The Show Must Go On
[EDITORS NOTE: If this is your first experience with the Second Edition Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, you may want to consider starting with our previous review of the Core Rulebook. -dc]
STEP RIGHT UP, STEP RIGHT UP, welcome friends! SEE the Amazing Dwarf Throwers! GASP at the daring of The Feather-Fall Five! MARVEL at Mordane the Magician! STEP RIGHT UP and enter the Big Top of the Circus of Wayward Wonders! STEP RIGHT UP for the Greatest Show on Golarion!
Oh. My. Goodness. So I got back into Canada after a three week road trip of events in the US, and amidst the pile of mail was The Show Must Go On, part 1 of the Extinction Curse adventure path for Pathfinder. It’s a circus theme. It’s a CIRCUS THEME! Yessssssss! Growing up in small town Western Canada, going to a circus was very different than what you might think when someone says “circus.” For one thing, it took place in our hockey arena. Even though it came through about once a year I think I only went once, maybe twice. But as I grew up, and grew as a performer, I came to appreciate, respect, and often love, the skills of the circus. To this day, I count a number of clowns and “circus” performers as friends. But sufficed to say, I was excited to crack this open.
“Come one, come all! Humble performers become leaders of the Circus of Wayward Wonders when tragedy strikes. But as these heroes lead their motley band of performers and roustabouts around the Isle of Kortos, they uncover a sinister plot to exterminate life from the Starstone Isle. The dead god Aroden may be gone, but his legacy lives on, as do his old enemies who would destroy the wonders he raised from the sea. Spectacle meets savagery as the heroes strive to stop the Extinction Curse!
The Extinction Curse Adventure Path begins [in The Show Must Go On]! The Circus of Wayward Wonders has just arrived in the remote town of Abberton, and the player characters are the stars of the show! When the ringmaster turns up dead, the fate of the traveling circus and its entertainers hangs in the balance, and the heroes must scramble to put on a successful show and find the killer—all at the same time! Investigations only lead to more questions, and the heroes find themselves center stage in a dangerous, prehistoric plot that threatens not just Abberton, but every inhabitant of the Starstone Isles!”
That’s the official description for Extinction Curse and The Show Must Go On from the Paizo website. The Players start off at level 1 and end up Level 20 by the end of the six parts, that’s not unusual. But what Extinction Curse really brings to your table is an entirely new area of play, The Circus. It’s not just a cute theme that lets player clown around more literally than usual, it’s a full sub-system of rules. The 11-page section called Life in the Circus presents all the rules that players and GMs will need in order to run three-rings of excitement from the advertising, to build up anticipation, right through to the final bows. Players can (and probably should) design their own Signature Trick to perform for the crowd, or they can take a behind the scenes role. Remember: a big show is a profitable show, and a profitable show can afford to buy Circus Upgrades for a bigger show, and a bigger show is an even more profitable show. There’s even a “Circus Show Sheet” to help track and coordinate each performance. The one thing that seems to be missing is a matching sheet to track the circus’ overall advancement, but that’s not hard to make as a GM.
The Adventure Toolbox section has everything you might expect. There are a bunch of new weapons, skills and spells, as well as bestiary entries for new creatures (some from this adventure, some not). It also includes two new Character Archetypes, because why run a circus if you can’t live the full circus performer life? It’s a bit unfortunate that there are only two Archetypes, the Juggler and Staff Acrobat, but I can’t imagine there won’t be more presented over the next five parts. On top of all that, there is a free PDF Players Guide that gives not only suggestions for suitable Backgrounds from the Core Rulebook but also nine unique new Backgrounds to choose from when players design their hero.
The Circus of Wayward Wonders obviously takes the spotlight in the first part of the adventure. But it quickly steps back into a supporting role for the second part, and even further back for the later parts. By the end of the book, players are deeply entrenched in both a mystery and a mysterious plot that carries them into the next chapter, Legacy of the Lost God. As the story progresses, it will ultimately be up to the players and GM to collectively decide how much or little the circus performances factor into their game.
As I said, I was on the road, so I’m a bit behind with part 4 being released shortly after this review goes live. But on the upside, that means you can binge the first three parts now, and even check out the Player Guide, read a prequel story, or watch the Developer Commentary video.
I’m legitimately excited not only for this adventure path, but for where this new circus sub-system could go after the (Extinction) Curse is lifted.