I wasn’t sure if I liked the Zephyr Guard or not. The abilities all seemed a little too situational for most PCs, until the Advanced Player’s Guide Playtest came out. An investigator or swashbuckler are both going to love this archetype, and I have to suspect that abilities like Know the Beat and Unfazed Assessment were at least partially inspired by the new investigator. Relentless Disarm looks especially potent for a braggart swashbuckler. The fact one of it’s abilities is a skill feat means it’s easy enough to “complete” the Archetype.
Campaign Tools: The aiudura article are four fantastic hooks for both an ongoing or expanded AoA campaign, or a home game set in the Lost Omens setting. Party traversing a desert? Check out chapter 1 for a wonderful gnome city that can be used in any campaign. With a handful of colorful characters and hooks, Finderplain offers us a perfect reprieve that by its very nature won’t risk derailing an ongoing game. The Katapesh chapters are pretty much focused on the AoA campaign, but offers us a look into the open-ended and versatile Heist mechanics. There are also 10 great examples of variant Downtimes you can use as guidelines for your own campaign, and a number of Exploration activities that gives GMs and writers alike examples of how to organize more open-ended urban intrigue adventures. (Hey, I got through that without using the term ‘sandbox’.)
Monsters: Any Starfinder fans? John Compton has you covered with his extensive article on the Witchwyrd! Have a bunch of cool large minis you’ve never had a chance to use? This book has of Paizo classics, including Nalfeshnee, Crucidaemon and Calikang. The NPC Uri Zandivar stands as a towering display of how the 3-action economy can make a fighter a high-level threat, but we’ll save that for encounters.
Encounters: The last few encounters in this book are a doozy. Everything from C20 onward is going to stick with your players as you approach the book’s grand finale. I was always disappointed in 1e when an end-boss was a “mere fighter”, especially in tier 17. But Uri’s action economy and absolutely brutal reactions are going to make this a fight to be remembered.
Players: This entire section is rife with spoilers, so I highly recommend asking your GM before you continue reading if you plan on playing this campaign. First the book gives you access to some unique backgrounds, intended only for those who’ve completed the campaign. None of them are “more powerful” than any existing backgrounds, but it’s a really nice touch that I hope we get to see reflected in the PFS Chronicle Sheets. The real bulk of the player content in this book comes in the form of new 20th level feats for each of hte base classes in the Core Rulebook. Each of these seems to fill a niche not satisfied by existing material, such as a feat for druids who focus on their animal companion, or for clerics who focus on emblazon armament. I really loved the 20th level bard focus spell, which let’s you bring up to 4 dead creatures back to life temporarily. (Proving you were just your bard’s minion all along.)
Campaign Tools: I was always afraid that Paizo would never visit the city explored in depth in this book, and I’d love to explore it both before and after the events of this adventure path. The idea of giving your players exclusive backgrounds after they complete your campaign is something I’m going to have to steal for my own home games. The “tower assault” in chapter 1 is really cool and helps tie together the earlier books into a satisfying conclusion. I highly recommend it to any GM who wants to run a siege.
Monsters: Need end-game encounters? There’s multiple Bestiary’s worth of CR20+ threats in this Adventure Toolbox, including the Tarrasque itself! The Xotani, Tzitzimitl, Vazgorlu, Wyrmwraith and a couple great wyrms make sure your PCs aren’t just going to be stuck fighting Death and Treerazor. Each of the mosnter’s have their own unique abilities that set them apart, such as draining an area of supernatural darkness to freeze the party to death, or having claws that dispel ongoing divine buffs.
Encounters: The siege in chapter 1 looks incredibly fun. If you ever need a high level encounter, this book delivers lots of ideas you can snag regardless of setting thanks to the nature of the Nodes in chapter 3.
Whether hinting at new mechanics or giving us new tools for our campaigns, the Adventure Path line is more than a series of great stories to unleash on your PCs. I understand if my article is verbose, but I can’t help but gush over all the amazing tools the campaign has provided me as a player, gamemaster and author. And while the Archives of Nethys give us a look at the mechanical goodies the book provides, the details of the encounters and sub-system rules we can use in our homegames require a thorough investigation. The Adventure Path itself is one of the most fun I’ve been a part of. The charactere and locales are memorable, the encounters and moral dilemmas challenging and the story an epic deserving of it’s 1-20 level range.