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Agents of Edgewatch Player's Guide: A Review

Hey howdy folks, it’s time for another PAIZO REVIEW! We’ve got a bevy of new products ready to see their minute in the spotlight, and it’s up to us to give it to them. Let’s start things off with the Agents of Edgewatch Player’s Guide!

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This whole family of related products is gonna have a huge elephant in the room, so let’s take it head on: this is the Player’s Guide to what, as I call it, “Being A Cop Is Good and Fun” Adventure Path. Given what’s going on in the world today, this topic is problematic at best.

Let’s take a gander at what the Agents of Edgewatch Adventure Path seems to be, based on what we see in the Player’s Guide. A group of agents, presumably from the disparate agencies described below, are pulled together to roam around a city and…combat crime? while wearing…certainly SOME kind of identification, surely, shortly before an event of incredible importance to the city. Suffice to say, there are some uncomfortable parallels there to what is going on in the world right now.

In recognition of these current events, Paizo included a content warning at the beginning—something normally reserved for horror adventures. On the one hand, it’s good that Paizo at least addresses the very thorny issues into which the AP is delving. There’s direction to discuss the themes of the AP with the table so that enthusiastic consent can be had for the party going forward. On the other, anyone who has concerns about abuse of authority isn’t merely “uncomfortable” or “upset” by current events. It’s all capped off by a “if you don’t like it, don’t play it!” Which, yes, is technically true, you don’t have to play ANY of these—but isn’t Paizo in the business of writing adventures for everyone to play?

You might be thinking, “Sure, but what about the game, man? What’s actually in the Player’s Guide?” More bad news on this front—because Paizo is trying to walk back the “play a cop” nature of this AP, if a group wants to participate in this adventure without the law enforcement angle, the GM has to rewrite functionally the entire adventure. Major NPCs have to be renamed and given new motivations and connections. Fundamental plot hooks have to be swapped out, and even basic assumptions about character interactions are undone. It’s also worth noting that the sidebar that insists PCs are only doing nonlethal damage during their combat encounters contradicts itself later with a reassurance that some creatures can only be dealt with by law enforcement (the players) with lethal force. Yikes.

Getting deeper into the main content of the Player’s Guide, we get another show of good intentions early in the character creation guidelines. The Guide is explicit that characters in this AP should be “agents of justice” and “protecting the public”, not someone who abuses power. In addition, this section is equally explicit in forbidding evil characters—you can’t protect the public if you only care about yourself, after all.

Unfortunately, just like the content warning, this is undercut later on with the provided backgrounds. Several of them directly mention corruption throughout the city guard, and some even incorporate it directly. The Ex-Con background makes it hard to believe a character that uses it is really fully “good”, and it specifically notes that an entire district of guardsmen is a haven of corruption.

Another stumble comes with the Harbor Guard Moonlighter—a PC that takes this background literally eschews their post for personal gain and glory, and also mentions rampant corruption. The Post Guard background is a little less egregious—they’re really only a guard to fund their other hobbies, I guess—but the nadir of this pattern is the Sleepless Suns Star background. There are more uncomfortable parallels here, between the Sleepless Suns background and real-life concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S.

With all this obvious and widespread corruption floating around in Golarion, one has to wonder why the designers didn’t allow for options for evil characters. I can think of one option pretty easily—a group of corrupt and indicted officers are magically compelled to investigate a specific, dangerous case, and if they step out of line, their handlers, say, explode their heads! It’s not like there isn’t precedent for bad guys doing good like that.

And while we’re speaking of corruption—where do the Hellknights of Golarion fit in to all of this? They’re nominally all about law and order—they’d in theory make ideal candidates for this adventure—but they’re allowed to be capital-E Evil thanks to their association with Hell. I would be a little surprised to hear there wasn’t some background like “Hellkight Initiate” that got hastily scrapped before this went to print.

Well, I’ve spent quite a bit of time talking about what doesn’t work in this Player’s Guide, how about I spend some time talking about what I like? For starters, I LOVE the “Reporting for Duty” sidebar! Encouraging players to work together on backstories? Sharing knowledge of various districts to increase everyone’s involvement in the setting? Encouraging players to have history working together? Yes, yes, yes, more of this yes!

