There are two things that the average player will take away from The Pallid Plague.
The first is a smug sense of satisfaction from trouncing an entire cult without breaking a sweat. This is, without any exaggeration, one of the easiest Pathfinder scenarios ever published.
The brave Pathfinders are sent to the far off land of Andoran to investigate a plague that has been ravaging the fey residents of Darkmoon Wood. There the party finds a cult dedicated to Urgathoa who have acquired a relic that produces dangerous polluting waters. It’s up to the Pathfinders to defeat the cultists and abscond with the relic before they destroy Darkmoon Wood, the neighbouring city of Falcon’s Hollow, and all of Andoran.
This would be an ominous task if the majority of the cultists weren’t ex-druids. Former druids are some of the most pathetic adversaries in a game master’s rogues gallery. Deprived of their hallmark animal companions, spells, or wild shape, the druids in The Pallid Plague rely simply on slings and unarmed strikes to defend their mistress.
The ex-druids are accompanied by slightly more threatening plague zombies and infected animals, but these beasties fall pretty quickly to channeling and ranged damage. It’s entirely possible for a party to make it to the final encounter without being hit.
However, sometimes a game master doesn’t need to hit his players in order to hurt them. The second thing a player will take away from The Pallid Plague is palepox.
As far as diseases go, palepox is a pretty heinous one. The save DC is borderline outrageous, and the disease saps charisma and constitution – impairing casters and fighters alike. The icing on the cake is that the plague zombies burst into a cloud of pollen when they die, infecting any player in an adjacent square with palepox without needing to succeed on an attack roll.
This trick might only work once, but if you have an optimized party who all ready actions to flank, that might be all that’s necessary.
The Pallid Plague is a fairly combat-oriented jaunt asides from the third act. Having just arrived in Falcon’s Hollow, the players are tasked with helping a local resident find a cure for palepox. They can do so by making a successful DC 15 skill check in any skill as long as they justify its merit. Each success grants the alchemist an additional +2 on her check to cure the disease, encouraging players to frantically try everything and anything at their disposal.
Needless to say, this is a great roleplaying opportunity. I’ve seen players use perception checks to locate hidden reagents in the shop, history checks to recall the works of great healers of the past, and disable device checks to disentangle disorganized alchemical equipment.
As a game master, I encourage you to entertain the most farfetched of ideas, if only for the opportunity to conjure up the hilarious consequences that ensue if a player should fail their skill check.
Asides from this free-for-all in the middle, the scenario is fairly linear; investigate the plague, fight the cult, save the forest, cash in your chronicle sheet.
Speaking of which, there’s rare pair of negative boons on the chronicle sheet for The Pallid Plague that are actually steeply detrimental for charisma-based characters. I’m not sure how I feel about the concept of negative boons in general, and in this case it seems like pouring salt in the wounds of a party who is already going to have two dump two prestige points on curing a disease at the end of the day.
If I were a less scrupulous game master, I’d be inclined to gloss over that detail of the chronicle sheet.
Regardless of the numerous problems I’ve mentioned, I don’t hate The Pallid Plague. I like the inclusion of unambiguously evil bad guys, I like the roleplaying in the third act, and I like the overarching threat of palepox (even if it’s an obvious prestige point tax). If only the encounters were a little more challenging and varied, this scenario would be a classic.