Welcome Back to the Labyrinth

"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."

"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."

"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"

"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"

Monday, September 19, 2011

Session One: The Temple of Atlach-Nacha

As dusk settled upon the glittering domes and high-spired towers of the City-State of Kashpur a small band consisting of a warrior, a sorcerer, a thief, and two monks gathered beneath the high walls surrounding the temple of the spider god with ropes and grappling hooks in hand.

The cult of Atlach-Nacha has a monopoly on the production and distribution of the hallucinogenic drug, Akla, which is derived from the venom of the Dream Weaver spider.  Aside from being a popular recreational drug, Akla is vital to attaining the meditative state necessary for the Scions of Thoth to access their ancestral memories.  Capturing a live Dream Weaver, or better still, an egg cluster, would help break the cult's monopoly on Akla production.

More to the point, however, word around the Willing Wench was that the idol of Atlach-Nacha had eyes set with enormous amethysts and the idea of a night time incursion to liberate them sounded better with each pint of ale.

After scaling first the wall, then the cupola at the end of one of the eight wings radiating from the temple, the band was inside.  Deciding to first explore the rooms in the wing before heading to the altar, the band ventured into the occupied bed chamber of one of the temple priests.  This resulted in the alarm being raised and a battle with the priest and two of his fellows occupying neighbouring chambers.

After dispatching the priests, four of the band donned the black web-embroidered robes.  When confronted by temple guards, the disguised party members said that a band of thieves had fled to the upper floor of the rear wing.  The guards ran off to capture the miscreants, leaving the party alone with the idol of Atlach-Nacha.  The idol had two large amethyst eyes, and four smaller ones.  The two larger were pried out of their sockets without harm, but two of the smaller were broken.  Just as the thief was prying out the last of the eyes, two more guards entered the hall, and this time bluffing them was out of the question.  One was quickly slain, but the other fled to summon reinforcements.

Electing to exit the temple as expeditiously as possible, the band ran for the main entrance, but found it blocked by two guards and the temple's prelate.  After killing them with ease, the party was tempted by a set of descending stairs, and elected to explore the lower level of the temple instead of making good their escape.  They quickly found what was assumed to be the temple's treasury - a room filled with chests, each containing 1,000 gold pieces.  Each party member claimed a chest of gold, and at this point they decided that they'd made a sufficient haul for the night, and that it was time to leave.

Unfortunately, they weren't quick enough getting out, and met the first four guards that they'd sent on a wild goose-chase, who were now examining the body of the dead prelate and his guards.  The ensuing fight did not go as smoothly as the earlier one's and the party's warrior was slain in the melee.

As the party made their way through the grounds to the main gate, they heard the chittering of an enormous black spider that had dropped out of the trees behind them.  Thinking quickly, the sorcerer brandished a golden spider emblem he had taken from one of the priests, hoping it might serve to identify them as cultists of Atlach-Nacha.  The ploy worked and the spider backed away into the bushes.

After escaping from the temple grounds the surviving party members, many of them badly injured, decided to lay low for while and wait for the heat to die down before trying to fence the amethysts.  Much to their dismay, when they opened their purloined chests, they found that their haul from the temple was not 5,000 gp, but 5,000 cp.  Illusions can be tricksy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The City-States of Lemuria

Ever since I first became a student of Earth history I've yearned to run a campaign set in Earth's distant past; when creatures so fantastical roamed the land that they could rival even the weirdest entries in the Fiend Folio.  I've never gotten around to it, but now that I am about to start a new campaign to test out my home-brewed sword & sorcery rules I needed a suitable S & S setting to run it in.

Very little of the campaign setting has been fleshed out, I have a very general idea of what the world is like and intend to grow the setting throughout the course of the campaign rather than having every detail determined before the first die is ever rolled.  Likewise, instead of dumping a massive campaign background in the laps of the players, who will probably never read it, I mean to reveal details of the world bit-by-bit in game and as a series of vignette posts that will be much easier to digest.

So far, all I know about the world is what I've told the players:
The Atlantean Empire, which in the distant past was widespread and all-powerful, once oppressed and enslaved the men of Lemuria, but when the Atlantean civilization was wrought by decadence and decay, and their empire collapsed, they abandoned their holdings one by one, finally withdrawing to their island nation of Atlantis, and have seldom been heard from or seen since. Mankind is now ascendent, and the city-states of Lemuria fight interminably to establish mighty kingdoms and empires of their own. All across the land the crumbling ruins built by the Atlantean overlords beckon to adventurers of bold spirit, promising fabulous treasures, arcane lore, and artifacts of magic and super-science, long abandoned by their owners. But such treasures are guarded, still, by horrific creatures summoned by the black arts of Atlantean sorcery or abominations twisted by genetic experimentation. Only adventurers bold and mighty can dare such dangers and return alive to tell the tales and spend the gold of their conquests.

