When 3rd Edition Dungeons & Dragons was released, it also gained a series of eight adventures that took a group of adventurers from levels 1 to 20. Starting with the Sunless Citadel and continuing through to Bastion of Broken Souls, it demonstrated something that previous editions hadn’t provided: a complete “Adventure Path” series that went the full range of levels. However, players only familiar with the Paizo Adventure Paths would likely not recognise the structure of this original series.
The adventures were mostly stand-alone, to begin with, with only a couple of links between them. Yes, you got a (very) few references to Ashardalon and Gulthias, names that would become important in later adventures, but this wasn’t like – say – Tyranny of Dragons or Kingmaker where everything is part of one connected story. It was very easy to take one of the adventures and just play it; you didn’t need to play those that came before or after, because each adventure was self-contained. At $9.95 each for 32-pages of adventure, they were pretty neat.
The structure of the Sunless Citadel path reminds me most of the structure of many late-1E and 2E campaigns: one where the DM would throw together a bunch of unrelated published adventures because they looked fun. Certainly, this is a style that I’ve played in and employed (many times), with a few adventures hinting it at a later threat, because the DM has looked ahead and seen what the later adventures will hold. The design is “standalone first, connections later”.
So, when I ran my original 3E campaign, we started with The Sunless Citadel, moved through the next couple of adventures, and then wandered off into adventures of my own design – only coming back for a dip into Deep Horizon. And I’m not even sure it was the same campaign… for most of the last 16 years, I’ve been running 2 (or 3) campaigns, sometimes on a weekly basis. And Deep Horizon happily didn’t reference anything else in the other adventures.
Towards the end of 3E, Paizo started publishing Adventure Paths. These covered levels 1-20 to begin with (later fewer levels, due to the poor experiences people had at the highest levels). They’ve continued doing so, using their Pathfinder system. At present, I can see over one-hundred volumes on my shelf of their AP releases – it’s something like 20 Adventure Paths, including their initial releases in Dungeon Magazine.
These are ongoing stories. You start at the beginning, each adventure directly leads into the next, and by the end you’ve played an entire campaign that is (mainly) one story. However, they have a major problem to deal with. The problem isn’t that they’re bad or repetitive (although both could be true), but rather that the periodical release of the adventures – plus the underlying system – causes them to be relatively linear in form. One of the features I encountered when running 3E (over many, many sessions) is that two or three levels gained makes the monsters that were a challenge at the original level now utterly under-powered at the new levels. This is quite unlike how most of 5E plays – it takes a lot longer for monsters to become nonthreatening.
So this has a particular effect on adventure design: each section of an adventure must be set for a particular narrow set of levels. Once you exceed those levels, you need to proceed to the next section lest things get dull. When you add that these adventure paths are published as six chunks, the adventure thus has a straight line pointing in the way to proceed. Players can have a little freedom in each section, but the arrow inevitably points on to the next volume.
Now consider the new Wizards adventures for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition. There’s only one of them that could be published as a Paizo Adventure Path – and that’s the Tyranny of Dragons duology. (Even that does interesting things with the form, but it is the most linear and could be broken into more chunks if necessary).
Every other adventure presents an adventure environment. Storm King’s Thunder comes closest to the Paizo form – but could you imagine Paizo printing an AP instalment where you only use 1/5th of the adventure and ignore the other parts? That’s the structure of the Giant Strongholds in SKT. Curse of Strahd and Princes of the Apocalypse are primarily sandboxes, allowing the players to encounter threats in any order (though there are hints as to the best way to encounter things). These are only presentable in a single-book format. Out of the Abyss spends the first half as a sandbox, before wandering into a more traditional quest structure (while still allowing the DM and players the ability to use it as a sandbox if they really feel like it…)
The “bounded accuracy” of 5E makes these sandbox/environment adventures far more interesting than in 3E; the various locations stay relevant for a larger range of levels. Ogres? Yes, you could encounter those from levels 1-10, and they’re likely to still be relevant at all levels, though the nature of the encounter still changes. They could hurt you even when you’re high level – a far cry from the power curve in 3E.
One of the reasons I’ve been so excited about the 5E adventures is because they’re trying new things in their form, something aided by their presentation as single hardcover adventures. They don’t all appeal to everyone, but there are new things being tried, and we’re seeing a lot of exploration of the possibilities of adventure design and presentation. It’s a very exciting time to be reading and running Dungeons & Dragons adventures!
