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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

Ben Reece

CapnZapp

Legend
I might have to check up on that. (I've seen the name thrown around around here, but given the name, always thought it was some kind of modern day psychological rpg... :blush:)
 

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Lylandra

Adventurer
I might have to check up on that. (I've seen the name thrown around around here, but given the name, always thought it was some kind of modern day psychological rpg... :blush:)
It is fantasy in a setting that's on the brink of industrialization. You start off as sort-of FBI/CIA/special investigation agents per default (but can choose to be mere associates if you like).

Regarding the criticism of playing as "the police": You're supposed to take prisoners and the rules explicitly ask the DM to allow non-lethal methods without penalty. Morals and corruption are hot topics throughour the campaign, and there is a certain point where the PCs are being audited by superior officers, so abusing their given power will lead to investigations.
 

Derren

Hero
It is fantasy in a setting that's on the brink of industrialization. You start off as sort-of FBI/CIA/special investigation agents per default (but can choose to be mere associates if you like).

Regarding the criticism of playing as "the police": You're supposed to take prisoners and the rules explicitly ask the DM to allow non-lethal methods without penalty. Morals and corruption are hot topics throughour the campaign, and there is a certain point where the PCs are being audited by superior officers, so abusing their given power will lead to investigations.

Personally I am not a fan of having nonlethal damage without work, either by employing different tactics or use of nonlethal, weaker weapons.
Being the good guy should take work.
 


moriantumr

Villager
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.

Part of the issue is that fighting criminals is not really what police should be doing. Especially when the police fight unarmed civilians who have committed no crime, and sometimes kill them. Killing anyone, including criminals, is not the purpose or role of the police in most countries either. People recognizing that their “protectors” harm people and get away with it does not mean they support criminals or corruption. It means they want accountability and protection from the groups who claim to provide both.
 

Derren

Hero
I believe Lylandra is now talking about the other campaign.

Maybe you should go read the AP for yourself before pursuing this further, Derren. Do check out my own thread on Agents too: PF2E - About Agents of Edgewatch
The context doesn't really matter, be it Agents of Edgewatch, Zeitgeist or the "decide when you drop the enemy to 0 HP" rule you see in newer D20 games.
Not killing someone while using a lethal weapon should be harder. Using nonlethal weapons should be a choice which also includes a drawback, often lower damage.
 

Lylandra

Adventurer
Why should it be harder or come at a penalty though? HP are just an abstract concept anyway and we see plenty of "damage that's enough to KO people but doesn't kill" even with more lethal weapons like firearms in fiction. I mean, do whatever you want as a GM, but I see no reason to have "kill everyone" as the default option. (Especially if one considers that several kinds of magic are capable of subduing an enemy at the spot, like Hold Person, Dominate, Sleep etc.)
 

dave2008

Legend
Personally I am not a fan of having nonlethal damage without work, either by employing different tactics or use of nonlethal, weaker weapons.
Being the good guy should take work.
He/she was talking about Zeitgeist and mentioned the campaign was asking the DM to allow non-lethal damage without penalty. So they are optional in that campaign.
 

Derren

Hero
Why should it be harder or come at a penalty though? HP are just an abstract concept anyway and we see plenty of "damage that's enough to KO people but doesn't kill" even with more lethal weapons like firearms in fiction. I mean, do whatever you want as a GM, but I see no reason to have "kill everyone" as the default option. (Especially if one considers that several kinds of magic are capable of subduing an enemy at the spot, like Hold Person, Dominate, Sleep etc.)
Because weapons made to kill people are good at killing and not so good at leaving them alive, at least reliably. Thus not killing someone when you use a greatsword should be harder.
And to just knock out someone you need a more delicate weapon, hence the lower damage. Also if nonlethal weapons would deal the same damage as lethal ones there would not be a need for the latter. You can always kill anyone after the combat once you knocked out, so why use a lethal weapon in the first place?
 

Teraptus

Explorer
Anti-inclusive content
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.
Agreed... funny how the mob they caved in to are the most hate spewing POT's (Persons of Twitter). 1 simple search of the Orc Boy will reveal his troupe of Anti-White / Anti Police hating twitter mob.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
Non-Lethal damage supposing to be a mitigator is also pretty laughable.

