Darkwood Adventure Arc #2 – The Tormented and the Twisted
The massive second installment of the Darkwood Adventure Arc clocks in at 128 pages, 1 page front cover, 2 pages of editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 122 (!!!) pages of content, so let’s take a look!
All right, so in case you haven’t read my reviews of the first full module and excursion, please wait a second and even if you don’t want to play a full sequence of modules, please continue reading, all right?
So, what makes these modules unique? Number one would be aesthetics: A central draw of these modules lies in the aesthetic and the truly fresh feeling that is based on taking aesthetics and tropes of classic Wild West, blending them with a healthy dose of weird fantasy and applying them to a fantasy scenario. Basically, this feels like a medieval Wild West that never was, suffused with a healthy dose of new school game design of the best kind. The mutating, complex disease first introduced in the first Darkwood installment can be found among the supplemental materials; the new magic items sports several full color artworks to represent them. The pdf features new alchemical creations, a stone-forming cleric archetype, a new witch patron with hexes, new spells, two new religions (one of which is all about technology as the thing to worship, basically representing transhumanism blended with magic and the ideology of enlightenment) as well as an update of the town Darkwood, including a bulletin board for the local tavern of sorts, where, rendered in full color, you can read about the prices and local policies. The pdf also has mechanics for intoxication, no less than 3 insanities and a fully rendered gazetteer on the ahsen’i, the local Native American-like ethnicity. We even get a char-sheet!
So yes, regarding bonus material, this leaves nothing to be desired…but you’re not here for that, right? You want to know about the module? Well, I shall oblige, but in order to properly discuss this, we need to go into SPOILERS. Potential players should jump ahead to the conclusion. Trust me, you do NOT want to SPOIL this one.
Still here? All right! In the aftermath of the unpleasant attack on the locals in the last installment and extensive establishing shots regarding the unique nature and feeling of the setting, we begin with one of several fully rendered introductions. And I mean “fully” – with read-aloud text. Why is this relevant? The saga emulates coalition allegiances with an optional, rather rewarding allegiances system and each of the factions so far introduced gets its own introduction, establishing firmly the respective tropes and methodology of the groups…and boyo, does it do a good job here. While I could talk about magic keelhauling, strange séances and less weird practices for this section, ultimately I couldn’t be able to properly capture the sense of immersion this book’s prose manages to capture. Have I btw. mentioned that, in said séance, the smoke forming a message has actually been reproduced as artwork, doubling as a handout? Oh yes, this is the level of care we’re dealing with here!
There seems, in any ways, to be some sort of connection between the tainted, aggressive trolls that attacked the town and a mysterious elven explorer called Geneal -and each faction has a very good reason to want to talk to him. Here’s the issue, though: The elf’s incarcerated in Fetterstone prison, a veritable fortress under the command of duergar bondswarden Hafnir Kreigsbyte.
Yes. This is a prison break/infiltration. The module does take this complex set-up in a manner that I have frankly seen too rarely, so here is the list.
We have extensive notes on the information that can be gathered before.
We have intentionally incomplete, player-friendly maps of the complex.
We actually get different entry vectors, from full Stealth to various means of infiltration. We have stuff that Stealth-less characters can do.
We have a matrix of the key characters among the prison-fortresses guards noting their loyalty and whether they can be bribed and how much it takes to do so!
The prison has prepared alert levels with responses !!
We have a security detail map for the GM, with guards and the routes of the patrols !!!
We actually also have social dynamics among the populace !!!!
In all my years of Shadowrun, Night’s Black Agents and similar, more stealth-focused games, I have never seen ANY module do this better. I did not need to do ANYTHING regarding security details, including magics. The level of detail here is absolutely immaculate and blasts everything about of the water.
This is truly glorious…and guess what? It also actually takes the “getting caught”-angle seriously; there is a second chance for the PCs if they screw up (or elect to use that entry vector!) – the PCs may actually be pressganged into a tactical assault upon a caravan with foreign agents in a fully realized encounter, including tactical map. This is simply going above and beyond.
Oh, and the dungeon below the complex is nothing to sneeze at either – with subtle humor (Mr. Pouncy the cat familiar), glimpses of the horrific, challenging traps, magical problems, unique critters…oh, and a truly lethal dungeon self-destruct mechanism that may see the dungeon flood as the PCs are frantically trying to disable the complex mechanism or run from the collapse, adding even more action and excitement to this frankly legendary module!
That’s not where the pdf stops, though – the module does have two fully mapped sidetreks – mini-modules that in no way fall behind in detail or atmosphere behind the main meat of the module: We have “The Witching of Stump Hall”, where strange occurrences have begun, as fey seemingly invade darkwood and a mastermind weaves the threads of a plan most grim indeed. In the second sidetrek, the PCs will have the opportunity to explore a Ahsen’i bonefield and deal with the deadly challenges lurking there. Yes, mapped as well. And yes, these “sidetreks” can be used as glorious, convention-style scenarios, if you’re looking for that.
One final note here – know how the first module introduced written-in background challenges and character-specific sidequests a GM can utilize – basically, when used with pregens or modified by the GM, the pdf has character-specific arcs and quests written as optional components into its very nature, helping the players get more invested in the narrative.
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no grievous glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous, two-column full-color standard with a ton of original full-color artwork of excellent quality. The pdf also features a ton of full-color cartography – with glorious full-color tactical maps, player-handout maps and nothing to be desired. Glorious. The pdf comes fully bookmarked with detailed, nested bookmarks and the pdf is layered, allowing full customization of GM labels. The pdf actually comes with a second pdf optimized for the use with mobile devices. I loved this book so much, I actually got the print version – and seriously, that’s the one I’d go for.
Lars Lundberg & Nick Johnson’s second installment of the Darkwood Adventure Arc is PHENOMENAL. This breathes a unique cultural flair that is inspired and unique in the truest sense of the word and must be called out as nothing less than the masterclass of adventure design. I have NEVER seen any prison-break/infiltration-scenario done even half as well as this one: It has EVERYTHING – from the absolutely glorious entry-vectors to the copious, well-written read-aloud texts to the trouble-solving options, supplemental material, builds, modules and production values, this module blows 99.9% of Pathfinder modules out of the water and leaves them in shreds. How this works for the more than fair price-point is frankly beyond me; this module has a spot of honor on my shelf, surpasses its already excellent predecessors and can be considered to e an example of the very finest of virtues that contemporary adventure design has to offer.
It’s been a while since we had a module by SagaRPG and I don’t know whether the arc will be completed, but even as a stand-alone, this has all the virtues and unique power it requires. Even as a stand-alone module, this is frankly one of the very most awesome pieces of content you can find and I’d frankly eat ramen for a month to support a kickstarter to keep this series going – that’s how much I love it. I have frankly failed this series and should have highlighted this module so much sooner – not only on behalf of the team that crafted this masterpiece, but on behalf of you, my readers, for not pointing out the level of awesomeness this offers sooner. So yes, even though this was released sooner, I only covered, ran and enjoyed it recently – so this does get a final verdict of 5 stars, seal of approval and is a candidate for my Top Ten of this year. I love it that much. So please, do check out this absolutely legendary module. I am positive you will not regret it and if you do hate it, drop me a line and I’ll see that I can make it up to you – that’s how much I adore this module! Must Own. Get it!
You can get this glorious module here on OBS!