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Curse of the Golden Spear, Part 1: The Gift (PFRPG)

***** (based on 5 ratings)
PSICB6802

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The shores of Kaidan beckon...Traveler Beware!

For centuries Kaidan has been isolated from the world. Now, at long last, by Imperial decree, its ports are open to gaijin sailors and merchants. You come to Kaidan, escorting a merchant and the gift he carries, a gift meant for a powerful Kaidanese lord. But Kaidan is cursed and once within its borders you may find that not even death will release you from the Islands’ powerful grip. Do you have what it takes to survive the Curse of the Golden Spear?

The first of a three part campaign, "The Gift" is an adventure set in the cursed land of Kaidan and is suitable for a group of 5th level characters. Drawing inspiration from Japanese folklore, and fully compatible with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Kaidan is a land of horror and mystery. In Kaidan, demons stalk the land in human form, the dead seldom rest easy, and life is cheap. This adventure serves to introduces players and game masters alike to the cursed realm of Kaidan.

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Product Reviews (5)

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***** (based on 5 ratings)

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An awesome journey into Japanese Horror

*****

This adventure/setting-introduction is 61 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 2 pages back cover, leaving 55 pages for the first part of the Kaidan-trilogy, so let's check it out!

Disclaimer: I'm a gold patron for Kaidan, but I didn't participate that much in the design process due to real life.
First of all, one cannot help but notice the beautiful full-color layout featuring bamboo at the page-borders (similar to In the Company of Kappa) and the stunning cover artwork - rest assured that the rest of the book is just as visually pleasing.

This being an adventure, I will have to go into some mayor SPOILERS later. I'll start off with what Kaidan is in the beginning, which one could consider minor spoilers, so beware. I'll explicitly add another warning prior to going into the adventure details.

There are a LOT of Asian settings out there, and good ones at that, so what exactly makes Kaidan unique? First of all: Its focus. Kaidan is a horror-themed setting inspired by Japan and Japanese mythology. Not L5R-style, not Chinese WuXia (like in the quite cool HotJO-setting), but by Japanese horror-stories. Being a bit of a fan of Japanese horror-games like Fatal Frame (aka Project Zero in Europe) or Forbidden Siren, I can attest to there being a plethora of almost unknown tropes of awesome and disturbing narratives that have largely been untapped by western pop culture and even rpgs. Kaidan seeks to at least partially remedy that, but does it deliver?

SPOILERS abound now, players please don't continue reading, you have been warned!
The adventure kicks off with a beautiful, full-color map of the land of Kaidan and an introduction to the basic concept of Kaidan: Shrouded and isolated in a perpetual cloud that only recently has been partially lifted, the place immediately evokes positive reminiscences of the best of Ravenloft's concepts, but goes further: Kaidan is essentially the idea of reincarnation going horribly wrong - the dead don't go to the afterlife and rather roam the land, become haunts and creatures or even trying to force others from their bodies, essentially killing living people and being reborn in the cruelest, most twisted take on reincarnation I've ever seen. Even worse for the poor people of this beautiful, yet haunted land, even this endless circle provides no true escape from the rigid and merciless caste-system.
So, what's the story? Marl Tyro, a merchant plans to kill an undead daimyo, who has taken the merchant's daughter hostage to force Marl to bring him a loyalty-enforcing, cursed golden spear. Marl, plotting vengeance, has condensed jewels of positive energy set to provide a nasty surprise for the daimyo and the PCs accompany him to the dread lands of Kaidan as Gaijin (longnoses), thus facilitating the introduction to the customs of this rather xenophobic land. The welcome the PCs will receive is a rather frosty one - the first ambush has already been prepared for them as soon as they get off the ship in Gaijinoshima, the gateway to Kaidan- Yakuza-thugs stand ready to confront and kill the PCs in the name of a mysterious woman. A full-color map is provided for the dock and the encounter, which is always a plus. Assuming the PCs survive, they'll encounter the rather uncooperative officials, who'll refuse them landing on mainland Kaidan until the proper papers have been obtained. The PCs are thus stranded in the town and can explore - as long as they carry the heavy chest containing marl's gift around, that is. The harbor-town also gets its own full-color map. After encountering a damsel in distress and rescuing her from an ogre-assault, she tries to recruit the PCs to accompany her to the cemetery, to ostensibly find gold her late husband has stolen from the oni-lords. This, of course, is a ruse, but more on that later. After all, the Yakuza seek restitution for the defeat of the welcoming commando and the PCs might be forced into a duel with one of their more powerful members or another full-blown fight. After being introduced to mind fever ( a sickness that precedes a replacement of souls), the PCs have an opportunity to dine with a Yakuza-lord, wrestle for his enjoyment (once again, the lair has its own beautiful map) and thus might secure the necessary friends in the right places to get the paperwork for their journey finally done. What about the damsel, though? She tries to lead the PCs into the clutches of a jikininki, a terrible, shapechanging, ghoulish creature the PCs will have to defeat. Once they PCs have survived this trap, they are free to finally set foot on mainland Kaidan. Well, relatively free, that is.