Oh, and Happy New Year! I hope you have a fantastic 2017!
A couple of years ago, I ran the Council of Thieves Adventure Path for Pathfinder. It was the first of the adventure paths to be released using the full Pathfinder system rather than 3.5E, and although it had a great overall story and some memorable encounters, I had a lot of problems with the adventures: a lot of underpowered foes and some really badly written adventures. (I didn’t run it when it was new, but rather in 2013 once Pathfinder had been around for a while. It was a Core Book-only game, though).
That campaign was set in the devil-loving nation of Cheliax. Now, Paizo have returned to that nation for a pair of complementary adventure paths; one for the forces of good, the other for the forces of evil – and will be the first Paizo AP to be written for evil characters. (We played through some of Way of the Wicked, a 3rd-party evil campaign for PF, but were forced to abort due to the players becoming unavailable to play).
In Hell’s Bright Shadow is the first of the Hell’s Rebels adventure path, and is set in the city of Kintargo, where the local Lord Mayor is attempting to emulate the proclamations of Curse of Xanathon: proclamations that seem ill-considered and possible actually insane, and that are moving the populace towards revolution. Unlike Curse, In Hell’s Bright Shadow is competently written, with flashes of brilliance.
I’ve got to admire an adventure that can kill the players in the first encounter if they insist on being stupid. When you’re first level and the authorities want to kill you, do you stay and fight? The ones that insist on staying are the ones who won’t be participating further in this adventure path!
Actually getting the players onto the plot of the adventure path is a little clumsy (they need to rescue someone, but might not be in a state to help based on the previous encounter), but once they get there they’ll soon find themselves at the core of the gathering rebel group against the Lord Mayor. This will probably escalate further! There are rules for tracking the rebellion in a free supplement, but I really can’t be bothered reading them. You can run the adventure without them, and given how tedious most of these subsystems tend to be (a lot of tracking information for not much pay-off), I’d rather just handwave them based on player actions.
The second part of the adventure consists of a number of missions the characters can go on to gather support for the rebellion, and events that occur as time passes. Most of the missions are fairly small in scale, but are likely to require some additional work from the DM to make them properly memorable. It’s not like they’re underwritten – there’s a lot of text in this adventure – but due to the wide variety of player actions, the adventure can only offer hints rather than a concrete plan of action.
There’s some excellent encounters here, especially the ones that draw on the work of some particularly demented Pathfinder designers. Who came up with the Tooth Fairies, and had they been reading Pratchett?
I am conflicted about the amount of text used to describe the backgrounds of what are really quite minor characters who may only see (and not survive) a short combat. There’s a lot of it that generally won’t be relevant, but, on the other hand, it gives material for GMs who want to bring even more story, context and role-playing into the adventure. So, while I think that it’s useless to me, I know there are people who will very much enjoy the extra details given for these encounters.
The final part of the adventure finds the players exploring an old Theatre/House of Horrors/Fantasmagorium. It’s a place with a lot of weird exhibitions, a number of which could be quite dangerous to the party. Their hope is that they’ll find allies in the location, but this may not come to pass. This section is really nice, providing rising tension between the expectation of the players and what they actually find. It also doesn’t seem to be too big: a party of 3rd-level characters could quite possibly explore it without resting, a pacing detail that I prefer. (I hate overlong dungeons!)
In Hell’s Bright Shadow is a solid adventure. There are a couple of encounters that I dislike, but mostly they’re of good quality. I do feel that you need a good DM to properly run this material: there’s likely to be a lot of role-playing and event management involved. I wouldn’t say it’s one of the classics, but it’s a good start to the Hell’s Rebels adventure path – and I’m not left wondering at the logic behind the plot. That’s got to be a good sign!
Once upon a time, there was a dungeon called Rappan Athuk…
Necromancer Games (and/or Frog God Games) have been publishing adventures for a while now. The original incarnation of the company was publishing adventures back in 2000, when Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition came out. One of their products was a little dungeon known as Rappan Athuk. Or the Dungeon of Graves. It’s actually one of the few mega-dungeons ever to get published. Based on material from Bill Webb and Clark Peterson’s original D&D game, it was released in three parts during the early 2000s. And then there was supplemental material. And a kickstarter a few years later. And more expansion of the material, so it now exists in various forms for Swords & Wizardry (an original D&D variant), D&D 3E and Pathfinder. It’s tough and uncompromising. You can get your party killed in the first encounter from one of the death-traps. But it’s tremendously fun and inventive – I ran quite a bit of it during an AD&D campaign we played while waiting for 5E to be released.
