Pathfinder Adventure Path #68: The Shackled Hut (Reign of Winter 2 of 6) (PFRPG) (based on
Paizo Publishing, LLC
Chapter 2: "The Shackled Hut"
by Jim Groves
The winter portal has closed, but the heroes now find themselves trapped in the frozen land of Irrisen with an urgent quest—to find Baba Yaga! In order to track down the missing Queen of Witches, the heroes must brave the monster-infested capital city of Whitethrone, where Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut has been captured and put on display. Will possession of the miraculous artifact lead them to the Witch Queen, or will they die a cold death at the hands of Irrisen’s White Witches?
This volume of Pathfinder Adventure Path continues the Reign of Winter Adventure Path and includes:
“The Shackled Hut,” a Pathfinder RPG adventure for 4th-level characters, by Jim Groves.
An exploration of the ecology and the origins of the cunning and dangerous winter wolf, by Russ Taylor.
A look into the cult of rebels and revolutionaries who revere Milani the Everbloom, by Sean K Reynolds.
A dangerous introduction to Whitethrone’s aristocracy in the Pathfinder’s Journal, by Kevin Andrew Murphy.
Four new monsters, by Jim Groves, Dale C. McCoy, Jr., and Sean K Reynolds.
Each monthly full-color softcover Pathfinder Adventure Path volume contains an in-depth adventure scenario, stats for several new monsters, and support articles meant to give Game Masters additional material to expand their campaign. Pathfinder Adventure Path volumes use the Open Game License and work with both the Pathfinder RPG and the world’s oldest fantasy RPG.
First, I want to highlight this adventure for all of the positive reasons mentioned in the reviews by Navior and Lucent. However, I would like to add this review as both a response to their comments, and to take the discussion back to a DM and PC centered perspective. I think the previous reviewers’ emphases on the last section/encounter of the module as being “railroady,” or as “uninspired,” misses the main points of the adventure. I’ve listed them below in no particular order:
1. The organic feeling and background of the adventure provides an amazing flow for the story arc.
2. The PCs end the adventure in control of Baba Yaga’s Hut!
3. This adventure is oozing with a classic, dark, fairy tale aesthetic that goes a long way towards putting the fear of fey back into jaded RPGamers.
4. Players will be very excited about gaining one of the most famous artifacts in both Earth and Pathfinder legend as their new home.
5. Not all BBEGs need to be completely memorable battles.
6. Both DM and PCs will look forward to new configurations of the hut once they travel to another location. I can’t wait to see the layout in the next adventure! And I can’t wait to see the players reactions when they realize, “Oh, this place changes when we travel.”
7. If you think the last section of the four in this volume is too much of a railroad, see the author’s (Jim Groves) extensive comments in the Product Discussion.
8. The players end up in control of an amazing – and very fun – artifact by 7th level!
9. The adventure can be altered so the railroad of the last section isn’t such a “dungeon.” Use your DM's prerogative. There is a lot being said about this already online, so find whichever idea inspires you the most, and tailor the adventure to your campaign.
10. Baba Yaga’s hut as loot for the players!
11. This volume could easily be mined as a “heist adventure” for a home-grown campaign (great idea Jim, and great AP debut!).
12. Did anyone mention that the players will be world- and plane-hopping in their new spoils after killing the BBEG? Woohoo, Baba Yaga’s Hut!
If you haven’t bought this yet, get it! And on that note, subscribe—because all the adventures for this path are going to EPIC!
In The Shackled Hut by Jim Groves, the second part of the Reign of Winter adventure path, the PCs set out to find Baba Yaga’s Dancing Hut as the next step in their quest to rescue Baba Yaga herself. Much like The Snows of Summer, the first part of the AP, The Shackled Hut is a very linear adventure, but one that nonetheless feels natural in its progression and thus PCs won’t likely feel overly railroaded by it. The adventure contains a wonderful mix of dark fairytale elements and interesting characters. Although many of those characters are there and gone in only a short amount of time, they all have fully detailed backgrounds and motivations, making them feel a part of a living and exciting world. This is not a perfect adventure (indeed, I have a few issues with its resolution in particular), but it is still a very good adventure and a great continuation of the adventure path.
