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Courts of the Shadow Fey (PFRPG)

****½ (based on 3 ratings)
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Friends or Foes? A Game of Shifting Dangers!

The Shadow Fey are here, and they’ve turned the city upside down. Now their ambassador demands that the player characters explain themselves, for interfering in a perfectly legitimate assassination!

So begins this fan-favorite adventure from award-winning designers Wolfgang Baur and Ben McFarland that takes adventurers from Midgard’s Free City of Zobeck to the Plane of Shadows. There they will face the Queen of Night and Magic herself in an inventive take on courtly combat and sandbox roleplaying.

This expanded 130-page edition for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game has been updated and revised based on play, and includes:

  • A detailed 60+ location map of the Courts with 100+ NPCs
  • A family tree of the shadow fey royals, plus juicy details of their rivalries and relationships
  • Status rules to track character prestige, and quick-play dueling rules
  • More than 40 combat and roleplaying encounters for levels 7 to 10
  • New Pathfinder monsters galore
  • Demon lovers and dangerous liaisons for those who seek them
Enter the world of shadows to play the Pathfinder RPG on a whole new level!

Note: The Print/PDF bundle includes the Courts of the Shadow Fey Poster Maps PDF and the Bonus Handout PDF; purchasers of the print-only or PDF-only editions may download the Courts of the Shadow Fey Poster Maps and Bonus Handouts separately.

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Product Reviews (3)

Average product rating:

****½ (based on 3 ratings)

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Nowhere near perfect.

***( )( )

I just finished running this adventure for a party, and while it has several interesting elements and some nice presentation, it is also deeply, deeply flawed. I haven't written many reviews, so I'll simply use dot points.


    -This module was ported from 4e, and it SHOWS. Skill challenges, rituals and general skill checks have been ported with little concern for the skill bonuses your average Pathfinder character can reach. Several skills have also been sloppily converted, poorly equating 4e and Pathfinder skills in several areas. Sections are also not designed for a Pathfinder PC's bag of tricks, near-constant flight for example, even at the end of the adventure. Other 4e-isms remain. A few sections refer to 'daily powers' and other such 4e concepts directly. A large final section of the game goes to a great deal of effort to prevent 'rest' and incurs hitpoint costs for certain options; clearly sloppy conversion, given the proliferation of wands of CLW.

    -The only maps I could find for this adventure were covered with 'PCs start here' and 'place monster here' tokens. Since these maps also include 'traps here' indicators, you can easily see why this is bothersome and a bit lazy.

    -Some of the monster math can be dodgy. Improperly calculated hitpoints are fairly common.

    -The beginning of this adventure is subtly flawed in that it was clearly designed for a very specific type of party- namely, a murderhobo party. I'd say about 25 to 35% of the content in the first chapter deals with situations where the party insistently ignores or refuses to progress within the adventure, without any particular reason. While you could call this important for helping the GM if problems come up, sometimes the degree to which the adventure anticipates the PCs will simply ignore the adventure borders on nonsensical, and provides less material for other parties who begin with a degree of investment in the adventure.

    -Monster design is frequently not amazing. While it's appreciated that it offers combinations for multiple CRs for each encounter, there's a strong tendency to design monsters to have high to-hit bonuses, but very low damage bonuses, and for them to lack alternate movement modes and ranged options. Some 4e-centric design also shows in some of the encounters. A battle against some giants very clearly attempts to emulate the 4e version of the fight, where I assume 'push' maneuvers are a lot easier and more dangerous.

    -One of my biggest frustrations with this adventure is ambiguous wording within certain encounters. For example, one encounter includes the line "If the party fights to the bitter end, they will
    be swarmed and overrun by ___. Any non-good PC “killed” by ___ is transformed into an NPC in his service. Unaligned PCs become evil, and evil PCs become chaotic evil" under 'development'. This strongly suggests that the fight is meant to be unwinnable, despite the fight not otherwise being described that way, and it later describes treasure discover-able within the encounter chamber. A decent few encounters, particularly social ones, have similar ambiguities, and require details to be pulled from very different sections to generate a picture of what should happen.

    -A more basic error is the proliferation of spelling errors. In several sections, including on maps and handouts, formatting errors and repeated words can easily be found. "City of City of Corremel" for example. There are also a few clear errors in the book; lines and markers that were put in as part of drafting but weren't caught by editors.

