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I don't often write reviews since as a freelancer I try to remain as impartial as I can be. However, this particular product is a bit outside the norm so I don't feel as constrained by personal preference to avoid a review. That said, the Deluxe Harrow Deck is fantastic. I own the original Harrow Deck and have always been looking for proper "tarot" sized cards and these absolutely fill that need. The cards are made from durable stock and have a wonderfully redesigned card back that looks much more thematic than the original. I brought these to Paizocon 2014 to use with my harrow-focused Pathfinder Society character and everyone at the table wanted to look at the new Harrow deck and check out the cards. They feel so much more natural to shuffle and use during gameplay than the smaller cards and they're absolutely a must have for fans of the Harrow or if you've purchased the Harrow Handbook.
I sincerely hope Paizo produces more special edition cards/props like this in the future. With Occult Adventures on the way maybe we can get a Pathfinder planchette board! ;)
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.