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The Gift
by Shane O. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 10/20/2009 14:52:12

There’s an old saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. While it sounds trite, it lays out a much more fundamental principle: that looks are important. While the substance of a thing – its modularity, usefulness, and originality – are important, these qualities all suffer if the presentation is poor, as they become hard to read, hard to reference, and otherwise hard to make use of. It’s a pity when this happens to a good supplement, as it did with The Gift, a Pathfinder adventure/sourcebook from Dementia Five Publishing.

It starts with the technical presentation. The PDF that I looked at had no bookmarks, which is something I think all but the briefest of PDFs should have. There was also no printer-friendly version, again something I think should be included just as a courtesy for people who care to print their materials. Having said that, the art here is not to be underestimated, with a liberal mix of full color and black and white pieces, along with a number of maps of various locations (the majority being full color maps located at the end of the book). The maps, particularly, are a nice extra as they can just be printed off for each location.

The Gift is the first of a three-part adventure series that serves as an introduction to Kaidan, a new setting with a gothic-Japanese feel for the Pathfinder RPG. However, to call it an adventure is somewhat of a misnomer, as the adventure part of the book takes up less than half of it. Rather, because this is meant to serve as an introduction to a new setting with new rules, The Gift spends the bulk of its pages on giving an overview of Kaidan and how things work there, both for players and the GM. This creates a somewhat awkward scenario where there fundamentals of the setting are explained with some details, but not enough to feel truly comfortable with them.

For example, The Gift outlines, both in the introduction and the appendix, that the planes of existence operate differently in Kaidan. Instead of being metaphysical dimensions, different levels of existence are assigned to different social castes – a court samurai is a much higher form of existence than that of a fisherman, for example. When you die, you are reincarnated into an adult body depending on your karma, and that’s your new existence; more than just role-playing inspiration, however, certain castes are tied with certain classes – so if you want to multiclass, you’re essentially re-awakening skills from a previous life.

The above sounds incredibly evocative, and indeed it is. However, because this serves only as an overview to the forthcoming Kaidan sourcebook, that’s about as deep as the coverage goes. We’re not told precisely how the multiclassing system works, karma is given only a quick and dirty mechanic for how it affects your reincarnation, there’s only a brief listing of what classes fall into what castes (and many of those are Kaidan classes, presumably from the Kaidan sourcebook, rather than the existing ones from the Pathfinder rulebook). And of course, all of this comes at the expense of adventuring material – there are two more adventures to go, but playing through them before you have all the rules for the setting seems like a burden; this would likely have worked better if it was just one adventure.

In regards to the adventure itself, it does try to minimize the aforementioned handicap by starting players out as gaijin (foreigners) using the existing Pathfinder classes. In the adventure, your characters are hired swords serving as guards for a merchant delivering a mysterious (and never defined) gift to a local lord in Kaidan. You arrive at the seaport set aside for foreigners, and must obtain the proper permits to travel abroad before delivering the gift (actually delivering it all the way there is beyond the scope of the adventure). By itself, the adventure isn’t that bad, and actually does its best to introduce the players and their characters to Kaidan through in-game situations, such as the reclusive priest who explains about the wheel of reincarnation in Kaidan, or how the PCs stay at a haunted in that shows how the undead in Kaidan (for the most part) need to have their particular curse lifted in order to be permanently laid to rest.

After the adventure are a series of appendices. These retread some of the material from the introduction about the nature of Kaidan’s cosmology and reincarnation, but with a bit more depth. There’s also section on how all undead in Kaidan are unique beings, with a table of particular powers and weaknesses they have, along with a few example undead, and some other Kaidan-specific monsters. The book has a very brief section on pronunciation and the nature of Kaidan’s native religion, before ending with a series of printable maps.