Also, this might come as a complete surprise to long-time readers of this column, but I’m a sucker for a good map, and the map in the Player’s Guide is EXACTLY what I’ve wanted for a long time. So often maps for fantasy cities look nice until you remember the scale, and everything shrinks to the size of a couple blocks! That’s not the case for Absalom City. This thing is measured in MILES, not in meters. I can make out streets and blocks and districts, and the large points of interest hook my curiosity and send me scurrying to the description. Honestly, it’s large enough that one might wonder about the logistics of things like communication and sewage, but this is Golarion, and they have magic.

Oh! And SPEAKING of the district descriptions: this is where I want to see that iconic full-page spread design to come into fore! I don’t think Paizo has released setting material for Absalom since 1E, and they might be saving up for a setting book later. I would have LOVED a slightly deeper dive into each of these districts, a little bit of art for an iconic character or landmark. I also think that having single-page delineations would make it easier for players to navigate when deciding what district to represent and how to get familiar with that district’s distinct flavor. Also, a bit more breathing room would allow for a few more character customization or flavor ideas, and isn’t that the point of a player-focused supplement?

All in all, the Agents of Edgewatch Player’s Guide has a few neat ideas and a few good design implementations that are drowned out by a clumsy understanding of and ham-handed approach to the themes of the module, both within the internal logic of the Player’s Guide itself and externally in addressing real world events. Here’s hoping Paizo can better address these issues in the actual Adventure Path itself.
 
Ben Reece

Comments

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
Hey howdy folks, it’s time for another PAIZO REVIEW! We’ve got a bevy of new products ready to see their minute in the spotlight, and it’s up to us to give it to them. Let’s start things off with the Agents of Edgewatch Player’s Guide!
Great stuff, and pretty much spot on.
The players-fighting-for-good and against rampant corruption theme reminds me a lot of the old Neverwinter Nights video game official campaign. Except that was written in another time, and it explicitly allowed two divergent paths: the good cop who heroically tries to save everyone, and the bad cop who's only in it for himself (yet still winds up saving a lot of folks, for inexplicable xp-related reasons).

Paizo has already shown us what extremes it has to take to run parallel good and evil campaigns, very effectively. But that gave us two very different adventure paths. It is too much to expect a single adventure path to include material for both good-cop heroes and bad-cop antiheroes. And made all the trickier by current events.

Nice review!
 


marroon69

Explorer
Agreed this topic is very explosive right now. As a company Paizo, has always been forward thinking and inclusive which is why they earn my respect (and money). Eric Mona (Paizo's publisher) has addressed this topic publicly on their blog it might help to get a little more background..

paizo.com - Community / Paizo Blog

My thoughts, one address it with your players before starting, set the tone and what everyone is comfortable with. But remember it is role-playing game and just maybe it will give the heroes a chance to make the right decisions, to stand up against rampart corruption, to win the day and make the world a better place. I mean this what we all want to happen in the real world so letting it happen at the gaming table seems like a good thing. But I can respect that this may not be for everyone.

Good Review on a hard topic

P.S. I am thinking more of a "Guards! Guards!" by Terry Pratchett favor when I run it. :)
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
Religion/politics
The idea that it's wrong to fight against criminals (CRIMINALS who COMMIT CRIMES) wearing a badge is bonkers and shows that there is something off in how many people view this... That it's somehow more okay to side with corruption and criminal behavior than to side with the people who try and protect us from criminal actions.

And how was Paizo supposed to know a year ago that our political and socialistic climate would have turned to such an extreme left in the year since these adventures were written an organized? We're they supposed to see into some kind of crystal ball that our culture would turn against our defenders of crime? Come on. When Paizo first announced this adventure path they were congratulated for doing something different. They were congratulated for this idea.

Now they are being condemned for something they have no control over.

This review is so bogus and biased its baseless leftist propaganda.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
While acknowledging that "hey, timing got really bad on this one," is fine I think this was a missed opportunity for them to go on the high road and emphasize genuine heroics in law enforcement.

Fight not only the criminals on the street, but the criminals in your own ranks. Combat corruption in the government of the city as well as organizations of nefarious influence.

All the abuses of authority that should be held accountable in the real world? Fight that in Golarion too.

It would be a great opportunity to highlight the fact that protecting and serving a community is different, harder, and better than just beating down perceived threats.