I have a great fondness for intertwining fact and fiction, and I've never been able to resist doing so in my campaign settings; it enhances the plausibility of the game, and consequently my enjoyment.  As such, the lure of Lemuria was irresistible.

Throughout much of the 19th, and well into the 20th century, sunken continents were common explanations for the biogeographic distributions of species, and Lemuria was proposed by zoologist, Philip Scatler, to explain the occurrence of lemurs in Madagascar and India, but not Africa.  He suggested that a large continent once occupied part of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, bridging Madagascar and India.  "Lost" continents were discredited in the 1950's when the discovery of plate tectonics provided support for Alfred Wegener's theory of Continental Drift, which had, until then, been generally disregarded by the scientific community.  But until then they were considered to be valid scientific hypotheses, supported by some of the greatest scientists of the day, including Ernst Haeckel.  Lemuria was even proposed as the birthplace of humanity, which raises all sorts of interesting possibilities in a fantasy campaign.

It is hardly surprising that the lost lands of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Lemuria, Atlantis, and Hyperborea would show up in the literary works of fantasists such as Robert Howard and Clark Ashton Smith; they were undoubtedly influenced many of the intriguing hypotheses proposed by scientists of their day, and let's face it, what writer of weird fiction could possibly resist the notion of lost continents and civilizations?  Or what gamer?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In Media Res

After a long hiatus from roleplaying, I will be kicking off a new campaign this Sunday.  I've always found that first sessions are very special as they tend to set the tone for the rest of the campaign.  They are pregnant with possibility; a golden time when anything is possible.  Players sit with brand new, vaguely defined characters written on crisp clean character records that do not yet bear the scars of constant erasing or the doodles borne of months spent waiting for their turn to act.

After that first session characters start to become defined, pathways chosen, story arcs develop and inevitably, just as happens when we make choices in life, doors close.  Never again, for the rest of the campaign, will the players experience that same thrill of untold possibility as they do when they sit down to begin that first session. That's a lot to have riding on a single evening.

So, how do we usually kick it off?  By spending the evening shopping for gear, then maybe meeting up in the tavern to make awkward and forced introductions followed by the Employment Offer (TM) that assumes that each character will have sufficient trust and cause to band together with a group of strangers and go risk their lives together because, hey, that's how its done.

At least that's how most of my campaigns have traditionally started, despite the fact that I find this unsatisfying and a waste of such potentially thrilling possibilities.

The best first session I ever played was in a friend's Traveller campaign about thirty years ago.  I'd missed the first few sessions and had to join in after the game had already started.  My character, whose name I forget, was a disreputable Jack of All Trades whose sole possessions were a leather jacket, a 9mm slug-thrower, a boot knife, a pack of smokes, and a hover-car I'd gotten as a mustering-out benefit.  In the opening scene, I was driving down the street when a fellow (PC) ran out in front of my hover-car frantically waving for me stop, then beseeching me to give him a ride to the spaceport.  As I was negotiating a price a trio of attack helicopters suddenly flew around a corner and opened fire.  My passenger screamed at me to drive while throwing fist-fulls of money at me.  I drove.  After a very exciting chase, my bullet-riddled hover-car careened into the space port at high speed and, with pedal to the metal, I raced into the cargo hold of a ship that was just preparing to boost off planet.  All of a sudden I found myself in the company of rebels who were en-route to assault an Imperial prison planet to free some political prisoners.  And I was going along for the ride.

This is perhaps the most memorable game session I've ever played, and what made it so successful, in my opinion, was starting off in media res.  I had no idea what was going on.  I was thrown into the thick of things without any benefit of introduction or back story and before I knew what was happening I was in over my head, being chased by powerful enemies and trying to stay alive long enough to get my bearings and figure things out.  Kind of how you'd expect real people to get drawn into adventures.

