The Cyphermage Dilemma is a thinking man’s adventure.
The premise is laden with layer upon layer of chicanery. A vicious vishkanya pirate is kidnapping scholars headed into Riddleport to study the Cyphergate. Her motivation is unknown, but the Pathfinders are tasked with stopping her before she absconds with an important ally of the society, Hirako Gurukaza. Detective work and swarthy swashbuckling with eventually lead the players to the pirate’s hideout, where they must negotiate the release of Hirako.
This negotiation is one of the more intriguing encounters presented this season. As the players enter the pirate’s hideout, she holds a cutlass to Hirako’s throat and demands that they let her leave. Her tactics and her demeanour make it clear that she is willing to coup-de-gras her captive at any time
It’s interesting to see how the players handle this delicate situation. Stealth, diplomacy, and fisticuffs are all valid options. Interestingly, the survival of Hirako is not necessarily a requirement of the adventure; the players need only thwart the pirate or save Hirako to succeed, not both.
Watching players with differing alignments and capabilities argue over how to proceed is a rare joy, and running this adventure multiple times will doubtlessly result in completely different outcomes.
The other standout encounter of the scenario is the boarding of the Lionfish, a well-defended pirate ship. In a lot of ways it’s entirely unfair, owing to the hefty climb checks required to scale the sides and the nigh-impossibility of approaching stealthily. I won’t even get started about the grippli alchemist who patrols the deck. But it’s another situation that demands concerted planning on the part of the players.
Unfortunately, the adventure also demands a great deal from the game master, and not in the good way.
Having to manage anything to do with boats and naval combat is a chore. A barrage of completely legitimate but confounding questions hit me from every end of the table.
How many people does it take to man a boat? How fast can it be pulled out of the dock? How deep is the water around the dock? Can we sink it? Can we light it on fire? Can we sunder the sails?
I’m sure there are clear answers to all of these naval inquiries laid out in Ultimate Combat and Ultimate Campaign, but I was already encumbered by three bestiaries for this scenario and couldn’t spare any room in my book bag. Most of these dilemmas were resolved through rather clumsy hand waves on my part
The remaining encounters in The Cyphermage Dilemma are fairly pedestrian. I feel obliged to chastise Paizo for once again including rabid dogs as an enemy and once again having them pose no threat asides from forcing unlucky player to expend prestige on a remove disease.
The ups and downs of this scenario are tethered together by a fairly solid backdrop. Pirate adventures are always a hoot, and the hive of scum and villainy that is Riddleport is great to wade around in. New players who have yet to learn about the Cyphergate and cyphermages are also treated to a satisfying lore dump.
The Cyphermage Dilemma is a cerebral adventure with a riveting climax. While I worry that the high difficulty of the two centrepiece encounters may land inexperienced players in a watery grave, veterans will revel in the opportunity to flex their strategic muscles. Door-kicking barbarians should stay at home for this one.