It was inspirational enough that Greg A. Vaughn decided he wanted to write an adventure that complemented it and that tied a few Necromancer Games adventures together. This was thought to be a good idea, but Bill didn’t quite realise how inspired Greg would get. 550,000 words indicates Greg was significantly inspired! The result of his labours was Slumbering Tsar. It’s huge. (Tsar is the name of a city, by the way. The official title is “The Slumbering Tsar Saga”, but the definite article makes it sound like a person to me, so I refer to it as “Slumbering Tsar”). This series of adventures covers levels 7-20 and complements what appeared in Rappan Athuk. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to delve in Tsar at this point.
The world that these adventures (and others from Necromancer Games) take place in has never been properly described. You had bits and pieces of lore from the adventures, but more than that wasn’t available. In recent years more material has been released, and the idea of campaign setting books began to be bounced around at the Halls of the Necromancers. (Interwebs of the Necromancer?) Now, we’re beginning to get them. The overall title of the setting? The Lost Lands.
Borderland Provinces – now funding via Kickstarter – describes the lands around Rappan Athuk, taking in the environs of The Lost City of Barakus. They’re producing two books: a campaign setting book (by Matt Finch with Greg A. Vaughn and Bill Webb) and an adventure book of seven adventures (the adventures are overseen by Ari “Mouseferatu” Marmell). And some other bits and pieces. And they’re doing three versions… including a 5E version.
It should be noted that I’ve done some work for Necromancer Games in the past – things like working on Fifth Edition Foes and the Book of Lost Spells. I’m not really objective about the company. Which is why I haven’t written reviews of their adventures (much as I’d like to do so). But I can burble enthusiastically about this project, so I’m going to do that.
So, what are the Lost Lands like? Well, any place that has Rappan Athuk in it has to be fairly grim. I like the phrase “dark medieval”, but Matt Finch keeps referring me to the Averoigne stories of Clark Ashton-Smith, darkly elegiac stories of a fictional province of Southern France. It’s a place where everyday folk live, but there are ruins of places where darker magics were practised. A small village may appear safe and welcoming, but strange horrors could emerge at night. The Borderlands? Wise people avoid it… but adventurers have never been known for being that wise.
Of course, it’s also a fantasy adventure setting, which means that there are actually a wide variety of adventures that can take place there.
Matt Finch has made one of them available for free (in S&W, PF and 5E versions): Rogues in Remballo, an adventure for first-level characters in one of the small trading cities of the Borderlands. It describes the strange occurrences that centre on The Four Corners – a city cul-de-sac where thieves hawk their acquisitions. One of the major banking houses is concerned about disturbances in the area, and with good reason: A war is brewing between two rival thieves’ guilds.
The adventure isn’t written for new DMs or players, despite being written for first-level characters. It doesn’t presume that players will take one action or another. There are a number of interested parties, and it’s up to the DM to decide which of them contact the party and get them involved. After then, it lays down what the players can find and the major NPCs, and lets each group work out what they want to do with the material.
The fantastic elements in this adventure are minor, with the adventure being more concerned with character and investigation (although there will be a few combats and perhaps a small dungeon delve). The players will need to be on their toes, as it’s very challenging, but it does a good job of introducing factions, conflicts and allowing the players to discover this part of the world.
Why am I interested in the Lost Lands? The main reason for me is that they’re well-supported with adventure content. And I have a liking for the style they’re written in. These are adventures which challenge the players and their characters. You can’t go through them on auto-pilot: thinking and discretion are required! The hints we’ve seen in the adventures indicate there’s a fascinating setting behind them. Now we get to actually see what it’s like!
One of the more interesting Kickstarters currently running is that for an adventure: The Lost Dungeons of Xon: The Crucible. Burning Yeti Studios plan to release three versions of their adventure – for 1E, 5E and Pathfinder – but its most intriguing feature is its presentation: as an interactive pdf, optimised for use on tablets.
I’ve been provided with a review copy of the Pathfinder adventure, and it’s an interesting document. In addition to the innovative format of the pdf, it makes use of two very popular kickstarters of recent years: the Dwarven Forge Dungeon Tiles, and the Reaper Bones miniatures. All the encounters are written to take advantage of those products; instead of traditional illustrations and maps, the adventure shows the dungeon set up with Dungeon Tiles and with Bones miniatures, all nicely painted.