So, this time around I think I'm going to try starting the campaign in media res.  No shopping. No introductions.  Just "here's the situation - go!" I have no real plan for a first adventure; I've got a bad case of game master's block, so I may just wait until I see what characters get rolled up and then go from there and just wing the session.  Most of this campaign is an experiment in which I'm play testing my sword & sorcery rule system, so I may as well add yet another experiment and go with my gut and see how things unwind.  It may be an epic fail, or it could end up as my best campaign start ever.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dwarf Army WIP

As summer gives way to autumn and the heat begins to wane, I find myself drawn to my paint station to resume working on one of my many ongoing projects.  Of late, I've been turning my attention to my long-neglected Warhammer Dwarf army.

The first thing I ever bought for this army was the character Joseph Bugman, the dwarf master-brewer.

One of the conditions for using Bugman is that any army he is in must include a unit of longbeard rangers.  Longbeards are hoary old veterans, grognards in the literal sense; they've fought more battles, drank more ale, and endured greater hardships than any younger dwarfs could possibly imagine.  They grumble ceaselessly that nothing is as good as it was in their day; craftsmanship is poorer, goblins are wimpier, and the younger generation just isn't up to snuff.   Consequently, longbeards have the 'Old Grumblers' special rule that allows any other dwarf unit within 6" to re-roll any failed panic tests so as to avoid the endless litany of 'I told you so's' that the longbeards would bestow upon any panicky unit of youngsters.  I find myself identifying more strongly with longbeards the older I get, so including a unit in my army is a given.

Since Bugman is a pivotal character in my army, I've decided to play up the beer-drinking theme throughout the army.  My unit of  longbeard rangers are Bugman's Brewery Boys, the brewmasters and artisans that create the finest ales of the dwarf race.  To represent this I've modeled up a scenic 40 mm monster base that includes some ale barrels with a banner bearing Bugman's personal emblem stuck in the ground as proxy for the usual unit standard-bearer, as I reckon the Brewery Boys would be more inclined to rally round the ale barrel than anything else.

What would you say to a cold beer?
"Going down."
Including some barrels of Bugman's Best is not only characterful, but is also reflects one of Joseph Bugman's special rules; any unit he is with can drink from Bugman's tankard to refresh themselves, restoring a lost wound as well as making them immune to fear and terror.  This is going to be one tough unit of hopped-up axe-wielding maniacs.  I almost pity the monster that gets in their way.

What is a dwarf army with some fortifications to go with it?  I've also been spending much of the past week working on a fortified gun-battery terrain piece.

This is my first attempt at making my own terrain, and it was pretty straightforward.  The hill and rock wall are made from polystyrene insulation sculpted with a hot wire cutter and a sanding block, then mounted on a piece of hardboard for extra strength and durability.  The wall is made with foam core board.  Add some of the many extra dwarfy bits left over from various kits, a couple of layers of acrylic paint, finish off with some moss and snow, and voila!  A cheap-ass terrain piece ready to go.

Once I finish of the longbeard ranger unit, I'll just have a unit of miners to finish and then I'll have more than 2,000 points of bearded, ale-swilling hard-asses who are just itching to kick the tails of any skaven, goblins, or vampire lords silly enough to cross their path.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A Sample Adventure Format

After writing yesterday's post detailing the format that I would like published adventures to be written in, I thought it might be useful to provide a sample adventure written in just this format.  It will also be interesting to make up an adventure off the top of my head as I write - I don't promise that it will be an interesting adventure, just an interesting experiment.  So I'll put on a Dead Can Dance CD for some background inspirational music, and here goes:

Canopus Rising an adventure for 1st - 3rd level characters

The blood-scribed pages of the Book of Eibon tell of a blasphemous ritual that will awaken the elder demon, Iog-Sotot, who was ancient when this world was new.  To enact the ritual, a virgin bearing the mark of Carina must be sacrificed upon the equinox when Canopus is at its zenith.  Sukhara, leader of the chaos cult, The Children of Dis, has kidnapped a young woman with a birthmark on her thigh that resembles the constellation Carina, and he believes that her blood can fulfill the ritual to call forth Iog-Sotot to wreak havoc upon the campaign city.

The players are hired by a local merchant named Marconus, to locate his missing daughter, Adara, who has recently disappeared.  In fact, Adara has been kidnapped by a chaos cult, The Children of Dis, to be sacrificed to the demon Iog-Sotot, who the Cult and its leader, Sukhara, priest of Eris, hope to summon.  Marconus's assistant, a young man named Memnot, a cult member who has long desired Adara, espied her in her bath and noticed a wine-stain birthmark upon her thigh in the semblance of the constellation Carina.  Seeking to gain favour with Sukhara and status within the cult, Memnot arranged the kidnapping of Adara, stealing her from her bed chamber after drugging her wine with lotus blossoms.