After all, they're still Gaijin and subsequently will be accompanied by 17 Kaidanese, there to make sure that the longnoses don't stray too far from their allowed trail. The first station along the way is a cursed way station inhabited by both a plethora of deadly haunts, flesh-eating ghouls, a ghost and featuring both tainted food and terrible nightmares for your PCs and, once again, a beautiful full-color map. This encounters alone might be worth the price if you're looking for some genuinely creepy encounter.

Once the PCs reach the highlands, the PCs will encounter bandits, a tamashinaki as well as an encounter at a bridge (again with a map) and another mapped, very creepy encounter with a well full of undead children and subsequently their dread killer. Further on their journey, the PCs can help defend the town Agoya against a coordinated bandit rush/siege, having consequences in the sequel as well as during their brief stay in the village. On the road to the next settlement, Tsuje-Te, the PCs will have another encounter (again, with a grided, full color map) with some mischievous Kappa and some additional random encounters before being assaulted by the damsel in distress from Gaijinoshima and her minion - an ogre-brute like the one they fought, only this time, the damsel drops her cover and, as a hebi-no-onna, attacks as well, serving as a nice and challenging climax to the adventure that ends with the PCs reaching the town of Tsue-Jo.

There are some appendices to take a look at, though: The first deals with PC reincarnation, as resurrection etc. don't work in Kaidan and reformation as a malevolent spirit (yurei), a tamashinaki or even inflict a Kaidanese with mind fever, supplanting him/her. This process also may entail foreign memories and the appendix also features a great mechanic for tracking karma and rebirth. We also get 2 new monsters and of course, full stats for the two featured tamashinaki, 4 pre-gens and a two page glossary/pronunciation guide to help a GM properly display the culture of Kaidan.

Conclusion:
Layout adheres to the beautiful full-color, bamboo-lined standard we already know from "In the Company of Kappa" and goes a long way to convey the unique atmosphere of Kaidan. Editing and formatting are very good - I only noticed one minor editing glitch and one minor formatting relic. When I started reading the sections on Gaijinoshima, I was rather underwhelmed with regards to the horror-aspect of the setting, but don't be fooled - this part of the adventure serves to accustom the PCs with Kaidan and the subsequent horror-encounters are demented, dark and deadly and rank among the finest I've read in quite a while - Kaidan manages to walk the tight rope between horror and fantasy with a deceptive ease and furthermore accomplishes the feat of being unique and captivating as both a setting and an adventure. Fans of Ravenloft HAVE to check this out. Fans of Gothic Horror should check this out. Fans of the darker aspects of Japanese folklore and mythology have to check this out. Have I mentioned that I love the extensive map support and the stunning, awesome b/w-artworks that rank among the best I've seen in 3pp books? Can you guess my final verdict? Yup, I award full 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval - Jonathan McAnulty, Michael K. Tumey and the crew at RiP has done an awesome job of going out of their way to provide a premium quality horror-adventure of the highest caliber. I can't wait for part II!


A Welcoming Adventure into Kaidan

*****

The Gift is a questing adventure module for Pathfinder set in the Asian fantasy horror setting Kaidan and designed for four characters of 5th Level. The adventure is filled with combat and a nicely paced storyline that fit in directly with the Kaidan setting. The Kaidan setting is extremely unique being a land filled with wandering spirits, creatures of Japanese folklore, and wicked humans. The horror elements of the setting are well-developed and integrated smoothly into the background, encounters, and the overarching storyline.

OVERALL

The Gift is an interesting and well-developed adventure module placed in a truly unique setting filled with horrific elements. It would be almost pointless to use it as a stand-alone adventure and sets the stage and initiates the quest throughout The Curse of the Golden Spear campaign. While it is combat-heavy, it is written with a styling that makes the encounters unique and interesting while continuing the story in a forward direction. And to top all of this off, you get maps and battlemaps to boot!