    -My final and largest complaint deals with the ending to the adventure. To my mind, confusion in outlining the plot and outcomes, in describing the scene and characters involved, becomes so challenging as to render the final section unplayable as written without significant work by the GM. In spoilers below, I will get into specifics. For this point, suffice it to say that in this section, it is incredibly difficult to determine if certain key plot revelations are true or false. Some sections suggest they are true, others false. Also, some exceptionally basic information is contradictory, or missing entirely.

Plot Spoilers:
The final section of the adventure concerns encountering the Moonlight King, and convincing him to grant the PCs what they want, or taking it from him. There are three problems with this section; basic description errors, a problem with the design of the encounters, and unexplained plot elements.

    -King is NG, and is a devil with the 'lawful' and 'evil' subtypes. This in and of itself isn't problematic. Issues arise when there are no explanations for why the king is a devil or any information about his history, and when the book specifically states that he is a 'glass demon'. Furthermore, the encounter description spends some time describing how he is attended by a 'hulking derro servant'. No such servant is statted up anywhere or involved in the encounter anywhere.

    -As best as I can understand, the encounter with the king has two phases. First, a social encounter, and if that fails or is dispensed with, a combat encounter. In the social encounter, the book seeks to have the PCs inflame the King's anger, and cause him to summon warriors and storm off to the courts, an arguably undesirable outcome and one which isn't included on the official outcome description list. The problem is that a later section says that the king storming off can be averted if the PCs convince him so during the social encounter; but again, the social encounter specifically seeks to inflame his anger.

    -The social encounter leads to the most confusing section of this book. As best as I can figure out, the PCs are meant to inflame the king's anger by lying to him, and blaming his woes on several key figures from earlier parts of the adventure. Through checks they tell the king that a demon lord drove him mad, that the queen sent him away, that the queen bound his mind with 'chains'. In support of these facts being lies is that they are mentioned NOWHERE else in the adventure. But, these facts are not reached through bluff checks, instead through K: Arcana and various other checks. Indeed, it is specifically stated that Bluff only works once, as the king is paranoid and wary. This contradiction is worsened by the fact that each individual one of these facts could be a side-quest in and of itself to discover in the previous parts of the adventure. That the PCs are just meant to pluck them from the air is utterly baffling.

Overall, I had to work very hard to run this adventure. Scrolling between very different pages, working my way around sloppy 4e conversion work and re-thinking several key plot details. This adventure reaches high and falls very short of what it promises. But, if as a GM you are willing to devote a great deal of effort, you'll find a crude and somewhat creaky framework for building an adventure with fairly strong social elements, and interesting characters with interesting interactions.


An RPG Resource Review

*****

Beautifully illustrated and presented, this is a massive adventure that takes the party into the realm of shadows and embroils them in the chaos and intrigue that accompany the transistion between the Summer Court of the Queen of Night and Magic and the altogether darker machinations of the Winter Court of the Moonlit King. You cannot trust the Fey, never more so than here...

It all begins as the Moonlit King discovers that House Stross no longer holds sway in Zobeck (he's a bit behind the times, poor dear) and so all the arrangements and treaties that he had with House Stross are now null and void. Unsurprisingly, he's rather cross about it all!

The adventure itself is constructed as five segments that would take a party from 7th to 11th level in the course of some 30 encounters (although they need not have them all to complete the adventure successfully). The key to it all is a neat mechanic for determining Status - because the Fey are nothing if not snobbish and elitist, and if you are of insufficient Status they do not care how reasoned your argument is, how strong your sword arm is or even how big your bribe might be! A party that successfully rises in Status will get their audience and be able to put their case to the Moonlit King.

All starts abruptly as the party is called away from whatever they might be doing in Zobeck to aid a senior cleric who is being attacked - in his very temple, no less. A tough fight is followed by a quest to find out why the poor priest was being attacked and this will lead the characters into the adventure proper. A series of strange events beleaguer the people of Kobeck, and so it all begins.

To succeed, the party needs to be smart and diplomatic as well as adept with spell and sword... and that's before they venture onto the Shadow Road and attempt to navigate their way through the Courts of the shadow fey! Then they will really need their wits about them! Strange things happen in the shadow realms. The encounters reflect this well, with some truly memorable and outright wierd events to throw at the party. This is where the Status mechanic comes into play: everything they do (or omit to do) affects the party's standing: to the level that some encounters only become available as they rise in Status to a sufficient level.

