The second part of the three-part Japanese horror saga set in Kaidan, "Dim Spirit" clocks in at a whopping 64 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page list of contributors, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page back cover, 6 pages of advertisement and 2 pages SRD, leaving 51 pages for the second part of the epic, so let's check out whether it stands up to the excellent quality we had in the first part!
First of all you’ll notice the, once again, excellent quality of the layout: The Bamboo-lined pages and the artworks serve greatly to enhance the overall, unique feel that made me appreciate the first Kaidan-adventure so much. The adventure is also bookmarked extensively for your convenience. After being introduced to the new country and its rules and subjected to some of the dark things lurking in the shadows of this place, the plotline now evolves: From a journey into the night and towards ever more sordid revelations of Kaidan I, the pace now changes into another direction and the fighting-spirit of both your PCs and players will be tested by this second part and its bleak, sorrowful narrative. Unfortunately, that’s as far as I can go on about this adventure without spoiling anything, so potential players beware, from here on reign the
That could destroy an experience you would hate to see…well…spoilt.
Still here? All right! We left the PC’s trail when they entered Tsue-Jo to finally deliver Marl’s “Gift” and free his daughter from the clutches of the daimyo. Subsequently, the first act of the PCs will be to explore the town and settle in a Gaijin-friendly Inn the daimyo provides for unwelcome (or rather unimportant) visitors. Not all is expected to go well by the enigmatic merchant, though, as he sends the PCs to buy horses (they will smell the necessary fast getaway) and more importantly, to let them spread gifts among the populace – red silken handkerchiefs. For what purpose, though, only becomes evident later. It is here that I want to comment on something that is unfortunately rather rarely seen in adventures – social encounters. Both the handkerchief-dispersing and the horse-shopping (quite difficult with the xenophobic populace) as well as the resulting scene in the daimyo’s palace can be seen as prime examples for good “normal” encounters, which make the resurgence of the horrific aspects later all the more important. Even the visit at the daimyo’s palace, while disturbing, goes quite well and Marl can reclaim his daughter and even get a present. Nothing is as it seems in Kaidan, though, and I refrain from spelling out exactly what happens, but after the scene at the palace and the PC’s departure from there, they are marked and their escape will prove to be one laden with a severe handicap that will continue to be both problem and motivation for the PCs. Extensive advice for the Dm to deal with some of the potential problems is also offered in this section – nice!
The first station on the way is an abandoned village including a garden shrine, where a terrible tragedy of star-crossed lovers (yes, it’s the kill by accident trope, but with a twist) occurred, but before you start to yawn and move on, let me tell you that both the location are iconic, detailed and creepy, that the people in question are interesting and that, most importantly, they serve as a side-quest, a backdrop to a rather personal tragedy the PCs will have to face. If successfully united, though, the PCs might claim a katana that greatly improves similar to the wielder’s honor – a great concept and mechanic, one step beyond RiP’s excellent take on legacy items and one I hope to see expanded upon in future releases!
Again, this is a massive SPOILER, please players, jump to the conclusion.
Marl’s daughter, who seemed all fine, albeit traumatized, seems to recover from her ordeal at the hands of the daimyo, only to turn out to have been changed into an essentially hapless and tragic form of undead that can’t remember her deeds by day and reforms if slain – another burden, though one the PCs might, via a good DM, grow very fond of her and even pity her to the extent that they’ll try to find salvation for her. Presuming the PCs draw the right conclusions, that is. Otherwise one of them will be in for a nasty surprise indeed! Add to that Marl coming clear and telling the PCs about his handkerchief-scheme, which enraged the daimyo and they’re in for fun.
Bereft of the guide that acted as a mediator for the PCs until now, they are now hunted by a powerful force in this foreign land, handicapped by a growing weakness and a deadly killer that makes sleeping a gamble and encourages competent and creative problem-solving. Remember me telling you about despair? There you go, a perilous journey is ahead of them and let’s hope the PCs will be smart and stick to the bushes to evade the enemies hot on their heels!
