Mar 302013
 

Kaidan: Curse of the Golden Spear Part I – The Gift

What's inside the box?This adventure/setting-introduction is 61 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD and 2 pages back cover, leaving 55 pages for the first part of the Kaidan-trilogy, so let’s check it out!

Disclaimer: I’m a gold patron for Kaidan, but I didn’t participate that much in the design process due to real life.
First of all, one cannot help but notice the beautiful full-color layout featuring bamboo at the page-borders (similar to In the Company of Kappa) and the stunning cover artwork – rest assured that the rest of the book is just as visually pleasing.

This being an adventure, I will have to go into some mayor SPOILERS later. I’ll start off with what Kaidan is in the beginning, which one could consider minor spoilers, so beware. I’ll explicitly add another warning prior to going into the adventure details.

There are a LOT of Asian settings out there, and good ones at that, so what exactly makes Kaidan unique? First of all: Its focus. Kaidan is a horror-themed setting inspired by Japan and Japanese mythology. Not L5R-style, not Chinese WuXia (like in the quite cool HotJO-setting), but by Japanese horror-stories. Being a bit of a fan of Japanese horror-games like Fatal Frame (aka Project Zero in Europe) or Forbidden Siren, I can attest to there being a plethora of almost unknown tropes of awesome and disturbing narratives that have largely been untapped by western pop culture and even rpgs. Kaidan seeks to at least partially remedy that, but does it deliver?

SPOILERS abound now, players please don’t continue reading, you have been warned!
The adventure kicks off with a beautiful, full-color map of the land of Kaidan and an introduction to the basic concept of Kaidan: Shrouded and isolated in a perpetual cloud that only recently has been partially lifted, the place immediately evokes positive reminiscences of the best of Ravenloft’s concepts, but goes further: Kaidan is essentially the idea of reincarnation going horribly wrong – the dead don’t go to the afterlife and rather roam the land, become haunts and creatures or even trying to force others from their bodies, essentially killing living people and being reborn in the cruelest, most twisted take on reincarnation I’ve ever seen. Even worse for the poor people of this beautiful, yet haunted land, even this endless circle provides no true escape from the rigid and merciless caste-system.
So, what’s the story? Marl Tyro, a merchant plans to kill an undead daimyo, who has taken the merchant’s daughter hostage to force Marl to bring him a loyalty-enforcing, cursed golden spear. Marl, plotting vengeance, has condensed jewels of positive energy set to provide a nasty surprise for the daimyo and the PCs accompany him to the dread lands of Kaidan as Gaijin (longnoses), thus facilitating the introduction to the customs of this rather xenophobic land. The welcome the PCs will receive is a rather frosty one – the first ambush has already been prepared for them as soon as they get off the ship in Gaijinoshima, the gateway to Kaidan- Yakuza-thugs stand ready to confront and kill the PCs in the name of a mysterious woman.

A full-color map is provided for the dock and the encounter, which is always a plus. Assuming the PCs survive, they’ll encounter the rather uncooperative officials, who’ll refuse them landing on mainland Kaidan until the proper papers have been obtained. The PCs are thus stranded in the town and can explore – as long as they carry the heavy chest containing marl’s gift around, that is. The harbor-town also gets its own full-color map. After encountering a damsel in distress and rescuing her from an ogre-assault, she tries to recruit the PCs to accompany her to the cemetery, to ostensibly find gold her late husband has stolen from the oni-lords. This, of course, is a ruse, but more on that later. After all, the Yakuza seek restitution for the defeat of the welcoming commando and the PCs might be forced into a duel with one of their more powerful members or another full-blown fight. After being introduced to mind fever ( a sickness that precedes a replacement of souls), the PCs have an opportunity to dine with a Yakuza-lord, wrestle for his enjoyment (once again, the lair has its own beautiful map) and thus might secure the necessary friends in the right places to get the paperwork for their journey finally done. What about the damsel, though? She tries to lead the PCs into the clutches of a jikininki, a terrible, shapechanging, ghoulish creature the PCs will have to defeat. Once they PCs have survived this trap, they are free to finally set foot on mainland Kaidan. Well, relatively free, that is.

After all, they’re still Gaijin and subsequently will be accompanied by 17 Kaidanese, there to make sure that the longnoses don’t stray too far from their allowed trail. The first station along the way is a cursed way station inhabited by both a plethora of deadly haunts, flesh-eating ghouls, a ghost and featuring both tainted food and terrible nightmares for your PCs and, once again, a beautiful full-color map. This encounters alone might be worth the price if you’re looking for some genuinely creepy encounter.