The Court is massive and the party will be able to roam around, and perhaps interact with those denizens who deign to actually notice them. Eventually (we hope!) they will gain sufficient Status to be treated as guests rather than intruders, and the place comes alive about them. There is a great feast, the menu of which is part of the adventure in itself... and then it's time for the Duelling Season. The fey, it seems, love their duels. Mechanically, a Quick Duelling system is provided - and of course it also links back to Status.

The climax of the adventure comes when the party gains an audience with the Moonlit King. And the outcome? There are several possibilities, including supplanting him and taking over the shadow realm! The most likely conclusion sees the party returning to Zobeck, with many tales that mere mortals may find hard to believe!

Much is twisted, distorted, wierd... and as GM there is a lot to keep track of, so prepare well. Everything's well-presented (apart from a tendency for the text and the fancy borders to encroach on one another at times, so the odd word is hard to read), and most of the information is just where you need it. The PDF version is well-bookmarked, if running from a book you may want to put in some markers of your own.

Bringing out the sheer otherness of the fey, this adventure is like none other and should provide a memorable element of your campaign.


An Endzeitgeist.com review

*****

This mega-module is 130 pages long, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page advertisement, 1 page back cover, leaving us with a total of 123 pages of content, so let's take a look!

This mega-module Kobold-in-Chief Wolfgang Baur was originally released for D&D 4th edition, but I can't comment on that once since I don't have it - I only have the PFRPG-conversion done by ennie-award winning designer Ben McFarland. That being said - I'll break my usual format for adventure-reviews - to pieces. I'm not going to go through this step-by-step - the review would become redundant fast and extremely long to boot. Instead I'll just say one thing:

GET THIS NOW. Seriously. Buy it. Give it as a gift to your DM. If you're a DM, get this NOW. If you, for whatever reason, want to buy only one Kobold Press-adventure - BUY THIS ONE.
...
..
.
You're still here, aren't you? Ok, I guess I have to do better. First of all, let me address that this book features skill-challenges, i.e. obstacles your combined group can surpass by combinations of skill checks, with each player contributing (hopefully) something to the fray - they are designed in a way where even fighters will have something reasonable to do. Furthermore, above and beyond and a great help for DMs a bit weak on the fluffy roleplaying side, suggestions for the respective argumentations on why the skill in question works/doesn't work are given. Beyond these even, class abilities, spells and feats feature into the respective checks and get covered in a level of detail I've never ever seen in any publication - without bloating the book. And if you don't like skill-checks, you could still use these pieces of information as simple roleplaying guidelines. The same holds btw. true for incantations, which, while a part of the module, do not occupy a crucial role and can be abstracted rather easily. Ben McFarland has done an astounding job of translating the module into the context of Pathfinder-rules. It should also be noted that the module is relatively light on Midgard-specific fluff, i.e. it can be transported to Golarion or any other world you choose with minimum hassle - you just have to switch out cosmetic terms like "Zobeck" for another big city name and there you go.

And that's about it regarding the formal qualities of the crunch - next up follows a VERY BRIEF synopsis of what you can expect - and thus from here on out reign the SPOILERS. Players, do yourself a favor and jump to the conclusion. You don't want this one spoiled, believe me. I'd actually love to play this, but having read it, that is out of the question.

All right, we kick off when Zobeck (or another big city of your choosing) experiences a swift occupation: One day, everyone wakes up and finds that the shadow fey now run the town - and who violates their capricious decrees has to contend with their harsh, humiliating repressing punishments. Turns out after some research and diplomacy with the envoy of the scáthesidhe (shadow fey) and some reading between the lines, that an obscure deal between the former ruling family and the shadow fey has expired and that they now consider the city their domain - with an almost unstoppable Statthalter on the way.

In order to reclaim mortal sovereignty over the city, the PCs have to research a ritual to send them off on the perilous journey towards the home of the shadow fey - and should they survive this journey into the very heart of shadow, they'll be surprised: The Scáthesidhe have made elitism a form of art and at first, the courts seem empty - those of too low status actually can't even perceive the upper ones of the layered, fey-glamour-clad echelons of the courts and in order to gain an audience with the queen of the fey, they'll have to first rise in status. From lowly goblin servants, lantern dragonettes and fey rakes to the higher echelons of court, the PCs will require all their wits and capabilities to survive the perils of the dueling season and slowly work their way up through a court enamored with the theft of memories, illusions and deception. Courtly intrigue and harmless and not so harmless pranks abound even before the PCs become aware of the existence of the Demon Lord of Roaches as a fixture in the court, of the various deadly factions (which include a celestial and old weaving crones that are more than they seem) or of the alluring courtesans and courtiers that can play a pivotal role in the rising through the ranks of the courts - if the PCs can manage to win (and keep) their favor. And yes, the affections of the shadow fey may very well turn out to be something rather problem-laden, as some of the numerous NPCs, both mortal and immortal that frequent the courts can attest to.

