Storming the Diamond Gate has the reputation of being one of the deadliest Pathfinder scenarios ever published.
The adventure focuses on the Hao Jin tapestry, the museum demiplane that the Pathfinder Society is infatuated with throughout season three. After arduous months of detective work, the society has finally deduced how their chief rivals, the Aspis Consortium, have been entering the tapestry undetected. The hefty task of dismantling the Aspis Consortium foothold in the demiplane is assigned to the lone group of Pathfinders.
As if the mission wasn’t difficult enough, the Aspis Consortium stronghold is nestled cozily within a temple to Areshkagal, daughter of spooky monster deity Lamashtu.
From a purely structural standpoint, I prefer Storming the Diamond Gate over the other Hao Jin Tapestry scenarios. The reason for this is clarity. In the other scenarios, the facets and circumstances of the demiplane are poorly described to the party. Players, especially new ones, often waste a lot of time feeling things out, thinking they are entranced in an illusion or whisked off to a foreign corner of Golarion. The ambiguity of the missions in scenarios such as The Temple of Empyreal Enlightenment compounds this problem.
Not so for Storming the Diamond Gate. Owing to the bluntness of the quest giver Marcos Farabellus and the large amount of background information the game master is permitted to pour over the players, every intricacy of the Hao Jin Tapestry is revealed. The objective is also blissfully straightforward: crawl through a dungeon and kill any Aspis Consortium goons you encounter.
As a dungeon crawl, the scenario stands strongly – not entirely surprisingly, given that Areshkagal is the demon lord of greed, portal, and riddles. There are traps to be sprung, secret doors to be uncovered, and hefty punishments for those who prefer door-kicking over puzzle-solving.
One puzzle in particular – the blatantly Stargate-inspired one – tickles me just the right way. It’s difficult, but not so arcane as to be impossible, and there are real consequences for any player who tries to brute force a solution.
Some of the combat encounters are less fair. The graven guardians – although easily circumvented with the appropriate knowledge check – pose a serious threat if roused. Their damage resistance, fast healing, and tripping abilities make them extraordinarily difficult to destroy, and they can slap around even the tankiest of tanks with their hastened keen sickles.
Case in point: the first total-party-kill in Toronto was at the hands of these animated statues.
As a side note, this encounter raised major questions about how detect magic works. Paranoid after numerous ventures into the Blakros Museum, one of my player decided to scan the statue room with detect magic in hopes of revealing any hidden constructs. After having my explosive rune trap neutered due to compulsive use of the cantrip, I ruled that an inactive construct does not radiate magic.
To be honest though, I think the spell needs to be hit with the errata hammer to keep it from being used like the X-Ray Scope from Super Metroid.
The final encounter is often hyped up as the real death stroke, but I consider it much more manageable by comparison. The players must fight through wave after wave of summoned monsters to defeat the Aspis Consortium conjurer in charge of the stronghold. The deep chasms and shaky rope bridges that snake around the terrain funnel the players into direct confrontation with the lemures and fiendish animals he summons.
Although devastating on paper, I actually find that the terrain works to the players’ advantage. Archers and gunslingers are a dime a dozen in organized play, and these builds relish the opportunity to peg off individual melee mooks as they laboriously trudge across the four sets of rope bridges.
The wizard is a bit of a one trick pony as well. Once his summoning spells are expended, he only has a few quasi-reliable evocation spells at his disposable. There’s also a good chance that there will be a summoner or sorcerer among the heroes that will be able to handily out-conjure the conjurer.
(Summoners are another aspect of the game I wouldn’t mind being hit with the errata hammer, by the way.)
Although season four has introduced its fair share of death marches, Storming the Diamond Gate is still one of the most difficult scenarios in organized play. However, the robust lore and perplexing puzzles prevent the difficulty from feeling gimmicky or forced. The penultimate foray into the Hao Jin tapestry is a great scenario to challenge your veterans with, but I’d encourage naive young Pathfinders to sit this one out.