RATINGS

Publication Quality: 9 out of 10
The Gift has a very smooth layout and presentation, flowing perfectly from beginning to end. There are lots of great illustrations but more importantly, there are some beautiful maps and battlemaps associated with the various encounters and areas. This really adds not only to the visual appeal of the module, but also to its ease-of-use. The high-quality of the publication does a good job of leaving you to want to finish the campaign series.

Storyline: 8 out of 10
The storyline is fairly solid and integrates well with the various encounters and overall purpose of the quest. However, even better than its integration with the adventure is its integration with the setting. This storyline does an excellent job of bringing out the Kaidan setting in many different ways. This includes the overarching storyline and the smaller bits-and-pieces scattered throughout that are integral to individual encounters. It should also be noted that it flows superbly from beginning to end without creating gaps or confusion.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
Considering The Gift has a large amount of combat encounters, it is not hack-and-slash. To avoid the quest from feeling repetitious, these encounters are quite different from one to another. They range not only in their setup and purpose, but also their style and storyline impact. In addition to the mechanical elements of the quest, the setting is unique which means you won’t feel like you’re playing an adventure you’ve played before.

Overall: 9 out of 10
The Gift is a very good and very solid adventure module. Even better, it is an excellent setup to The Curse of the Golden Spear campaign series. The Kaidan setting really comes alive and this is only the first module. One of my personal favorites is how the ideals of reincarnation work within the setting in how a body can be stolen by a wandering soul or that a body can be an empty shell and thus be acquired by a nasty elemental spirit instead. It’s a very interesting concept and executed wonderfully.


A good intro adventure into Asian lands.

*****

Curse of the Golden Spear by Rite Publishing

This product is 61 pages long. It starts with a cover, ToC, and credits. (3 pages)

Introduction (7 pages)
There is information about the island nation of Kaidan as well as a half page color map of the island nation. Next you get adventure background information and a summery of the adventure. Three new magic items, the NPC stat block for a merchant that hires the PC's as well as some additional plot hooks. It is made for four 5th level PC's.

The Opening Scene (3 pages)
The idea of the adventure is the PC's are hired by a foreign merchant to guard him and his delivery to a lord in the island nation of Kaidan. The PC's are meant to be new to the area as well. They travel by ship from where ever they are from to a smaller island that is part of the island nation. The adventure starts as the ship comes into port and the PC's are ambushed leaving the ship. Stat blocks and a mini's map are included in this section.

Part 1: In Gaijinoshami (10 ½ pages)
After the ambush, the NPC merchant attempts to get the paper work settled to deliver his gift to the Lord. Accept things keep popping up to delay it, during this time the PC's are left to explore the town, which causes them to get caught up in several events. There is four encounters in this section which may or may not all involve combat. In addition there is a map of the town and several locations around the town, plus keyed locations with information about the town.

Part 2: Journey through Yonshu (23 ½ pages)
Finally able to leave the town and start there journey likely due to the PC's efforts in the encounters in the previous part. There is 8 encounter locations/events in this section, not counting the possible random encounters along the way. Some of them are small single encounters and some are locations or events with several mini encounters joined together.

There is maps including mini maps for use with miniatures for key locations. There is random encounter tables, random weather, full stat blocks and several detailed locations and another overview of another town. At this point the adventure ends, but not really. They still need to take the spear to the lord. As this adventure ends they make it to a city and are left to guard the gift and rest for a couple of days, while their NPC merchant goes to talk to the Daimyo. Which is apparently where part two of the adventure will pick up at.

Appendix 1: PC Reincarnation (3 pages)
This section is about how reincarnation works in Kaidan.

Appendix 2: New Monsters (4 pages)
This section has 4 new monsters with full stat blocks and a new template.

Appendix 3: Pregen Characters (2 pages)
This section has 4 pregen characters with full stat blocks and short backgrounds.

Appendix4: Glossary of Words (2 pages)
This has a glossary list of words and names with their meaning. There is also a pronunciation Guide as well.