The dungeons, consequently, look great, and there are handy guides for which pieces you need. The biggest drawback of this approach is that occasionally the dungeon layout isn’t quite as clear as you might hope, and I really would have appreciated an old-school dungeon map for when I couldn’t be bothered with setting up the tiles.
The adventure isn’t very long, but neither is it very expensive (the kickstarter can be bought into for only $5). The concept behind it is that the adventurers have entered a competition. Their team has to find an object and return it to town before another team does so. The object they need is in a dungeon, but they’ll need to do a little investigation to discover where the dungeon is! It’s a nice, simple adventure concept, although there are deeper plans afoot that further adventures in the series promise to expand upon.
The actual encounters are really well done. This is a thinking player’s adventure, where most of the encounters are tricks and traps, and really inventive tricks at that. I really like the first room of the dungeon. It makes everyone appear as goblins and speak in goblin as well, which may cause one of two communication issues. This has a great pay-off later and, despite the challenge of running this section properly, it’s a memorable encounter.
There’s a good amount of role-playing and problem-solving here. There is not so much combat, but the rest of the adventure is good enough that I don’t really mind.
So, the adventure is pretty good. How is the layout? Well, that’s where the preview document has problems. And the problems come from attempting to make the adventure too visually distinctive. There are a huge number of different fonts, sizes, backgrounds, colours and the like being used here. In particular, the adventure fumbles how it presents monster stats.
The background looks great, but it is a bad choice for reading the text, and the different fonts for the stats are also a big mistake. The image above is smaller than how it appears on screen, but even at full size it’s not easy to read.
The other problem comes from the major combat encounter, where you need to be flipping between three pages of the pdf to access the encounter description and all the statblocks. That’s too many; it should entirely be possible to present the stats on a single page and quite clearly (even in Pathfinder!)
These are not insurmountable problems, and I hope the layout becomes clearer between now and when the kickstarter ends. Overall, The Crucible is a great little adventure, but the format still needs some work. I still consider it well worth checking out: the encounter design deserves it!
Daughters of Fury is an adventure for level 3 characters using the Pathfinder system. It is designed by Victoria Jaczko, the winner of the 2014 RPG Superstar competition that Paizo runs on an annual basis, and is the adventure she won the competition with. It has the normal, high production values you expect from Paizo, and includes a small, double-sided poster map that illustrates a couple of the adventure locations.
The book is 64 pages long. The adventure itself takes up 49 pages and there are three appendices: a description of the mining town where the adventure takes place, a bestiary of four new monsters designed by the finalists of the Superstar competition, and 28 new magic items also designed in the competition.
I do not like the adventure’s story. It revolves around the corruption of an innocent half-orc woman by an erinyes. That, in itself, is not a problem. The problem lies in its complete disregarding of Pathfinder lore. The erinyes comes up with a scheme that takes twenty years to come to fruition. Meanwhile, from the Bestiary entry on Erinyes: “Yet despite their beauty, erinyes are not seducers—they lack the subtlety and patience required for such fine emotional manipulations, and instead vastly prefer to solve their problems with swift and excruciating violence.” This is a disconnect between how erinyes are described and how they are used in the adventure.
This might be acceptable if the story otherwise made sense. However, it doesn’t. The erinyes wants to convert the half-orc, Vegazi, to an erinyes. Not now, but in twenty years. Vegazi apparently possesses the type of good soul that makes the best sort of erinyes.
The erinyes, Shayle, comes to Vegazi’s mother and offers her power in exchange for one of her children, twenty years hence. Kelseph, the mother, accepts, thinking it would be one of her sons the erinyes wants, but not caring either way. In the chaos of Kelseph’s rise to power, Vegazi escaped and then lived in the wild for 20 years, which is when the adventure begins. The bargain is now due, Kelseph doesn’t know where Vegazi is and – for some unknown reason – bargains her own soul away for extra time to find her, and sends her tiefling children out to find her daughter. Shayle’s eventual end-game is to cause Vegazi to sacrifice herself in Shayle’s name to stop Kelseph’s attacks on a local village; this sacrifice will cause Vegazi to become an Erinyes herself.
So, for a devil that lacks “subtlety and patience”, we get this crackpot scheme for corrupting a half-orc. Given that half-orcs reach middle-age at 30 and old age at 45, the 20-year plan also seems entirely too long a timespan. Of course, we also have the conclusion of the adventure – but more on that later.
