On the themes of Secrets of the Temple City
I've contributed to a number of adventures and adventure paths in the past years, most recently contributing to the Strength of Thousands Adventure Path. Not only am I proud for getting to work on what I consider to be a landmark campaign, but I am also very proud of my adventure, Secrets of the Temple City. This adventure includes a lot of adventuring staples like dungeon delving and finding cool treasures. The big hook of the adventure, as it were, is the first chapter which sees the heroes joining up for a diplomatic mission in the city of Mzali. Mzali is home to Walkena, a living deity who is cruel and tyrannical. Walkena's rule makes life in Mzali difficult to say the least and its up to the diplomatic delegation and the heroes to work to improve conditions in the city.
Writing this adventure was a difficult, but ultimately extremely rewarding task as Pathfinder Second Edition is a game that happens to be really good at giving players options to resolve problems via violence. These options tend to outnumber other available options, so many players tend to choose conflict over the more peaceful means of resolution. I had to create a large section of the adventure intentionally designed to keep combat and violent conflict to a minimum. This delegation's task was to go in and solve problems with words, not fists, and the adventure had to both allow and encourage that goal. I made use of PF2E's Influence system to create a structure on which to build this chapter and provide a diplomatic adventure. Sure, there's still some fights here and there, but I'd say 90% of the first chapter is social encounters.
This whole first chapter is intended to show the heroes (and by extension, the players) that sometimes violence is not the best answer to some situations. It's also there to show that you sometimes have to take smaller steps on the way toward greater goals. You can't necessarily solve a big picture problem today, but you can solve the small picture one, or prepare things to help solve that big picture problem later. These were important lessons that I was tasked with trying to teach in the adventure and they're ones that I believe myself. Eventually, the heroes move on to other tasks which includes some of the more traditional adventurer things such as fighting undead and the like, but hopefully those lessons are something that stick.
Later parts of the adventure include a lot more fighting and I think there were some people who felt that the later chapters contradicted the lessons we were trying to impart in the first chapter. I've seen some discussion about it on the Paizo forums, but decided to avoid chiming in with my thoughts so people could run the adventure however they liked. Recently, someone asked me about these themes and I finally took the time to explain my reasoning for the adventure and my thoughts on whether or not the adventure's themes were in conflict with each other. I have my full response below, but since it includes spoilers I'll give you the summary here.
In brief, there's only so much words can do to help change the world and sometimes achieving further change requires action. The important thing here is recognizing when words are an option or even the better option. Diplomacy is just one tool on your belt when working toward change. Don't forget to use it. Relying too much on a single tool won't give you the best or sometimes even any results, however, so make sure you're aware of every tool at your disposal and deploy each one as necessary and suits the situation. If you want my further explanation, scroll down past Walkena and keep reading!
So, a user on the r/Pathfinder2E discord asked me the following.
What was the rationale behind having Walkena attack Osibu at the climax of the book? Doesn't it run contrary to the first chapter's theme of trying to make meaningful change without aggressive revolution?
My response was as follows.
In part, it's because it's what I was assigned to write. While I do have a great amount of freedom with deciding plot beats, the major points are decided beforehand. In this case, the order was to have Walkena attack Osibu. I could have definitely asked to change that particular detail, opting for a different villain, but didn't feel it necessary.
I understand the feeling that it contradicts with the earlier themes, but I don't entirely agree. Sure, it does end up forcing you to fight the enemy you worked so hard to convince with words, but I think it also works to teach an important lesson: sometimes words aren't enough.
It took a lot of work to convince Walkena to change policies for Mzali, but if you read the various possible outcomes, most of them are of little work to Walkena or even earn him benefits. For example, the minimum reward causes him to only slightly tweak his policies so the death penalty is not the automatic sentence but he "reserves the right to issue death penalties in individual cases as he sees fit." In essence, nothing has changed. He can still issue the death penalty in every single case. In other cases, he increases trade to his city, thus increasing his own wealth. It's only with major success that you can do some good that doesn't also benefit Walkena in some way. Yes, you can help people, but Walkena tends to get something out of it, too. Your diplomatic actions don't just suddenly redeem him or put him on the path to change.
So, Walkena remains an evil, petulant, tyrant regardless of how well you do. You go to Mzali to help its people, not to redeem or stop Walkena and you get to succeed at that mission. By helping the people of Mzali, they now have more of a foundation to work against Walkena later (the setup of the Bright Lions vs. Walkena). Since he remains evil, though, he's still willing to do things like attack Osibu for wealth and power. He forces the Magaambya's/PCs' hand with this, requiring them to fight to defend people in need. Try as you might, even with perfect results, Walkena remained evil and you had to use force to protect others.
Mind, you are using force for defense. I think I would agree with the critiques more if you were just outright attacking Walkena later in the adventure. For example, you could have learned that Walkena was aware of Osibu's location and chosen to attack preemptively, in case he decided to raid the city. Or, Dajermube's aid in hand, decided that it was time to liberate Mzali once and for all. That would definitely be in direct conflict with the adventure's earlier lessons. That's not the case, though. You are somewhere new and the place and its people are in danger. You work to defend it, pushing back against the raiders, but not chasing after them to "finish the job" or anything of the sort. You used the exact amount of force necessary to keep people safe and no more.
This is an idea I put forth with Cihua Couatl, a NG deity in Arcadia. They are a god of war, but in the sense that war and conflict is inevitable. They recognize that preparing for conflict isn't a bad thing if the intent is to keep people safe. You might never need to fight, but when fighting does happen, it's best to be prepared to help others and save as many lives as possible.
Could there have been a different villain that attacked Osibu? Definitely! Does using Walkena as that villain negate all of the important lessons and themes from earlier in the adventure? I don't think so.
All that said, if you still feel that a different villain or a change to the adventure would make for a better time, please do it. I'd rather people take my adventure, grab what they want, and change everything else to suit their needs, than feel constrained to run everything by the book because Mr. Paizo wrote it and you have to do exactly what they say.