Marconus has reported Adara's disappearance to the city watch, but the Children of Dis are a wealthy and influential cult and have circulated the rumour that Adara ran away with her lover, Memnot, and they have also bribed the watch officers to let the matter rest.  However, Marconus is a wealthy and prosperous merchant, himself, and it is well within his means to hire mercenaries to locate Adara.  He promises the characters 500 gp each to rescue his daughter.

Marconus has no certain idea who took his daughter or why, but he finds it suspicious that Memnot stopped coming to work immediately after the kidnapping, and he knows that Adara had no romantic interest in Memnot - in fact she found him odious.  An investigation into Memnot, by making inquiries at his favourite tavern, the Willing Wench, will soon reveal his affiliation with the Children of Dis.

Adara is being held in the cult's hideout, a system of karst caverns beneath the city, she is unharmed and being kept safe until the equinox, three days hence.  The cellar of Memnot's home in Nocturne Lane, which he shares with his mother, herself a life-long Child of Dis, contains a secret entrance to the caverns.  There are several other entrances to the caverns that might suggest themselves to suspicious investigators.  There has recently been a series of late night disappearances in the vicinity of the Willing Wench that has set the fearful residents to gossiping.  The sewers in the neighbourhood have crumbled, leading to the caverns, and the cult has been using this as a convenient venue to kidnap drunken tavern patrons for Sukhara's foul necromancy.  Furthermore, local fishermen  have noticed suspicious activity around the cave entrances on the coast.  The cult has been transporting supplies by boat to the coastal caves that lead to their caverns.

The cavern complex consists of a series of interconnected caves and passages including one large cavern that serves as the cult's ritual chamber.  It is in this chamber that Adara will be sacrificed on the night of the equinox.  In the days leading up to the equinox the caverns will be a hive of activity, with cultists coming and going while making preparations for the big night.  The caverns are patrolled by zombie slaves - the animated remains of past sacrificial victims that Sukhara has raised to protect the lair.  One of the caves is home to a trio of harpies that have made accommodation with the cult, the two groups avoid each other, but cultists are not above luring enemies into the harpies' lair and trapping them there.  The caverns are also haunted by an ochre jelly that Sukhara finds convenient for disposing of incriminating evidence.  The occasional cultist also falls prey to the jelly, but here are plenty more where they came from.  The cult has also concealed many of the sinkholes in the caverns to serve as traps for unwelcome intruders.

Should the PCs fail to stop Sukhara from performing the ritual, then he will succeed in awakening the elder demon Iog-Sotot.  The repercussions of this are left the the GM's discretion, but the cultists should almost certainly not profit from their perfidy.  There is a price to pay when trafficking with the forces of the Dark Beyond, and the wrath of Iog-Sotot will most definitely be focused on those who aroused him.  But the city, itself will also suffer from the demon's ire.

Dramatis Personae
Adara - daughter of Marconus, kidnapped victim of Sukhara who will be sacrificed on the eve of the equinox.
Lucrecius - a notorious strangler and defenestrator, he is also Sukhara's chief lieutenant and body-guard.  He  leads the warriors of the cult and will deal with any interlopers who ask too many questions about town.
Marconus - a merchant of the city and father to Adara.  He knows that Adara has been kidnapped and suspects the involvement of Memnot.
Memnot - employee of Marconus and cultist.  He has not risen in the cult as he had hoped and has come to resent Sukhara.  He could be persuaded to betray the cult if he can do so without risk to himself.
Menara - mother of Memnot and cultist.  She dwells in her home on Nocturne Alley and knows of the secret entrance to the caverns below.
Sukhara - necromancer, priest of Eris, and leader of the children of Dis, he possesses the dread Book of Eibon and will perform the ritual to summon Iog-Sotot upon the rise of Canopus on the eve of the equinox.

T minus 3 days: Marconus hires help to find his daughter.
T minus 2 days: increased activity around the coastal caves is noted by local fishermen for the next two days.
T minus 6 hours: the cultists in the city and surrounding area begin to congregate in the caverns in preparation for the summoning ritual.
T minus 1 hour: by midnight all cultists will be in the ritual chamber, Adara will be bound on the altar, and Sukhara will begin the ritual.
Eve of the equinox: Canopus will reach its zenith at precisely 1 a.m. at which time the ritual will culminate with the sacrifice of Adara, awakening Iog-Sotot.

