Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/09/19/tabletop-review-the-crimson-pact-castles-crusades/
The Crimson Pact is a continuation of the Castles and Crusades adventure line that began with The Goblins of Mount Shadow. These adventures take place in a quasi-Celtic world. In fact, it’s meant to be a direct continuation but Cthulhu knows you’d never get that from reading it. After all The Goblins of Mount Shadow is supposedly meant for Level 1 characters while The Crimson Pact is for Levels 3-8. Of course, C&C adventures always have this insane level range that is nowhere realistic. The Goblins of Mount Shadow would wipe out any first level party, which is why in my review I suggested PCs be AT LEAST Level 3. The Crimson Pact is similar as third level characters should not be routinely dealing with hags and formorians. Definitely err on the higher side of the level suggestion unless you want to see a TPK (Total Party Kill) early on.
Perhaps the oddest thing about the two adventures is that The Goblins of Mount Shadow directly ends with the start of the The Crimson Pact with the whole “To Be Continued” vibe. Meanwhile, The Crimson Pact doesn’t make a single reference to The Goblins of Mount Shadow and while it sets up the adventure storyline, this particular publications lacks all of the WORLD setup that was in the previous adventure. This means if someone picks up The Crimson Pact blindly, they’d have no idea it was part of an adventure path or that it is outside the default generic C&C world. I’m guessing the staff at Troll Lords assumed people would just know this but you know what happens when you assume… On the other hand, The Crimson Pact is able to stand on its own without your gaming troupe having had even the slightest bit of exposure to The Goblins of Mount Shadow, which is a nice change of pace from the Adventures of the Powder River series Troll Lord has been putting out over the past few months. Basically, people that own and/or have played The Goblins of Mount Shadow will get more out of The Crimson Pact, but it is no way a necessary experience.
This adventure puts PCs into quite a predicament from the get-go, but by the time the adventure is done, the start will seem like a Caribbean holiday by comparison. A chance encounter with a snooty elf leaves the PCs with a shard of an ancient sword. Unfortunately, the elf has stolen said shard (and its two brethren) from three local tribes of barbarians. The tribes accuse each other of stealing the shards and all out war amongst them is about to begin unless the PCs can figure out what exactly happened. From there characters will have to use a portal to the Otherworld (Feywild) where they must attempt to get the other two shards back from the elf…who wants the PCs’ shard equally as bad. Throw in a ton of encounters with the Gwiddonod (think Drow but more Amazonian) a lot of hags and then a spectacular battle between the light and dark fey where the PCs will have to escape by the seat of their pants (armour?) while earning the eternal rue or the dark fey and this one adventure should keep your PCs busy for multiple sessions – if they are able to survive that long.
The Crimson Pact is only twenty-seven pages, but it feels a lot longer. This is probably because there is so much combat and dungeon crawling that you can easily get about four to six play sessions out of this one adventure unless the Keeper streamlines things. That’s a great deal when you think about it. I’ll admit I prefer my adventures to be more story oriented than dice hucking combat, but the battles here are pretty neat (although the climactic one will be a headache for even the most experienced Keeper if they want to fully run it) and there’s a lot of great storytelling opportunities here as well. You’ve got to placate the warring tribes, deal with the Gwiddonod, try and make friends with some of the light fey so you don’t have even more enemies coming after the party and more. There are a lot of difference ways the adventure can turn out (admittedly, most are bad for the PCs), but if the PCs can get through it, it’ll be an adventure that they will be talking about for a long time to come. Even better, this adventure sets up so many potential other plot hooks, than an enterprising Keeper will be able to come up with his own adventures based on them. Unlike The Goblins of Mount Shadow , there wasn’t any hints of further adventures for this path to be forthcoming, which is a shame as this is one of the best series Troll Lord has put out for Castles & Crusades is some time. However, with the aforementioned dangling plot threads, the Keeper shouldn’t need any more. Saves money and paper I suppose!
The adventure also gives you the stats of six new monsters for your C&C game: Alder Tree Hag, Baobhan Síth, Fomori, Athach, Gwiddon and Pixie. These should be a wonderful addition to any Keeper’s libram of antagonists, especially since C&C is a bit lacking in the monster area. There is also a page of maps, but honestly, these are the weakest part of the adventure as they just looking graph paper that someone scanned in. Maybe I’m spoiled by the ones in Dungeon Crawl Classics, but I do feel they could have done a LOT better here.
All in all this new quasi-Celtic setting has been a great move for Castles & Crusades and really seems to have revitalized the system. Troll Lord has now put out two excellent adventures and I hope the streak of high quality continues for some time to come. Will there be more? Only time will tell, but I truly hope so.