Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Friday, 23 July 2010

Dungeons & Deep Ones, Oh My!

Almost as I complain at the lack of a campaign to go with the otherwise excellent Sunken Empires, Open Design publishes a scenario that takes the adventurers quite literally From Shore to Sea. Designed for use with Paizo's Pathfinder RPG, it can be used with any variant of Dungeons & Dragons 3.5, but its constant references to the Pathfinder Bestiary means that From Shore to Sea really is a Pathfinder adventure. Also, it is set in the Pathfinder default world of Golarion, but then it can just as easily be set elsewhere. More definite though, is the fact that it is written for a party of sixth level characters, it does take the heroes along the Hellmouth Gulf to reveal dark secrets of the ancient and lost Azlant Empire, and it does combine elements of high magic with the Innsmouth taint. Lastly, this review of From Shore to Sea brings to a close an opportune trilogy of sea borne reviews that began with Wrack & Rune, was continued with Sunken Empires and now comes to an end with this module.

More specifically, From Shore to Sea takes place in the diabolical empire of Cheliax, its events opening as the party is travelling along the road of the rugged and ragged coast of Hellmouth Gulf. Cries for help alert them to a fisherman being attacked by giant crabs, and after going to his aid, he appeals for their help. His village of Blackcove has been beset by creatures of the deep, things that shamble from the sea and steal the villagers by night. Can they investigate and put an end to the threat? Coming to the isolated village, the heroes find the remaining inhabitants cowed and holed up in the lighthouse. What little they can learn points towards Nal-Kashel, an island out in the Gulf that is traditionally visited by a bride and groom on their wedding night. Then again, can the problems that beset them be due to their pallid looks, their lank hair, and the hint of something batrachian in their features? Even as the party begins to elicit the events of the past few weeks from the recalcitrant and scared peoples of Blackcove, the lighthouse floods and tentacles thrust forward to steal yet more of the populace.

Nal-Kashel turns out to be very strange indeed. Remnants of towers orbit its skies, will-o’-wisps flit hither and thither, gillmen are herded to work, strange energies have warped the island into tiers, and the visitors find themselves taking on a corruption that hints at the island’s secrets. Discovering more of these secrets will take further investigations around the island, revealing some of the high magics of the Azlant Empire. Eventually though, the heroes will have to face the true villain behind the disappearance of the villagers of Blackcove, and in doing so will face a threat from Dungeons & Dragons’ ancient past.

What is obvious about From Shore to Sea is its inspiration, author H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadows Over Innsmouth” with its strange brine encrusted town and its offshore inhabitants, the Deep Ones. Bar the obvious appearance of Dagon, there is no appearance of the Mythos in this scenario and nor is it written in Call of Cthulhu mode. Here the adventurers are expected to be truly heroic and will not have to suffer the need to make Sanity checks, or indeed be sent mad by what they see. Naturally, the emphasis in this adventure is never far from combat, but a great deal of investigation is needed too, primarily among the strange ruins of Nal-Kashel.  In fact, the scenario could be played without anyone making the parallels with Innsmouth, but for those in the know, such parallels add a salt encrusted edge to its events.

In physical terms, From Shore to Sea is a slim booklet at thirty-two pages, but full colour is used throughout and it is printed on good glossy paper. The artwork is also good and the book as whole has a clean, tidy, and easy to read layout. If there is an issue with the writing, it is that it requires a slightly closer read than a more straight forward dungeon module might need. This it should be pointed out, is due to the weird nature of the adventure’s setting rather than the fault of the author. Structurally the scenario’s plot is fairly linear, with just a little room for deviation as the party explores the island.

As with other Pathfinder modules, From Shore to Sea uses the “medium XP advancement track,” and while there are plenty of Experience Points to be gained from defeating various creatures, the player characters will be rewarded for other actions as well. There is very little in the way of monetary or magical reward though, but what magical items there are to be found, are invariably a little different. They are not just left lying around though...

When it comes to Dungeons & Dragons, or indeed Pathfinder, the influence of the Cthulhu Mythos is relatively slight. It is there, but it is small, perhaps the best example being The Freeport Trilogy from Green Ronin Publishing. It is still is small, even a decade on, but From Shore to Sea hints at possibilities, both for Pathfinder and its setting of Golarion. To be fair, this is all that From Shore to Sea was intended to do, its main remit being to explore just a little of the secrets of the Azlant Empire. For the GM wanting to add more dark secrets to his campaign, From Shore to Sea is a good choice, its combination of high magic and the Innsmouth look being surprisingly effective, giving the former a certain unpalatable taint.