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A mixed bag, and some dubious choices


The last Map Folio I bought from Paizo was the one for their first adventure path in 2008. Was I in for a surprise - production quality in terms of: paper used, has gone up a couple of notches. Really impressive.

That apart, there were two let downs.

First, as another reviewer observed, the creases along the folds mean that some of the color on the print has worn off already on arrival. I wish Paizo could look into avoiding that in the future.

Second, both the colour scheme and the actual art cartography (for mountains and especially forests) comes off as a lot poorer than the old maps. Looking at the old Varisia map in that first Map Folio, or even the World Map in the previous Campaign Guide reminded me how much I loved that artwork. Subdued colours, art used for forests and mountains wonderful - and evocative all round. Think back to when Lazaretti did the Greyhawk map panels in Paizo's Dungeon print run - superb art cartography. This, otoh, doesn't come near.

Finally, what felt really cheapening was to place the "Pathfinder Campaign Setting" logo totally oversized on the map top. The setting has a name, so if you're going to put that on the map, use that name (Golarion). Imagine how put off customers would be if previous maps of the Forgotten Realms would come with OVERSIZED logos of "DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS !! 11!!". It just doesn't fit. Looking at a world map, I want to retain a marginal illusion that I'm looking at a map, as the GM, that one of the people in the world could also behold (say, a central agent in Absalom). That illusion is broken because it says "hello! I'm a GAME supplement!!" right at the top.

Well, that last beef was minor compared to the previous two, but I wanted to point it out nonetheless.

Overall: better paper than the 2008 cartography, but a deterioriation in all other quarters. Actually has me reach back to the one which says "Inner Sea Reigon".

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Review from a DM's perspective


I had high hopes for this one. Taldor is one of my favourite region write-ups in the Gazetteer, and the artwork looked superb.

On delivery, yes the interior artwork continued to look superb, and strikes me as very much invoking the atmosphere of the grandiose "King's Quest" PC adventure games which I adored in the 90s (tangent: these games have been re-released by AGD Interactive for free). Taldor is King's Quest all over, and to see it brought to D&D tables is something I'm very, very enthusiastic about.

Sadly, though, when you look beyond the illustrations of the Taldor Companion, the writing falls flat. I can't really pin it down but simply didn't find a single city or area write up that I found inspiring. So there's this amazing fey-haunted forest sitting right in the middle of the country, a monastery in the mountains to the east which tries to blend Kelesh and Tuan martial arts, etc etc ... all ideas very well conceived. But when you look at the write-up, you're let down. Or at least, that's what I felt.

So from a DM's perspective, I found it really flat - nothing to edge me into writing adventures for the region. Given that so far this is the only write-up of Taldor we have that's disappointing. I'm not oblivious either to the fact that the guide needs to be player-friendly and spoiler-free. But I'm not looking for outright hooks, I'm looking for inherently inspiring locale write-ups.

From a player's perspective I found the regional traits so-so. I liked the idea behind most of them (very nice character background ideas all over), but the mechanical execution didn't impress me as most of them seemed to be copy-pasted from the freely available Web Enhancement on generic Traits in Pathfinder.

All in all, it's a glossy and beautifully illustrated book (some of the best artwork I've seen in Paizo products, and that's saying a lot as they are amazing when it comes to art), but the writing is sub-par.

Astounding design decisions


The adventure occupies pages 2-4 and 16-80 of the booklet, clocking in at 68 pages total. On these 68 pages you'll find 72 stat blocks each occupying a quarter page. Of those, 62 appear in the 4th Edition Monster Manual; more than 30 are reprints WITHIN Shadowfell itself. Seven monsters appear thrice over, often in close succession. For instance, two hobgoblin types EACH appear *three times* in their full glory on pages 64-68. The Kobold Dragonshield tops its all. His stat block first appears on page 17, and then gets repeated in full length on pages 25, 27, and 28. You read that right.

What's more, the Kobold Dragonshield, along many other monsters in this book, appeared in preview material. Knock those off, and you got a product which lists new encounter material on 52 pages. What you don't get is a product that even attempts to provide a story workable at the game table, or a self standing product. All the money your PCs accumulate during their 30 or so hours of gameplay? Well, they can't spend it on equipment, because equipment for sure is listed in the Player's Handbook. Or so we're explicitly told, and that's not the only time we're referenced to look elsewhere and go, buy the book.

As for the story line (or mostly, lack thereof), there's an astounding claim in this product: spatial limits prevented the authors to go further into it. Yep, that's right, guys. Spatial limitations. Makes me wonder what the heck Paizo is doing, printing a goblin stat block once and then actually providing an, ahm, adventure?

Just ask yourself. Whether you're a DM running this thing at GenCon or at home, what takes up more of your time? To flesh out a whole story, compile 4 pages of equipment based on absolutely no pre-info on how gold is handled - OR TO OCCASIONALLY JUST TURN ONE F***CKING PAGE TO LOOK UP A STAT BLOCK?

That's why I call Keep of Shadowfell just one thing: astounding. Makes me shudder that for $30 you could get two volumes of Crimson Throne.