Once the PCs reach the highlands, the PCs will encounter bandits, a tamashinaki as well as an encounter at a bridge (again with a map) and another mapped, very creepy encounter with a well full of undead children and subsequently their dread killer. Further on their journey, the PCs can help defend the town Agoya against a coordinated bandit rush/siege, having consequences in the sequel as well as during their brief stay in the village. On the road to the next settlement, Tsuje-Te, the PCs will have another encounter (again, with a grided, full color map) with some mischievous Kappa and some additional random encounters before being assaulted by the damsel in distress from Gaijinoshima and her minion – an ogre-brute like the one they fought, only this time, the damsel drops her cover and, as a hebi-no-onna, attacks as well, serving as a nice and challenging climax to the adventure that ends with the PCs reaching the town of Tsue-Jo.

There are some appendices to take a look at, though: The first deals with PC reincarnation, as resurrection etc. don’t work in Kaidan and reformation as a malevolent spirit (yurei), a tamashinaki or even inflict a Kaidanese with mind fever, supplanting him/her. This process also may entail foreign memories and the appendix also features a great mechanic for tracking karma and rebirth. We also get 2 new monsters and of course, full stats for the two featured tamashinaki, 4 pre-gens and a two page glossary/pronunciation guide to help a GM properly display the culture of Kaidan.

Conclusion:
Layout adheres to the beautiful full-color, bamboo-lined standard we already know from “In the Company of Kappa” and goes a long way to convey the unique atmosphere of Kaidan. Editing and formatting are very good – I only noticed one minor editing glitch and one minor formatting relic. When I started reading the sections on Gaijinoshima, I was rather underwhelmed with regards to the horror-aspect of the setting, but don’t be fooled – this part of the adventure serves to accustom the PCs with Kaidan and the subsequent horror-encounters are demented, dark and deadly and rank among the finest I’ve read in quite a while – Kaidan manages to walk the tight rope between horror and fantasy with a deceptive ease and furthermore accomplishes the feat of being unique and captivating as both a setting and an adventure.

Fans of Ravenloft HAVE to check this out. Fans of Gothic Horror should check this out. Fans of the darker aspects of Japanese folklore and mythology have to check this out. Have I mentioned that I love the extensive map support and the stunning, awesome b/w-artworks that rank among the best I’ve seen in 3pp books? Can you guess my final verdict? Yup, I award full 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval – Jonathan McAnulty, Michael K. Tumey and the crew at RiP has done an awesome job of going out of their way to provide a premium quality horror-adventure of the highest caliber.

But perhaps you don’t want to jump in head first into the trilogy? Well, why not check out the FREE Kaidan module

 

Frozen Wind

The cold embrace of death awaitsThis adventure is 40 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 7 pages advertisement, 1 page back cover and 1 page SRD, leaving 28 pages of content for the adventure, so let’s check it out, shall we?

This being an adventure-review, the following contains SPOILERS. Potential players might want to skip to the conclusion!

Still here? All righty!

Frozen Wind takes place in Kaidan (though any monastery/Asian-themed setting will do) and offers what I’ve come to love from the series – a brand of Japanese Gothic horror we rarely, if ever, see in RPGs.

The PCs arrive at the monastery when the chill of winter/ice-cold temperatures catch up with them (or due to personal reasons) and are shown their sleeping quarters. The adventure wastes no time, as the PCs are awakened by gaps of the dying – frost-coated monks suddenly convulse as their souls are ripped from their body (which coats them in frost in this particular instance) and the PCs are left in a suddenly very cold monastery – all the fires have gone out. The PCs should probably look for firewood and a way to keep warm while figuring out what exactly has happened.
Essentially, the monastery is a huge trap as the supposedly benign Kami it is devoted to actually turns out to be a Yuki-Onna who made the founder pledge the souls of the monks to her before making him forget this whole deal. Subsequently, her Koori-no-Oni (Ice-Oni) are the first opposition the PCs will have to contend with in an otherwise rather silent monastery – after all, the monks are now all dead. Once they have concluded this first act, the monks rise from the dead as frozen undead and seek to annihilate the PCs, who should at this point not only be fighting against the dread creatures, but also against the growing cold – survival horror at its best. Somewhere in the monastery, the Yuki-Onna awaits them for the first showdown and should they defeat her, she tries to escape and seeks to summon a dread ice-kami which (along round 2 against her) makes for the final showdown. The impending summoning of the dread Kami makes for an additional counter that urges the PCs to keep up the pace and not waste any time – if she manages to summon the huge ice-bear, the PCs will have a serious problem on their hands.
The pdf concludes with 3 new monsters (one of which is a template), 6 pregenerated characters (each on his/her own page – ready to just be printed out and handed to your players) and gamemaster aids, to be precise, a temperature tracker and a summoning tracker for the Kami as well as a scoring sheet if you want to run this a convention scenario.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are ok – while I did notice some glitches and would usually detract half a star/a star, this adventure is free and easily usable as written. Layout adheres to the beautiful 2-column full-color, bamboo-lined Kaidan-standard and the artworks are mostly thematically-fitting, Japanese stock, but do actually contain some original pieces of gorgeous artwork – not something I would have expected in a free pdf! The pdf is also extensively bookmarked.

