January 29

The Godsmouth Heresy Review, a Great Story Idea

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PZO9528 the godsmouth heresy cover art

The Godsmouth Heresy:

  • Author: Rob McCreary
  • Publisher: Paizo Publishing
  • Published: 2010 
  • Pages: 32
  • Price: $13,99 

The Godsmouth Heresy is a dungeon adventure for 1st level characters, written for the Pathfinder roleplaying game and compatible with the Dungeons & Dragons 3.5 ruleset.

The module was published by Paizo Publishing in 2010. The 32-page saddle stitched booklet contains The Godsmouth Heresy adventure, a new creature called a Rune Guardian, and an appendix detailing the Godsmouth Cathedral.

Art

By Pharasma, do I love this cover art by Craig Spearing! Check out his website, his art is off the charts! 

I love the action in the frame of the Vat Zombie bursting through the glass. The green of the alchemical fluid in contrast to the purple of Seoni's spell. 

the godsmouth heresy alternate cover art

The pre-production cover art shows someone preaching to a hooded congregation while a sacrifice is about to be made. 

In comparison to the actual cover this looks a bit bland. 

However, I would have loved for this to be part of the story. More on that later! 

The interior art is a bit of a mix of what does and does not appeal to me. That even goes for items in one piece of art strangely enough. 

In the art of Valeros bursting through the door for example, I really like the depiction of the tengu, while I don't like Valeros at all. The face grabs a lot of attention, maybe through the stark contrast of the light, and that's exactly the part of it I don't like. 

Of the Gonzalo Flores pieces I really like Seoni fighting the crawling hands. On the flipside the pose of the skeletal champion is just really weird. And how disturbing are the legs on that lustspawn??! Disturbing in a good way. That really creeped me out. 

My favorite piece is undoubtedly Kyra facing off against the Necrophidius. The way that that torch influences the rest of the piece is just amazing. 

Cartography

In my Master of the Fallen Fortress review I praised Jared Blando's cartography for being clear and easily read. 

For this adventure Jared did the cartography for the Godsmouth Ossuary (the actual dungeon), and the Godsmouth Cathedral. 

I generally really enjoy how he 'dresses' his maps with the parchment backgrounds, and all the symbols. 

For the dungeon map though, those colored stones in the background really threw me off. 

I remember going to a medical centre for the yearly check-up in school and they had me stare at this book full of strange colors. Apparently those were color blindness tests and you were supposed to see letters or numbers hidden in there and I never did.

For some reason those colored stones made me think back to those tests.  

I have to say though, reading through the dungeon, the map really helps to clarify the level/height differences. That's really well done. 

Look & Feel

As always the Paizo products are professionally designed and look great. 

The two-column layout is regularly interrupted with titles, read aloud sections, stat blocks and art to form a cohesive unit and a great layouting job. 

Writing

When I read Rob McCreary's Master of the Fallen Fortress, it fell a bit short of expectations. So I was curious to see what he would do if given a bigger dungeon. 

In case you are not aware, I'm not the biggest fan of dungeon adventures. Just saying that up front (kind of). 

This book references a lot of other books, mainly for monsters. One book, however, that I would absolutely recommend you read as well is City of Strangers. 

City of Strangers details the city of Kaer Maga, which is a very unusual location to explore. A really cool one though. I would love to play in a campaign centered around Kaer Maga! So much flavor! 

The references in The Godsmouth Heresy are partly towards explaining other areas of the dungeon. Because yes, the Godsmouth Ossuary is only a very small part of all that happens under Kaer Maga

Godsmouth Ossuary

At several points in the dungeon there are holes, stairs and pits that lead deeper underground. 

That's great if GMs want to further explore the depths beneath Kaer Maga. It is however not necessarily clear to the players that they are not supposed to go there for this adventure. 

I really like the fact that the players are given a Chime of Opening with only 5 charges. The chime magically opens doors. However, it's also needed to get back out of the dungeon the way they came in. 

That's a really cool item to help the players but not too much that they can just go chiming all over the place. 

No worries. The author also provided 2 other ways out. So it's not a Gygaxian dungeon. That's positive. (going to lose street cred for that remark)

What I'm really confused about is the following however: the intro of the adventure speaks of a Thassilonian temple dedicated to Pharasma. 

So why is 90% of the temple dedicated to the Runelords then? And why did the runelords leave so many undead behind in a temple of a faith that's not very undead-positive to say the least. 

The same goes for Kaer Maga. Why would the faithful of Pharasma tolerate a whole area of the city where undead are roaming the streets as manual labor?  

This is probably more a lack of Golarion lore on my part though. But I was actively wondering about this while reading the adventure. 

There are of course a few area's that have me scratching my head again. That bald spot is getting bigger the more I read (anyone checked the news lately?).