Random Encounters (1-in-6 chance, roll once per turn in the caverns)
1. Cultists* (1d6) 25% chance that Memnot will be among them.
2. Cult warrior patrol (1d4)
3. Zombies (1d 4)
4. Cultists (1d6) 20% chance that Sukhara and Lucrecius will be among them. (refer to area 15 for stat lines and descriptions)
5. Giant Centipedes - Medium (1d3)
6. Ochre Jelly
7. Sukhara*, Lucrecia and 1d4 cult warriors.  (refer to area 15 for stat lines and descriptions)
8. Adara* - she's escaped her cell and is running blindly through the caverns, hotly pursued by a cult warrior patrol and 1d6 cultists.  (refer to area 6 for stat line and description)

*If any npcs are met in a random encounter they obviously will not be in their lair as described in the keyed descriptions.

So, there we have the crux of the adventure laid out in just a couple of pages.  The abstract conveys all of the information necessary to run the adventure.  Although the map and keyed areas are not provided, a cavern map could be very quickly sketched and, in need, the GM now knows enough about the plot, the important npcs, and the timeline of events to run the adventure on the fly without any keyed areas or further preparation.

Friday, September 2, 2011

How Not to Write an Adventure

As I prepare to kick off a new campaign starting in September I've been giving a lot of thought to adventure design.  In general, I don't use published adventures and never have.  It isn't that I'm opposed to published adventures in principal; while I do prefer to create my own, tailored to my specific campaign, there are times when I'm really pressed for time and would appreciate having something to 'plug and play' with minimal preparation required.

The problem is that I've very rarely ever seen a published adventure that was any good.  My long-time aversion to modules began with my very first D&D game back in 1980, when I attempted to run Keep on the Borderlands.  The session was a disaster, which probably owes more to the fact that my friends and I had no idea what we were doing, than the quality of the adventure.  Nonetheless, at the end of the session one of my friends said, "That sucked.  You should just make up your own adventures."  And I have ever since.  I still bought modules from time to time, suckered in by a neat looking cover or a cool sounding teaser, but I always came away disappointed and, since I had very little money to spare as a teen, feeling a bit angry and ripped off at having purchased something I could have done a better job of myself.  After a few years I'd amassed quite a collection of unused adventures on my bookshelf.

Now, I don't envy anyone who writes adventures for publication.  It can't be easy to come up with an idea that is generic enough to be used by a wide audience, but unique enough to get that same audience to buy it.  But it was never really the ideas or concepts themselves that I found unappealing, it was the way the adventures were written and laid out.  As far as I was concerned they were, and still are, useless as game aids.

So here's the type of adventure structure that I would find useful, and if anyone ever wrote such a thing I definitely be inclined to buy it:

1. Lead off with an abstract.
An abstract is a complete, yet concise summary of the contents in just a few paragraphs.  All scientific papers have abstracts, which fully describe the contents of the paper, including the conclusions.  I don't read 90% of the articles in science journals - I just don't have the time.  I only read the full papers devoted to my immediate area of specialty.  For all the rest I, like most other scientists, only read the abstract.  The abstract tells me everything I need to know.  The rest of the paper is devoted to the details of the experiment and presentation of data, which is only important if you're interested in the nitty gritty details.  Similarly, in a module I would like to see a complete synopsis of everything that happens in the adventure.  Most adventures have teasers, which don't really tell you anything.  There seems to be some fear of "spoiling the ending" by summarizing everything up front.  But guess what?  I'm the DM, I need the info.

2. Dramatis personae
Borrow a page from Shakespeare and give me a list of all the important characters in the adventure right there on the first page.  When I write my own adventures I always include a list of characters as an aide memoire that includes what each character knows in case he is questioned by the PCs.

3. Random Encounter Tables
These are, in many ways, the lifeblood of the adventure.  They transform a series of static encounters into a dynamic and believable setting.

4. Timeline of Events
If the adventure includes a villain with an evil scheme, it should also include a timeline for the implementation and execution of that scheme that assumes no interference by the PCs.  There is absolutely nothing I hate more in an adventure than the set piece where the evil villain is poised with dagger raised above the sacrificial victim, the final passages of the incantation of summoning on his lips in perpetuity, just waiting for the PCs to enter before beginning the downward stroke.  Here's the thing: players are easily distracted by shiny objects.  They might head back to town for R&R halfway through the adventure and then get distracted by a side quest.  They might even decide, as has often happened to me, not to undertake your planned adventure at all.   Unless the main villain in the adventure is Heinz Doofenshmirtz, if the players don't show up the evil scheme will now go off unopposed creating a potentially even more interesting situation.  Mwah ha ha.