By itself, The Gift is pretty good, despite having to be both an adventure and an introductory sourcebook at the same time. However, it’s the style of presentation that truly kills things here. It isn’t just spelling and grammar errors (though those are present here), but rather stylistic and layout choices; things like having magic items be emboldened rather than italicized, odd contractions for things (such as a feat listed as “Imp Initiative”), monsters whose stats are not only not compliant with the Pathfinder rules (XP values being out of whack, CMB and CMD missing altogether, etc.) but also have stat blocks that are laid out rather poorly, instead of in a manner consistent with how they’re laid out in the Pathfinder rules, new weapons and armor that lack listings for their type (that is, it doesn’t say if they’re simple, martial, or exotic – or one or two-handed – for the weapons; light, medium, or heavy for the armor), etc.

The Gift ultimately wants to act as a holistic introduction to Kaidan, having unfamiliar foreign PCs act as proxies by which its new rules can be introduced to the players; it’s an ambitious balancing act, and at times seems to overreach, but ultimately manages to accomplish its goal…or it would, were it not so plagued by its lackluster presentation. Instead, it deviates quite a bit from the stylistic norms of its parent RPG, and in doing so makes it difficult to digest when reading, especially on top of missing and incorrect mechanics and spelling and grammar errors. The Gift isn’t bad, but no gift is impressive when it’s wrapped poorly, as this one is.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Gift
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The Legacy of Doku
by Nathan C. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 04/30/2009 14:28:34

The Legacy of Doku is an old story that is being told by a friend of yours. A story you have heard before but you have to endure in detail once again because your friend swears they are providing you something new and insightful. Instead it is just a retread done slightly more boring than the first time you heard it.

Escaping the authors naivety that the Victorian setting and vampires are nothing new, there is an decent chase adventure inside The Legacy of Doku its just bogged down from trying to introduce a new campaign world while simultaneously tell a basic story. The short adventure, 52-pages, is set in a Victorian setting. The first chapter is a yarn explaining what a Victorian setting is and what vampires are in a 3.5 setting. The plot focuses on the party attending a ball and being wrapped into the story of chasing down two humans endowed with vampire powers.

The book includes Bookmarks but contains a very busy layout with various types and sizes of typeface. You will find yourself listening for the train with the horrible amount of railroading that takes place. The author expects you to start your campaign at 8th to 10th level with this adventure, an odd level to start any campaign. The author then expects the PCs to have an open enough background where each of them may have some vampire ancestry. The PCs must then hold their belief and chase down a pair of individuals on a weak plot hook. All throughout, you are introduced to uneven charts and unrelated tables to introduce into your game and reinforce the Victorian setting. This is another poor layout decision as it would have been far easier to relay the information by placing it in an Appendix. The saving grace of this adventure is the decently populated dungeon in Doku’s Keep. The writing is crisp, the descriptions vivid and the encounters are very atmospheric. It is an obvious strength of the writer.

For the Dungeon Master The keep is pretty good if you are searching for an undead stronghold in your campaign. Until the end it is written pretty generically, allowing you to lift it and place it in a better adventure. Also of note is the remarkable job done on the handouts, battlemaps and NPC stat blocks. All of which could be slightly altered and put into a better adventure.

The Iron DM The Legacy of Doku has just enough stuff to be lifted to make it a safe purchase. The writer obviously is caught up too much in his own setting to focus on the elements that move the adventure along. However, the keep and extra material are well worth the price.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
The Legacy of Doku
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Stone of the Daoine Sidhe
by Peter I. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 03/31/2009 11:14:36

The Stone of the Daoine Sidhe is a 44 page pdf adventure for the 3.5e OGL system. This adventure takes place in the fairly generic region of Midland, and takes the PCs on a gaelic/celtic themed journey through the world of Fey and their magic. Stone of the Daoine Sidhe is an adventure suitable for characters of levels 6 to 8. This adventure is designated as HF1, and incorporates elements of wilderness and dungeon exploring, although the later is where most of the action in the adventure takes place.

