If it’s one thing that can get me going as a gamer, it’s a good story. Couple that with a good setting and the opportunity to change the course of events (or even the perception of being able to change the course of events) and you have my attention as a GM and as a player. Add in some good writing, creativity, and a decent design aesthetic and I’ll probably talk your ear off.
When I started taking a look at The Dark Totem, Part 1: The Chantry Keep from Rocks Fall Games for their Adventures in Awesfur line, I wasn’t sure what to think. The cover sets an interesting tone with an almost “comic book” feel and the next few pages introduce you to the world of Awesfur to set the stage for the adventure itself. And that might be my first issue with the book itself. Out of a 37 page PDF, it wasn’t until page 9 where we get into the details of the adventure. There are 5 pages of setup where I was scratching my head a bit.
We’re introduced to more of Awesfur than we really need to know about in the first five pages. Perhaps it could be boiled down a bit more or a separate gazetteer could be created to detail the world in a “You Are Here” kind of way with a world map or graphically through an illustration rather than detailing it in 6 pages that are basically walls of text. There are a few stat-block-style chunks here and there, but it’s largely just a ton of text in two-column format.
That said, as soon as I got into the adventure itself I was hooked. In a few paragraphs on page 6, I knew The Blind Basilisk in the city of Varatolo is my kind of place. It has flavor, well-designed NPCs, and even a menu with prices for common services and items. And the PCs are immediately presented with an intriguing opportunity. When trouble comes a-knockin’, do they step up to the challenge or let someone else do it? If they do the latter, there are some consequences that may make further adventuring a challenge I think.
It’s that kind of diverging path that makes this sort of plot fun and let me wondering where things will be going in future supplements. That sort of anticipation built that early is a very good thing in my book.
Though parts of the adventure hold to a traditional old school feel with a variety of combat and trap encounters, there were also interactions with NPCs and the opportunity to explore to set the tone early. If you might end up playing in this adventure, I’d encourage you to skip the next few paragraphs…
One of the things that I really liked was that though the traditional “good vs. evil” approach was hinted at, the influence of chaos and the corruption of evil has a lot of sway. The idea of having big old baddies behind the world trying to influence their way back to rampaging through the mortal realm really made me smile. A group of knights trying to do the right thing stored items in the hopes that they could be safely contained or destroyed and we all know how that works out. True evil is patient. And Soulshackle, a demon or devil trapped long ago, was definitely patient.
And as we saw in Star Wars, “The Force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded” as Obi-wan says. Soulshackle exerts influence telepathically over others to do his dirty work from beyond the veil in his prison he so desperately wants to escape from. That’s the key to everything. If you hear the voices, there’s a chance you too might be convinced to fall under his evil sway… And if you don’t hear the voices, you may be caught unawares by those who do.
I did wonder if the PCs should be making saves vs. some sort of mental domination as soon as they could potentially hear the demon’s telepathic messages… Maybe just those of chaotic or evil tendencies. But that’s just a thought.
Ultimately the area descriptions won me over time and time again. Little things like the description of the Abbot’s office hinting at his simple tastes and pure intentions towards helping the poor really made those areas come to life. And the description of the haunted forge was amazing. The use of such a simple mechanic for a location should inspire many other GMs to come up some cool one-off encounters that can keep the PCs (and players) guessing for a time.
** END SPOIILERS **
The 37 page PDF is arranged in a simple two-column layout with clear headings and read-aloud text. I’m not a big fan of the color red for the read-aloud text because my eyes kept trying to skip it as I was reading through, but it works visually to set it apart from the rest of the description. I also found the font a bit difficult to read with all the serifs, but again that’s largely a matter of personal preference.
The writing was excellent and the cover was great, but the rest of the book lacked any art beyond the crude maps done for the adventure. Though I wished there was a bit more art, I found the combat encounters to be well constructed, with stats, strategy, and potential reactions to whatever the PCs choose to do. Having that extra level of difficulty as far as NPC or monster behavior really helps a GM get what the designers were after.
Unfortunately I found the full color map on page 10 to be difficult to read. Everything kind of blends together with all that stone tile. And without a legend, I was a bit confused as to the size of each square and what some of the items were beyond the occasional table or bed. But a bit more work on the map would have helped clarify those issues.
Even if those few nitpicks, I think this is a great adventure for Pathfinder that should keep a group of 3rd-level characters busy for a while. Perhaps the PCs will be able to do what needs to be done and keep the town happy at the same time! I look forward to reading more from Rocks Fall Games in the near future.
For more about Adventures in Awesfur – The Dark Totem, Part 1: The Chantry Keep (PFRPG)…
- … grab a copy of the adventure at DriveThruRPG.
- … see the rest of the adventures from Rocks Fall Games at DriveThruRPG.
- … check out Rocks Fall Games on Facebook and Twitter.