Here's a review I posted at Paizo about the first book in the Jade Regent Adventure Path. Please keep in mind that I do get a little spoilery here... so if you're a player, read with caution. I don't give away major plot points, but there may be a few minor points you don't want to know about. These reviews are mostly for GM's looking what to play next... and to help give them a few tips on things to look out for if they decide to run with it.
Having read the reviews on Paizo, as well as the free player's guide, I was excited to run this campaign with my Wednesday group. The general premise of Jade Regent: The Brinewall Legacy is that the party will be traveling, with a carvan of some very interesting NPCs, around the world. However, after getting through the first book, we are a bit disappointed with several aspects.
First, the good. We enjoyed the start up and plot set up. Sandpoint, and the adventures around there were rather enjoyable. The swamp was a lot of fun. The Goblin camp was probably larger than it needed to be, but it was a nice setup for what was to come. I wish the other 2/3rds of the adventure were this well rounded.
The party enjoyed the interaction with the main NPCs. Jade Regent features a relationship mechanic that would not feel out of place in something like Mass Effect. I was concerned that they would come across as gimmicky, especially given that I ran this with a more experienced set of pen and paper players who shun the idea of computer gaming conventions working their way into the game. In a way, the mechanics do feel a bit fake and forced.. For example, players rush when they're about to level to get their diplomacy checks with NPCs. However, at the same time, these tend to turn into some very funny moments. Over time we are seeing these relationships blossom and grow together. It's a nice touch, and something I will probably integrate into future homebrews.
Now, the not-so-good. For a game that is focused on those four NPCs, it would have been nice to see a bit more written on them. Perhaps some cut scenes, or direction given to the GM at certain parts in the adventure would help...or some more background and personality info. The two pages for each one is nice, but could use more info.
While the "level 1" section of this AP module was generally well done, the Level 2 (Trip to Brinewall from Sandpoint) and Level 3 (Brinewall Castle) had challenges. The trip to Brinewall, which is a 500 mile trek, gets just a few paragraphs. Given the setup (The party has to prepare the caravan, plot their course, etc), it really falls flat and is a huge missed opportunity. There are tables for random encounters. The book suggests that by the time the Party is really ready to take on the castle, they should be level 3, implying that there should be a lot going on during the trip. Now, this certainly gives GM's free reign to be creative, but I buy adventure paths because I do not have a lot of prep time. GM's, take my advice... spend some time and work some adventure in on the way. Make the trip memorable. Your players deserve better than what's there.
Conversely, Brinewall castle is a beast. This three floor dungeon crawl has good flavor and some very interesting things going on it. The layout is fantastic. However, it's a bit too large. I would have loved to take some rooms (or even a floor) out of this one, and have that dedicated to the trip from earlier. Despite the pages dedicated to the castle, because of its size, some rooms are quite empty, and several things (Such as any treasure at the end) are left completely to the GM. The battles were very rarely challenging. Depending on how the party approaches the castle, they can quite possibly watch the BBEG beaten by his ex-lover without lifting a finger to help (They will, of course, help, but the fact is that it has to be one of the easiest boss encounters I've ever run).
My advice to GM's running Jade Regent: The Brinewall Legacy... be prepared to do a bit more prep work than with most other AP's.
The players also felt that the plot reveals were too sporadic...and when they took place, it was a lot of information at once (especially the one at the end). I don't believe there's a lot DM's can do to alleviate this (unless they are real creative).
Some of my players have completed other Paizo adventures such as The Rise of the Runelords. Those who have agree with me that Jade Regent: The Brinewall Legacy falls short of the mark set by those excellent productions in terms of overall quality and story telling. However, as I mentioned before, there are a number of things done right here, and plenty of fun to be had. The overall plot and the premise of taking a trip around the world is still quite interesting, and I know we're looking forward to see where the travels take them next. The interactions with the major NPCs, encouraged and spurred by the relationship mechanics, with the right party (those who favor RP'ing at the table) help to inject much needed life into the adventure. So while I am a bit disappointed, and list some definitive shortcomings, there is plenty of fun to be found here.
I'll review the other books as we continue to push forward. I'm also playing Carrion Crown, so that will be coming soon. Let me know what you think!