But the disclaimer reads like "we shouldn't have even tried," which is pretty lame.
 

Philip Benz

A Dragontooth Grognard
I don't think it's so much "baseless leftist propaganda" as the reviewer trying to cover all his "political correctness" bases. Just as Paizo is trying to cover theirs.

I think this AP based on "playing the police" isn't bad juju as such. It's not helpful, in that the AP seems like it's too focused on the railroad to give the players meaningful decision-making powers, but that's the nature of APs. Any decent DM running such an adventure is going to be flying by the seat of his pants as he lets the PCs' actions dictate what happens next. That's one of the tricky bits with city adventures, the DM has to adapt and focus events to correspond to the wacky ideas that his players come up with, that haven't been covered by the available material.

I really enjoy running city adventures, but as DM I have to play fast and loose with my prepared material, and often the synergy with whatever plans the PCs come up with is pure gold compared to the events I've planned in advance. The same holds true with any AP or published scenario, especially one based on investigations, clues and intrigue.
 

MaskedGuy

Explorer
While acknowledging that "hey, timing got really bad on this one," is fine I think this was a missed opportunity for them to go on the high road and emphasize genuine heroics in law enforcement.

Fight not only the criminals on the street, but the criminals in your own ranks. Combat corruption in the government of the city as well as organizations of nefarious influence.

All the abuses of authority that should be held accountable in the real world? Fight that in Golarion too.

It would be a great opportunity to highlight the fact that protecting and serving a community is different, harder, and better than just beating down perceived threats.

But the disclaimer reads like "we shouldn't have even tried," which is pretty lame.
Eeeh, implication I get from one of shop blurbs for later parts is that reason why backgrounds keep mentioning the corrupt guard force is foreshadowing that in one of later books the corrupt part of guard force turns against the pcs. I have no clue though how far it will go and whether its just one of those cop movie tropes though.
 


dave2008

Legend
The idea that it's wrong to fight against criminals (CRIMINALS who COMMIT CRIMES) wearing a badge is bonkers and shows that there is something off in how many people view this... That it's somehow more okay to side with corruption and criminal behavior than to side with the people who try and protect us from criminal actions.
Maybe a missed it, but I don't think they said the general concept is wrong (fighting crime as an official warden of the state. etc.). Seems to me your being a bit hyperbolic.

The issue for me is they could have done so much more thoughtfully and made a better, more interesting product. If they had embraced reality a little more or more clear diverged from it they would probably mostly avoid a disclaimer and make a better more exciting product. Honestly, before this AP came to be I never really thought of a town guard / city watch based adventure, but now I think the idea is really interesting. It is just this product specifically doesn't interest me.
 


GreyLord

Hero
I think Paizo got stuck between a rock and a hard place. I don't know their schedules or printing calendar, but if it is like some other places, planning starts over a year or two in ADVANCE of the actual publishing date. The work on this was done six months ago, it's already been written. It's could be a year and half completed of work already at this point. Changing things at the last minute can be incredibly expensive and difficult. The fact that they included extra notes at the beginning already shows that they took some effort to try to change things (that includes printing plates or presses, etc).

This is not something most publishers can change on a dime. It takes time, and if this AP was about to be released, it is incredibly hard to change it at a few weeks notice.

Now, some may say they could have just not released it, and that is true. However, that means an empty gap in their publishing cycle. The next AP, though written probably was not ready to be released yet, and if I recall, they make a LOT of money off of their subscription model. Killing 6 months of money is not a good situation for them to be in either (especially this year when many CONS and other outlets for sales have disappeared).

I don't think there was an easy choice in this, and it's a bad road either way they chose. One way they lose a lot of money and make people mad who are subscribers (and who knows, if it's tight enough, even go into bankruptcy). The other way, they might not make as much money, they still make some people mad, but they at least make SOME money.

Hard choice, not one that I envy they had to make.
 

Derren

Hero
Maybe a missed it, but I don't think they said the general concept is wrong (fighting crime as an official warden of the state. etc.). Seems to me your being a bit hyperbolic.

