Supplement Review: Shadowlands: The Gates of Tarina Adventure Module by Jaye Sonia and Ben Cacchione from BlackStar Studios

Have you noticed how memorable movies and television programs use catchphrases to sometimes drive home key points? For example, in Star Wars, C-3PO says “I have a bad feeling about this” and we hear the phrase come up in a variety of ways over all six films. Or in The Princess Bride, Vizzini uses the word “Inconceivable!” enough that Inigo Montoya questions whether he knows the meaning of the word. Well, in the intro to BlackStar Studios’ Shadowlands: The Gates of Tarina Adventure Module (TGOT) we get a phrase I would expect to hear repeated while running this adventure: “I have decided I don’t like this Tarina of yours…”

Shadowlands: The Gates of Tarina - BlackStar StudiosLike with Secrets of the Tainted (SOTT), this adventure explores the city of Tarina – “a place where anything is obtainable for the right price.” Sounds good, right? Before your group of 1st level characters even get to the city, they become sucked into a plot involving thieves, wizards, and knights. Talk about being pushed into the deep end of the pool! Where SOTT explored the literal underworld of Tarina, TGOT focuses on some of the politics on the surface. And like always, politics sometimes brings together unlikely groups of people. Where will it lead the PCs?

The adventure is a 56 page PDF (44 pages of content) featuring gorgeous full-color cover and interior artwork by Ambrose Hoilman and well-written text by designers Jaye Sonia and Ben Cacchione. My same complaints about blank pages and font size still apply here (see my review of SOTT for more), but this book seems to suffer from fewer blank pages (until the last few sections anyway), which made it a little better. Beyond that I have to say it’s quite a spectacular looking book with a lot to offer a Pathfinder group eager to explore a whole new world.

One of the things I really like about this adventure is the underlying mystery driving everything from the very beginning. It is because of the mystery that this adventure winds around quite a bit, leading the PCs into various parts of the city to meet different factions. What’s even better is that the PC’s choices from the very beginning will mark them as working for (or with) certain groups and that will also be interesting to explore later on. Though the PCs could slaughter their way through every part of the scenario, they need information to accomplish their mission. And unless they know how to talk to the dead, it’s difficult to interrogate folks when they’re not breathing (not impossible, but difficult).

As an introduction to the setting, I think this approach works brilliantly to reveal some of the layers that PCs (and GMs) can explore down the line.

Construction-wise, there are elements of the sandbox
approach mixed with some scripted bits that offer the GM and players a ton of flexibility exploring the various threads going on here. And if you’re looking for threads, NPCs, or locations for use in your own campaigns, there are a TON of great options in this toolbox. GMs (and designers) should pay special attention to “Part III” where many locations are detailed with plenty of juicy nuggets to offer enterprising PCs for quite a while. I can only imagine that some of the encounters based on this part of the adventure could be quite entertaining.

And the conclusion should offer quite a spectacular encounter. After all the Q&A the PCs endure, they end up in a cool location and have some fun beasties to take out.

That said, one of my concerns about the module is how deadly it could possibly be depending on how the PCs choose to go. If they go down one or two blind alleys, it’s possible they could be stopped before they get started, ending up in a lot of hot water with groups that might be happier with them out of the way and not causing trouble. In that respect, I think that TGOT takes more of the DCC RPG approach to adventure design, potentially thinning the herd and not coddling 1st level characters like many adventures have in the past. The PCs will survive if they learn quickly that discretion is the better part of valor, but they’re going to be bruised and battered a bit along the way.

In summary, I think BlackStar Studios has another great adventure on their hands that should entertain a group of 1st level Pathfinder PCs for quite a while as they explore a whole new world. They may not like everything they find as they peel away the layers of Tarina, but they’re going to be sucked in from the very beginning and it will be very interesting to see where they end up.

For more about Shadowlands: The Gates of Tarina Adventure Module, check out…

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