When our GM arrived at the shop, he asked if we wanted to do a knock-down, drag-out brawl, and if so, we were out of luck. I knew then I would probably enjoy this scenario, but I never could have predicted the extent to which I did.
To Seal the Shadow is an excellent balance of cultural exposition, interaction with new mechanics, and yes, combat. The reasons for visiting the wayang homeland integrate well with the overall storyline and do not seem at all contrived. Aspects of wayang culture such as puppetry and body art serve to enrich the narrative. The occasion of the festival actively encourages the players to participate.
The shining point of this scenario is the portrayal by the players as heroes of wayang history. Groups that enjoy roleplaying will find an extra layer of excitement at choosing their hero and striving to maintain his/her personality throughout the festivities.
Only the debate section is perhaps a sticking point. My group found the rules for verbal duels to be presented in a relatively simple manner to use and also to fit thematically with the heroes' personalities. The greater issue for some groups is that the topic of the debate is one hotly contested in current U. S. politics. Furthermore, the players must take on the more "conservative" or "nationalist" stance, opening the door for heated discourse. Talks of building walls and enacting travel bans dominated the stage. My group even had the obligatory "You're the puppet!" directed at the creatures based on Indonesian shadow puppetry, driving home the point that modern political debates are truly little more than verbal duels.
The combats were appropriately challenging, but did not seem to be the focal point, perhaps because the other interactions were incredibly well done. All in all, this scenario was well worth the time to play it, and it makes me thankful that Expanded Narrative is more available now. Thanks to Jason Keeley for his amazing work!
I had high hopes for this scenario, as the first travel to the elemental planes since the specials. However, my hopes were quickly dashed on the sharp ground of the Plane of Earth.
The organization to whom the main villain belongs is telegraphed early, and is the very one that most readers are probably thinking.
Both the elemental locations and people seemed like an afterthought. The Pathfinders only get to talk to genies for a little bit at the beginning and the end. Sure, we were on the Plane of Earth, but much of the scenario is spent on an unremarkable military base.
All of the "nasty superior officer" schtick came off as unnecessarily annoying to my players. They quickly realized that the main villain was either willfully ignorant or blatantly incompetent.
Future scenarios will really need to step it up, especially those hyped as being part of the main season metaplot.