If you can accept this scheme and begin running the adventure, the plot works like this:
The adventurers come across the ending stages of a battle between devils and a party of the local villagers; the villagers are dead, but the remaining devils are fighting Vegazi, who came down from the hills to help the villagers. It turns out that the leader of the village was slain in the attack, and once the group get to the village, they discover (a) the villagers distrust half-orcs, and (b) they’ll soon be in the middle of another devil attack. Once that’s dealt with, it’s into a small dungeon to deal with the person responsible for the attack, who is one of Vegazi’s sisters, a tiefling. (Kelseph had further children after rising to power).
The second chapter sees the group escorting outlying farmers back to the dubious safety of the village, while a tiefling druid (another of Vegazi’s sisters) causes trouble for them. Once back in the village, the Erinyes sends a curse devil to curse a few of the townsfolk, hoping to covertly cause Vegazi to realise that her very presence in the village puts the villagers in danger. Note that Vegazi doesn’t live in the village, and doesn’t visit it.
The final chapter has the group taking on Vegazi’s mother and final children, and then persuading Vegazi that she shouldn’t sacrifice herself to save the village. This last is handled by the relationship mechanics from Ultimate Campaign, which is to say, you get points during the adventure for doing various things and lose points for other things. If the points are in your favour, you persuade Vegazi! Or you could handle it by roleplaying, a task made more difficult by there being about no description of Vegazi’s character anywhere. Even after putting together all the scattered information from the relationship system together, she’s still very much a cypher – which is a massive problem when the story is centered on her.
The individual encounters and scenes of the adventure aren’t that bad, but the story is a disaster. Shayle comes off as a complete idiot; she has two goals: to corrupt Vegazi and gain a foothold in the orc tribes. By her actions, she destroys the second to try to achieve the first, and if she’d just gotten hold of Vegazi twenty years ago none of this would have happened. Is there something special about letting a half-orc soul simmer 20 years until its done?
Paizo generally puts out good adventures with good stories. This is not one of them.
Under the Horn is the latest adventure by Johua de Santo of Genius Loci Games. Although this review is of the Pathfinder release, there is also a Swords & Wizardry
version and Johua assures me the 5E version will be available in the near future.
The Horn series often combines technological elements with fantasy adventure. In this adventure, people have been going missing near the Horn – a great metal edifice – that stands close to the Mage Academy of Coralius. The adventure presumes that the players investigate; it is up to the individual GM to work out the specific method of introducing the adventure.
The adventure sees the group exploring caves beneath the Horn, not the Horn itself. The map is fascinating and worthy of note, as it is multi-levelled and relatively complex, with the caves not appearing in a simple linear fashion. A side-view of the caves is much appreciated, as it helps the GM make sense of how the caves fit together.
The dungeon is mostly inhabited by sahuagin, with a smattering of other cave creatures. It’s a dangerous place due to the high density of monsters, and resting in the dungeon may be a group’s final mistake, due to an unusual “wandering monster”.
I find quite interesting the design decision to have some of the monster numbers indicated by a random die roll rather than a set number; there are a couple of editing errors where the number is omitted (how many sahuagin are in a war party?) I’m not quite sure how I feel about random numbers of monsters; it could cause a large variance in how dangerous the adventure is. As a technique, I’d prefer it more if there a total number of monsters living in the caves was given, with the remainder found in a final location or out on patrol and able to replenish groups, if the party take more than one expedition to clear out the caves. (Random numbers are great when the party may scout the caves on more than one occasion).
More notes on the sahuagin behaviour would be appreciated, as well as some additional background on the final Big Bad. What there is intrigues me, but I’d appreciate having extra details provided.
It isn’t a particularly big dungeon, consisting only of 12 areas, but it does have some interesting encounters in it. Although the map is attractive, there are a couple of questions that it provokes – in particular, wondering how the sahuagin and their captives get down to the final chamber, which is not an easy climb.
Overall, there are some strong ideas in Under the Horn, although I think it still needs just a little more development and editing. It’s certainly useable, though, and could provide an entertaining session of adventuring.
The first adventure of Paizo’s Giantslayer adventure path, Battle of Bloodmarch Hill is a 96-page book with typically excellent production values. The adventure portion of the book takes up 52 pages, with the remainder of the book presenting NPC profiles, a “giant primer”, more rules for giants, a 10-page bestiary, and a short piece of fiction. The adventure covers levels 1-3, with characters advancing to level 4 by the end of the adventure.
