Plunging straight in, this adventure begins with a brief outline of this richly-detailed Japanese-inspired setting. In a neat twist, the characters too are seeing it for the first time, arriving as 'gai-jin' (the Japanese word for 'foreigner' although it's a word with somewhat negative connotations) and seeing it with all the wonder of outsiders visiting a new and very different place, even as their players are finding out about a new setting.
Much of the discussion, though, is best kept for the GMs' eyes. Unlikely to be common knowledge elsewhere, although it may be a topic of discussion in some academic and theological circles, life and death here, the state of the souls of both the living and the dead, is somewhat unusual. Reincarnation gone mad, shall we say, and leave characters to discover it for themselves as they begin to piece together what is going on. Japanese-inspired this setting may be, but it draws on the darker side, on the tales that are told, that create a setting filled with oriental horror.
Setting outlined, on to a summary of the adventure itself. The characters have been hired by a 'gai-jin' merchant who's sailing to Kaidan to trade... but all is not as it seems. (When is it ever?) He's been there before, came into conflict with a local (undead) noble and... suffice it to say, the situation is fraught with difficulties and the characters will encounter many adversaries all intend on achieving their own ends. Several adventure hooks are provided to ensure that the characters are drawn in effectively. Many of these have been designed so as to encourage the characters to explore and investigate their surroundings, thus getting a far better introduction to the setting than some quick in and out errand!
From the outset, the characters are plunged straight into the action, even as their ship arrives at its destination port on Kaidan. It's not only swordsmen that they have to contend with, there's also a mountain of bureaucracy to overcome as well as local attitudes to anyone who is a foreigner... and as for those who are non-human! As they explore the port town (while waiting for the paperwork to be sorted out), multiple plotlines entwine them... with events scattered in such a way that it will take careful consideration to discover what is going on, and plenty to keep the characters busy whether they prefer to interact with those that they meet or let their swordarms do the talking. The township is mapped and described well, enabling the GM to allow the characters to prowl and explore as they please and giving him plenty to keep them occupied. As several encounters may be resolved by single combat, there's an interesting sidebar of ideas about how to keep other players engaged with the game whilst only one of them is actually involved in a brawl.
Once documentation is straightened out, the characters' employer is ready to travel to his ultimate destination inland, a journey of some 100 miles and, needless to say, not without incident. Inns, the wilderness, townships, bandits and plenty of undead provide a variety of challenges, including a fine pitched battle. This episode of what is a three-part adventure ends as the characters reach their destination.
Throughout the adventure, clear maps are presented as appropriate, all of which highlight the oriental nature of the setting. Each encounter is laid out clearly, with suitable progression of events to enable the GM to build up the horror as well as the action. Dreams and visions interleave with more tangible events, and good use is made of supernatural tools provided by the Pathfinder ruleset such as haunts. Overall, it is a nicely-crafted adventure with an unusual and beautifully coherent plot integrated into the setting. Oriental settings are fairly common, but this one has its own twist that should make for some memorable adventures.
Return to Curse of the Golden Spear 1: The Gift page.
Reviewed: 2 June 2011