A nearly perfect fairy-tale romp bogged down by late-game ambiguity.
Note: This review contains some story-based spoilers.
After the superb opening of the Reign of Winter Adventure Path in The Snows of Summer I was really excited to see where things went when Jim Groves (author of the stupendous Murder's Mark module) took the reigns of the eponymous shackled hut in hand. What we received is a love-letter to Grimm's fairy tales and a wonderfully crafted adventure that sends our heroes into the tyrannical heart of witch-ruled Irrisen, only to have some of the antagonist motivations and appearances seem to fall apart right at the climax.
The Shackled Hut starts off strongly with the players forced to trudge across the harsh and unforgiving Irriseni tundra, stranded in a foreign and inhospitable land after the epic conclusion of Snows of Summer. The encounters designed for this portion of the adventure are lovingly crafted vignettes into Grimm-themed fairy tale elements. From a love-lorn fae creature forced to confront his family to an encounter with the white witch's royal scouts, the first leg of the adventure thrusts players into difficult situation and presents them with even more difficult moral choices.
When the adventure brings the players to the capitol of Irrisen, the story picks up with a hide-and-seek cloak-and-dagger style scenario where the characters are forced to elude fascist Irriseni guards, break bread with a revolutionary group and rattle the city's defenses by slaying a dragon in a clock tower. The set pieces and encounters are all top-notch in this portion of the adventure and the characterizations of the NPCs (one winter-wolf longing to be human comes to mind) is fantastic. All this considered is, perhaps, why the conclusion of the Shackled Hut being such a mess is so disappointing. Were the entire book of the same quality, it might not have been such a shock, but with the caliber of everything else Jim Groves brought to the table, what came next was a surprise.
The penultimate chapter of the Shackled Hut takes place in the market plaza of Irrisen and feels like it was written by an entire different writer all together. Going from a sandbox style approach in the howlings district of Irrisen the players are forced through a direct Point A to Point B hedge maze, but with all of the fun of having special powers designed to circumvent a hedge maze taken away. The GM is told from the beginning that spells designed to bypass natural hazards do not work, flying is impossible, even sheer brute force is shut down by automatically regenerating walls with infinite hit points. The transition from the previous part to this is jarring, and GMs might find a bad taste in their mouths when they tell their players to progress down this corridor going from encounter to encounter with no potential for alternate routes or avenues of approach, or even creative thinking available.
Finally, and perhaps most alarmingly, the confrontation with the antagonist Nazhena -- foreshadowed as a competent and evil witch from early on in the previous book -- winds up coming across as a jumbled mess of ineptitude and muddied motivations. The players will find Nazhena trapped in an enclosure in the "hedge maze" with a sole bodyguard and a powerful, angry animated artifact ready to kick her to death should the PCs think of bull-rushing her into its reach. With the way it is presented, Nazhena has no motivations for being trapped here, other than "she was, and now she has to defend the hut."
I have heard from developers that some of the motivations of Nazhena and an entire sub-plot were dropped from this portion of the adventure, and it shows. Having had the opportunity to see what was cut out and changed, I'm left to wonder why the decision was made, or if muddying the reason behind Nazhena's presence was intentional. It strikes me as an anti-climactic let-down after having this antagonist built up after so long.
By and large, the Shackled Hut hardly ever misses a beat when it comes to painting a grim, totalitarian picture of a wintry landscape. Irrisen is everything that Narnia in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was, but viewed through the lens of Jadis having taken some pointers from Joseph Stalin! I highly recommend this chapter of Reign of Winter, but caution GMs to carefully read the conclusion and make changes as they see fit so as to not have the story end with a cluck rather than a bang.