Darkwood Arc Excursions: Curse of the Barrowspawn
This module clocks in at 36 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 32 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
Wait, before we do – I need to apologize. This is one of the cases where a file fell into the digital cracks of my HD and between prioritized reviews and the hustle and bustle of real life, I fell short of my duties. Consider this me rectifying this shortcoming.
Before we dive into the nit and grit of this module, let me elaborate what the Darkwood Saga is – basically, it’s a series of interconnected modules, with the big ones being the main meat of the storyline, while these excursions represent the “sidetreks”. Why the quotation marks? Because that moniker does this module injustice. The unique and absolutely awesome component of the first of the main modules could be summed up in the following way: We get basically a fantasy setting that combines the virtues of fantasy gaming with organically and concisely implemented tropes of gritty Westerns and Americana for a jamais-vu type of unique, awesome cultural identity, with a leaning towards dark fantasy and weird fiction. If you’re like me, that ought to have sparked your interest – and if that did not suffice, please read on…
This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players should jump to the conclusion.
All right, still here? Great! The pdf begins with an interesting background story that develops the Ahsen’i people – basically the native inhabitants of the lands around Darkwood. This story develops the intriguing components of their history and how their relationships to the spirit world…became strained. Things got worse, though – inter-tribal conflict and jealousy did abound and ultimately resulted in a totahatem becoming the haunting ground of a once pure and gorgeous woman, Cha’Risa, now a deadly cursespawn. This threat, secluded in realms South of Darkwood, remained for the years…but that is about to change.
We join our adventuring heroes in the Crosswind Saloon of Darkwood, where an unpleasant group of rival adventurers tries to pick a fight with them – and in the tradition of these modules, actions have consequences…The PCs will then be recruited by Captain Billious Vinsalt, who wants to recruit the PCs: One of his mining operations has seen significant issues and he wants the PCs to deal with that – and yep, there is danger involved. The first people to try it were wiped out with the exception of Khaindala Knight Tallen Warnshelm, who, while weakened and rattled, can provide at least some information.
But that’s not all – the PCs soon find a mysterious note, wherein the EMTC under the command of Garret Trask seeks to hire them to instead destroy Bill’s sluice mine – and again…actions have consequences, including the faction system used in the main saga. The travel to the totahatem near the sluice mine is pretty uneventful, but has a nice array of random encounters, should you feel the need to spice things up. if you’re like me and one of the readers who enjoys learning something, information on how the sluice mine works is provided as well – including a schematic drawing. Nice! Arriving at the totahatem’s entrance, the PCs will have to face the first of the dreaded worm wights – and yes, full cartography provided for the respective encounters.
In case you’re wondering how the exploration of the once-sacred burial site goes – it is GLORIOUS. Not only are the PCs and players rewarded for trying to understand the foreign culture depicted herein, the chalenges are diverse: There is, for example a puzzle that resolves around closing chests (and yes, the explanation is concise) and just about every room has multiple intriguing hotspots. More intriguing still – the combat challenges are difficult, but reward smarts: The PCs can, for example run afoul of a bone golem. Here’s the cool thing, though: In order to win, the PCs will not only gain an understanding of the culture of the Ahsen’i, they will also need to conduct a cleansing ritual (for a potent magical item) and navigate a cool, deadly puzzle room in which a sequence of crushing stone blocks sequentially make the reliquary tighter and more dangerous. Oh and fyi: If the PCs are mindless looters, they’ll take a pretty pissed spirit with them who’ll continue to haunt them until his grudge has abated.
But in order to truly end the curse of this place, the PCs will have to brave the heart of the Totahatem, where spirit and mortal world overlap and the half-woman-half-slug-thing that once was Cha’Risa awaits with her protoplasmic slug swarms. And yes, she’s as deadly as she sounds – and depicted in a truly gorgeous artwork. The pdf provides full stats for the well-crafted, awesome adversaries herein, sports information on a new language and a new affliction as well as the mazaeli subtype.
Oh yeah, and this does provide 4 pregens.
Editing and formatting are excellent – I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to a gorgeous 2-column full-color standard and the pdf provides a LOT of awesome artwork in full-color and similarly great cartography. While the pdf has no player-friendly versions of the maps, this is in this case not big of an issue. The pdf comes fully bookmarked for your convenience.
Nick Johnson and Lars Lundberg’s Barrow of the Cursespawn is quite frankly one of the best modules you can get for the exceedingly low price-point. The module is a great reading experience; the presentation is gorgeous. And it costs 3 bucks. Seriously? I can’t fathom how this can work. I really can’t. This is a high-quality module that oozes passion, that feels organic and immersive. The glimpses of a culture both foreign and familiar and the blending of tropes is done in a thoroughly compelling, awesome manner, making this a true steal, even if you’re not interesting in the main arc of the Darkwood saga. This module is so good, I actually got it in print as well – and the print-version is just as beautiful. (I hope the second excursion will get a PoD as well at some point…) Being a module that challenges both brains and brawns of the PCs, one with a unique flavor and great ideas, I can btw. recommend this to fans of other rules-systems as well – this lives primarily by its extensive, glorious atmosphere and its cultural savoir-faire. In short: This is an all-around great, ridiculously inexpensive module you definitely should get. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval, given sans any hesitation.