It ends with a OGL and back cover(for some reason the back cover is on twice. (3 pages)

Closing thoughts. The artwork is mostly color with some black and white, it ranges from fair to pretty good. Layout and editing where good, I did notice a couple of errors but not many. This is a very nice adventure, it has a nice mix of travel, location based encounters, social interaction and introducing the PC's to a new and interesting land. If you ever wanted to introduce your PC's to a Asian nation, then this is a very good adventure to do so. While it is obviously made to use with Kaidan the campaign nation by Rite Publishing, it would require only a little work to be used with any other Asian based nation. Other than the double back cover in the PDF, I really don't have anything negative to say about the adventure. So I am going to give it a 5 star review. A great intro adventure to the far east.

Trust me, I'm a Succubus.


As well crafted as a true Katana

*****

This adventure is the first part of a three part series which introduces a new land, the land of Kaidan, a strange land in which access to other planes of existence is denied. Be wary travelers, you may enter and never leave again, not ever, not even in death. This first part includes an overview of the land, its people and creatures, politics and spiritualism, and the major portion which is the adventure. The later portion contains the numerous appendixes and glossary.

The premise of the adventure portion is that the players’ PCs are newcomers to this land and have to learn about this place and the strangeness they encounter along the way. There are a large variety of encounters to get the PCs introduced to the land and its people. Dealing with social aspects is just as important as killing monsters and taking their stuff. And there are plenty of role playing opportunities as well as some of the good old fashioned hack and slash.

The PCs are hired as the muscle for a merchant who wishes to impress a noble of the main island. He is bringing this noble a gift (hence the name of the adventure). It is assumed that the PCs are also foreigners as well as the merchant. For those who want to start characters in the land of Kaidan, it wouldn’t be too difficult to make them into locals who are hired in the initial port town. However if this is done, I would recommend purchasing the entire set, parts 1-3, before trying to start PCs from Kaidan. There is some information about the land but not a lot, and not everything the player or GM may need to know to have a Kaidan based game. Plus this adventure is designed for 5th level characters so they would have to gain some experience first as well has have a reason to be staying in the port town of the foreigners, Gaijinoshima. The information presented in this first part is definitely sufficient for a GM to run the adventure as is, premise intact, however.

At first the PCs and their employer will not be allowed off the small island where Gaijinoshima is located. The non-standard bureaucratic encounters are particularly meaningful for getting the players used to the social climate of Kaidan. It should become clear that the locals think more highly of their domesticated animals than they do of foreigners such as the PCs. This of course leads to all sorts of fun roleplay. IF successful in these first scenes at the port town, the PCs will be allowed with their employer to sail across the short bit of bay to the main island and proceed to the city where the noble resides. There are many more encounters on the way through the mountains that lie between. There are encounters with the natural denizens of the mountains as well as encounters with the local villagers and other, worse things before the final destination of this adventure.

There is not a lot of art, but the art that is present ranges from full color to clear black and white images which do an excellent job of giving an oriental, Japanese-style flavor. Every single page has a border that closely resembles bamboo, which is an interesting touch. What stands out for me, however, are the numerous maps, which could be used on a play mat by copying and placing on the game table for miniatures. I am not certain how easy this would be to convert to the files needed for Maptool and the like. The small scale full color map of the islands where this adventure takes place is gorgeous.

There are lots of little helpful tools for the GM in this adventure as well as the mini campaign guide herein. There are notes on how to engage the other players if there is a dramatic one-on-one combat going on, something the Kaidanese clearly seem to favor. There is a City stat block for the foreigner’s port town of Gaijinoshima as well as the farming village encountered along the way. There are also several appendixes. The first is on PC reincarnation, karma and on how the Wheel of Life in Kaidan works. The second contains new monsters, new templates, and a new subtype of monster that may be encountered in this adventure or in later ones. Appendix three contains pregenerated characters that are extremely helpful if the GM and players wish to start out at 5th level with characters ready to run. And lastly there is a glossary of words and names used in this adventure as well as a pronunciation guide. There are many terms and oriental-sounding names that may confuse Western eyes, so this is a useful tool for the GM.

As is becoming increasingly clear, Jonathan McAnulty and the gang at Rite Publishing go above and beyond the call of duty to provide awesome game materials. The Gift is an interesting, well-written adventure with a new campaign region, a compelling background, new monsters, story hooks and all with a twist to this land as intriguing any I have read before. If this is the trend, adventures accompanied by all the tools a GM needs to run a comprehensive campaign (short of thePathfinder Core Rulebook and the Bestiary), I like it. I rate this gem at five full stars and I can’t wait to see the rest, excellent work, guys and gals.


An RPG Resource Review

*****

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.



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