Now, if you’re thinking about the wilds being the place for random encounters, you’d of course be right, but the encounters provided go beyond what you’d expect from individual short monster-bouts, being less random and rather exciting, from bakeneko to shadow stalkers and giant dragonflies, the PC will hope for solace at their destination. If your DM-alarm-bells are ringing again, don’t fret, once again extensive information is provided to ensure you’ll keep the plot going in spite of potential player-detours to the story.
Kitsumura, once again with a beautiful map, is a rather interesting place to visit – after all, it’s a hengeyokai village! (Look forward to the ITC-installment!) In the village, the PCs can find some kind of help if they play their cards right with the non-humans, i.e. by the PCs helping the henge in their troubles – their water-supply has been compromised and to add insult to injury, Snow-falling-on-the-blood, the mastermind behind one of the most disturbing encounters in Kaidan I, is now in the village, albeit disguised. While the PCs hopefully can put the beast to justice, they’ll also have to deal with a supernatural death squad as well as the now corrupted spring that has been tainted by a dread oni, its kami enraged and mad and probably a dread foe the PCs can overcome by being smart. The main antagonist of part I makes a return from the dead after that and it’s time to conclude this installment with the PCs learning (at the latest now), the way to end their undead companion as well as finally know what prompted their sickness – the PCs will want to get the source of their ailment. Which is, of course, in the lion’s den - the daimyo’s place. However, now the PCs have made friends with the hengeyokai and thus have a connection with their Tengu allies.
After that, we’ll get to the appendices, the first dealing with reincarnation, or rather KAidan’s twisted version of it. The second offers us new beasties, two great templates and some critters, all of which have some unique, cool fluff and some of which, once again are rendered in stunningly beautiful b/w-images, though not all. Rangers also get a new archetype, and a rather complex one at that as the yojimbo is spanning two pages – it is balanced, nice and makes for an interesting choice for eastern rangers. In another appendix, the concept of samurai honor is explained and its mechanics are expanded upon via two new feats. The pdf concludes with 4 pregens as well as an extensive-two-page glossary to help the DM run the saga and enhance the fluff.
Editing and formatting are very good, I noticed one minor editing glitch and two minor formatting glitches – at this length not enough to rate this adventure down. The adventure is concisely written, exciting and feels like the natural, logical change of both mood and setting to evolve the drama of the saga, evolving rather than ripping part 2 off and setting the stage for the conclusion of this dark tale. Tragedy, roleplaying, honor, weird creatures and a nice blend of events, a small investigation, wilderness and social skills are presented and while this is surely not the easiest adventures out there to run, it offers enough help to any GM to run the complex stages and boy, they are worth it. If properly evoked, a good DM can conjure a bleak tale from these pages, a yarn of death and sorrow that the PCs might yet twist to at least include some light in its umbral tapestry. However, you have to take into account that this installment, while putting PCs on the edge, hunting them and drawing them into the story-arc, I don’t think it would work too well as a stand-alone and that the horror here stems from the feeling of being hunted as well as from the foes the PCs have to face – the haunted, rather gothic horror and “get-out-alive”-scenarios have been replaced with a more in-your-face dread-and-despair-approach if you don’t use some creatures in the best/suggested ways. Usually, I’d detract a star due to the assumptions on the PCs course of action/travel route, but its logic is sound and enough information is provided to get stray groups back on track. Thus, I don’t have anything to truly complain about, in fact, while I slightly prefer the first part, it’s once again a haunting, beautiful journey into Kaidan, one that might shore up enough grudges for the PCs to swear revenge. Even better, the set-up at the beginning serves as one of the best transitions and the ideas are VERY cool and have been intentionally not mentioned anywhere in the review. I also liked the village the PCs find and the things to do there. In contrast to the first part, though, we don’t get that many encounter maps, but more supplemental rules material. All in all, I have to, once again, recommend this excellent addition to the Kaidan-saga – check the adventures out if you haven’t – they’re unique both in setting and style. My final verdict will be 5 out of 5 stars – awesome job!