This pdf comes as a single pdf file that includes a cover page, credits page, table of contents, a set of partially incomplete bookmarks, and the adventure itself which includes plenty of maps and a useful selection of new monsters and NPC write-ups. The presentation is very old-school, and those familiar with gaming two decades ago will recognise the style, design and the layout from that time. Magical items, for example, are written in bold text, and the general design of the product is fairly loose and has the characters covering lots of ground. Writing, editing and layout is good, and apart from a few mechanical errors in some of the stat blocks, the new statistics are good as well. The product utilizes good art from Andy 'ATOM' Taylor and Jim Nunn, but also contains an extensive selection of stock art. Overall, the presentation is fairly good if you like old school style, but even so it's well designed and presented.

The Stone of the Daoine Sidhe takes place in the lands of Midland, a generic location that can be easily adapted to your preferred campaign setting. The adventure is based on a legend found in Surrey in England, and sees the characters get involved in the affairs of the Fey, crossing between the Seelie and Unseelie lands to prevent catastrophe and restore the Stone of the Daoine Sidhe. The adventure takes place in several locations across the region of Midland, and characters will venture through many towns there, although the main portion of the adventure takes place in the Lands of the Fey, where the characters need to enter the shadow worlds between the Seelie and Unseelie worlds to complete their quest. Here they will explore a vast dungeon, meet all sort of new and horrifying creatures, and eventually reach their goal.

The adventure is very much a gaelic/celtic themed adventure, and the author, Andy Champagne, has done a splendid job of creating an interesting Fey World and background story that should appeal to many. The details behind the Fey are extensive, and the pdf provides more than enough information to create a very flavorful adventure, even including Fairie vocabulary and notes for Fairie music! I was impressed by the creativity that had gone into crafting the background details for this adventure, and if one can make full use of the plethora of tools available in this product, the players and the DM will have a fun, interesting and vividly flavorful gaming experience.

The adventure is divided into three parts, each part seeing the PCs systematically achieve parts of the eventual goal, and uncover the mystery behind what it plaguing Midland. The first part is largely roleplaying orientated and sees the characters explore Midland and uncover the nature of its afflictions. The second part has them exploring the Fairie Lands, where they need to do a arduous rescue mission before they can complete their quest in the third part of the adventure. The product provides plenty of details to guide the characters through these parts, although there is very little hand-holding here or guidance, so DMs will need to do some work in getting and keeping the characters going in the right direction. In general, despite the detail of the adventure, there is a still a lot of DM work to do to make the adventure run smoothly without just rail-roading the PCs into the right direction.

As mentioned earlier, the main part of the adventure is a dungeon-crawl in the Unseelie Lands. This is quite an extensive dungeon, that's fairly well crafted. There are a host of interesting locations and encounters, and characters should have fun as they explore the more unsavory aspects of the Fey. In general the encounters appear fairly easy for characters of this adventure's level, but it's difficult to ascertain the full impact of that without playtesting the adventure. One thing that stood out quite quickly though, was that the magical treasure provided is far too good for the character level of the adventure, and most DMs will want to tone that down. The dungeon crawl is fun, though, even more so if the flavor elements of the Fey are kept in the forefront of the DMs mind.

The ending of the adventure sees the characters restore the Stone of the Daoine Sidhe, but despite the satisfaction of the success, the adventure as written has a rather odd ending that has a permanent and perhaps unpleasant effect on one of the party's PCs. Many DMs will choose to ignore or modify this, as it effectively permanently removes a character from the game. While it could work, it would again require quite a bit of work from the DM and I'd have preferred to not see such a 'fixed' ending with no way of avoiding the outcome.

Stone of the Daoine Sidhe is an adventure with many different elements, but juggling all these will require quite a bit of DM work and might be difficult to pull off. This is unlikely to be an adventure for novice DMs, or those that don't prefer the often open style of old school adventures. The background details are very well crafted, although the adventure will likely require more DM 'leading' than I would've liked to see. The adventure provides good opportunity for roleplaying and combat in an unusual and flavorful setting. Good adventure, very flavorful and detailed background, good structure and design although it will require a bit of DM work to make it run well and as intended.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Stone of the Daoine Sidhe
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