This might be nitpicking but let's take a look at the House of Lust. The text says "the guardian (a lustspawn) pursued them back to the House of Greed, but it was unable to get through their barricade". 

But when the text describes the lustspawn a couple lines later it says "It pursues fleeing prey, but will not enter any of the other Houses". 

Well if it won't enter any of the Houses, why was it trying to break through the barricade to get into the House of Greed then? 

Then there's the House of Envy which is an empty room. It is, however, sealed with an arcane lock and has a regular lock with a Disable Device difficulty of 40!

So the players try to get in, fail, use a charge of their chime (which I assume would open the door) and then discover an empty room. Is that semi-Gygaxian? 

The silliest has to be the mirroring rooms. There's two rooms that are completely alike. The floor and walls look like mirrors. The glasslike material can't be destroyed except if someone scratches it with a diamond. 

Why on earth would a player come up with that idea? 

When you spend some time in one of the rooms it teleports you into the other room and your character gets mirrored. Basically if you were right-handed, now you're left-handed. If you had a scar on your right cheek, now it's on your left cheek. 

Will that perhaps get a chuckle from the players? Sure. Does if have any function in the story? None whatsoever. 

Why are these rooms here, you ask? No one knows. It literally says that in the book. They are pre-Thassilonean, even the Runelords had no clue. Euhm.

Encounters

There's a good amount of encounters in The Godsmouth Heresy. 28 to be precise. 

Almost 80% of the encounters are CR 1 and CR 2. That's great for a starter dungeon in my opinion. Yes, the rest are CR 3 encounters and there's even 1 CR 4 one but that's a good mix of encounter levels. 

The Godsmouth Heresy encounter levels

There's nothing that really blows my socks off encounterwise. But kudo's to Rob for not populating the dungeon with your basic skeletons or zombies. 

There's a great mix of creatures in here from skullspiders to crawling hands and flapping heads. The necrophidius and the lustspawn are pretty rad too. 

Another cool encounter happens in the alchemist's lab with zombies bursting through test tubes, alchemical fluid flying everywhere, ... basically what you see on the cover. 

My favorite encounter though is a door. Well, it's not even an encounter. It's a door. 

So there's this door in the dungeon, technically it's not even a door. It's a concrete slab with a keyhole. The key needs to discovered somewhere else on the map but when the characters enter the key, the concrete slab turns into flesh!

Then the flesh opens up like a bloody wound. Can you imagine describing the tearing of the flesh as this hole opens up, bleeding all over the place. That is AWESOME! 

You might be wondering why I read dungeon adventures if I don't tend to like them. Well this is why! For these kind of cool tidbits that I can use elsewhere. 

The Rune Guardian

The rune guardian is an interesting creature. It's basically a construct in the form of a rune that was used by the Runelords to guard their locations. As the different Runelords were linked to different sins, so are the guardians. 

Depending on which rune they represent, they will have different abilities. 

The description says the guardians were built to coordinate with other servants of the Runelords. The example that is given is a rune guardian of envy casting hold portal to lock someone in a room with a servitor monster. 

As the rune guardian of sloth can cast summon monster, it  really is a pity that this combination is not featured in the adventure. Especially since so much of the dungeon is dedicated to the Runelords anyway. 

I think a combination of some different rune guardians working together would make for a very interesting encounter. 

The Godsmouth Cathedral

In the description of the Godsmouth Cathedral nothing really jumps off the page. I like that it represents the three facets of the Pharasmin faith, especially the prophet part is something that interests me for storybuilding purposes. 

The Godsmouth Heresy Story

Here I am of two minds. On the one hand I really like the story idea, on the other hand it's a pity that it ended up as 'just' a dungeon adventure. 

Basically a Pharasmin priest discovers the writings of a subsect of the Faith that in bygone days used alchemical ways to revive the dead. The sect believed since they didn't use magic, they didn't violate Pharasma's tenets. 

That's a really cool idea! Of course the sect were branded as heretics and that priests was banished. But this is conflict, tension, intrigue, all in a few sentences of text. And hey, those are great story elements! 

I would have loved for this adventure to be the characters tracking down members of this sect. 

What could have been...

Coming back to my remark about the alternative cover art. Imagine this is a scene of the story. The characters have to find this sect, have to sneak into a gathering, see the person on the altar. They think the sect is about to sacrifice someone.

Turns out the sect is trying to bring that person back from the dead which of course brings with it, its own moral complications. Especially if one of the characters is tied to Pharasma. 

That's what I mean with the 'just a dungeon adventure'. It could also have been an investigation. It could have been loads of roleplay opportunities with members of the faith, some who want the sect destroyed, others who might want the research for their own studies. 

It could be other faiths entering the conversation. There's clerics of Urgathoa in the city. Wouldn't they like to get their hands on the sect's study material? If nothing else, just to stick it to the Pharasmin clergy. 