Special mention should be given to the presentation of the monastery, as it continues to change during the course of the adventure – thankfully, the beautiful full-color map helps picturing the monastery. The pregenerated characters all come with special missions they can complete in the monastery and the gamemaster helps mean that you can run this scenario with a minimum of preparation. While this is a convention scenario, it does not feel like one, but rather like a full-blown, regular adventure, that does benefit from using the pregens, but could easily be run in your home-game. Personally, my sadism will make me reanimate all fallen foes after 1d6 rounds, making this adventure even more lethal, but that’s just my preference. What can I say? This adventure surpasses many commercial adventures in quality and atmosphere and is free – essentially a no-brainer, especially at this time of the year. If you’re still looking for a nice adventure for Halloween, dl Frozen Wind- it’s worth the HD-space and if you like what you see there, check out the other Kaidan adventures – they’re awesome as well! Kudos to Jonathan McAnulty, Michael K. Tumey and Steven D. Russell for giving this quality adventure away for free – my final verdict will be 5 stars. (If it weren’t free, it still would be 4 stars, without glitches 4.5 or even 5 depending on the hypothetical price.)

Curse of the Golden Spear Part II: Dim Spirit

Cover of Dim Spirit

 

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

SPOILERS

 

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! (See 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.

 

Conclusion:

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 + seal of approval – awesome job!

 

 

Want more horror? Check out the imho best haunt-book released for PFRPG so far, T.H Gulliver’s

 

#30 Haunts for Kaidan

The best haunt-book so far

 

This installment of RiP’s #30-series takes us to Kaidan. It’s a whopping 28 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 4 pages advertisement, 1 page back cover and 1 page SRD, leaving 19 pages of content for the new haunts, so let’s check out whether T.H. Gulliver can maintain the extremely high standard set by the predecessors.

Indeed, the introduction of the supplement is awesome – an IC-narration including a new magic items to find haunts (and the way to Kaidan!) is an awesome, efficient way to immediately captivate the reader’s attention and the one-page legend “The Paths of Destruction” adds to this sense of immersion, providing a great narrative framing for the haunts. Different kinds of haunts and their respective, special rules are explained to GMs who have, as of yet no experience with the #30-haunt-books.

There is a definite sense of otherness, of the Kaidanese exotic karmic morality gone wrong inherent in the haunts and in contrast to other haunt-books, we also get stats for variant wights, an unique undead, ghost monks, a multi-classed tengu-vampire, a raven herald of madness, carrionstorms and even the dread wide-grinning women. The pdf provides plenty of stats to accompany haunts. While haunts are somewhat like traps with stories, this is even more true in this supplement – the haunts come with a vast amount of background information, a darkest legend that, like a blood-red thread, runs through this whole supplement. More importantly, these haunts are CREEPY, well-thought out and yet distinctly Kaidanese.

Conclusion:
Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice any glitches. the pdf adheres to the bamboo-lined, beautiful Kaidan-layout and the artworks are neat for the low price. The pdf comes with extensive bookmarks. I’m starting to sound like a broken record that heaps superlative over superlative of praise on T.H.Gulliver’s haunts and even though it seems hardly possible, this installment even surpasses the previous offerings of the #30-series. The added stats, legends etc. make me crave a full-blown horror-adventure, be it in Kaidan or another setting – in fact, with some work, you might craft an organic adventure from this supplement. My final verdict will be 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval – be sure to check this out!

