Sailing Aboard the Widow (PF2) (patreon request)
This eventure clocks in at 15 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page editorial/ToC, 2 pages of advertisement, 1 page SRD, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 9 pages of content, so let’s take a look!
My reviews of the eventure-series were requested by my patreon supporters.
Eventures, in case you’re new to the series, are rules-lite mini-adventures that focus on roleplaying and not on combat and similar components. The pdf does list a dressing-file from the #20-series you can use as a supplemental file to this eventure, and the module is roughly contextualized as part of the duchy of Ashlar region, that integrating the eventure in another setting is a no-effort job. The module is imho best suited for characters level 1 – 4, though it can be made to work at higher levels, provided the GM is willing to invest a bit of time.
The pdf provides pretty detailed information about the crew and NPC passengers (6 NPCs in total, with information on background, personality, secrets and read-aloud text for them); said NPCs do list race, alignment and classes/class-combination, but do not come with stats. Particularly for PF2, referencing the default roster or giving some brief adventure-relevant abbreviated stats might have been prudent.
Speaking of read-aloud text: The keyed locations on the eponymous Widow do come with read-aloud text. Supplemental to the NPC and location set-up, we have 6 whispers and rumors as well as 6 minor events; these minor events, in an interesting twist, come in a sequential offering, so if you roll them a second time, the event actually diverges in how it is realized. These dynamic events are rather helpful. This is clever and interesting and maintains some replay value for the GM. I like it. The module itself takes place in the form of a sequence of events interacting with locations and NPCs and remains relatively free-form due to that fact. So, in spite of a relatively linear progression of event-based triggers, the adventure never structurally degrades into a railroad. This is very much player-driven.
Keyed locations? Yep, the Widow comes with a proper b/w map of its 3 decks; while the map has no size noted, it does sport a grid, which makes running it under the customary 5 ft. x 5 ft. assumptions rather easy. Much to my chagrin, no version of the maps without their labels is included.
Now, the eventure is all about a journey by boat, yes, but there is a significant difference between this module and comparable travel sidetreks, in that it is a mystery module; one could even claim that it’s a horror module, and one that has a sufficiently-subdued fantastic angle as to make it viable for low magic settings like e.g. LotFP-ish takes on our world, or for games like Call of Cthulhu. The module retains a pretty well-wrought free-form angle for its understated, and yet efficient horror/mystery angle: Slowly but steadily, a genuine sense of wrongness is established, and the presentation of clues and web of secrets laced throughout the module does a great job executing the theme.
And yes, I know that this is VAGUE. But I really do not want to SPOIL this one.
Anyways, another important thing to note would be the system-integration: Raging Swan Press publishes their content for 4 systems as per the writing of this review, and that sometimes hurts the execution for a given system. The PF2-version does have me more torn than the other versions; while it manages to properly contextualize e.g. locked chests and the like, the module doesn’t offer the degrees of success/failure benefits associated with PF2, and I couldn’t help but notice that this version is slightly less beefy when it comes to crunchy bits than the version for the first edition of PFRPG. I would have liked to see a sidebar dealing with auras and troubleshooting “detective-magic.” More so, I do think that PF2’s systems lead themselves actually to representing the concept of the module VERY well AND explain how its mystery works, but the module doesn’t make full use of the system’s potential.
Editing and formatting are very good on a formal and rules-language level. Layout adheres to the series’ two-column b/w-standard, and the module comes with neat b/w-cartography. I just wished we got player-friendly maps as well. The pdf comes in two iterations, one for screen-use, and one optimized for the printer. The pdf is fully bookmarked with nested bookmarks.
Bart Wynants delivered a truly pleasant surprise for me here; this little eventure knocks at least 90% of so-called horror-adventures for any iteration of PFRPG or D&D straight out of the water by realizing a crucial fact: You can jam as many bones, liters of blood and guts on something as you like, it won’t become more creepy, just more gross/grotesque (and that *can* work; most of the times, it doesn’t), and as soon as you can put a pointy stick in it, it’ll eventually be killed by the party.
Instead, this focuses on atmosphere. On providing a framework of something that feels *wrong*, on that growing, slow-burn sense of unease, and damn, does it do that well. This is not the “creepy monster jumps at you” school of mystery/horror; it is the more poignant, harder-to-pull-off style. And the module pulls it off. In literary allusions: This is more akin to James, Machen or Aickman than to Stephen King or Clive Barker.
PF2 is a system designed to allow the GM and designer to tell amazing stories, and, somewhat to my chagrin, authors and game designers right now seem to still not be as confident in leaning into the system’s strengths as they should be. When I look at PF2 and this module, I see a match made in heaven, but the execution provided is functional, yes, but also a shot short of what this could have been: Going just by the system and its possibilities, this should have been the best of the 4 versions. It’s not. It’s still a very good, atmospheric sidetrek, a well-executed adventure, but it falls slightly short of the excellence it could have attained. Hence, my final verdict will be 4.5 stars, rounded up due to in dubio pro reo.
You can get this eventure here on OBS!
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