The adventure begins in Trunau, a small human town in the orc-dominated lands of Belkzen. It begins with one of the saddest and most disturbing events I’ve ever seen in a role-playing product: a young girl being given a knife (a hope knife) and being shown how to use it to kill herself and her family should the town be lost to orcs.
This is problematic, to say the least. I’m really not sure how I feel about it.
The adventure does have trouble getting the players involved in the adventure. A murder takes place, and as it’s the brother of the person who would normally investigate, he asks the player characters to help despite them being novices and quite likely not known to anyone in town. This is not my favourite way of introducing players to a game. It gets even stranger when the Giver of Quests says, “Our militia is trained to fight orcs, not investigate mysterious deaths”, as if the PCs were any different…
This isn’t a major issue. However, I would have preferred to see this addressed in the introductory text for the adventure. The players need to have someone in the group that is a viable choice as an investigator, it’s as simple as that.
In any case, once the players are investigating, there are a few clues to follow up, which lead to more clues, which finally lead to the discovery of the murdered man’s journal and the realisation that everything isn’t quite what it seems. Writing good investigative scenarios is hard, and this one is pretty good; the clues point the players down the trail to the solution, and there are good revelations here. A few odd omissions puzzle me. For instance, the father of the deceased is introduced as a potential suspect, but he’s never properly described in the adventure; the text only refers you to a different product for more about him. There’s also a small dungeon filled with small vermin for the PCs to slay, which highlights one of my biggest problems with the AP range: there’s a lot of superfluous combat which is included just to provide enough XP for the characters to reach the next level.
After the mystery is solved, the town comes under attack by orcs! It’s all set-up for excitement. However, I have concerns.
My major concern comes from the size of Trunau. It’s population? 780. This is extremely small. The orc attack has a lot of preparation behind it, and is aided by about a dozen half-orc saboteurs inside the walls. The party will directly face – by my count – 57 orcs, and it must be assumed that the village will face more. Orcs are extremely dangerous in Pathfinder, and given that several of the gates have been sabotaged (and the Inner Quarter is quickly in ruins), it’s something of a surprise that the town doesn’t fall and that it will be successfully defended.
Having a town under attack draws direct comparison with the opening chapter of Hoard of the Dragon Queen. That adventure has problems due to the difficulty of the encounters (not helped by the 5E rules not being finished when it was written), but its structure was pretty strong; characters could choose which missions to do, and – in the end – was more about survival than victory. Battle of Bloodmarch Hill has the characters attempting to light several beacons to illuminate the town, whilst participating in other activities that will help the town survive, with the battle culminating in a battle against a Cave Giant. This battle is far more about the victory of the characters over the attackers, and feels a lot more linear in structure.
The overall difficulty of this section is a problem. Individual encounters with orcs are likely better balanced than the encounters with kobolds and cultists in Hoard (Pathfinder is a much more settled system), but the cumulative effect of so many battles builds to something that could easily be deadly. The adventure does give some suggestions for mitigating this, but it’s really tough for the spell-casters in the group, who soon will be without spells. We’re talking about 12 combats here. Even if the party avoid some, this seems to be entirely too many for a 2nd-level party.
Given that, I’m bemused that the adventure then suggests immediately going into another dungeon at the conclusion of the battle! Patrick Renie, the author of this adventure, must really hate the characters!
There is, at least, some suggestion that the PCs might get some rest at this point, which they’ll definitely need by the time they enter the dungeon. It isn’t that big, a mere six chambers, but it manages to have challenges of ratings 4, 2, 6 and 6! Or, using descriptive terms for 3rd level PCs, Challenging, Easy, Epic and Epic! This is probably fine, given the optimisation many Pathfinder players engage in.
With that, the adventure ends.
Honestly, given how important the hope knife is to the story, I’m amazed that we never once see one used for its intended purpose during the battle, when there are certainly villagers killed or trapped by the orcs.
No playtesters are listed for this adventure; I presume it had some. There’s a lot of quality material in this book and, even though the Paizo house style tends to use more words than I’d prefer, it’s definitely well-written. My chief problem with the adventure comes directly from it having too many encounters in too short a space of game time; as long as you can navigate that, there’s a lot here to like. Battle of Bloodmarch Hill needs a little work on the part of the GM, but should provide an entertaining start to the Giantslayer adventure path.