 

Kaidan: Curse of the Golden Spear Part III: Dark Path 

The final part of the epic Japanese horror saga by Jonathan McAnulty and Micheal Tumey is 62 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages SRD, 3 pages of advertisement and 1 page back cover, leaving 53 pages of content for your perusal, so let’s check them out!

 

After the lurking estrangement and the despair-ridden darkness of the second installment, the PCs, cursed and on the run, finally have allies and will reap the seeds they have sown in the two predecessors on their way to the climax.

And boy, the introduction already serves as an epic lead-in to the things to come, first offering a brief bit of creepy IC-plotting and then moving on to elaborate the legend of Oni, Yurei and Kaidan and how it came to be the way the players find it. As a nice nod to people versed in Japanese folklore and history, the story does draw heavy inspiration and even shares the names form the conflicts between the Taira and the Minamoto clan. This review is based on V.4.0 of the pdf, in v.3.0 there was a formatting glitch here that has been taken care of.

 

This being an adventure review, the following contains massive SPOILERS. If you’re planning on ever playing this excellent saga, please refrain from reading on.

Still here? Do you want to SPOIL the awesome climax?

Ok, here we go!

 

As the PCs are still suffering from the curse of the golden spear, they’ll have to find a way to infiltrate the daimyo’s palace, retrieve the artifact and then get as far away as possible from the dread lord. After a brief respite from their ordeals in Part II in the Hengeyokai village they hopefully saved from an almost-insane kami and the depredations of a fiend in disguise. The allies the Hengeyokai promised, though, turn out to be up for a challenge: 4 Tengu (be sure to check out RiP’s excellent In the Company of Tengu, if you haven’t already – while not necessary to run this adventure, it is still an awesome file to have to customize further the avian allies.)are on the side of the PCs in this foray, or rather, they might be: First the PCs will have to prove their mettle in battle or otherwise leave an impression on them in order to lead them into the lion’s den.

 

The planning of the infiltration of the daimyo’s treasury might be a bit challenging for the DM, but thankfully the Tengu know of some underwater tunnels, which might provide an access to the palace that does not initially involve alerting the vast amount of guards to their presence. The infiltration via the river proves to be not as easy as the PCs might hope, but it is better than the otherwise extremely well-defended Shiro (that gets its own map) – after entering the palace via this secret route, the PCs will have to contend with a short 3 level-mini-dungeon. Braving the disease-ridden sewage-system, the PCs can stumble upon a potential ally among the prisoners (though they’ll have to heal the poor sod first). Among the horrible experiments they’ll have to brave are necromantically-infused wax-cocoons containing dread samurai zombies, barracks full of corpses that are the hunting ground of a terrible swarm of apocalypse spiders to undead hung from hooks that serve as a macabre sort of alarm as well as a silent-hill-style door that is held shut by a crucified corpse that is torn asunder by opening the doors and instantly regenerates when they are closed, serving as a kind of promethean punishment for the poor creature as well as having an unpleasant surprise in store for the PCs. Once they have finally braved the treasure vault’s guardian, the PCs can reap the plentiful rewards within the treasure chamber, among which new spells (2 from 101 3rd level spells) and the reason for their infiltration can be found: The golden spear is once again theirs! If the PCs have managed to trip the alarm, their escape will not be too easy as they’ll be hounded by the daimyo’s killers.

 

Spear in hand, the PCs will have to make the trek through the mountains, preferably via the name-giving Dark Path. Should the PCs choose to take another road, easy modifications are presented to avoid creating the notion of undue railroading. Commendable design! The daimyo’s hounds this time are nothing to be trifled with and a duo of deadly killers seeks to intercept them. To add another complication to the already quite oppressive situation of the PCs, the oni will try to eliminate the threat of the spear once and for all, confronting them with a deadly snare by a Jorogume, a spider-like fiend with illusion-based abilities. The encounter comes with a beautiful map and features the STUNNING cover-art as a nice full-page illustration, perfect as a handout once the mask falls. Braving this trap, the PCs hopefully reach the entrance to the Dark Path, where another duo of the daimyo’s  deadly killers lies in wait to prematurely end their exodus from the lands of Kaidan.