Even with it, even before the renewed focus on police brutality, the solution involved still boils down to "hit the problem in the face until it is neutralized." That wouldn't have really gone over well In 2016 either.

Another idea (and more of a challenge, really) would be to take hit points out of the equation for most conflicts. Encourage and provide incentives for apprehension without injury. The Watch wants people alive and able to testify/face justice, not bleed out in the streets or look battered and pitiful at court.

Scale rewards based on the condition of your captives. If you can restrain and arrest people with no more than, say, half HP dealt through non lethal damage, then you get better commendations and rewards, more resources donated to your unit from sympathetic churches and other such things. And the loot that you recover may officially be repurposed for your use.

You start doing lethal damage to people at all and you get the bare minimum of your pay, no scenario specific XP rewards and if you keep any items then you are stealing from the Watch.

If anyone dies on your watch... You might not only have the Watch leaning closer on your necks, but inquisitors from neutral and chaotic good factions wondering if they need to turn their eyes to you as new and upcoming tyrants.


As an aside, take the recent Age of Sigmar rpg, Soulbound. There is a rule in there where improving your community refills the meta-currency of Soulfire a bit.

Even if you fill the party with the sketchiest of literal murder cultists, they have signed on with Sigmar to defend civilization.

Blood thirsty murder elves still gain more power by making sure that the world is a nicer place to live than if they just slaughter all the bad people.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
Granted, said murder elves can do both things, slaughter bad people AND make the world a nicer place to live, but that is more a black ops set up than actual law enforcement.
 

Cthulhugh

Explorer
Anti-inclusive content
If Paizo starts modifying our "pretend game" to cater to the minority woke left so blatantly, then insulting the Player base by adding this unnecessary warning about the good guys in the AP and modifying the AP they will find there company will go the way of all the other companies pandering to minorities. Get woke - go broke.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
If Paizo starts modifying our "pretend game" to cater to the minority woke left so blatantly, then insulting the Player base by adding this unnecessary warning about the good guys in the AP and modifying the AP they will find there company will go the way of all the other companies pandering to minorities. Get woke - go broke.
Oh god, yaaaaawn. You lot need some original lines. Also, don’t post in this thread agsin.
 

MaskedGuy

Explorer
Is this the part where I point out that in 5e you can just decide on moment of striking final blow whether you tried to kill them or not?

Like umm. I do think there is evidence of player's guide non lethal thing being "okay let's just in case change this because wow we didn't predict this happening", but umm... Even if it is, why does it make some posters really angry?
 

CapnZapp

Legend
My guess is how "no lethal damage" easily reads as neutering the game, removing the player's agency (to go lethal or not).

It might be something else but that's my guess.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
For me it is that non-lethal damage has never really been a satisfying angle. It still takes a lot of work to neutralize somebody and it isn't like you aren't beating the crap out of them.

What the game needs for this is good take down techniques that don't involve bludgeoning somebody into unconsciousness if they aren't actual hostiles.

A city watch in a fantasy setting should be ready to deal out death and destruction against beasts and monsters and other clear and present active threats, but there should be better options for capture for normal criminals.
 

Stone Dog

Explorer
Yes, I know that nets and sleep spells and things exist, but mechanically the best way to keep somebody down is still mostly to hit them until they stop.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Look, if options that bypass the perp's hit point pool exist, these methods need either be more efficient, less or exactly the same.

If more, the game breaks down since warriors start to use them on everything.

If exactly the same, what's the difference?

If less effective, there's a cost to non-lethal that affects some character builds more than others.

The only way to preserve balance exactly as if you're hunting and killing monsters, is by... using that same mechanism.

Just saying that "there should better options for capture for normal criminals" is not easy or uncontroversial to achieve.

Not saying you're wrong.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
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.

Arguably, it's only the timing in which enough people were so fed up with police corruption that it exploded into massive, widespread protests that was unpredictable. Everything being protested about with respect to police corruption, violence, and racism has been well known and documented for years.

That said, I actually like the idea of a city watch AP. It fits a well-trod niche in media.
 

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