This could turn into an enormous web of intrigue in a city as atmospheric as Kaer Maga. Sign me up! I want to play! 

The tragedy that might be missed

Another great story within this dungeon that I fear might be missed by a whole bunch of adventurers,  is the tragic story of Esme, the magus zombie necromancer. 

There's a lot of text dedicated to her story so GMs should really try to get that out to the players. Don't let them get away with the oversimplified zombie = evil = attack. 

Basically Esme is a woman that contracted a wasting disease that rotted her flesh. She went looking for a cure, even enlisted the help of necromancers but noone could help her. 

Oh yeah, Kaer Maga has a brothel with undead courtesans because "there are some things you just can’t do with a live ’un.” This is where Esme used to work to survive. 

That's messed up! The paraphrased part above is literally from the City of Strangers book. 

Then she finds our banished Pharasmite turned alchemist and agrees to be killed and revived as an undead. 

If the characters just walk in the room and start blasting her and her skeleton guards, they miss out on a very tragic story element. 

Hearing this story, it will be a lot more 'grey area' to decide what to do next. 

In any case, Esme's story for me is one of the highlights of this module. 

GM Preparation

  • Reading City of Strangers to get a good feel for Kaer Maga is invaluable. Even though the adventure doesn't take place in the city itself, the module often refers to it, its factions, or locations much deeper underground which are explained in City of Strangers.
  • The Godsmouth Ossuary has multiple pathways that lead deeper underground. Those locations deeper underground are left to the GM to flesh out, or the module refers you to City of Strangers. Be prepared for the fact that your players might go down a set of stairs to a place you don't have any information on, nor have a map for. 
  • There are a lot of different creatures in this dungeon, from a variety of sources. The skull spider is even from a non-Paizo product. Stats are provided in the stat blocks for non-core books. But you'll still have to go through different bestiaries to look up all the monsters. 
  • I would highly recommend incorporating Esme's story! Have her surrender if her guards get killed for example. It will be a great roleplay opportunity between players and Esme, and between players amongst themselves, especially if there's a Pharasmin cleric in the party.

Critical Hit or Fumble?

For those who just want to skip straight to the ratings:

Pros

  • Great story idea!
  • The Door of Flesh
  • The tragedy of Esme
  • Great mix of creatures to populate the dungeon
  • Plenty  of opportunity for further exploration of the deeper levels

Cons

  • If players go down one of several pathways to deeper levels, you're on your own. 
  • The story idea has so much more potential that 'just a dungeon adventure'.
71%

Product Rating Summary

Art

cartography

look & feel

writing

story

gm prep

This is a great start for any Kaer Maga centered campaign. 

There is so much flavor in the city and there's plenty of opportunities to have it ooze all over this adventure. Just imagine describing the characters descending the cliffs with all those carved faces, then being guided into the mouth of one of them. 

As a gamemaster, be prepared however! There are lots of creatures from different source materials, and make sure to refer back to the dungeon map when you read the descriptions. I had to read some parts multiple times to figure out how exactly it was meant to be used. 

As I mentioned in my review, I love this story idea. There's so much more potential for investigation, intrigue, and conflict that it's almost a pity if your gamemaster just runs it as your average dungeon hack. 

Don't! There's so much more to explore here.

Purchase The Godsmouth Heresy

Hardcopy

The Godsmouth Heresy has been out of print for a while. Your best bet for a hardcopy version is to look on Amazon or perhaps on Ebay

The Godsmouth Heresy pdf

As Paizo doesn't sell their products through DriveThruRPG, your best bet to get hold of a pdf copy of the adventure is directly in the Paizo webshop

Also of interest

Highly recommended to flesh out the lore of Kaer Maga and its underground caverns is City of Strangers

The main bad guy is an alchemist so you might want to read up on that class in the Advanced Player's Guide. In the 2nd edition of the Pathfinder RPG, the alchemist became a core class that's detailed in the Core rulebook

Then there's a whole bunch of monsters which you can read up on in the Bestiary and Bestiary 2

I will list the Bestiary and Bestiary 2 for 2nd edition here as well for completeness sake. I don't own these myself so I can't guarantee that the same monsters are being covered as in their 1st edition counterparts. 

The gasburst zombies are detailed in Classic Horrors Revisited

Then there are a few monsters whose statblocks are completely provided but if you want to read up on them in their original source, here you go: 


Ralph

About the author

Ralph is a gamer, dungeon master, Youtuber, and RPG collector who's incredibly passionate about roleplaying games. Coming from a computer roleplaying game background, he discovered tabletop roleplaying games at GenCon Benelux and a whole new world opened up. When he was properly introduced to them in a local gaming store, he knew he had found the best game ever!



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