 

The navigation of the lava-tubes that lead through the mountains proves to be perilous and oppressive in atmosphere, symbolizing the path to damnation and serving as a dread echoing amplifier for the things that stalk the tunnels. The plethora of wandering monsters (and their dread frequency) as well as the array of complications and mood-enhancing elements perpetuate and drive home the sense of danger and panic the PC should gradually become more and more convinced that they have stumbled into their smooth, black stone-encased grave. The blind, eyeless ghouls that will menace and attack the PCs are far from being the worst creature to hound the PCs – that honor belongs to a dread snake-oni (whose b/w-artwork is awesome!) which not only is a tough adversary, but also is rebirthed when slain, thus necessitating the hasty departure of the PCs. If they manage to find its lair, they can at least take its little hoard, which contains, among other things, a magic Kaidanese longbow. Even the sunlight that might greet the PCs once they have traversed the Dark Path offers no respite from their ordeals, though, as Jadoko, the hebi-no-onna that has hounded them since the first module, makes her final stand.

If the first two parts of the trilogy were any indicator, this would mean the end of the tribulations of the PCs, but those who would think so are in for quite a shock once they reach the deceptive tranquility of Gaijinoshima. Tranquility, oh yeah, there was something I forgot to mention: Of course, the PCs first have to procure a means to enter Uesaki and take the ferry or otherwise take a boat to their harbor of destination. Several possible courses of action are provided for the PCs to follow, ranging from the theft of a boat to disguising and sneaking abroad the ferry. Once in Gaijinoshima, the scarlet harlot awaits the PCs to ferry them out of Kaidan. Well. It awaits them. Along three of the daimyo’s elite Danmastumabatsu-killers cleverly disguised and a squad of undead. The fight (featuring a nice map of the vessel) among the massacred remains of the erstwhile crew that will strive to include the PCs in their undead ranks serves as the furious finale of this rather breathtaking climax of the Kaidan-saga. Hopefully the PCs have the means to acquire a crew…fast.

 

In tradition of the first two parts, we get several appendices. While the reincarnation mechanic is not reprinted, you should probably already know all about it from the two sequels. More interesting, at least to me, is the appendix featuring the new beasts: From the poison-spitting bachi-hebi snakes and their big oni brothers to the supremely creepy Jorogumo (spider women), we get 3 cool new critters that fulfill my personal desire for unique monstrous abilities.

 

The third appendix details the Danmatsumabatsu, the dread Daimyo’s cadre of elite assassins, each possessing a set of unique and distinct abilities that set them apart from regular NPCs – I love them! They are efficient, deadly, creepy and just about all I expect from elite foes like them. If all NPC-write ups were like this, I’d never have to complain about bland NPCs ever again. These necrotic warriors are indeed fine specimen, though I admit to wanting MORE.

 

The pdf closes with 4 pre-generated characters as well as a two-page glossary.
Conclusion:

Editing is excellent, I only noticed one typo and formatting is good, though I did notice a couple of minor mistakes (like a box instead of a dash) – summa summarum I only found 4 glitches, not enough to justify the loss of a star. The pdf is extensively bookmarked and comes with the beautiful, bamboo-lined full-color layout we’ve come to appreciate in Kaidan-releases. The artworks are nice and feature the style we already know from its predecessors and the cover artwork by Jason Rainville, thankfully reprinted as a one-page-version sans borders in the book, is in my humble opinion the best of the three – beautiful, creepy, atmospheric and one of my favorite pieces from him.

Jonathan McAnulty has managed to once again deliver another facet of horror-gaming that is hard to pull off – a brooding sense of being chased, potentially neck-breaking in pace and fueled by a justified paranoia, the infiltration and subsequent escape from Kaidan offer opportunities galore for dark and deadly encounters, all while being underlined by a foreboding, subtle symbolism that might have the PCs wondering whether they are about to escape the darkness or rather wade straight into it. The at times claustrophobic imagery and the silent-hill-esque nods during the infiltration serve to enhance the multitude of fears this adventure conjures up: Indeed, one could scan the pages of this adventure for some of the primal fears inherent in all of us and find an instance of each one having a kind of representation. The development from subtle horror over despair to the disturbing end of the saga has had me more than satisfied with this part. Standing in no way behind its two predecessors, I can happily pronounce a verdict of 5 stars and the Endzeitgeist seal of approval and wholeheartedly recommend the whole saga to just about anyone even remotely intrigued by the premise – these three premium products stand in a line with RiP’s by now almost legendary, premium product Coliseum Morpheuon and I hope to see more additional material for Kaidan in the future, perhaps even more adventures -the unique, cool setting deserves it!

Endzeitgeist out.

 

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