Even before the Black Prince's favorite quickling swordmaster challenges the PCs, even before the factions start actively recruiting PCs, we actually get a codified, complex and thoroughly rewarding rules-framework for the depiction of rising through the ranks of a court, a system, which when reskinned towards mortal courts, could be used for Song of Ice and Fire-like machinations. And I have only scarcely touched upon what there is to come - what about e.g. a hunting trip with the hostile and antagonistic Black Prince and a chase for the immortal firebird, represented via a cool, mapped mini-game? The very best banquet-scene I've ever seen in an adventure - easy to run, complex and thoroughly weird? A roach-like, loyal warrior who just wants to find a nice place to lay eggs - which have to unfortunately hatch from a body? The lists upon lists of events, intrigues etc.? The glorious maps?

What about the fact that the finale, when the PCs may finally get their audience with the Queen, requires them to find the insane Moonlight King in a maze of light and unique dangers and either kill him (in a fight that challenges brains and brawns) or convince him to abstain from the claim to Zobeck? Have I mentioned the potential to transcend the bounds of mortality in the aftermath of this module?

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are the one weakness of this module - while not bad by any measure, I did notice a couple of editing glitches that could have been caught and here and there a small conversion relic in places where their presence is not crucial in any way. Layout adheres to a beautiful 2-column b/w-standard and the provided handouts and maps should water the mouths of any aficionado. The artworks are original b/w-pieces that fit thematically well within the context of the book, creating a seamless, unified impression. The pdf is extensively bookmarked for your convenience, though I'd still recommend getting dead-tree for this one.

Wolfgang Baur and Ben McFarland are immensely talented designers and authors - that's no secret. But even as a fan of many of Wolfgang's pieces, I can't recall any one that blew me away like this one did. Not one. This is the 123 page refutation of the claim that social interaction in Pathfinder is boring, the triumphant sneer in the face of all who claimed that d20-based systems with their combat-focus don't lend themselves to social interaction, court intrigue or any scenario, really, that requires subtlety. "Courts of the Shadow Fey" is a legend, one I slowly digested over multiple months, because every single page herein had some idea, some spark that made me cackle with glee, a pervading sense of jamais-vu pervading the pages - more of it than in the whole catalogues of some companies. I have no doubt that this module will become one of the must-have-played pieces of Pathfinder with its complex sandboxy structure, its attention to details. Its inventiveness and its elegant, at times beautiful, at times creepy blending of themes serve to more perfectly evoke what being "fey" is all about, it redefines evil in the context of fey as a form of elitism that may very well be justified.

Even if I tried, I could have never conveyed the sheer scope and awesomeness of this module, cover all the ideas herein, short of copying about 90% of the module. This is the gold-standard of what an ambitious module should be like and while perhaps not recommended for novice DMs, this is incredibly good - almost painfully so. And much like its unconventional ending that resounds so well with the theme of returning from the lands of the fey, turning the last page of this book left me with a sense of loss that it had ended, that there were not another 100 pages of shadow fey waiting for me. If I could, I'd rate this 6 stars. I got this book this year, so it will feature on my top 10 of 2013-list.

It's one of my favorite Open Design/Kobold Press-books released. It's one of the best adventure-resources out there, either as module or setting and in scope, quality and detail on par with Coliseum Morpheuon. I'll repeat it again: GET THIS. Even if you run Golarion, not Midgard. Want a break from Kingmaker? Get this. Run another setting? Get this. Don't have a group and want a good read that is inspiring? Get this. Need ideas for fey tricks, hazards etc.? Get this. This is my unanimous recommendation towards anyone who even remotely is interested in the topic of fey: WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? GET THIS! Final verdict? 5 stars +seal of approval - this might be the best things Wolfgang Baur has written so far - I know I consider it the best one, and Ben McFarland has gone above and beyond to make this work in PFRPG. When do we get the courtly intrigue handbook for mortal courts?

Endzeitgeist out.


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