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Friday, 22 October 2021

[Free RPG Day 2021] Threshold of Knowledge

Now in its fourteenth year, Free RPG Day in 2021, after a little delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, took place on Saturday, 16th October. As per usual, it came with an array of new and interesting little releases, which traditionally would have been tasters for forthcoming games to be released at GenCon the following August, but others are support for existing RPGs or pieces of gaming ephemera or a quick-start. Of course, in 2021, Free RPG Day took place after GenCon despite it also taking place later than its traditional start of August dates, but Reviews from R’lyeh was able to gain access to the titles released on the day due to a friendly local gaming shop and both Keith Mageau and David Salisbury of Fan Boy 3 in together sourcing and providing copies of the Free RPG Day 2020 titles. Reviews from R’lyeh would like to thank all three for their help.

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Paizo Inc. has always been supportive of Free RPG Day, typically donating scenarios for Pathfinder, typically involving goblins, and more recently, for its Science Fiction counterpart, Starfinder as well. The contribution for Free RPG Day 2021 for Pathfinder Second Edition is Threshold of Knowledge, a short adventure for First Level Player Characters. It comes with five pre-generated characters and can be played in a single session, but does feel a little long for a standard four hour session in comparison to a typical Paizo five hour session. To play through 
Threshold of Knowledge, the Game Master requires just copies of Pathfinder Second Edition and the Pathfinder Bestiary.

Threshold of Knowledge takes place at the prestigious Magaambya, the oldest school of magic in the Inner Sea region and in the nearby city of Nantambu. The Player Characters are prospective students at the Magaambya, undertaking training with Teacher Takulu Ot who is their sponsor. His initial task is for Player Characters to become part of the community and the first step in that is to help Alandri, a local fisherwoman, with whatever tasks she asks of them. This means going out into Nantambu and down to the canal where she wants them to fish for her. On the way, another student challenges them to a race to get to her stall. Presented as a series of challenges using a variety of skills and player ingenuity, this is not actually a good start to the scenario. Whilst there is no doubt that students might engage in such a race, there is no real benefit to it in terms of the story to Threshold of Knowledge, especially since when the Player Characters arrive at Alandri’s house, the first thing says is, “You’re late.”—and that is whether they win or lose the race. It feels artificial and forced, more a case of the adventure setting out to teach the players how to roll dice and use their characters’ skills than anything else. Certainly, if the Game Master wanted to shorten Threshold of Knowledge, then this section could easily be excised and the players be left none the wiser.

Fortunately, after that, 
Threshold of Knowledge settles down and gets on with its plot. Alandri has the Player Characters fish for her—and the intimation is that the Player Characters will be doing this daily for the first year or so of study at the Magaambya—but not with either net or rod, but by diving into the canal! This is much more fun and intriguing than the earlier race and it foreshadows events to come later in the scenario. The plot really triggers when the Player Characters return to the Magaambya. Teacher Ot’s office is awash with water and he himself is missing! The clues lead to a store room elsewhere in the Magaambya and from there back to the canal and back again to the Magaambya. There is a puzzle for the Player Characters to solve first, a series of tunnels and a grotto to explore, and some semi-aquatic combat encounters to overcome. Of these, the puzzle is the most difficult challenge to handle and will need careful study upon the part of the Game Master to really understand and then impart with her players. There are some fun encounters here, such as with a shark gliding across the floor of a partially flooded library!

To accompany the adventure, 
Threshold of Knowledge includes five pre-generated Player Characters. These consist of an Ekujae Elf Monk, a Human Fighter, a Grippli Rogue, a Human Cleric, and a Half-Orc Sorcerer. Each is neatly arranged on their own individual pages and complete with background and clear, easy to read stats. Of course, the players do not have to use these, but could instead substitute their own characters, especially if the Game Master is planning to run a campaign set at the Magaambya. Otherwise though, these are a decently diverse range of characters. In addition, there is a selection of magical items and spells, such Gritty Wheeze, an exhalation of abrasive sand and grit, which appear in the scenario.

Physically, 
Threshold of Knowledge is as well presented as you would expect for a release from Paizo Inc. Everything is in full colour, the illustrations are excellent, and the maps attractive.

Threshold of Knowledge is perhaps a little long and perhaps does not handle its single puzzle as well as it could have done, but it is a very likeable adventure. It provides a diverse range of Player Characters and has a pleasing different feel to its fantasy than that atypical of most roleplaying fantasy. As written, Threshold of Knowledge is a good introduction for Pathfinder Second Edition or a good starting adventure for a campaign based at the Magaambya.

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