Book Review: The Gift: Curse of the Golden Spear Part 1 by Jonathan McAnulty and Rite Publishing

Pre-packaged adventures for roleplaying games have always been a bit hit or miss for me over the years. Creative GMs have often taken maps, encounters, or concepts and used them for their own ends in their campaigns. But the railroading aspects of most modules have always deterred me from most of them. Sure, they may inspire various bits or pieces of a game, but they rarely have enough flexibility to offer GMs a complete experience on their own.

Well, I may need to revise that opinion after reading Rite Publishing’s new release – The Gift: Curse of the Golden Spear Part 1 for the Pathfinder RPG by Jonathan McAnulty. Though I love reading gaming supplements of all kinds, this is the first time in a long time that I’ve *wanted* to run an adventure or perhaps be a player through one. And if this is just the introduction, with two more adventures forthcoming, I definitely want to see what happens next.

Let me provide a bit of an edited synopsis from the Kaidan Patronage Project page at Rite Publishing (I don’t want to offer too many spoilers in the review)…

“Far to the east, away from the lands you know, there lies an island called Kaidan. Shrouded in dark mystery for centuries, its ports are at last being opened to foreign merchants and opportunity awaits the bold. Yes, I have heard the stories you have heard… Who can believe such tales? We shall discount the rumors, you and I, knowing how it is sailors talk. I have a gift to carry to one of the Lord’s of that land and I need stout souls to protect it on its journey there. Will you not make this journey with me and see the wonders of the far east for yourself?”

The recipe for The Curse of the Golden Spear is simple at the core. The PCs must help deliver an item to the ruler of an island country that doesn’t like outsiders. Now add some horror elements such as vengeful spirits who don’t want you to succeed. Then add some creatures from Japanese mythology to further reinforce the horror elements. Now toss all of that out the window and prepare to walk into a world with its own rules and consequences that go far beyond simply accomplishing a mission…

As I read through the adventure, I was struck by the number of individuals and groups with hidden agendas. There’s an internal consistency based on the rigid hierarchies of ancient Japanese culture – from the Emperor and his Samurai all the way down to the animals and cursed creatures. Each seeks at the very least to keep their position secure and at the most to gain more influence in their sphere. But beyond that, the way karma is modeled is very unique as it can completely alter the course of the reincarnation process. Out of everything, that was the part that fascinated me the most about the adventure. Not only are there consequences for characters in this life, but their decisions and actions in this life and in past lives affects how they are brought back in the next. It’s truly a vicious cycle with lasting repercussions.

From the moment the PCs are introduced to the quest to the end of this first part of the adventure, I was hooked just reading it. I suspect most gamers will be really hooked if they play through it. But I don’t want to spoil the fun for any GM thinking of running the adventure, nor for any player who might be lucky enough to play in the adventure, so I won’t go into detail… Suffice it to say if you were a fan of any of the incarnations of the Oriental
Adventures
books for D&D in the past, or of the Ravenloft setting or adventures, you will definitely find the module to be intriguing. And the world reminds me of an odd cross between Pan’s Labyrinth and Spirited Away, setting the stage for plenty of adventures in an Eastern-themed series of adventures.

Beyond that, I have to say I was impressed with the writing. Succinct, but descriptive, McAnulty and editor Dave Paul did a great job of providing plenty of detail without going over the top. The benefit of that approach is that as GM you have plenty to run the adventure, but have a lot of leeway in some of the spaces between major events. The art was excellent as well, from the gorgeous cover art of the samurai guarding a chest by Jan Pospisil to the simple bamboo frame around each page and the many color and black and white illustrations and maps throughout from artists Mark Hyzer, Simon Turnbull, and Michael K. Tumey.

My one quibble with the structure of the book was the decision to put the glossary of terms at the end. As I was reading the PDF, I was continually trying to find the definition for terms in the text. I would have liked to have seen a smaller inset box on any page introducing new terms with definitions of those terms. If you have a hardcopy, it’s easier to flip back to the glossary than when viewing the book electronically. Though the insets might have added a few pages, it would have saved me a bit of frustration and I would have learned the terms more easily.

Beyond that, if you like Japanese-flavored adventures, you will want to pick up a copy of The Gift: Curse of the Golden Spear Part 1. Rite Publishing and Jonathan McAnulty should have a huge hit on their hands with this one. I’m excited to see the next two parts of the adventure released in July and August! Be sure to pick it up Part 1 today at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG!

For more information about Rite Publishing, check out their website and take a look at their impressive list of products at RPGNow.

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