5.  Maps
I really miss the detached maps on the inside module covers from the old TSR adventures.  These days maps tend to be scattered throughout the adventure in a devious scheme to drive me into a berserk rage by forcing me flip back and forth between the keyed areas and the map they describe.  Now, I know that the detached maps of old probably aren't easy or practical to do anymore, but FOR THE LOVE OF ZEUS'S BUTTHOLE don't scatter the damn things all over the place.  If the adventure is saddle-stitched, put the maps in the middle so I can pry up the staples and remove them.  Failing that, at least put them all together at the back of the adventure so I can find them quickly.

6. Keyed Areas
In my opinion, read-aloud text boxes should be forever excised and consigned to the lowest pits of Hell.  I can't imagine a more useless and demeaning contrivance.  Descriptions to keyed areas should be kept as brief as possible, and should never, ever, be used to introduce important characters.  I should not be meeting Ilbar the Terrible for the first time in the description of his throne room.  I should already know all about him and what his deal is from reading the dramatis personae back on page one.  The only thing I want to see about Ilbar in the room description is his stat line and the goodies the PCs will get when they loot his body.  Likewise, I never want to see plot developments unfold in the keyed area descriptions.  That should have been laid out in the abstract.  The ONLY thing that should be included in this section is a short description of what is in the room.

If an adventure were written in this format I could run it with less than five minutes of preparation.  With just the map, the overall plot line, a list of characters and random encounter tables I'm good to go.  All the important information is laid out up front and easy to access.  Adventure modules are not epic fantasy novels, so why do so many authors insist on writing them as if they were?  This is the difference between an adventure that I can use at the game table and one spends the next thirty years gathering dust on the shelf.

The Best and the Worst
While I've never seen an adventure that was completely satisfactory as a ready-to-run adventure, the best I've ever seen were those published by Judges Guild, especially the ones written by Jennell Jaquays, who was the master of open-ended adventure.  The Caverns of Thracia is my favourite adventure module and the one that stands out as the most dynamic and exciting.  Jaquays accomplished this by her excellent use of elaborate random encounter tables to turn the dungeon into a dynamic and real place, with guards patrolling the halls, NPCs going to and fro, and escaped slaves desperately fleeing jailers.  This made the dungeon feel like a real place to me, and I've never quite seen its like ever since.

My vote for the worst publisher of adventure modules goes to Paizo Publishing.  I know, their adventures are very popular and they are considered by many to have set a new standard in rpg adventures, but I've bought a few of their adventure paths, and they violate every single one of my rules for good adventure design.

To give them their due, Paizo adventures are fun reads, but I have a whole basement full of novels to turn to when I want a good read.  When I buy a module I want a good game adventure.  Unfortunately Paizo's adventures come off as though they were written by frustrated novelists, not experienced game masters.  The plot lines are overly detailed, generally linear, and unfold gradually as you read the adventure, which is just about the worst sin that an adventure writer can commit.  The DM should not be forced to study harder to run an adventure module than he did for his doctoral defense.  The whole reason that I would buy an adventure is as a time-saving measure, and preparing to run one of Paizo's adventures is more work than creating your own to begin with.

The books themselves are perfect-bound and will not lay open flat on the table, and are densely written in small font size, which is difficult to read in a dimly lit basement - two more flaws that make them unusable in a practical gaming environment.  Furthermore they are printed in full-colour on gloss paper, which adds, unnecessarily, to the cost of the product.  An adventure module is not a literary masterpiece to be handed down from generation to generation.  It is meant to be used.  Probably only once.  What is the point of such a lavish and elaborate product, other than to needlessly increase the production cost?  My cheap TSR modules are still in pristine shape after several decades.

Likewise the maps, which are distributed helter-skelter through the adventure, are artistically rendered in full-colour, which is unnecessary especially since the DM is the only person that will ever likely see them.  Personally, I prefer a utilitarian black and white map that clearly illustrates the setting.

So, despite their enormous popularity, I hold up Paizo modules as the best examples of how not to write an adventure - or least how to write adventures that I'd never use.