The issue for me is they could have done so much more thoughtfully and made a better, more interesting product. If they had embraced reality a little more or more clear diverged from it they would probably mostly avoid a disclaimer and make a better more exciting product. Honestly, before this AP came to be I never really thought of a town guard / city watch based adventure, but now I think the idea is really interesting. It is just this product specifically doesn't interest me.
Except that in a frenzy to appease the mob Paizo seem to have made the AP even less realistic.
For example the player guide for this AP says that the PCs automatically do nonlethal damage. But looking at the adventure they are introducing many nonlethal weapons which are completely unneccesary with that rule. That means this rule was added later to appease certain people. Same with the ability to play as something other than guards which as far as I have read doesnt work very well.
It seems that Paizo butchered their own AP out of fear of vocal people who can't differentiate between reality and fantasy and hate all things even remotely connected to police. And thats a shame. Guess its back to murderhoboing monsters in the wild. That way you do not step on anyones toes (unless someone fabricates an connection between the monsters and a minority).
 

CapnZapp

Legend
A bigger problem is that the AP gives exactly zero feeling of playing a cop. (Edit: I'm talking about the first installment, Devil at the Dreaming Palace)

Ironic, isn't it? Paizo gets flak for real world comparisons... but in my opinion the product is so utterly generic and nonspecific it doesn't merit any comparisons to real life!

You aren't playing cops. There's no procedures to follow. Or rather, there are, but these are created to let you play exactly as before not having to worry if you're targeting the wrong people or any such concerns. You even get to loot the monsters when the bust is done!

Furthermore there is zero effort to create a fantasy metropolis, with unearthly morals and standards. The assumption seems to be that the Edgewatch has the same ethics as 21st century America... or rather, that ethics are unimportant and unnecessary, since you're on the regular AP railroad where you can't make mistakes and never have to compromise.

In short, you're playing the same Barbarians and Wizards as always. You might wear uniform, but that comes with zero obligations or responsibilities.

To me, that seems like the real missed opportunity here. If Paizo needed to issue an apology, it should be about creating expectations the actual product doesn't even try to meet.

(If anything, apologizing for evoking images of real world racism and corruption sends the signal the AP is much more detailed and involved than it actually is!)
 
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Derren

Hero
A bigger problem is that the AP gives exactly zero feeling of playing a cop.

Ironic, isn't it? Paizo gets flak for real world comparisons... but in my opinion the product is so utterly generic and nonspecific it doesn't merit any comparisons to real life!

You aren't playing cops. There's no procedures to follow. Or rather, there are, but these are created to let you play exactly as before not having to worry if you're targeting the wrong people, and looting them when the bust is done.

Furthermore there is zero effort to create a fantasy metropolis, with unearthly morals and standards. The assumption seems to be that the Edgewatch has the same ethics as 21st century America... or rather, that ethics are unimportant and unnecessary, since you're on the regular AP railroad where you can't make mistakes and never have to compromise.

In short, you're playing the same Barbarians and Wizards as always. You might wear uniform, but that comes with zero obligations or responsibilities.

To me, that seems like the real missed opportunity here.
As I said, thats imo a result of the anti cop sentiment and that Paizo caved in to it. Thats why they tried to remove anything cop specific and made the AP generic.

For example, thanks to the "everything is nonlethal" rule they introduced in the last moment the solution to hostage situations is now "fireball everybody, sort them out later".
Paizo should just have ignored the protest and released the AP as it was intended to be.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
As I said, thats imo a result of the anti cop sentiment and that Paizo caved in to it. Thats why they tried to remove anything cop specific and made the AP generic.
No, the actual content of the AP had no actual cop content to begin with, is my argument.

Their strong reaction in blogs and the hastily amended Players Guide makes it look like there was.
 

Derren

Hero
No, the actual content of the AP had no actual cop content to begin with, is my argument.

Their strong reaction in blogs and the hastily amended Players Guide makes it look like there was.
I still think that for example without everything being automatically nonlethal the players would use different tactics than before. But thanks to that rule combat in this AP works no different than in other APs. And there is evidence that this rule was a last minute addition. Both because there are a lot of n9nlethal weapons in the adventure and because Paizo had already issued errata to that rule to clarify it.
The adventure itself, I have heard, not seen myself, has a lot more cop specific stuff than the player guide. Can anyone comment on that?
 
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Lylandra

Adventurer
sooo they basically took the premise of ZEITGEIST, limited it to one city and cut all the fun stuff? (like nonlinear development in the city adventure parts or the emphasis on consequences and creative PC freedom)
 

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