[Review] The Tolling of Tears
By Thilo Graf
This module is 30 pages long, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 25 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
This being an adventure-review, the following text contains SPOILERS. Potential players might wish to jump to the conclusion.
Still here? All right! The rice-farming village of Kinogasa has seen better times – ever since a failed rebellion versus the rather unpleasant ruling forces of Kaidan, the village has been haunted: A Yokinto priest leading the uprising versus the undead ruling caste was vanquished and subsequently has haunted the local temple. Ever since, a sohei school has been keeping tabs on the populace, while the spirit of the insurgent priest has continued to haunt the local ceremonial bell, which is more than relevant for the harvest. All went well, with corrupt priests suffering the spirit’s wrath. Until the last priest died before having time to pass on the means to placate the spirit. Worse, a disgruntled onmyoji-wizard has put a curse on the bell in order to create a problem to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of his superiors – unaware of the spirit, which subsequently chased the minion tasked with cursing the bell off. With the festival approaching, it’s up to the PCs to save the village.
The module comes with information to run this as a convention-one-shot and when the PCs arrive to deal with the Bell-problem, the local sohei are not particularly glad, wishing to deal with it themselves, but off to the briefing: The latest priest, one Maeda Takashi, provides basic information for the PCs to start their investigation and tells them about the sudden influx of terror and sorrow that accompanied the ringing of the bell since three weeks. The fully mapped (in full colour) village comes with a settlement statblock – and 10 bits of lore about the village and its past and 8 NPC-bits and pieces the PCs may encounter enrich the location as a valid background and details to flesh out the investigation as desired.
In order to access the bell, the PCs will have to contend with the dead priest’s spirit – and potentially find the remnants of the failed onmyoji-curse. If the PCs dispatched the spirit, the problem will actually worsen due to the onmyoji completing the curse if the PCs temporarily dispatch the ghost. Whether by the priestly garments or by other means, the PCs might also research the final resting place of the town’s last priest killed by the ghost, buried in an honorless grave. The onmyoji has trapped a jikininki in the cave as a means of dissuading suspicions and PCs will have to explore the place – and find yet another origami-paper, further incriminating the wizard. At this point, it’s up to the PCs to confront the wizard, his shikigami-familiar and his skeletal bodyguard, unearthing the means to reversing the curse, which also placates the spirit.
The pdf also includes 8 pregens – enough for larger groups, which is great.
Editing and formatting are very good, I didn’t notice any glitches that would have impeded my enjoyment of the module. Layout adheres to the bamboo-lined 2-column full-color standard and the cartography and original pieces of artwork by the master of creepy b/w-drawings Mark Hyzer are glorious (though the editorial lacks the entry for cover artist and illustration) and well-complemented by a nice array of thematically fitting stock-art. The pdf comes fully bookmarked.
The Tolling of Tears is a nice low-level sandboxy investigation into a none-too-epic problem – but honestly, when compared to the other Kaidan-modules released so far, this one lacks the abject sense of horror, of dread, of psychological gravitas displayed by the other modules. In fact, this sandboxy investigation is VERY simple. While the location is nice and detailed in its depiction, the basic clues to pick up are simple and the resolution of the mystery is practically handed to the PCs without much work, showing more distinctly than e.g. “Frozen Wind” or “Up from Darkness” that this scenario originated from being a convention-scenario and in the end being, at least for my tastes, slightly too simple, too obvious. For inexperienced player that don’t usually do a lot of investigations, this might be an appropriate challenge, but veteran players require the DM to create quite an array of red herrings/responses to keep this module interesting. That being said, it is still a nice little offering and thus my final verdict will clock in at 4 stars.
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